ghungroo magazine ∙ volume 1

Page 1

ghungroo volume no. 1 ∙ 2020

home ∙ womanhood ∙ belonging

Brown girls, when you think about it, are quite beautiful. Inky black hair. Big bold brows that form the most expressive faces. Strong jaws or soft cheeks. Colors like sand to saturated brown to the color of milky chai to a deep earthy mud to coal-black velvet. But you shouldn’t have to think about it. Upon closer examination, some decide that they like us. But there shouldn’t have to be a closer examination. There is no exotic side dish or a uniquely beautiful trapping from a faraway land. At first glance, to your eyes, I should be just as beautiful as the light-skinned girl on the cover of a magazine, and there is no reason to dissect me further. The long hooked nose and big eyes don’t look like those on the covers of Vogue, but they shouldn’t have to. I am beautiful because I am, by any standards. When will our faces take up the whole page on a magazine cover? Ayesha Gokhale

editors’ note Dear reader, Welcome to Ghungroo Magazine, Harvard Ghungroo’s inaugural literary and arts publication! This is the first year Ghungroo Magazine is being published, and we cannot be more excited to share our journey with all of you. This publication was born out of the desire to celebrate and represent the varied compositions of South Asian culture, the vibrancy of the diaspora, and the many perspectives and forms of expression that linger along our complex histories of migration and an oftentimes nebulous identity in America. South Asian art cannot be confined within the borders of performance. Our diaspora buoys on a rich tradition of writers and visual artists, both of the subcontinent and across the globe. We wanted to create a space to celebrate that tradition, and move it forward through the ruminations of our own struggles, understandings, and interpretations. Building a publication from the ground up was much more challenging than we could have ever imagined, but we could not be prouder of what we have accomplished. Most importantly, this magazine would quite literally not exist if not for our contributors, from South Asian creatives we have long admired on Instagram like Sufi Malik and Simrah Farrukh to our fellow students. We are honored that their art graces the pages of this magazine. Many of our contributors are also featured in the photographs on the front cover and throughout the magazine –– their work has imbued our pages with intentionality, creativity, and magnificence beyond belief. This project has been deeply meaningful to us –– we have long moved through the world without seeing our stories reflected in the world around us, searching for representations of our identities, cultures, and histories that simply do not exist yet. But we are changing that, volume by volume. To quote the foreword, “When will our faces take up the whole page on a magazine cover?” They will now. – Bhargavi Garimella and Ajay Singh


table of contents home Soggy Roti Dhwani Bharvard 4 Home Away From Home Sufi Malik 5 Ek Boond / One Droplet Ayodhya Singh Upadhyaya and Priyanka Kumar 6 Peacock Swathi Kella 8 Tohono Meena Vekataramanan 9 Roads from Home Swathi Kella 13 Just Eating Ahab Chopra 14

womanhood Untitled Blood Rooted Good Wives Live Lies Come Look With Me Who Made You Feel This Way? ಮೆಹಂದಿ – fully flawed ಮದುವೆ – destroyer of worlds/

Simrah Farrukh 16 Manasi Garg 17 Tajrean Rahman 18 Palak Shah 23 Ayesha Gokhale 24 Sahana Bail – Sufi Malik 27 Sahana Bail – Manasi Garg 28

belonging Indian Ballerina Meena Venkataramanan 30 Mangoes Swathi Kella 32 To Be Joyful Nikhil Dharmaraj 34 Together Sarika Chawla 35 Aisha at Eid Anum Shafqat 36 flight Meena Venkataramanan 37 What We Choose to Remember Anonymous 38 On Our Deathbeads Bhargavi Garimella 40


home. “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

Soggy Roti Dhwani Bharvard When I was eight years old I went through a phase called brumotactillophobia: an irrational fear of foods touching. Before the start of every meal I would get ready for combat: digging trenches in my rice and building up fortitudes between my roti and daal so they wouldn’t come in contact with each other. If anything on my plate dared to cross enemy lines and mix together, it would serve as a herald for an active war zone.The segregated regime that I imposed on my plate somehow began to seep into every crevice of my life as the different parts of my identity also refused to coalesce. In school I went by Dhwani with a hard “d” sound because it was palatable to my American friends and I was too socially awkward to correct my teachers. At home I was Dhwani with a soft “dh” which rolled off my parents’ tongue and reminded them of a small piece of home that they cherished. At sleepovers we sang Hannah Montana songs and giggled over who the cutest Jonas Brother while sipping Caprisun. At my cousin’s house we gushed over Shah Rukh Khan and choreographed dances in our moms’ lehengas. In the cafeteria I munched on Gushers and argued why the third Harry Potter book was the best one. Over the dinner table, I groaned as my dad mentioned the Whatsapp video that he sent us, which none of us watched, and the smell of biryani wafted through the air. 4

Although my brumotactillophobia passed, my identity remained fragmented well into adult life. As I started Harvard, the dichotomy of my existence fit a little too conveniently into my college life. I went to Christmas tree lightings with my blockmates and baked apple crisp in my tiny Dewolfe kitchen. I also threw flowers into the Charles at midnight after Diwali and made instantpot kichdi in that same kitchen. Dressed in salvar kameez I strutted down the aisle to Desi Girl during Andaaz. Wearing black leggings and a crop top I danced to Drake in Expressions. After a hard exam I opened up Netflix to find my ‘continue watching’ queue displaying “The Office” and “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” as I debated what I was in the mood for. Ghungroo, however, was the harbinger of war; for the first time I felt parts of my identity cross enemy lines, over the trenches I dug a long time ago. I could no longer keep the compartments in my life from oozing into each other. I danced on stage with my non-South Asian friends as they lip-synched Bollywood songs better than me. Professors that I was too intimidated to go to office hours for beamed at me from the audience. My parents, blockmates, and everyone I cared about were all gathered in a place I had grown a little too fond of. What once was a boring plate of food in it of itself, turned into a medley of different flavors. Soggy roti covered in daal had never tasted so good.

