Sunday, November 8, 2015

On Desire


I desire
       every inch
              of you.

Your breath on my lips,

        the taste of  
your sweet sweat on my tongue,

your voice
       whispering in my hair

your fingertips 
       tracing the lines of my face

your smile above me

the smell of our sex

you pulsing in my blood
 through every vein.  

You’ve made me religious,

for it is now that I understand:

cursed
is the flesh;

damned
is the heart

that desires what might be given,

but what can-not be taken.

Friday, October 23, 2015

About my Grandmother


When I was in high school, there was this dark, rainy, downright-ugly day. It was pouring rain. The kind that if you were caught in it for a few seconds, you were soaked. I came home from school and plopped in front of the TV. After about fifteen minutes, my grandmother came up behind me, she was always right there, and asked, “Hey, aren’t you supposed to pick up your brother?” of course, she said it in Gujarati.
Oh crap, she’s right! I looked at the time and realized that my brother would be half way home by now, so I decided I was going to walk out to meet him and walk the rest of the way back with him. I left the house without an umbrella and without a jacket, and started on the path. Sure enough, about halfway, I saw my brother trudging along, miserable as can be. He had this green jacket, so if you zipped it up all the way, there would be this tiny hole at his forehead, so I have to say, he had it zipped up to about his chin. With every forward trudge, his whole body collapsed into what I can only describe as slog.
I came up to him and said, “Hey, let’s get as wet as we possibly can!” and we did. We jumped in every puddle. We shook every tree for the extra rain. We walked in the swollen gutters. We were drenched through, and through by the time we got to the front door where our grandmother was waiting for us. She looked at us, scoffed and turned away. She was a woman frugal with her words and economical with her emotions.
When someone leaves this world, we have a tendency to reflect on whether they have left us too soon, or whether they have been released from suffering. To most of us suffering and happiness are negatively correlated. But, if you ask different generations, “What is happiness?” you’ll get fundamentally different responses.
Some of you may know that on both sides of my family, I’m the first born outside of India, and the first one born here in the U.S. My generation asks questions. What did Ba’s tattoos mean? Was she happy? At another time, I asked Himat Mama if he thought Nani was happy and at best it was an upsetting question. She was married; she had children; she was taken care of­­­—of course she was happy. But that’s not what I mean.
I’ve tried asking others, but I’ve never received a real response. I’ve learned to stop asking older generations. Yet, here I am wondering, was she happy? Ever? In my definition of happiness?

This is what I know:
—She exercised every day. EVERY DAY. Until she couldn’t any more. Think about this. How many Indian women older than our generation really exercise? Sure, you see the men walking about, but not the women. And, she exercised every day.
—She loved animals. As Samir noted already, in 1999 when Nikki was hit by a truck, she vowed never to get close to any animal again because it was too painful when they died. Truth. She retreated into herself even further.
I tried to get to know her in various ways in the past, but never could get very far. It wasn’t until she was submerged in dementia that I learned more. Once, she was like a nine-year-old girl, talking about her polished nails, and how she wanted to style her hair. I asked her about her tattoos.
—She had tattoos on her hands, arms, chest, neck and face. She said, jare who nani chaukri hathi thyara theej mane shawk hatha (ever since I was a young girl, I had a passion for tattoo art). I learned she was more than a grandmother, more than the woman who kept her children safe during the trek from Pakistan to India during the Partition, she was a girl, a woman.
—And, boy did she have a sharp tongue! She would cut through the ish around us and tell it straight and hard, no chaser. I enjoyed that about her!
There are fundamental differences between people. Here it is October 2015, and what I learned from my grandmother is—Always Do You.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Too Good for Arranged Marriage?



