I’m pondering the two extra half-used rolls of paper perched on the back of the toilet seat when I hear snuffling in the next stall.

“Shit!” a woman exclaims.

The toilet automatically flushes as I zip my pants and rebuckle my belt. For a moment, I reflexively fear mortifying my already-perturbed colleague. But she’s muttering again, and then her severe pointy black heels are tapping, furious and staccato.

Amused, I wash my hands; she emerges from the stall with something in her hands. I’m heading for the hand towels, which hang over the waste basket, but she cuts me off to thrust something deep within the recesses of balled and worried white papers.

I smile my crooked, haphazard smile. “Is everything OK?” She seems like she could use someone being nice to her.

My question hangs in the air for a few tenuous moments; I wipe my hands and discard my towel, then improvise a shrug and head for the door.

“Wait,” she stops me. I turn, heartened. She’s about my age, late twenties, and I think I recognize her as the executive assistant to one of the higher-ups. Her face is quaint, shaped like a little heart, and her liquidy brown eyes are kind.

“I don’t need your fucking pity,” she spits. “So I’m pregnant. So what? Don’t fucking judge me.”

“I … I’m not judging you,” I stuttered. The flecks of black and gold of the bathroom tiles were mesmerizing. “Have you thought about … you know, getting it taken care of?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Who the fuck are you, Planned Parenthood?” she railed. She splashed water on her face and neck, then quietly dabbed herself dry. “Just … don’t tell anyone, will you?”

“No, no, I won’t … I never would.” She huffed out the door as I tried to respond. I smoothed my hair and returned to my desk; later, I saw her at the elevators, and instead of acknowledging me, she emphatically inserted her earbuds and made a show of fiddling with her iPod as if I weren’t there.

It’s been a rough month. But I think I’m ready to come out of hiding. Reasons for hunkering down are largely beside the point.

And now, a scene.

Platinum Gym: a family-owned sweat palace populated largely by what appear to be bodybuilders of the former Soviet republics. Our heroine is doing pull-ups, wiggling excitedly between sets to an infectious pop number. She is marveling at a lissome lifter when she realizes that he is no longer kicking his leg to his forehead; he is staring at the pull-up bar, then at her, then at the pull-up bar, then furrowing his brow, and then fixing his gaze, again, on her.

Gym dude:

Hey, girl. I, uh, I wanted to say …

She smiles nervously, as is her wont. Just see what happens: It can’t be as bad as the time another regular mumbled through a discourse on the evils of Google Toolbar before asking her for a drink.

GD:

… you’re beautiful. But it’s not just, you’re not just beautiful. It’s that you work at it. You’re here, what—

TJ:

Oh, yeah, I come five or six days a week, blow off some steam.

GD:

Yeah! Blow off some steam! I’m K—-, and you’re?

TJ:

TJ, good to meet you K—-. And thanks, I, um, appreciate it?

He smiles and starts mumbling something again, and she knows that she should be annoyed, that he’s penetrating the little bubble of herself and the time she’s created when she never has to think about her husband or cleaning or making dinner or those damn cats, those fucking cats. But it’s not always about hormones and gonads and the ceaseless beating of flesh on flesh; sometimes it’s just nice, right when you feel farthest from the world and everything you wanted, to be reminded that there are others going through the motions, making the effort, trying to connect when it’s easy enough to make it through the day with no more contact than a rapid-fire coffee order or an exhausted “Excuse me!” yelped in the crush for the rush-hour train. Only connect, only connect.

“It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to see by.” –Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye (1988)

My favorite passage from the American Book Review’s list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

Profusion of art is connected to my recent procurement of a combination printer, scanner, and copier. Fervor will fade soon, I imagine.

Related:

Interesting write-up of a photographer’s work on explicit graffiti in Bombay’s commuter rail lines (an example of which I’ve posted above — taken about a year ago when the hub and I visited a friend in Mumbai) — Chirodeep exhibited some of his pieces at the city’s Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.

This was the tenth year of the Kala Ghoda event; a full listing of artists and workshops is here. A blog chronicling some of the work from the festival is still being maintained — and added to — which takes the fest to a new level; even though I’m no longer in India, I can get a feel for Kala Ghoda’s heady, artistic atmosphere. If that’s not enough, there are some great pictures at Fractal Enlightenment.

Man. Wish I could have gone.

Escape
but
remember;
embrace
life’s
ambiguities.

(Inspired by Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.)

She knew as soon as she found the yellow legal pad etched with his erratic hand that it wasn’t something she should share. But, lacking the abiding sense of self-preservation that develops only around the age of 13 or so, she settled in the garage, sifting through the boxes her father was filling—boxes he would carry off in his silver Camry to a place unknown, a place she didn’t really want to know, either.

(more…)

 

Footsteps in the dark

Can’t seem to find a way home

Keep searching blindly

(Inspired by Eric Weiner’s article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.)

When my husband and I moved in together, we never discussed having a servant. It was just understood, somehow, that I was an American, perpetually uncomfortable in India, particularly when it came to patterns of social behavior I had no context for, and thus we would go without.

But Amma showed up, and she would not leave. (more…)

I.