Home Away From Home Sufi Malik Home away from home A home I’ve never known New York city streets raised me The nitty gritty doesn’t phase me I found a love from coast to coast and since then I’ve risen on my own To search the earth and Follow my words I seek love in one constant flow I find peace in karak chai When I’m sitting alone In Pakistani restaurants Where uncles chatter away About all the things they know Except for How their wives feel To the han ji’s and The na ji’s That every woman has known Disobedience is not an act of disrespect Instead a revolution When our thoughts are constantly Put to rest 5

Ek Boond Ayodha Singh Upadhyaya printed in its original Hindi


One Droplet English translation by Priyanka Kumar From the lap of the clouds There was a drop which fell The drop started thinking again and again Oh! Why did I leave the clouds? Oh God, what is my fortune Will I survive or get mixed in the mud Will I burn out by falling on a fire Or will I land on a lotus blossom? At that same movement the wind blew Which took the droplet towards the ocean To a beautiful oyster that sat with an open mouth Where the drop fell in and became a pearl People often think and hesitate When they their home But quite often, leaving their home Transforms them like a tiny drop of water

I’ve always loved poetry, so last year when I found out that my great-great-uncle was a well-respected poet in India, I knew I wanted to share his Hindi poems with my peers. “Ek Boond” (meaning “one droplet”) is one of my favorite poems by him because it speaks to the beautiful possibilities that life has to offer and reminds us how life has a way of running its course. – Priyanka Kumar



Swathi Kella


Tohono Meena Venkataramanan You are almost there when you get to the Border Patrol checkpoint.

about every year around Thanksgiving, making construction paper cutouts of turkeys and coloredpencil cornucopias.

“Checkpoint Trauma,” as it is called by the Tohono O’odham people who are regularly pulled over, sniffed It was the time of year when we would write out a list by hounds, strip searched by chalky, uncertain hands of things we were thankful for, the first being getting under the glaring beam of their own headlights. three days off school to eat pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes with family (or, in my case, basmati rice and​ Our cameras are aimed squarely at the agents when daal​with my parents). We were given permission our car rolls to a gentle halt that belies our tightening to indulge in this holiday because, we were told, it throats, pounding hearts. emerged from a truce between the Pilgrims and the Indians. The four of us — all women, three Asian and one white — are not stopped. I was the kind of Indian whose parents had come from a country on the other side of the world, as I eventually “Have a good one, ladies,” the agent, who is white, learned to describe it to my friends. says after giving us a perfunctory once-over. We are filming him because we can. At lunchtime, we would sit on circular red stools affixed to a long cafeteria table as I slowly spooned We park at the Sells 86 Diner. Neon Coca-Cola potato curry from my pink Thermos, trying to explain signs blink from off-white walls. The faint smell of what I meant. cigarettes crawls in from the Shell gas station next door. Everyone here is O’odham, with the exception This was Tucson, Arizona in 2006, and I couldn’t of the four of us and an elderly white man who works provide too many examples of where to find Indians for Tribal EMS. like me, so I scrambled for sloppy frames of reference that would make some kind of sense to a group of The line cook wears a Washington Redskins hat. fellow seven-year-olds. *** Apu from ​The Simpsons​ didn’t land well; most of us In second grade, no one bothered to tell me I was a hadn’t watched the show, and it would be years before different kind of Indian. I wasn’t the kind we learned 9

any of us understood the racism behind it. Those twins in ​Harry Potter,​I would suggest, but frankly, most of my classmates hadn’t yet read the series — or paid attention to its minor characters. Princess Jasmine was a compromise, and I offered up her name bashfully, hesitant to allow myself the quiet pride of implicitly comparing myself to a Disney princess. Still, my classmates would confuse me for the other kind of Indian — an indigenous person, the kind whom our teacher encouraged us to playfully caricature through our Thanksgiving-inspired drawings and fairytale discussions about colonial America. Whenever we spoke about Native Americans, our class would role-play, impersonating the colonists of four centuries ago encountering an unfamiliar people. (For those of us who were neither white nor indigenous, it was expected we choose a side.) When we weren’t simulating these interactions, we would read a textbook that consistently employed the past tense to describe indigenous communities, forgoing any mention of the brutal genocides of their people, the ceaseless invasions of their lands, the growing militarization of their homes, the trauma that still lingers. Each year, at the end of our class unit on the Pilgrims and Indians, I would bring home the beaded medicine bags and colorful dreamcatchers we made in class and proudly showcase them on my bookshelf like relics of something I imagined to be long gone, swept into extinction. *** Years later, when my classmates had grown old enough 10

to fathom the difference between American Indians and Indian Americans — our transposed names a vestige of Christopher Columbus’s well-documented folly — no one told us there was a reservation just miles away from our homes in Tucson: the Tohono O’odham Nation. The O’odham had been here for millennia, of course, and along with co-opting the tribe’s historical lands, the city of Tucson had conveniently borrowed words from the O’odham language to describe its own, urban landmarks: the Tohono Tadai bus station downtown, the Tohono Chul botanical gardens up north near my house. In the O’odham language, Tohono means desert, and grafted onto this arid, unforgiving landscape was a city of half a million residents, many blissfully unaware of the intricacies of the stolen land upon which they exist. I was one of them. Reduced to a footnote of history in this desert are the tribe’s complicated past and its contemporary challenges: the loss of tribal sovereignty, increasing government occupation, missing and murdered indigenous women. Tucson is a city that has allowed itself to forget. *** Looking up at the menu sprawled across five TV screens, I am unsure of exactly what frybread is and whether to order it, so I Google the word on my phone when I am standing in line and learn that it originated from the U.S. government’s attempted ethnic cleansing of the Navajo people, known as the Long Walk.

We place our orders and wait for the three O’odham women and tribal school counselor who have agreed to meet us here.