 
You’re not going to college; you’re getting married. Your husband can decide whether you go to college. When are you going to get married, so your husband can take you to the hospital instead of us? Are you too good for an arranged marriage?
Fifteen years of my life were consumed with talks of arranged marriage while my parents tried to prevent me from dating. Of course, I found my way around these things… I dated their employees. I stole their car and ran away to college. They’re typical, “don’t!” and I “did” kind of things.
On both sides of my family, I am the first to be born outside of India, the first to be born in the U.S., and I suffered through judgment for the wicked act of expecting more from potential life partners. Yeah, I gave it a shot. And, yeah, it has worked out for other people. This is the story of the best candidate arranged marriage had to offer me.
I was 26. He was 30. I was in the Bay Area, home from Santa Barbara for a wedding, and he was visiting from San Diego going to the same wedding. I was told to talk to and consider, let’s call him Bharat, because that’s his name­—B for short. Of course, being ordered to talk to this guy meant avoiding him at all costs, just as he was avoiding me. We were circling the room in opposite directions and kept running into each other in the same two spots, and each time, quickly brushing past each other. I don’t think we spoke once that evening. And, I felt bad. I mean, I had known him since we were little kids.
The last time we hung out I was 10 and he was 14. We were at someone’s house for a dinner party, the kind where all the little kids would sneak away to watch TV or play cards or whatever. At this dinner party, there were four boys and my sister, all around the same age 14-16 years old, and there was 10 year old me. They were your typical mischievous, rock-and-roll- listening, guitar-playing, skateboarding, brown boys. And, we watched porn. To be fair, I’m assuming it was porn, but it very well could have been something on Cinemax or HBO late night. There was this chauffer who kept driving this same woman around and they kept banging on hay in this barn. At one point, she was banging someone else in the barn, and he came in with a different girl to bang her, and they were trying to hide their banging activities from one another, and it was hilarious! At one point, I remember laughing and pointing at the TV, but the boys turned on me and singled me out, “What are you laughing about?,” “She’s probably freaking out over all the sex.” No. It was funny the way the scene was set up and that particular… plot… point. Anyway, they shut me down, and that was the last time I hung out with this guy.
The day after the wedding, I felt bad that I was so rude to him. I mean, come on. It’s not like we HAVE to get married. We knew each other, so it really doesn’t have to be awkward. What did I do? I tracked down his number, gave him a call and apologized for being rude. He then invited me to meet up at the Durant Hotel in Berkeley. I did. We reminisced about the porn watching, and laughed, and went for a walk on campus—like my dad, he had graduated from Cal, and had a soft spot for anything Berkeley. It was all together, not so bad.
He invited me down to visit him in San Diego, his turf. He lived in Pacific Beach, and I got to see Jewel, before she was famous, playing in the coffee shop down the street. That’s the highlight. So, I get there, and he has 6 female housemates, and they all proceed to tell me at various times, how they’ve each gotten together with him in the past year. Ew?
Later that night, we went for a walk in La Jolla and one of the pretty housemates came along. We were walking and talking, and he kept trying to hold her hand. In front of me. As if I couldn’t see. She saw that I saw, and at one point, when I turned my back but could still see from the corner of my eye she was flailing her hands at him telling him to stop being an idiot. Serious. That night, he asks me to make out with him because he has insomnia. Uh. Let me think… No. To be fair though, from what I’ve experienced in the dating scene the past few years, guys still don’t have game—not much has changed. So instead, we talked about our childhoods and our dreams of the future. We both loved Spanish Mediterranean homes. He still played the guitar, and he loved horse races. He spent quite a bit of time at Del Mar tracks. I love dancing, and singing, and music, and writing, and reading, and bike riding, and rollerblading, and hiking, and being on stage, having an audience. We drifted off to sleep.
