Naturalized.

Born in New Delhi, capital city

of the largest democracy

in the world.

Raised in Delaware, first state

to ratify the constitution

of the USA.

Chose to become, U. S citizen

on my 21st birthday.

Relinquished allegiance

Pledged allegiance

Listened to the speaker

U.S. war veteran

telling us all

to speak English only

from now on.

Wondered why

I had chosen

a land of one language

over the land of 100 tongues.

Posed for pictures.

Voted for change.

Watched towers burn.

Mourned with my countrymen

but feared persecution

by the Real Americans.

All the while

lyrics swim in my head

from the dozen fireworks displays

of my youth.

“I am proud to be an American,

where at least I know I am free…

and I’ll gladly stand up, next to you.”

But sometimes I still wonder,

will you stand up next to me?

 

 

Advertisements

Jai Meerabai

Something about her captivated me.  Her waist was so narrow I thought it could fit between my thumb and pointer. Her eyes were wide and earnest and far away.  She was enraptured, tortured, swimming in the deep waters of pain and love. Her soul married Krishna, a Hindu God, butter thief, lover of women, and consultant to Kings, when she was five years old.  Her parents later married her body to a powerful lord, but she remained faithful to Krishna in her heart.

Her love for Krishna over family led to her being ostracized and attacked by her powerful in-laws.  Krishna protected her from these assaults.  He turned poison to ambrosia. He  transformed a bed of nails into a bed of roses.  Venomous snakes became garlands of flowers. She fled her in laws home and traveled the country, composing hundreds of song in praise of Lord Krishna. She became famous for her beautiful songs and the purity and strength of her devotion.  She grew old but did not die. She spent her last moments on earth performing rapturously in front of a crowd of hundreds, collapsed at the feet of a statue of Lord Krishna and vanished.

Meerabai. Poet- saint. Chanteuse.  Her Raags are still performed today.

I met her in a comic book when I was 8 or so. She was a beautiful illustration of a woman in love, a persecuted soul,  a spiritual leader.  I fantasized myself into those pages. My long eyelashes drooped sorrowfully and a playful half smile formed on my lips. I held my veena to my body, caressing the strings with a passion that I could detect but did not yet understand. I would name my daughter Meera in hopes that she would follow in the footsteps of this tragically mortal woman immortalized in pastels and word blocks. She was more beautiful than Cinderella, braver than Snow White, and more tortured than Belle. She was my fairy-tale princess. She was better than a fairy-tale princess. She was a real person.

In my 20s I worked as a rape crisis counselor and prevention educator.  As a counselor, I was surrounded by women in love, persecuted, and tortured. Their lives were not romantic, beautiful tradegies.  Life was painful, complicated, and real. As an educator, I spoke to hundreds of teenage boys and girls.  I talked about the power of stories and the messages in fairy tales. I wanted them to know that love did not have to equal pain and abuse. During those years, I thought often of Meerabai. Her story glorified pain and suffering. I would not name a daughter after her. I did not even know if I wanted children anymore. Comic books and fairy tales were fantasies concocted for and by men.  For a time, I let Meerabai go.

She has been calling to me lately again.  There is an itch inside of me. A  place in my mind that flashes her picture.  A small voice in my head trying to remind me of this one thing – Meerabai was no fairytale. She was a real woman.

She was born in 1498AD.  She wrote hundreds of songs that are still sung today.  She refused to join her husband on the funeral pyre. She left her family to wander the country. She sang to crowds of hundreds. She challenged the priests of the day with her devotion and piety. She did not heed the words of men because Krishna was the only true man.  These are the things we know about her. How much more is there that we do not know?

I want to know the herstory of Meerabai.  I do not want to be her, or name my daughter for her. I do not want to fetishize her or idolize her. I do not want to know the comic book version of her.  I want to know her pain, and her resilience, and her conviction and her insanity woman to woman. That is the story I can learn from. That is a story I can tell my children. Meerabai lived.

Missing pieces

When I was young,

I wished to be old.

When I was there,

I wished to be here.

When I was single,

I wished for him.

Now he is here,

and sometimes,

I wish for just me.

Sometimes,

I wish the kids were grown.

Sometimes,

I wish I was just my own.

But then wouldn’t I just wish

for times gone by,

when I sang the children

lullabyes?

Or maybe the puzzle is always complete.

In each moment we live.

We are whole.

We are here.

We are with who we are with.

We are doing what we are doing.

Maybe there are no missing pieces.

Maybe.

So what is it that you do?

Identity: community psychologist.

Psychology: the hows and whys of  people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions

Community: all the wheres that we live, work, and play in, and all the people you think of as your people.

Community psychologists want to know:

1. How do our communities make us feel, think, and act  awesome?

2. How do our communities make us feel, think, and act  like crap?

3.  What can we change in our communities so that we feel, think, and act awesome more often than we feel, think, and act like crap?

Why I became a community psychologist:

1. daughter of a psychiatrist: curious about why people think, feel, and act crazy.

2. daughter of a city public works official: aware that changes in the community lead to changes in people for better or worse.

