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THE CONTEMPORARY WEST

Deriving from the German weben—to weave—weber translates into the literal and figurative “weaver” of textiles and texts. Weber are the artisans of textures and discourse, the artists of the beautiful fabricating the warp and weft of language into everchanging patterns. Weber, the journal, understands itself as a regional and global tapestry of verbal and visual texts, a weave made from the threads of words and images.

LIFE AND LITERATURE ARE NOT IN SEPARATE COMPARTMENTS, WHICH IS WHY OUR FIGHT FOR THE FREEDOM TO WRITE HAS BECOME A MUCH LARGER ONE CONNECTED WITH OUR LIVES IN GENERAL.

A language is something infinitely greater than grammar and philology. It is the poetic testament of the genius of a race and a culture, and the living embodiment of the thoughts and fancies that have moulded them.

— NAYANTARA SAGHAL, HYDERABAD LITERARY FESTIVAL, JAN. 7, 2016

— Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India

The increasing tendency towards seeing people in terms of one dominant “identity” (“this is your duty as an American,” “you must commit these acts as a Muslim,” or “as a Chinese you should give priority to this national engagement”) is not only an imposition of an external and arbitrary priority, but also the denial of an important liberty of a person who can decide on their respective loyalties to different groups (to all of which he or she belongs).

― Amartya Sen,

The Idea of Justice

Front Cover: Pala Pothupitiye, Chavakachcheri Map, mixed media on government map, 65 x 90 cm., 2010


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VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2016


EDITORIAL BOARD EDITOR

Michael Wutz GUEST COEDITORS

T. Vijay Kumar, Osmania University Kerstin Schmidt, Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Kathryn L. MacKay Russell Burrows Victoria Ramirez Brad Roghaar MANAGING EDITOR

Kelsy Thompson EDITORIAL BOARD

Phyllis Barber, author Jericho Brown, Emory University Katharine Coles, University of Utah Duncan Harris, University of Wyoming Diana Joseph, Minnesota State University Nancy Kline, author & translator Delia Konzett, University of New Hampshire Fred Marchant, Suffolk University Madonne Miner, Weber State University Felicia Mitchell, Emory & Henry College Julie Nichols, Utah Valley University Tara Powell, University of South Carolina Bill Ransom, Evergreen State College Walter L. Reed, Emory University Scott P. Sanders, University of New Mexico Daniel R. Schwarz, Cornell University Andreas Ströhl, Goethe-Institut Munich James Thomas, author Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, author Melora Wolff, Skidmore College EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

Erin Seaward-Hiatt EDITORIAL PLANNING BOARD

Bradley W. Carroll Brenda M. Kowalewski Angelika Pagel John R. Sillito Michael B. Vaughan ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Shelley L. Felt Aden Ross G. Don Gale Mikel Vause

Meri DeCaria Barry Gomberg Elaine Englehardt John E. Lowe

LAYOUT CONSULTANTS

Mark Biddle and Brandon Petrizzo EDITORS EMERITI

Brad L. Roghaar Sherwin W. Howard Nikki Hansen

Neila Seshachari LaVon Carroll

EDITORIAL MATTER CONTINUED IN BACK


TABLE OF CONTENTS VOLUME 32 | NUMBER 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2016 | $10.00

SOUTH ASIA FOCUS ART 16 Pala Pothupitiye, The Artwork of Pala Pothupitiye

CONVERSATION 6 Bhawana Somaaya, “Acting is Not Like a Sprinter’s Race”—A Conversation with Shabana Azmi

ESSAY 27 37 51 60

Benjamin Cohen, Visiting Hyderabad: Real “face time” in a Princely State, 1915-1938 Alan Johnson, Landscapes of Terror and Nation in Hindi Film—The Case of Dil Se Paula Richman, What Was Ravana Thinking? Parvinder Mehta, Review of Atmospheric Embroidery by Meena Alexander

Shabana Azmi......................................6

POETRY 64 73 76 79

Meena Alexander, Dreaming in Shimla: Letter to My Mother Kaiser Haq, Inheritance, Santahara Tabish Khair, The Promise of Utopia Suniti Namjoshi, Seven Indian Miniatures

FICTION 87 Ameena Hussein, A Deep Anger of the Soul 94 Bina Shah, The Living Museum

Meena Alexander...............................64

NULC FOCUS 103 Electra Gamón Fielding, Crossing Borders, Boundaries, and Identities—A Conversation with Ana Castillo 116 Ana Castillo, Algo de Ti 118 Jan Hamer, A Life Engaged—A Conversation with Terry Tempest

Williams

132 Mikel Vause, Pig Poetry and the Divinity of Language — A Conversation with David Lee 142 David Lee, Nocturne Idyll Michael Ondaatje..............................144

READING THE WEST

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Michael Wutz, On the Mongrelization of Art—A Conversation

with Michael Ondaatje

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Bhawana Somaaya

“Acting is Not Like a Sprinter’s Race”— A Conversation with Shabana Azmi

Pure Elegance


PRELUDE Shekhar Kapur rightly said that whenever the history of Indian cinema is written, Shabana Azmi will feature at the turning points. Her contributions to parallel cinema and the image of the woman on the Indian screen is unmatched. The only actress to win the National Award five times — for her performance in Ankur, Arth, Khandhar, Paar and Godmother —Shabana is India’s first actress to star in many international films. She has appeared in John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka,

Nicholas Klotz’s La Nuit Bengali, Jamil Dehlavi’s Immaculate Conception, Blake Edward’s Son of Pink Panther, Ismail Merchant’s In Custody, Roland Joffe’s City of Joy, and Tony Gerber’s Side Streets. Her career transcends all genres of films, from art house and middle of the road films to mainstream releases. From acting to activism and her current service as a member of India’s Parliament, Shabana Azmi has been on a lifelong journey full of insights and adventures.

CONVERSATION What, in your view, makes a truly great actor? Versatility, I imagine. Like someone once said, “Acting is not like a sprinter’s race where one who runs fastest in the shortest period of time comes out the winner.” A most definitive Hamlet can turn out to be a disastrous Macbeth. An actor who can do a wide variety of roles with equal felicity would qualify as a great actor in my book.

What is a performance you have admired? Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind is outstanding. It is a perfect blend of technique and pure ability. He inhabits John Nash’s world, calibrates the stages of schizophrenia, and ages unnoticeably in the film. His performance has taken the benchmark a notch higher to where it is possible for actors to go.

What about theatre? You’ve done a number of plays in India and abroad.

You are rated amongst the best actors in our country. How do you evaluate yourself as an artist?

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I am nowhere near achieving the facility exhibited by the really great performers. I have just enough in my repertoire to qualify as an actor. Like a writer must at least know the alphabet to qualify as a writer, I am capable of being sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes average. I need to be pushed hard to rise to the level of potential I believe I have. I approach every part with anxiety and a hopeless sense of inadequacy. I need an excellent script, a talented director, and terrific co-stars to shine. Film is such a collaborative medium that no one department can excel without active contributions from all the other departments.

When on stage you are out there on your own. Theatre is much more an actor’s medium than the director’s. When I did The Waiting Room at the National Theatre in London or Nora at the Singapore Repertory Theatre, I realised that deep down inside me, I am more a film actor than a theatre

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C O N V E R S A T I O N actor. Many years ago, when I accepted to do Safed Kundali, and later Tumhari Amrita, I knew it would be demanding on me as a performer, but I agreed because I think it’s healthy for actors to work in both mediums. It keeps them on their toes. Believing in one’s own greatness is the biggest stumbling block towards an actor’s growth. Mercifully, my family will never allow me to fall into that trap. I come from a family of artists who are either hugely critical or hugely appreciative, so my sanity remains intact.

Your training as a professional actor at the Film & TV Institute of India followed the Stanislavski School of method acting. Does that enable you to play any part with complete honesty? Yes, but after playing complex roles where characters are forever struggling against injustice and oppression, a time came when I could no longer treat acting as a 9 to 5 job. The residue of the characters’ lives that I had inhabited started leaving their marks on me, and unconsciously I began to get involved with their concerns.

I approach every anxiety and a hopeless sense of inadequacy. I need an excellent script, a talented director and terrific co-stars to shine. Film is such a collaborative medium that no one department can excel without active contributions from all the other departments.

Is that normal? Every artist’s resources must be drawn from life itself if they are to reflect truth. If the purpose of art is to create a climate of sensitivity, then it’s normal to get drawn into the process that protests against these injustices.

You’ve often said that Paar [The Crossing, a 1984 Hindi film directed by Goutam Ghose] is the film that stirred the social activist in you. Can you elaborate?

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I function as an actor by trying to find around me a person close to the character I am playing; this helps me understand her mindset. During the shooting of Paar I struck a rapport with a slum dweller and modeled my character Rama on her. A couple of days later, she invited me to her house—a 150 square foot hut with no water or electricity; she lived here with eight members of her family. I was amazed that a woman who lived in such subhuman conditions never once complained. She had the generosity to assist me in whatever I asked of her without expecting anything in return. I felt that if I went back to my world without doing anything for her, it would be a travesty of the trust she placed in me. It became the turning point for me and I joined “Nivara Hakk,” an organization which fights for the rights of slum part with dwellers in Mumbai.

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Wasn’t this social involvement expected considering your roots? Your father, Kaifi Azmi was a member of the Communist Party of India and wrote inspiring poetry all his life.

I suppose so. Until I was nine years old, we lived in a commune. All the comrades (there were literary giants like Ali Sardar Jafri, my father and others) were allotted one room per family. The tiny balcony was converted into a kitchen and the bathroom and toilets were outside, common for all eight families living there. The drawing room called The Red Flag Hall was reserved for Party meetings. There was a lot of naare baazi (shouting of slogans), talks about revolution, and inspiring speeches on the rights of laborers. Then, I think, at some point as a teenager,

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I drifted from all this. I immersed myself into acting and took pride in the fact that I didn’t even read the newspapers. It is to my father’s credit that he never pushed me once, never revealed his disappointment. Perhaps, because he was confident that the soil was so fertile that the plant was bound to take root. And that’s what happened.

Arth followed close on the heels of Paar. How was it working with Mahesh Bhatt?

Arth turned you into a crusader of women’s rights. Were you prepared for it?

Not when we were shooting the film. Then I was only concerned with my part. When the film was released I was unprepared for the overwhelming reacSuddenly I had women walktions from everywhere. ing into my house, relating Suddenly I had women to me not as “fans” of a walking into my house, relating to me not as “star,” but in sisterhood. “fans” of a “star,” but They expected me to resolve in sisterhood. They their marital conflicts. I was expected me to resolve their marital conflicts. humbled by their faith in me I was humbled by their and also frightened. Slowly I faith in me and also rose to the occasion, became frightened. Slowly I rose to the occasion, became conscious of causes related conscious of causes to women. I started getting related to women. I invited to seminars where started getting invited initially I had very little to say. to seminars where initially I had very little to That’s when I began reading say. That’s when I befeminist literature, interacted gan reading feminist literature, interacted with with women’s organizations, women’s organizations, and became aware of the fact and became aware of that actors have a social the fact that actors have a social responsibility responsibility because people because people trust trust them and idolize them. them and idolize them.

Mahesh is a fabulous director for an actor. The story of Arth, although inspired by An Unmarried Woman, was largely based on Mahesh’s own life, and the film was his tribute to his wife Kiran. Mahesh was at a heightened stage of sensitivity and had the ability to infuse his passion into all the characters of Arth — particularly me. It was as though he would push a button and I would give a reaction. In the film, there was one particularly traumatic scene when I had to beg my husband (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) to give me one more chance to revive our marriage. This was very painful because it’s much easier to do parts that require you to be noble. Actors feel good projecting virtues they may not demonstrate in real life. But begging is a humiliating experience and I had to get in touch with my suppressed hurts and make them come alive on screen. I had to beg,

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and at the same time retain my dignity. It was excruciating, and I was inconsolable for a long time after the shot was over.

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How much would you attribute this change to the roles you portrayed and to your background? Not just my father but his entire generation of artists believed that art should be used as an instrument for social change. It took me a while to become aware

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C O N V E R S A T I O N of this. My roots never left me. When I started working in films which were fighting against social injustice, I began asking questions. The purpose of art is that it makes you look outside yourself.

progressed that their anxieties grew. They were worried for my health and physical safety. Looking back it was quite traumatic.

What about the peace padyatra—it must have been a difficult experience?

Not in mainstream cinema. Mainstream cinema doesn’t allow your sensitivity to be nurtured. It does not allow you to look for resources from life. The only form of acting persisting here is inspired from other films and other actors. The responses are borrowed from Hollywood or Hindi films. Here stars are forced to inhabit an alternative world which helps them hone those skills that are required for them to qualify as a “star”—a toned body, dancing skills, action abilities, an accent and, most important, appearance. It is very important for the actor to look good. Hindi cinema is larger than life, and you are rarely required to pull your reference points from life itself.

Hunger-strike, padayatra [a journey on foot], fighting for riot victims... How does your family cope with the pressures you go through for your convictions? Before I went on the hunger strike I’d sought my husband Javed Akhtar’s advice. He’d warned me that I’d get a lot of brickbats because my action would be projected as a publicity stunt. It meant not attending the screening of my film Genesis, which was an entry in the competition section at the Cannes Film Festival. Those days my mother was unwell and my brother was angry with me for imposing this additional strain on her. On the day I was leaving, mother looked devastated, but she didn’t once say, “Don’t go.” Instead, she came along to the slum and even shouted slogans. My father was in Patna then. When he was told of my decision, he sent a telegram saying, “All the best, Comrade!” My family and friends were extremely supportive. It’s as the days

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When I first mentioned my decision to go on the padyatra, well-wishers said that it was dangerous for an actress to be found roaming the streets of Uttar Pradesh. They said that the political parties were exploiting me. I was very emotional on the evening I was to leave. My brother, who is not at all demonstrative, hovered around me. He had prepared a first-aid kit for me to carry along. The family was so encouraging that I had tears in my eyes as I left for the airport. My father knew I was scared deep down. He said, “You are a brave girl, nothing will happen to you.” His eyes were fearless. That gave me a lot of strength! It was an uncomfortable experience. We had no adequate beds, bathroom or changing facilities, but when you are committed to a cause, you can endure everything.

You are perhaps the only Indian actress to work with so many international directors. How exactly did these opportunities come your way? Out of the blue I got a call from producer Robin Dalton who told me that Ruth Jhabvala had suggested my name for a part opposite Shirley MacLaine in John Schlesinger’s Madame Sousatzka. When she described the part to me on the phone, I suggested she look at a VHS of Shyam Benegal’s Mandi. Five hours later, there was another call saying that John wanted to meet me. I flew to London and fell in love with John in one second flat (it was somewhat mutual, I think!). I had no free dates in my diary and convinced John to let me come back to India three times to complete my assignments back home. It’s preposterous

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to think that he would agree, but he did and could not understand how any sane person could work in more than one film at a time. It was the writer and the director’s decision to portray mother and son as being Indian rather than Jewish, as was in the original. John believed that Asians were now so much a part of the British fabric that they needed to be visible in cinema as well. If only more filmmakers were sensitized to this reality!

What were the adjustments you had to make as an actor working on foreign soil?

Oh, Shirley MacLaine was a generous co-star. I remember rehearsing one scene with her from 9 am to 7 pm with just an hour’s lunch break. At 8 pm the doorbell of the flat rang once again (I was staying at John’s home those first few days) and there was Shirley, clinging to her script, asking ever so sincerely, “Shabana, I’ve thought of a new interpretation. Can we try one more rehearsal?” I was exhausted and ready to fall asleep. Finally, John persuaded her to take a break and have a drink.

Those who work with you say you are equally obsessed with homework and rehearsals?

When I did Sousatzka, I was I think and speak in English with greater ease well established in Hindi cinthan I do in Hindustani. It ema and in danger of beYes, in fact, what I miss comes out of being conmost in Indian cinema vent educated, I think. In coming complacent. I deliberately took on the project despite is never having enough the UK studio, however, time to do rehearsals in surrounded by so many my fears, because I believe it’s advance. We don’t have authentic English acimportant for actors to risk fail- a concept of preparation. cents, my English stuck I have all through my out pitiably. In fact, John ure. Only then can they push career arrived on my set would often tease me on the parameters of their triedthat doesn’t remotely remy sing-songy accent. At and-tested abilities. In India, flect my character. Next, the same time, he didn’t we have a bad habit of blaming I’m introduced to two want me to alter my dicawkward boys who are to tion. The other adjustthe audience for our failures. It play my children in the ment was more emotionwould be simpler to accept that film. It would be so much al and temperamental. the film didn’t work! simpler if the cast could When I did Sousatzka, come together for an I was well established induction or a workshop. in Hindi cinema and in Shyam Benegal does this, Vijaya Mehta does danger of becoming complacent. I deliberit, and to some extent I pushed Sai Paranjpye ately took on the project despite my fears, to do it for Saaz. The actor and the director because I believe it’s important for actors to have to earn the trust of children. It cannot risk failure. Only then can they push the pahappen by just handing over the dialogue rameters of their tried-and-tested abilities. sheet before the shot. Children absorb In India, we have a bad habit of blaming anxieties of adults and are terrified to make the audience for our failures. It would be a mistake. You need a Chetan Anand (Aakhri simpler to accept that the film didn’t work! Khat), a Shekhar Kapur (Masoom), and Mira How was the experience of working in Nair (Salaam Bombay) to trip with kids. such close proximity with Shirley MacDuring the shooting of City of Joy it worried Laine? me that the slum children swimming at the

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Grand Hotel in Calcutta with Patrick Swayze would have to face their own reality once the film was over! But these kids displayed amazing resilience. Their acting tutor constantly reminded them that this was real only till such time as the shooting lasted. And they seemed to take it in their stride.

As a slum dweller in City of Joy you speak fluent English. Doesn’t that create a problem for an actor? Of course the spoken word is probably the most difficult thing an actor is made to portray — “to give the appearance of the first time”—as if the line is not a result of painstaking rehearsal but an impromptu thought process out of the character’s head. Not enough attention is paid to this in Hindi cinema. There are so many constraints on the actor’s time that if you can deliver your lines without making a mistake, it is accepted as satisfactory! In that sense City of Joy did raise an issue with me, and I needed to convince myself that the film was working as a translation or else we could never have had a Hamlet, a Julius Caesar, or any other classic. It’s unfortunate but we still have to accomplish a film that has been able to resolve its language complexities with clarity.

in my response. Anyway, by the time I got back to India, there were eight calls from them within six hours. From the casting agent going completely mad to my personal agent, everyone was pestering me to say “yes.” I wasn’t convinced. I rang up another English friend and sought his opinion. Next, I spoke to Shyam Benegal. Whenever I’m in confusion, I speak to Shyam. Everyone said, “Do it. It’s a cameo but you are also getting big money,” so I said “yes.”

What is your mind-frame when you begin shooting a new film? I get withdrawal symptoms, more so now since I have reduced my assignments. I start getting cramps in my stomach for there is always the danger of not being able to balance my assignments. Earlier, when I did substandard work, I was always confident of my other better performances. Now, because I’m doing fewer films, the worry is greater. I create all kinds of fantasies in my head about how I will convince the director to drop me and take somebody else. Then,

What made you say “yes” to a rather insignificant role in Son of Pink Panther? It happened like this. My agent told me that Blake Edwards would like to see me in connection with a part. I went to meet him without giving it any thought. Blake’s office was on the 18/19th floor of the Dolchester Hotel, New York. When I entered the office, Blake was sitting on his chair, eyes covered with shades, which he refused to remove. I found this very offensive. There was something about the manner in which they were conducting the interview that was offputting. I didn’t care whether I got the role and therefore there was a natural arrogance

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ultimately, out of sheer fright and not having the guts to tell the director, I surrender.

What propels such exaggerated anxiety?

I would agree with that. Khandhar made me discover myself. Jamini is somebody I have tremendous respect for. The character gave me rather than my giving her. Normally, acting is a two-way action—the character gives the actor and the actor gives the character. This time, however, it was the character that lent me her strength and helped me play her not as a victim, but as a person who was tragic yet possessing infinite dignity.

The anxiety comes out of creating a character. The biggest and the best actors have denied thinking about their roles. Ask any actor, and he says he doesn’t do any homework. I do. I think about what the character will wear, how he will speak and walk. Maybe, the other actors are capable of And Godmother? It was a super part competent performances from whatever and a challenging performance. alternative reality they are functioning in. But Vinay Shukla, the writfor me, it’s very painful My main conflict of course came er-director of the film, and a lot of hard work. is also a dear friend from the issue the film raised. I think I’m an extremely and wanted to offer For too long we have been talking a “star vehicle” for hard-working actor. me. He was convinced about a larger representation of You have won five that Rambhi-behn, women in the political system. National Awards — my character in the Here was a film showing a three in consecutive film, should be played years. Which out of larger-than-life and woman traversing the same these make you paralso retain credibility. path that men had before her. I ticularly proud? My main conflict of have always believed that when course came from the When I won my fifth issue the film raised. women become empowered, they National Award for For too long we have will transform the notion of Godmother, I was surbeen talking about a prised that it brought power so that it becomes about larger representation me as much joy as my of women in the sharing power and not abusing it earlier awards. Still, political system. Here over weaker sections. my favourite perforwas a film showing a mance is Khandhar; woman traversing the it was in competition same path that men with Mandi, which out of the two was more had before her. I have always believed that routed for an award. Mandi demanded a lot when women become empowered, they of histrionics and I enjoyed playing over the will transform the notion of power so that top. On the other hand, Jamini of Khandhar it becomes about sharing power and not is so quiet that she’s almost unnoticeabusing it over weaker sections. That’s not able. That’s why I was grateful when I got how the director viewed his film. He felt I the award for Khandhar. That’s not to say was looking at it from a narrow perspective, that I did not enjoy my work in Mandi, but seeing it through the keyhole of women’s Jamini is a creature of poetic sensibilities. emancipation. His motive was to highlight the dangers of community mobilization for Would you say this has anything to do vote bank gains. The important question with you being Kaifi Azmi’s daughter?

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Rambhi asks her husband is, “In a crisis, the community comes together as one, but in a way that excludes all the others.”

Would you say you are an idealist?

The activist’s, most definitely. A few years ago, I went through the conflict when I was held up at a police station and I had a show to perform the same evening. I had to make a choice. Fortunately, everything worked out fine in the end, but the dilemma was a nightmare. The actress, as understood in Hindi cinema, has a limited role. The progress of society is the result of the contributions of all people. An artist who is truthful to his or her work will be greater than an activist who isn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with being an idealist, but I’m pragmatic too. Statistics have proved that rapid industrialization leads to degradation of the environment. When bamboo was discovered, we ravaged the forest instead of recycling it. The tribal, on the other hand, cultiWhat’s unfortunate is that we make vates forest land and then leaves it for five 800 films in a year, twice the number years to fallow. The that Hollywood makes, and yet the West is responsible international circuit discards all for the degradation.

Have you ever felt limited as an actress?

I did. In the period when I was very our films as run-of-the-mill and intense about my Are you drawn to activism, a new melodrama. At a time when Irani politics? The grapeconsciousness of cinema grabs global attention, we vine keeps specumy political ideollating about you need to support our newer, younger, ogy was coloring contesting elections. my choice of roles. independent filmmakers to step I had begun to look I haven’t done so in outside the mainstream’s constraints at the most innothe last three terms, and make films in their own voice. cent lines with deep though the grapevine India is a country that lives in several skepticism. This keeps writing about was constraining it. The media hasn’t centuries simultaneously, and it is me. That’s when my stopped asking me up to our filmmakers, writers, and friend and director, the question. Politics Aparna Sen, told me artists to make the world aware of doesn’t interest me, that I was limiting but people change her complexities and strengths, away myself because and I don’t see why from the “third-world-exotic-despiteof my political one shouldn’t change ideologies, and famine-and-drought” stereotype. one’s mind if one is she was right. So convinced. At the mowhen Deepa Mehta ment I’m more intersigned me for Fire, I ested in organizing surrendered myself people, forming programmes which would completely to the character of Radha. be valid for bringing about a change in the Acting is really a fulfilling profession. It country. That’s what we need to work upon. pushes you to use your potential as an actress to the optimum level. This is one of Between the actress and the activist, the reasons why I continue being an actor. whose contribution to society, do you

think, is greater?

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What are your concerns about Hindi cinema today? It concerns me that we still haven’t been able to make the one truly crossover film. Satyajit Ray won an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, was hailed as one of the 10 best filmmakers in the world by the British Film Institute, yet his work has been accessible to only a select few in the world. Mira Nair has made more headway following the success of Monsoon Wedding abroad, but Hindi cinema still has a long way to go. What’s unfortunate is that we make 800 films in a year, twice the number that

Hollywood makes, and yet the international circuit discards all our films as run-of-themill and melodrama. At a time when Irani cinema grabs global attention, we need to support our newer, younger, independent filmmakers to step outside the mainstream’s constraints and make films in their own voice. India is a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously, and it is up to our filmmakers, writers, and artists to make the world aware of her complexities and strengths, away from the “third-world-exotic-despite-famine-and-drought” stereotype.

Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on Hindi cinema for over 30 years and has contributed columns to numerous publications. She is the author of 12 books and is currently working on three new book-length projects.

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the artwork of

PALA POTHUPITIYE


My work may have my signature. You may call it my work. But for me it is group work, collaborative work. The ideas and labour of many people in my life have come together in my art. I want to expose all of them.

ABOVE: Ancestral Headdress My ID, 50 x 70 cm., 2007 LEFT: Power and Pride—Venom and Violence, archival ink on archival digital print, 301 x 107 cm., 2014

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—PALA POTHUPITIYE

Pala was born in 1972 in Mederipitiya, Deniyaya, in the Matara district in the south of Sri Lanka. He was the fifth child in a family of eight. Pala attended the Pallegama Maha Vidyalaya School in Deniyaya, and then did his Advanced Level studies at Maha Manthinda Pirivena Private School in Matara. Twenty years ago, Pala moved to Colombo after being selected to study at the University of Visual and Performance Art, formerly the Institute of Aesthetic Studies (IAS), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree majoring in sculpture in 2002. Pala’s lineage includes many traditional craft artists and ritual specialists. There are goldsmiths, ritual healers, and medicine men in his ancestry. They performed village rituals and dancing. Pala’s father Somasiri, in his youth, performed healing rituals, or “tovil,” and was a well-known dancer. Now in his late 70s, he still makes ritual costumes at Mullegama Art Center, where Pala lives. Soon after he arrived in Colombo, Pala met Jagath Weerasinghe who was his lecturer at the IAS. From around 2000, he shared accommodation with Jagath for seven years. Today, Pala says Jagath has had the greatest influence on his art practice. The discourse and ideologies of Theertha International Artists’ Collective, founded in Colombo in 2002, and Pala’s connections with this core group and other local artists have also shaped his creative thinking. Among the personalities—well-known within the Sri Lankan art community—were Anoli Perera, Lalith Manage, Thisath Thoradeniya, Pradeep Chandrasiri, Koralegedara Pushpakumara, Janananda Laksiri, and Pradeep Thalawatta.

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History Maker 02, acrylic on canvas, 101 x 150 cm., 2014

1972, born in Deniyaya, Sri Lanka.

2002, completes studies at University of Kelaniya, Institute of Aesthetic Studies, with a BFA in Sculpture.

Malu Mannaya with Lion-Venom Handle which Bisected Lanka, ready-made knife, metals sheets of tar barrels and acrylic, 97 x 23 x 10 cm., 2015

2002, has first group exhibition in Colombo.

2003, wins Best Artist of the Year at the Colombo State Art Festival.

2005, has group show with Anoli Perera at Millesgarden Museum Gallery, Sweden.


Pala’s first group exhibition was “Made in IAS,” held in 2002 at Barefoot Gallery in Colombo, which was curated by Jagath Weerasinghe. One year later, at age 31, Pala held his first solo show at the Finominal Gallery in Colombo. For this exhibition, Weerasinghe wrote the first article published about Pala’s work. Pala claims the article has profoundly impacted the direction and method of his art ever since. In 2007, at the Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan, Pala studied jewellery design from Masuma Syed, and embroidery stitching and miniature techniques from other local craftsmen. In 2014, he exhibited in Karachi at an exhibition curated by Niilofur Farrukh. In 2009, Pala moved to the Athurugiriya region 25 kilometers east of Colombo, where he initiated “Korathota Designs”—a limited-edition, designer-gifts-by-artists exhibition held in 2010 at Hempel Galleries. That same year, he won the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

Axe with Lion-Venom-Taste Handle, ready-made axe, metal sheets of tar barrels, copper, brass, 50 x 30 9 cm., 2015

2007, studies jewelry design from Masuma Syed.

2008, exhibits Ancestral Dress + My ID at Theertha Red Dot Gallery in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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2009, moves to the Athurugiriya region, Sri Lanka.

2010, wins first prize in the Sovereign Asian Art Prize.

2014, exhibits Pride and Power solo at Hempel Galleries in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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ID, mixed media, 35 x 50 cm., 2006


Soldier Drawing, mixed media on paper, 35 x 50 cm.

Jacket, mixed media, 2004

The award was a turning point in Pala’s career. He spent nearly all the prize money buying land at Mullegama and building a working/living space for himself, his friends, and younger artists. Later, Mullegama Art Center was formally established by Pala, Lalith Manage, and Aruna Vida. Today it is a node for artists and art organizations providing workshop facilities, residency space, as well as an interaction and event area for local and international artists. Art classes are conducted free for local students with economic difficulties, and workshops have been funded by the Sovereign Art Foundation. Prominent among the people working at Mullegama are metalworker Shantha Pradeep, and Aruna Vidanaarachchi, Jagath Pitigala, and Ruwan Priyadarshana. “Pala is a multiple organism,” says friend and photographer Michael O’Shea. The sweat and thoughts of many people come together in Pala’s work.

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ABOVE: Head of Shiva, terracotta, bicycle chain, bicycle wheels, bullet shells and metal sheets, 2 ft. tall, 2009 FAR LEFT: Dagger with Saffron Venom 01, ink on archival paper, 51 x 30.5 cm., 2014 NEAR LEFT: Demala Mannaya with Cobra Venom and Lion Head, ready-made knife, metal sheets of tar barrels and copper, 52 x 11 x 6 cm., 2015

Pala maintains a close dialogue with many architects including Madhura Prematilleke, Hiranthi Welendawa, Channa Dasswatta, Murad Ismail, and Chamika De Alwis. He works with them as a visual artist, and several have chosen Pala’s artwork for their collections. Anoli and Sasanka Perera have been friends with Pala for years. Anoli and Pala participated in a group show in 2005 at Millesgarden Museum Gallery, Sweden, and she has written about Pala’s work extensively, including the write-up for “Ancestral Dress + My ID” in 2008. In recent years, Pala has visited Anoli’s studio at Nebsarai, New Delhi, to work in residence—once for five months. These visits have increased his experience and the visibility of his art in India. Traditional training in ritual craft mixed with formal academic education have uniquely modeled the way Pala thinks about art. As Qadri Ismail has observed, Pala “challenges the Eurocentric boundary between art and craft, modernity, and tradition.” SPRING/SUMMER 2016

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Untitled, mixed media on paper, 30 x 45 cm., 2007

Coming from a low-caste family and having personal experience with the often lawless and brutal disputes over land in his home village, Pala’s map-works have fearlessly addressed the politics of Sri Lanka during and after the civil wars. He focuses on questions of personal identity by bringing attention to his caste and lineage. He conceptualizes national identity by addressing issues of ethnic violence, religio-cultural extremism and geopolitics. Pala uses color—religiously violent yellow; blood-shedding red; black and celestial enigmatic blue—to construct a challenging interpretation and critique of nationalism and its responsibilities. His representation of traditional symbols and patterns shows how Sinhala Buddhist national and cultural icons can be (and have been) misused and abused to support violence and extremist ideas. Map Underwear 04, fiber, government maps, clear resin, acrylic, 21 x 29 x 19 cm., 2013


Shiva, resin and computer parts, 2009

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The attraction of Pala’s work is inescapable. It allows viewers to see the realities of terror, violence, corruption, human rights violations, and injustice, within an environment of visual pleasure. Pala provides an aesthetic experience similar to life in Sri Lanka, where despite acute underlying problems people are enjoying much of the country’s recent development and beautification. Power and Pride—Venom and Violence 01, archival ink and color pencil on acid-free archival watercolor paper, 20 x 20 cm., 2015

These images were kindly provided by Hempel Galleries. info@hempelgalleries.com | www.hempelgalleries.com

Northern Map, acrylic on canvas, 2 x 1.5 ft., 2011


E S S A Y

Benjamin Cohen

Visiting Hyderabad: Real “face time” in a Princely State, 1915–1938

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n January 2015, U.S. President Barack Obama visited India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After landing in India, Obama descended the steps of Air Force One, and in an unprecedented gesture, Modi greeted him on the tarmac and embraced the American President. At another point during the three-day visit, an image showed the President and Prime Minister in deep conversation while having tea on the lawn of Hyderabad House. These “broments” received no small amount of attention in the press, and indeed, the media reported widely on the theme of the two men’s face-to-face meetings and personal chemistry. Yet, such visits and the personal politics between leaders is nothing new. 1 Indeed, a century earlier in India during the period of British rule such visits between British officialdom and India’s princely state rulers played an important role in imperial politics. By the late nineteenth century, the British Empire in India consisted primarily of two types of political regions: areas directly administered by the British, and India’s princely states that were

Courtesy Benjamin Cohen

indirectly ruled. The latter comprised about one third of the subcontinent. Visits to the princely states, their capital cities, and meetings with their rulers by British viceroys, governors, British royalty and other officials constituted an important


E S S A Y part of the political fabric of empire. Of the princely states, Hyderabad State—located in the heart of India’s south-central Deccan Plateau—was the largest and wealthiest. The state was as large as France, and its ruler was at one time the wealthiest man in the world (Hyderabad Silver Jubilee). Thus, for British officialdom, Hyderabad was a “must visit” destination. In the decades before India’s independence in 1947, the ruler of Hyderabad was the Nizam (“governor”) Osman Ali Khan (r. 1911-1948), and for him and his predecessors, a visit by a British official had significant value.2 By hosting a visit, the Nizam and his state had their prestige raised in the eyes of colonial officials as well as spectators from afar (including other Indian princes).3 In addition, having the Prince of Wales, a Governor, or Viceroy in Hyderabad city, including face-to-face meetings, allowed the Nizam to press certain issues that were important to him. So too for British officialdom did a visit to Hyderabad have certain value. Hyderabad had long been the “faithful ally” of British powers in India, dating back to the time of the East India Company (1600-1858). Thus, a visit to the state was a chance to reiterate those longstanding connections of mutual support, and insure that they would continue into the future. Hyderabad was also unique in that the Nizam and much of his government was Muslim, yet the majority of the population was Hindu. As such, by demonstrating positive relations between the British Government and the Nizam’s Government, this went some way towards maintaining a relationship between the British and the greater Muslim world. In a

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dinnertime speech given in 1929, the Nizam encapsulated the value of one such visit. The visit of a Viceroy once during his term of office to Hyderabad is a periodical event of great interest, being an ocular demonstration of the cordial relations that subsist between the Paramount Power and its traditional ‘Faithful Ally.’ The present visit is the tenth in succession in our history, and helps us to revive by personal intercourse the friendly connection between the two Governments of which, like my ancestors, I have reason to be proud (Lord and Lady Irwin, p. 10). 4

In each princely state, the British government in India posted a Resident, an official who helped maintain relations between the colonial government and the local prince while at the same time providing advice to the prince as well as constant updates to his superiors in Calcutta or New Delhi. A visit by the Prince of Wales, a Viceroy, or Governor to a princely state also allowed these men to meet privately with the Resident. Here, the two men could discuss Hyderabad affairs and synchronize any British response or position as necessary. Such intimate face-to-face meetings took place at the home of the Resident, the Residency. They appear in the itineraries as “Private dinner at the Residency” (Lord and Lady Willingdon, p. 1). In addition, visits to Hyderabad offered guests lavish meals, historic sites, and nature’s bounty— especially in the form of hunting, a favorite activity of the Hyderabad and British officialdom alike. These visits, while referenced in the literature on Hyderabad, have yet to be

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singled out for examination. In an era where Face Time and Facebook, and tweeting and texting, have come to stand in for, or at least threaten to replace, face-to-face interaction, exploring the value of real face time is overdue. This article offers an overview of five official visits to Hyderabad, one by the Prince of Wales, three by Viceroys of India, and one by the Governor of Bombay. The visits occurred between 1915 and 1938 when the Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, held office; most took place during the winter months of November to January, but one happened in July; and each lasted two to four days. These were not the only visits to the princely state, but together provide a window into the nuanced politics and personal relationships involved in such visits during a three-decade period.5 I examine these visits through two perspectives. First, each visit generated documentation both before and after the visit itself that provided the weft of the visit’s tapestry, while at the same time the visits were studded with dignitaries and officials who themselves formed the warp. Combined, the paper and people involved illuminate some of the nuanced politics as well as logistics that were part of such events. Second, I explore these visits through the lens of place. Where the Nizam and his guests met, toured, ate, and slept were significant in their own way. Of course, these visits and others were not the only ones to Hyderabad, and many other themes exist in the record of such encounters, but time and space preclude a fuller exploration of them. 6

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Paper and People Official visits to Hyderabad produced a variety of documentary evidence. Sketches, maps, photographs and other visual ephemera Courtesy Benjamin Cohen captured these visits as well as official printed programs and notes. From the Nizam’s Government came two types of material: official programs and printed notes. The official programs, forty to fifty pages long, in English, and printed on heavy cream stock with the Nizam Government’s characteristic golden-colored soft jacket, were produced in advance of a visit and served as guides that established not only the itinerary for the visit, but also listed participants as well. The second type of publication came after a visit had concluded and were the “note” that contained far more information than the program had, often reproducing the official program as well. The notes included letters between visitors and the Nizam as well as detailed accounts of expenditures for different aspects of the visit. Combined, the two types of publication—programs and notes— provide us with a clear picture of how the visits were to be seen in advance through the programs, and how they were cataloged in hindsight through the notes. As the Nizam’s Government produced both sources, and as both the Nizam’s and British Governments had a stake in seeing these events in the best possible light, the sources offer no substantive critique of the visits. The closest we find to a postfacto assessment of a visit comes from Lord Willingdon’s 1915 visit. Major

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E S S A Y Freeman Freeman-Thomas, First Marquess of Willingdon, served as India’s Viceroy from 1931-1936, but at the time of his visit to Hyderabad, he was Governor of Bombay (1913-1917). In the anonymous “Note” produced after the visit, comes a singular voice of frustration at the Nizam’s Government’s record keeping. “The six volumes of file No. C.7/b.58 are quite silent as to how the various functions programmed went off. There is not even a letter of thanks from Lord Willingdon. I cannot help feeling that there is at least one more volume of the file or perhaps another altogether independent file on the subject” (Lord and Lady Willingdon, July 1915, p.3). Programs for the Prince of Wales (George V.) and Lord Linlithgow’s visits include detailed lists of attendees. These lists not only memorialized the participants in these grand affairs, but also provided a form of on-the-spot reference for members of each delegation. During the Prince of Wales’ visit, the official program listed not only his staff, but also the Nizam Government’s staff, members of the Nizam’s Executive Council, and members of the Nizam Government’s Prince’s reception committee (Prince of Wales, pp. 2-6). One name from the Prince of Wales’ staff is significant for India’s later history: listed as one of

Face-to-face visits have played an important role in high politics, whether between modern heads of state or colonial encounters of the British Raj.