We yearn to know of the O’odham community’s reactions to the wall, its fears, its ensuing fight. I imagine these are questions the women have answered countless times before, sitting in this very As we wait, I become painfully aware of abstractions. diner, their answers satisfying the hunger of visiting The four of us are just another group of non- political journalists on encroaching deadlines, erudite indigenous people on indigenous land. We have told magazine writers who hit words together like song. ourselves we are here to learn, much like those who have come before us. I quietly fear how we will appear But there are other things I want them to tell me, to the O’odham women as our collective ignorance is things that aren’t usually given the space to gestate slowly laid bare, as our persistent questions about life during fifteen-minute conversations with reporters on the reservation gradually expose the assumptions often centered on a single, premeditated theme. I we do not yet know we harbor. know these things exist, untold, in the liminal space between our words. But I am unsure what to ask. We will ask them about life on the reservation as if it something that can be packaged into neat sentences. As time crawls forward, I watch the barriers separating We will expect them to deliver the stories of their lives the four of us and the O’odham women dissolve ever so to us in a form we can swallow. slightly. It feels natural, like together, we have cobbled a patchwork of trust appropriate for this conversation Confession: I have come to detest the word “ally” to march on — slow, and increasingly steady, like a because it represents a kind of bargain: the ability newborn’s heartbeat. to adopt a struggle without actually experiencing it, the privilege to partake in a naïve brand of activism April recalls the lingering trauma of being racially without enduring any sort of concomitant, existential profiled and detained at a Border Patrol checkpoint threat. I hate that it is the best we can be in this with her children while trying to exit the reservation. situation. Hon’mana speaks of compromising tribal sovereignty *** for the sake of a national security mandate, becoming April, Pachynne, and Hon’mana spend three hours desensitized to the robotic eye of a surveillance tower talking to us against a backdrop of colorful NFL in her own backyard. pennants punctuated with historical photos of indigenous women in regalia. We start with the usual Pachynne remembers the young asylum seeker who questions about Trump’s border wall, which would showed up at her doorstep, parched, asking for small bisect tribal lands, choking off sacred burial grounds amounts of food and water to support endless days of and water sources straddling the border. trekking through the Sonoran Desert after crossing the border. 4


The women tell us of the tribal border gate that was welded shut after the Mexican government sold O’odham land to a private citizen who cut off access to sacred indigenous sites south of the border. They speak of state politicians who have never visited the reservation. Of presidential candidates who have reduced indigenous identity to a joke. Of feeling like phantoms in a land that belongs to them. *** It is three o’clock. Everyone is exhausted. We shake hands with the O’odham women, thank them for their time, and climb into the car. We sit in silence on scorching leather seats, shining tires tracing the skin of the desert beneath us as we drive east, back to Tucson, away from the reservation. The sun is behind us. In just minutes, the checkpoint will be, too.


Roads from Home Swathi Kella

The roads in the subject’s head are from the street map of the Indian city in which I was born and transition slowly into the map of the American town in which I live today.both sides.


Just Eating Ahab Chopra

we started by boiling the rice which she washed more times than I can count reminiscing of rice fields in backyard scolding the foolishness of selling dirty rice I peeled and cut garlic, ginger, and onions she said if I was asked what I couldn’t live without to name these three ingredients and mirchi – always include the chili closing my eyed as she added her not-so-secret ingredient to the atta to make it extra soft and we tried to make the most perfect circle which she could do. I couldn’t. she filled the table like you’d fill a friend’s cup of water – to the brim and the colors. she always loved the colors of the food against the plates. no utensils. he went to get four mangoes from the fridge we put them there earlier to get just cold enough to forget the sweat and the juice dribbling down her chin pattering down softly on the plate because


womanhood. “He visits my town once a year. He fills my mouth with kisses and nectar. I spend all my money on him. Who, girl, your man? No, a mango.” – Amir Khusrow

Simrah Farrukh 16

Blood Rooted Manasi Garg In my dreams, my grandmother and I are bodies of fat and light and we clasp our hands so tightly that even God knows to cry. I am in love with her and her marbled flesh. We walk through her first home. Cursed city. I watch her shed the years, watch them whisper into the clouds like linens drying under the hot sun. Here is her house that burned down. Here is the temple next to the fruit orchard. Here is where the neighbors threw rocks. She was only 11 when the world ended. Pakistan, 1947. She tells me the men would rather drown their daughters than let them be taken. I picture a thousand Ophelias: the white dress billowing, the river water scything their breathless skin in rivulets, their heads bobbing up and down Ravi River like a string of pearls. I wonder if they filled their pockets with stones or if they just accepted the darkness, the finality of it all: if they wanted it, if it felt like a mother’s womb, if they were aching to return home.

photo by Simrah Farrukh 17

Good Wives Live Lies Tajrean Rahman JASRA ZAMAN HAD already accepted that she was a horrible person.

luggage light, but then again, she’d never quite allowed herself to live here. The bare walls staring at her were the same as they were a year ago, witnesses since the A cold-hearted vixen, an unfeeling home-wrecker, a first day she’d walked into the room, nervous with terribly, selfish bitch—it was all true. Horribly true, but fragile hope for her new life. the facts nonetheless. Her reputation, the one thing Ammu had drilled her to protect since Jasra was old Her hands absentmindedly smoothed out the bedsheets enough to understand it as being especially important but she knew she was stalling the inevitable. Maybe to girls like her, was well and truly in the dirt. waiting for some kind of panic to seize her and tell her that she was doing something irrevocably wrong. The loss of that safety net made her an all too easy Everyone else had told her that much: aunties with target for the whispers and chatter, nevermind the clucking tongues who wrapped their ornas tighter, as fact that she could hear the hushed gossip and see if to ward off the news; uncles with deep frowns that the gleeful smirks, both that constantly trailed her. It further creased their weathered faces. Her cousins and certainly didn’t matter that it hurt: Jasra had lost these friends and neighbors had all watched her, eyes filled considerations as a consequence of her choices. So she with morbid curiosity as she quietly repeated, Yes, this accepted the punishment, deserved it, embraced it, is what I want. Please. even. She needed the reminder to be guilty, even as she savored the immense relief that washed over her If it wasn’t for the fuel it would add to her decided as she zipped up the last suitcase of her belongings. scandal, she would’ve added, And also, it’s my fucking business in the first place, so stop asking. Jasra surveyed the bedroom with tired eyes, taking in the neutral shades of gray and white that accented a Jasra had experienced the same panic on the day king sized bed, dresser, TV, and two sets of mahogany she’d finally said it. That morning, weak sunlight wood drawers. A cursory glance of the room would had steadily filtered through the kitchen window and not reveal that it was now half-filled, her garments warmed her arms as she kneaded the roti atta. The and knick-knacks emptied out and neatly tucked away springy dough stretched as she worked, providing a into two large green suitcases. welcome distraction from the way her fingers would shake whenever she allowed her thoughts to wander. It had almost been too easy to pack—Jasra kept her 18

She didn’t know how she pushed through her scrambling thoughts, but the table had been set and plated by the time Faisal walked in through the door. She vividly remembered his expression of surprise, brows lifted and dark eyes wide, only for a moment showcasing his confusion before falling to a hesitant smile.

istikhara, performed when only the most lost stood towards the direction of the Kaa’ba in search of an answer.