3. add personal life experience and inclinations and mix.

What I have learned from being a community psychologist:

1. It’s hard to be sane in an insane world.

2. Considering how insane the world is, human beings are pretty sane.

3. People can survive a great deal of hardship if they have the right kind of community support.

4. The right kind of community support is often in short supply.

5. Communities can change, have changed, will change, and should change. Our evolution as human beings depends on it.

6. We can never eliminate all human suffering. But if we could eliminate the 75% of human suffering that comes from people being thoughtless, oppressive, jackasses, it would make the other 25% so much more bearable.

7. I am working on getting rid of that 75%. How about you?

Something about Shashi

There’s something silly about Shashi

Something strange. Something queer.

When she’s here, she wants there.

When she’s there she wants here.

 

There’s something odd about Shashi

Something hard to define.

Shashi’s heart has two homes

She lives life on the line.

 

There’s something sad about Shashi.

Something making her sigh.

She left there to come here.

But she can’t say goodbye.

 

There’s something changed about Shashi.

Something strong, something true

Though her heart says, “Go back there.”

She can’t leave without you.

I am the Child of Music

“Sing. Sing a song.  Sing out loud. Sing out strong.  Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear.  Just sing. Sing a song. “ – Sesame Street

I am the Music Hour Lady.  One hour of the day, one day a month, for the last two years I have led babies, toddlers, and other stay at home moms in song.  “Stomp your feet. Clap your hands. Everybody ready for a barnyard dance.” I talk to the children in a cheerful sing song voice.  I belt out nonsense lyrics at the top of my voice, with my son tucked on my hip. “I like to oat, oat, oat, opples and banonos.” I row my pretend boat around the room, going faster, and faster, and faster. I feel like I am 6 years old again, older than the babies, but still little enough to truly love this moment. But I am not 6 years old.  I am the Music Hour Lady.

I am the Hot Guitar Playing Indian Chick.  I sit in the stairwell of my dorm with my guitar.  I am learning to play my favorites – Dar Williams, Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin.  Sometimes I sing at the open mic night on campus.  I know I am not the best singer or guitar player.  My friends who play are serious and I’m pretty sure that they will keep Doing Music for the rest of their lives. My songs are for me.  “I fell in love with the man in the moon. And that man can ride a dragon.”    They are there for me when I need them.  I write songs when the mood strikes. “Turn around and your standing there, stalking me.”  but I forget to write them down. “Grandma wears bangles. Gold on paper skin.” They are just for now, just for here. 

I am the Drum Major.  “We’re not #5, not #4, #3, #2.  We’re #1. CHS!”   The football team is not doing so well this season, but it doesn’t matter.  The band will be there to cheer them on. I raise my arms up in the air. “Horns up!” Let’s give the crowd something to cheer about.  At halftime we march onto the field.  I step up on the podium.  I feel the eyes of a hundred musicians on me.  When I move, the dance begins. Bodies swirl across the field, and music pours into the stadium.  We are the screensaver for the game. We maintain the energy and enthusiasm of the fans until the second half.  We are the Concord high school marching band.

I am the Child of Music. It is late at night, but I am still awake. It is the summer after 1st grade. I am in an apartment in Madras in India. The air is heavy like a thick wet blanket. The room is open with very little furniture.  My head is resting on my mother’s lap. My father sits on the floor across from us, a guitar in his hands. There are a dozen or so others in the room,  women in colorful saris and salwar kameez, men in pants and short sleeve button down shirts.  Everyone’s feet are bare. Everyone sits on the floor. Some clutch knees to their bodies. Others legs splay out at their sides. Some sit cross legged and upright.  I am sleepy.  The room has been filled with music all night. My father finished singing and playing a moment ago. “I am just a poor boy though my story is seldom told. ”  Now it is my mother’s turn.  She clears her throat first like she always does.  She rubs my head gently. She closes her eyes as she sings.  “Mere ghar aye ek naan paare.”  It is a lullabye of sorts, my favorite. She sings of a beautiful fairy who appears at her window.  Everyone around her sighs.  I nestle my head into the space between her waist and her thigh and fall asleep. The night of music has just begun.

Indian, Western, or Fusion?

Scenario: I am attending the wedding of a good friend.  He’s a White guy marrying a White girl in a traditional White American wedding. My husband is in the wedding party.  Therefore, I will be attending the rehearsal dinner, the wedding itself, and the brunch that follows. With so many events to attend, this question inevitably arises; should I go Indian, Western, or Fusion?

Image

Rehearsal Dinne/Cocktails:  Indian

Why:  Sparkly ethnic clothes are good conversation starters, and I don’t have to be the one to start the conversation.  Also, White Americans usually don’t know whether the particular outfit you are wearing is worn everyday or for special occasions so there’s no danger of being over or under-dressed. The outfit is so eye catching, I don’t have to feel too self conscious about my face, hips, belly or butt or any of the million other things I am stressing about.   I can draw attention to myself and deflect attention from my flaws at the same time.  However, this plan can backfire if it attracts the wrong kind of attention. For instance, at one wedding I attended years ago, the father of the bride said to me, “So. Y’Indian?  Bet you’ll have a horse at your wedding. Or an elephant or something. Right? Ha, ha, ha, ha.” 