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several aid-de-camps is Louis Mountbatten, then a Lieutenant. Mountbatten would become the last Viceroy of India overseeing that country’s partition and independence. Questions over who would attend certain critical moments during a visit were not without contention. During Lord Willingdon’s visit to Hyderabad in 1915, a conflict erupted between the Residency—responsible for setting the program of the visit—and the Nizam’s Government—invested in greeting the Governor with a full retinue of its officials. The matter concerned the Governor’s arrival, which the Residency had deemed a “private” event, and thus asked that the Nizam’s Government send only eleven representatives. Nawab Sir Faridoon Mulk Bahadur, the Prime Minister (1922-24), objected to the limiting of the reception party. Faridoon argued that it was against “all precedent” to limit the number of attendees (Lord and Lady Willingdon, July 1915, p. 2). Here, the recourse to precedent suggests that a shared memory and record of previous visits and precedents linked the Nizam’s and British Governments. In the end, the Residency ceded to Faridoon and a full bevy of the Nizam’s Government’s members attended. A similar resort to precedent also occurred involving whether or not a gun salute would be fired, and again, the response was that “on former occasions” that had been done (Lord and Lady Willingdon, July 1915, p.2). The visit of the Prince of Wales was a major event in both the life of Hyderabad and for the British Royal family, let alone the British Government in India. As such, the press were an important component of the visit. On the list of “Press Repre-

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sentatives,” twenty four individuals carry with them a range of positions and titles. As such, a select group of individuals from the media were on hand to record the visit. The British media were well represented with six individuals from newspapers like The Times and the Daily Telegraph as well as from Reuters. A second category of newspapers were those of the “Anglo Indian Press.” The term Anglo Indian had multiple meanings, sometimes referring to individuals of mixed IndoBritish parentage while at other times meaning simply the British community residing in India. Here, the latter was the case with representatives from papers like the Pioneer and the Times of India. Other categories of newspapers included the “Indian Press” and the “Local Press.” A distinction was clearly made between newspapers with British leanings—the “Anglo Indian” variety—and those that covered local Indian affairs. Of the latter came Urdu papers like Fauj-i-Akbar and, from Hyderabad itself, papers like The Bulletin and Musheer-i-Deccan (The Prince of Wales, p. 7). Included in the list of press representatives were other individuals with important positions, such as Professor Rushbrook Williams, listed as “Official Historian” of the visit. Williams had a distinguished career as a civil servant, Professor of Modern Indian history at Allahabad, a BBC correspondent, and editor for The Times.7 Also present were cinema operators, an official photographer, and artist. Thus, a variety of newspaper outlets and other forms of media captured the royal visit. By the 1933 visit of Lord Willingdon to Hyderabad, the British and Nizam’s Governments deemed the details of such visits confidential to

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protect the dignitaries from unnecessary hassle or threat. When the itinerary of Willingdon’s visit somehow leaked to the local Urdu press a week before his visit, the Nizam’s Government issued a stern warning “that the newspapers and news agencies should be warned that if they publish the Viceregal programme before His Excellency’s arrival (from whatever source they might have obtained it) their press will be confiscated and the editor imprisoned in the Mannanoor for five years and that Government orders should be obtained to this effect” (Lord and Lady Willingdon, November 1933, p.44). Itineraries for all of the visits spell out in great detail the arrangements for the arrival of the visitors at the Hyderabad train station, Nampally (the equivalent in importance to modern day airport arrivals and tarmac embraces). The arrival of a dignitary was a critical moment in the world of imperial and princely state politics. At this moment, two leaders would meet face to face, sometimes for the first time. Along with them would be wives (for British visitors) as well as members of the traveling delegation and a wide assortment of officials from the receiving state government. Military bands played, artillery salutes erupted overhead, introductions took place, and a large number of people (along with their luggage) had to make their way—gracefully— from train to platform to motorcade. When Mountbatten arrived in Hyderabad with the Prince of Wales, the former commented on the journey from the station to his lodging. “There followed the longest drive on record, some six miles or so through the city and narrow streets of the bazaar up

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E S S A Y to Falaknuma Castle” (Ziegler, Diaries, p. 247).8 Thus, the programs carefully scripted these first moments of a visit so that all attendees would know their place, and hopefully, the transition to motorcade and lodgings would take place without incident. When Lord and Lady Linlithgow’s train pulled into Hyderabad’s station on 18 January 1938, the receiving party was comprised of no less than thirtytwo individuals. Lord Linlithgow was Victor Hope, Second Marquess of Linlithgow who served as India’s Viceroy from 1936 to 1943. First among the reception party was the Nizam himself, but the ranks swelled with members of the British Residency also in attendance. Dressed in white uniform with pristine white gloves, shimmering sword, and full decoration were the Resident (Claude Henry Gidney) along with the Residency Secretary and Surgeon. Everyone was in their place thirty minutes before the train was scheduled to arrive at 10:00 am. When the train came to a stop and the Viceroy and Vice Rene alighted, the Nizam’s Guard of Honour gave a royal salute while the band played an abbreviated national anthem (Lord and Lady Willingdon, p. 5). Overhead, the Nizam’s Artillery boomed with a thirty-one-gun salute. Negotiations over who was allowed at important moments during a visit, what forms of ceremony were or were not to occur, and wrangling over precedent all comprised important elements of official visits. Thus, such visits combined the paper script for events or archival

record with the role of human activity into one multi-faceted exchange.

Place While American Presidents reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, British Prime Ministers at 10 Downing Street, and Indian Prime Ministers at 7 Race Course Road, the Nizams and the British Residents of Hyderabad had their own official residences. Visits to Hyderabad by dignitaries revolved around four major residencies. The role of these specific places—imbued with their own histories and meanings—played an important role in such visits. These structures represented both the domestic grandeur of the Nizams and Hyderabad culture as well as imperial outposts that the British maintained in a princely state. As such, visits to Hyderabad carefully balanced time spent in both types of locations. At each residence highly personal and sometimes political activities took place. For the sleeping arrangements for Viceroys and the Prince of Wales, the Nizam arranged for his guests to stay at the Falaknuma Palace (literally “mirror of the sky”),

Bernard Gagnon

Falaknuma Palace

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the exception to this being Governor Willingdon’s 1915 visit when he and Lady Willingdon stayed at the Residency itself.9 Once belonging to the Nawab Vikar-ul-Umra and built in 1894 at a cost of four million rupees, Falaknuma is south of the city and perched on a hill. Here too the visiting dignitaries took meals and met with Hyderabad officialdom, including private meetings with the Nizam himself. The second space in which banquets took place and political exchanges occurred was in the Chowmahalla Palace. This palace, or complex of several palace structures, is in the heart Hyderabad’s old city, not far from the Char Minar.10 Events at Chowmahalla did not always go as planned, with sometimes amusing results. Mountbatten attended a dinner at Chowmahalla on the evening of 25 January 1922. Some 250 guests were present and, following the printed plan, Mountbatten seated himself at a spot without a name card, but nonetheless began his soup course. A few moments later, a member of the Residency staff discreetly moved him to the other end of the room where he was supposed to be, and Mountbatten subsequently enjoyed a second serving (Ziegler, Diaries, p. 247). What Falaknuma and the Chowmahalla Palaces have in common is that they both represented the Nizam’s space and the power of the princely state. Their lavish grounds, ornate interiors, and cavernous dimensions were opulent, and chosen because of their ability to impress visiting authorities. The other residencies that comprised important destinations during visits to Hyderabad were the British Residency and the Bolarum Residency. The Residency building and compound are located on the north side of

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the Musi River. The choice of location was both strategic and aesthetic. The area, separated from the old city of Hyderabad and the Nizam’s palaces by the Musi, offered the British a new space to symbolically mark as their own. Indeed, the area around the Residency, over time, came under British jurisdiction, clearly marking that space as British as opposed to the old city across the river that was the Nizam’s domain. Aesthetically, the Residency’s location on the river provided water for the lavish European-style gardens that surrounded the building, and verdant riding trails along the river (where the Residents could ride early in the morning). Samuel Russell of the Madras Engineers constructed the building at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Soaring columns dominate the front portico, flanked by carved stone sphinxes, all in support of a Grecian-styled structure.11 The other residence that guests in Hyderabad visited was the British outpost at Bolarum. Bolarum is now located in Hyderabad’s twin city, Secunderabad, and was at the time part of the British military infrastructure in the region. The British maintained armed forces in Hyderabad and Secunderabad, and their training and parade grounds—located north and east of the Residency—over time became a second location of power in the cities. As the Residency building along the Musi was not always popular with its Residents, the main complaint being that the climate in that part of the city—wet, crowded, and by the twentieth century, degraded—was unhealthy, the Residents and their visitors would often retreat to Bolarum. Bolarum also allowed visiting officials to inspect troops stationed there. For

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E S S A Y instance, the Prince of Wales reviewed the First and Second Lancers of the Hyderabad Imperial Service Troops during his visit to the city (The Prince of Wales, p. 30-32). Of the five visits under consideration here, the latter two in 1933 and 1938 had in their agendas time set aside to view Hyderabad city’s various improvement works. Of course, visitors to Hyderabad toured Golconda fort and other historic locations, but under Osman Ali Khan, Hyderabad city in the 1930s began a series of improvements that warranted attention. These included both refurbishing or sometimes removing older structures, roadways, and infrastructural elements in the city, as well as building new elements in line with an overall modernization. As early as 1914, the Nizam’s Government created the City Improvement Board (CIB). This institution oversaw improvements to the city’s infrastructure, and by the time of Lords Willingdon and Linlithgow’s visits, seeing such improvements were part of what the Nizam’s Government wished to display for their imperial guests. When Lord Willingdon visited Hyderabad in the winter of 1933, the city was already being reshaped by the CIB. As part of his tour, the Nizam’s Government arranged that Lord Willingdon would be driven past some of those projects on the Thursday afternoon of his visit, 30 November 1933 (Lord & Lady Willingdon, p. 43). The notes from the visit do not specify which works Lord Willingdon was shown, but we can surmise that they might have included road widening or slum clearance and redevelopment, as these were two themes, of many, that the CIB undertook.

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While Lord Willingdon’s tour only took fifteen minutes, during Lord Linlithgow’s visit, the Nizam’s Government arranged a lengthy Saturday morning tour, 22 January 1938, so that he would view a series of sites where the city had made improvements. The tour began at Mogalpura, a neighborhood in the city where infrastructural improvements had been made. Next, Linlithgow’s motorcade went down the long, new Pathergatti Road where a new shopping arcade lined the street. He toured other sites as well: the Baradari Road and Azampura development works; the Rang Mahal Road improvements; the Agapura and Mallepalli development; and finally concluded his tour at the Public Garden, itself a recipient of city improvement works (Lord and Lady Linlithgow, p. 103). Face to face visits have played an important role in high politics, whether between modern heads of state or colonial encounters of the British Raj. While contemporary technology might continue to erode our actual face to face encounters (be it Facebook, Face Time, or e-watches that can “tap” you when a friend makes contact), it is worth noting the value of real face time, be they “broments” or otherwise. British dignitaries, both for real political as well as social reasons, regularly visited Hyderabad State under the rule of Osman Ali Khan. Scripted to the last white glove and brass button, such visits afford us a glimpse of political culture during a time of empire.

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Notes 1 For an early modern account of courtly exchanges and encounters, see Subrahmanyam, Courtly Encounters. 2 On the life of Osman Ali Khan, see Bawa, The Last Nizam. 3 An overall history of the princes can be found in Ramusack, The Indian Princes. 4 For an insider’s look at the preparations involved in such meals, for instance, the buffing and polishing of a gold plate, see Armstead, Princely Pageant, p. 138. 5 For instance, the Willingdons visited the caves at Ellora in January 1915 (Lord and Lady Willingdon to Ellora in 1915). 6 For instance, Lord Wavell, Viceroy of India, attended an “Austerity Banquet” in 1944 in Hyderabad during the Second World War. (See Armstead, Princely Pageant, p. 148, and Copland, Princes of India, p. 185). 7 Along with Williams was Mr. St. Nihal Singh, “Specially sent by Govt. of India” (The Prince of Wales, p. 7). 8 Mountbatten also expressed surprise that so many people turned out to line the streets, suggesting that Muslims in Hyderabad both disliked the British for their favoring the Greeks over the Turks, and that the Nizan himself was not popular. Neither idea explains the large turnout. 9 The palace is now a prestigious heritage hotel. See www.tajhotels.com. 10 On the palaces of the Nizams, see Nayeem, The Royal Palaces, pp. 70-121. 11 On the history of the Residency building, see Khalidi, The British Residency.

Works Cited Detailed Programme of the Visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales Kg., M.C. Hyderabad-Deccan: Government Central Press, 1922. Detailed Programme of the Visit of Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Linlithgow to Hyderabad. 18th January to 23rd January 1938. Hyderabad: Government Central Press, 1938. “Hyderabad Silver Jubilee Durbar.” Time, February 22, 1937: 19-23. Note on the Visit of Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Irwin to Hyderabad in December 1929. Hyderabad-Deccan: [n.p.], 1933. Note Regarding the Visit of Their Excellencies Lord & Lady Willingdon to Hyderabad in November 1933. Hyderabad-Deccan: Government Central Press, 1937. Note: The Visit of Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Willingdon to Ellora in 1915. Hyderabad 1915. Note. The Visit of Their Excellencies Lord and Lady Willingdon to Hyderabad in July 1915.

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E S S A Y Armstead, Christopher. Princely Pageant. Avon: Bath Press, 1987. Bawa, Vasant Kumar. The Last Nizam. New Delhi: Viking, 1992. Copland, Ian. The Princes of India and the Endgame of Empire, 1917-1947. Cambridge: Cam- bridge University Press, 1997. Fisher, Michael H. Indirect Rule in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991. Khalidi, Omar. The British Residency in Hyderabad: An Outpost of the Raj 1779-1948. London: British Association for Cemetaries in South Asia, 2005. Nayeem, M.A. The Royal Palaces of the Nizams. Hyderabad: Hyderabad Publisher, 2009. Ramusack, Barbara. The Indian Princes and Their States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. Courtly Encounters. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2012.

Tajhotels.com. The Indian Hotels Company, 2012. Web. 30 June 2015. Ziegler, Philip, ed. The Diaries of Lord Louis Mountbatten 1920-1922. Tours with the Prince of Wales. London: Collins, 1987.

Benjamin Cohen is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Utah, where he teaches courses in South Asian history. He has published one book and several articles on Hyderabad and Deccan history.

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E S S A Y

Alan Johnson

Landscapes of Terror and Nation in Hindi Film— The Case of Dil Se

H

indi films have long favored India’s northernmost state of Kashmir, with its snowy mountains and green meadows, as the ideal backdrop for romantic scenes. There are many reasons for this, as we will see, but this essay focuses on what happens to such a pastoral and exotic locale on screen when it is beset with the violence of insurgency and occupation. Although director Mani Ratnam sets his innovative 1998 film Dil Se (From the Heart) in northeastern India, far from Kashmir, the latter region’s enduring symbolism in Indian cinema haunts the film, providing a revealing example of how images of geography and terrorism influence national ideals. The following questions are especially important to my discussion: How does Kashmir’s metonymic power shape Mani Ratnam’s presentation of landscape, and what might this say about India’s national identity in an era of globalization, when national boundaries are increasingly porous but also, for this very reason, continuously reinforced? What happens when militancy tarnishes Kashmir’s luster as a leitmotif of natural

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Kashmir’s Dal Lake

beauty, national unity, and individual desire, and when filmmakers turn to other regions for stand-ins? More specifically, how does Kashmir’s popular image among Indians as a “paradise in pain,” in the words of one reporter (Gopal), compel filmmakers to reconfigure their depictions of romance in the context of terrorism and filmgoers’ changing expectations? Mani Ratnam’s previous films on terrorism, Roja (1992) and Bombay (1995), were set in Kashmir and Mumbai (Bombay), respectively. Both these films employ a version of the archetypal evilin-Eden trope (coded as family romance fractured by factional violence1), but in the guise of an almost documentarian realism that is accentuated by gritty hand-held shots and street-level


E S S A Y verisimilitude. Dil Se employs this as Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, well, but in deciding not to name a Meghalaya, and Manipur, most of specific state in northeastern India, and which are ethnically and linguistically in conflating a wide variety of real-life distinct from the rest of the country. separatist strategies, Mani Ratnam, in Over several decades, a variety of this final segment of his “terror” trilseparatist movements have waxed and ogy, signals his desire to typify such waned, and it is to this subject that movements and to thereby normalize Mani Ratnam turns in order to stage his the interconnections among national story of terrorism and the transcendent geography, secular middle-class citizenpower of love. Mani Ratnam would ry, and patriotism. Realism in this case seem to have a greater stake in reprethus takes on the burden of conspicuous senting regions far from India’s mainallegory through its characters and setstream epicenters of Mumbai and Delhi ting. Like many of his since he, too, is from contemporaries, Mani the southernmost Ratnam rejects in this state of Tamil Nadu When such pastoralism way the comparatively (see Kabir 144).3 meets terrorism, the result more obvious meloDespite the film’s drama of earlier Hindi confounds both filmmaker otherwise laudable films while retaining, effort to give voice to and audience, which is in the name of (ostenthe nation’s margins, sibly secular) national particularly visible in Dil Se the director’s deciinterest, the unspoken in the disjunction between sion to “reserve a moral code common notion of normalcy the protagonists’ romance to melodrama.2 Dil for the Hindu hero” and the terrorists’ very Se represents this and thereby ascribe moral coding primaratypical behavior to history-minded agenda. ily through Amar, other groups, follows the pure-hearted and Bombay film industry middle-class lead character, as well as convention (Vasudevan 193). Equally through the verdant landscape, both of significant is Mani Ratnam’s similarly which contrast with the dark, narrow conventional recourse to the region’s spaces of terrorist plotting. Kashmir-like setting as ahistorical. But It is important to reiterate that the when such pastoralism meets terrorfilm’s geographical imagery derives ism, the result confounds both filmfrom a storehouse of media—calendar maker and audience, which is particuart, sacred images, advertising, music— larly visible in Dil Se in the disjunction that provides a powerful repertoire of between the protagonists’ romance cultural, religious and national idealand the terrorists’ very history-minded ism connected to Kashmir and, more agenda. This disjunction, especially generally, the Himalayas. This mounas compared to Mani Ratnam’s previtain range extends into some northeastous films on the topic, may explain ern Indian states, which consequently the film’s mixed results: it won several acquire some of the filmic cultural industry awards, but, despite a strong value associated with Kashmir. In overseas showing, did poorly at the India, “northeast” signifies the so-called domestic box office. Perhaps a more seven sister states of Assam, Mizoram, important reason for the weak Indian

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audience response is the disinclination of a male-dominant audience (at least in the 1990s4) to accept a beautiful heroine, however sympathetic her back-story, who does not match the spirited joie de vivre and familial devotion typical of emotional drama (such as in Roja and Bombay). The disconnect between historical and mystical understandings of the nation is, as many have noted, woven into the fabric of all nations. What is important in the case of Dil Se is Ratnam’s potentially original reworking of Hindi cinema’s formulaic treatment of anti-national terrorism, and, by extension, of this disconnect. I say “potentially” because the film concludes by reasserting, as Sujala Singh observes, the “incorruptible image of the urban Hindu male (the son of an Army officer) who saves his country and dies for his lady love in one stroke” (352-53). Despite the film’s weak domestic box office, its A. R. Rahman soundtrack was immensely popular and, indeed, crucial to the film’s effort to resolve its aforementioned tensions.5 The result

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is, I argue, neither the “radical” and “redemptive potential” that Ananya Kabir detects in the film’s depiction of minorities (141), nor a version of the “hegemonic Hindu nation” agenda Tejaswini Niranjana sees in Roja (80). Instead, I situate Dil Se somewhere in between, a flawed but revealing expression of how one influential Indian filmmaker—significantly, from a non-Hindi-speaking state—grapples with the country’s rapidly changing attitudes as it moves from an age-old “geo-piety” to a modern “geo-idolatry” (Eck, India 105).

National and Cultural Identities and Film in India Partha Chatterjee, Sunil Khilnani, and Sumathi Ramaswamy, among others, have astutely analyzed modern India’s negotiation of national identity, from Nehru’s post-1947 socialist ideals and inherited colonial state machinery to the country’s post-1992 abandonment of these ideals in favor of economic liberalization. Such changes also entail shifting views of sacred spaces, especially as reflected by filmmakers. Ramaswamy, in her insightful history of the ubiquitous and influential image of Mother India, or Bharat Mata, shows how nationalists superimposed this goddess figure on maps of India—an example of what she calls “patriotic pastoral” (67)—as a way of combining geographical and religious ideals of national unity. India thus shares the challenge of many postcolonial countries in trying to balance traditional cultural expressions with more “modern” views, especially those of India’s burgeoning, tech-savvy middle class. A favorite cinematic trope for traditional Indian values was (and to

Bharat Mata as national unity with head in Himalayas

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E S S A Y some degree still is) the village, which unsurprisingly represents a pastoral, timeless and innocent sphere shaped by patriarchal practices, as against the corrupting temptations of city life, such as Raj Kapoor famously depicted in his 1954 global hit Shree 420. At the same time, the city can, we are told in the same film, realize its emancipatory potential by listening to the timeless morality that Kapoor’s malleable character has never forgotten. Despite the continuing power of this trope, however, Indian popular culture’s more recent figuration of urban life is far more positive. For the city is, after all, a modern aspirational marketplace, in contrast to the relatively changeless village. The moral village has for this reason become the sign of backwardness and a failed feudalism whose very autonomy, as M. Madhava Prasad observes, now “threatens” the historyminded modernity of the state (232). Yet the state’s unity is itself less assured than previously imagined because this newly confident, more vociferous urban nationalism is paradoxically also global. Borders are ever more important, but so is transnational trade—and along with that, the global specter of terror. But the Indian state’s particular challenge since independence from the British in 1947 has also been to find threads of commonality within its religious and linguistic diversity. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, answered this challenge by endorsing a secular, socialist vision of modernized industry along with an interventionist state that took on a paternal role “at the core of India’s society” as arbiter of everything from ration cards to education and artistic license (Khilnani 41). But it was still a secular democracy, unlike what transpired in many other postcolonial nations, and

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Nehru strived to balance what he called its “layer upon layer of thought,” an “ancient palimpsest” that prevented any single “part of the country [to] be called the heart of [its] culture” (qtd. in Khilnani 169-170). Film, not surprisingly, played a big role in such expressivity, initially, from the 1940s through 1970s, by dramatizing its call to “unity in diversity.”6 Throughout this period of filmmaking, as images of modernity and rural virtue appeared alongside the everimportant shots of rivers, forests and mountains, Kashmir quickly became a favorite locale for key scenes. Their appeal was, and to a degree still is, due to the emotive effects of these locales’ religious, patriotic, and picturesque associations, what Diana Eck calls a “grammar of sanctification” (India 17). For the average middle-class viewer, Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains are therefore more than just far-off exotic places, and therefore more than simply a region policed in the country’s name. They are also, in Hindu cultural iconography, the abode of the gods, and thus a prime feature of pilgrimage that reflects the ancient idea of the Indian subcontinent as Bharata, the name used for India (Eck, India 36, 64). Films shot in Kashmir7 could count on this associative power to deepen their already considerable reach.8 By the mid-1970s, however, trust in Nehruvian state ideals had soured. The image of Mother India continues to hover in the background of these films, but the state no longer evokes a sense of paternal guardianship, proving instead to be ineffective at best, corrupting at worst (Vitali 207). This is the context for the vigilantism of film star Amitabh Bachchan’s characters, who embody the “tragic separation” of nation and state (Prasad 138; Vitali 208).

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This character also colored the image of terrorists, who were seen as lapsed family members rather than unassimilable foreigners. The 1990s coincided with several historical changes, most notably the aforementioned liberalization of markets, the increase in Kashmiri and other separatist movements, and a resulting globalization of terror. Romance continued to structure film stories, but no longer only using the “feudal family romance” mode (Prasad 30). The liberalizing of trade ushered in moreindividuated heroes and heroines, and, because of a newfound national pride, a new (if short-lived) faith in the state— not in its old form, but in a less restrictive, more globalized one. The image of Kashmir in the media and in the average urbanite’s eyes thus changed. The idea of a pure, dehistoricized place associated with honeymoons and fertility gave way to a still-beautiful but now ravaged landscape that history had violently visited. Terrorism was now depicted as both homegrown and alien,

Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains are therefore more than just far-off exotic places, and therefore more than simply a region policed in the country’s name. They are also, in Hindu cultural iconography, the abode of the gods, and thus a prime feature of pilgrimage that reflects the ancient idea of the Indian subcontinent as Bharata.

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with Pakistan the hidden hand. Kashmir no longer signified bliss, but a site of ideological conflict. India’s post-liberalization cinema sought to counter this change by embracing protagonists with forwardlooking, consumerist outlooks—a move that, as Singh argues, conveniently “displaces questions of historical accountability” that had so troubled the nation for decades following the 1947 Partition (357). I extend Singh’s insight to suggest that this distancing from a traumatic past is tied to the mainstream need to depict Kashmir as both terrorized and pristine. This idealized virtual Kashmir enables a certain definition of “Indian-ness” that takes for granted the latter’s centrality. Singh shows how Mumbai-industry films are therefore caught in the “bind” of having to depict the nation as a secular, peaceable union and, at the same time, beset by “state violence and torture” (346). By identifying terrorism as the responsibility of outside agents—or as Singh summarizes it, a “global infection” (347)—films like Dil Se can retain the image of Kashmir as a sacred place whose fall into violence will, once dealt with, return to national health. The problem, of course, is that in reality violence cannot leave such a place untouched—especially one where people have a strained relationship with Indian statehood and citizenry.

Post-1992 Liberalization, Religious Politics, and Nationalism: Reading Dil Se in Context Sujala Singh describes many Hindi films on terrorism as being “caught up in the bind of guilt and responsibility” following the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition by Hindu fundamentalists and the repercussive 1993 Bombay city

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E S S A Y riots (346). Filmmakers feel obligated to sustain an ideal of the secular and unified nation-state and, at the same time, expose state-sponsored violence (Singh 346). For this reason, films like Dil Se take pains to ostensibly “humanize” terrorists fighting for their homeland. If some films signal a salutary shift from the sensitive topic of exposing internal rifts, too few attempt to show how the potential for national disunity can be resolved without resorting to stereotype. However, Indian filmmakers who attack state-level manipulation, such as by exposing the amorality of national intelligence services, expose themselves to accusations of either naiveté or insufficient patriotism. Added to this is the rise of “global” terrorism during the same period that has been coded as “Islamic,” with popular media around the world, including Hollywood, amplifying the stereotype. Ratnam’s films echo this dominant narrative of global terrorism, despite their superficial criticism of the state. But his films unintentionally undercut their support of state-based globalism by presenting terrorist figures whose apparent contradictions—notably, in Dil Se, the virginal local woman (played by Hindu actress Manisha Koirala) who chooses to be an agent of violence, and whose erotic appeal to the Hindu hero (played by Muslim star Shah Rukh Khan) culminates not in a customary scene of seduction, but in a bomb blast—are linked to those of Indian viewers trying to make sense of their own contradictory desires. Previously, popular Indian filmmakers sought to resolve conflicting ideals through maternal figures, like the aforementioned Mother India, or through the female sexualized body. Kashmir, as I have noted, had once signified the same

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mix of chasteness and libidinous freedom. Local peasants were naturalized in this geography of desire, at once an idyllic escape and the source of Ganga Ma, whose sacred femininity must not be defiled. Kept away by insurgent violence, filmmakers moved to Europe to convey the region’s iconographic aura, or, as in the case of Dil Se, to the northeast of the country. Earlier tropes were preserved but reconfigured. Meghna, whom Khan’s character Amar Varma pursues in Dil Se, embodies this new terrain. She is at once erotic and deadly, veiled and constantly visible. If prior to its unrest the Kashmir Valley and its women bore the burden of essential difference, it was nonetheless a difference that could safely be contained within the boundaries of the national imaginary. After the rise of militant resistance, including in northeastern India, these regions’ women, like Meghna, foreclose conventional possibilities of romantic love while retaining their bodily allure. The earlier trope of feminine Kashmiriness becomes that of the temptress. With older formulae no longer workable, filmmakers sought other ways to mediate tensions inherent to a rapidly-changing nation while retaining vestiges of the family romance. One tension is that just when middle-class Indians could at last afford to travel to Kashmir, and when India was embracing global commerce, the ghosts of tensions past resurfaced.9 This unrest is commonly signified on screen as a betrayal of pre-existing harmony, the dominant tone one of loss and nostalgia. On one level, Bollywood expresses this lost ideal as a failure to place personal love above religious loyalty, which the hero (and presumed audience) of Dil Se wants his lover, the

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suicide bomber, to understand. As Ravi Vasudevan observes about a similar sense of loss evoked in Ratnam’s Bombay, this is an ambivalent nostalgia since filmmakers want to endorse traditional values even as they uphold modernity as a means of accommodating religious differences (189-90). The nation-state itself is therefore alternately celebrated and censured (Chakrabarty 217). This paradox means that if films are to have mass appeal, they are obligated to show that romantic love, which betokens ideal innocence and sincerity, ends either in marriage or, if impossible to sustain due to communal conflict, death (Gopal 50). To summarize the plot: Dil Se begins with investigative All India Radio reporter Amar Varma traveling to an unnamed northeastern region to report on local unrest and on ordinary inhabitants’ perceptions of the Indian government, which maintains a conspicuous military presence. At a train stop somewhere in the region one stormy night, presumably close to his destination, Amar sees a beautiful, seemingly demure local woman. He encounters her again in the nameless town where, between radio reports, he pursues her, declaring his heart-felt love (thus echoing the film’s title). Amar displays the typical confidence, good-heartedness, and idealism of the popular film hero, undaunted by the mysterious woman’s apparent indifference. So innocent is Amar’s love that the film allows the viewer to see the truth—that Meghna (for that is her name, as he discovers) is involved in some kind of illicit activity—before Amar does. (His investigative skills don’t seem to help him much.) Despite a beating at the hands of Meghna’s male minders, he doggedly pursues her to Ladakh,

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the mountainous and remote Buddhist region in Jammu and Kashmir State, bordering Pakistan, where the Indian Army has its largest presence. Against all odds, their love blossoms. But by the time Amar eventually discovers Meghna’s true identity, she has disappeared. After his return to Delhi, where he is to be married, Meghna shows up—ostensibly for a bed and a job, but in reality, as we learn, to blow herself up in an assassination plot during the Republic Day Parade. Unbeknownst to both, the police are soon onto her, and, thinking Amar is similarly involved, question his family. In the meantime, he confronts Meghna’s accomplices and searches her room, where he finds the telltale headband of her resistance movement, and, finally, confronts her as she walks to her final destination strapped with a bomb. Proclaiming his undying love and refusal to let her go, they embrace—and the bomb goes off, ending the film. The opening scene, in the small railway station, skillfully establishes several key notes: Amar’s good-hearted nature, his pursuit of an elusive woman, and, unusually for a film set in such a region, a dark and narrow space. Amar’s red jacket contrasts with Meghna’s dark shawl—except for his (and our) brief glimpse of her red blouse before she covers herself against the chilly night air. The color red reappears throughout the film, no doubt to signal passion as well as blood. Visually, Amar’s jacket focuses our vision, inviting us to adopt his point of view, that of a modern, happy-go-lucky secular Indian who simply wants to interact with an attractive woman. He jokes about her reticence, but when she abruptly asks for hot tea, he moves with eagerness to comply—joking

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E S S A Y (ironically, as we soon see) that he has a bomb in his suitcase. We have not yet been presented with the mountains that Amar is heading toward, but older viewers of the film may have a clue in his red jacket. Apart from its symbolism, it gestures to the red jackets and sweaters worn by heroes of classic films set in Kashmir, notably Junglee (1961) and Kashmir ki Kali (1964). The associations to passion and blood are present in these, too, with both heroes fighting for a local woman and the villains, like the latter film’s Mohan (played by the great Pran), sporting blood stains. The next scene thrusts us into a hilly, forested landscape through which Amar’s train winds its way—with Amar introducing the first song-anddance, or “item,” number, gyrating to A. R. Rahman’s infectious “Chaiyya Chaiyya” beat. Dancing alongside Amar atop the train is Malaika Arora Khan, who specialized in such item sequences, and a troop of ostensibly local folk dancers and drummers. Ananya Kabir discusses the importance of the song’s qawwali and Sufi borrowings, its use of Qur’anic words, and the notable fact that the main dancers (including star Shah Rukh Khan), the musician (Rahman), and the choreogra-

pher (Farah Khan) share Muslim background. Kabir observes that both this and another significant song sequence, “Satrangi Re,” convey an “Islamicate” cultural repertoire of ruined fortresses, Urdu verses, and clothing that index both the loss of this culture and its continuance as a mark of religious difference (Kabir 147-48). Equally significant is the dancing woman’s red blouse, whose seductiveness contrasts with the brief revelation of Meghna’s red blouse in the previous station scene—brief, but no less suggestive. As with the red jackets of earlier films, the two juxtaposed scenes evoke Kashmir settings—and in the second, Ratnam rewards us with actual mountains. Yet this vista, as many viewers recognize, is not part of northeastern India, but in fact belongs to the director’s home state of Tamil Nadu, specifically the famed Ootacamund (“Ooty”) hill train, part of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (a World Heritage Site). Railways, so conspicuous a part of Indian life, here signal the modern interlinking of the vast subcontinent, a system Nehru described as crucial to a “modern” nation (31314, 331). The convention of Hindi film song-and-dance, however, is an unannounced (because expected) romance fantasy that is untethered to the main action or setting, though it is always in keeping with an overriding theme. The dancing woman is a foil for Meghna, not only because of her seductive blouse, but also because she is, like Meghna, surrounded by men. Ratnam’s southern heritage provides him with a perspective outside these Bombay cinema conventions, a position that prompts him to critique federal

Amar and Meghna in the Ladakh song sequence.