   The next day, we drove up to LA for another of his friend’s weddings. During the drive, he pointed out Del Mar racetrack as we passed it, and we continued our talks about what each of us wanted. At some point, he brought up some money troubles, and asked to borrow $750 for a car payment while he waited for his next paycheck. I pulled out my checkbook and wrote it out to him. I mean, family friend and all.
We arrive at this fancy pants house where I meet gorgeous Armenian women close to my age. Gorgeous, but rude. I’m Indian from Santa Barbara, and they’re Armenian from LA. Plastic Beach Town vs. Plastic City. They were all wearing different color handkerchief dresses. Remember those? It wasn’t a planned thing; they weren’t bridesmaids, just all wearing the same thing. They were all very stylish, and totally and completely snubbed me, the outsider. I tried saying Hi; I tried small talk; I tried complimenting. It became clear that this bunch needed me to be cruel and crafty. And, that’s just not me. So, I hung around B’s guy friends. They were all very nice. One of them, Azim, actually treated me like a human being and asked me about my life and my thoughts, and we had a real conversation until his bitchy girlfriend came over to shut it down.
We arrive at the reception hall as one big overdressed young group. It was beautiful. A dim-lit dining room in a posh LA hotel with rich mahogany woods. The long tables set up on either side of the dance floor.
B and I sat at a table with the mean girls. After some small talk, at one point, B turns to me and puts me on the spot. Out of the blue he’s pointing at the girl in front me and asks,  “What do you think of her hair?”
Me? “I think your hair is gorgeous! It’s a great cut, and has great movement.”
B turns to me, his demeanor and person physically intimidating, and spits in my face, “She’s wearing a wig and she has cancer!”
Whaaat? Did I space out? I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do anymore, but being screamed at, hearing this news, and I’m not even sure if I blundered. The weekend has not been great, and I’ve been a pretty good sport up until then. Everything that was not working welled up inside me. I excused myself and found my way to the bathroom.
I went into a stall and finally let out tears of frustration and sadness and humiliation and anger and disappointment. I was trying to think of what to do and where to go. I wanted to get out of there. This is before there were cell phones, and I wished for my car. Even if I could get a car, where was I going to go? I wasn’t really sure where I was. Am I  going to drive back to Santa Barbara at that time of night? The rest of my things and plane ticket were all in San Diego.
Then Azim. Wordless…. Entered the ladies lounge. Found me in the stall. Led me to the couch. Held me until I cried it all out. Wiped away my tears. Fixed me up. Kissed me on the forehead, and told me I’m beautiful. We stayed there in the bathroom until we started laughing and cracking jokes. The kindness of a gentle man with a good heart.
He led me out and back into the dining room. He and his friends took turns dancing with me, and twirling me about, making me smile, keeping me occupied, keeping me away from their women, and from B, all of whom were still shooting daggers at me. The last time I saw Azim, his girl was yelling at him near one of the tables, and B and I were heading out to the car. We locked eyes for a second. That was our goodbye.
It was a miserable drive back with B. I was thrilled when I got on that plane to go home. If I could have gotten out of San Diego faster, I would have.
But then, remember that $750 dollars he borrowed? After a few lies, and a couple of months, of still not seeing that check, I finally had to call my dad. $750 is a lot. I told my dad everything: the other girls, flat out asking me to make out for nothing, screaming at me in front of everyone, crying in the bathroom, Azim. The only thing my dad had to say, “Wait. You mean, that mother-fucker borrowed money? From YOU? Jeez. You need to call his mom now, and tell her. I’m not getting involved with this guy.” So, here I now have to call his sweet, kind, mother. I said something like, “Hi auntie. How are you? I’m so sorry… $750… something about horse races…” Three days later, I get an angry scrawled check in the mail.
I’m not perfect. I also wouldn’t say I have impossible standards. Am I too good for an arranged marriage? Well, considering B was the best of the lot I had met. That may be. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Music is Gone...