“You made breakfast.”

Jasra found herself unable to tear her gaze away from the condensation on her glass. One of the beads of water slid down, leaving behind a streak that ruined the otherwise pearly layer of droplets. But then again, who could fault water for acting on its nature?


“It’s delicious.” Faisal said warmly.

Her mouth was dry. Faisal slung his briefcase on a chair and went to the faucet with a glass. The two were quiet, save for the sound of running water, and then a slight thud as her husband placed the water beside her plate. It was a habitual gesture, small and thoughtful enough to make Jasra’s vocal chords feel strangled as she watched him go to get his own glass of water.

She glanced over at him then. There were roti crumbs in his beard, but he was smiling broadly in a way that hurt to look at. Are you sure, a voice inside her head demanded, are you sure that you want to do this to him?

The guilt was strong enough to make her heartbeat quicken. Jasra could stop, smile back at Faisal and ask him what cases he’d be working on for the day. She “You must have been up since Fajr,” Faisal noted as could offer to meet him after work and the two would he grabbed a warm roti and spooned aloo bhaji and have dinner together at one of those nice restaurants chicken curry onto his plate. near the water. Because that’s what happy couples did, right—what they were supposed to do? “Mhm.” Her warring thoughts grated on her nerves and left Jasra didn’t share that she had been up even before her sick with shame. Of all the things in life, this was the pre-dawn prayer. Sleep didn’t usually come to her the one aspect she was not allowed to fail. The stakes easily, but yesterday night she’d been plagued with were too high, the repercussions taboo. She should anxiousness as she laid on the bed, wide awake and smile. Fix this. staring at the ceiling. The feeling had burned into her chest until she finally sat up in bed with tears in Faisal had gone back to quietly eating, doing his best her eyes, only a few inches away from her sleeping not to share that he was disappointed with the pause husband, but somehow still so painfully alone. in conversation. Even after months of marriage the silence between them lingered in the wake of every She’d found her solace as she always did, in prayer— small disagreement and moment, a suffocating absence 19

of words that acted as a familiar buffer between them.

said something earlier. Done something...I don’t know, people would have talked...I didn’t—I couldn’t,” Fix this. Jasra’s speech had started slurring from the onslaught of her tears, but she felt this need to explain, a pressing “I want a divorce.” urgency to let him know that she knew that she was a horrible, terrible, awful person. She wiped her face, Faisal looked up instantly. Time slowed. Jasra hadn’t smearing her cheeks with tears as more fell down. known that silence could roar so loudly in her ears, Maybe she’d never stop crying, it would be a suitable almost deafening as it stretched achingly slow between punishment. them. But here it was nonetheless, something that may have always been inevitable from a relationship that “I’m so stupid. I was so stupid, Faisal, it was all wrong, had been broken from the start. I wasn’t ready, and I should have, I don’t know... shit, I should have said something...Faisal, I—” Jasra kept her gaze steady. He could have walked away, she wouldn’t have blamed Her husband gave a slow nod. “Okay.” him if he was disgusted with her failure as a wife. This was her mess and he’d only been a victim, and yet he His single word, a quick acquiesce that had been quietly came to her side. his signature in all the time they’d spent together, immediately broke her resolve. Suddenly she was Jasra looked at Faisal with bleary eyes, hating herself crying. for still wanting comfort when she deserved none. His palm was warm against hers. Jasra cried harder when “You deserve so much better, Faisal.” He did—Faisal she saw his expression—so painfully kind, needlessly Begum was the kind of man who loved to love. Since caring for her still. the moment they both signed the wedding contract, he’d been so gentle and patient, willing to do anything “Do you remember the dua?” His deep voice was too for her. gentle, too kind. Yell. Scream. Hate me. She saw nothing but warmth in Faisal as he spoke, “The prayer from And how had Jasra repaid him? Silence and disquiet, our wedding day?” no screaming and yelling, but perhaps the absence of voice and emotion had been worse in some way. She Jasra pressed her trembling lips together as his brown had never really bothered to fight for them. Jasra was eyes softened with a wistful expression. too much of a coward to tell him that she could hardly fight for herself. “Barakallahu…” “I’m so sorry Faisal. I should. I should—I should have He nodded encouragingly, “Barakallahu lakuma wa 20

baraka ‘alaikuma wa jama’a baynakuma fi khayr.” His thumb brushed over her hand in soothing circles.

Faisal had only been good to her throughout their short-lived marriage. Faisal’s mother on the other hand hadn’t said anything aloud, but she’d seen the accusation in her ex-mother-in-law’s eyes.

Faisal smiled slightly, “It translates to mean, ‘May Allah bless you, and may He shower His blessings upon both The woman likely believed that Jasra was cruel— of you, and may He unite you both in all that is good.’” why else would something like a divorce happen in a community like theirs? Jasra had wrecked the marriage, too caught up in her own stewing thoughts Faisal’s voice suddenly grew thick with emotion. to break things off when it was earlier and less painful “It’s okay for us to part ways for all that is good. For for a young man who had only ever offered his heart the both of us.” He had to turn away for a moment, to her. Fear had paralyzed her: Jasra had been too unwilling to let her see how much she had hurt him. scared to face the backlash that would ensue from The soft timber of his voice broke slightly, “I...I hold every household to masjid to grocery store in their neighborhood. no ill feelings, Jasra.” The diamond on her left hand glinted in the afternoon Something shredded inside her as Faisal clasped her light. It was a thick circlet of gold engraved with hand. They both recognized the kind words he used to intricate filigree swirling to a center diamond that was almost awkwardly big. It had, in a way, been her first protect her, even in this moment. life. The day the ring had been slipped on her finger, “Faisal, you always deserved so much better,” she she’d desperately tried to tell herself that she wanted it. repeated, her words ragged and earnest as more tears All the good, South Asian Muslim girls married good, South Asian Muslim boys—and damn it if you didn’t streamed down her face. “I’m so, so—” want a happily ever after like theirs. “Don’t.” His voice was firm as he shook his head. “Don’t apologize—you also deserve love Jasra. I’m sorry we She angled her head as she examined her hand, considering not for the first time that she hadn’t been didn’t find it, but you deserve it just as much.” ready for marriage. But then again, there really hadn’t Jasra stared blankly at the ground, clasping and been a way to share that honesty, not when Ammu unclasping her hands as she sat in the empty bedroom. had sat with her, eyes sincere as she told Jasra that she She’d timed her exit to be during Faisal’s work shift, needed the stability and protection that only a man could provide. though she doubted he would want to see her out. The meetings between their families had been tense— It hadn’t been a pressure out of malice, but simply Abbu had been angry at Faisal, convinced that he hadn’t knowledge from the only lifestyle her mother had ever treated Jasra well, despite her repeated assurances that known. 21