You underestimate me. Because I am young, closer to your daughter’s or son’s age than your own. Because I am a woman, because I have soft fleshy thighs and sleek hair and I wear little silver earrings in the shape of birds, which my husband gave me on my birthday, a time to take flight. Because I’m successful, and you don’t see why I should be. Because I’m agreeable, because I write e-mails that make my friends in accounting turn to their dictionaries, because sometimes I let you chalk up small victories so that I don’t to navigate the uncomfortable terrain that would come with making you feel slighted.

I am 24. I can’t even claim to have reached the year of the quarter-life crisis; I radiate a sheen of youth, I wear high heels on the subway, and I shyly drop my head when we’re all in the elevator together because I never developed a facility for small talk. I do small work — I fixate, dissect sentences in my head, thumb madly through reference books to find clear extrapolations of arcane rules of splitting infinitives — but I am unhinged, trying to apply the same rigorous logic to our sprawling, messy lives.

I can’t tell if I’m mature or immature. I don’t want to get involved in office politics. I don’t want to think that things as petty as age can divide us. The only time I ever feel real any more is staring out to sea, or listening to ambient fuzz while studying faces on the subway, back and forth, back and forth, bodies pressing together without emitting sparks.

 

Just finished reading Foreign Babes in Beijing, a nice little memoir of Rachel DeWoskin’s time as an unlikely actress in the Chinese entertainment industry in the 1990s.

I’ve been batting around the idea of writing some creative nonfiction about my time in India (tentatively entitled Outsourcing Myself), but I’ve been having a hard time structuring my thoughts, which I think has a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t really processed the whole experience. Writing used to be my way of getting through these things, but instead of chapters surging forth from my keyboard, I find only snippets of conversations, pungent tastes on the tip of my tongue, half-formed Hinglish crowded out by the everyday concerns of paying the rent, feeding myself, and trying not to get lost in New York’s seething mass of humanity.

If I do ever get past this writer’s block, I’ll be in good company. Here are some of my favorite books by foreigners trying to parse the subcontinent:

And, a bonus link to Kamat’s Potpourri, which has a compendium of links to historical accounts of foreigners in India (such as Chinese traveler Fa-Hien’s account of Buddhism from the fourth and fifth centuries AD).

 vet.jpg

(Photo from NYT, courtesy the man’s family)

The New York Times began a new series today, “War Torn,” that focuses on crimes and wartime experiences of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan who have committed killings (or been charged with them) after coming home. The first piece, “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” is a heart-breaking, provocative, and essential piece of reportage. The paper also offers multimedia case studies, a slide show, an audio interview with a psychiatrist, and an excerpt from a related book.

 “Town by town across the country, headlines have been telling similar stories [of violence committed by veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan]. Lakewood, Wash.: ‘Family Blames Iraq After Son Kills Wife.’ Pierre, S.D.: ‘Soldier Charged With Murder Testifies About Postwar Stress.’ Colorado Springs: ‘Iraq War Vets Suspected in Two Slayings, Crime Ring.’

Individually, these are stories of local crimes, gut-wrenching postscripts to the war for the military men, their victims and their communities. Taken together, they paint the patchwork picture of a quiet phenomenon, tracing a cross-country trail of death and heartbreak.

The New York Times found 121 cases in which veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed a killingi n this country, or were charged with one, after their return from war. In many of those cases, combat trauma and the stress of deployment — along with alcohol abuse, family discord and other attendant problems — appear to have set the stage for a tragedy that was part destruction, part self-destruction.”

This story hits home for me, having two brothers that have spent time fighting in both countries. I don’t see either very often, and when I do, the subject is off-limits. Occasionally, something about their time there will slip out — one Christmas, right after Saddam had been captured by the U.S. (“like a rat!”), one of my brothers kept mentioning how he swore he saw Hussein driving a taxi around Baghdad, and how he should have just shot him in the fuckin’ head right there, while he had a chance, how he always regretted not shooting the driver in the fuckin’ head. Another time, when someone asked if he had killed anyone, my brother got quiet, then noted that people there got killed all the time, but that the military was very respectful, that he had helped bury dead combatants in mass graves as soon as possible out of respect for Islamic mores and customs.

It’s hard to hear these stories, and even harder to figure out how to process them (imagine how hard it must be for my brothers themselves). As I’ve begun writing this, I’ve gotten…increasingly agitated, simply because I don’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to work my concern for my brothers (and people I went to high school with, and other acquaintances) into everyday life. But as I continue to ponder the subject, looking forward to the next story in the series, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Brockton D. Hunter, a criminal defense lawyer:

“To deny the frequent connection between combat trauma and subsequent criminal behavior is to deny one of the direct societal costs of war and to discard another generation of troubled heroes.”

It’s difficult to make sense of stories in which there may be no winners, only losers, only gaping holes where pieces of ourselves used to be. But it’s important to review them and cast a critical eye on them — and I applaud the Times for highlighting this important issue.

Morning
Oolong tea
You and me

Back to blogging. New and improved. Preemptive publishing goal for 2008 (hello, resolutions!): Updated content five out of seven days of the week, or 260 posts per year.

And: What’s with the title? Well, “bed tea,” in India, is the tea that you have right when you wake up, or right before you go to sleep. It’s a habit, but a pleasurable one; without bed tea, the day feels just a little bit emptier. This little corner of cyberspace is dedicated to beautiful daily traditions that don’t have to be a drag; it’s dedicated to art in the every day, to the making of new habits that die hard, and to friendly collaboration with a tiny kick of caffeine — the jolt that gets one’s neurons to firing.