Sometimes driving me crazy
… stuck in my head over and over
hands brushing, drawn together like magnets

Sometimes in my dreams
… travels and futures and creation and souls finding each other

Sometimes in my heart
… fragrance and color of rose lingers though there were none

Sometimes haunting
… your hands on my waist and body pressed against mine,
but I open my eyes and you aren’t there.

Pulling the sun from the sky
For one more delicious stolen kiss from your mouth.

Joy has vanished.  
Though music plays, I can't hear it, can't feel it.
Numb spreads from my heart like disease.
The music is gone.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

My First Black Eye

(Fictionalized Memoir of an Indian American)

        “You’re up first sweetheart. Go ahead and drop your dress.”
        “What?”
        “Drop your dress or you’re out.”
-----------------
        Ah Vegas. I was there with my good friend Steve, and his friend Chris. A day earlier we were walking around Treasure Island and stumbled upon a country bar with a mechanical bull.
        The three of us stepped into the bar. It was still early and unusually empty, so the familiar smells of wood, veneer, stale, spilt alcohol and mildew were the first things I noticed. Steve and Chris went straight for the bar to order drinks. I, not being a drinker, bee-lined for the mechanical bull.
        I’d always wanted to ride a mechanical bull. There were so many things I always wanted to do, but never did. Things were different though. There I was in my 40s, divorced, in Vegas with friends. And, right in front of me, a mechanical bull!
        I just wanted to ride. So while Steve and Chris were ordering their drinks, I was talking the guy at the controls into letting me give it a go.
        I took off my slippers and stepped onto the air mattress barefoot, making my way– first sinking in, then stepping up, slowly getting over to the bull.
        Steve walked over to the edge of the rink, “What’re ya doin?”
        “I’m gonna ride the bull,” I replied holding onto the pommel.
        Looking skeptical, “You don’t really want to do that, come on.”
        “Yeah. I do.”
        I put a foot in the stirrup and easily heaved myself up almost like I was getting onto a motorcycle.
        “Are you ready?” the guy at the control asked.
        “Yep.”
        “Ok, so one hand up in the air at all times. Don’t be afraid to fall. The air mattress is all around you. It’s impossible to get hurt.”
        I tried to keep my eyes from having that deer in headlights look, tried to be cool. It was my first time, but I wanted to seem relaxed and not so stiff. I raised my left arm, my hand in a fist, my elbow slightly bent, vaguely aware I was a brown person in a white bar making a Black Power salute.
        A signal buzzed, and the bull started out slow and rhythmic. I relaxed into the motion as the bull started to pick up pace.
        I could ride into the faster bucks, and really had to work to relax my arms and neck. It got faster. And faster again. Just when I thought that was it, it got even faster still. There was no rhythm anymore, my nylon pants had some grip, but I really wished for my jeans. I was at the bull’s mercy now. There was no keeping pace or following pace. There was only keeping my bones together while I was thrown about like a rag doll.
        Finally, I let go. I let go and went flying, back first, eyes closed, and I sank. I was unsteady and disheveled making my way through the sinking air mattress to the exit. I heard applause, from somewhere. The guy at the controls took my hand to help me down. As I was putting my slippers back on, he produced a clipboard and told me, “Hey, sign up for the competition tomorrow night! It’s ladies only and you’re a natural. There’s a $1000 prize if you win, and you totally could.”
        As I was signing the paper, because, man, I could really use that money, I was trying to get a sense of my surroundings. Had he been extra gentle with the controls? Is this for real? I finished signing in, my name first on the list, and the three of us left the bar.
        “Come back tomorrow at 8pm sharp!” the controller guy called after me.
-----------------
        The next day, we came back early. I handed my camera to Chris to take pictures, and Steve and Chris went back to the bar again. I checked in and went to go stand in line with the 3 other women. Who by the way, were gor-geous! 24-26 years old, one blond, one brown-haired, and one black woman. Chatting with them, I realized I was the only one who had ever been on a mechanical bull before–this very one in fact!
        A crowd of men and a few women were in the bar now, and it was hard to see their faces then much less remember them now. I remember big bellies, button down shirts, work pants, glasses, bad hair, and name tags. There must have been a convention.
        I was ushered to the front—having signed up the day before. Then, the same controller guy looked up from his controls.
        “You’re up first sweetheart. Go ahead and drop your dress,” he said.
        “What?”
        “Drop your dress or you’re out.”
        “I heard you. What do you mean?”
        He gestured to the banner that I was seeing for the first time. It said, “Bikini Bull Riding.”
        “Bikini? I don’t have a bikini on. I didn’t know.”
        “Well, make a decision. Drop your dress or you’re out.”