Jasra stood, twisting the ring around her knuckle. It was a shame that the thing had always been a smidge too tight, difficult to slide all the way down, which left it suspended ever so slightly above the knuckle. If Jasra had wanted metaphors, this would have been the first. Ya Allah. There was a clear note of finality that came with sliding off her wedding ring. She held it pinched between her thumb and forefinger, expecting the familiar guilt to mercilessly grip her. But Jasra only felt a lightness—an ease that should have made her feel bad, but gave her peace instead, untangling the knotted emotions at her chest. She was not sorry for choosing this, only that it had taken her so long to be brave enough to do it. “Find someone better,” she said softly, as if confiding to the glittering diamond. “And I hope to be better, insha’Allah.” It would always hurt, she decided—in whatever capacity, she would hold on to the memories of this past year and never forget the ache of sadness no matter how much time passed. But the freedom flooding through her would give her the energy to move forward with an almost reckless abandon, allowing her to walk away. Jasra Zaman left nothing behind.


Come Look With Me

Palak Shah


who made you feel



Ayesha Gokhale


I stood against the countertop of my parents’ upstairs rubbing, of all things? bathroom, with cold marble jutting into my waist. My face was raised at precisely the right angle, just enough But either way, it was my first time, so what would I so that the bathroom light could catch the hairs on my know? upper lip and turn them bright gold against my skin. My mom, on the other hand, had been slaving away My mother took a Nair wax strip between her palms at the process for years. I’d seen her look in the mirror and rubbed the paper fast, and with another quick and rip the strip off her own face without flinching. movement, peeled the strips apart so that the shiny wax faced me. Before I could even move, the strip She made it look easy: rub, peel, stick, yank, rinse, then had cemented itself to my moustache hairs. One very repeat. threatening tug later, it was torn off my follicles with a ripping sound that bounced off the bathroom walls As I sat dabbing (not rubbing!) the aloe vera, I wonand reminded me of a big shark tearing into a small dered how many years it took for my mother to learn fish. how to wax her own upper lip. Did my mom’s mom, my ajji, teach her to do it? And did Ajji’s mom teach Rub, peel, stick, yank, rinse, then repeat. Ajji? And who even convinced all these women that they were prettier without the hair on their upper lip? Later on, I would come to associate the process and the horrendous sound with waxing, a bi-weekly spectacle For me, it was a little fair boy in my sixth-grade class. that had me in tears of pain every time. He wore a different colored short sleeved polo shirt every day. The hairs on his arms were so thin, like inYes, this was waxing— an Indian girl’s bread and but- visible threads you had to squint to see. ter. Meanwhile I, the only Indian girl in my entire grade, “Will it always be this painful, mom?” Now I was rub- was forced to go into hiding. Long-sleeved shirts were bing aloe vera on my upper lip vigorously and won- my go-to wardrobe staples. Uniform pants that fell to dering why on earth my mom had to put up with this my ankles were always a safe bet for me, and I stuck crap. with them from Autumn to Summer. “No, it gets easier with time. Oh, and you should dab the aloe vera, not rub. Rubbing makes it more red.”

Even at age eleven, I was all too conscious of my body hair. And so of course, when the polo-shirt-wearing white boy announced that I had a moustache like his Eleven-year-old me questioned the accuracy of this dad, I didn’t doubt it. statement— surely it had to be the ferocious yanking of hair from pore that made my skin red, and not the When I got home, I ran straight to the mirror and saw 25

a light dusting of black hair on my upper lip through a vision blurry with tears. Pressed against the mirror, they looked like a forest. Far away, they looked like a shadow that clouded over my cupid’s bow and spread out to the edges of my mouth. And so of course, of course, he had to be correct. I really did have a moustache. That night, after shedding more than a few tears over a hairless white boy’s definition of a moustache, I begged my mom to use the Nair strips on me. She was right about everything she told me. Waxing stung like a slap from a hot hand. And most importantly, dabbing aloe vera was indeed much better than rubbing. Rubbing irritated your skin. Now, I’m seventeen years old. In the mirror, I look myself squarely in the eye, and begin: rub, peel, stick, yank, rinse, then repeat.


fully flawed Sufi Malik I am a woman – fully flawed I am average & not a mystery for you to dream about so don’t concave my being when you are denied to become a touch I wish to crave I am a woman – complete I am not searching for a soul or seeking to be seen I exist in wonders on my own I am me and you cannot rob my existence to build up your self esteem

