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Peas, Potatoes & Parsis

14 Oct

“Aye Mahnaz, ai joh, gilora!” came a voice wafting across the produce-lined aisles of my local Indian store, effortlessly conquering Kumar Sanu’s nostrils. The words crashed against my eardrums. My body continued to move on autopilot. An arm rose to open the door to the refrigerator case while the other grabbed a bunch of cilantro. Meanwhile, deep inside me, everything hushed and I strained to listen.

Gilora. The Parsi word for the vegetable the rest of the world calls “tindora”, among other names. That unmistakable accent that belongs only to my people. Here, in the sunny South Bay, thousands of miles away from our hub in South Bombay, were a full three Parsis of the 100,000 left in the world.

Being one of such a unique minority fosters a strong feeling of extended family. We are alarmingly identical (and near-uniformly mad as coots). It means that when there’s a Parsi in the vicinity, I will almost certainly feel the level of kinship the rest of the world feels for an aunt or cousin. As I turned to face the voices in question, my mental checklist fired through its boxes: short hair, cropped pants, hazel eyes. Check, check, and check. And the undeniable proof, the language we took from the well-meaning Gujaratis, mangled into a linguistic pretzel, and unleashed upon the world, sprinkled with the sugar we’re supposed to be.

There’s a solid reason why reality TV doesn’t cut it for me. Daily life offers infinitely better humor. Exclamations floated across the eggplants as the two merry women planned their menus, rechristened theplas “methi ni rotli“, sang along and thumped cucumbers to Bollywood songs from the ’60s, and yanked an entire roll of grocery bags off its holder, expressing loud surprise when bell peppers flew in four directions. As my body continued to pick out groceries independent of its brain, a smile broke out on my face, one I quickly hid amid the spinach leaves, whilst debating whether to let on that there was a clanswoman in their midst.

In the end, eyeing their increasingly amusing trot around the store and eavesdropping shamelessly on their conversation trumped any spirit of confession I may have harbored, and I remained content to spectate. Paying for my purchases, I turned back one last time, gave them a broad grin, and walked out to my car, chuckling all the way home.

My beloved community, may our foibles never stop and our capsicum always fly.

Automatic For the People*

28 Mar

I’m going to write a manual on newbie marriage.

I already have a title for it:

“Shut the Door, I Can Hear You Pee”.

Wide open to content suggestions, y’all!


*Title taken from one of my favorite albums of all time.

Watch: The Body Uncolonized

19 Nov

Sunanda raised her shirt and surveyed her midriff in the mirror. Silently, she contemplated the smooth expanse of her belly. Creamy, vast and unclaimed by childbirth, it was protected territory, only her own. Occasionally, Rashid would lie on it, glancing up at her under-chin, as they whispered into the night, but for the most part, the land that radiated around her belly button was a newly cast map: uncreased, uncracked, studded with the mile markers of freckles, and defined by what it wasn’t rather than what it stood for. The stretch of skin that covered her digestive system, her innards, reaching upward to the diaphragm, plunging downward to the pubic triangle, lived and breathed for itself. It was whole. It was calm. It was unperturbed.

Eyes still pinned on her reflection, she reached for the prosthetic stomach, slipped it under her clothes, and waddled out to stock up on groceries.

Watch: The Body Neglected

2 Nov

Dayma rose with the late winter sun, twisting her hair into a knot, her saree coiled tightly around her hips, and stepped into the courtyard to wash. The stone floor felt cold to her bare soles. It matched the freeze that spread itself through her loins. Uninterrupted, they were left to themselves: drowsy, hibernating, patted fondly to sleep.

Her duty as oldest daughter-in-law began and ended in the kitchen, and the noise and chaos of their large household came to a firm halt in the silence and stillness of their clean-to-a-fault bedroom.

Dayma thought of herself as a healer, the comforter of baby boo-boos, applicator of turmeric on kitchen cuts, banisher of in-laws’ migraines, reliever of joint pain, soother of ruffled spirits.

Dayma was a human ice pack, the chill drawn from her unstirred vaginal walls that housed a castle with a geriatric spinning cobwebs under its attic.

She radiated calm, even composure, as she stepped back into the bedroom and placed the earthen container of steaming tea by her meditating husband’s prostrate form.