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indifference to minority interests. Thus, Not that Ratnam doesn’t try. Soon one character, Amar’s fiancée Preeti, is after Amar encounters the local beauty from a Malayali family living in Delhi, Meghna, for instance, he re-enacts on and a fantasy song sequence is shot in radio, complete with sound effects, his Preeti’s “home” state of Kerala. Howtrain-station encounter with Meghna. ever, Dil Se’s overt, otherwise laudable He hopes she is listening (as indeed effort to tie northeastern India to distant she is). More interestingly, his mimsouthern states, and to thereby weave icry of cinematic melodrama, meant to India’s diverse geographies and linguisillustrate his genuine love for Meghna tic identities into a pan-Indian tapestry, and his exuberant nature, cuts two mutes these minority voices. Here, the ways, for it gives us Amar’s melodrahistory of mainstream views of the matic message even as it self-reflexively northeast warrants highlights the consome explanation, for vention’s exaggerathis history appears to Ratnam’s southern heritage tion. He styles the largely match Ratmen who collect provides him with a nam’s own view. SanMeghna at the stajib Baruah reminds us perspective outside these tion, before he has a that the mere twenty chance to return with Bombay cinema conventions, kilometers that coma position that prompts him to the hot tea, as “vilprise the geopolitical lainous” horsemen linkage between India critique federal indifference to from whom he tries and the northeastern to “rescue” her. The minority interests. states, sandwiched haunting song “Ae between Bangladesh Ajnabi” that plays in and Nepal, highlights the similarly the background underscores the serislender “cultural and political” conousness of his desire, especially when nection to the “Indian heartland” (xii). we, along with Meghna, hear the same As with most postcolonial nations, the song late in the film, as she and her borders are a result of colonial rule, accomplices prepare for their violent as too is the broad characterization of act. The song’s chorus enunciates a hill regions as inhabited by “primitive key theme: “O stranger, wherever you tribes,” as the British called them, and are, you’re calling from somewhere/ as “heartland” Indians continue to treat I’m living in pieces here/ Just as you, them (Baruah 28). Like their colonial too, are living in pieces somewhere.” predecessors, many central governThe single-line motif of a “wandering,” ment administrators therefore consider or “foreign” (pardesi), bird speaks to the region’s peoples to be incorrigibly Amar’s view of Meghna, an image that “tribal,” and consequently in need of recurs in the song “Jiya Jale Jaan Jale.” federal paternalism (28).10 Although Amar’s sense of living “in pieces,” this view is changing, in part due to though a conventional image in Urdu activists’ efforts and the aid of technolpoetry for unrequited love, clearly ogy, several features of Dil Se reflect it, underscores the film’s thoughtful thenotably the film’s inability to escape the matic attention to national fragmentaexaggerated tendencies of stereotype, tion, as Kabir observes (152). The two both human and geographical. scenes marked by the same “Ae Ajnabi”

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E S S A Y song are, moreover, distinct in tone, the critique of the nation. Just before this second one, occurring when Meghna’s interview scene, Amar has re-encounfatal mission is imminent, functioning tered Meghna in town and, with the as a critique of the earlier one. Ratnam “Chaiyya Chaiyya” song playing in the thus seems to simultaneously expose background, leaps for joy; and immemelodramatic convention and deploy diately after the interview comes his it by weaving its standard motifs into radio message to Meghna. The guerilla fresh patterns. It is a skillful innovation interview is thus bracketed by romance, that understandably supports a reading effectively undercutting what is meant of the film as a departure from formuto be the awe-inspiring sight of welllaic romance. trained, aggressively-chanting fighters The film concludes, deep in the hills. The however, with the scene itself is confamiliar trope of the In a globalized and increasingly flicted, with Ratnam hero saving, if not appearing uncerpowerful India, the iconography tain about its tone: his lover, then (more importantly in this To reach the secret of national belonging can no case) his country by encampment, Amar longer resolve social-political dying for both. As and his trusty assisconditions through past Singh points out, this tant Shukla have been act confirms Amar’s emblems of national unity. The led on a blindfolded, idealism, and so slightly hazardous purity of life, the promise of endorses the previous and semi-comical industry, the rallying of urban “fantasy motifs” that journey through a would otherwise have poor against urban rich—all jungle. Amar’s lightseemed naive—such as depend on ideals that seem to be hearted comments when, in his interview to his captors further increasingly hard to sustain. with the insurgent confirm his unpretenleader that immediatetious persona, just as ly precedes his radio Shukla’s pleas for his “message” to Meghna, he assumes the life accentuate his comic-sidekick role. man will speak Hindi, and is rightly Once inside the encampment, howberated by the leader for such an ever, they are an entirely professional assumption (Singh 352-53). Although team, with Amar displaying the brave this rebuke, with the leader adding that questioning expected of an ambitious his people have been “oppressed” for journalist. This tonal dissonance I think “fifty years” and “We are not terrorists, reflects the director’s uncertainty about we are revolutionaries,” is allowed to how to present the seriousness of terror stand as a truthful reading of misbegotwithin the context of romance, and also ten federal policies, it is Amar, not the exposes his awkward attempt to fit into rebel leader, who commands our attenthe film a commentary on this very tion. And it is Amar’s romantic sensibilmode of cinematic convention. Amar’s ity, expressed in scenes that bookend radio fantasy re-enactment thus functhe radio interview, that consequently tions not as a playful critique of stanconditions the audience’s reception dard melodrama. Instead, it provides a of the rebel commander’s reasonable kind of permission for the director, his

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Preeti in bridal sari with Meghna looking on.

avant-garde credentials established, to continue to stage conventional fantasy sequences that support his own romantic treatment of national landscape. At the same time, however, this uneven tone attests to the inescapable dilemma of trying to articulate both local dispossession and the nation’s right to the land. Ratnam thus mostly follows convention, especially by rehearsing the village woman-meets-urban hero romance that has long characterized Indian cinema’s expressions of spontaneous love (Prasad 110). True, the film is unusual in having Amar later forsake his arranged, and apparently amicable, engagement to the south Indian (Malayali) beauty Preeti Nair in order to die with Meghna. But this climactic act is itself, as Singh notes, part of “the visual imagery of fantasy” in which martial bands and songs drum up the contextual Republic Day activities (354). Indeed, the film as a whole can be read as a version of fantasy, a strategy that is of course not inherently problematic. Far from being interpreted as somehow inferior to realism, fantasy can make conscious use, as Peter Brooks says of melodrama, of the power of symbols to signify deeply human moral principles and motivations (22). We are obliged, therefore, to fit the significant

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song and dance numbers into the film’s diegetic narrative. But Meghna’s role in these sequences, like her other unique roles of victim and revolutionary, do not substantially disrupt the normative plot. Amar’s self-sacrifice in the dual service of love and nation reconfirms her supporting role as a woman who, despite remarkable political aims, prescriptively falls in love with this loyal, pure-hearted son of a Hindu military officer. Everything else in the film—the terrorist plot, schoolchildren declaring their patriotism during the Republic Day festivities, local northeastern people avowing their love of country, and, above all, Amar himself—urges us to see with Amar’s eyes that it is love and family within the orbit of the nation-state, not resistance to it, that matters. The movement for dignified regional autonomy to which Meghna has given her life remains unresolved, which makes a reading of the final bomb blast as “a triumph of love” (Kabir 144) untenable.

Conclusion Achille Mbembe observes that nations must account for the “paradox” of war, which is its “simultaneous idealism and apparent inhumanity” (25). Faced with changes in family structure, individual sensibility, and Kashmir violence, Indian filmmakers and audiences have struggled to make sense of such paradoxes. Neelam Srivastava observes that the bourgeois class’s selfinterest blinds its members to unethical state-led activities beyond the urban purview (703), activities that Amar in fact sets out to expose. As we have seen, this disinterest is partly due to the

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E S S A Y nation’s vast geography: landscapes that are far from epicenters of power tend to be exoticized. But for this reason distant landscapes and peoples are also patronized, sowing the seeds of antinationalism, which is then, in a familiar circular logic, seen to confirm an inherent tribalism, an unwillingness to participate in the modern nation’s social contract. For Bombay cinema, the result is a contradictory treatment of regional landscapes as alternately innocent and villainous. One reason for this ambivalence, as this essay has argued, is that in a globalized and increasingly powerful India, the iconography of national belonging can no longer resolve socialpolitical contradictions through past

emblems of national unity. The purity of village life, the promise of industry, the rallying of urban poor against urban rich—all depend on ideals that seem to be increasingly hard to sustain. The Hindi film industry’s earlier motif of village innocence redeeming corrupt urbanism, as in Kapoor’s Shree 420, can no longer function because village India itself, like Meghna’s own village, is now a threat to state power, which is signified by urban capital (Prasad 232). But if the film industry and its audiences can no longer ignore the sounds of gunfire in previously “safe” regions, they will no doubt find other locales for staging national aspirations.

Notes M. Madhava Prasad discusses this trope in depth in regard to Roja (230-33), and I explain its function further into this essay. 2 See Prasad’s discussion of realism and melodrama in the Indian context (56-79). 3 Tamil is the influential language and region—Tamil Nadu—of southern India, a state that, along with other southern Dravidian states, naturally strives to preserve regional distinctions in the face of a northern-Indian, Hindi-dominant idea of national unity. As Sunil Khilnani puts it, “The demands of culture, the claims for [regional] recognition, are against large federal states, but the pressures of economics are towards interconnection.” (194). 4 Tejaswini Niranjana notes in her essay on Roja that its audience tended to be “male, middle and lower-middle class, possibly college-going” (79). 1

Rahman went on to use the film’s popular song “Chaiyya” in his theatre production Bombay Dreams. The song also broadened the success of singer Sukhwinder Singh, for which he received a Best Male Playback Award at the 1999 Filmfare Awards. A decade later, Rahman’s “Jai Ho” song for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008), which won both an Oscar and a Grammy, was sung by Singh. See IMDB.com, among other online sites, for more. 6 Nehruvian ideals were famously depicted in the iconic 1957 film Mother India, whose titular character is a widow who kills her own rogue son in order to safeguard the integrity of village land and traditions. This sacrifice compels her fellow villagers to grant her the honor of opening the waterway of the big new dam—the kind of structure Nehru revealingly called the “biggest temple and mosque and gurudwara” of modernity (Khilnani 61). 7 Examples include Pamposh (1954), Junglee (1961), Kashmir ki Kali (1964), Kabhie Kabhie (1976), and Bemisal (1982). The Jammu & Kashmir Tourism department’s website highlights more recent Hindi films shot there; see http://www.jktourism.org/index.php/movies-filmed (accessed 28 July 2014). 8 Devotionalism, animated by the idea of darshan (sight/presence plus devotion), has been a notable influence in film’s reach, as Freitag (43) and Prasad (74-75, 110-111) observe. 5

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One marker of this shift has been India’s naming of Pakistan as India’s bête noire, as opposed to a previously agreed-upon silence on this score (Chakrabarty 214). Arguably, both countries need each other more than ever as a means of defining themselves (see Puar and Rai 88). 10 For a discussion of how these actions have fed a “grouping” stereotype, see Nandini Sundar’s “Interning Insurgent Populations: The Buried Histories of Indian Democracy.” 9

Works Cited Brooks, Peter. The Melodramatic Imagination: Balzac, Henry James, Melodrama, and the Mode of Excess. New Haven: Yale UP, 1976. Chakrabarty, Sumita. “Fragmenting the Nation: Images of Terrorism in Indian Popular Cinema.” Cinema & Nation. Ed. M. Hjort and S. Mackenzie. New York: Routledge, 2005. 209-23. Chatterjee, Partha. Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World: A Derivative Discourse. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993. Chatterjee, Piya. A Time for Tea: Women, Labor, and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2001. Dwyer, Rachel, and Christopher Pinney. Pleasure and the Nation: The Politics of Consumption of Popular Culture in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002. Eck, Diana. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. ---. India: A Sacred Geography. New York: Random House, 2012. Gopal, Divya. “’India, Pak do not realize Kashmir’s value.’” Indian Express Online, 12 July 2010. http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/-india-pak-do-not-realise-kashmir-s-value-/645131/. Retrieved 26 July 2014. Kabir, Ananya J. “Allegories of Alienation and Politics of Bargaining: Minority Subjectivities in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se.” South Asian Popular Culture 1:2 (2003): 141-159. ---. Territory of Desire: Representing the Valley of Kashmir. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2009. Kasbekar, Asha. “Hidden Pleasures: Negotiating the Myth of the Female Ideal in Popular Hindi Cinema.” Pleasure and the Nation. Ed. Dwyer and Pinney. 286-308. Khilnani, Sunil. The Idea of India. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1999. Mbembe, Achille. “Necropolitics.” Public Culture 15:1 (2003): 11–40. Nehru, Jawaharlal. The Discovery of India. Centenary Edition. New Delhi: Oxford UP, 1985. Niranjana, Tejaswini. “Integrating Whose Nation?: Tourists and Terrorists in ‘Roja.’” EPW 29:3 (15 Jan. 1994): 79-82.

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E S S A Y Prasad, M. Madhava. Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2010 (1998). Puar, Jasbir K. and Amit Rai. “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Construc- tion of Docile Patriots.” Social Text 20:3 (Fall 2002): 117-148. ---. “The Remaking of a Model Minority: Perverse Projectiles under the Specter of (Counter) Ter- rorism.” Social Text 80:2 (Fall 2004): 75-104. Ratnam, Mani, dir. Bombay. Aalayam Productions, 1995. Film. ---., dir. Dil Se. India Talkies, 1998. Film. ---., dir. Roja. Kavithalayaa Productions, 1992. Film. Ramaswamy, Sumathi. The Goddess and the Nation: Mapping Mother India. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Singh, Sujala. “Terror, Spectacle, and the Secular State in Bombay Cinema.” Terror and the Postcolo- nial. Ed. E. Boehner and S. Morton. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 345-60. Srivastava, Neelam. “Bollywood as National(ist) Cinema: Violence, Patriotism and the National- Popular in Rang De Basanti.” Third Text 23:6 (Nov. 2009): 703–16 Sundar, Nandini.” Interning Insurgent Populations: The Buried Histories of Indian Democracy.” Economic and Political Weekly 46:6 (5 Feb. 2011): 47-57. Vasudevan, Ravi S. “Bombay and Its Public.” Pleasure and the Nation. Ed. Dwyer and Pinney. 186- 211. ---. “Introduction.” Making Meaning in Indian Cinema. Ed. R. Vasudevan. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2000. 1-36. Vitali, Valentina. Hindi Action Cinema: Industries, Narratives, Bodies. Delhi: Oxford UP, 2008. Zahab, Mariam Abou. “’Yeh Matam Kaise Ruk Jae?’ (‘How Could this Matam Ever Cease?’): Muharram Processions in Pakistani Punjab.” South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Processions in South Asian and in the Diaspora. Ed. Knut A. Jacobsen. New York: Routledge, 2008. 104-14.

Alan Johnson is a professor of English at Idaho State University, where he specializes in postcolonial studies with an emphasis on India, the country of his birth. He’s the author of Out of Bounds: Anglo-Indian Literature and the Geography of Displacement (2011) as well as several articles. He returns to India frequently, including twice as a Fulbright scholar. His current project develops an ecological reading of Indian fiction.

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E S S A Y

Paula Richman

What Was Ravana Thinking?

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hat transpired in the mind of tenheaded Ravana, foe of Lord Rama and one of Indian theater’s most notorious warriors? In Ramayana, an ancient Hindu epic composed in Sanskrit and attributed to Sage Valmiki, Rama takes birth on earth in order to restore order by slaying Ravana, whose tyrannous rule has caused great suffering. The vast majority of texts prior to the twentienth century that retell the story Shankar Ramachandran of Rama’s battle against Ravana portray him as a Kalamandalam Shanmukhan as Ravana. villain whose lust, greed, Kapalingattu Nambudiri, head of another and egotism so blatantly transgress norms Kathakali troupe, attended the work’s 1780 for proper action that he seems almost debut, the local prince asked him to assess monstrous. Yet “Tapasattam,” a scene in a the new work. Nambudiri replied that he Kathakali dance-drama first performed in found it flawed. When the prince asked 1780, represents Ravana in quite a different him to correct its shortcomings, Nambudiri way. Kathakali (“story-play”), a genre of created an additional scene, called “Tapasmartial dance-drama that originated in the coastal area of southwest India that is today attam” (penance-dance).2 The audience responded so positively to the new scene Kerala state, took place in the open air that it has remained part of Ravanodbhavam (often in a courtyard outside a temple) and ever since that night. It depicts Ravana’s lasted all night.1 motives for undertaking penance and por“Tapasattam” has an unusual history; it trays the consequences. In “Tapasattam,” is an interpolation to Ravanod-bhavam [OriRavana narrates and re-enacts pivotal gins of Ravana], composed by Kallaikulanmoments in his youth, thereby providing gara Raghava Pisharoty (1725-1799). When


E S S A Y an inside view of what enables someone ments, footwork, and mudras (hand geswho was considered “inconsequential” at tures). Eye movements indicate emotions birth to rule over earth, heaven, and the such as anger or love. Footwork conveys netherworld. rhythm and energy, speeding up at key Nambudiri’s interpolation reveals how moments in the plot. Hand movements act a traumatic childhood experience generas body language to represent each word ated in Ravana an indomitable ambition to of the attakatha and elaborate on it. The assuage his mother’s sorrow and restore dancer’s mudras function like sign lanhonor to her lineage by slaying foes and guage and, accompanied by stamping feet amassing wealth. The tripartite structure and eye movements, visually transmit the of “Tapasattam” shows how and why attakatha to the audience. Ravana undertook Pisharoty comharsh tapas and earned posed the first attakatha the boon that neither whose main character Pisharoty composed the god nor demon could was not the nayakan first attakatha whose kill him. “Tapasattam” (hero) but the pratireveals the desires that nayakan (counter-hero). main character was not the led Ravana to achieve nayakan (hero) but the prati- In focusing on the fame, obtain untold counter-hero, Pisharoty nayakan (counter-hero). riches, and live as if pioneered the way for invincible. Nambudiri a subsequent set of In focusing on the counterhighlights Ravana’s nineteenth and twenhero, Pisharoty pioneered love for his mother, tieth century Indian the way for a subsequent set fearless acts of tapas, plays that portrayed and demands for boons of nineteenth and twentieth and evoked sympathy that equip him with for the characters who century Indian plays that extraordinary powers. were counter-heroes or portrayed and evoked This essay explores “underdogs.” Ravatheatrical and narrative sympathy for the characters nodbhavam has three techniques by which parts. The first section who were counter heroes or “Tapasattam” depicts depicts the deeds of “underdogs.” Ravana in an unprecRavana’s ancestors edented way. that shaped his life; the attakatha presents Kathakali and a Nirvahana its account of Ravana’s origins by starting two generations before his birth. The A Kathakali dance-drama rests on its middle section portrays the source of his attakatha (“enacted-story”), a text that funcdesire to earn boons and includes “Tapastions as the rough equivalent of a libretto attam.” The last section tells of Ravana’s for an opera. Responsibility for conveying marriage, an auspicious event that reveals the story and its moods rests with instruRavana at the height of his powers: mentalists, vocalists, and dancers. The famous, wealthy, powerful, and ready to instrumentalists, most notably the drumbeget an heir to his throne. mers, mark the beat, while the vocalist Kathakali characters appear in a sings padams (songs) that accompany the ranked hierarchy that ranges from most dance. The dancer physically enacts the refined (noble warriors) to least refined story’s dialogue, using only eye move(ogres); each type of character enacts his

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role according to highly stylized conventions familiar to performers and audiences.3 The rung of the character in the hierarchy determines what kind of deeds each character performs and how he moves, dresses, looks, and uses (or does not use) speech. Male heroes of the highest rank, such as deities and virtuous princes, are titled pacca (green). Their deeds are virtuous, their movements dignified, their costumes bespeak might, their makeup is refined, and they remain completely silent. Ravana occupies the second highest category, katti (knife), one rung lower than pacca. Both pacca and katti wear similar costumes since they both show valor in battle. They also wear green makeup on their faces, but the face of a katti includes three items that differ from a pacca: an upturned red moustache; thick red lines above the eyes and eyebrows; and white balls on his nose and forehead. These items disrupt the face, decreasing its refinement. Katti characters transgress the bounds of virtue, battle furiously, and often yell “G’wah!” when angry. Despite being a katti, in Ravanodbhavam Ravana appears in a uniquely sympathetic way. Why would Nambudiri add a scene to Pisharoty’s attakatha? It was an ilakiyattam, the term for a later interpolation to an attakatha. A well-trained, talented, and creative Kathakali dancer sometimes becomes inspired to add an extemporaneous ilakiyattam to his piece; if the ilakiyattam wins widespread approbation, it then becomes a permanent part of the work. An ilakiyattam builds on events already present in the dance-drama, but it enhances a viewer’s experience of them.4 Kathakali connoisseurs savor ilakiyattams because they enrich the intensity of their visual experience of incidents. Nambudiri’s ilakiyattam reveals what motivated Ravana to undertake tapas so harsh that he nearly died.

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Nambudiri choreographed “Tapasattam” by adding to a Kathakali play for the first time a theatrical device called a nirvahana, which functions roughly like a cinematic flashback. Always performed by a soloist, a nirvahana presents a visual soliloquy in which the dancer re-enacts past events that have led to the current moment in the play.5 Working closely with two Nayars in his troupe, Ittiri Panikkar and Kavungal Unniri Panikkar, Nambudiri intensified the theatricality of the dancedrama by adding a nirvahana to Ravanodbhavam. The dancer playing Ravana begins the nirvahana by reflecting upon how he achieved his current happiness. “Tapasattam” functions like a diagnostic review, as Ravana sifts through his past and reveals his inmost thoughts (with mudras). The audience enters his mind’s eye, seeing him as a character of consequence with his own values, concerns, and motivations. As he identifies the pivotal moments that led to his current situation, he re-enacts them by taking on, sequentially, the role of each figure in his retrospective account. The following account of “Tapasattam” conveys something of its dramatic power and logic.

“Tapasattam” Enacted “Tapasattam” begins with the male dancer portraying Mother Kaikasi sitting in the center of the performance space, rocking her sleeping child, Kutti (“boy”) Ravana, on her lap. The actor playing the mother mimes holding, rocking, and caressing her little son. Gazing at his face lovingly, she considers herself fortunate to have given birth to such a son. Hearing a faint noise from above, she looks up briefly, sees nothing, and quickly returns to admiring her child. As the noise increases, she tries to ignore it, until it gradually becomes too loud to dismiss. Now, she looks up and sees a flower-adorned

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E S S A Y

Shankar Ramachandran Kaikasi looks at the Aerial Chariot.

aerial chariot moving across the sky. As it approaches, its drummer heralds a powerful personage: Kubera, Ravana’s half-brother. Seeing majestic Kubera on his chariot, Kaikasi apprehends the wealth and prestige of Ravana’s half-brother. When Kubera performed tapas, Lord Brahma appointed him God of Wealth and one of the four Guardians of the Earth’s Quarters. His magnificent chariot shows the extent of his great riches.6 Kaikasi realizes that her son Ravana will never have the privileges of Kubera, born to her husband’s first wife. Jealous of Kubera’s good fortune, she gazes down at her own son sorrowfully. Kubera and Ravana were begotten by the same father, yet Kubera is powerful (pratapam) but she fears Ravana will be inconsequential (nissaram) and weeps because he was born to her, a second wife.

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At this point, the soloist ceases to play Kaikasi and assumes the role of Kutti Ravana.7 The child awakes, feels Kaikasi’s tears falling on him, and asks why she is crying. Then he mimes hearing her tell of Kubera’s arrogation of power. Trying to restore his mother’s happiness and show his own valor, Ravana declares that he will go, tie Kubera up, bringing him to her, and make him bow at his mother’s feet and asks, “Would that satisfy you?” When she assents, Ravana set off to the Gokarna Forest in order to perform tapas. The scene then shifts to the forest where, despite his tender age, Ravana has gone to practice tapas. He begins an especially harsh form of self-mortification that involves tapas in front of five fires. First, he creates four Vedic fire pits, fills them with fire, purifies himself by bathing, and consecrates each one with oblations.8 Next, he orders the sun to stand still before him, to serve as the fifth fire. Closing his eyes, he focuses single-mindedly on tapas, despite the searing heat from the fires. A thousand years pass. After completing this painful tapas, he glances around, expecting to see Lord Brahma come to offer him a boon. Brahma does not appear. Disappointed, Ravana surmises that his tapas did not suffice to gain Lord Brahma’s attention, so he embarks on even more rigorous self-mortification. Raising his sword, he slashes off one of his heads and flings it into the fire.9 Again he looks around, expecting that his gruesome act of self-sacrifice will finally attract Lord Brahma’s attention. Brahma does not appear. Grimly determined, Ravana performs another one thousand years of tapas and sacrifices a second head. He continues, offering heads to the fire, until only a single one remains. Then, after 9,000 years of tapas, he looks around for Brahma, in vain. He has failed to reach his goal.

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Ravana sadly prepares to return home but suddenly changes his mind: he will not accept defeat. Turning back, he decides to carry out a final act of bravery, even if it ends in his death. By sacrificing his life, he thinks that he will gain eternal fame as a valiant warrior who refused to accept humiliation by the gods. He imagines that in the future he will be recalled as one who showed that Brahma neglected his duty when he did not come and offer Ravana a boon. Defiant, he declares to the heavens: “I will put you to shame (maanakkedu). Envision your infamy (apamaanam)!” He raises his arm to slash off his last head. Only now does Brahma appear. As soon as he arrives, Brahma immediately restores all of Ravana’s heads, indicating his remorse that he did not attend on Ravana when he completed his five fire tapas. During Ravana’s early tapas, he viewed himself as a petitioner for a boon but, by this time, Ravana feels insulted by Brahma’s neglect. As a result, power relations between the two deviate from usual practice: Ravana now takes control

over their interaction. First, he demands rule over all three worlds. Brahma grants it. Next, Ravana wants boundless fame. Brahma gives him that too. Ravana now asks for all wealth. Brahma agrees. Instead of one boon, Ravana has gotten three. Without even uttering the customary blessing spoken when a guest departs, Ravana now gestures for Brahma to get out of his sight. As he turns to depart, Ravana abruptly recalls him and demands a final boon: that he cannot be killed by either rakshasas (demons) or deities.10 When it is granted, Ravana again dismisses Brahma with contempt. Then, he struts back and forth across the stage several times, his head thrust back in triumph, relishing his success. Rejoicing at the immense power he has won, he declares loudly and with pleasure, “Now, who is there equal (thulyan) to me on earth?” He turns to home, feeling invincible. Here ends “Tapasattam.”

Shankar Ramachandran Ravana obtains his boons.

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Turning Points

Kaikasi’s sight of Kubera’s chariot leads to the first turning point in “Tapasattam.” When Ravana vows to end his mother’s sorrow, he reveals that his ambition to gain boons originates neither in greed nor egotism but instead in order to comfort his mother. The depiction of Kaikasi and Kutti Ravana takes up a proportionally greater part of “Tapasattam” than the other two parts, thereby allowing the audience sufficient time to perceive Kaikasi’s aspirations for her son and develop affection for the boy determined to raise his mother’s status. The nirvahana’s second major juncture occurs after Ravana has completed his five-fire tapas and cut off nine of his heads. By choosing to risk his last head rather than accept defeat, Ravana prepares to sacrifice

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E S S A Y his life, thereby exhibiting the courage found usually only on the battlefield. In addition, by continuing his harsh tapas for so long, he demonstrates mastery of ekagraha, one-pointedness of mind, a quality that ascetics must master in order to attain their ultimate goals. His courage and perseverance thus show that he has lived up to Hindu ideals. The final juncture shows how Ravana chooses boons that not only gain him special powers but, at the same time, deprive Kubera of power. By asking for rule over the three worlds, he will supersede his half-brother, whose jurisdiction covers just one of the four quarters of the earth. Ravana’s gaining of boundless fame enables him to surpass Kubera’s limited fame. When Ravana receives the boon of wealth, he appropriates all Kubera’s riches, making his post as God of Wealth an empty title. Ravana even takes Kubera’s aerial chariot, a signifier of preeminence. Only toward the nirvahana’s end does the audience see the signs of the arrogance that will later cause Ravana’s downfall. One could interpret Ravana’s strutting across the stage and trumpeting his success at winning boons as a sign that he has become prideful. Another interpretation could be that Brahma’s lateness so infuriated Ravana that it made him indulge in such egotistical actions. Indeed, Brahma concedes his failure to appear at the proper time by restoring all of Ravana’s heads, as if to return to the moment before Ravana started sacrificing his heads; Ravana’s hauteur could, thus, be explained as due to Brahma’s delay. Only Ravana’s future deeds will reveal whether he uses his boons well or lets his power run amok. The story of the origins of “Tapasattam” emphasizes the intense time pressure under which Nambudiri created his ilakiyattam. On the very night of Ravanodbhavam’s debut, the prince from Cochin’s ruling family, who supervised the pro-

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duction, asked Nambudiri, a respected Kathakali connoisseur, to evaluate it. When Nambudiri declared that the work could be improved, the prince promptly ordered him to substantiate his criticism by taking on the responsibility of improving Ravanodbhavam and having his own troupe re-enact it on the following night.11 Nambudiri’s “improvement,” created in collaboration with his musicians Ittiri Panikkar and Kavungal Unniri Panikkar, won each of the three men an onappudava, a costly ceremonial cloth in recognition of their artistry. Four days later, after the King of Trichur saw the performance, he bestowed upon each man a gold wristband, usually given to one who has shown great valor in battle.12 “Tapasattam” thus turned Ravanodbhavam from a flawed attakatha into one that won rare honors from royal patrons. “Tapasattam” spotlights aspects of hierarchy that shaped Ravana’s life. His four boons prove that tapas can enable some born into a low rank to attain higher status. Yet, the ability to change his situation had limits; he was born, and remained, a katti character. Although his mother, Kaikasi, was unable to raise her status, she encouraged her eldest son to do so. Earlier, she had dutifully carried out her father’s instructions to have Vishravas beget valiant sons on her so they would

Ravana’s gaining of boundless fame enables him to surpass Kubera’s limited fame. When Ravana receives the boon of wealth, he appropriates all Kubera’s riches, making his post as God of Wealth an empty title.

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restore the status of her father’s lineage. After Vishravas returned to his tapas, Kaikasi raised her children as a “single parent” and inspired Ravana to earn the same kind of status gained by his half-brother, Kubera. Ravana then performed tapas, as had his father and half-brother, and achieved self-transformation. Yet, since Kaikasi was a rakshasa, Ravana could only move up in rank to a certain point: a katti, rather than a pacca, character. He showed lack of refinement by shouting “G’wah!” and arrogantly strutting across the stage. Nonetheless, the nirvahana enlists the viewer’s sympathy for Ravana by revealing his relationship to other members of his family (mother, father, and halfbrother) and emphasizing how he revived the status of his maternal lineage.13 Furthermore, “Tapasattam” does not depict Ravana as a stock villain. Instead, spectators learn what impelled his aspiration to overcome his disadvantageous birth and how he did so.14 The audience is privy to Ravana’s thoughts at various junctures in his life, gaining insights into what motivated a boy, whose mother feared he would never gain the opportunities of his half-brother, to later rule over the three worlds. Pisharoty’s shift to a prati-nayakan as central character brings more complexity

and dynamism to the narrative than if Ravana were simply a stock villain. A counter-hero’s deeds involve two tendencies that may conflict: he shows valor and, hence, fulfills his role as warrior. Yet his katti rank often means that he takes excessive pride in his victories and runs the risk of becoming arrogant. When Pisharoty depicts a katti as the central character, he shows how it leads to conflicts that compel attention from the audience because such a character encompasses multiple motivations. Representing a prati-nayakan as the central character became more common after the success of Pisharoty’s Ravanodbhavam. “Tapasattam” won such approbation among Kathakali audiences that, unlike many other ilakkiyams in Kathakali dancedramas that have fallen out of fashion, it continues to be taught to Kathakali students from 1780 until today, and is often performed in solo concerts created from excerpts of famous attakathas (Zarrilli 1984: 219-254). Kathakali scholar Betty True Jones emphasizes the high regard for “Tapasattam” over more than three centuries; she calls it “an acknowledged masterpiece of theatricality which endures in the repertoire of master actors to this day” (1982: 31).

Notes 1 For readings on Kathakali in English, see Zarrilli 1984; Bharata Iyer 1954; True Jones 1982; Bolland 1980; Bolland 2006; Zarrilli 2002. For essays on “Tapasattam,” see Narayanan 2009; Nair and Paniker 1993: 188-197. For the Malayalam attakatha of Ravanodbhavam, see Nayar and Nair 1979. This essay developed from an artist’s residency at Oberlin College by Kathakali soloist Kalamandalam Shanmukhan [C. Shanmukhadas], theatre critic Vishvanath Kaladharan, and make-up artist K. Sukumaran. Their visit culminated in a production of “Tapasattam” on 9 October 2010 and again on 11 October 2014. The performance featured superscript titles of the soloist’s mudras into English words, translated by Shanmukhan, Kaladharan, and Richman. 2 In this essay, “tapas” is translated as “asceticism,” “penance,” or “self-mortification,” depending upon the nuance of the term that is being emphasized.

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E S S A Y See Zarrilli (1984) for an introduction to the rungs of the hierarchy and the logic behind them. With a few recent exceptions, men play all Kathakali roles, including female ones. 4 Ilakiyattam is sometimes translated as “improvisation” because it introduces new material into the attakatha as a result of the dancer’s creativity. Yet ilakiyattams that win approval become fixed and, hence, not subject to further improvisation. Kaladharan aptly observes, “The term improvisation here roughly envisages the non-textual yet clearly chartered terrain of recollection by the villainous and demonic Kathakali characters” ([2010]: 2), stressing that dancers depart from the attakatha only in ways that make sense (are “chartered”) in light of that attakatha. 5 Nambudiri, only the second Brahmin to play a major role in Kathakali’s development, had trained earlier in Kudiyattam, classical Sanskrit drama, where each night in a multi-night play usually begins with a solo nirvahana summarizing the plot up to that point. At the time of Ravanodbhavam‘s composition, members of Kathakali troupes were drawn from the king’s militia, composed almost entirely of middle-ranking retainers called Nayars, who studied martial arts and served the king in war. They would not have studied Kudiyattam. 6 A rough equivalent in today’s world would be a CEO equipped with a private jet plane. 7 The actor playing Ravana serially plays all roles in the nirvahana, both male and female. 8 Narayanan (2009: 261n25) identifies the five fires as symbolizing passion, anger, greed, attachment, and jealousy. 9 The dancer has only one head (no artificial heads form part of his costume) but he mimes the presence of the others when he cuts them off as a form of tapas. 10 In his arrogance, Ravana does not deign to ask for protection from death at a human’s hand, considering such a request beneath his dignity as a valiant warrior. 11 It was quite a demand, given that Kathakali productions in those days began at dusk and ended at dawn, leaving Nambudiri only a short time to revise. 12 Many origin narratives include a motif that symbolizes approval, such as a gift from a king or flowers falling from heaven. This gift equates valor in tapas with valor in battle. 13 These themes receive little attention in dominant texts that retell the story of Rama and Sita. 14 Ravanodbhavam thus depicts a (later slain) prati-nayakan long before he becomes the tyrant whose actions lead to his death. 3

Works Cited Bolland, David. A Guide to Kathakali with the Stories of 36 Plays. New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1980. Iyer, K. Bharatha. Kathakali: The Sacred Dance Drama of Malabar. London: Luzac & Company, Ltd, 1955. Kaladharan, Vishvanath. “The Opulence of Recollections.” University of Calicut. Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Calicut, Kerala, 2010. International Seminar on “Narrative Techniques in Indian Literature & Arts.”

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Nair, D. Appukuttan and Paniker, K. Ayyappa Kathakali: The Art of the Non-worldly. Bombay: Marg Publications, 1993. Nambudiri, Kapalingattu. Tapasattam. Warner Arts Center, Oberlin College, Ohio. 9 October; 11 October 2014, Performance. ---. Department of Comparative Literature, Central University of Kerala, Kasaragod, India. 13 January 2011, Performance. Narayanan, Mundoli. “The Politics of Memory: The Rise of the Anti-Hero in Kathakali.” Dance Matters: Performing India on Local and Global Stages, eds., Pallabi Chakravorty and Nilanjana Gupta. New Delhi: Routledge India. 2009, pp. 237-263. Nayar, S.K. and Anandakuttan Nair. Nootiyonnu Attakathakal (101 Plays). Kottayam: Sahitya Pravarthaka, 1979. Singh, Nagendra Kr, and David Bolland. The Ramayana in Kathakali Dance Drama. New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2006. True Jones, Betty. “Kathakali Dance-Drama: An Historical Perspective.” Performing Arts in India: Essays of Music, Dance, and Drama. Berkeley: Center for South and Southeast Asia Studies, Monograph 21. University of California, Berkeley, 1982. pp. 15-45, 235-237. Zarrilli, Philip B. The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance & Structure. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications, 1984. ---. Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play. Performance and Drama Studies. London and New York: Routledge, 2002.

Paula Richman is William Danforth Professor of South Asian Religions at Oberlin College. She received her PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago and has published two books on Tamil literature: Women, Branch Stories, and Religious Rhetoric in a Tamil Buddhist Text and Extraordinary Child: Translations from a Genre of Tamil Devotional Poetry. She has also edited and contributed to three volumes on the Ramayana: Many Ramayanas; Questioning Ramayanas; and Ramayana Stories in Modern South India. Her new book A Narrative and a Region: The Story of Rama and Sita in Tamil Country and Beyond is forthcoming. She has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the American Institute for Indian Studies.

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E S S A Y

Parvinder Mehta

Atmospheric Embroidery—A Review

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n her latest collection of poems, Atmospheric Embroidery, Indian American poet Meena Alexander presents an evocative collage of different experiences for the migrant figures coming to or trying to come to terms with their sense of displacement. As in her earlier work, she underscores the pining of the heart, the deep philosophical conundrums of the mind, and the ontological dilemmas of a body that suffers life and/or death. Her predominant themes of dislocation, homelessness, and violence of the body as well as the mind, are resplendently discernible in this book. As a scholar of her literary contributions, I have appreciated reading Alexander’s works for their perceptive handling of the intricate nuances of a fragmented, traveling soul seeking a home amidst constant displacements. With eight books of poetry, two books of criticism, two collections of literary essays, two novels as well as a critically acclaimed memoir, Alexander has laboriously excavated a path for her readers to experience those universal emotions of nostalgic pain, violent loss, and evocative grief that can be sensed by all. She adroitly uses language as an aesthetic brushstroke to paint colorful emotions and vivid responses upon life’s canvas. Her vivid images convey the aestheticism of a suffering mind. Infused with lyrical beauty, pictographic imagination, and philosophical ruminations, Atmo-

spheric Embroidery offers a visual journey via words into pain as well as the pleasure of diverse human experiences. Divided into five sections, the poems convey the ephemeral, transient sense of a fragmented world mired in displacement, violence, and painful memories; they offer a combination of the material with the metaphysical. The poems are densely packed with nostalgic emotions and a sense of grief. Most of the poems


are only a page long; there are also several quatrains and octaves whereby brevity reflects packed, existential emotions. The very first poem, “Fragment, In Praise of the Book,” represents Alexander’s poetic engagements as a cumulative assemblage of multiplicities. Thus her multilingual, multicultural, and multisubjective experiences are discernible through a fragment written in praise of a book: Book with the word for love In all the languages that flow through me […] Book of alphabets burnt so the truth can be told […] Book for a child who wakes to smouldering ash Book of singing grief Book of reeds vanishing as light pours through.

Using a collage of philosophical thinkers, religious mythologies drawn from diverse faiths and beliefs, and historical references, Alexander narrates tales about displaced identities framed by cultural wraps, geographical spaces, and social beliefs. Her poetry offers the tactile experience of touching and sensing fragilities as of any silk fabric weaved or embroidered by colorful threads of analogies and metaphor. One of the recurrent motifs employed in her work is that of fabrics— fabrics being wrapped, touched, shared, even passed on, weaved, stitched, and embroidered upon. In her earlier book of essays and poetry, Poetics of Dislocation, she explains the role of poetry as “the living fabric connected by affective threads to other geographies, other histories, other languages, other ways of naming the sun and the moon” (xi). Likewise, in her memoir, Fault Lines, she refers to the fractured feminine self as a shadowwork embroidery on a fabric. In Atmospheric Embroidery, the motif is reiterated through reference to the

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Italian conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti in the title poem. Alexander acknowledges Boetti’s artwork, “The Thousand Longest Rivers,” as her inspiration. (The art project took seven years of research by Boetti and his wife, and culminated in a large embroidered tapestry listing the names of the thousand longest rivers of the world in descending order of length; the tapestry was embroidered by Pakistani craftswomen.) As a cartographer and a map-reader, she observes this masterpiece and reflects upon its inclusive approach to art: In Boetti’s embroidery, in his mapping of the world Everything’s is cut and coupled, Occult ordering—silk and painted steel Sun and electric moon, butterfly and naked man.