ಮೆಹಂದಿ Sahana Bail


destroyer of worlds/ Manasi Garg It is the sacred art of mutilating pussy/ They say/ I like my women held down/ They say/ I like my women sun-shriveled/ spread-eagled/ buried to the mouth/ Ribs ground with/mortar and pestle/mixed with cumin/sprinkled on sabji/This house/ a cage. This skin I wear/a shroud/ garden bed dirt and my roots go deep/The flesh that coats/ the floors of this house/The braids that cover/ our heads. The cellulite that holds/ these walls together. Even at night/ I feel the weight of Mother/ watching/ She burns sandalwood in the corner/prays in seven tongues/cradles red chillies in her palms/ traces circles around my head/ We give birth to sons and watch them grow into our fathers: hungry for the taste of woman/They say/ she’s rotten, she gave it away in the bushes under the clothesline/They say/whore/But these whores only spread their legs so their necks don’t turn blue/Man comes home from work and thinks he’s god/Unlock door/ Beat wife/ The only God I know is the one that lives in the hollow of my throat/ rapturous and unafraid/ Butcher knife being plunged into belly/ Belly leaking fetus and coconut milk/ Butcher knife spinning on callused finger/an elated reprise/ Finger scratched, peeling. Blood drawn a hearthblaze/an unrelenting drum beat/ Mother smears turmeric on my uterus for strength/ on her eyes for healing/Bruises feather her body/ I drink my milk hot with malai and all sugary/then tell her, I’d rather be dead than abused/ that is to say/ my aching body deserves to have/a home among the earth/ She says, me too/ She says/ I like my freedom swollen and flush with birdsong/ Breasts lactating with honeyed milk/ and baby’s hungry for the taste of liberation/ We give birth to daughters/teach them to build wings from their bones/ To fashion knives from tooth/ We teach them to desire/tell them the sky tastes insatiably sweet/ This is the sound/ of woman become death/


Sahana Bail 28


“Pointed in the wrong direction, trapped outside their own history and unable to retrace their steps because their footprints had been swept away.” – Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Indian Ballerina Meena Venkataramanan It felt strange, arriving early to a memorial service of a girl I’d never known. I searched for solace in the fact that no one here had ever known her: Gurupreet Kaur died shortly after she crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Border Patrol agents found her body in the Sonoran Desert, two hours west of my Southern Arizona hometown, on June 12, 2019. It was 108 degrees outside. She was six years old, an asylum-seeker from northern India who made the long journey alongside her mother. Around sixty of us showed up for Gurupreet’s memorial service that evening, held at a homey Tucson Episcopal church on the final Sunday evening of June, two weeks after she died. I chose a fifth-row pew, close enough to see the pulpit without squinting, but far enough to remain inconspicuous. I was small, and, if needed, could slink down low in my seat as to fold myself into some kind of invisibility.

I want to say Gurupreet and I could have been sisters, but I know that would be disingenuous: she was a Punjabi, Sikh migrant girl from India; I, the American daughter of Tamil, Hindu immigrants. But when I first saw the photo of her on the Internet, I could not help but remember a similar photo of myself, at four years old, wearing a pink tutu and brandishing a sparkly magic wand, standing in a living room decorated with Indian tapestries. I dreamed of being the first Indian ballerina.

I thought the occasion that June evening demanded my emotional distance: though it was a memorial service, I was to cover it as a freelance journalist on assignment: observantly and dispassionately. But something about the way Gurupreet’s name – ironed out by the American-accented tongues that stumbled over its razor-sharp syllables – reverberated off the wooden-paneled church walls that evening made me hungry to shed the thick layer of detachment in which Days after she died, I searched Gurupreet’s name on I had so painstakingly clothed myself that afternoon. the Internet, and found a single photo of her online. In the photo, she is a four-year-old smiling coyly, dressed Most of the guests were white, Tucson residents in a black leotard and pink tutu, standing in the living who had heard the news of Gurupreet’s death. A room of her home in Hasanpur, India. “She loved few were from out of town. The memorial service dancing,” the accompanying news article reads. Two was a patchwork of ceremony. Members of the local years after the photo was taken, Gurupreet would die gurdwara sang kirtan. The church’s pastor recited a on America’s doorstep, just miles from my own. Christian prayer. Immigration activists gave speeches. An army veteran played the Native American flute. A 30

reporter showed up to snap loud, flash photos that Gurupreet was Indian, and then you could join us at squirmed and chirped and sounded like sneezes. the dinner party in the same outfit,� she reminded me. I shook my head no. Sitting among the pews that I felt uncomfortable in the way I often feel when I evening, I wanted to feel unseen. am partaking in a moment of Indianness that a white person can see, like stopping at a Circle K on the way to an Indian dinner party to pump gas into my car while dressed head-to-toe in a salwar kameez and sparkly gold jewelry, trying to avoid the white women who will inevitably approach me to tell me my outfit is beautiful, and ask me how long I am visiting America. I was afraid that someone at the memorial service would think Gurupreet and I were related, and I did not want to have to explain to them that no, we were not related, though, yes, we are both Indian, but, you are correct, no, I did not know her personally; nevertheless, thank you for your condolences. When the memorial service ended, I crept out of the church into the parking lot, hoping to beat the procession of guests making their way from the chapel to the kitchen, where a langar cooked by the event organizers would be served hot from flimsy aluminum trays. Outside, the sky had faded to a dark blue. Stars had flung themselves across the Tucson sky. I could hear June bugs humming softly from chaparral hideouts. I wanted to hide with them. I clambered into my car under the evening’s sticky dimness. I was late to an Indian dinner party hosted by a family friend that same night; this time, I was not dressed in Indian clothing. Earlier that day, my mother had suggested I wear a salwar kameez to the memorial service: “After all, 31

Mangoes Swathi Kella A light broke through the darkness. The cracked brightness fractured the thick, heavy black of the room, slowly piercing through and carving out a coarse rectangle that came to resemble a door. The rupture grew large, larger, immense until the grating fluorescence from the hallway flooded in and drowned every corner of the room. It poured through the harsh silhouette standing in the doorway; it spilled out from the gap between his arms and escaped through the spaces between his fingertips. He entered and flipped on the light switch. The same fluorescence from the hallway now bleached the interior of the flat, revealing scattered mail–all advertisements claiming to miraculously fix the guttered sink or the failing refrigerator–and stray papers on the kitchen counter. Other than that, the room was mostly unadorned, the mark of someone living alone. He had been apart from his family–my mother, my sister, and me–for over a year now, struggling and surviving in America, where, as he struggled to tell himself every day, anyone could be who they wanted. Day-to-day, he completed his residency in a hospital in the Bronx, New York. He would wake up at five, take the subway to his workplace, and come back to his apartment late at night. It was routine by now, and he had gotten accustomed to it. However, that habitual comfort did little to assuage the real questions that 32