Poop Goes The Weasel

3 Oct

I’ve recently switched doctors and my new one wanted to conduct a series of routine tests, so last week, I traipsed along to the clinic, empty sterile container in hand, to donate some pee to the lab. Walking toward the entrance, I noticed a man—middle-aged, Asian, balding, with slightly rumpled clothes—headed toward the entrance as well, with a bottle of stool sample in his hand. And so began my not-so-pleasant reaction to the swishy brown contents of his bottle. All conversations in my head will hereafter be italicized:

Eww! Gross! How could he just bring poop in a transparent bottle like that? At least cover it with a paper bag! Some people.

Swish, swish, swish went the poop, as the gentleman stepped into the clinic lobby, with me a safe distance behind.

Disgusting. It’s so runny. Good thing I haven’t had any breakfast. Seriously, I get you’re a recent immigrant, but watch and learn, my friend! No. Scratch that. You’re not my friend. No friend of mine would walk around with poop in public view.

Poop-swisher took a seat, bottle in hand and on full display, while I chose one at the other end of the waiting area.

Really? Holding it so close to you like it’s your lost lover? You’ll die of an infection, man. Oh god I’m going to hurl. This should be illegal. There are kids with compromised immunity in this place. Have you no concern for the wee ones of the world??

Poop-swisher stared benignly into space, clutching the watery contents of his intestines.

I don’t believe this. Why couldn’t he just do it in the bathroom here, like everybody else? Maybe he has a performance anxiety issue. Maybe he had one of those tiger mums who said “Poop now or forever hold your piece.” Well, he’s sure holding his piece now!

Poop-swisher adjusted his position and I looked away for a moment, to give the impression I wasn’t turning cartwheels on the inside and emanating guttural gasping sounds of disgust.

Holy guacamole! He’s raising it to his mouth! Omigod, he has Pica! Somebody get mental health medics in here! Noooooooo! STOP IT! Don’t drink that!!!! I’m gagging, oh lord I’m gagging, I need the bathroom. Now!

Wildly looking around for a nurse or medical aide, I saw Poop-swisher from the corner of my eye, calmly take a swig from his bottle of Starbucks Mocha Frappucino, screw on the lid, and put the bottle beside him.




If you ever repeat this incident to anyone, dear reader, you and I are OVER.

You’ve Got Mail

20 Jul

The elevator pinged and its doors slid open. Shanti walked out into the gleaming granite lobby, almost bumping into the mailman stuffing envelopes and pizza flyers into individual numbered slots. He greeted her with his usual good cheer and asked after her family. We are all well, she replied, a half-smile fluttering around the corners of her mouth. She found a strange comfort in her daily interactions with him, brief as they were. They spoke about the weather, his children, her family’s plans for the summer, and he would invariably hand her the pile of envelopes from her mailbox as a friendly gesture. She’d leaf through them: Shanti, Shanti, Ashok, something from the children’s school, Ashok, a general request for donation, and one addressed to the both of them. Sorting them in a His and Hers pile, she’d fuss with her keys until she found the one to her front door and unlocked it.

Throwing the two piles onto the entrance console, she’d step into the kitchen for a cool glass of lassi before emerging and thoughtfully considering the stack of mail again. She was a creature of habit, she knew that. She nestled in the grooves of patterns and they rocked her to calmness. There was a secure familiarity in receiving mail from the same smiling person each morning, sorting it neatly and arranging it chronologically, newest mail first. She didn’t have to change that just because Ashok had been dead 8 months. Shanti patted his tall pile, straightened it a wee bit, and walked away to cook lunch.

How To Love A Boy With Autism

4 Apr

He gets off the bus, takes my proffered hand, then half-hops, half-skips in a straaaaaight line to the entrance. Patiently, he waits for the mechanized door to close, then presses the handicap access button that swings it open again. Still skipping, he makes it over the threshold and fixates on the lines on the floor. Several moments and some coaxing later, we go jump-jump-jumping into the classroom, where he puts his name on the paper school bus, to triumphantly announce his arrival. Exhausted by the effort, he looks up at me, his slanting eyes reflecting the sweetest smile, and I can’t help but strongly feel I was meant to love him.