The nostalgic tone is evident in Alexander’s reference to artwork and the rivers Nile, Mississippi, and Missouri: Once we lived by brilliant waters […] Now I think it’s a miracle we were able, ever To put one foot in front of the other and keep on walking.

Alexander’s poetry is also an homage to visual artists, other creative writers, and even social pariahs. Many of her poems in this collection are inspired by the work of visual artists such as Boetti, Roy DeCarava, Nell Painter, Ron Haviv, Robert Motherwell, Wayne Koestenbaum, and writers such as Paul Celan, Aimé Césaire, and Phillis Wheatley. In her references to painters, artists, and photographers, she translates those abstract sensibilities visualized on a canvas or a photo through language and emotions in her poetry. In “Studio,” the poet becomes a painter try-

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E S S A Y ing to capture the essence of the painted subject—a child whose mother dresses her in a white dress—and Alexander’s conception of the artist’s gaze is strong enough to alter the viewer’s perspective: I took the face, making it very precise, Filling in the eyes with several strokes Reddening under the lids—fire turned to blood, […] In the end my hands were pocked And bruised with paint And when I lifted them off the canvas I felt something warm, Very like torn skin fluttering off.

In fact, the child figure is a recurrent persona in Atmospheric Embroidery. In many poems, Alexander evokes a Wordsworthian nostalgia through a child coming to terms with the violent realities of her life. The child has been a witness to violence, haunted by painful memories, fraught with grief, and affected by displacements that impel her to create or draw, yet all she can reproduce are images of violence and death. In “Last Colors,” a child becomes an artist trying to draw the immediate, unfortunate realities: A child sets paper to rock, Picks up a crayon, draws a woman with a scarlet face, Arms outstretched, body flung into blue. […] The child draws an armored vehicle, guns sticking out, Purple flames, orange and yellow jabbing, A bounty of crayons, a hut burst into glory.

In “Shook Silver,” Alexander relates her autobiographical experience as a child

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accompanying her parents on a voyage to Africa by sea: I was a child on the Indian Ocean. Deck-side we dance in a heat-haze, Toes squirm under silver wings. Under burlap someone weeps […] Where is she now, Child crossing the livid sea? Older now, I must speak to the shadows.

Likewise, in “The Journey,” we realize the violence of her displacement as a child as well as remembering painful memories: When we got to that country, a war was going on A mound of stones grew outside our win- dow frame. I was five years old and tried to understand what was happening. My soul ran away with me. […] Rock and ruin, pathways of salt, scent of crushed jasmine, Returning me to what I cannot bear to remember.

As in her earlier works, Alexander includes mythical and historical figures— goddesses, queens, and women who faced challenges and/or persecution. In “Blue,” she appeals to Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. In “Inward Sita,” Sita, the mythical wife of Hindu Lord Ram, who was cast out by him, and then swallowed by the earth, appears to Alexander waving from a manhole in a Manhattan street. In “Harlem Street,” Cleopatra visits New York, wearing dark glasses, and recalls that her soul knows rivers. She also finds Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, traveling on the C train. Another poem, “Sarra Copia Accused of Heresy

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in the Year 1621,” reflects on a Jewish Italian poet who was accused of heresy because of her disbelief in the immortality of the soul. In “Moksha,” Alexander refers to Nirbhaya, the young twenty-threeyear-old Indian girl, who was brutally gang-raped in a moving bus in Delhi. By bringing these diverse female perspectives together, Alexander is able to lend them stronger, credible voices and contemporize the circumstances of these mythic/ historical women and translate them into her own, acutely feminine, and deeply laborious, poetic voice. The function of the poet—to co-relate the past with the fleeting present and portend it with future, through sensorial passions, reflections, and even philosophy—is acknowledged well in Alexander’s poetry. In Poetics of Dislocation, she describes the challenges of a poet in a dystopic world: The new American poet thinks in many tongues, all of which flow into the English she uses: a language that blossoms for her. Places stick to her and with them histories, strands of local knowledge. She is aware of violence and warfare, she has experienced

multiple dislocations, not uncommon now in our shared world. [...] She realizes that these words, composed in another place, in another language, words written in a time of war, translate well. Where she is, migrant memory pitches its tent. This is her home ground, this borderland of desire and meaning making. No elsewhere.” (3-4)

In Atmospheric Embroidery, we glimpse such a new American poetry that invokes multiple languages, places, histories of diverse nationalisms, borderlands stricken with warfare, as well as migrant memories. Meena Alexander is indeed a global poet of current times who not only reminds her readers of the alarming sense of homelessness but also inspires an ethical compassion to relate to, even accept, the rootlessness of migrant subjects. Her poems are marked by a global, collective appeal for a world of acceptance and empathy, despite the ever-increasing threat of violence. Her poetry is ultimately like the creative experience of childbirth— there is anticipation of agony and suffering as well as the joy of creation. Reading Alexander’s poetry is all worth it.

Works Cited Alexander, Meena. Atmospheric Embroidery. Hachette India, 2015. Print. ---. Poetics of Dislocation. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 2009. Print.

Parvinder Mehta has received her PhD in English from Wayne State University and teaches world literature, liberal arts studies, and writing at the undergraduate level. She has published in South Asian Review, Journal of South Asian Diaspora, South Asian Popular Culture, and Sikh Formations: Religion, Culture, & Theory. She is currently finishing a book manuscript focusing on contemporary Asian American women writers tentatively titled, Mimic Women: Cultural Camouflage and Global Modernity.

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P O E T R Y

Meena Alexander

Dreaming in Shimla: Letter to My Mother I. Dear Mother, please do not call me anymore I cannot pick up the telephone I am preparing for you to disappear. The mountains keep watch over me Dennis Udink

Here in my study in the Corridor of Princes Dust on the bookshelf, in the folds of the telephone directory Shimla Special, silver fish crawl. A potted begonia sits on the window sill Its blackened leaves put me in mind of veins of ore On the slopes where Mira wanders, half naked Feet cut with stones Singing hymns to a dark God.

II. Grandmother died on you with absolutely no warning Left you a raw girl clad in wild cottons, Just sixteen, Weeping into your own sleeve. No mother and a father who did not really care for you — Forced to walk on eggshells Rub a dub dub of wretched want and need. Stony tutelage.

Warszawianka


III. I cannot bear it when the phone rings. I have wedged the coal black thing into the bookshelf, Behind it, a tattered screen where I hide to comb my hair, Fix my lipstick, slip into a sari, Kanjeevaram silk, green shot with purple threads, The hue of begonia petals. You gave it to me, for my sixteenth birthday. You are the age I was when my mother died. How can I forget? I hear your voice in my head You think you are doing something special Hiding away, writing in the mountains. What use is it to anyone? You should be more like your sister Look at all she does, she manages the cook, the driver My house and hers, takes care of us all. When the dust rises in the plains Sinus troubles afflict her She sits in the garden beside me Under the flowering camel’s foot tree. Don’t you know child That’s what a woman’s life should be. What can all your scribbling do for us? Will it draw us into eternity?

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P O E T R Y IV. Dear Mother I have grandmother’s diary with me. I brought it in a paper bag marked Ram Lall and Sons, All the way from Siddharth Vihar The converted stables where I sleep. In dreams I hear the snort of horses, Crude rub of saddle against flank Englishmen with polished boots Yelling for valet, butler, chowkidar.

V. I pull the diary out, set it on the rickety desk, Pages translucent as butterflies’ wings. The recipe for mutton curry In her firm rounded hand Sits next to Gandhi’s injunctions to spin. Grandmother wonders what to pay the dhobi, The woman who pounds rice, The man who culls pepper from twisted vines in the garden. Will she burn all her silks in the nationalist bonfire? Can she keep a few? I have laid out my khadi, washed and ironed it. Tomorrow when I wear it, the sky will be blue.

VI. Last night as hailstones struck the roof I hid grandmother’s diary in a leather suitcase

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Thrust it under my bed for safekeeping, Set buckets on the bedroom floor In all the spots where the ceiling darkened And rain water seeped. At dawn monkeys rollicked on the rooftop, Then quick hooves of horses in caracole. We live with ghosts, Dear Mother So what else is new?

VII. Under the twisted branches of Himalayan oak and wild rhododendron, The whispers of lost women: Child brides forced to bear firewood Up the slopes for the fretted furnaces of lords and ladies, White haired women with their makeshift canes, Bodies bent in a hoarse wind that rattles bridge and bay window Spews dirt onto pillar and polished marble— The furious wealth of empire.

VIII. In the Tiruvella house before the monsoons came We collected coconut shells to trap water drops When the shells overflowed Water streaked the red tiled floors, Lightning rippled on our upturned faces. That’s when I learnt to shut my eyes and dream. Hard dreaming mother, in a new century.

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P O E T R Y IX. Children from a school set into the mountainside Beat drums, chant their lessons. What do they learn?

X. A brown bird cries out From the deodar trees. It has no name. It makes warbling cries I cannot catch. Nothing to punctuate those sounds Except wild air.

XI. The heart’s illiterate, Dear Mother No reading or writing In those bloody clavicles. Only whispered words, illegible sentences And all the marks the body bears Violent, ecstatic, lingering.

XII. I dream in Malayalam, the sound and scratch of it. Quick cries in the garden As earthworms squirm Jasmine splutters into incandescent bloom, Mango and jackfruit trees Surrender to the lightning storm.

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XIII. The garden is forever lost. Does forever Have a sound, a scent? I think it smells like wet sandalwood, Raw sawdust, blood, phlegm, excrement. What the body expels.

XIV. In spite of ourselves we start imitating nature Raw frond and crooked stalk Exquisite stitch of black in the pansy’s claw— We who try to distill our desire Into the forms of workable speech, Words to piece the screen together Ancient screen, Perpetually in tatters.

XV. In the Corridor of Princes Water floods my marble bathroom The window quickens with monkey faces: One has smeared its face with coal, Another has a pumpkin mouth, The third, blood around its nostrils. I press my palm against the tottering screen, To shield me from the gaze of these creatures.

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P O E T R Y XVI. In fissured rocks I dream I find a pool At the rim of clear water, Mirabai searching out clots of chrysophite, Wisps of goat’s wool, chords of love From the humming bird’s claw.

XVII. Mother, you won’t believe this But yesterday in the market on Mall Road, Close to the shop that sells strands of speckled wool I came upon the blind man. He was crouched on a smooth rock That rose out of freckled soil, Beside him, a girl in a frayed dress, Her hem line torn.

XVIII. It’s the man I saw when I was six years old Deep inside the bamboo grove. Boughs gleamed round his head Snakes slithered in between his toes Hoarse bulbuls perched beside him As he knelt on dead bamboo leaves

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XIX. After our house was sold, Flowering trees were axed, Bamboo burnt to clear space for luxury flats, A flat roofed shopping center grew Where sharp green leaves once whistled in the wind, Jyoti Bazaar they call it, A concrete slab hollow inside with neon lights Stainless steels pots, slices of plum cake and pizza.

XX. The blind man’s eyes are masked With a strip of mottled cloth, His flute is still the color of dry earth. He came north as BashĹ? did Taking a narrow road through the mountains. The blind man of Tiruvella Has fled the ruined grove of childhood. He has come to these mountains to play his flute.

XXI. He squats on a rock in Shimla, by a shop with peeling paint Where lengths of wool purl and sway, Beside him, a child with a basket of fruit. The basket is covered with jute.

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P O E T R Y XXII. When he lifts his flute, torn jute floats free Figs skip and roll on the broken cobbles. Hearing that music all over again O makeshift memory — I know why I have come to these mountains. How long I can stay, I do not know.

Shimla, September 7, 2014 — New York City, May 9, 2015

Note: My thanks to the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, where I spent six months as a National Fellow and where an earlier version of this poem was composed. My thanks to Birgitta Wallin in Stockholm. “Why is the daughter afraid of picking up the phone?”she asked me. It was then that I realized the missing piece I was hunting for were the words of the mother to the daughter. This morning when I woke up, I filled them in. MA New York City, May 9, 2015

Photo by Mona Aipperspach

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Meena Alexander, described in The Statesman as “undoubtedly one of the finest poets in contemporary times,” has a new collection of poems: Atmospheric Embroidery. Her works include the PEN Awardwinning book of poems Illiterate Heart, the critically acclaimed memoir Fault Lines, and two novels, one of which is Nampally Road. She has published two books of essays on poetics, two academic studies, and edited Indian Love Poems. Her poems have been widely translated and set to music, most recently by the Swedish composer Jan Sandstrom. Her awards include those from the Guggenheim Foundation, Fulbright Foundation, Arts Council of England, and the Rockefeller Foundation for a residency at Bellagio. In 2014 she was named a National Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. She is a Distinguished Professor of English, Graduate Center/ Hunter College, CUNY. See more of Meena’s work at www.meenaalexander.com.

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P O E T R Y

Kaiser Haq

Inheritance “… they shall inherit the earth.” Across the street from the Pan Pacific Hotel Sonargaon, named after an ancient capital, now a pile of moldering bricks, the site of a Mogul caravanserai is the city’s largest grocery market, 100% bio-degradable, though the smell doesn’t quite reach the crossroads where we spend a sizeable fraction of our days trying to ignore beggars of all ages and juvenile hustlers,

Dennis Udink

pretending to watch a stainless steel fountain that looks like something from a chemical works and sprinkles water only on national festivals, as we wait for the traffic light to turn green, and when it does, for the traffic policeman’s restraining arm to come down as he toots his whistle like a soccer referee signaling Goal! The jouissance of getting through is as good as an orgasm. Past midnight—traffic cops all abed— lights shine and change pointlessly. Trucks laden with produce to three times their capacity grunt and grumble, turning gingerly toward the market. In those seconds as the driver’s eyes are seduced by light caught in the fountain’s silently writhing steel pipes street brats materialize like apparitions;

Firoz Ahmed


P O E T R Y one lands on a truck like a basketball dunked by an invisible hand; to raised waiting hands he passes quickly dislodged cauliflowers, cabbages, gourds, dried fish, bags of potatoes, rice, lentils, sugar, salt, and slithers down like a cat to vanish with his friends like exhaust from a beat-up old truck.

Santahar No, I’ve never been to Santa Fe. And I haven’t been to Santahar either. Two hallowed syllables in common, and a gently curved line twelve thousand miles long to link and set them apart. Santa Fe conjures up Wild West reveries on muggy monsoon afternoons, ghost towns, rattlesnakes, rustlers, barroom brawls, gunfights at sundown, raiders on horseback ambushing a train, the sheriff’s glittering tin star, all in Cinemascope and Technicolor. And Santahar? Not a name to conjure with. Perhaps my fascination is just a private vice. All I know is that Santahar, a small-town around a railway junction, its braided steel forged in the furnace of the Raj, and stained with the blood of history,

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is just another place where everyday life goes on, people get off and get on and go off in another direction. Santahar, I sigh, yielding to the magic of “ah,” the primal vowel, repeated three times between delicately poised consonants, why, it’s only fifty miles, and I’ll need no visa to visit. I must go there one of these days, I say to myself, and lazily Google it on YouTube and find an amateur video: trees, rough roads, jerry-built offices, schools, homes, hospital, ponds, railway station, bazaar, crowds in lungis, just what one would expect, with a sentimental tune playing and an abrupt end with the scrawled legend: “We love it, miss it, & wanna die in it…” Unawares, a catch in my throat. Now I know what Santahar means: it’s any place you want to go back to so you can die in peace.

Kaiser Haq is professor of English at Dhaka University and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh. His books include eight poetry collections (most recently Published in the Streets of Dhaka: Collected Poems, and Pariah and Other Poems), five translated volumes, and two edited poetry anthologies. His version of the Bengali Manasa legends, The Triumph of the Snake Goddess, has appeared from Harvard University Press.

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P O E T R Y

Tabish Khair

The Promise of Utopia We always planned to see the Taj Mahal, To visit India, such a world apart from us. Come to think of it, we promised to exchange Wedding rings again at the Taj Mahal. The structure of a promise is tripartite. First comes the enunciation, then the waiting. Sometimes the waiting goes on forever. Finally comes the fulfilment, Or disappointment: In either case this pours Poison in the ear of the promise. We never saw the Taj Mahal. Not together. I think, You went there with a new boyfriend. I am not sure. We lost touch.

Dennis Udink

Paula Rey

A promise is a clothesline between future and past, It never arrives in the present, which is a soggy wait. That is why utopia is not a promise, Whatever its lovers might claim: Utopias exist only in the present. A hundred years after Thomas More lost his head To a wrathful King or a jealous God (who can tell?), Anonymous workers raised the Taj Mahal Slowly on the shores of a river still flowing Watched by a King still powerful, who was to be sent The head of his favourite son by another son When in weak old age, a prisoner, he gazed On (what was it, utopia or promise?) the Taj Mahal. I remember the first time we talked of visiting India. You were wearing those denim shorts That clung to your thighs, and had white threads Like roots running down. We were lost In the brave new world of love. I was reading Hamlet.


The deceptive part where the prince says, There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet was hanging like a clothesline Between the past and the future, his present Was pegged on him as doubts. His greatest doubt Was utopia, Which is a present pretending to be a promise, Never to be reached in the future. It slipped Through the mighty hands of More and Marx, Such powerful hands closing on emptiness. It is a never-ending story, Unlike a promise which ends finally, Pegged as promises are to the finitude of past-future. Utopia is infinite as the present. No one needs to coordinate calendars for it, Or seek a visa or book a flight. It is a wakening to life, not a sleep of death, For in this sleep of death what nightmares may come? If the Taj Mahal (or India) was utopia to us, We would not have needed to visit it, We would have gone there and never been anywhere. I remember sunlight was falling on your shoulders, While I read Hamlet and you looked at a travelogue With pictures of the Taj Mahal. You never Liked Shakespeare: he is difficult, you said once, He promises nothing. True: Prospero buries his magic books and wand When he leaves the present for the future. He knows Like Utopia, magic is an element of the present. In this it is like love: not promised but partaken. Hamlet, who doubted the imperfect past, when he reached For a perfect future, littered the stage With bodies, poisoned and stabbed (including his own). All love is utopian when it hatches; let it fly away, I say. I did not know this then When you came to me and said you were in love With someone else, it was time to move on. But the Taj Mahal, I said! You looked surprised.

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P O E T R Y

To reach utopia is to kill it: The King who built the Taj Was fortunate: his son jailed him. Lodged At a distance from his utopia of love, again he gazed On the Taj and did not have to touch the cold Marble disappointment of its walls, hear The hollow sputter of its fountains. It rose Like all utopia between the past and the future. Utopia has to be lived at a distance. Unlike a promise, It can never be achieved or relinquished. There are more things in Heaven and Earth, always more Than we can grasp. Try to hold it and your stage Is littered with bodies, including your own. I recall the moments of our love as a groping Between sheets and between words. To defer desire Is to believe in neither its fulfilment nor its frustration And hence to keep it alive, like utopia. The poet Lied about the end of Gilgamesh: we know in the end Of every utopia, Savonarola is burnt at the stake. Perhaps love is utopian; perhaps that is why it always hurts And finally slips our grasp. It starts dying the moment We tie it up with promises. I wish I had known this The day I read Hamlet and you lay on your belly On the sand flipping through pictures of the Taj, The threads of your denim shorts like tendrils.

Born in 1966 and educated up to his MA in a small town of India (Gaya, in the state of Bihar), Tabish Khair is the author of a number of books, including studies, poetry collections and novels. Winner of the All India Poetry Prize, Khair’s novels have been shortlisted for the Encore Award (UK), Vodafone Crossword Award (India), Hindu Best Fiction Prize (India), Man Asian Literature Prize (Hong Kong/ UK), DSC Prize for South Asia (UK/India), Aloa Prize (Denmark) and Prix de l’Inaperçu (France).

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P O E T R Y

Suniti Namjoshi

Seven Indian Miniatures

Bee On Ice

Dennis Udink

They say that in Japan little boys learn a Boy-Speak, which is quite different from little girl Girl-Speak. And this would be extraordinary because Japan(ese?) is extraordinary (and probably exotic) until I start to think about it. They say that in the north, the true and bitter north, there are seventy different words for varieties of snow, and—who knows?—seventy others for varieties of ice, but in Hindi and Marathi, and probably Telugu and Tamil, one simple word must suffice—for ice, which would make us Indians niggardly, were it not for the fact that in the Perfect Language (Sanskrit, naturally) there are seventy different words for the honey bee.

They say once it so happened a Sanskrit-speaking Hindu and a modern Inuit sat down to write about a bee on ice.

Suniti Namjoshi


P O E T R Y And within the story

the bee died, but she died in icy splendour and is richly described.

And they say when Sigfried tasted the dragon’s blood, he straight off understood the language of birds. That’s not quite right. What he understood was that birds do speak. It’s not that hard. A raised arm, a pat on the head are plain enough. Cats and dogs and birds as well— most living things— have long understood human speech. Let me paraphrase. Servants understand a great deal of English, and we who speak English, non-native English, have a long understanding of a great deal of English, and it has made us— well, some sort of English.

‘Language is a means of communication.’ Yes! ‘Language is a means of domination.’ Oh yes!

One day I will learn a million languages. One day I will listen to the murmur of grass, and notice that each living thing is shouting its head off!

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Boa Senior On January 26, 2010, a woman named Boa Senior died in the Andaman Islands of India at the age of about 85. With her died a language called Bo and a world view and the wisdom of nearly 70,000 years. After the death of her parents, some thirty-to-forty years earlier, Boa had become the lone speaker of the tribal language and she reportedly kept it alive by speaking to the sparrows. T. Vijay Kumar

My father died, and one third of the words went with him. My mother took the next third. I was left alone with my diminished word hoard. They looked like coins, like a golden treasure. But against whom should I guard such unwanted stuff? I spoke to the sparrows, who told me nicely they didn’t eat gold. At least they understood me. When it was my turn to go, they scattered the words.

No Deal The fox wanted the crow to sing. The crow put her cheese down on a branch and told the fox that as it happened she was a very good singer with a trained voice and she didn’t normally sing for just anybody. He’d have to go through her agent, offer remuneration, suggest a time, a place and an appropriate occasion, and then perhaps she would think about it. “I didn’t want to hear you sing, anyway. You probably have an awful voice,” said the fox disgustedly. “All I wanted was that piece of cheese!” “In that case it’s a pity you were so rude,” replied the crow. “You see, I’m

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P O E T R Y such a rich and successful crow that pieces of cheese come easily to me. I was about to offer you some, but now, of course, I shan’t.” “Oh please,” cried the fox. “I didn’t mean what I said. We foxes are famous for saying we don’t want what we do want if we feel we can’t have it. Sour grapes, you know. I am, in fact, a great admirer of yours and truly wanted to hear you sing.” “In that case,” said the crow nicely, “I will give you something I am sure you will value far more than a piece of cheese.” She scrawled her signature on a large leaf and floated it down. Then she flew away with her piece of cheese.

The Continuous Present When Suniti was sitting by the pond as usual, fishing for a poem, half a poem, a story, a couple of lines, anything, a fish leapt up and addressed her. “I will, if you like, tell you a thing or two while you are waiting.” “All right,” Suniti replied gracelessly. “In the land of fish,” the fish began— “Fish don’t live on land, they live in water,” Suniti interrupted. “Don’t interrupt. It’s not polite, and besides there’s the professional courtesy one storyteller should afford another,” the fish protested. “In the realm where fishes rule,” the fish amended, “there was one particular fish who was larger and stronger and more beautiful and more intelligent and in short more everything than the others.” “If she was more everything than the others,” Suniti interjected, “she would have been more wicked, more stupid, and more charmless as well, wouldn’t she?” “No, she was more everything that is good,” the fish replied. “That’s why they made her their Queen.” “That’s not how it works here,” Suniti put in. “You can’t help saying something, can you?” the fish murmured. “No,” said Suniti, sounding only half apologetic. “But at least it shows I’m listening. What happened to this Queen?” “She ruled happily for a great many years and all the fishes prospered.” “What about problems, contests, conquests, coups d’état and various misadventures?” “There’s none of that in fish-land, I mean in the realm of fish,” the fish said sharply. “We live in the continuous present, and we take particular care to go on being happy.”

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“How can you take particular care—that implies a possible future—when you are living in the continuous present?” quibbled Suniti. “Exactly,” said the fish. “What do you mean ‘exactly’?” demanded Suniti. “I mean that we were having no problems till you came along,” replied the fish. “Who me? All I do is sit here quietly and fish for poems.” “Exactly,” said the fish. “What do you mean ‘exactly’?” demanded Suniti. “We’re repeating ourselves. The continuous present does not imply constant repetition. The thing is you are being a bad influence.” “How?” asked Suniti, taking care not to say, “What do you mean ‘exactly’?” “Well, you come and sit here every day and it’s affecting the younger fish. They too are considering writing a poem or two or at least a story.” “That’s good, isn’t it?” Suniti was puzzled. “No, continuous happiness is not consistent with poetry.” “You mean poetry is not consistent with continuous happiness,” interjected Suniti. “Exactly,” said the fish. “That is why I am giving you this story.” And in case Suniti hadn’t understood what was wanted, the fish explained further. “It is a bribe. Please go away so that we can continue to live happily.” “I see,” said Suniti. “And that would be the end of the story?” “Yes,” said the fish, “a continuous end. We would continue ever after to live happily.” “All right,” agreed Suniti. She picked herself up and went and sat by another pond and she too continued to live, but only more or less happily.

The Crocodile Queen It so happened that the Crocodile Queen, overhearing the monkey chattering away with her friend, the crocodile, thought that it might be possible to extend her influence over all the monkeys. “Do you like crocodiles?” she asked the monkey. “Yes,” said the monkey. “But do you respect crocodiles? Do you admire our culture? Do you rejoice in our company?” The Crocodile Queen fired these questions in rapid succession; and though the monkey was startled, she nodded her head and said she did.

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P O E T R Y “Well, then, little monkey,” cried the Crocodile Queen with an air of triumph, “how would you like to BE a crocodile?” The monkey didn’t know what to say. She hadn’t given much thought to the matter. But when her friend the crocodile nudged her gently, she said, “Yes. Why not? That would be fine.” The Crocodile Queen was pleased by this answer and immediately pronounced the monkey a crocodile. The monkey and the crocodile thought that they could now resume their conversation; but the Crocodile Queen wasn’t done with them. “Tell me, little monkey,” she beamed benignly, “do you consider yourself an ordinary monkey?” “Yes,” replied the monkey. This was exactly what the Crocodile Queen wanted to hear. There and then she decreed that henceforth all monkeys would be crocodiles. When the Monkey Queen was told about this, a tremor ran through the countryside. Would the monkeys discover their true monkeyhood? Would a call to arms resound in the land? But the Monkey Queen just smiled and said that it only meant that all crocodiles were in fact monkeys. There was no squabbling, no trouble. No wars broke out. They were, after all, just simple creatures, incapable of grasping the essence of identity, unwilling to follow the lures of logic. That requires a more evolved species.

The Daughters of Perfection In a remote country, which no one ever visited and few had ever heard of and where extraordinary things happened routinely, there lived a king and queen who were extremely proud of their three daughters. Everyone was proud of them. They were by far, everyone agreed, the best behaved and most well-mannered children anyone had ever seen. People could be heard telling their own children to look at the example The Three Sisters set and to try to copy them. It so happened that a stranger, who had been blown across the mountains and tossed on the seas until he had no idea of where he was, found himself among these people. They gave him water to drink and food to eat and were about to send him on his way, when he said to them, “Are there no wonders here that I can recount to people when I return to my own country?” “Oh yes,” cried the people. “The Three Sisters, whom we sometimes call The Daughters of Perfection, are our most prized possession. They are everything children should be.”

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“In what way?” asked the stranger. “They have different virtues,” replied the people. “The First Sister never cries. You should hear what the Queen, her mother, says about her. ‘Never any trouble. She has never given any trouble in all her life. And she has never cried.’” “What? Not even when she had a reason to cry?” exclaimed the stranger. “No,” replied the people solemnly. “She endures everything. The wind and the rain and the stormy weather, and she never cries.” “What about The Second Sister?” demanded the stranger. “She never answers back,” the people told him. “You can scold her. You can argue with her. You can, if you like, say the most absurd things to her, and she listens intently with her head bent and her features composed in a sweet smile.” “What? She doesn’t disagree, even when you talk outright nonsense?” The stranger sounded incredulous. “Certainly not,” the people replied. “And what about The Third Sister? What is her virtue?” the stranger inquired. “She always agrees,” the people told him. “How is that different from The Second Sister?” the stranger wanted to know. “Oh. The Second Sister never disagrees, but The Third Sister is the noblest of all, she always agrees with everyone.” “I see,” said the stranger, “And is it possible to see these Miracles of Merit?” “Of course,” replied the people. They took him to see The Three Sisters; and when he had done so, they sent him on his way. On his return the traveller wrote an account of his visit. “The natives have erected three statues upon the hillside. These stone sisters they sometimes refer to as The Daughters of Perfection, and they revere them greatly.”

The Colour of Sanity If you ask me, ‘What is the colour of sanity?’ I will tell you it’s brown, not the dull, dingy brown of stained prison cells, but a crisp, cool, wrapping paper brown that says parcels will be sent, will be delivered

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P O E T R Y and all shall go well. Sometimes it’s green, but green quivers and trembles, has pinpoints of light and is pierced with reds, yellows, blues, even whites, and can hurt. This may be ecstasy, not sanity, though the two can be friends. The colour of compassion is blue. Are the compassionate sane? They are endlessly sane even when they lie broken on the ground.

Suniti Namjoshi was born in Mumbai, India, and at present lives in the southwest of England. Her books include Feminist Fables, Building Babel, Saint Suniti and the Dragon, Goja, Sycorax, The Fabulous Feminist, and Suki. Her children’s books include the Aditi series and Blue and Other Stories. For the latter Nilima Sheikh did the art work. The Boy and Dragon Stories will be published later this year by Tulika, Chennai, India.

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F I C T I O N

Ameena Hussein

A Deep Anger of the Soul The young man wades into the ocean. The water is a deep purple-blue, Venus shines like a star of faith in the still, pastel sky. A sickle moon is suspended low. A silver sliver of perfection. He focuses on the orange ball dipping toward the horizon. Rays of fire streak toward him, racing over the waves. He bends down, washes his face, his arms up to the elbows, his chest. He sloughs water over his head, rivulets streaming over his closed eyes mixing with tears, both tasting of salt, snaking their way into his mouth. He scoops huge globs of water emptying it over his face. Raising his arms toward the now-fiery sky, he begins screaming at the amber clouds, his face tilted upward, his mouth forming a howling oval: Who am I? What am I? Where am I?

R

oshan stacks his tools against the shed and wipes the grease off his hands on a dirty rag tucked at his waist. His workmate Chaminda waits for him at the entrance to the garage chatting to their overseer Dilan. “Come early,” Dilan says as Roshan walks out, “Mr. Ismail’s Prado is the first service. 8 am!” Roshan nods draping his arm across Chaminda’s shoulder. “They have all the money,” Chaminda sneers. Roshan knows what he means but says nothFreeImages.com/Patryk Byk ing. They talk about the match being played in Galle. Sri Lanka/Pakistan. Looks like the Lions are losing but there is still another day of play. Anything can happen. Everything can change. The entrance to Roshan’s housing scheme is thronged with the usual crowd of boys. Roshan stays a few minutes chatting, then indicates with a jerk of his chin, it’s time to go home. He walks toward the house he shares with his parents and two younger sisters. His mother meets him at the door with a cup of plain ginger tea, heavily sugared. Just the way he likes it. He greets her with a perfunctory word and goes to the room he shares with his father. He glances at his old man dressed in a vest and sarong, seated close by the window scrutinizing the daily newspaper through Coke bottle glasses. His father looks up and Roshan grunts hello, his father nods and retreats into his paper. Roshan takes his change of clothes and towel and walks out. Conversation is not big in their family. Never has been. But they get along well enough. The two younger girls, still in school, provide enough entertainment for the family to seem the normal rambunctious loving Sri Lankan family that it is. They all have their routines, and this is Roshan’s.


F I C T I O N He stands in the middle of the narrow lane, outside a house three doors away. He gives a piercing whistle. In a few minutes, a young man runs out of the house, a towel slung across his shoulders, a change of clothes clutched in one hand. They walk toward the community well a few hundred yards away. They chatter in low voices with the ease of friends of long years. The next day while Roshan works on his back, the Prado mounted above, he sees a pair of trousers and sharp shoes approach him. He slides out and stands up; Mr. Ismail, a young man, engages him in conversation about the car. Roshan knows Mr. Ismail well; he has serviced every car of his. In fact Mr. Ismail moved service garages so Roshan could continue to work on his vehicles. “I’ll send my driver in the afternoon,” he finally says after Roshan informs him he needs two hours more of work on the car. Chaminda joins him as they watch Mr. Ismail walk out of the garage and drive off in a black sedan. “How do they have so much money, mate?” Chaminda asks and without waiting for Roshan’s reply answers his own question. “Drugs. I’m sure of it. These skullcap-wearing brothers all do drugs.” Roshan thinks Chaminda’s accusation unfair. Mr. Ismail does not wear a skullcap and he works at a bank, but he keeps silent. He wonders what Chaminda would say if he knew his best friend in the housing scheme is a Muslim. Roshan and Roshan. R and R. Roshan 1 and Roshan 2. Temple Roshan and Mosque Roshan. Short Roshan and Tall Roshan. Small Roshan and Big Roshan. Batter Roshan and Bowler Roshan. Black Roshan and Red Roshan. Thin Roshan and Fat Roshan. Long-hair Roshan and Specs Roshan. Kavum Roshan and Wattalapam Roshan. These were all the different names the two friends were known by. In the same school, in the same grade, living in the same housing scheme, it was no surprise they were inseparable. It was one of the beauties of the scheme. People of all communities lived there. Life was not perfect, it was normal. They laughed together, fought together, and somehow managed to coexist. Sometimes, when the two Roshans had spats, it was their mothers who made peace between the two young boys. Other times, when their mothers squabbled, it was the children who engineered truces. Their fathers were not friends, but each grunted a greeting whenever they met. Occasionally the two men shared a piece of vital information regarding a registration form, or other official documents. Their relationship, if it had to be described, was that of civility and distant respect. There was one thing that was completely out of bounds for each of the Roshans, and they guarded the trust like gold. Both had sisters, but neither boy would cross the boundaries of expectations and culture. But that was when they were children. Now, while in their twenties, something would come up that would divide them. For the purpose of this story, I shall call them Small Roshan and Big Roshan. Small Roshan was not book smart, but he was a whiz with anything on wheels. After scraping through his Ordinary levels, his

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father put him to train as a mechanic. Big Roshan, on the other hand, persevered. It was not easy—the school was not favoured by the State and the standard of education got worse with every passing year, but he had an ambitious mother who scraped and skimped and begged and borrowed to send him for every available tuition class offered. Big Roshan passed his exams and thanks to his passable English-speaking skills got a job in a shop selling televisions. The split happened quietly. Much like a crack in a newly laid cement floor. At first it didn’t matter. The two friends would walk to the bus stand together. One dressed in blue overalls, the other in a striped shirt, polyester trousers, well-shined black shoes, and gelled-up hair. They took the same bus that would first drop Small Roshan at the garage and then carry Big Roshan to his television shop. They came home at different hours so they generally met up for their evening wash at the communal well. Neither ever thought their friendship would not survive the years. Now, men of the world, having different experiences, they would frequently reminisce on childhood experiences to bind their friendship together. One that stood out in Big Roshan’s mind was the circus he and Small Roshan went to when they were both eleven years old. It was a small-town carnival set up in the neighbouring borough by the sea. Of all the attractions—the merry-go-round, the giant wheel, the ice cream, the candy floss, the bright lights, the clowns, and the monkey-and-bear dance that provoked peals of laughter among the audience—the well of death was their favorite. The carnival exuded an atmosphere of shining electricity, of glamour, of fun and excitement that they knew would be gone when it vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. The two friends went every day of the carnival, wheedling small change pocket money from their mothers to afford one or two rides and finally watch the leather-clad dare devil who motorcycled up and down the vertical wooden well to the cheers of the crowd, defying gravity, defying death. Now, so many years after their carnival experience, they spent long hours of analysis on how the well of death could be performed. As they sloshed generous buckets of bone-chilling water over their heads, sharing a bar of sweet-smelling Lux soap, Small Roshan explained the theory of speed over gravity to Big Roshan, who furrowed his brow in concentration. Small Roshan delighted in expounding on the mechanics of balance SeaDave

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F I C T I O N and timing, and likened it to a jet plane taking off and climbing only after it had acquired the necessary power to do so that was generated by its speed on the ground. Any eavesdropper might have placed their bets on Small Roshan having more intelligence than Big Roshan if they evaluated intelligence based on that conversation, but alas, success is judged on a different scale, and exams are most often designed to find out what you don’t know as opposed to what you do know. To judge you on subjects you may have no aptitude for and to establish a formula of assessment based on cramming rather than understanding. It was the fundamental difference between Big Roshan and Small Roshan, you may say.