These are the thoughts that fired in my brain:

        My parents. Them telling me, “Do things that will make your family proud.” But they weren’t there… and, I am an adult. It was no longer about them anymore.
        Tank tops. The fact that I wore one for the first time when I was 26 years old. Not really wearing skirts and dresses that showed my calves and knees until I was in my mid 30s.
        Being controlled. My ex husband not allowing me to talk on the phone in my house. Making and finishing up my calls, even to my mother, brother and best friend, in the car. Getting yelled at for talking to people at dinner parties.
        Nope, it was time I lived. I get to choose.
        I was aware of the gaze upon me. They did not know me; they did not care about me. I represented all women to them. I would be on stage. It was their gaze. I knew the scars, I knew the accidents, the achy knees, the plantar fasciitis, where the bruises were when my soon to be ex husband wouldn't stop throwing things at me, the extra work it now took for my muscles to remember their shape. It was my body, and I knew EXACTLY how old it was and is.

        All these thoughts fired through my head one after another in a split-second before… Before I reached behind my neck and released my halter dress. It dropped onto the floor in a puddle at my bare feet. There I was in my underwear.
        I stepped onto the air mattress. There was a rushing sound in my ears, and I felt myself disassociate from my body. I glanced at the crowd and saw all the men cheering. I saw Chris with my camera, stunned, and next to him, my good friend, Steve… who looked like he was about to throw up. I pointed straight at him and then pointed at the door and mouthed, “YOU! GET OUT!” He moved fast, without question. Satisfied, I gave Chris a nod to take pictures, reached up for the pommel and swung my leg over the bull.
        I vaguely remember little things… I hadn’t noticed how soft the covering of the bull was through my pants the day before. I noticed there was no way to grip the bull with bare skin, not at all. I squeezed my knees and thighs tight against the sides, lifted my arm and gave the controller the signal to start.
        He started out at the gentle setting. But what was kind of cool the night before was not at all right in my underwear. I couldn’t think about the jiggling, whether I had stretch marks or varicose veins. The crowd got loud, and cheered as the controller spun the bull around for them to see the only two things they cared to see jiggle.
        As the bull got faster, I got more angry. Angry at the crowd, angry at the controller, angry at Steve… Slowly, I realized I wasn’t being forced to do any of this. I didn’t HAVE to do this. But, I HAD to do this.
        The bull started moving faster and my knees kept slipping on the sides. Before it got ridiculous, I let go and let myself fly off the bull backward. The crowd was a blur, my arms were stretched out, my back and neck hit the air mattress… and then, my legs kept going, and going… until my knees came up and over, and I kneed myself in the eye!
        Someone brought me ice in a bag for my eye. The rounds continued, then finished, many of the details a blur. I came in second. At the end of it, I sent all the people in the women’s restroom out and pulled Chris in so he could block the door. I put my clothes back on like an assemblage of useless armor. My arms and legs felt like rubber, my eye was throbbing. I retied the halter behind my neck and slipped my shoes back on. I turned to Chris and we walked back to the room and I felt numb.
-----------------
        Steve was moody and upset sitting in the room when we got there. I took ibuprofen, and put my ice on the table to get a better look at the beginning traces of my first black eye—it was swelling and red.
        My first black eye—self-inflicted.
        My first black eye—blossoming like the flaw in my argument for dropping my dress in the first place.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Not Tonight...

Even though it's raining and the parched earth is sipping only enough to whet its thirst, I will not write poetry tonight.