had been troubling him; he still did not know when he would be able to send for his family, how soon he would be able to receive his green card to gain the privileges of the Americans beside him, and how to save enough money to secure the best education for his two young girls. But this night, he would not worry about those problems; instead, he would indulge in a treat from his homeland. From the refrigerator, he pulled out a golden mango, his favorite fruit as a child. It was ripe– you could tell because it was soft, so much so that when my father pressed his palm into it, a little depression remained. Its skin was colored a deep orange, freckled with red. Such mangoes are nonexistent in American grocery stores, as the climate for growth has always been unsuitable. To get a mango of this color, my father had to travel to a nearby Indian market, a small community of commodities made available to the immigrants in America who couldn’t quite forget their old fruits, their old spices, their old teas. He drove the knife through; where the cold metal met the dense pulp, a stream of nectar erupted and flowed down the hilt of the knife and into my father’s palm. It left behind a thick, sticky residue before falling to the counter. Such little messes were everywhere during his childhood days, and the simple drip of mango juice awakened old memories.

My father was born in Andhra Pradesh, an agricultural state in southern India famous for growing rice, cotton, and above all, silk. He grew up playing cricket on the streets of a small, dusty village by the name of Kandisa. Out from the brick houses would pour small, slender boys with tousled black hair and faces darkened by their days in the sun, bobbing in and out of the sugarcane and rice fields. This was 1980, and electricity wouldn’t fully arrive for another ten years; in the dark, the residents would carry kerosene lamps. Every night, in the slender light of the nighttime moon, my father and his friends could be found nested high in a mango tree. Despite urgent calls from their parents and severe threats that they would be punished by the gods presiding above them, the boys stayed for a time after the dark descended. The boys believed that in the absence of the sun and sights it brought, their sense of vision would fall into disuse. In the silence of the streets and the life that it aroused, their sense of hearing would weaken as well. All that would be left was the sense of touch, the sense of smell, and the sense of taste––the three senses needed to taste a mango. At this time in the night, in their seclusion amidst the trees, the boys believed the mangoes would feel best, smell best, taste best. As my father bit into the succulent fruit, he would close his eyes and allow the flavor to burst through; he would tell me years later that the first bite he took every night was one he would never forget. The flesh of the fruit was rich in texture, he would say, and in that moment, the senses of touch, smell, and sense were dedicated entirely to the soft fruit between his

teeth. The initial tang would force him to clamp his mouth shut and contort his face, but the following sweetness was comparable to none. Dripping mango juice spared neither my father nor any of his friends as they all scrambled to lick the thick sap that trailed down their arms and left them with sticky hands. Such was the childhood my father left behind in India. He left behind his village, the trees he stripped of mangoes, and all the friends he shared those mangoes with. He left behind the golden fruit which had become a staple of his daily life. In coming to America, he left behind his own family. He spent his days as a resident, watching the fierce glints in the surgical instruments as the doctors moved them rapidly under the bright operation room light; studying so that he may one day have the chance to use those very instruments; and coming home at night to a darkened apartment, no company and no comfort. As he cut a piece of the mango in the New World, he was reminded that he would not leave behind his personal history or his culture, for they would follow him here. This journey was a personal one; he had given up a life in his hometown for one in a strange world. He had given up the fruits of his hometown for the fruits of the strange world.


To Be Joyful Nikhil Dharmaraj

In memoriam of my Ammama, who passed away in November, 2018. Taken by me in 2015, this photo is now my iPhone background, as I think it perfectly captures her in her essence — joyful, throughout her life, even in the face of her immense personal, medical, and physical struggles. Although she is now a year departed, I still see fragments of her life everywhere around me, all the time. Her joy lives on.


Together Sarika Chawla I’ve always dismissed my last name as nothing more than a useless label, its only purpose being to distinguish me from the thousands of Sarikas that surely exist on Earth. Chawla. How boring. To my ears, it’s always sounded like a lone cricket, chirping loudly to be heard yet unnoticed by its friends. Imagine my surprise when I asked my dad if there was any significance to our last name and he replied, “I believe it’s based off the name of a province in Pakistan where my forefathers lived.”

victim: A young Hindu boy huddles in the corner of his kitchen as silent tears roll down his cheeks. He drags himself across the room, his heart a heavy weight in his chest, and stares in agony at the sight before him: his mother, father, and siblings lie sprawled across the ground, their faces expressionless and their bodies stone cold. Grief-stricken, he sits there for what seems like an eternity, until he finally realizes what he must do. Reciting a quick prayer, he sets off in search of the Immediately a story surfaced in my mind, one that my nearest train station; then, with nothing left but hope, father had recounted when I was a child and that had the little boy boards a train, hoping fate will be kinder imprinted itself on my soul. to him than the rest of his family. It’s June 3, 1947, and Lord Mountbatten has just announced the plan to partition India and grant the two resulting countries independence. All seems well, but chaos lurks in the background, seething. Like venom coursing through the veins of the earth, it rapidly snakes its way around every bend and ventures into a small village, situated in an area that will soon become Pakistan. In a brick and cement house in this village resides chaos’s first victim: a middle-aged Hindu man, desperate to bring his wife and five children to safety before it’s too late. Leaving behind everything he’s ever known, he climbs aboard a train and flees with his family, away from their homeland. As the man steps foot across the India-Pakistan border, he knows he can never go back.

That middle-aged Hindu man and the young boy would soon find each other on the other side of the border. Neither had much, but the man had a family. And that one thing, a seemingly insignificant thing, made all the difference -- the man was reason enough for him to open up his heart and let the little boy in. In a land where the sky is filled with blankets of clouds that smother the nation’s landscape, the boy is finally able to see the sun.