§ Small Roshan did not like Chaminda much at first. He seemed to be a man with a chip on his shoulder. Disappointed with the world and the cards dealt, Chaminda thought he was owed much by society and took his grudges out on whoever was in his way. Small Roshan knew that Dilan received more than a few complaints on Chaminda’s work, but the overseer had a soft spot for the discontented youth and often took him aside to advise him to mend his ways and to have a better outlook, but Small Roshan knew that Chaminda didn’t and spoke badly of the overseer in his absence, pocketing small change and over-billing some customers, when he thought he could get away with it. But after a year together, Small Roshan grew used to Chaminda. Maybe even fond of him. He was dependable, a good friend, and ever ready to help when help was needed. These assets were enough for Small Roshan to forgive Chaminda for being a bigot. The barely older man aired his jaundiced views loudly on the Tamils, the Christians, the Whites, the Blacks, the Chinese—whoever he thought was different from him, except for the Americans. They were the summum of achievement for Chaminda, and there was many a lunch time he would expound on ways of getting to that Mecca of Consumerism, America. Chaminda’s latest bug bears were the Muslims. Not a day passed without him saying something nasty about them. And woe was the day a Muslim brought his car for servicing to the garage. Knowing Chaminda’s weakness, Dilan made sure Small Roshan serviced those cars, but this meant that Small Roshan would have Chaminda whispering in his ears, all his comments rude, nasty, and mean. Chaminda daubed his with a heavy coat of nationalism, and if Small Roshan uttered even a word of defense he was quick to ask Small Roshan if he did not love his country. Did he not love his religion? It certainly sounds like it, because these vermin were a threat to society. They were parasites, they were terrorists, they were crude, vulgar, greedy, sex crazed, sex starved, women haters, women lovers. They were dangerous, they were conspiring, they were slave owners, they were too fertile, they looked different, wore different clothes, spoke a different language, worshipped with their buttocks in the air, prayed too loudly, crowded the streets, and in general were a nuisance this country could do

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without. What do you say? He would ask Small Roshan aggressively. On those days, Roshan would nod minutely and try to take as long as possible over his work to avoid meeting Chaminda. But as they walked to the bus stand after work as usual and more and more frequently, as he listened to Chaminda rail, he realized that his workmate was becoming obsessed with his dislike. It began innocently enough. “Come with me,” Chaminda said to him, clapping his hand on Small Roshan’s shoulder with brotherly feeling. “There is a man you should listen to. He is amazing!” That evening Small Roshan was free. Anything was better than being stuck at home. The two mates had a quick wash in the bathroom at the back of the garage, changed out of their dirty overalls, and off they went. Big Roshan was not worried that evening when Small Roshan did not come for their evening bath together. Sometimes one or the other had to work late, other times, there were family occasions they couldn’t get out of. But when he hadn’t seen Small Roshan for two weeks he began to get worried. It was not like his friend to stay away for so long. Surely, he couldn’t be having that much work. One night he went to seek Small Roshan in his house. “He has gone to temple,” his mother said with pursed lips averting her face. Big Roshan was puzzled. He hadn’t known that Small Roshan had turned religious. But not getting anything more out of the woman, he turned away to leave. From a small window of the house that looked onto the lane, he heard Small Roshan’s sister giggle and mutter, “Stupid beef eater,” and in shock he turned back to see her duck her small head below the sill. Puzzled, shaking his head, he went back home. He would not see Small Roshan until that day three months later. The Buddhist monk was on fire. Small Roshan and Chaminda made it a habit to visit the small temple close to the garage to listen to his sermons at least twice a week. At first Small Roshan was hesitant, even scared, at what was said. This was no peace-and-love Buddhist monk; this was fire and brimstone and hard truths sermons. The well-built man clothed in orange robes would stand up gesticulating and shouting, marching from one end of the room to the other to his audience, who wore white and looked pious, seated on reed mats, shouting ‘Sadhu, Sadhu’ whenever he said something especially virulent. It would only be a matter of weeks before a coterie of his close associates began to book public halls for their master and guide to give his fiery speeches to large packed halls, filled with men and women from the area. Inspiring them on their rightful place in the country, their shaky hold being usurped by one of the most cunning and treacherous communities to inhabit this blessed land. After the sermons, when most of the audience had filed out and gone home, Chaminda and Small Roshan spent half an hour dissecting the evening’s sermon at a roadside café over a cup of heavily sugared plain tea. The very first time they came here, Small Roshan was alarmed when he heard Chaminda mutter (as they passed a row of tea shops owned by Muslims and headed toward the one tea shop jostling for space in

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F I C T I O N the middle with a Sinhalese name) that the only good thing would be to torch these money worshippers out of the world. “Let them go off to Arabia, where they boast they come from. Those wretched Arabs. Take our women, treat them like dirt and spit them back here after abusing and torturing them, and these intruders sit pretty taking all our money. From now on, Small Roshan, like our Reverend said, you must look for Sinhala tea and rice shops to patronize. You must go to Sinhala trade shops, and buy goods only made in Sinhala factories.” Small Roshan nodded tersely. He could see sense in this. If the Muslim customers only went to Muslim shops and Tamil customers went to Tamil shops, like the Reverend said, then it was the duty of Sinhala customers to go to Sinhala shops. Roshan began to disseminate the Reverend’s sermons at home. His mother and sisters listened attentively, but his father waved his hand at Small Roshan and cautioned him against listening to everything these newfangled Buddhist monks said. “Today,” he wagged his finger at Small Roshan, “Buddhist monks are more interested in getting power and making mischief, than in preaching the Right Path. Be careful, Small Roshan, this will only end in trouble. I am not telling you to stop going to temple, but don’t believe everything these yellow-robed persons tell you. They are not like the old monks. They are different.” Small Roshan’s mother clucked her tongue in exasperation. Her husband was too old-fashioned, he hardly went out, and he didn’t know the dog-eat-dog world that existed out there now. Soon Small Roshan began to censor his conversation in front of his father, but his mother and sisters were avid listeners, and it would only be a matter of weeks before they too would trot off to listen to the firebrand monk, convinced of his arguments and trying to change their lifestyle to fit in with his sermons. To them, the priest made infinite sense. It was true that earlier, all communities lived in harmony together. Living in the south of the country, the ferocious war that was waged for thirty years and came to an abrupt end five years earlier was somewhat removed from their everyday lives. It was the here and now that impacted them more. The visible change that the Reverend commented upon, they too could see. The proliferation of mosques, the new costumes adopted that marked people as belonging to a particular community, branding foods with their logo, the seeming swell in population growth, the eating places and shops thronged with them—indicated they had spending power. All this, said the Reverend, was not in keeping with a small minority who lived on the blessed isle only because of the gracious magnanimity of the majority. If they did not know their place, then sadly it was time to show it to them. For the good of the country, for the good of the Buddhist philosophy. Big Roshan was no fool. He sensed that there was a change in Small Roshan. He heard of the priest who preached rage and hate, but dismissed it as a passing phase. Surely, he thought, after thirty years of war, this country wouldn’t want to go through upheaval again. And nothing would ever happen to their small housing scheme, Roshan would bet his

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life upon that. But one day, coming home from work, Big Roshan found his mother frantically packing her valuables in a small suitcase. His father stood worried over her. Trouble was brewing. And it was coming soon.

§ The speech became known as the Sermon of a Deep Anger of the Soul. The priest stood with his pristine yellow robes draped around his stocky, muscular body. He watched the people standing before him, most of them young men, a few women standing on the sides. They looked like an army. They looked angry. They looked ripe. He began to speak. There was riveted silence. For half an hour, he railed and lamented on the state of their plight. A man got on the stage and sang moving nationalist songs. Tears poured down the young men’s faces. Metal rods were placed in their hands, bottles thrust at them. “Go!” they were exhorted. “Go and make right what is wrong.” There was no stopping them now. It had begun. Small Roshan stood at the entrance of the housing scheme. With him was Chaminda and a few other heavyweights, all similarly armed, sticks and bottles. Small Roshan saw that Chaminda had his trouser zipped down. His flaccid penis flapped when he moved. Chaminda smiled when he saw where Small Roshan was looking. “To urinate on their accursed book,” he whispered, thrilled at the shock that crossed Small Roshan’s face. They saw the mob moving toward them; Chaminda waved them over to come faster. The dark body of movement stopped where they were. “Come on, mates,” Chaminda roused them, “let’s go hunt some meat tonight!” As he turned to face the housing scheme, he found himself blocked by Small Roshan’s stick. “No pigs here, my friend. Do you think I live in a sty?” Waving the crowd onwards, leading them away down the road, Small Roshan marched in front, his stick waving in the air like a flag, his arm draped around Chaminda’s shoulders, off to do unspeakable things to unsuspecting people. The terrified face of Big Roshan was imprinted on his mind, peering from a window of his house.

Ameena Hussein is a writer and co-founder of the Perera Hussein Publishing House, which has established itself as the frontrunner for cutting edge Sri Lankan fiction from emerging and established authors. Her novel The Moon in the Water (2009) was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Award and the Dublin IMPAC. Her first short story collection Fifteen was shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize in 1999, and her second collection Zillij won the State Literary Prize in 2005. She has also edited three collections of children’s stories and a collection of stories for adults. She is currently at work on a novel.

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F I C T I O N

Bina Shah

The Living Museum

A

ren’t you tired of going to the museum and seeing art behind a glass wall, reading about people who have been dead for centuries, being forced to stay ten feet away from the paintings? Don’t you feel dead inside when you come back out into the daylight? Why not try something different? Come to the Living Museum. A space that is provocative and evocative. Michael Wutz A space that will give you an experience that goes beyond the interactive. For in the Living Museum, you will enter as a visitor, but you will then become part of the exhibition. We all come into this world with baggage; it weighs us down and creates tension. In the Living Museum, your baggage will be your unique addition to the exhibition; your energy will mingle with that of the performers, the artists, the exhibitors, and your fellow visitors. In the Living Museum, there is no distinction between the audience and the artist. The line does not exist between the visitor and the contributor. You will not be the observer, detached and unmoved, viewing the exhibitions with an intellectual eye, forgetting them once you’ve moved on to the next. You will become the experience, forever changed, down to your last atom. Come to the Living Museum today. Your life depends on it. Allegra read the website twice over. In the corner of the small sitting room in her apartment, the television blared, but she paid it no attention. It was the same story: politicians fighting over immigration, the latest boatload of nameless, paperless black men from North Africa having just discharged its unfortunate cargo on the southern coast of Italy before sinking into the Mediterranean Sea. Pathetic scenes of shivering men clad in Red Cross blankets were interspersed with graphs indicating the rising numbers of illegal immigrants into the country.


Allegra studied the computer screen and made a note of the Museum’s address. She hadn’t heard of a museum in that area, just off the Piazza dell’Orologio, where all the buildings had been designed by Borromini and the young students were more interested in the busy pubs than in the church nearby. In Rome, only the tourists went to the churches, which was one of the far right’s favorite peeves. On the television now a member of the Forza Nationale was talking about how the immigrants had no place in Italian society. “We have to recover our glorious Christian heritage, instead of losing it with every boatful of people who tries to take away our jobs, our culture, our traditions…” “Oh shut up, you fascist,” Allegra said out loud to the television screen. “What? Who are you calling fascist?” called out Paolo, her boyfriend, from the bedroom. “Nobody, darling. Go back to sleep,” said Allegra. “I’m sorry I disturbed you.” “S’okay,” mumbled Paolo. “You didn’t mean it,” he added generously, after a moment’s pause, followed by deep snores. Allegra went to the kitchenette and prepared an espresso for herself, a cappuccino for Paolo, and put a chocolate-filled cornetto — his favorite from the bakery downstairs — on a plate. For herself, a small bowl of fruit. She brought the food on a tray into the bedroom and set it down between Paolo’s body and hers. “Paolo, breakfast. Wake up.” “What is it? Why are you waking me up so early?” It was quarter to ten. “We are going out,” Allegra said, loudly. Paolo grunted, rolled over, then placed a pillow over his head. Allegra leaned over, moved aside the pillow, and pressed her lips to his cheek in a long, sensuous kiss. He stirred at the touch of her tongue in his ear. “We are going to the museum,” she whispered, honeying her voice. “Why would we go out when we could spend the morning here?” Paolo said, trying to pull her close. His hand struck the cup of coffee, and he drew it back quickly. “Ow! What’s this doing here? Allegra, I’ve told you so many times, hot coffee in the bed is dangerous, it could really burn one of us!” Allegra pretended not to hear him. “Come on, Paolo, hurry up. The museum opens at eleven.” “But why are we going to the . . . ” Paolo was up now, rubbing his eyes, the sheet drawn around the lower half of his naked body. When she saw him like this, sleepy-eyed and swollen-cheeked, his curly hair, his taut white skin, the ribs arching above his sinewy midriff, she wished she could paint so she could capture the beauty of his body forever on a canvas. “We are going to the museum, Paolo,” said Allegra, “because my life depends on it.”

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F I C T I O N “Ridiculous woman,” mumbled Paolo, sipping carefully at his coffee cup as if it still contained anything that could burn his lips or set fire to his tongue. Allegra watched him and thought that sometimes love was like a cup of coffee that was neither hot nor cold. Still full of flavor, the steam from the milk continuing to fog up the sides, but heat having just left the cup, only the memory of heat remaining. Allegra and Paolo took Paolo’s car to the Via dei Filippini: Paolo was too lazy to walk the twenty minutes from Trastavere to the Piazza dell’Orlogio. “That’s why I have the car,” he said, tapping its hood as Allegra got out from the passenger side. “And see? No problem parking. I told you it would be fine.” “But the weather is beautiful today,” she said, craning her neck up. Borromini’s white tower, topped with swirls of iron and three bells above the face of the clock, the blue mosaic with the Madonna della Vallicella and the infant Jesus in her arms, gently vibrated underneath the achingly blue sky. “We aren’t tourists,” said Paolo. “Why do you have that map with you?” “It’s this way, come on.” She was already charging ahead, leaving Paolo to negotiate the parking meter. He could catch up with her if he wanted to, after checking his hair in the car’s side mirror one last time. It was almost eleven a.m. The little street was a few degrees cooler than the piazza, even though it was no more shaded from the afternoon sun than the surrounding area. Allegra knew she’d reached the right place without even having to consult the printout: a short, wide door made of dark teak wood, with a pointed arch at the top and a deadbolt on the front. It beckoned her inside with its foreignness, its refusal to blend in with the tall rectangular doors painted in bright colors up and down the rest of the street. When Allegra put her hand on the door to push it open, it gave way easily, as if it had been recently oiled. She turned back. Paolo was still standing outside the museum, his thumbs stuck into the pockets of his stylish red trousers. “Aren’t you coming in?” “Yes, yes.” Paolo smiled sheepishly. “You’re always too fast for me, amore. Sometimes I don’t know what you’re doing with a dullard like me.” Allegra’s heart softened. She’d learned to think of his moods as being like the rain and the sun, and to accept both with equanimity. But it did make her happy when he decided to shine after a cloudburst. He had such a luminous smile. Hand in hand, they entered the museum. A whiff of something exotic, orange blossom and musk, cinnamon bark and forest wood, hit her nostrils and she inhaled deeply, suddenly transported to the year she was seventeen and had gone for a holiday in Morocco with her family. To her it was the scent of love and abandon, for she’d fallen in love with a beauti-

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ful Berber boy she’d met on the beach, and his hair had smelled like that incense which he’d called oudh. She was glad for the pain of Paolo’s hand squeezing her fingers; it made her forget the memory quicker. The hallway was lit by candles in clay lamps flickering all along the floor, marking out a glowing trail where they should walk. The trail led them to an alcove where a woman sat behind a table made of delicate wrought iron. She looked up as they approached. “You are here for the exhibition?” she said in a soft voice. Her Italian was perfect, but tinged with an Eastern accent that Allegra couldn’t place. Allegra was stuck by the sweetness of her heart-shaped face, her slanted green eyes. “Yes, we are,” Allegra replied. “How much for two adults?” She glanced back at Paolo, expecting him to make his usual joke about how he was not mature enough for an adult ticket, so could he please have a child’s admission at half-price? But he was staring silently at the woman, his eyes traveling the length of her body, up to her head, on which was wrapped a pretty floral scarf, hiding her hair. “It is free,” said the young woman, revealing a set of crooked, discolored teeth in her smile. “Free?” repeated Allegra, dumbly. “Free?” Paolo’s tone was much more suspicious. “Yes, free. It is sponsored by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Please start from this room, and take your time. Do not hurry. Enjoy everything, deeply.” Allegra couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten anything for free. Money was always tight in Rome, and doubly so since Paolo had lost his job — he had been working on a newspaper that had downsized — a few months ago. Allegra had taken on most of the burden for both of them, inviting Paolo to move into the apartment with her, until he found a job again and could start contributing to the rent. “Grazie!” she said happily, unable to hide her delight. But as they walked towards the first room, she saw Paolo’s frown, and it made her heart drop. “What’s the matter?” she whispered to him as they walked to the gallery. “It’s free, what’s wrong with that?” Paolo muttered, “The government is paying for everything, including her job. What about me? Why don’t they pay me to sit at a desk all day and wave people into a nice museum, eh? Where is she from anyway? Afghanistan? What is she doing here?” “Oh Paolo, please don’t start. It’s not her fault. Let’s just enjoy this, okay? For me?” He let go of her hand and stared at her, eyes dark with resentment. She walked ahead resolutely, then stepped inside the room, and gasped. The museum hadn’t looked big enough to accommodate a gallery of this size — it was fifty feet long, as deep as it was wide. The walls were full-length photographs of a souk in a Middle Eastern country, a myriad of different-sized stalls pushed up against each other, colorful cloths and

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F I C T I O N brass wares and piles of spice and dry fruit heaped all over the tables. Above, red canopies shielded them from a hot midday sun, and doves fluttered from the orange trees to the wooden pillars keeping the canopies upright. Her ears were filled with the muted murmurs of a busy market crowd, the sounds of a lute or a mandolin playing a pentatonic melody, the shouts of children playing nearby. The five other people already in the room glanced at Allegra nervously. Two tourists, cameras around their necks, spoke to each other in whispered, confused German. A beautiful silver-haired woman with a man years younger than her and a ten-year-old boy between them stood still, gazing at the photographs. The boy went up to the wall and examined it closely, then said to his parents, “It’s paintings! Not photographs! I told you. I studied it in art class. Hyperrealism! Look!” Allegra looked around for signs or instructions, but all she could see was a long table, fit for a banquet hall, at the far end of the room. Paolo, marching past Allegra when they’d entered, was already examining its contents. “Hey,” he called back to them. “There’s food here. Come and see!” Allegra and the others joined him to peer curiously at the tabletop. Small red bowls contained different preparations: creamy dips topped with drizzles of oil, a brown mashed paste decorated with onions and sliced tomatoes, a basket with triangles of flatbread, bowls with green spices, pickles, a pudding with an orange glaze sprinkled with chopped pistachios… “What is all this?” said the German woman. Allegra gazed at the pretty bowls and dishes, recognizing them from the days she had spent in Morocco. “It’s Arabic breakfast. Look, zaatar wa zeit, spices and olive oil. You eat it with the pita bread, there. And that’s hummus, and those are scrambled eggs, and labneh, it’s like yogurt, but better. Oh, and ful!” “Fool?” asked the Italian woman with the silver hair. “No, no, ful, fava beans. And look: that’s knafeh, it’s so delicious. Oh, I wonder if we’re meant to eat it!” As they stood there, staring, music began to play, a woman’s throaty croon filling their ears. She was singing a song about Beirut, as far as Allegra could tell — it was the only word she recognized. A dark-eyed, fullcheeked woman’s face appeared on the wall to the left of the table: Fairuz, a caption read underneath, Songstress of The Arab World. Allegra clapped her hands in time to the beat, laughing. She had never forgotten the first time she’d eaten these foods, the bursts of sumac and cinnamon and sesame on her tongue, the tang of the hummus, the freshness of the bread and the woody mystery of the olive oil. Her mouth was already watering with memory and anticipation. This food, to her, was love: love of that beautiful boy with the tanned skin and dark eyes, whose arms had enfolded her and whose kisses had tasted of cigarette smoke and lemons. Her joy must have summoned forth the gentle voice that called out to them, “Of course you must sit when you see a table spread with food.

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‘This day all good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them.’ That is from the Quran, Surah Al-Maidah, ‘The Table Spread.’” They all turned as one to see the man standing before them, a samovar in his hand. His face was slightly shadowed, so that they couldn’t ascertain his features, but he seemed young, longish hair curling at the edge of his shirt collar and falling on to his forehead. The singing woman’s voice bathed them in eerie melody, the sights and sounds of the souk so disorienting that Allegra wondered if the young man was real or another visual illusion. He was coming towards them now, urging them to take their places at the table, to serve themselves from the feast before them. Soon he was pouring them thick, dark coffee from the samovar, moving from place to place, urging one of them to heap the bread with the zataar and the oil, telling them that the labneh was flavored with mint from his own garden. When they were settled with their food and drink, some of them more enthusiastic than the others — the Germans gobbled everything down, Paolo sniffed at his food before tasting it gingerly, the Italian family oohed and aahed, while Allegra took little bites of everything, sighing — the young man put down his samovar and smiled at all of them. He cleared his throat before he began to speak. “A museum, as a space devoted to the past, suits nightmares—a mixture of the labyrinths of memory and history. Just as in hospitals and temples, you have to whisper and sometimes muffle the lowest laughs. But here is a different place and time, where past and present exist together in one room. So, I will tell you a story about a sparrow.” Allegra was nestled in Paolo’s arms, the German tourists were taking photographs of the food on the table, the Italian woman sipped her coffee elegantly while her handsome young husband admonished their son to not eat with his mouth open. They would have accepted anything from the young man in that moment, their stomachs full, their senses captivated. His voice was sweet and thin, like a reed instrument, his Arabic accent a singsong lilt, making Allegra think of waves on the Moroccan shore. “He’s so lovely to listen to,” she sighed, half to herself. She had wondered if he was a waiter when they were eating, but listening to his words, now she thought he might be an actor, or a poet. Would he tell them a folk tale, a traditional myth, or a fable from his country? “Why? Do you think he’s handsome?” said Paolo, stiffening. The young man had already begun his tale. If he had heard Paolo and Allegra, he gave no sign of it. “The sparrow that flew down from the washing-line recognized me without knowing my name. His legs were thinner than the line, weak, but they served his needs well. I terrified him when I appeared and the terror took his wings high and away.” “What kind of story is this?” muttered Paolo. “Shut up, Paolo, and let me listen,” Allegra hissed.

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F I C T I O N “He doesn’t differentiate between all of us who are called human; it’s the same whether it’s me or someone else since his shining eyes don’t feel safe with any of us,” the young man continued. “But I hate it that I keep watch over the name I was given to capture me, that I drag it and it drags me, and that it’s stuck to my face and has become part of my voice. Sometimes it seems strange to me when I read it or hear it, or it bores me and I detest it. “Like everyone I have spent a long time imprisoning myself in my name, since all of us are buried alive — ” Suddenly there was whistling sound, starting low, growing louder within seconds. Allegra clutched at Paolo’s hand, but instinct told her to dive under the table. They had all begun to move, when — The explosion was so loud it seemed to have happened inside their heads. A flash of light blinded them, followed by immediate darkness. The smell of cordite, of burning oil, of things corrupted and betrayed, filled their nostrils. When they could see again, the table before them was in disarray, the plates smashed, the food spilled on the floor. The images of the souk had been replaced by pictures of buildings devastated, bombed out hulks that looked like the remains of Dresden in the Second World War. Sirens resounded in the air, women’s screams. And the young man was gone. They looked at each other, stunned. The child burst into tears. Allegra was moving her arms and legs, trying to understand what had just happened. The young man had been telling them his story, and she had been feeling so relaxed and happy, when the bomb… But there had been no bomb. Only the illusion. If that was true, though, why was her heart racing in her chest, why was her throat filled with fear? Why were her eyes suddenly wet with tears? Paolo jumped to his feet. “This is horrible, what is this? Who’s in charge here? I demand answers!” An illuminated sign slowly struggled into life at the far end of the word: the word Uscita glowed red in the darkness. The Italian couple and their child made their way to it at once, the silver-haired mother and the handsome father helping their son to stumble along, sobbing, as they left. The German tourists glanced at each other but stayed in their seats, while Paolo yanked Allegra’s hand. “Come on, let’s go. I’m going to find that woman from Afghanistan and ask her if she thinks this is a joke. It’s disgusting, is what it is. Come on, Allegra!” Allegra pointed in the opposite direction from the exit sign. “Look, Paolo.” This Way This Way This Way This Way It was a electric sign like the one that marked the exit, but it glowed bright yellow, not red, and blinked on and off, a lighthouse flare, a bea-

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con in the eerie gloom. Allegra stared at it, hypnotized. She no longer felt Paolo’s insistent fingers pressing against her flesh. The faces and voices of the Germans and Italians were dim memories. She stood up and glided forward as if in a dream, past the images of the bombed-out buildings, the roads with craters in them bigger than cars. “Allegra. Allegra, where are you going? Allegra!” Her hand was on the door handle now; she was pushing it down. She was leaning against the door and walking through. She did not look to see if Paolo would follow. She found herself in another room, almost as large as the first. Only when she took several shaking steps forward did she realize she was standing on a stage in a small theater that could seat fifty, maybe sixty people. The houselights glowed, bathing the theater in dim light. The stage was close enough to the first row of seats, the lights low enough for her to see that the seats were filled with African men and women, their eyes all trained on her. It was a full house. She stood there, dumbstruck, as a large spotlight picked her out on the stage and threw her into unexpected prominence. She had never been on a stage before, only performed in a school play when she was a child. She was no longer able to see the sea of people, but she could hear their murmurs, the buzzing coming from the seats like wasps constructing a nest on a hot summer’s day. She shivered, knowing she was disappointing them with their silence. What should she do? A form suddenly broke through the blindness of the spotlight: someone walking up the stairs at the side of the stage, approaching Allegra, handing her a piece of paper. Allegra could not tell if the figure was a man or a woman; it moved quickly down the stairs and melted back into the place behind the light before Allegra’s eyes could adjust enough to see the distinguishing features of his or her face or body. Allegra looked down at the piece of paper that had been thrust into her hands. At the top, it said, READ. Underneath it, a poem. The eyes of the expectant audience were burning into her skin. She longed to turn and flee. But at the same time, she wanted to find the courage to stay and face the people in front of her. The words, she thought frantically. Say the words. So she began to read aloud, in a halting, hesitant voice. The Box of Pain You were not there at daybreak When patients, passengers and soldiers Stretched their heads, bald or shaven, Like tiny cottages in distant windows. The boy passed the light fog Which didn’t stay long Before the hospital gate Where he found a pistol lying on the grass. You were not there. Now, you are a story

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F I C T I O N Being told in a place you are not in. Your throat: that box of pain, Is full of bones and feathers. In the white of your eye There is a blood dot, small and rusty, Like a sun setting in the distance Over a snowy field Which was trampled By long rows of hungry soldiers. By the time she came to the last words of the poem, the tears were back in her eyes, her voice scratching weakly inside her throat. She was fearful of the audience’s reaction, expecting boos, hisses, catcalls, maybe even a shoe thrown at her in anger. And Paolo had not come on to the stage with her. Their love had turned out to be the rowboat instead of the ocean; she could feel it sinking beneath her. She was a solo act now. She stood there on the stage and wept openly, shoulders shaking, head bowed. The sound of clapping broke through her sobs, slow at first, then gathering pace and volume, until the applause echoed thunderously around the room. Piercing whistles punctuated the clapping like the happy screams of children at a birthday party. She raised her head and wiped her eyes. Her mind was still confused about what had just happened, her eyes still dazzled by the spotlight, burning with heat and light, but warmth and clarity illuminated the other parts of her being that understood, and knew. Something was being fused inside her chest, connecting her to each and every person in the room. A man shouted out from amidst the applause, “Now you see us with your real eyes!” And Allegra, through her tears, realized that the museum had cured her of a kind of blindness that she had suffered since birth. “The Box of Pain” and “The Sparrow that Flew Down” by Golan Haji were first published on Jadaliyya.com and are reproduced here with permission.

Bina Shah is a writer of English fiction and a journalist living in Karachi, Pakistan. She is the author of four novels and two collections of short stories. She is a regular columnist for the International New York Times. She has also contributed to The Guardian, The Independent, and to Granta, Wasafiri and Critical Muslim. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is an honorary fellow in writing of the University of Iowa, having attended its International Writers Program in 2011.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Electra Gamón Fielding

Crossing Borders, Boundaries, and Identities— A Conversation with Ana Castillo

Claudia Hernández


C O N V E R S A T I O N PRELUDE Poet, writer, translator, editor, teacher, artist, independent scholar and Xicana activist, Dr. Ana Castillo is one of the most renowned and influential voices in contemporary American literature today. Born and raised in Chicago (1953), Castillo considered initially a career as an art teacher. However, she had been writing poems since a very young age, and her love for the craft eventually led her to publish her first poetry book Otro Canto in 1977, followed by several other collections such as Women Are Not Roses (1984) and My Father Was a Toltec (1988). Her first published novel The Mixquiahuala Letters (1986) received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Castillo’s writings have been the subject of numerous scholarly investigations and publications. Her work includes topics that range from poverty, gender, and class to the exploration of sexuality, but always center on the Chicana experience. Castillo successfully includes in her writings traditional aspects of Hispanic literature along with innovative techniques, while mixing the two most influential languages of her upbringing: English and Spanish. Castillo holds an MA from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Bremen, Germany. Her groundbreaking book Massacre of the Dreamers (1994) is based on the research conducted for her doctoral work. Her efforts to promote “the advancement of a world without borders and censorship” and to encourage equality among peoples of different backgrounds, religions, sexualities and cultures are always present in her writings and endeavors. A leading thinker, she coined the term Xicanisma – Chicana feminism – in Massacre of the Dreamers, which painstakingly explores the situation of Chicana women in the

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United States. She figures, along with Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, as one of the most active and powerful voices of the Chicana movement of the late 1970s, articulating and defining Xicanisma and giving voice to women of color in the collection This Bridge Called My Back (1981). Today, Castillo is a strong presence in literary and academic circles as a guest lecturer or speaker, as well as in social media and the internet, through her zine La Tolteca and her numerous spiritual activism workshops open to participants from all backgrounds and age groups. Castillo is the author of eight collections of poetry, seven novels, two collections of essays, one play and various translations, anthology contributions, and editing projects. She has also been the recipient of various awards, such as the Carl Sandburg Award, a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, and a Sor Juana Achievement Award. She has also held the first Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Endowed Chair at DePaul University, the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Visiting Scholar post at MIT and has been the Poet-In-Residence at Westminster College in Utah, among other teaching posts. Among her best-selling titles are So Far From God (1993), The Guardians (2008), Peel My Love Like an Onion (1999) and I Ask the Impossible (2001). Her most recent publications are the second edition of Massacre of the Dreamers (2014) and the novel Give It to Me (2014). Of the second edition of Massacre of the Dreamers, Castillo explains that even though she expected she would need to make several changes to the book due to a more visible and influential Latino community in the United States, in reality “there wasn’t much to change,” which, of course points to the fact that not much progress

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has taken place regarding the situation of women from minority groups in the last two decades. Give It To Me, written while doing the final edits for the second edition of Massacre of the Dreamers, is an entertaining, ludic novel that narrates the life of Palma Piedras utilizing a picaresque setting and tone. Palma, the protagonist, steals the show as her life’s fortunes and misfortunes unravel before the reader’s eyes.

This interview for Weber — The Contemporary West was made possible thanks

to Dr. Castillo’s residency at Weber State University through the Hurst Artist-inResidence program in April 2015. During her stay, Castillo participated in various activities and lectures, and was extremely gracious with her time and generous in her interactions with students and faculty.

CONVERSATION While you were talking this morning during the NULC keynote, you were talking about how some of your books have been banned in Arizona, more specifically Tucson. What happened? Well, Tucson is a border U.S.-Mexican town. The books are not banned in the state and they’re not even banned in the city, or that you can’t read them in the city or buy them—you can certainly do that. But the Tucson Unified School District, which has had Ethnic Studies (African American, Asian American, and Mexican American), was using numerous titles in their curriculum. They were not all Chicano or Latino. The local officials, apparently with the superintendent for the schools, got together an agreement that the Mexican American Studies components of Ethnic Studies was somehow undermining the United States… that the content was teaching to hate white people, and things like this. These were the accusations. They were able to create some laws with the support of the local legislature, and in fact they were able to disband Mexican American Studies. I know there’s other places. I know that in Texas there’s some echoes of this also. So, some of the students are suing the city. This was despite the fact that they had a very high graduation

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rate from students that were going through the Mexican American Studies Program. There was no true evidence that any such thing was ever brought up in classes, or anything like that. So at this time I believe that the lawsuit is in the district Supreme Court. They had hearings in San Francisco, so that’s still being fought. There were eighty banned books, and two of my titles were on that list. One of them was the novel So Far From God and the other one is my collection of short stories Loverboys. They were using a couple of the stories in there that they liked. Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues was on the list, as was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. So it wasn’t necessarily because we were minority writers or Chicano writers, but anything that was on that list. I think that we have to pay very special attention to these things. They start small, and if we let them go, today it’s here and tomorrow it’s statewide. I heard that these legislators really wanted to go after the university, Arizona State University, but it was too big, so they thought that they would start with the public schools. I think there are very obvious motives at work, there’s a very obvious agenda. I was in Tucson two weeks ago at the Tucson Festival of Books and I ran into one of the main teachers, Dr. Curtis Acosta. He is no longer with the Tucson Unified School District, and he told me

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C O N V E R S A T I O N that there are new legislators now, so perhaps there may be some reconsideration and maybe the Mexican American Studies component will be reinstated.

As you talked about this in your presentation today, it brought to mind your journal, La Tolteca Zine, and how through the journal you are trying to promote the advancement of a world without borders and censorship. Do you believe in this possibility?

“Will you submit something?” It doesn’t have to be a memoir, maybe they’re not ready, or maybe they want to submit a fiction story or perhaps poems. A few people are doing photography, so we always welcome that. So that process is also teaching the editor and writers’ relationships. It is very gratifying to me, and it’s nice when people appreciate it. I started out very ambitiously doing four a year and now I do two a year.

What has been your most rewarding experience regarding the zine?

No, absolutely not. But if there is a place which is a wild wild West, it is the Internet and so my I think that most recently, in the last issue, zine or magazine is ethereal. I think there is an Spring 2015, I worked with at least three people option with the server to print out a copy if you on their submissions that needed a lot of work. want, but this would be very expensive because Now sometimes I get someone who submits it is so illustrationsomething that needs friendly. I think that if a lot of work and I say— And then I was beginning to write cause it’s a labor of love there’s any place where you can have a break fiction and so on, and as a feminist, all the way around—I’m through some censornot paying you. On the Chicana feminist, Xicanista, one ship, it would be in the other hand, no one is thing I noticed about women in Internet. I am the sole paying me either, so I publisher and editorsay, if you want me to, 19th century literature, early 20th in-chief and so I choose I’ll be happy to work century, was that when a woman who goes in, who gets with you on this, rather takes control of her sexuality, for published. I would be than me starting to the only censor, so if some reason, in the arts, she always work on it and then anyone were to be acI never hear again has to die in the end. cused of censorship it from them. So in this would be me, but the priissue I had three—they mary reason for the zine all happened to be goes back to 2009 when I began offering writwomen—who all said yes, I would really love it ing workshops, primarily memoir, to the general if you would work with me on it. And you know, public, 18 and over. I’ve had people in their 80s, it’s back and forth, and back and forth, and most recently one in his 90s, and in addition to when the issue was actually done and laid out, the workshop in this country I have taught the I felt proud knowing they were willing to work workshop in other countries, in Buenos Aires, through revisions, which is something that a in Kazakhstan, and just different places where I lot of people who love literature and want to be have travelled. But everyone has a story to tell, writers don’t know or understand—that what so one of the things that came out of that was they read in the book isn’t necessarily what the developing the zine as a way of encouraging writer first did; they went through a process, and people through the publishing process. And I do that’s very gratifying to me when they say how spend a lot of time, I must say, of my own time, happy they were to see their work published. reaching out on the Internet, going back to these Following with the concept of a world without people who have been in my workshops, asking

borders, one of the themes that I enjoyed the

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most in Peel My Love Like an Onion is the cross-cultural theme, the search for identity of Carmen, this Chicana from Chicago who makes flamenco her own. The first thing that caught my attention was that picture of Carmen on the cover. Why flamenco, what was your inspiration for Carmen?

and their sexuality, but as I said, a woman who takes control of her life and her sexuality ends up being punished. I decided to put all that together in my hometown in Chicago, but Carmen would not die—she would survive in the end.

I see Carmen as having a very fluid identity. She is able to negotiate really well. Do you think the individual who crosses borders and creates new identities has an advantage in today’s globalized society?

When I was in my mid-twenties, still relatively young in my writing career and writing poetry, I was invited by a gypsy, an American gypsy who had lived for a long time in Spain, to read poYou know, I’m not a critic. I am an independent etry. He was a guitarist and he had a singer—he scholar and I don’t speak academese, but I might have been from Madrid, I don’t rememam quite aware of the borderland popularity ber. So I learned some things about Romani in theory. In reality we are living in a world in life. At that time, gypsies were still relatively which we are crossing visible in Chicago and I borders all the time in saw them growing up. In many different aspects. public elementary, I went to I am an independent scholar So, whereas for decades school with a few. And the and I don’t speak academese, we thought of it as a dismusic, the singers, I picked advantage, the immigrant but I am quite aware of the them up somewhat along now has an advantage the way. Like Carmen says, borderland popularity in as we have more border it (flamenco) was licking theory. In reality we are living crossings, or as Chicanos my ankles, my good one like to say, I didn’t cross in a world in which we are and the bad one. Time went on and then I was begincrossing borders all the time in the border, the border crossed me. That’s true ning to write fiction and many different aspects. of the Southwest, or we so on, and as a feminist, could talk about invasions Chicana feminist, Xicanista, throughout the world and one thing I noticed about throughout history. I think that as we move into women in 19th century literature, early 20th the 21st century and it becomes more of the century, was that when a woman takes control norm, we see it becoming more of an advantage of her sexuality, for some reason, in the arts, in terms of understanding each other through she always has to die in the end. We even have our multiple lives and experiences than a this more recently, like in the “slasher movies.” disadvantage, which is all part of a majority of They always have the girl that slept around and people having similar experiences. Now we can she would always be killed by the slasher. It’s change the laws or accommodate culture to the really disturbing, and the short story of Mérihybrids of the newly formed society rather than mée’s Carmen—this gypsy friend of mine would the past. Until now, dominant (White) culture always be so upset because he would say, you forced the rest to acclimate. I do think we are all know, no gypsy girl would be working in a cigar going in the direction of multiple experiences in factory. Gypsy girls were not allowed to go off all of our lives. We are crossing actual borders like that. Mérimée made that up and she would and changing the new places we settle in and be protected by her family, and she wouldn’t we also cross borders internally. have been out there doing that, and so on. So we have all these misconceptions about women

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C O N V E R S A T I O N You were talking about the Latino community in the United States. The Latino community is very varied. You have the Chicanos who were crossed by the border; you have those who crossed the border; you have the ones that maybe came to the U.S. by airplane. What do you believe are the most pressing issues within the Latino community today in the United States? Because of what you just said, it is a very difficult question. Geographically, generationally, for example, right now we have the prominent issue of the Dreamers, which are the kids of undocumented people who are fighting for the right to get their degrees and pursue their education. This is very new. I am not the daughter of immigrants per se, it just happens that everybody always treated me that way, people assumed that I was. I ask myself quite often what really separates us from the dominant culture. In my case, is it being female? Is it being brown-skinned? Is it looking indigenous? Is it having dark hair? Was it not being from California or the East Coast, was it being from Chicago? There are a million things, and I remember when I received my doctorate in Germany twenty years ago, I was having a very intense conversation with a German Marxist woman scholar who was on my committee. I was talking to her about racism, gender, sexuality, and things that come with feminism, and at some point she said as a Marxist, “But Ana, don’t you think it’s all about class?” [laughter] I can’t even remember what happened after that, because it was just unfathomable that someone could think of things so reduced that way, but I have to say that more recently I have been thinking about that, because as we accept people of color or gay people into a heterosexual norm created by a white middle-class, then what does separate people from each other? I think that there is a big issue with economic disparity in this country. If you go to communities where you see large groups of the homeless or disadvantaged children, you see immediately this doesn’t have to do with gender or race, but whatever reasons these children or women end up in these situations. So

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I’m beginning to rethink that to some degree— and it may have to do with the fact that we have fought so much for women’s rights and gender and sexual equality—we find ourselves now looking at our economic system, and why does that cost so many people to be disadvantaged versus so few with such great advantages.

