Sunday, May 16, 2010


This entry is in response to Chitra Divakaruni's prompt about one amazing thing that has happened. I have been thinking about the many amazing things, from the exquisite sunrises and twilights at the beach, to strange happenstances, like my leaving the home shores with only my punjabis and shakespeares, and realising that that's all the equipment I've needed in the new world.

But then when I really search my treasure boxes, one moment stands out like a jewel, a moment after which my very self-view has been irrevocably changed.

This moment, like all such moments, was not sudden like lightening; it had been building up for years, and with more immediate urgency the few months before it happened.

I remember it very clearly: the mirror I was looking at was blurry, with grey and ochre spots, the largest one immediately above my left temple. I also remember what I wore then, as I looked into that mirror: it was a light pink paisley printed quilted jacket, a favorite then.

I had my 6th month sonogram that day. Yes, reader, I was pregnant. We had decided that we didn't want to know the gender of the baby and had told our doctors and technicians about this. We knew we'd love it no matter what.

I was apprehensive because my family was far away, and I was afraid when I went in for the sonogram on my own, the very first time in my life I faced a scary machine with no one to hold my hand. I remember the cold gel on my skin, vaguely uncomfortable, and the quiet voice of the technician, pointing out various parts of the fetus. At last, it was over, and he said he was almost done, just a couple of minutes more.

I discovered I had never, until then, quite understood the import of holding a new life within oneself. That heart beat with such determined will; a fist half-opened in tandem with a foot suddenly flicking up, and I felt the kick. The fascinating, grey, blotchy, moving thing, image, was a human being, and wonder of wonders, it was within my body!

The technician stopped speaking, dragging, forcing my eyes away from the fascinating screen, the incredible, unbelievable throb of a life the universe had entrusted to me. When the technician knew he had my full attention, he said that the gender of the baby was quite clear; would I like to know?

I don't remember my response, but it must have been clear, for he awarded me with the most amazing words I have ever heard, "It's a girl!"

I don't remember, actually, the entire process of crying, but I do remember noticing that the ultrasound gel felt much, much colder than tears. What can I say, reader? This was the most important moment of my life, and I was sobbing and sniffling in the most pathetic manner imaginable! But I knew then, that that's what one feels when joy literally overflows: one loses one's dignity and sputters around in a daze.

I was to wait at the facility for about an hour more, and I wandered around the little strip mall, composed mainly of Cuban shops and Hispanic markets. I knew I had to do something, and I bought my daughter my first gift to her: a pair of booties and a matching skull cap. I then begged the counter-lady to use the rest room.

This, I remember as the most amazing moment: I looked into the mirror and realised that I was looking at a woman who has a daughter.

I told this to the woman in the mirror over and over again, "You have a daughter! A Dikri!"

Never has everything felt as right as those words. It was as though the universe had clicked and whirred into place, everything locked just as it should be because that very recognizable woman in the mirror had a daughter.

My daughter turns 16 this week, and I am continually amazed that I'd be trusted with a being like her, for however short a time. True, my times with her so far have been fraught with as much worry and discord as with joy and harmony, and we have had many, many amazing times.

I measure all those times against the yardstick of a woman looking into a stained mirror, owning her daughter, acknowledging her as a separate being, inseparable from her own being.

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Apology for Re-Visitation

I am visiting an old friend: Anna Karenina. It is always a special treat when I open the first page and begin to listen, in complete comfort that this is a long tale that will be told well. A reading like this, like living through a brilliant production of Hamlet, cannot be, should not be hurried. It is very much like savoring a meal one has fantasized about but hasn't enjoyed for a while. The lines, the syntax (even though it is a translation), the very cadence of the text feel like a song long buried, finally allowed to surge and haunt, and I am very grateful to the bookclub that has allowed this excuse!

Some texts disappoint by not living up to their promise: they promise richness, minute details, subtexts, and a theme complex enough to warrant a labyrinthine plot, but only skim the surface, touch on the shallow waves, and move on to end before one has had one's fill.

Anna never fails me, though. It is a nicely developed text, with enough round characters so a whole canvas is wonderfully populated, at the same time balanced, tightly woven, and not over-done or spoiled.

Maybe it was the finesse with which the text was handled when I read it while reading Literature, a finesse that lingers beyond decades and lands, thanks to one of my favorite professors of all time. Maybe it was the many Thomas Hardy's I was reading at the same time (I am not a fan; a thousand apologies!). Maybe it is the memory of feeling young I associate with this text. Maybe it is the combination of all of the above. Whatever the reasons, this is a story I long for over and over again. On my bookshelf, there are only a few texts that warrant a return, and Anna proudly sits beside the epics and the Shakespeare's I constantly re-visit.

I like to sit in a dusty corner when I treat myself to Anna. The first time I read it, it was in a hospital library, waiting for my father to finish with the first operation of his day. So now, I like to have a slightly dusty fragrance, the fragrance of un-dusted book shelves in the background. The last time I read Anna, I even made sure to wake up extra early and read it between 4 & 6am, before the day actually dawned properly, since that was also my hour at the hospital library.

Some of my friends tell me I am old fashioned to actually like a text like Anna; sometimes, some others just smile awkwardly and look away, seemingly at a loss at what to say to a being like me; they mistake my enthusiasm for posturing. I must confess these awkward moments make me feel the extreme heaviness of Odysseus' oar like few other times do. I don't understand how I could be so misunderstood, and have learned to keep my peace, to mellow my enthusiasm so I don't seem glaringly inept.

Most people tell me they have no time to read such a thick book and shudder to underline their statement. Maybe my need for texts such as Anna is a character defect, a chemical imbalance, an excuse for my innate laziness?

Yes, I have a child; yes, she keeps me busy; yes, I have missed deadlines because I was doing chores or grading; but equally true is the fact that the savoring of well-loved texts lends relevance to my existence. I don't have time to do the laundry, sweep up the floor, keep my kitchen spanking clean, cook much, or entertain enough. But that is because these stories hold me in their thrall, keep me up when I should be asleep, give me migraines of guilt when I wander too far away from them. So it is true that there is a great deal of self-indulgence in my reading.

However, enjoying Anna is more than a narcissistic wallowing for a lost self. I know there is an ageless kernel in me that demands this re-visitation every time I get tired of my daily dealings with people and their "trivial dramas," as my daughter so eloquently puts it.

So visiting a text like Anna is my paean to the teeming humanity that surrounds me; it serves to remind me why I love real people, as I admire the nobility of Levin, appreciate life like Stiva, adore the simplicity and sophistication that Kitty is, so that I might be brave enough to live as fully and passionately as Anna does.