Image

Wedding:   American

Why: The wedding is the bride’s day.  I don’t want to stand out too much from the crowd.  I’ve already met people using my Indian clothes tactic from the day before, so I don’t need to worry so much about my outfit’s ice breaking qualities. My husband will be wearing a tux, and since there will be probably be pictures of the two of us together, I want us to look complementary. Since I will be drunk by the time we get to the real socializing, my normal insecurities about wearing dresses will be numbed (Is it too revealing? Not revealing enough? Does my belly stick out?  Is my bra showing? Is my skirt tucked up inside my underwear? How long should I wait to change out of these heel into my flip flops?).  Also, I plan to dance my ass off and Western dresses are often easier for me to dance in. I just can’t seem to figure out how to get down and dirty with six yards of fabric wrapped around me.  What’s the downside to going American? Many of the guests who see me dressed Indian the night before will be expecting an enhanced repeat performance. I may hear, “If I were you, I would only wear Indian clothes, they are so beautiful.”  There’s no quick and easy response to this one so I am risking a lengthy conversation with someone whose name I can’t remember, and who I never plan to see again.

Image

Brunch: Fusion

Why:  The brunch is at the bride’s parent’s home so I am guessing it should be  casual.   However, because they live in a fairly tony neighborhood I am guessing this crowd will tend toward “dress casual”. Dress casual is my most difficult dressing zone.  In my mind it’s really “casual for the wealthy”. I worry that the clothing I wear will not match the designer quality Western clothes that the other guests will surely be wearing. I am convinced that designer clothes are made for slim, tall, White, women and have never been comfortable even entering the stores that sell them.  Because of this, my style has tended toward the eclectic.  I like to shop at vintage stores, Target, inexpensive hipster boutiques, and my mother’s closet.  I mix it all together and get fusion!   I will distract these well dressed White people with my cunning pairing of a hipster knee length dress with an ironic cat on it,  leggings from a Indian outfit my mom just brought back from India, and some heels I picked up at payless.  They will not be able figure out where any of my clothes came from, so they will not be able to judge me!  What’s the danger in going fusion?  I am not really that fashionable. Sometimes I just don’t have the vision required to pull it off.  Instead of looking fashion forward, I look like a prime candidate for What not to Wear.

This question –  Indian, Western, or Fusion? –  is more than just a clothing choice.  My own hyper awareness of race, class, and gender related social norms makes me feel like I am engaged in a political act. It’s exhausting. Maybe that’s why I find the idea of a nudist colony so very appealing. Indian, Western, or Fusion? It’s all me.

 

Image

 

 

 

Soul Searchings

Image

SOUL SEARCHINGS
 
My sister was born with a tooth in her mouth and a chip on her shoulder.  She was spoiling for a fight from the first.  She eyed us suspiciously. She lashed out at us mistrustfully.  She was born on the defensive.  I was 9 when she was born. It was then that I began to  think seriously about the possibility of reincarnation.  Maybe, something bad happened to my sister in her past life, maybe right before she died.  My parents and I loved the fight out of my sister. It took patience, and time, and a Fred Flinstone punching bag.  She remained angry through her preteens, and then she mellowed. Whatever had happened to her before, she seemed to have moved on.
———————————
While in college, I traveled through Austria and Germany with the chamber singers. We performed hymns in old cathedrals.  In each of those spaces, as we began to sing, I felt myself disappear. My voice blended with those of my fellow singers. We became an instrument played inside a space that no longer existed in time.  We could have been singing a thousand years ago or on another planet.
During that same trip, we visited the concentration camps at Dachau.  I saw the ovens where hundreds of thousands of Jews were burned.  As I walked in that space, I was swallowed by the silent voices of a thousand screams.  I wept continuously. I could not see where I was, or where I was going. My friends took me back to our hotel.  While others went out to the local beerhaus, I sat in my room in silence. I wept. I slept. I awoke again, and was just me.
———————————————————-
After my second miscarriage, I had a dream.  I was in an empty room. At one end of the room, there was a small rectangular pool of water sunken into the ground. A little girl sat on the edge of the pool, dangling her feet in the water. She was plump, with dark curly hair, and tan skin. She saw me, and slid into the pool until she was completely covered by water. I stayed at my end of the room. After a few minutes, she pulled herself out the pool. I went over to her, but she turned away from me. She crossed her arms across her chest angrily. She was mad at me for making her wait. She was ready to be born.

three worlds

World One

homeland, old country, country of origin

the place where mother’s mother lives

the place where things make more sense

the “where you came from” when they say

“go back to where you came from.”

World Two

the adopted homeland, the country of presents and futures

the place where mother’s body lives

the place where things are what they are

where i grew up: Wilmington, Delaware

a place to be somebody

World Three

immigrant’s house, the space in between, home

where mother speaks Tamil and I answer in English

the place where we can rest

from the push and pull

of all the worlds, and all the selves, and all the homes.