That was a really good question… Twenty years later and you’re still thinking about it. [laughter] I’m still thinking about it! I still think that maybe she was right.

You mentioned the Dreamers. What about education? Here at WSU I see many firstgeneration college students and some of them, especially Latinas, have a hard time negotiating this new path that they have taken from the traditional path that their families expect them to take. Do you think there is a solution to this conflict? I have been asked to address this subject numerous times. As I said earlier, I’m not a politician, I am only a poet and I come with very strong opinions. I do know that many of these issues around the Dreamers are being resolved in their own ways state by state. It does seem to me as a human being and as a woman who has struggled for her own education even as a citizen of the United States for the reasons we’ve been talking about, that if someone was raised in a country and earns their education, they have a right to receive their degrees and their documents. On a moral or ethical level, it seems like the right thing to do. Their battle will probably, we hope, be won nationally.

Hopefully we’ll see that in the future. Last November, the 20th Anniversary Edition of Massacre of the Dreamers was published. What changes have you seen in the Xicanisma movement in these last two decades? I started writing the book more than twenty-five years ago. It was before the Internet. I came to it primarily as a poet and a fiction writer. There

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Isabel Asensio

were a lot of things that I knew and felt because I had experienced them and I had seen them around me, but they were undocumented. And so, I had the daunting task—I didn’t have a grant, a fellowship for this project—to find endorsements, find supportive material. Twenty years later I’m working on this updated edition because I thought “Oh, my gosh, twenty years, so much has changed and so many things. There’s so many more Latinos in this country. Now we have a black president.” I thought I might even have to write a new book, and then the editor at the University of New Mexico Press (where it was first published and it was being reissued) said, “Well, you know Ana. I’ve just read it and it really holds up pretty well.” And I thought, “It does?” So I looked at it from that perspective and I thought, well, the good news for me is that there wasn’t much to change. The bad news for the rest of us was that there wasn’t much to change. I also made some references to women in other countries, including Europe, not just, say, the Middle East, where we always hear about oppressed women, but Italy and Spain and England. Not much had changed either on a practical level. You can change laws to protect women, but that doesn’t mean that they are put into full effect. One particular issue that has caused me a lot of anguish is body and sex trafficking of,

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mostly, women and children from everywhere to everywhere. This is supported, from what I understand, by the multibillion-dollar drug industry. Drugs are not going away, there is no easy solution and there’s certainly no solution for body and sex trafficking that I can see. That’s part of why, if I’m talking about the unjust treatment of a particular group of women of color, this is obviously part of it. During these years since the publication of Massacre of the Dreamers, many of us interested in this topic have learned about the femicide that’s been recorded in Mexico, and particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border. This is a reflection of this organ and sex trafficking around the world. Femicide means that you can get killed just for being a female. Who’s doing it? Everyone is doing it to some degree. So everyone is involved. All the way from the husband or the boyfriend or the date-rape person to organized gangsters or mobsters. When there’s that much money involved, how do you really start preventing it? If a woman or a female or a child is considered a consumer product and you can get a lot of money for it, and we know that there’s human greed everywhere, how do you really stop this? When we’re talking about a borderless world, this is a problem that crosses all borders.

Yes, and yet a lot of people are not aware of what’s happening. They close their eyes to it and it’s not decreasing. When I get on the subject, I get so worked up over it because it’s almost despairing trying to come up with any possible solutions. When I was invited to Kazakhstan by the U.S. embassy there, I was taken to a couple of NGO organizations. Kazakhstan is between Russia and China, and I had a lot of contact with activists around this subject. They’re struggling with women who are being taken from China and Russia, and they go through Kazakhstan and then are sent to Europe. It’s almost a body by body, case by case situation for these activists. There’s no stopping international body trafficking. “Let me find somebody’s sister.” “Let me find somebody’s daughter.” But it’s not a way of, “Oh, we’re going to hold China

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C O N V E R S A T I O N accountable, or we’re going to hold Russia acfor him a great deal with the things that affect countable. Or we’re going to hold everyone on boys of color and how they are treated. And so, the Internet in the United States who is engagI have seen the struggle of many U.S. Latinas, ing accountable.” I was in Las Vegas a few years Chicanas, Mestizas, Indígenas that is part of ago. My novel The Guardians was selected as a the struggle of women of color around the core text by the university there, which is about world. Eighty percent of the underpaid world’s an undocumented teenager and his mother work force is still women of color and girls of getting killed by organ traffickers. And the color. It’s here in the U.S. and everywhere else. professor who hosted me and also took me to I dealt with that in Carmen la Coja a little bit some of the high schools was telling me about to point out that these are things that are also the extent of women and children trafficking on done in the U.S. We live in a first world country, the Las Vegas strip. Behind those neon lights but we have sweat shops in this country. So I are children that are availwouldn’t have a wish list able to people who come for Latinas in particular. I to Las Vegas. Same thing in Behind those neon lights are think that there are some Disneyland. I can’t hardly changes—things that I children that are available to think of Disneyland when experienced around color people that come to Las Vegas. aesthetics—that were I think about how children are being made accessible painful and separated us Same thing in Disneyland. I to pedophiles who buy from the dominant society can’t hardly think of Disneythese children, and they and that’s changing. But land when I think about how go to the Disneyland hotel that’s going to be a long or they go to Disneyland those children are being made process. A much longer where people won’t notice process will be gender isaccessible to pedophiles who an adult with a child. So the sues. We are also becombuy these children, and they people who aren’t aware ing aware of transgender of it don’t want to be aware go to the Disneyland hotel or now, a third gender. So of it, but it’s everywhere this is going to add a new they go to Disneyland where that we turn, if we’re willdimension to our society people won’t notice an adult ing to open our eyes. But in the 21st century. I think it’s not an issue that we that the whole process of with a child. can go sign a legislature becoming a human being and rest our consciences and living in a democracy because it’s not going to go away. It’s a is still a work in progress for us all, and I never worldwide issue. As long as there is a buyer, give an easy answer because I don’t think there’s going to be someone to supply it. that there is ever an easy answer in a society. And as I said, I wouldn’t separate myself that If you could do a wish list, what do you think way without thinking I have so much more in you would put on that wish list for Chicanas common with so many more people than I have and Latinas in the U.S.? a difference to separate myself from them. It’s been a long time that I’ve separated myself as a Chicana and Latina when I think about the things that are important. The subjects that just include Chicanas and Latinas, the subject of body and sex trafficking, that doesn’t separate me, certainly is not going to separate my granddaughter. When my son was a child, I feared

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In the publishing world, have you had to deal with issues because of being a woman and Latina? Absolutely yes, I have of course. When I started writing and publishing chapbooks in the 70s into the mid-80s, we were not published by

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mainstream publishers. There were some Latin Americans and others from around the world who were translated into English, but the U.S. Latino was very rare. Very few men, but not women. In the 80s, women and Latinas in particular started to show that we read, that we like to read, and more importantly that we will buy books about things that we like to read, so I was very fortunate to be at the right place at the right time writing. Then I did start to get published, but it was really looked at as the new flavor of the month, the new flavor of the year. Some years have gone by and there’s a lot of other new flavors, new things that the American literary palate is looking at, but we have succeeded in establishing that U.S. Latina and Latino market. Now we have a literature, now we know that there is a possibility for a young Latina. There is another generation coming up and another generation after that one of writers. They’re going to MFA programs and they have professors who look like me in those universities, so that’s all changed. It is part of everything that we were working toward post-civil rights in this country.

What advice would you give a young Latina who is starting to write? Well, I would give a girl or a boy of any background the same advice I give everybody, the same advice I give myself, which is to read everything and to write, write, write, and then very importantly, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. You know, there’s a Toni Morrison quote to the effect that you write the book that you want to read. Someone might say, she may not have been speaking to everyone who wants to be a “writer.” I remember an occasion when I read with Ethan Canin. He pointed out that everyone who graduates from med school becomes a doctor. Not everyone who goes through an MFA program will be a writer. The point is, that besides the discipline for the craft there is the element of talent. As for a career, there’s always some amount of luck involved, too.

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You mentioned before your workshops and classes on memoir writing, spiritual activism writing. How did these workshops come about? What gave you the idea of starting to do this, and what’s your student profile? My student profile is usually the same profile of when I do a reading. It’s eighty percent Latinas: U.S. Latinas, Latinas, cross-generational. That was pointed out to me a few years ago, and I hadn’t thought about it consciously. But someone in the audience at a women’s journalism convention was curious and asked, “Who reads you?” It was a white person who had apparently just “discovered” me. Well, in reply, it came to light that my reader profile was very young, maybe teenagers all the way to the eighties Latinas. So, eighty percent, if I have a workshop, will be Latinas. And then there’s that twenty percent, which usually could be men of any background, could be gay men of any background, of any age, or it could be women or men of a different race or ethnicity. And the other question, how did the memoir writing get started: In 2009, when the recession really impacted this country, I was also impacted by it, and I wondered what service do I have to offer as a writer, and I thought about how one of the things that does distinguish Chicanos, Mexican Americans and maybe Mexicans too—although it’s hard for me to talk about Mexicans because they come from their “own” country with written history, its own literature, etc.—is that we tend to be reticent. The weird thing about us is that we tend to say, “Let’s not talk about that! Eso fue allá, eso fue tiempos pasados, ¡ay no!” [laughter] So we say, no, that was that generation…. Oh, no, that was ten years ago. Oh, they don’t do that anymore. We say things like that all the time—trying to forget our collective history, family history, even our own personal history. Forgetting, playing down, romanticizing instead of politicizing our history seems to be something Mexicans on this side of the border do. So when in 2009 I thought about doing the workshop for the general public, I thought, we have to start remembering and telling our

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C O N V E R S A T I O N stories. I make up a lot of stories researching like in The Guardians. I have an eighty-year-old man who is remembering when the U.S. border went up in 1924, when the border patrol was established. People take it for granted that it was always there, but it wasn’t. It’s so important to remember when they established it and when they came in the middle of the night and banged on your door and dragged you out of the U.S.side and took you over to the other side. We forget about that. A new generation will come along and say, well, I didn’t even know that; that was my grandfather’s time, not mine. So that’s why the memoir writing workshop has come about: to ask people to start remembering their stories, even if it’s just for their families. Write it in a notebook; everything doesn’t have to get published and be read by strangers. Your grandchildren may want to know your family history. The recession, like the Great Depression, or war times, are all difficult periods for all communities. It is a good time to record what people went through and how they got through it.

That sounds absolutely fascinating. Thank you. And the spiritual activism, I’ve always been drawn to spirituality and issues around spirituality. As a woman, as an indigenous mestiza woman, I’ve always wondered how I’m excluded from the Imago Dei, in the teachings of western religions. So that was sort of a natural fit for me. But for me and those of subsequent generations, especially in California, where the Chicano culture is very alive, do combine their spirituality with their activism, with their eco consciousness, with their

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diet consciousness, race, all the issues come together in the body of a Chicana. It’s certainly a natural thing for me to do spiritual activism workshops. The spiritual activism is one more aspect of being an activist. It comes from the Latin spiritus, spiritus es el aliento, and to inspire is to breathe, to expire is to die, when you let the breath out. Whatever makes you breathe and makes you feel alive is your spirituality.

You mentioned in one of our classes that your spirituality is always changing or evolving, that you are not really set on something. That really caught my students’ attention. A lot of them mentioned that they really liked that idea. Would you care to talk a bit more about that? I always keep these workshops very open. Bring something from your environment that’s speaking to your spirit. I listen to Isabel Asensio their narratives around their objects and I say, “there’s no judgments here.” This gentleman once came up to me and I was wearing one of my Virgin de Guadalupe rings, and he said: “You know she’s a myth” [laughter]. And so, I told him, “we’re not judging here. We’re open and we accept the place where each of us are at presently.” Maybe you feel uncomfortable and you don’t want to talk about it, but you want to keep your spiritual definition. The exercise of bringing the object as well as the spiritual activism workshop is to regenerate by helping you to reflect. I’ve seen in my own life and observed in others that we define our spirituality differently over our lives. When I was in my 30s and maybe early 40s, I was very fiery about this kind of argument

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with people that one’s beliefs were what they were, shaped early on. I don’t know that I was necessarily defensive, but I felt I had to defend it sometimes. I don’t feel that anymore, and I think that’s a different place to be as an elder and a matured person, that you accept whatever floats a person’s boat and keeps them “inspired.”

You’re originally from Chicago, but you’re living right now in the Southwest. Has the Southwest inspired your writings? I see a lot of pictures in your social media of the Southwest. It’s just beautiful. It does, it does. I live in the desert. I have a very rustic home and existence. I live in a landlocked area. I miss the seashore or even Lake Michigan in Chicago. Cactus can bloom, but I can’t have a garden. It takes a way of learning to adapt to that environment. Rattlesnakes are out; I saw one the other day right in front of me, and I thought, OK, now I have to be careful everywhere I go. There is a way to live in the desert, a mutual cohabiting way of respecting that is comparable to, but very different from, learning to live in an urban environment. Yes, the desert inspires me, but I also get inspired everywhere I go by watching and seeing how people adapt to their environment and how they survive and how they find joy in certain things, and also how they meet challenges. So where I live, sometimes I don’t see a human being for days—I really am out in the middle of nowhere—and then I go to an airport and I fly to a city and I’m overwhelmed by all these lives and the concrete and the asphalt and everything else. But that inspires me in a different way because it’s all part of the human experience, so I think I could write just about anywhere, really. Two novels directly inspired by living in New Mexico are, So Far From God and The Guardians. My book of short stories, Loverboys, includes some Southwestbased settings. My novel, Give It To Me, is based in part in contemporary Albuquerque.

I wanted to talk a little bit about your last published novel, Give It To Me. How is it different from your previous work?

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I don’t think it differs so much because, when I started to write, the thing that was missing was brown women, U.S. brown women who are strong women, who are beautiful, or at least they live their lives as if they are beautiful, at least in their lives, which is how women of color do live. If we thought that everyone had to be tall, skinny, blonde, svelte, you know, we’d all have gone and shot ourselves at birth or something, but we are obviously affirmed and loved in our communities. So my new character, Palma, goes around like that, pretty much, God only knows where she gets it from, because like my other characters, she’s had all the challenges, like Mexican people will have in this country right now, but she deals with them and she keeps moving forward. As I was finishing the updated edition of Massacre of the Dreamers and the dense sobriety of those facts pushed me over the edge, I got very punchy and giddy and had to have some levity in my life, so I just was entertaining myself when I was writing Give It to Me, and I hope it is entertaining for the reader.

Definitely. So, Palma Piedras lives in the fringe of her Latino culture when she leaves home and works her way through college while at the same time she is also perceived as an outsider to U.S. mainstream society.

So where I live sometimes I don’t see a human being for days—I really am out in the middle of nowhere—and then I go to an airport and I fly to a city and I’m overwhelmed by all these lives and the concrete and the asphalt and everything else. But that inspires me in a different way because it’s all part of the human experience, so I think I could write just about anywhere, really.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N She reminds a little bit of 16th century Spanish pícaras, hybrid, living in the edges of society, beautiful and alluring, but at the same time dangerous to the status quo. Do you see Palma as a modern day pícara?

any better to say, that’s exactly how it happened. What makes it better is how you tell the story. So, yes, there’s parts of Palma that is definitely me. And I’ve had my vengeance in fiction. The Mixquiahuala Letters—people always ask me how much of that was autobiographical, and I always say, forty percent was absolutely autobiographical; it’s up to you to decide which of the forty percent.

Yes, she is definitely a pícara. Definitivamente es pícara. She is an unreliable narrator and anybody that doesn’t see that… A major literary reviewer, a white American person, You have travelled decided that it was a terextensively, have parrible novel, wasn’t funny, When I started to write Give ticipated in international a total killjoy. Didn’t get conferences, been a It To Me, I realized that the that she knows she is an guest speaker in several thing that was missing was unreliable narrator. You countries. What are the have to know that from brown women, U.S. brown perceptions of Latino the beginning, and she literature outside of the women who are strong women, knows that—that’s how U.S.? Do you think the who are beautiful, or at least she survives. Definitivaperceptions outside are mente es pícara, eso me they live their lives as if they different from what they encantó de ella. And you are inside? are beautiful, at least in their have to get the fact that lives, which is how women of That depends on the she is always going to do what she wants to do, color do live. If we thought that country. We’ll separate Chicano literature when how she wants to do it, everyone had to be tall, skinny, we say Latino, because it and even if she pays the blonde, svelte, you know, we’d was separated when I was price for it, she’ll keep outside of the country. doing it. Doing something all have gone and shot ourselves Europe began to look at it. else that you’ll be saying, at birth or something, but we Mostly Chicano literature don’t, but there she walks are obviously affirmed and has been studied and right into it. One of the read in academia; it guides for me when I was loved in our communities. wasn’t something that working on it—just in became known so much case some people think in the paperback magazine section in the grocery it’s autobiographical— was, “What would you stores or at train stations. And it was in academia do in this situation, Ana?” And then whatever I in Europe in the 80s when they began to study would think, I would have her do the opposite. Chicanos. Before they studied Chicanos, they Do you get that a lot, that people think that studied African Americans as a minority, Native your characters are autobiographical? Americans and Puerto Ricans, and so then, they are like, who are these Chicanos from the Yes, yes, of course, and the truth of the matter is Southwest? Chicanas? Who are these women? that there is a lot of it that’s autobiographical, but I would also say that Chicanas took our we embellish and we exaggerate and we push literature to Mexico. Mexico came in after Europe, the envelope and make it entertaining or more because of this whole conflicted history of entertaining. Or we mix it up and that’s part of U.S. and Mexican relations. And it was through the fiction process, so it doesn’t make the story Mexican feministas, like Elena Poniatowska,

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whom I met at that time, who was one of the great supporters of Chicana writing. Professors began to introduce this literature to Mexico. They were very fascinated by our bilingualism, by being an American minority in the U.S.

Do you relate more to Latin American writers or to U.S. writers? As a young woman I definitely related to Latin American writers for a lot of reasons—the Catholicism, the way of seeing the world, you know. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude when I was nineteen, and García Márquez said that it was magical realism that came from a lot of the dichos, and the dichos go back to Cervantes. I was playing with the culture in northern New Mexico that is very proud of their Spanish legacy, so I gravitated toward the Catholicism and the Spanish, even though I write in English, having been a Spanish speaker all my life. I know that my syntax is off, is really off; I make it work in my literature because my characters are Latino, so there’s a lot of reasons why I still associate with it. As time went on I began to read many other works and other literatures. A memoir that I have just read again this year, it’s maybe the third time, is by the Irish writer Naula O’Faolain. She wrote a memoir called Are You Somebody? I was going to start writing personal essays, and I went back to it. Writing from the perspective of an Irish woman

from a colonized country, under the shadow of Britain, she was older than myself and came of age precisely during the rise of the white feminist movement, as a literature major, and in terms of her sexuality and talking about herself in a man’s world. There were many parallels for me. That’s why I went back to not necessarily reading Isabel Allende; I felt I had more in common with O’Faolain. Sometimes I feel I have more in common with middle-eastern women writers than American writers or American minority writers. It’s just my own personal sensibility, I think, too.

Are you working on anything new right now? Well, of course, always, sí. I have my first collection of personal essays being released by the Feminist Press in late spring 2016. Its called Black Dove: Essays on Mamá, Mi’jo and Me. I have an essay in it that I wrote twenty years ago that was published a few times, called “My Mother’s Mexico,” which was a memoir about my mother’s Mexico, my mother growing up in Mexico City. I always wanted to call the collection My Mother’s Mexico, but now that my son is an adult and I have a granddaughter, I see the material has developed less about being a daughter. It is now about my reflections from the perspective of a mother and una mamá grande.

I really look forward to it. Thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Electra Gamón Fielding is an assistant professor of Spanish at Weber State University. She has presented various papers at national and international conferences on early modern literary and cultural representations of Muslim and Jewish women in female picaresque novels, as well as on studies framed within postcolonial theory.

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P O E T R Y

Ana Castiilo

Algo De Ti

Something About You

Algo de ti

Something about you

me recuerda a casa;

reminds me of home;

no la de hoy,

not today’s,

de otros tiempos—

but of other times—

Las tortillas de la abuela

Grandma’s tortillas

sobre su comal ardiente;

on her hot comal;

el perfume de la buganvilla

the perfume of the bougainvillea

en el jardín

in the garden

Tus pestañas estrelladas—

Your starry eyelashes—

de niñez

of childhood

como las estrellas mismas

like the very same stars

que contemplaba yo, me parece

that I gazed at, it seems

hace siglos ya.

centuries ago.

Algo de ti

Something about you

me llama en la noche

calls me in the night

cuando te estrechas

when you embrace yourself

en tu cama como te imagino

in your bed as I imagine

que lo haces, o en el pleno sol del día.

you do, or in full sunlight.

No eres mujer para esconder.

You are not a woman to hide,

Los hombres suspiran cuando pasas;

Men sigh when you walk by;

las mujeres te dan un—Uf. Mírala.

Women give you a — Ugh. Look at her.

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P O E T R Y Eres un parasol blanco con encajes y mo帽os cursis,

You are a white parasol with laces and prissy chignons,

mujer de medias rotas en el atardecer.

a woman of broken hosiery at dusk.

Eres

You are

lo que yo quiero que seas

what I want you to be

hasta el momento que llegas a mi puerta

until the moment when you arrive at my door

y yo me convierto en tuya.

and I become yours.

Translation by Electra Gam贸n Fielding

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Jan Hamer

A Life Engaged— A Conversation with Terry Tempest Williams


PRELUDE Terry Tempest Williams is a Utah native, and a woman of many facets: she is a naturalist; an activist deeply concerned with issues of the environment, nuclear testing, the land; and is perhaps best known for her lyrical, poetic, deeply personal writing on topics ranging from her love of the natural world to genocide in Rwanda. One of her best-loved books is Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, which treats in interwoven chapters both the death of her mother from ovarian cancer (a probable result of the testing of atomic weapons in the Nevada desert in the ‘50s) and the effects of the rising of the Great Salt Lake in the early ‘80s. In her latest book, she returns to her mother with the elegiac When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, in which a central theme is her mother’s journals and how they spoke to the question of a woman’s voice and her place in the world. Terry is also the author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World, where she finds connection among three seemingly unrelated chapters in her life: travelling to Ravenna, Italy, to pursue mosaic art; working in a field study of prairie dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park; and assisting in the creation of a genocide memorial in Rugerero, Rwanda. In her book Leap, Terry turns her gaze to the Hieronymus Bosch painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” particularly the panel depicting Hell, and writes of her abiding connection to this single painting. And in The Open Space of Democracy, she gives the reader a compact “operator’s manual” for political activism. Her wide-ranging body of work includes seven books of creative nonfiction, three books of poetry, and four essay collections. Most recently, she

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and her husband, Brooke Williams, have rediscovered and engineered the reissue of a nineteenth-century classic reflection on the natural world: The Story of My Heart, by Richard Jefferies, now featuring an introduction by Terry and chapters of response to the text by Brooke. Our conversation took place in early April of 2015, when Terry was in Ogden, Utah, as a featured guest author at Weber State University’s 30th annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference (NULC). She spoke informally with students and community members in the morning before our conversation, and discussed, among other things, her work in progress: The Hour of Land, a look at several of America’s national parks. She also gave a more formal reading commemorating NULC’s 30th anniversary on the last evening of the conference. Terry currently teaches at the University of Utah and at Dartmouth College. She and Brooke reside in Castle Valley, Utah, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N CONVERSATION I recently read When Women Were Birds and fell in love with it. It’s the one I told all my friends “this is what you have to buy if you don’t buy anything else.” It’s such a beautiful book, but then to read it and then go back and read Refuge, and to read them side by side, you see connections. You say in Refuge, “I am a woman with wings”—but the underlying premise of When Women Were Birds would have to be your mother’s journals, and your weaving that through... Yes.

This is from Refuge—at the end of the “Snowy Plover” chapter, you quote your grandmother Mimi: “How do you place a value on inspiration? How do you quantify the wildness of birds, when for the most part, they lead secret and anonymous lives?” Of course there is no answer to what your mother was thinking, but I thought of your mother, and mine—women who led secret and anonymous lives in some ways. My mother died about a year after yours, and I couldn’t read Refuge for a while. And then when I re-read it recently, I saw many connections, repetitions of phrases in When Women Were Birds that I wouldn’t have noticed reading them years apart. I am sure there must be so many parallels and foreshadowing—I can’t read Refuge. It’s just too sad to me, you know? But I should. It’s going be 25 years next year since it came out, which I can’t believe. But I kept that story inside for a long time.

Part of what I was looking for in rereading Refuge was to see if there was a reference, even a line, about her journals, and there isn’t.

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No, there isn’t. Because it was just so devastating. In the first part of Refuge, I talk about my own journals and when I was writing, there was that in my mind, of my mother’s journals, but that is the backstory that no one knows. When I read Refuge, if I go back and read part of it, say to a class, I don’t see what’s there, I see what isn’t— what I didn’t say. Because at that point I had to negotiate with family, and all those things, about what I would write. I put it out of my mind—my mother’s journals....

You talk in your books about when you were young and your father would read to you. He read adventure stories, and of course your three brothers would like those, and then your speech therapist—you read poetry with her—and your grandmother Mimi loved the Peterson guides, but what did you find on your own, what literature was first important just to you? Maybe set you on path to what you’re doing now? What a good question. I remember my favorite Christmas ever: my parents gave me a black rocking chair, filled with books. And I remember The Yearling; a book called Snow Language, about kids that escaped the Germans during World War II, and they had bricks of gold hidden in their sleds; certainly, Where the Red Fern Grows, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins—all of the classics of that era—and a lot of them were about girls in relationship to nature. There was also a book called Scarface. It was the biography of a grizzly that my father read to us. I loved Nancy Drew—again, it was the role model of a woman who could do something, who could figure out mysteries. And I think, early on, the world was mysterious to me. In my current book The Hour of Land, in the opening section I talk about being

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Yes, the nature of wilderness is that it’s a young girl, in primary class. We walked not where people are. up to Timpanogos Cave, and I was so enthralled that inside this enormous, imAnd I think in every one of my pieces there mense mountain that we had been told was is that story, whether it was Hieronymus a sleeping maiden, that you walk inside Bosch and the panel of Hell, or Refuge and and it is completely dark, no light seeps in. death, a Rwandan genocide—you know, Then they turn on the lights and there were there are these shadow places, but to me stalagmites and stalactites, and this huge if we can walk through them with our eyes Timpanogos heart, and it was the most wide open, then I think there is a deepenmysterious place I’d ever been. So much so ing and a real joy, with depth that informs that I got left behind, us. So I guess what with a friend of mine— this all means is that we were still talking the most important I remember my favorite Christmas about the heart and text for me is the all of a sudden, the ever: my parents gave me a black land itself, and the lights go off, the door rocking chair, filled with books. natural histories that slams, and we are in in some way inform And I remember The Yearling; utter, utter darkness. my own. a book called Snow Language, I remember Ohhh, were you terabout kids that escaped the writing a biography rified or thrilled? of books and there Germans during World War Yes and no. Terrified are a lot—Kristin II, and they had bricks of gold because there were a Lavransdatter, by lot of kids—we knew hidden in their sleds; certainly, Sigrid Undset—she that they would count, won the Nobel Prize Where the Red Fern Grows, but we didn’t know in 1928. I love that Julie of the Wolves, Island how long we’d be generational story of there. It was cold. It of the Blue Dolphins—all of a free-spirited womwas really scary, and an in Norway; I loved the classics of that era—and a I just remember we Virginia Woolf—The said a prayer and then lot of them were about girls in Waves, Orlando— we just listened, and relationship to nature. the whole notion of it was sort of these androgyny; certainly drips, drips, drips and Kafka’s Metamorthe magic of being phosis. I remember inside a mountain that had an enormous reading The Outsiders in junior high and impact on me, in ways I can’t even know. To that was important. Again, outsiders—I see that there was an interiority to things felt “other” even though I was traditional that was at first terrifying, but once you early on. I think literature reminds us surrendered to it, it was life-enhancing. what we are connected to. Walden in high Then the door opened and the lights went school, John Hersey without even knowing on and we were found, and I think that why—Hiroshima—and then finding myself experience has really been a metaphor that in Japan at Hiroshima on the 50th anniI had forgotten, that wildness is a place versary. I was with a Thoreauvian scholar, where you’re found, but it’s not without its and I suddenly remembered when I was own terror. 15—to read John Hersey on one hand and

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Walden on the other—they came together in a form of prayer, to actually witness that. So I think literature, whether it’s field guides, whether it’s native texts, poetry, I think it’s about being in conversation.

Your books feel very much like you’re in conversation with the reader. I wasn’t nervous about meeting you because I felt like I knew you. You didn’t know me, but it still feels like a conversation. The notes that I make in books are usually a conversation back to the author… Exactly.

So when I look at a book that was my late husband’s and I see his writing, his notes, there is a connection there too. I finally last summer did purge some of his book collection because I needed space—I gave over 500 books to Weber State, but there are still a lot on my shelves with those notes.

I do that all the time.

I think this is something I’ve never really thought about, but I think that books, for both a reader and a writer, are a conversation, and I don’t know anything more satisfying than to be able to put in the margin, “Yes! Exactly! Thank you!,” or a question mark.

When we think of books—I love that you shared with me about your husband—when we moved from Salt Lake City down to Castle Valley, we were downsizing. There were hardly any bookshelves and we had thousands, so we gave them all to the Moab Public Library. But about six months later I got a phone call from the librarian and she said, “Terry, I’m a bit embarrassed, but we catalogued all the books and they’re on the shelves, but in the process, well... we’ve got two boxes of memorabilia that you may want to have.” And there were letters, photographs, notes, maps, and I realized that I had used the books as a fil-

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ing cabinet, as a scrapbook. I mean, there were letters I hope no one read, locks of hair, flowers, everything, and I realized that my life is in my books, because that’s my community. Especially when I lived in a community where I didn’t feel safe to speak what I really thought, with the exception of my mother and grandmother. I think this is something, Jan, I’ve never really thought about, but I think that books, for both a reader and a writer, are a conversation, and I don’t know anything more satisfying than to be able to put in the margin, “Yes! Exactly! Thank you!,” or a question mark.

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I just think it’s so thrilling because books are alive, they’re dynamic. My grandmother left us her library, and she read with a red pen, so I feel like I am still in conversation with her. I think to be able to cry over a book is just the ultimate. Not film, not theater, just in the privacy of you and the page and the word. I find that miraculous.

I call it leaking—leaking all your emotion out through your eyes. Not sobbing, just leaking. Literature can do that, and of course Refuge did that for me, but for a different reason—because it’s very sad, and very real, but also you write it in such a beautiful way... I just love when you’re moved, especially now, to really be moved. We have not honored emotion enough, and I think we need to go back to that register of emotion.

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You also write about music, and the music you introduced us to today at your talk... [Max Richter’s recomposed “Four Seasons”] . . .

(Laughter)

I love music and I love art, and they are extreme sources of inspiration for me. When I write, I am always writing beneath the music that’s playing. And usually, with every book I’ve written, there’s one soundtrack. This one, the book on national parks, it’s the Richter “Four Seasons”; I’ve played it everywhere I’ve written for this book. With When Women Were Birds, strangely enough, it was this incredible countertenor, Phillipe Jaroussky; with Leap, it was Bach’s double violin concerto; there’s a piece with Desert Quartet—I remember, it was “Eight String Religion” by David Darling, the cellist—so music just drops me down into a deeper place.

I think it’s an obsession…

Yeah, it’s kind of like going into a meditative state, just to say, “close this off— put on this music.” That makes perfect sense. That’s right. In terms of art, it’s the image, it’s the visual, it’s what I’m so envious of with both art and music, because they don’t rely on words. As I said today, I’m so aware of how words fail, how we never get it right. But I feel like with music, you feel it, and with art, you sense it, and that’s what I would hope for in my own work, that there is a physicality of response.

I think it’s very much there—your writing is so lyrical and poetic, and then sometimes it just slaps you. Speaking of lyrical and poetic, let’s go back to Refuge for a bit. When you were ten years old, you wrote in your notebook on a birding trip with your grandmother Mimi: “100 white-faced, glossy ibises, companions of the gods”—now tell me that’s not poetic…

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But it is, it’s lovely—I mean, for a tenyear-old?

Ok, call it an obsession, but I think it’s incredible. It’s telling me, right there, that this woman—she may not end up being a writer but she can write, she can really put it down. Talking about your writing style—a friend who was sitting next to me at your talk this morning was struck by your telling of writing in your journals while in the field. She was wondering if you ever thought about using a voice recorder? I can’t. And it’s not satisfying. What happens is, I stop listening. For me, I did a lot of work on the Navajo reservation and I knew that recording a speech or conversation would have been an act of disrespect to them and their belief system, and so it taught me how to listen deeply, and also to write unobtrusively. I meant what I said: I think taking notes and writing in a journal is a practice, but I think more than anything, what is called for is that kind of deep listening, where you’re listening, but you are also listening to what is not being said. I love Robert Bringhurst, in his book The Tree of Meaning, where he talks about a multivoiced, polysymphonic universe, and I feel like that’s what we are in the middle of. How do we hear these different tenors, these different notes, different voices all at once?

There are so many distractions. You also teach, so I’m sure you see it with your students too—how can they be doing so many things at once and get anything to come in clearly? I had a conversation today with my editor and I just listened because it’s a conversation I want to have, and she said, “Terry,

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C O N V E R S A T I O N You talk about writing as weaving, you’ve got to cut this book by half because and the invisible strands that bind us no one is going to read it,” and I thought, together. I think you connect this mainly okay, so who are we writing for? Are we to women, and you write of your mother writing for a distracted audience that reads and quilting, how she said it was “makin sound bites, or do we write from the ing do with the pieces that were left fullness of our inquiry? And for me, it has for us.” That really hit me—we’re not to be out of the fullness of our inquiry. I’ve talking about someone who was poor, but never written thinking of what would sell rather someone who was dismissed, by or who would read it. That has not been my the culture, by the authority figures in concern; I’ve never been concerned about, her life. And the idea ‘does this book sell.’ of mosaic, too, these To me, you’re writing broken pieces—even to the future and you I did a lot of work on the though they are dewrite from that place of Navajo reservation and I liberately broken—we deep questions, and that knew that recording a speech know you’re not really doesn’t come quickly. Perhaps you can’t write for today’s distracted audience, but the book is there when the person is ready for it.

It’s also about revision. I was really aware that in the chapter on Grand Teton [National Park], it’s really angry: it’s talking about all the wealth, in this contemporary moment, and I realize all that’s going to have to go, for the most part, because ten or twenty years from now that’s not going to be relevant. So you think, ‘What’s the real story of Grand Teton—is it about wealth? Is it about complexity, is it about politics?’ Partially, maybe that’s a sidebar or an undertone, but what it’s really about is legacy and family and what endures. So I think it’s ‘how do we take a step back and ask what is the weather system of this particular work,’ and that is the hardest part. Once you figure out the weather system, then I think you can start to hone in on the essence of the words and language.

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making mosaics from random pieces of broken glass you found on the street, but it’s still broken pieces, and the broken world. Of all your work, I think Finding Beauty in a Broken World is the most unusual in that I don’t think very many people would find a connection between the three things you wrote about: learning to do mosaics, which was fascinating, and getting to live in Italy—one of the high points of Western civilization; then going to Bryce Canyon and doing the fieldwork of studying prairie dogs; and then the harrowing story of going to Rwanda and everything that came out of that. How did you come up with the framework to connect all that? Was it always in your mind, or did it come much later?

or conversation would have been an act of disrespect to them and their belief system, and so it taught me how to listen deeply, and also to write unobtrusively. I meant what I said: I think taking notes and writing in a journal is a practice, but I think more than anything, what is called for is that kind of deep listening, where you’re listening, but you are also listening to what is not being said.

