FROM "MULTILINGUAL APPROACHES TO ENGLISH PROSE" - winner of the 2022 Bechtel Prize from Teachers & Writers Magazine
Teaching English literature and creative writing in Hawai‘i is akin to laying down a parallel track to an already busy, multi-lane highway. To my entrance survey question of “what language do you speak at home,” I receive a multitude of answers: Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Samoan, Tagalog, Ilocano, Afrikaans, Spanish, Portuguese, Okinawan, even Chamorro and ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i. Being multilingual myself, I relish the linguistic diversity of my students. I share these responses to the entrance survey, and a look of curious amusement animates their faces. Even on zoom, I can tell I’ve piqued their interest by my interest in their “home” languages. They sit up, lean in. Shut off cameras turn on. They are looking at me with all their eyes. “We are going to build upon the rich lives you live in these other languages,” I tell my students. “Our mother tongues and grandmother tongues are going to help us write great creative prose in English.”
FROM "BLOOD, SWEAT, TURMERIC"
My very first period came to me like a stranger on a train. My parents and I were taking an overnight sleeper from Delhi to Bombay to visit my paternal grandmother. Because of a feud between her and my mother, Dadi and I had never met, but the stories I’d heard had already caused me to fear her more than anyone else in the world. Perhaps it was the dread of seeing her that sent my organs into overdrive, but sometime around the break of dawn I felt the urge to pee, and even though using a toilet on an Indian train is an exercise in an extreme form of Buddhist tolerance, I had my mother rush me there. I lifted my shirt, and from the folds of my ochre salwar, a blossoming field of red stared back.
FROM "AN OPEN LETTER TO MY THIRTY-PLUS-YEAR-OLD OVARIES"
And now, in my thirties, an email reminder would be super nice, so I am completely prepared for your product releases. Timing is super important, as you gals well know. Otherwise, the boys come too early, or too late, and your product, the thing that you gals worked so hard on, just gets stood up, and that’s such a shame! You know what it’s like being stood up. You’ve experienced it for what, a decade now? So please help me help you!
FROM "WE ALL HAVE COVID UNTIL NONE OF US HAVE COVID"
India’s COVID-19 crisis has made it clear that people’s communal faith is the miracle holding together India’s health care scaffolding. The schoolroom village clinics and the one-room urban clinics resemble a housing project that continuously runs out of funding and forever looks like a bamboo skeleton. We, the common people of India, put our faith into its unfinished floors, hope that world-class facilities would one day materialize out of thin air. But faith has a bad habit of running out. While we believed in Dr. Singh’s vials, we weren’t blind to the fact that if something really bad happened, his tonics wouldn’t save us. His one-room dispensary didn't have the same resources as the multi-story hospitals where my uncles performed open-heart surgeries. We lived on a prayer that nothing worse than what Dr. Singh could cure happened to us.
Having a ghost for a grandmother means that we cannot use Grandfather's phone, the one he keeps on the circular table next to his bed, because the Office of Missing Persons has the number to that line, and the even though the office is defunct and its clerks no longer restore missing persons, someone from that office might still call grandfather with news about our grandmother. They might catch her crossing a street or buying bananas, and then she might come back to him and they would be reunited. Some portion of his life would turn out in the colors of the saris that he weaves with her name on it. Unlike our mother, Ila and I do not doubt. Ila and I believe, because as Grandfather says, one day our saris will earn so much renown they will be famous in Pakistan, and then Grandmother will have no choice but to come back to us and claim us as her own.
In the foyer she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror, and saw that her aunt’s top had aged her, given her a seriousness and a bust heretofore hidden in the loose-fitting army jackets she wore. The door to Bart’s apartment was open, and she followed the cloud of voices into the living room, where a hundred or so people were gathered. By the fireplace a huge photo of a white-blond-haired lady leaned on an easel. Classical music played from invisible speakers. Bart was receiving condolences. The GPD towered over him, shaking hands. Meera could tell Bart did not like the guy much, the way he evaded his eyes and needlessly thanked him for coming. Twice, she thought of leaving – she seemed to be the only MA student, aside from Tom, the guy she had Bart’s class with. A while later she saw the Spanish sisters from Literary Theory, and relaxed. But they said a quick hello and disappeared into the kitchen where the wine was. She followed them and sipped some herself. Moscato D’Asti from Italy. The bubbles distracted from the bitterness.