Little C is 5 years old, a sturdy fellow with poker straight hair, slits for eyes and the occasional sudden laugh. He vocalizes in echoes, has inexplicable meltdowns, loves the security of straps and boundaries, and lives in his own world of strained communication and minimal social interaction.  C, who has only ever kissed two people—his mother and me—has an autism spectrum disorder.

We started off in a loop of unknowns, him and I, both newbies in a pre-kindergarten classroom. Quickly, his position escalated to Most Difficult Child, given his tendency to flop on the floor and resist efforts to remove him from inconvenient spots. That he radiated joy and was at peace with himself even amidst the anxiety that is typical of being on the Spectrum was overlooked by those keen to help him-fix him-pour him into a preset mould. I chose to be his one-on-one person every time I was in the classroom.

And there have been interesting times. Frequent battles of wills, the need to be hugged, chortles when tickled, tears for no apparent reason, grabbing my hand to be let out of his seat, and sometimes just to sit with me, my boy and I, we’ve come a long way. He still chooses to skip in the back of the class during Circle Time. Just this afternoon, I tried to get him to chase me and he looked the other way. But there is trust. And that incident, one afternoon, when he climbed onto my lap, drew his face to my cheek and pushed his puckered mouth against it, in a special Little C version of a kiss, followed by a wide grin on his part and stunned immobility on mine.

I must’ve been your mother in another lifetime, I tell him telepathically, not really expecting the message to get anywhere. But with that logic, I will have birthed dozens of children, my hoo-ha busier than the Suez Canal, because that storyline plays in my head absurdly often. Still, the feeling persists, and I brush it aside for more tangible things—like giving him his chewy toy and putting on his pressure vest.

“Squeezes!” I say, before hugging him tight, and he enjoys the sensory input before going all 5-year-old-boy on me and squirming away. I will be with Little C only one more time, before our paths diverge and we walk away. Correction: I will walk. Little C, my ray of sunshine, will skip-hop, skip-hop, to the beat in his own head, in a way he and he alone can. And I will collect one more stake in a heart that is littered with half a lifetime of such memories.



26 Mar

Every time you moan, then roll off me and lie on your back, catching your breath, trumpets sound, maracas clatter, and bugles play. Drummers beat and flotillas parade, and masked-and-feathered dancers whirl in the noonday sun. Banners wave and confetti sparkles, and colors light up the ether. Laughter erupts, there’s spontaneous clapping, and I hear crowds cheer as they line the streets.

Every time you moan, then roll off me, lie on your back and catch your  breath, the universe bursts forth in jubilation. Tilt your head back, shimmy those hips, and celebrate, World: my baby just might be on her way.

Corpus Amor

4 Feb

She climbs into my lap and reaches for my under-chin. Chubby fingers, sticky from unknowns, prod the softness, demand all of me. My arm winds around her waist, chubbiness stacked on chubbiness, firm, plump, with all the resilience of the Fearsome Fours. Our heads meet, mine crowned with sleekness, hers buoyant with curls, and we breathe the breath we once shared, tucked away in primal spaces, in a bubble that was fiercely ours. “I laau you, Mamma,” she murmurs into my folds, “and Mamma loves Baby,” I croon back. And all around us, the universe echoes, the rocking, the touching, the exhaling of need, for surely no mother and child, and every single one, mirror these crannies between us.

The Girl Not From Here

7 Sep

Swanley station.

1 degree celcius, 1 a.m., and a solitary woman awaiting her cab.

Eynsford, she said, sliding in the back, grateful for the warmth and the driver’s turban.

You’re brave, he said, for a girl not from here to be out alone this late.

I’ve been alone to many places, she explained, and silently counted the destinations where she was the girl-not-from-here. Days in the city of her childhood when she was the outsider. Times in her home when she did not  belong. Months in arms she felt like a stranger. The everywhere girl, the nowhere girl. Only mirrors knew her and let her be. A rebel against conformists, non-believer to the benders, among them, but not of them.

Movement helped, she sleepily mused. If you didn’t stay long enough, they couldn’t expect you to fit in. And so the girl not from here took cabs. And trains and planes and boarding passes, stepping off belief into affirmation, through revolving doors, up metal-railinged stairs.

“Be safe,” he smiled, engine purring at her door. And a pang helped her realize that kindness from strangers is easier than the wall of contorted faces people are sometimes forced to call home.