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I thought I was writing a book about prairie dogs, and then—this is why I love creative nonfiction—it just came out of the

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truth of my life. I thought I was writing on prairie dogs, a biography, if you will, and then Sept. 11 happened. I was right across from the White House; I watched the whole thing unfold; I felt it in my body. If I’d been here, I would have been a million miles away. I saw how quickly the rhetoric shifted, right while I was there. I was there for seven days, since I couldn’t fly out, and I was on book tour so I was every night watching what was progressing. And I remember the very day when Sen. Murkowski from Alaska said, “It’s not if we are going to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it will be when,” and I thought ‘Bam! Right there, there are many forms of terrorism, and environmental degradation is one of them.’ And I made a choice not to go home, to stay on book tour, and speak out. And that was really, really scary, and I ended up on a no-fly list. We were audited, and I think the most terrifying thing, Jan, was that my rhetoric had become as brittle as that of those I was voicing against. And then I went to Maine—it was summer—and I went down to the water and said prayers. I said, “Give me one wild word.” I’d lost touch with my poetry and my own poetic sense, and that’s when, literally, I just waited until a word came into my mind, and the word that came was mosaic. And I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to have to break my mother’s plates

and make that’—and then I started doing research and realized it’s not just a craft, it’s an art form, so I made a vow and I literally went to Ravenna, which is the heart of the Byzantine mosaic era. And when I came home, I remember Brooke and I were in the car, we were driving through Cisco desert—we’ve done that a thousand times on the way home to Castle Valley—and on the horizon I saw one vertical tessera, and it was a prairie dog—and that’s one of the rules of mosaic: if you want to create a horizontal line, you place a tessera vertically. So all of a sudden, I saw it—here we have another mosaic, an ecological mosaic, and it is broken. And then that’s where I saw the prairie dogs, and then my brother passed—he died of lymphoma—and it was another shattering, a brokenness. We had done a lot of work together with prairie dogs, back-and-forth conversations, and then that’s when Lily Yeh came. I had gone to see her as a mosaicist, and when she came to Salt Lake City and asked, “Will you go with me to Rwanda?,” I said no, I’ve had enough death. She never took her eyes off me, and I realized on some fundamental level if I didn’t go I would be denying my own spiritual path, and that proved to be true, truer than I could ever know, because that’s where I met Louis and became a mother. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without him, without that experience, what’s it’s been for Brooke and me, what’s it’s been as a family. So you ask, did I see it—the answer is no.

I didn’t think that your answer would be yes....

Michael Wutz

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If you had told me that from one word, mosaic, that I would find myself setting the table for a young man from Rwanda, no, but to me, that’s what writing is. I think the writing life is a life engaged. And with my books, they don’t fit any category; I never know where I’m going. I think I’m going

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C O N V E R S A T I O N one direction, and it always turns into something else. They are always ten times harder than I ever imagined, and I think there has to be something so deep that’s propelling you, or you would never do it.

Well, your life is very much a life engaged. None of it seems likely. I was just a nonconfrontational person growing up . . .

You got over that... Well, you meet death and suddenly you start thinking about issues of justice and morality and ethics, and I think whatever I’ve written, it’s been out of love.

I am awed by your engagement in so many things, whether it’s wilderness or nuclear testing, or observing the drilling in the ANWR or the BP oil spill—and of course, where you are living. In The Open Space of Democracy, you write about the people in your little community saying, ‘Wait a minute, we may not be a community in every sense, we may not even see each other often, but we have this one thing is common—we live here, we love where we live, and we do not want it developed.’ People say all politics are local, but that’s not really true when it comes to things like drilling in ANWR. But it worked in your community. Yes.

And the nuclear testing—I was struck by your story of going with your uncle [a former Republican Utah State Senator] to a protest, and what he said—that he had chosen to ignore the facts about fallout, but he wants to leave his granddaughter a more peaceful world. He said, “It was my generation that started the nuclear madness, so maybe it’s up to

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us to stop it.” I thought about that in connection to what we are hearing all the time, that our children’s generation will be the first not to ‘do better than their parents,’ and I thought to myself, ‘what’s wrong with that?’ They don’t need to do ‘better’ than we did, because we are the ones who, with our need to take over everything, to get every drop of oil out of the earth, to have every gadget known to man—we have not left the planet in very good shape. So I thought maybe we should be the generation to fix that, too, not that we have all the fixes. But it seems like the same kind of response—it’s not such a bad thing that our children are not going to be able to over-consume, the way we have. I don’t think it’s made us any happier. You know, I love the students right now; teaching is really, really important to me. Again, I think the best teaching is about listening, creating an atmosphere where students can hear themselves, and empower themselves. My graduate students in environmental humanities are

I think the writing life is a life engaged. And with my books, they don’t fit any category; I never know where I’m going. I think I’m going one direction, and it always turns into something else. They are always ten times harder than I ever imagined, and I think there has to be something so deep that’s propelling you, or you would never do it.

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pragmatic visionaries. They know what’s required, they know what hasn’t worked, and yet they see these connections in very real ways, whether it’s growing their own food, or choosing a life of activism as their livelihood. I so respect them, and I think their priorities are very powerful.

I do, too, and I see in a lot of the young people I know a kind of communal living that isn’t like what we envisioned back in the day—I’m a little bit older than you, and I was of the back-to-the-land age. Many of the young people today have their separate living spaces but they live communally in other ways—they share what they have, they share their knowledge, their food, the one lawnmower they will pass around the neighborhood. What’s wrong with that? It sounds beautiful. And I think we are going to look back on this time as one of terrible extravagance, and I think it will become more local, more regional, and boundaries will become less political and more ecological, and I think we are starting to move in that direction, with that kind of awareness.

Let’s talk some more about your journals—you said said this morning that today you work from your journals to get to the polished prose the reader sees. A case in point is “The Gulf Between Us” [an article that appeared in Orion Magazine, about the BP oil spill]—all journals, notes, then I came home and thought, ‘what’s the narrative, what do I need to research more fully.’ I try to go everywhere I go with some semblance of where I am, but you can’t really know until you get there.

And of course, I think of your mother’s journals—how our mothers speak to us through silence, and what they leave out is what is left for us to figure out on our

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own. Your mother’s blank journals are clearly a silence, and her very pointed ‘I want you to have these’ is very different from just leaving you to find them on the shelf and thinking, ‘Oh, these are lovely—does anyone want them? Okay, I’ll take them’—which could have been the outcome. The silences that quiet, introspective women are prone to—I think they trust us in a way, our mothers do, to try to figure out how to fill in... Do you?

I do. I don’t know, but that’s my feeling. The idea of ‘mother’ is huge in your work, the idea of the land, of course, and the idea that we musn’t compromise what we really believe in—if we have a passion, those are the things we don’t compromise. The idea that we mustn’t compromise what we really believe in is huge in your work. If we have a passion, those are the things we don’t compromise. And yet most of us find it really difficult to live our lives without those kind of compromises. Is that something you struggle with? I do, every day. I think we are all complicit in the world we’ve created, and wrought with hypocrisy. No, I think it’s the most difficult part of being alive, to figure out ‘what can I do, what am I doing, how do I participate, what do I say no to, what do I say yes to’—I think that is the struggle.

Yes—I guess that’s a silly question in a way. No, it’s not a silly question because I think it’s the one that is most germane to where we are now. And when you talk about compromising, I mean being alive we compromise every day, but I think what’s more to the point is, ‘how do we not compromise our core values?’ We have to listen to each other. It’s not either/or, and I think it’s not so much about compro-

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C O N V E R S A T I O N mise as empathizing with what the other person is thinking, saying—trying to find that kind of compassion to understand why people do what they do, and not be cynical, and to still find our humanity. To me, that’s the real challenge. And as a writer, the first drafts may be full of anger, may be snarky, may be superficial, but in the end it’s ‘where’s the direct line, where’s the lifeline to our humanity.’

Yes, and that’s something you achieve better than anyone I can think of, that deep, deep humanity. And that’s a core value of mine. What I see is that we are all human, and whatever one person is capable of doing, I’m capable of doing as well. And that was the great gift of Rwanda—it wasn’t, ‘how could these people do that?’ It was, ‘Oh my god, I’m capable of that too.’ I love fetishes, and there is always a lifeline in each one, to its heart, and that’s really what I am most interested in: what’s the lifeline? What’s going to get us to that place of blood? That’s vital.

I heard a former commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation [Daniel Beard] on Radio West this week, and he is advocating not only getting rid of BuRec but tearing down the Glen Canyon Dam. That dam to me is a symbol of what I would call ‘the great compromise’— On so many levels. . .

Yes, and to realize that it’s not just a bunch of raggedy environmenalists, monkey-wrenchers, who think that we should tear it down, but when someone who knows a great deal more about water in the West than I do is saying the same thing, that’s powerful. I teach a lot of undergraduates, and you do too. They love the outdoors, but they love the outdoors that they can get to with their ATVs or their snowmobiles, and they consider going to Lake

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Powell to be the ultimate outdoor vacation. And they are not wrong, but that’s not something that you or I might call an experience of nature. It’s certainly not a wild experience. But you know, I have to say, my family went to Lake Powell every year. Our boat sank there. And I think most of my land ethic came from those years at Lake Powell, because we watched it flood, and I watched what happened, and it broke my heart, but most of what I know in the desert was learned there, because you felt the heat sink into your bones, you saw those red rocks, you saw that reflective light, you saw the feet of Rainbow Bridge, and then you saw the swirling oil beneath it, so you can’t . . . My family have every bit as much love for that land, in a different way, as I do.

They do, the love is genuine. But it’s problematic when we are dealing with resources that can be damaged… It’s all problematic. When I think of the planes I am on—I asked myself the other day, could I give up flying on planes? What would my life look like? And is that where my values are? I think we are all asking those really tough questions. How would I make a living? I couldn’t teach at Dartmouth. And what about the people that I love so much, that I have to see every year. So I think we are all problematic by the nature of our species, and it’s really, really hard, and the older I get, the less I know and the less judgment I hold. I think everyone is just trying to do the best that they can with how hard life can be, and I think that’s why stories are so powerful, because they do break out hearts and they do make us laugh and they do cut through the malaise and the numbing that I think our society is so good at doing. And I don’t worry about ‘the book’—I think people will always read.

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No, I don’t worry about the books. I think they’ll always be there, and if they read ‘em on a Kindle, well, it saves paper and that’s okay too. So I don’t know, we’ve never been here before in terms of ‘we don’t know what our future is going to be,’ and maybe we never have, but we really don’t. I just finished this book called the Collapse of Western Civilization —dreadful title—but it’s a brilliant book by Naomi Oreskes...

She’s the one who wrote Merchants of Doubt? Yes, and it’s science-based fiction, written from the perspective of 2093 from a Chinese historian’s point of view, and he looks back over time, specifically at us, our time, and says, ‘who were these people? They knew exactly what was going to happen and they knew what was happening when they were in the middle of it,’ and yet that knowledge did not transfer to power, and why? You think about institutions of power, people in power—who benefits? I think that there’s so much at stake in maintaining the status quo that we are not being given the options, as a populace; we don’t feel that our voice matters, when I think in fact it really does. And I think we’re in this incredible time of transition that is incredibly creative. I think conversation is key. I think the conversations we’re having about Ferguson, about climate change, about divestment, about food security, all of these things I think are so key, and I keep thinking, ‘if we can find that empathy within ourselves, then maybe we can shift.’ And that’s the question I keep asking myself now: ‘what are the moments of change? What were the moments where I was going one direction and I truly turned right or turned left.’ I don’t think that they were moments without pain; I don’t think they were moments

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without resistance, and then I think, wow, big change: I now love Brussels sprouts! How did that happen? I used to hate them.

Roasting them! That’s how my kids came to love them. And that’s it. Was it a different recipe, was it an acquired taste, did it belong to a particular meal with a particular person? But I am thinking about those moments of change, and I think that’s a really important question to ask ourselves, and how serious are we?

Yes, we are definitely on the brink of so many changes. Radio West this morning was about water…. That the Great Salt Lake is at an historic low?

Yes, and the guest was talking about, let’s call them the robber barons of water. He was saying there is water, but it’s the uses, the agriculture, the growing alfalfa and hay for the cows that we insist on keeping… The privatization of water is really terrifying. And there have been some exciting law cases. We are waiting for a climate change law, and no judge is taking it on. There have been several cases where that could have come forward. I think the judges don’t want to take that on, because it would be a precedent, and there are the women at the University of Oregon law school who are looking at the future, children suing us now, and governments, for not securing their future. So I think everything is shifting, and it’s going to have to if we are going to survive.

I agree with that, and I think that people who want to hang on to the way it always was are simply going to have to give that up.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N And with indigenous people, I’ve seen in Utah for the first time in my lifetime—and I’ve been working on these issues for 30 years—that native voices are finally being privileged. The proposal on the expansion of Canyonlands led by the Diné—the Navajo Nation—and the Pueblo people who are signing on to that, and the Hopi. I think we are seeing the effect of the Oglala Sioux saying no to the XL pipeline because of the aquifer, what First Nations are doing, the Cree up in Alberta with tar sands—I think we are seeing native wisdom rise forward as well.

because you don’t represent special interests. You’re not a rich person, you’re not doing this to protect . . . well, you are doing it to protect something that you love—the idea that we can have wilderness, that we can have peace.

I will never forget a conversation I had with former Utah Congressman Jim Hansen. I met with him when the Wilderness bill was on the floor, 1995, and it was just the two of us and he shut the door and he said, “Who’s paying you?,” and I said, “Excuse me?,” and he repeated, “Who’s paying you?,” And when I said “no one,” he said, “Oh, come Yes, a lot of voices are coming together on, who’s paying you . . . .” He couldn’t in ways that they haven’t before, because believe I was doing this without being paid. it’s becoming more desperate that they It reminded me of Varunga, the film about do so. Fracking—I think it’s a big thing Varunga National around where you Park in the Congo, live, near the Uinta Basin. We’re animals and we forget that and where there are all these incredible we demean it, when in fact it’s the And just outside rangers who are givCanyonlands. It’s most beautiful thing we have going ing their lives for the unbelievable, and gorillas. There have for us. Because it is in our nature to I think the young been 164 murdered, survive, and I would go even further people in Moab and this oil company turned the electo say that it is in our nature to love. from England that tions—it was a mawas just saying, jority pro-develop“we know there’s ment and pro-oil-and-gas, and now it is oil in the national park because these not. Democracy demands participation people would not be dying for a bunch of and engagement. I am seeing a lot of it. monkeys.” So they are now going in, with no knowledge of whether there’s oil or not, I saw a lot of excitement when Obama only because they think that if it’s being was first running, especially among so fiercely protected that there must be young people, but he has been a huge something there. And this is where you just disappointment on environmental issues. think, ‘where’s the lifeline, where’s the And when he ran again, with those same heart line, where is that essence of a beatyoung people, there was a lot of, ‘oh, it’s ing morality.’ That it’s not about money.

just business as usual.’ There wasn’t a lot of the same enthusiasm. Young people are in the right place on a lot of things, but they’re still not convinced that they really have a voice at that table, because they are young and they are poor. That’s why your voice is so important to thoughtful people,

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That’s horrifying. Isn’t it? And that’s what I think is the most frightening of all. I met a woman who— they call her the queen of the pipeline in Russia—and it’s all about money, it’s

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only about money. And yet, at the end of our conversation, I said, “You need to know, I’m an environmental writer and you should not tell me things because I cannot be trusted.” And she told me more. Because I think the bottom line was, she was not happy; she knows that what she is doing is harming people, and she knows that it’s not just about money, but that’s the seduction, that’s where the power is, and it’s killing us.

Yeah, I think you’re right. Thank you so much for being so open and so gracious with your time... No, thank you! I’ve loved having this conversation, and I think the greatest measure for me is what gives me energy and what takes it away. And what gives me energy is the land, and what gives me energy is conversation and that kind of deep listening where you go into the well of things. And what takes my energy is when people aren’t telling the truth; what takes my

energy is when it’s all technological, electronic, political, all up in the mind rather than in the body. I realize more and more that my body doesn’t lie and almost instantly I can tell where I am safe and where I’m not, and what’s healthy and what isn’t.

That’s a really good instinct to have— to know how to protect yourself. Absolutely: we’re animals and we forget that and we demean it, when in fact it’s the most beautiful thing we have going for us. Because it is in our nature to survive, and I would go even further to say that it is in our nature to love. This interview is about both of us—and the theme of what we’ve been talking about has been the power of conversation to go beyond the obvious, to listen as well as embrace the questions. And it’s about the invisible things, the things underground—the prairie dogs, and that moment between the redtail hawk and the rabbit.

Well, thank you, Terry.

Jan Hamer is an instructor of English at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and is the faculty advisor for Metaphor, Weber State’s premier undergraduate literary and fine arts journal. She is the author of the poetic sequence Yes, I Will Dance a Tango with You, and is currently at work on a collection of personal essays and poems. She lives, writes, and dances in Ogden, Utah.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Mikel Vause

Pig Poetry and the Divinity of Language— A Conversation with David Lee

PRELUDE I’ve known David Lee for the better part of twenty-five years. My introduction to him and his work came in a classroom in the Social Science building at Weber State University. He had just been named Utah’s first Poet Laureate and read from his booklength poem Drinking and Driving. This tall, spare, longhaired cowboy transfigured before my eyes and became the poem. It

reminded me of the opening scene in Rob Reiner’s film Stand By Me, where the narrator drives out into the countryside in an old Land Rover and begins his story. I knew then that Dave Lee is my kind of poet, one who breaks down all pretense and societal barriers and speaks to his readers’ hearts. By about the second poem in any of his books, the reader feels like they’ve been


friends for a lifetime. I remember saying to myself, “here’s a guy just like me, like my dad, and granddad. He speaks with the voice of experience, one that rings wise and true.” For my money, Dave Lee’s the best poetry performer in the world. I’ve been to many of his readings and have seem him give to his audiences until he has nothing left. Upon finishing, there’s nothing he can do but lay down on the floor in an effort to regain his strength. His workshops are

no different; he opens his heart and mind to encourage young and old poets with their art. It’s been a blessing and privilege to call David Lee my friend. I’ll never be able to repay him for how much better he’s made my life on so many levels, particularly his help with my poems. This interview came on the heels of the 30th National Undergraduate Literature Conference April 2015, held at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah.

CONVERSATION What lead you to poetry? Who were your major influences, and how long have you worked as a poet? As a child I was a voracious reader. I started in the lock-step generation of education: all students had to proceed at the same pace. Parents were told not to teach their children numbers or ABC’s, as it would damage their psyches and harm them irreparably to be thrust ahead of their peer group. Violation of this standard could lead to psychosis or even insanity or, worse, lead the child toward republicanism. My mom, being a devout protestant and Democrat, followed that precept to the rule, as violation of any precept or order might construe sin, and we had no sin in our house, or town, for that matter. We had to go up to Tahoka to sin, as they had it there, if you knew where to find it. So I literally entered first grade tabula rasa. Numbers were easy for me. I had fingers and I had somehow learned what they were for before entering the schoolhouse, but letters were the proverbial horse before the archetypal cart or even plow, in my case. I had no concept of reading or writing other than the fact that my grandfather loved to read the newspaper, and when I stood too near him when he was reading, he told me I was blocking his light,

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and when they were introduced, even at that age, I felt like Moses on the Holy Mount: put off the shoes from thy feet for thou art on holy ground. I loved letters, making words, and then reading. Duck to water. I sinned. I broke the rules: I filched books and mastered the See Spot Run-Dick and Jane theory in no time at all and, without permission asked or given, thrust my way ahead. I went into the bathroom and locked the door and read, often for so long that my parents were sure I was malformed and had major health problems. I read at night under the bedcovers with a flashlight in my mouth. I loved reading. It was probably the only thing in the world I was worth a damn at. Between my first and second grade years I read The Call of the Wild between the seats on the floorboard when dad and I drove to Abilene where he was getting his Master’s at Hardin-Simmons U. We were roommates and we commuted to/from post on weekends, and he took classes and studied during the weekdays and I messed about with cousins, filched books, and read the whole summer. I think I read the entire Hardy Boys series over the next two summers while he was getting his degree and becoming a certified genius. It was then that I discovered I wanted to be a writer. I loved stories, oral and in writing, and I learned to be a good listener, reader,

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C O N V E R S A T I O N and rememberer. And then I learned the rudiTo jump way ahead, a major turning point ments of the creative process, i.e., how to tell in my life was when I was in the Army, in the a story, or better, how to make a story. I think hospital, in traction for a considerable period you’ve heard me say this in the past, but I of time with absolutely nothing to do. I hated firmly believe one does not choose to become television and it was on nonstop. Then the a writer—the words choose the person. And candy stripers started coming around with if I follow that thesis, I also believe the words shopping carts full of trashy novels, but it was are alive and have identity: “In the beginning a relief from T.V. One day in the basket there there was the Word and the Word was with was a book of poetry, the first I’d seen in ages, God and the Word was God.” I am a literalist and I grabbed it. It was by Rod McKuen and it about that. Language is divinity (and in that was titled Listen to the Warm. That may have light, there are no “bad” words: all words been the first actual book of poetry by a single are holy; it is how they are used that matcontemporary author I ever read. I devoured it. ters and makes the In one afternoon. I immedifference). Kirkegdiately called for pencil aard said, “Laughter and paper: I was sure I believe the words are alive and is also a form of I could write like that, have identity: “In the beginning prayer.” So is writing. maybe someday even there was the Word and the Word better. Well, I found out I wrote verse as a kid, but showed it to pretty much immediately was with God and the Word was virtually no one. Re: the God.” I am a literalist about that. that I couldn’t. But that Vacation Bible School was a launching point. In Language is divinity (and in that Song, “This Little Light one sense, that’s when of Mine,” I put mine light, there are no “bad” words: all I re-started writing. under a bushel: I didn’t words are holy; it is how they are But I thought I’d be let it shine. I was a shy a novelist. I knew I was and somewhat tongue- used that matters and makes the a narrative writer—that tied kid. I rarely spoke was my strength: story. difference). out—had to be cajoled And it had been a long to get me to share my time since Longfellow work, and in the Land of Football and Cotton, and Coleridge. My first full-length book I there just wasn’t a lot of cajoling for creative completed was a very poor novel, but I learned writing or especially poetry, which was “what a ton from writing it: the discipline learned in girls did.” I started seriously reading poetry writing a “book” cannot be underestimated, or in the fifth grade, with Longfellow. I read the in George W’s terminology, misunderestimated. entire “Song of Hiawatha” and could quote Even a poor book. Once you know it is poor, voluminously from it on request, but there which is a major step in becoming a writer, were then or now very few requests. I read a it is still something to build on. lot, but probably not all of Longfellow. He was From there I sort of slid my way back my beginning. Even now I highly respect him into poetry. In graduate school my emphasis as a wonderful children’s poet. Next came Poe, was 17th and 18th century British literature, then Kipling, then Coleridge. “The Rime of the and to a lesser extent the Romantics. That is Ancient Mariner” was an epiphany. I loved when I learned to love poetry. I adored Pope that poem, and then found “Kubla Khan.” and Swift, and venerated Donne. Then I met From there it is etc. and et al. I read, I wrote, Milton, my epiphany, my moment of delicate and I seldom or never shared. Coaches ruled balance, my critical juncture. He was my our world and to them poetry was for sissies.

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launching pad. While I knew I could never ever be a Milton—or perhaps even a McKuen—I knew what I wanted to try and be. That was my official beginning. I published my first poem in a literary magazine in 1970, and I’ve been at work in the fields of the Lord since.

You have, needless to say, a varied and colorful background, having dabbled in being a white baseball player in the Texas Negro League, a mortician, a student of theology, a boxer, a Milton scholar, and a pig farmer— and I’ve likely left a few things off the list. How have all these experiences affected your poetry? Wow and gee, there are a lot of angles and bifurcations in this one. I suppose I could easily answer it by saying I might have been a Jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, and that probably wouldn’t be far from wrong. Sometimes I think the one lesson I’ve learned in my 70-plus years is, I never was the man I used to be. Or at least—and I strongly suspect this comes through me directly from Bill Kloefkorn and through him from Mark Twain, as I can’t imagine this being original, since I oft doubt I’ve ever had an original thought in my life: this one, at least, seems too good for that— the older I get, the more clearly I remember, understand, and appreciate the deep meaning and significance of all those events in my life that never quite actually happened. First, I never was a particularly good athlete. Quite mediocre in fact. I played in all sports, which in Class 2 Texas meant football and basketball at school, and then in the summer baseball. As a teenager I was 6-foot-1 and weighed between 145 and 160 pounds. While I wasn’t fast, I absolutely wasn’t quick; and while I was skinny, I most surely wasn’t strong. I was a long fiber-slow twitch and naturally uncoordinated. To compound that, I’ve just never been competitive. I loved being on a team and playing, but winning was never a big deal. I traded football in for the FFA and began my love affair with animals, especially pigs, and

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have never regretted not playing football my last two years of high school. Now that said, I loved playing baseball, and I had a great coach, the only good coach I ever played under, and I had a modicum of success there. Along with the influence of my “other mother,” Miss Lela, who convinced me that I should play baseball for the Blue Stars, our home team in the old Texas Negro League became the high water mark in my athletic history. In middle age I discovered that I could have been an above-average long distance runner; while I had no speed, I had stamina. The first race I ever ran was a marathon. I loved work. I loved working. In some ways I was a born workaholic. I got my Social Security Card when I was either 11 or 12 and started working in grocery stores. When the café across the street from my parents’ flower shop called to say that someone didn’t show up for work, I would work for them, mostly washing dishes and kitchen clean up. A huge event, life turning in fact, occurred when I was 14: I applied and got certified as an adult and went to work at Postex Cotton Mill in the yard doing manual labor. That was an incredible opportunity, as the fellows I worked with were at least as old as my dad, and many were my grandfather’s age. Several had been farmers or ranchers who lost everything during the second dust bowl of the late 1940s. They accepted me and I loved working alongside them: they were great talkers and I learned to be a great listener. Both Proust and Twain have said some version of “anyone who lives through a childhood has enough material to write on for 400 years.” That was my childhood re-genesis. Virtually everything I write in my narrative mode has its roots in the five years I worked at the mill. My two favorite characters in my poems are R. B. and Ollie. R.B. McCravey had a several-sections-large ranch and hundreds of cattle he lost in the dust bowl. He was close to my present age when I worked with him. Ollie McDougald was my friend Oliver McDougald’s grandfather. My love for working with them could have backfired: when I graduated from high school I had no desire whatsoev-

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C O N V E R S A T I O N I’m going to give an off-the-wall answer to er to go to college: I wanted to keep on working this one. Theoretically, I did not have a proper at the mill, in the yard, full time. My parents graduate school experience. I, in the vast had a devil of a time forcing me to go to school. chasm between theoretically and probably, My first three years of school I went to didn’t belong in graduate school: I had a very “Christian Colleges”: I went to Abilene Chrismediocre three years in church schools with tian, graduated from Lubbock Christian with no recognizable major other than “churchofan A.A., and then—one of the biggest mistakes christ,” then I transferred to Colorado State of my life—went to full seminary at Harding University in 1965. That was my new beginCollege. I majored in “churchofchrist.” I never ning. I went there intending to reopen my intended a career in church. The experience interest in vocational agriculture and hoped to was much like a freshman who takes Psycholget into Vet School. Organic Chemistry deogy 101 and discovers he’s crazy, so he has cided my future belonged in the Humanities to take 202 to see if it’s a terminal or curable At CSU I met my first great English teacher, psychosis, or full-blown insanity. Same with Arthur Cash. No, you can remove the adjective: me: Religion (Bible) 101 showed me I was a he was my first great doomed sinner, headteacher, period. He ing to Hell, and I had was my discoverer and to take another course Both Proust and Twain have said or seven to find out if some version of “anyone who lives epiphany. I took as many classes from him as I this was terminal or through a childhood has enough could and graduated salvageable. For me, Joseph Campbell hadn’t material to write on for 400 years.” with what could only been invented yet, and That was my childhood re-genesis. be called a degree in University Studies. I I didn’t know what I was actually looking for, i.e., Virtually everything I write in my did not have an official major or minor in comparative mythology. narrative mode has its roots in the English. When I filled out The cumulative five years I worked at the mill. the graduation forms effect of any variethere was a tiny space gated background is for major, and I hand the realization that scribbled “SpEng,” because I had more classes what we’ve done, where we’ve lived, who in English and Speech (which is what all my we’ve hung out with, what we’ve read, what theological and homiletics hours transferred we’ve heard, what we’ve learned is who we are. as) than anything else. Probably due to my poor Setting, by confining us, defines us. That’s of handwriting, the registrar must have had no course simplistic, but there it is. In my mind, idea in the world what I had written, because poetry is a transcription of that­—a blending, my transcript says my major was Agricultural concentration, and distillation of language Engineering. I graduated on March 22, 1967, and experience in order to create beauty and and on March 23rd was drafted into the U.S. meaning. That’s sort of right out of Horace, Army. I spent two years in the Army, minus but with a Texas accent. Ecclesiastes 3, there ninety days for Good Behavior-Back-to-School is nothing new under the sun, and Pope’s early out. My final duty was marching in concept that good poetry is what was oft Richard Nixon’s first inauguration. I attended thought but ne’er so well expressed, braided. Ft. Lewis College in Durango for half a year I’ve heard it said that it takes ten years after certifying to teach in the Public Schools of completing a PhD for one to regain creativColorado, and while there was persuaded to ity. Is this true for you, or were you inspired apply for graduate school. I got a fellowship

by your intense study of Milton?

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to Idaho State University and completed all turned out to be one of the very best things requirements for the Master’s in nine months, that ever happened to me, as it brought my then decided to ride my G.I. Bill and try for a imitation-based apprenticeship to a rushing doctorate. The U of U accepted me, and I put halt. I could have well used the help of a good my nose to the proverbial grindstone and my class in creative writing or a mentorship with mind to the archetypal wheel and completed a good poet. Or even a bad one. But I hung all my academic requirements for the PhD in on and finally found my voice in the poem, one year, and then got my first and only higher “For Jan With Love,” and my career as a nared. teaching job at then rative poet, beginning Southern Utah State with the moniker, The The cumulative effect of any School. My graduate Pig Poet, was launched. education was very much variegated background is the Many creative artists where the name for the realization that what we’ve use their art as a politifast food joint In and Out done, where we’ve lived, who cal tool. Have you used Burger came from. It was a your poetry politically? terrible and terribly wrong we’ve hung out with, what thing to have done: I went we’ve read, what we’ve heard, It’s a bit of a cliché, but too fast, and as a result I all poetry is political. what we’ve learned is who learned far far less than There’s a wonderful I should or could have, we are. Setting, by confining William Stafford film but I was interested in us, defines us. That’s of dealing with this, and his the union card, finding a “rubber face” is totally course simplistic, but there job, and going to work. evident when Richard At the U of U, I fell in it is. In my mind, poetry is Eberhart, who wrote love with poetry through a transcription of that­—a “The Groundhog,” and my academic work in 17th whom John Ciardi called blending, concentration, and and 18th century British one of the two stupidest writers. I made the overt distillation of language and poets in America, decision that I wanted to experience in order to create said, “Well, I think we be a poet, in spite of the need more political beauty and meaning. That’s fact that I didn’t have a poems. Nobody seems goose’s idea of how to sort of right out of Horace, but to be writing political do it. I took no classes with a Texas accent. poems any more.” Or anywhere along the way some such. Stafford in creative writing. My responded to him with a lessons came from the writers I was studying, statement very much like my opening salvo. who insisted that a knowledge of writing came Mine are mostly covert politically, with from imitation and a knowledge of the ancients the possible exception of my two “environand the moderns. So I began a self-taught mental books,” So Quietly The Earth and program based primarily on imitation. I was the Stone Wind Water. I take some political shots veritable role model for Kristofferson’s “taking in So Quietly that actually got me in a bit of every wrong direction on his lonely way back trouble with a major Utah political figure. home.” I read as much as I could and imitated I’ll let that be a teaser, but the shots are in every poet I could find from A to Z, getting the “Paragonah Autumn” closing section of myself into a hell of a lot of trouble along the the book, the “Air Movement.” I wrote those way. I was even informed that one of my poems books as hymns, paens to the glory of Utah was “tantamount to plagiarism.” That actually

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My graduate education was very much where the name for the fast food joint In and Out Burger came from. It was a terrible and terribly wrong thing to have done: I went too fast, and as a result I learned far far less than I should or could have, but I was interested in the union card, finding a job, and going to work. as a place, and my intent was theo-political; “put off the shoes from thy feet, for the ground where thou standeth is holy ground.” If the purpose of government—and here I’m thinking of the definition of terms from, specifically, Thomas Hobbes through Jefferson—is to create an environment where humans (which, of course, in their minds meant white males) can dedicate their existence to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then poetry can easily be seen as a universal Zen credo that is the essence of poetry and of the concept of art as a political tool. Poetry, at it best, its highest level, is a concentration and distillation of language and experience. One of the end results, in my mind the desired, perhaps supreme result, of poetry equates to a concept of right living. Great poetry is a handbook to right living. To me that’s what Hobbes had in mind when he wrote his Leviathan, and what Jefferson had in mind in his political writings.

I know you’ve been entertained at the White House. What was the occasion? My White House invitation came directly from Laura Bush. I had been one of two finalists for the position of U.S. Poet Laureate. The other finalist, Billy Collins, and I were invited to the White House through John Cole, the Director of the Library of Congress. I think

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initially we were to come and give a reading at the Library of Congress. We corresponded with Cole and Mrs. Bush, and the invitation morphed into something big, large, then HUGE. Which probably sounds like a grandiose claim for acknowledgement, but that is not at all what happened. Along the way it became a plan for a literary gathering, and then the focus shifted to a reading. This was to be Laura’s legacy, her dream. I was there on September 8th & 9th, 2001. I did read at the Library of Congress with the U. S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins. Two days later was 9/11: dream deferred.

You are certainly the most recognized poet from Utah and its first Poet Laureate. How did that honor come about? I always answer, when asked how and why I was chosen to be Utah’s first poet laureate: “public acclaim in lieu of penal servitude for oral crimes against the state.” It begins with the concept of day laborer. I was chosen—and I was told this directly—for my work ethic. I was/am known as a workaholic. The day the title was given to me, Governor Leavitt said, and I think this is pretty close to verbatim, “This is your mission: go out and sell your art, spread your gospel.” I liked that. The next thing he said, though, was sobering: “There has been no money budgeted for the position.” That was my directive, my job, my focus, and during my six years in the position there was never a penny directly budgeted for the State Poet Laureate position. I do not know if that remains the case or not. My focus, my chosen role, was to attempt to build an audience, a working audience, and I labored as hard as I knew how to do exactly that. During my six-year tenure, I worked poetry groups of all ages, from kindergarten to senior citizens, all over the state, top to bottom, side to side, averaging fifty gigs a year. There are just not that many school districts or communities that didn’t feel my presence during those years. I’m in fact pretty

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sure the state got mighty sick of me and was very ready for me to step down or die, and the sooner the better by the end of my hitch. The key is, I never thought, not once then or now, that I was chosen because I was a hoitytoity writer. I was a salesman, a pitch man, a leader of the band, and I knew dammed well there were players in the band with far more talent than I. My job, as I saw it, was to bring them out of the shadows and into the light. I wanted to make poetry an important part of daily life in Utah, with people actually reading and writing it: a bit of a renaissance, if you will.

It seems the academy is less interested in original literary art and leans more and more to juried critical fads. How do you see this affecting the publication of poetry and fiction? I’m going to begin this one with kid talk: OMG. I’ve been out of higher education for twelve years, and to be perfectly honest, I almost don’t recognize today’s arena. When I was teaching— and I was exclusively a literature teacher—I was interested in breadth, and by extension depth, of knowledge based on careful reading of primary sources. From what I’m hearing and to a certain extent seeing, today’s emphasis is seemingly focused entirely on critical theory. An example of what I’m driving at comes from a very close friend of mine who took a Major Authors and Topics course in William Blake. I love Blake and asked her how the class went. She said they did not read a single poem of Blake’s, nor was his selected or collected works used in the class: their reading and discussion was completely based on literary criticism. When she told me that, I quoted a line from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, “tis mad idolatry to make the service greater than the god.” I realize that one example doth not mean much of anything beyond itself, but to me that example was stunning and telling. If I try to apply that to poetry, I have to say that I see a sameness in much of what is going on in contemporary literature, especially academic literature: a cultivation of the alike. Sometimes I wonder if I know how to read a

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lot of today’s poetry, and I’m quite sure I’m on the verge of being a snooty fossil who can’t adjust with the changing mores of the times. But here’s an example of what I’m driving at: a while back Jan and I went to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, the largest bookstore in the world. Jan went upstairs to look for her mysteries and I went to the poetry section, fully intending to buy an armload of books. I took probably a dozen books off the shelves, all published by presses I’ve come to trust and admire, and sat down on the floor and started thumbing through them looking for hints and snatches that would provoke me into buying. After an hour, I had not found a single book I wanted to purchase and read cover to cover. I felt like I was in a well-lighted room witnessing a cultivation of mirror dancing at the Temple of Narcissus. To tighten the focus, I found several books that did not seem to have a single poem without the first person pronoun, and I found one in which I read a handful of poems, not one of which contained a single sentence that did not contain the imperial “I.” I found books which contained poems (ranging from some of the poems to all of the poems) that I could not under any stretch of the imagination comprehend: I could find neither subject nor theme. I had no clue of what I was reading, nor why I should continue. So I didn’t. I did not buy a single book of poetry that day. My fear is that we are writing to a smaller and smaller audience: ourselves. As a huge generalization, I fear that we are moving too far from the Horacian precepts, that to be art

Poetry, at it best, its highest level, is a concentration and distillation of language and experience. One of the end results, in my mind the desired, perhaps supreme result, of poetry equates to a concept of right living.

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I always answer, when asked how and why I was chosen to be Utah’s first poet laureate: “public acclaim in lieu of penal servitude for oral crimes against the state.” two things must be accomplished (and accomplished simultaneously): we must delight and instruct. If I accept that precept, I have to ask, how can we delight if the reader has no more idea than a goose what the poem is even about, and if the reader cannot figure that out, what can ever be learned from the experience? As a final thought on this matter, this summer we went again to Powell’s, and I was literally gobsmacked by what I found. A handful of years ago there were three aisles of contemporary poetry, a wonderful selection. This August there was one aisle, and a very short aisle at that. When I asked an employee, a person I’ve known for years, what the hell has happened here, he said, “To be honest, Dave, we no longer order poetry unless it’s local or award winning, or unless a staff member highly recommends it.” To me, that is a death knell.