Two days after Srinivas Kuchibhotlas was shot dead at a bar in Kansas, his wife Sunayana Dumala spoke at a press conference about her concern for staying on in America. “I often asked my husband,” she revealed, her voice breaking, “are we doing the right thing (by) staying.” Sunayana’s fears hint at the awkward moral burden immigrants from the Indian subcontinent place upon themselves.
In the small apartment full of corners and edges like Picasso’s cubist phase, our dormitorio lay above half a flight of stairs. Every morning, we emerged into the sun-filled living room to find Eva ushering us to breakfast on the terrace. From the corner of my eye, I discerned a pile of bed sheets and pillows on the living room sofa, but each time I got distracted by the stack of greeting cards she’d been painting. Blues and purples and reds flowed like water over stiff cream paper in the shape of faces and city scenes. Often she joined us on the terrace, bringing a cup of hot water for my mom’s tea, coffee for me. She was an artist, and when she learned I was a writer, we both somehow found a language that did not require the use of Google Translate. I fully understood her admiration of Victor Hugo’s ability to portray so well the lives of market women in Les Mis. While I watched her speak, as much with her fingers as with her Andalusian-accented Spanish, I wondered about the dark circles under her eyes. Had she given up her own bed? At twenty-five euros a night, it did not seem like a worthwhile bargain.
Going to hell is a serious prospect, Pastor says. Can I allow my own father to go to hell? Which is why Pastor must meet him. He pulls out his Blackberry and suggests dates.
You’ve gone and done it. Exposed what was best concealed. There isn’t any dignity left in you! Father is so furious he can’t look at me.
I pull out my diary and write the word PERSECUTION. I tell myself there is a reward for this. Already, my story of conversion is somewhat of a legend, a miracle for which everyone rushes to take credit. It was me that saved her, claims Laura. I shared the bridge diagram with her first, claims Ben. If I am patient and persevering, my father’s anger will earn me fame.
Jesus says, Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. In my case, I’d chosen to fish for Father.
It’s been twenty years, but I still remember that cup of coffee. It tasted of shame, of inadequacy—my father’s inadequacy. The same way I had not earned my plane journey, he too hadn’t earned his US visa. He didn’t have to pass an exam for it, nor labor for hours. The joy that was forthcoming was hardly a joy. Of course, we didn’t know it then, standing in the airport, sipping the free milk, that the hard work was about to begin. That we were about to pay for our journeys, and for our joys.
At the unemployment office, the coordinator asked us to stand in ascending order of our social security numbers and that was how Dad ended up at the back of the queue by the exit, and me and Maa near the front, right after the white people.
Published February 2018 in Little Fiction | Pushcart Prize nominee | Voted Top Ten Most Read Story of the Year
On the cold February morning he was to die, Barre Nanu, proud proprietor of Rehman Sari Shop, chance owner of Tilat Villa of the old Nawabi Mohallah, set off to the dentist for a new set of dentures.
Published Winter 2017 in Bat City Review
Bombay was a bitch. Bombay was an aggressive ex. The traffic moved so slow. It wasn’t her fault. She swayed, scrunched, collapsed, twisted, bent to make way for every fucker in every vehicle while still holding a bag, a funny knife (hidden in her blouse), her sari pleats, and a gesture to stop. This is the way I was born. Not born, no, but grew into. Feel pity or disgust or whatever it is you need to feel and cough up a rupee.
Her own bodyguards shot her, our beloved Prime Minister, Mrs. Gandhi.
Hindu things, Muslim things. If you look for them, they are everywhere, juxtaposed on the Banaras ghats like Bhai’s wife and I, a week later, on our way to visit the Aurangzeb Mosque on the Panchganga Ghat. The mosque is a stoic structure with minimal embellishments, sun dappling its courtyard for children to play. We stood in the welcome room where the caretaker was telling us a story about the mosque’s origins. “Prime Minister Nehru had to have its minarets chopped,” he told us.
The evening of 3 June, 2013 was the first time I’d experienced the sting of pepper spray. I was walking on Cumhuriyet Caddesi near Taksim Square in central Istanbul, where, for the past five days, civilians and the Turkish police have been clashing over what the international media has called “a matter of a few trees”.