The man who adopted that little boy was my greatgrandfather, Harichand Gandhi. Though Chawla was not his last name, its ties to his homeland still remind me of him and the life-changing act of love and kindness he performed. When I say my last name, I no longer hear a solitary cricket chirping aimlessly. Instead, I hear a family of crickets trilling bravely through the night, for each one knows he will never Here, in a brick and cement house, resides chaos’s first have to sing alone again. 35

Aisha at Eid Anum Shafqat


latticed red economy class seats sewn with napkin headrests to catch dabs of hair oil sit like inmates chained together in rows. there are 18 hours to Chennai from Phoenix, something of its own Chennai with sari-covered immigrants weaving themselves into the Sonoran chaparral quietude, making a kind of noise of their own. brown-skinned babies quack softly under the static hum of compressed air and periodic beeps that evoke the hospitals from which late their bodies were brought into a harmony with breath. the aftertaste of my mother’s potato roti rolls melts into the bumps on my tongue, still crackling with the crisp of the aluminum foil I had swallowed in tandem. we are always unsure how the plane ride will unfold, so we have brought wood pulp crosswords, fistfuls of brown paper bags, yellow nausea capsules tucked into the front folds of mini red cloth backpacks, cracked iPod Touches and cobalt Nintendo DSis for the children, rusted John Grisham paperbacks for the fathers, tubes of thick white lotion for the mothers whose hands are calloused and cracked with the insidious pain of raising a child in an unfamiliar land. Chennai, too, will feel unfamiliar, for the children’s hearts pulse with an American spirit in tune with Whitman’s own, the stamp of India plastered somewhere in the corner yet its shadow expansive and looming and indelible. the plane grumbles with a leonine roar and at once quakes with fear, wrestling itself from a desert tarmac, eyes forward, chin up. we lift ourselves. the babies open the backs of their throats in soulful screams. the mothers clasp their fissured hands in hungry prayer.


Meena Venkataramanan 37

What We Choose to Remember Anonymous It’s hard to pinpoint what my first memory exactly is, but if I had to guess, it would be the first time I began to believe in magic. I’m five years old, fidgeting underneath the lights of my living room. My grandmother is visting from India. Towering over my six-year-old self, she exudes power. Everything from her unwavering posture to her sharp Hindi reprimands to her larger-than-life black purse communicated something that could not be said to me at the time, but that I nonetheless knew — that this woman was formidable, hardened, and resilient. Reaching in, she pulls out a Twix bar and firmly places it in my hand. “Chocolate. For you, beta.” I had never even heard of this weird “Twix” substance, but that did not matter at all. Perhaps it was the caramel nougat melting in my mouth moments later, or perhaps it was simply the thrill of receiving a gift, but there was something incredibly warm, enchanting, magical about that interaction. I was mesmerized by how effortlessly she had reached into her bottomless mystical purse, how quickly she had conjured up a candy bar, and how lovingly she had given it to me. Such a simple, innocent gesture had unlocked worlds of fantasy, warmth, and love in my child’s mind. It was then, at the ripe young age of five, that I first started to believe in magic. And, my Nani was full of it. She was magic, in human form.

physically far more delicate, but mentally, just as sharp. She walks with the help of a walking cane now, but her Hindi cuts through the air just as precisely. I’m now in my sophomore year of high school, much more grown-up, and reality with her is slightly different. The bag that had once seemed filled with magic and fantasy now simply appeared to be the tattered, overused purse of an old woman. And, the words coming out of her mouth, although they seemed sugar-coated with affection, were far less loving. “In our Hindu tradition, beta, gay people are sinners — those facing the punishments of a past life. It is unnatural, and it is wrong.” Her words fell sharply on sensitive ears, for although I did not know it at the time, three of her five grandchildren sitting around the fireplace that evening, including myself, would come to identify as LGBTQ+. Our protests and arguments meant nothing, though, to the jaded Indian homophobia that had ruled for her entire life. That night is now long-gone, and in the years that have passed in between, Nani has only grown frailer, our conversations less frequent. In the interim, since coming to identify as a queer Hindu, I’ve had a lot of time to grapple with this question, though.

How do you exist in this world — a living American-dreamfulfilled to your Indian grandmother, and yet an unnatural Many years later, my grandmother is back in America, sinner to that same woman, who sowed the seeds of your sitting, warming her hands by our fireplace — American life? 38

Somehow, I keep coming back to that first memory of mine, that gesture that my Nani herself probably won’t even recall, but that meant so much to my young mind. That magical woman — that was the woman who spent her spare time roaming the streets of Delhi with a pile of used clothes for homeless kids; the woman whose painstakingly-prepared food tasted like spice and love; the woman who, to this day, spends several hours imploring her Bhagawan every day for only one thing: joy in the lives of her grandchildren. Now, I’ve almost come to terms with the fact that my grandmother can and will never know this part of my identity. To be clear, I do not, and never will, condone or excuse my grandmother’s violent homophobia. It is wrong and hateful in every way. But, unfortunately, it is not our choice what our loved ones believe, do, or say. The only thing in our control is how we choose to remember them. So, as difficult as it is, I hope that I can always think of my Nani as I did all those years ago — as a woman made of magic.



When I can feel My chest becoming tighter

How badly I wish to lighten his eyes To smooth out his brow. But trust no one but yourself, That was the seed planted in me. It took root, And now it is embedded so deeply That I can’t remember what was there before it. How can I lighten his eyes Smooth out his brow

Papa says that he will tell me about all that he has been through When he is on his deathbed. I see it buried in the wrinkles near his eyes, The heaviness of his brow, always furrowed. Reminders and lessons to trust no one, to rely on no one but yourself. Why do you think that, Papa? What happened to you, Papa? Oh, he says he’ll tell me on his deathbed.

Bhargavi Garimella

On Our Deathbeds


So tell me, Papa Because I don’t want to plant this seed in my children I want to trust someone But it feels like a dance I don’t know how to perform. What happened to you, Papa? Tell me why you live inside of yourself Tell me, because I can feel it happening to me. Don’t wait until your deathbed, I’m trying not to wait until mine.

Always short of breath Brow becoming permanently furrowed. When I can feel myself inheriting the patterns Bleeding both his wounds and my own. And you and I, Papa, we do the same thing We stitch them up on our own And when we can’t, We bury them so deep That bringing them up again feels like speaking a foreign language.

the team Bhargavi Garimella Ajay Singh Brammy Rajakumar Anu Zaman Ryan Gajarawala

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“In the nights though, I couldn’t help but weave the golden cloth of my dreams. Each stitch from heart to thought, and thought to heart, was painful to bear, even if it was joyous at times. Because each thread was fraught with the fears of being broken midway, lost and never found again.” – Faiqa Mansab, This House of Clay and Water