I realize this is probably an unfair question, and it’s twofold. Who are some of the poets you admire most, past and present? As I have said earlier today, the person who initiated the culminating movement of my life was Professor Arthur Cash, my teacher of Greek literature at Colorado State, and he instilled a love in me for the great Greek dramatists, and I can never understate what I’ve learned from Aeschylus, the inventor of the deuterogamist, or answering speaker, in dramatic poetry; Sophocles, who used the mask finer than any writer in the history of literature; Euripides, who, like Dante much later, brought the language of the common man to the art of poetry; and of

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course my hero and role model Aristophanes, who taught us there is nothing more serious than comedy. Those are the writers who first taught me the difference between liking and loving good writing. Those are the writers I would most love to emulate. Probably, after Sappho and Homer, my true introduction into lyric and epic poetry, my next hero was Dante. Perhaps the highest single compliment of my life occurred in Nebraska when William Kloefkorn introduced me to an audience saying, “Dave has a world inside his head the rest of us have no access to except through him, and when he writes about that world, it is instant myth. In that light, he is a direct descendant of Dante, with a line of passage that goes straight through Twain and Faulkner. That fact, however, has little meaning when compared to the major importance of his life, that he is my friend.” I can live and die with that statement as my literary epitaph. As is well known and oft acknowledged, Milton was and is my literary hero, closely followed by Donne, Pope, and to a lesser extent the Romantics. When it comes to the early 20th century, I am indebted to Eliot, especially his Four Quartets, and Pound (more for theory than model). In the late 20th century, my heroes and role models were Leslie Norris and William Stafford, followed by James Dickey and Galway Kinnell. I cannot ever underestimate the influence of Sam Hamill and Tree Swenson, who during a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship taught me the art of printing and bookmaking and changed virtually everything I thought I knew about literature. I learned more from them during a 12-week practicum than I learned during my PhD training. Right now, this minute, my favorite contemporary writers are Eleanor Wilner, who is my muse and sister, and William Kloefkorn, my big brother. I also love to read Maurice Manning, Dianne Gilliam Fisher, and closer to home, Gailmarie Pahmeier and Kirk Robertson of Nevada, my new home state; Paulann Petersen and Primus St. John of my other

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home state, Oregon; Carmen Tafoya of Texas; and from my beloved Utah, Nancy Takacs, and of course this punk upstart poet, Mikel Vause.

And finally, an even more unfair question. Which of all your books is your favorite? Easy answer: the one I’m working on right now, Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Browneyed Susans: Women of Texas 19481962. I suspect you’d get that answer from virtually any writer you asked it to. That said, I’ve been working on this book for nine years, excluding the three years I spent on Last Call following Bill Kloefkorn’s death, and it has everything I know in it, which, of course, may not actually be saying a whole lot. Without hesitation I can say the following: I’ve never enjoyed writing a book as much as this one. I have loved writing this book and am entering depression over closing in on its completion. It is scheduled for a September 2016 publication, month and year of the Woman.

What about the pig books or My Town, which received the Western States Book Award? Oh, I loved the making of those books, yes. Hell, after the PBS film “The Pig Poet,” I might as well get a tattoo of a pig on my arm. The Porcine Canticles launched me and has

gone through half a dozen printings. My Town got me a lot of notoriety, probably too much, in fact. There are also the three books I co-authored with Kloefkorn that I loved working on. And then my most recent, Last Call, my homage to Bill, which probably saved my life, or at least postponed the inevitable. But, again, I loved the writing of the new manuscript, which shows it is entirely possible for a certified old fart to fall in love again.

Is there anything on the horizon you’d be willing to mention? Oh, I think my next project will probably be a book based on music, primarily jazz. My working title is The Canonical Hours. Jan keeps saying it will be okay to quit, if I’ll make sure my head doesn’t blow up, and I keep thinking I really ought to. The world probably already has all the books it needs from the likes of moi, but as I said, I don’t think I ever chose to write as much as the words chose me. And even though I’ve tried to stop, like the thousand times I quit smoking before I finally knocked it off for good, the words keep on coming in my dreams, exactly as Milton said it happens in Book IX of Paradise Lost, and when they come, I’m in their power. So, the beat goes on.

Mikel Vause is the author of numerous articles and short stories that have appeared in various books, magazines, and journals. He is also the author of five collections of poems: I Knew It Would Come to This; At the Edge of Things; Looking for the Old Crown, a poetic guidebook to interesting and out-of-the-way places in Great Britain; and The Scent of Juniper: Poems of the Himalayas. His newest collection, A Mountain Touched by Fire (Kelsey Books/Aldrich Press), is available at Amazon.com.

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David Lee

Ike’s Grocery Store, 1962 Saturday, 9:55 p.m. Suetta Rushing met Laveda Latham coming out the door said Oh I’m glad I made it in time I have to get something for dinner for after church did you forget too? Laveda said no she only needed mushroom soup Oh yes said Suetta that’s real good to put over leftovers so they’ll look freshmade And green jello said Laveda but so she wouldn’t be rude asked Suetta what she was having I’m getting a whole half a chicken to put in the oven with Arsh potatoes if they got any left she said and mayonnaise and walnuts so I can make a Waldorf salad like they do at Hemphill-Wells for their luncheons in Lubbick I better get in before they close the doors and plumb shut me out Oh said Laveda they wouldn’t leave you outside that’s what they’re here for this late Well that’s just exactly right and there’s no use to talking about it and idn’t that good of them said Suetta they’re such nice neighbors and idn’t it sweet to not have to get dressed up to come to the store like it was Piggly Wiggly and idn’t it a right purdy night

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P O E T R Y is all I have to say about that subject and they looked up as if it was the first time to a sky where Scorpio held Saturn in its claw like a jewel dug out of the bedrock aglister beside the ripened Cheshire cat sliver moon the whole world awash in wind crushed cut hay perfume roar of cricket song pouring down our town’s streets up the caprock, across the high plains out over the hill country the night beautiful and mysterious as an old friend’s ghost moving toward shadow, waving back from an uncovered memory

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Michael Wutz

On the Mongrelization of Art— A Conversation with Michael Ondaatje

Rolex—Bart Michiels


PRELUDE Michael Ondaatje was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka (the former Ceylon), of Dutch Burgher ancestry in 1943 and moved to England in 1954, where he attended Dulwich College, an independent public school for boys. He relocated to Canada in 1962 and studied at Bishop’s College School and Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, before moving to Toronto, where he received his BA from the University of Toronto and, eventually, his MA from Queen’s University, Kingston. He has held teaching posts at the University of Western Ontario, York University, and Glendon College, among others, and became a Canadian citizen, all the while developing his craft as a writer. Ondaatje is a master of all genres, being equally and fully at home not only in fiction, but in poetry, memoir, and film as well. He has made several documentaries and produced the landmark volume, The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002)—a series of dialogues with the sound and picture editor of, among others, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of his own novel, The English Patient— which won special recognition at the 2003 American Cinema Editors Awards, as well as a Kraszna-Krausz Book Award for best book of the year on the moving image. He is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, including The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning to Do: Poems 1973–1978 (1979), The Cinnamon Peeler (1989) and Handwriting (1998). His prose works include early volumes of criticism on Leonard Cohen (1970) and Claude Glass (1979), the semi-fictional memoir of his childhood in Sri Lanka, Running in the Family (1982), and the novels that have made him among the most widely recognized writers working in the

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English-speaking world today: Coming Through Slaughter (1976), a kaleidoscopic portrait of pioneering jazz cornetist Buddy Bolden; In the Skin of a Lion (1987), a novel foregrounding the, often silenced and unacknowledged, contributions of immigrant labor(ers) in the building of modern Toronto; The English Patient (1992), a multi-perspectival narrative centering on several character trajectories at the end of World War II and, in the process, offering reflections on nationhood and the (seemingly perpetual) bellicosity of humanity; Anil’s Ghost (2000), the story of a female anthropologist returning to Sri Lanka, the country of her birth, to investigate war crimes for an international human rights group; Divisadero (2007), a novel redefining the effects of trauma on an unconventional nuclear family; and The Cat’s Table (2011), which chronicles the adventures of an 11-year-old boy traveling with a motley crew on an ocean liner bound from Sri Lanka to England in the early 1950s. In tandem with his distinguished writing and teaching career, Ondaatje has also been committed to small, independent book publishing, working as a poetry editor for Toronto’s Coach House Books and coediting Brick, A Literary Journal, with his wife Linda Spalding, a novelist and academic, and others. Thus, loosely paralleling the mix of his cultural heritage, Ondaatje multi-tasks as a literary juggler in a variety of venues and genres. His work is suffused with a deep interest in probing the boundaries of narrative form and what it means to live in the postcolonial, multi-ethnic society of today. Mongrelization in its various constellations may well be said to be one of the defining features of his oeuvre. Ondaatje has garnered numerous literary prizes for his work, including The Booker Prize, the Prix Médicis, The Irish

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Times International Prize for Fiction, the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, the Governor-General’s Award, and the Giller Prize. In 1988, Ondaatje was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and, in 1990, a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Ondaatje also serves on the board of trustees of the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry.

Weber – The Contemporary West is privileged to feature this conversation with Michael Ondaatje, which took place on the occasion of this visit to Weber State University for the 2015 National Undergraduate Literature Conference. I want to express my appreciation to Michael for his time, and to my colleagues and NULC organizers, Mikel Vause and Carl Porter, for bringing Michael to our campus.

CONVERSATION Thank you for your time, Michael. As you know, I sent you a couple of questions ahead of our conversation, and I also had the privilege of teaching and thinking through your work this semester. For the moment, though, I want to come back to something you said in passing in your reading yesterday evening: that if it had been up to you, you would have liked to become a stride pianist like Fats Waller. But when they checked your affinity for certain professions during your early schooling, you were told that you would make a good customs inspector. I’m wondering whether that, in a literal sense, is actually true of you: that you are a customs inspector—a writer inspecting the customs and practices of cultures? I think I probably am, in retrospect, when I think about it twice [laughter]. I think what appeals to me about the Fats Waller image is that I still envy the communal spirit of the public art, which is someone sitting down with a group of friends and playing the piano, and people joining in. That sense of art as community has always interested me—has been ideal—and that’s why, I think, I like theater more than film at some point. And the energy and the kind of harnessing of energy in a Fats Waller recording is a delight for me. But maybe, in reality, I am someone kind of like a customs officer, the way I am obsessed with rewriting

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for instance, and eventually giving an order to the piece, and a strictness to it.

I’m also thinking of it in terms of inspecting the customs of cultures and people, which is one of the themes in your work. You talk about forms of Western and Eastern knowledge, in terms of herbal medicine, for example. I wonder whether your work could be understood as a form of inspecting the customs of one part of the world as opposed to another. I don’t think so. That may be coincidental when that happens. I’m not really interested in bringing East and West together necessarily. I could just as easily have been focused on various Western elements, you know, such as the cowboy or the jazz musician, or whatever it is. I think that I am interested in other universes and other lives, other styles of life, and other habits of life, perhaps, the sense of entering a universe that involves all kinds of strange customs. That is what interests me, so I can spend my time in the process of writing a book learning about those things, and immersing myself within that context.

Maybe these are forms of unacknowledged knowledge. I’m thinking of herbal medicine and the history of early jazz in your work. As you were remarking the other day, you research things as they come up. It’s not

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that you do research, and then you’re done with it and import it into your fiction. You work from the ground as you need, as the situation presents itself. How did you develop your early knowledge of jazz?

things, and playing that melody for a long time, but I didn’t really want to think about imitating a jazz tone or style. I think it really did in some way, but the focus was, “I want to know this person as much as I can. I’ll approach it from this angle and that angle.” It’s pretty close to Ford Madox Ford than jazz, in a way.

The knowledge of jazz was more a love of jazz than a knowledge of jazz, I think. When I was a teenager at school in England, I was Would it be fair to say that you became haunting the jazz clubs constantly, you know. interested in Buddy Bolden, at least on one I was coming home as late as possible. It was level, because there is no phonograph record the art of jazz, in retrospect, that I loved—the that exists of him and because there is only structure of a two-and-a-half-minute piece one—maybe more than of jazz, where you had one—photograph of the group playing, then him and his band, so the drum solo, or the I’m not really interested in that there is this void clarinet solo, and the of representation that bringing East and West together trumpet solo, and then draws the novelist into necessarily. I think that I am that community that it. It’s almost like a comes out at the end, interested in other universes and dark hole. and the finale in the other lives, other styles of life, and Yeah, I think, actulast thirty seconds is other habits of life, perhaps, the ally, such a dark hole the group again. This, to me, is a lovely form sense of entering a kind of universe helps—it frustrates the writer and, at the same that, in some ways, a that involves all kinds of strange time, it frees the writer novel can approach. customs. That is what interests by allowing him to paint You have various voices and various perspecme, so I can spend my time in the a portrait of Bolden, as opposed to relying on tives, and stories, and process of writing a book learning the photograph, and opinions, and then it goes towards an end as about those things, and immersing certainly the fact that he does not have a a group. Perhaps The myself within that context. recording, and that the English Patient is not only recording there is, that far away from a in a way, is a recordFats Waller number. ing of Bunk Johnson whistling in the way that How about Coming Through Slaughter, Bolden played—supposedly. And of course, which is certainly a novel about Buddy we don’t actually believe Bunk Johnson on Bolden, but is also a novel that reads like an this. I think that was such a strange metaphor assembly of various voices—one carrying of how he played that I felt free, I suppose, the primary tune, and then being handed off to bring into it all these various literary to somebody else. elements as well, into kind of the art of imitation or mimesis or something like that. Yeah, I think, in retrospect, that it is a kind of improvisation, jazz improvisation, on Were you aware at the time you were something I don’t know very much about. It’s writing and publishing Coming like having three or four notes of these foolish Through Slaughter that it was actually,

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C O N V E R S A T I O N I think they called it, an “emboldened experiment?” Or was it something that didn’t strike you as such at the time?

sarily, but rather as a kind of complement, or rather, as some kind of animating platform.

Yes, I think so. I’ve always liked the visual It didn’t strike me. It’s a bit like Billy the Kid element. If I could draw I would have drawn when people say, “How the hell did you write [laughter]. Yeah, I think I would have drawn, that book?” And also, what means most to me but I think that drawing is also not a fully acis when people from New Orleans say, “How on curate version. I guess the first book I did this earth did you write this in was in The Collected book? This is a book Works of Billy the Kid, about New Orleans; where the photographs It was the art of jazz, in how did you even write are, in fact, fragments retrospect, that I loved—the this book, especially of other photographs by since you were hardly other people, and then structure of a two-and-a-halfthere at all?” I don’t there are a few forgeries minute piece of jazz, where you know. I just was totally too, one where I have had the group playing, then the possessed with that friends posing as John story—not even with and Sally Chisholm, and drum solo, or the clarinet solo, the story—it was with the publisher, Coach and the trumpet solo, and then him. I was possessed House Press, sort of that community that comes out at distressed the photoby him—possessed with how he must have the end, and the finale in the last graph so it looked like lived, or might have thirty seconds is the group again. an old one. All of that, lived—and perhaps I think, was there as This, to me, is a lovely form the fact that the lack glimpses more than of information that portraits, glimpses more that, in some ways, a novel can was there freed me to approach. You have various voices than accurate versions. kind of represent him. It was almost like taking and various perspectives, and a photograph on a horse, In your fictional stories, and opinions, and then it where you’re galloping, world, you also allow and all you’re getting is goes towards an end as a group. Bolden to meet E. J. kind of three quarters Bellocq, the photogPerhaps The English Patient sky and a bush, or somerapher. That meeting thing like that. is not that far away from a Fats

probably never took place, but you are able Waller number. to make them link up. Which brings me to photography as an element in your fiction. It’s there in your poetry; it’s there in some of your novels. As you were doing the archival research for In The Skin of a Lion, I think you used some photographs as well. What is the relationship between your literary narratives and photography? I’m asking because I don’t get the sense it’s in terms of a competition neces-

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My sense is that narrative and photography enjoy the same ontological status in your writing. They both tell a story, they are both fictions. Nothing presumes to represent the truth. Yeah, and I think the only truth is in the voice, perhaps. Perhaps shifting around, the voice is semi-historical and also personal, so it can say, late in the book—not that it does in every

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book—“But, you know, all that doesn’t matter, because I remember when I was seven years old, this happened to me.” And that could alter everything that was said up to that point.

In The Cat’s Table, young Michael actually even says that this was a voyage that he did “without the benefit of photography.” That’s his very phrase, I seem to remember. Could you say a little more about that? Did he have to rely on his narrative ability alone? I think it really was a time. I never did find any photographs taken of that journey, by anybody. Now and then you will see photographs, they’re not forgeries, but they’re like more the way [W. G.] Sebald uses photographs—not by him or of him, but from some album he picked up in an antique shop, or something like that. I didn’t want to bother with that. I felt more that I just wanted to stay with words in that book, as with Coming Through Slaughter. I didn’t want to have to use photographs like I had in Billy the Kid. The cover of Coming Through Slaughter, the photograph there—I don’t know if you’ve seen one of the editions, but the cover has a photograph of the band.

Is it this one [holding up a copy of the book]? Yeah, this photograph—this is a larger version [on the inside]. You can see there is a sheet. In fact, this is the edited version of the photograph, and here you have a sheet around it, which is the larger photograph—kind of a context for the photograph.

And when the names are represented in the book itself—is it sort of the other way around? I think so, very oddly, that photograph, and this photograph. And I’m questioning whether Billy the Kid was left-handed or right-handed. There are debates about which way around both these photographs

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go. There is a debate about whether Billy the Kid was right-handed or left-handed.

Keyword left-handed or right-handed. In The Cat’s Table, Michael at one point says that he was an “artist with burnt hands.” What I see sort of as a primal moment in your fiction is your characters’ obsession with manual incapacitation—with having their hands cut off, with being literally dis-fingered. That seems to come up in all of your work beginning with Coming Through Slaughter, The Cat’s Table, and it’s there in The English Patient. Well, in Cat’s it was more of a metaphor.

Yes, I understand. But it’s in so much of your work. You speak about the artist following the brush in the East, which to me suggests that art is an embodied form. You do it with your hand; it’s driven more by the body and the hand rather than the brain. That’s very interesting; I agree. Yeah, that’s true. I wish I could remember who the pianist was— a famous pianist—whose last words were, “Goodbye, dear hands.” Who was it? [Sergei Rachmaninov]

Ludwig Wittgenstein, the Austrian philosopher who taught at Cambridge for a number of years, had a brother, Paul, who became a celebrated one-handed pianist. There are a number of them, I think. Like Thomas Tranströmer, after his stroke. His friends composed pieces for one hand— which is, I think, a lovely idea.

Yes, that is a lovely idea. Can you say something more about this obsession on the part of the characters with having their hands removed or cut off? I don’t know. It probably comes from… Perhaps somebody should be rapping me over the hands. Again, it’s probably more metaphori-

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C O N V E R S A T I O N cal than anything, but certainly the idea that it’s being composed by the hand. It’s like in Divisadero, where the character says, “There is five centimeters between the eye and the page.” The focus of writing is not the brain thinking great thoughts, but the hand scribbling, or writing, or chiseling something.

Well, no. I said the other night that I wanted to be a pianist and illustrator, I think. I don’t think I’d play the piano.

How do you write? Do you sit down and write by hand?

Yeah, I know, but I never got to it. I always say I’m going to do it when I finish this book, but then I want to do something else.

Yes, I write by hand. I write the first four drafts of any book by hand. Then I put it on the computer, then I take it out of the computer, and I print it out. Then I rewrite by hand and put it back in the computer. When I got to the stage of editing, I did it on the computer for a while, but it didn’t really work for me. It worked in some areas, like the precision or repetition of words, for example, but when I am editing I need almost three or four pages, so I can see a larger movement, a larger rhythm. So, that became for me a very important thing. I find the problem in editing—a computer only takes one third of the page.

Is it also connected, perhaps, to the sense of having this continuity from brain to arm to pencil or pen that suggests a kind of fluidity that you wouldn’t have if you were to type on a computer? Oh, I would think so, but I know writers who work on computers who feel exactly the same way. That works for them, but for me it doesn’t. It’s much more a case of, I guess, being a failed painter, too. Not a failed painter—I was never a painter—but a failed illustrator. I love the idea, the look of a page that’s handwritten or re-handwritten, with scribbles. When I was at the Harry Ransom Research Center and I was looking at Beckett’s journals and there were all these scribbles and little drawings and stuff like that—it was—heavenly.

So you aspired to become a painter?

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Have you started playing the piano? I know in some of the other interviews that you were asked—

Yesterday you evoked another jazz musician and major innovator, Ornette Coleman, who is a later-generation jazz musician, and you made the distinction between “territory” and “adventure.” If you were to project that distinction onto your own writing, where would you say the “territory” stops and the “adventure” begins? The territory doesn’t stop, but I think the territory slips and slides into the adventure. The adventure cannot happen without the territory. That’s for me. I know this is a simplification, but writing science fiction for me would be different because of the kind of surreal quality of it. It doesn’t have territory; it doesn’t have the kind of machinery I’m familiar with. But I think all of my books have begun with place, and especially Divisadero began almost totally with place. And, you know, I think most of my books are that way. The opening pages of Coming Through Slaughter has a car going slowly down the road, or walking down the road. So I would say especially because I’m writing, because I’m not of that place, it’s important for me to create that place. So whether it’s Billy the Kid in New Mexico or Bolden in New Orleans or whoever is in the desert, I really need to be grounded. And without the grounding, I can’t improvise or take off, so that’s important.

Science fiction may not be your strength; you haven’t written any. If I think back on, say, The English Patient or Divisadero, the craftspeople in those fictions are clockmakers or bomb defusers. They are

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working with their hands and with what we call analog technology. There’s a lot of mechanics there. It’s not digital technology. Exactly.

Would you say that you are more at home in that world, the world of hands and physical labor? I think I’m afraid I am. I’m not ready for the next century—or this century—yet. [laughter] That’s very true. I think most of the crafts I see are manual . . . . You know, the trumpet player or the gardener—all of these crafts are there. It is an analog situation.

is… you are crossing the ground. Tracy Smith has a great line. She’s a poet who has just written a nonfiction book, and she said, “After poetry, prose feels like oxen.” Absolutely right! [laughter] You are trudging through mud and you have to make the territory more valid, whereas the glancing and the flight-like element in poetry gives you a very fast glimpse.

Is it maybe, in part, because you can leave out more?

You can leave out much more in poetry, yes, or you can jump more. As Bly and others talk about in Leaping Poetry, that’s one of the great elements of it. But I try to take some of that quality into my prose too. I don’t like You’ve also observed the handwriting of the trudging, so I think when I edit prose I’m writers. Kipling’s in bringing it down to the The English Patient minimum. I mean, the comes to mind. And I’m not ready for the next books are about 280 handwriting, of course, century—or this century—yet. pages long, but they is another analog craft, feel like—well, not feel, I think most of the crafts I see and a reflection of all but cover—500 pages kinds of qualities. I’m are manual . . . . You know, worth of stuff in a way.

wondering about the disthe trumpet player or the tinction between poetry When I think about gardener—all of these crafts are your writing, it is so and prose, and hope my question doesn’t sound there. It is an analog situation. physical. The reader banal and simple. If you gets such a sense of the look at the handwriting material surroundings theme in some of your of the characters that they become part of poetry sequences, they might as easily have the narrative furniture. As if they were part fit into Anil’s Ghost. How do you decide of the mise-en-scène, like in filmmaking. what goes into poetry, if I may ask simply, and what goes into a more prose-style narI think so. Yeah, I like that idea. I think a rative? I ask because many of your poem big part of the room is, as you said, the fursequences are actually narrative in terms of niture and the landscape. Very definitely. their structure, whereas your novels often I’m not consciously trying to do that, but tend to be rather lyrical. So there’s a fluidI think it’s very true. It’s like a [Joseph] ity of boundaries that I find in your work. Conrad kind of thing, where Conrad’s landYeah, I’m not sure. I certainly know when I’m writing if I’m going to write a poem or a piece of prose. I know by the first sign if this is a poem or a prose piece. I see it as a very different voice in my prose and my poetry. It’s almost like poetry’s closer to flight and prose

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scape and Conrad’s people are all linked together in some very strong way.

You briefly mentioned the key word yesterday: literary impressionism.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Yeah, it is. What [Ford Madox] Ford and Conrad did maybe is sort of an old-fashioned thing now, but I think that is one of the ways the detective novel works—having the various slices of the pie. It is why Billy the Kid or Divisadero or Running in the Family have various perceptions of people, to give a full surround of those characters. Character seems to be the most important thing to me when I’m writing a book. So, if you see Billy this way or somebody else sees Billy that way, or he speaks for himself, there are many, many, many voices.

influential on me—whether it’s a Diego Rivera mural or a piece of music or a painting—or the influence of film editing or gardening or whatever . . . I think all of those things I like learning from.

An assembly or collage, I think, was the word you used yesterday. You also spoke about the mongrelization of art, and how especially your work with Murch has had a profound impact on you. The Conversations is a book you’ve worked on for quite a while. I have to tell you that I have admired Murch’s work long before I ever knew you worked with him. One of my favorite films is, in fact, The Conversation, in large part because it really features sound over and above the visual medium. It’s almost as if he’s turning the (turn)tables.

Well, it obviously did have an impact, but I’m not really conscious of it. I take it in subliminally, but certainly if I look at a certain Hockney drawing, I’m envious. It’s envy not in sense of I wish I was David Hockney, but in the sense that I see what he’s doing there; or if you see cubism work really well, or whatever it is.

I seem to remember that you suggested, I think yesterday but also elsewhere, that— without trying to pinpoint particular influences—literature didn’t really have as much of an impact on you as other art forms, say, film, photography, and music.

One of your characters in The Cat’s Table, I think it’s a shipyard breaker, envisions a ship being repurposed—parts of it. That resonated with me because I see that ship-

It’s a great film. It’s an amazing film, partly because [Francis Ford] Coppola left the film two-thirds of the way through, so he didn’t finish the film. Murch did, but Coppola didn’t have much to do with this. And, in fact, watch it again—you don’t realize it, but the last twenty minutes film is practically wordless. All it is is the sound of drapes being drawn.

Come to think of it, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) also features as a saxophone player. Yeah. I think it’s a remarkable film. I’m not quite sure that Murch was the one who talked to me about mongrelization, but that certainly is the case with this film. I became obsessed with editing when I was editing those two documentaries I made. But I think of mongrelization in the sense of all art forms being

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yard breaker juxtaposing different modes of consumption, use, and re-use (roughly coinciding with Eastern versus Western economies). Even in The English Patient, Kip is extraordinarily resourceful; he’s much more advanced and practical and handy—quite literally—when compared with his western colleagues. Was this part of your thinking—to juxtapose the more “spend-thrifty” West to characters coming from the East who have to make do with a lot less?

think writing is an act of saving oneself, in some ways, and also understanding oneself, and it’s also a healing process. So I think all of those things are very reactive, just as it is an entertaining process. It’s the pleasure of making something. It could be a table; it could be a book. I think that’s what art does, you know, as much as it can disgrace something. I think there’s an element of attempted healing in Anil’s Ghost, as in most of my books.

Speaking of Anil’s Ghost, you mentioned an anecdote yesterday that was, in fact, too I don’t think I did it as a kind of motive, of perfect to fit into the story about the Amerisaying that this is spend-thrifty and this is can ambassador’s not. I’ve never tried wife who was a proto do that kind of fessional clown. It comparison, but, I think writing is an act of saving didn’t fit into your you know, certainly, notion of integrity oneself, in some ways, and also growing up in Sri as you were writing Lanka you see people understanding oneself, and it’s also the book. You seem fixing cars—I think I a healing process. So I think all of to work and rework even talk about this and edit and revise those things are very reactive, just in one of the books. until you arrive at a as it is an entertaining process. It’s A car is repaired a sense of integrity— thousand times in the pleasure of making something. It until your craft is Asia, and in the West complete. When do could be a table; it could be a book. I it’s repaired twice and you know when to think that’s what art does, you know, stop? then sold or cashed in for something as much as it can else. So I just think, in that sense, the breaker’s yard is actually a hopeful thing. At one point or another we are all broken ourselves, and then hopefully go beyond that.

Would you allow me to extend this to the act of writing, in the sense that writers are repurposing the lives of other people, maybe their own lives, even to the point of maybe repurposing bits and piece of narrative form, which they then refashion to suit their own desires? I don’t know. I haven’t gone there yet in my head. You can interpret it that way, but I don’t think I do. That’s not my motive anyway. I

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disgrace something.

Well, until you can find no more obvious errors, as far as you can see. There will always be errors one could find. That’s why I no longer reread my books since they’ve come out. Trying to reread The English Patient and then finding a problem there—that’s kind of a problem for me. You just sense it at the time.

In The Cat’s Table, Michael is very hesitant to show his early work to Mr. Fonseca, another writer. Let me please read the passage to you: “Michael further must now note that it would likely have been Ramadhin, his most recently deceased friend, not him, who in Mr. Fonseca’s eyes would have

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C O N V E R S A T I O N had the natural sensitivity and intelligence to be an artist. I do not believe those are necessarily requisites, but I have believed it then.” What, do you think, would the more mature Michael have seen, or see, as necessary requisites for artistic creation?

of a Lion) that “an implicit social critique of capitalism” in your work is gradually replaced “with a humanist construction of a male individual as artist.” Do you, perhaps in retrospect, see such a shift in your work yourself?

I think it’s a naïve point of view from Michael, at that point. The thing is, when you’re writing you’re writing the character from somebody who is not you. Michael may be my name, but certainly one of the pleasures of writing fiction is that you can say things that you don’t believe, and then say, “Perhaps I was wrong.” Definitely, I don’t believe that, but you can understand someone at an early stage of writing not wanting to show it to anybody else. I think definitely, you know, the most horrible people can be great writers.

I am not quite sure what he means by the second part of that. I don’t know. One of the problems with certain critics is that they really put their own simplified stamp on writers. I don’t think writers think like that. It’s the voice of a non-writer. It’s like a reviewer saying, “he seems to have lost his way. He made a mistake. He should have done this. He should have done that.” As if I hadn’t considered that and decided not to do that. Of course, writers do make mistakes. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen.

I’m of course not suggesting that you said it yourself; I’m just asking about the character Michael. —A professional reader remarked once (after reading In the Skin

Well, thank you for your time, Michael. It was a pleasure.

Michael Wutz is a Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at Weber State University and the editor of Weber—The Contemporary West. He is the co-editor of Reading Matters: Narrative in the New Media Ecology (Cornell, 1997), the co-translator of Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford, 1999), and the author of Enduring Words—Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology (Alabama, 2009). His co-edited volume Conversations with W.S. Merwin was published in 2015 (Mississippi).

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T S E W E H DING T

REA

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] – vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

ASIANS IN THE U.S. According to the 2010 Census, the Asian population grew faster than any other ethnicity in the United States between 2000 and 2010. As of 2012, Asian Americans had the highest educational attainment level and median household income of any ethnic demographic in the country. The Asian population continued to be concentrated in the West, with the Chinese as the largest detailed group. Nearly three-fourths of all Asians lived in ten states. Four of these states are in the West. The 2010 U.S. Census reported: The ten states with the largest Asian alone-or-in-combination populations in 2010 were California (5.6 million), New York (1.6 million), Texas (1.1 million), New Jersey (0.8 million), Hawaii (0.8 million), Illinois (0.7 million), Washington (0.6 million), Florida (0.6 million), Virginia (0.5 million), and Pennsylvania (0.4 million). Together, these ten states represented nearly three-fourths of the entire Asian population in the United States. Sources: U.S. Census, The Asian Population: 2010, March 2012, https://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-11.pdf.

Source: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21669595-asian-americans-are-united-states-most-successful-minoritythey-are-complaining-ever.


R E A D I N G

T H E

W E S T

SOUTH ASIANS IN THE U.S. Nearly 1.6 billion people are South Asian, from the countries of the Indian subcontinent. Over 20 million now live outside South Asia, scattered around the world. The South Asian community in the United States includes individuals who trace their ancestry to Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, among others. The community also includes members of the South Asian diaspora—past generations of South Asians who originally settled in other parts of the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, Canada and the Middle East, and other parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands. The 2010 Census and the 2013 American Community Survey, between 2000 and 2010 notes: [T]he South Asian population became the fastest growing major ethnic group in the U.S. The growth rate for the South Asian population greatly exceeds that of the Asian American population as a whole (10 percent), as well as that of the Hispanic American population (4 percent), and non-Hispanic whites (2 percent). South Asians make up one of the largest Asian American ethnic groups in the country. The five states with the largest South Asian populations are California, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Illinois. Metropolitan areas with the largest South Asian populations are New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco-Oakland. Over the past ten years, the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area overtook the Los Angeles metropolitan area with the thirdlargest South Asian population. Top 5 U.S. Metropolitan Areas for Select South Asian Groups

Washington, DC

Dallas, TX

Chicago, IL

Washington, DC

Dallas, TX

Los Angeles, CA

Los Angeles, CA

Seattle, WA

Los Angeles, CA

Boston, MA

Washington, DC

San Francisco, CA

Source: Asian American Federation, “A Demographic Snapshot of South Asians in the United States,” Dec. 2015. http://saalt. org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Demographic-Snapshot-updated_Dec-2015.pdf).

INDIAN COMPANIES CREATE 91K JOBS IN U.S. According to The Hindu, a total of one hundred major Indian companies created more than 91,000 jobs in the U.S. by investing $15 billion in a wide range of sectors across 35 American states, according to a latest report. The top five states where Indian companies have generated maximum employment are New Jersey (9,300 jobs), California (8,400), Texas (6,200), Illinois (4,800), and New York (4,100). According to the report, 84.5 percent of the companies plan to make more investments in the United States, and 90 percent of the companies plan to hire more employees locally in the next five years.

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Major job creation contributors are sizeable investments in the IT sector (40 percent), life sciences (14 percent), manufacturing (14 percent), automotive (4 percent), and conventional energy investments such as oil, gas, and renewable energy. Source: “Indian companies create 91k jobs in U.S.,” The Hindu, 15 July 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/indian-companies-create-91k-jobs-in-us-indian-roots-american-soil/article7424539.ece.

HIGH-SKILLED IMMIGRANTS CREATE JOBS FOR U.S. WORKERS A new study by the Partnership for a New American Economy finds that more American workers would be employed in computer-related jobs, and their wages would have grown faster after the recession in 2008, if more high-skilled immigrants were allowed to work in the United States. The study looks at how different cities fared in the [H-1B] visa lotteries in 2007 and 2008— right before the financial crisis and most recent recession. In particular, it calculates how many H-1B applications for jobs were rejected in the lottery over those two years, and how much it would have affected the size of the city’s tech sector if the applications had not been denied. Economists found that as many as 231,224 tech jobs for U.S.-born workers weren’t created because of H-1B visa rationing. In addition, visa rationing kept wages from rising faster. The report finds that U.S.-born, college-educated workers in computer-related fields missed out on as much as $3 billion in aggregate annual earnings. U.S.-born workers without bachelor’s degrees were especially hurt, because they often fill jobs supporting high-skilled workers. By 2009-10, U.S. metrpolitan areas lacked as many as 188,582 computer-related jobs for U.S.-born workers without college degrees as a result of the large number of visa applications that were denied. Cities whose employers faced large numbers of denials in the H-1B visa lotteries experienced considerably less job creation and wage growth in the years that followed, costing tech sectors hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in missed wages. Source: Sean Hackbarth, “High-Skilled Immigrants Create Jobs for U.S. Workers, Study Finds,” 5 June 2014. https://www. uschamber.com/above-the-fold/high-skilled-immigrants-create-jobs-us-workers-study-finds.

EDITORIAL MATTER

ISSN 0891-8899 —Weber is an international, peer-reviewed journal published biannually by The College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah 84408-1405. Full text of this issue and historical archives are available in electronic edition at https://www.weber.edu/weberjournal Indexed in: Abstracts of English Studies, Humanities International Complete, Index of American Periodical Verse, MLA International Bibliography, and Sociological Abstracts. Member, Council of Learned Journals. Subscription Costs: Individuals $20 (outside U.S., $30), institutions $30 (outside U.S., $40). Back issues $10 subject to availability. Multi-year and group subscriptions also available. Submissions and Correspondence: Editor, | Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street Dept. 1405, Ogden, UT 84408-1405. 801-626-6473 | weberjournal@weber.edu Copyright © 2016 by Weber State University. All rights reserved. Copyright reverts to authors and artists after publication. Statements of fact or opinion are those of contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the sponsoring institution.


©Hains, Ogden, UT

ANNOUNCING the 2015 Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Poetry Award

to Connolly Ryan

for “Impossible to Paint, Nature Persists,” and other poems in the Fall 2015 issue The Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Award of $500 is presented annually to the author of the best poetry published in Weber during the previous year. Funding for this award is generously provided by the Howard family. Dr. Sherwin W. Howard (1936-2001) was former President of Deep Springs College, Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University, editor of Weber Studies, and an accomplished playwright and poet.


©Jon Williams

ANNOUNCING the 2015 Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Fiction Award

to Evan Morgan Williams for “The Repair Job” in the Fall 2015 issue The Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Award of $500 is presented annually to the author of the best fiction published in Weber during the previous year. Funding for this award is generously provided by the Seshachari family. Dr. Neila C. Seshachari (1934-2002) was a much respected advocate for the arts and humanities. Professor of English at Weber State University for 29 years, committed teacher, accomplished scholar, critic, and fiction writer, Neila was editor of Weber Studies for 12 years.


Nonprofit Org U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT No. 151 OGDEN, UTAH

Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street, Dept. 1405 Ogden, UT 84408-1405 www.weber.edu/weberjournal Return Service Requested

An international, peer-reviewed journal spotlighting personal narrative, commentary, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that speaks to the environment and culture of the American West and beyond.

SPRING/SUMMER 2016—VOL. 32, NO2—U.S. $10

CONVERSATIONS

Shabana Azmi, Ana Castillo, David Lee, Michael Ondaatje, Terry Tempest Williams

ESSAYS

Benjamin Cohen, Alan Johnson, Parvinder Mehta, Paula Richman

FICTION

Ameena Hussein, Bina Shah

POETRY

Meena Alexander, Kaiser Haq, Tabish Khair, Suniti Namjoshi

ART

Pala Pothupitiye

https://www.facebook.com/weberjournal

http://www.weber.edu/CAH

Weber—The Contemporary West | Vol. 32 | No. 2  

South Asia focus, NULC focus

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