Even though a friend who annoys the shit out of me is leaving and I discovered I'll still miss him, I will not write poetry tonight.

Even though I feel the disparity in my bones while those around me scoff at displacement, I will not write poetry tonight.

I won't do it.

My curls are wet from being in a cloud

My eyes are stinging from not tears

My arms are wrapped around my self to soothe my heart after seeing a piece of beauty in the city die

But I will not write poetry tonight.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Thinness of a Once Thick and Muscled Arm

[Typically, I write fiction. This is a rare personal experience piece.]



Running late. On foot and approaching the BART station near my home, I saw a 20-something lady of the Silicon Valley tech bus riding variety wearing bright colored skinny jeans of some bright hue (pink? blue? purple? bright), a brightly colored sweater contrasting her jeans, a gray scarf circled loosely around her neck several times, cat-eye sunglasses, and her blonde in an asymmetrical razor cut bob. I saw the back side of a 30-something young man, wearing a gray over-sized sweatshirt, jeans, dirty sneaks and tan baseball cap, who watched the scene in front of him. I saw a man lying on the ground at the top of the stairs, beseeching the brightly clad young lady.

As I approached, and took in the scene, the lady was torn between hurrying on her way or trying to help the man on the ground. The young man watched, at some points obscuring my view of the young lady as she waffled back and forth in her steps unsure how to or whether to respond to the man on the ground.

As I approached, I was able to see more of the man lying on the ground. He wasn't a regular I had seen around in the past four years. He was older, maybe over 60, homeless, mentally ill, or a combination of both. He had a metal cane with a gray rubber covered handle–-the kind we see in medical supply stores or hospital emergency rooms. He was crying. He was pleading with the young woman to help him. It appeared as if he had tripped at the top of the stairs.

As I approached, I recalled what it is like to regret. And, here it was. Life presenting. I did what I learned from firemen who helped me when I panicked from an injury in my past–-a particularly bloody, seeing your own bone, altering your mind about the fragility of the human structure kind of injury from which, yes, I did recover rather well.

He didn't seem injured in any other way, there was no blood and he wasn't clutching at anything or focused on a particular area of his body. He didn't seem imminently dangerous. He didn't seem unpredictable.

I summoned gentle authority, crouched next to him, and asked, "What do you need?"
He gasped through his tears, "I just wanted ice cream."
I said, "Ok. The first step is getting you up."
He replied with a broken, "m-m" that indicated uncertainty.
I said, "I'm right here. Let's get you up. Ready?"

I reached out my left arm so he could balance on me, and gently put my right hand under his tricep in an effort to prop him up without squeezing. His thick tan and black plaid coat belied the thinness of a once thick and muscled arm.

I noticed his fingernails were overgrown and dirty, his skin rough and peeling, and his hand shook. He clutched several neatly folded bills, among them a $10 bill visible, thick enough to hold several more bills inside.

He hesitated to rest his hand on my left arm, but eventually stopped crying, decided I would not rob him, and began to focus. He braced himself, and tentatively hopped the foot closest to me underneath himself. Success on one side!

On his other side, he could not get his balance. The brightly colored young lady rushed there and copied my stance and hand positioning.

- "You're almost there," said the bright young woman.
- "You're almost there. You can do it. Take your time," I encouraged.
- The younger man in the gray sweater watched on, but couldn't, wouldn't, didn't move.

The man hesitated for his balance, gathering the tremendous effort it took to heave himself up, like a novice fallen skier straightening out skies and poles and legs akimbo. And, up he finally came. Success!

The three of us, younger man, tech lady, and myself, side by side, facing the same direction, watched him. Hobbling away with his cane and what looked like severe plantar fasciitis, or some other thing that kept him on tip toe on one foot, he pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his black and tan plaid coat to wipe his face, and glanced a determined smile upward from under his cap. 
A man renewed, a man empowered... 
somewhat renewed... 
maybe not very empowered...