Saturday, November 29, 2008

Am I a Hindu?

Are you a Hindu? I'm often asked that question. And I say, We-ll, I was raised a Hindu at home and a Christian at school and I have been curious and excited about all other religions on the bus ride home. My mother was all accepting and my father was all denying, and for a child you can imagine how bewildering it must have all been. It was up to me to be whatever I wanted to be.

Words my mother said kept coming back to me over the years. Hinduism, my mother said, was structured on tat tvam asi and she would translate the Sanskrit words to English, Thou Art That.

My mother said that as thattu. Whereas, when my father said, that, there was not even a hiss of breath after the letter t. Since he was the one who had studied in Cambridge, I naturally admired his that and not my mother's thattu. I found my mother's thattu very funny and every time she said, thou art thattu, all I could do was burst into laughter. It would take many years for me to fully understand what she was saying.

To even say, I am a Hindu, would be to separate oneself from another and therefore that person would no longer be a Hindu. Such was the great wisdom behind those words, tat tvam asi, my mother would say. It was like the way Krishna disappears from a gopi the moment she believes that he is hers. I never understood anything she said back then.

But I would later understand.

So when someone asks me if I am a Hindu, I say, We-ll, I was raised a Hindu at home and a Christian at school and I have been curious and excited about all other religions on the bus ride home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I Don't Know What To Say...

I have zero opinions on most things. Or perhaps too many and they cancel each other out. I honestly tried very hard to give a correspondent my take on voice theft and voicelessness and then gave up.

I think it must have something to do with the way I was brought up. Aye, fear is a killer of the mind. Oh, but we survived, because we knew how to make light of things. Which is why it's very difficult for me to think too hard, unless I can spin my thoughts into a novel and see through many eyes :)

But before I write my next novel, I want to gather some boldness, which is why I'm here. Previously I wrote to Mailclan, an email network of my in-laws. Just to, yes, just to get my voice going. But now I want to keep a larger audience in mind and a spoonful of sugar is all I need to have me feeling less inhibited.

Someone asked me recently, Are you vegetarian? That word always causes in me a moment of hesitation. Back where I come from, in the neighborhood where I lived, we didn't use the word vegetarian because we were all vegetarians. It was the Non-vegetarian that needed any special tag. And then, when I'm asked about my take on vegetarianism, I don't know what to say. Is it all right for me to not to eat meat but enjoy all other material things which cause big forests and entire eco-systems to be destroyed? A book, a computer, a car, a plane ride would not be there for my taking if it weren't for the loss of many a beautiful creature. So I don't have any opinions on vegetarianism either.

Turkeys must be taking refuge in your house for Thanksgiving, someone remarks.

And I don't know what to say.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Gay Correspondent

Anu Jayanth: I have Lynn's permission to post this.

Lynn McJohn: This isn't always a consideration, and may have no bearing on your decision to bloggify, but it occurs to me that I haven't told you one thing that might influence your decision: I'm a gay woman, and you are a female author with an up-and-coming novel in a traditional, conservative environment. In the interests of full disclosure, so you can decide on the basis of career advancement and all like that... I'd love to see your take on the topic of voicelessness, or voice theft, but if you wanted to get real vague with the description of your correspondent, or leave that part out entirely, it would be very much your choice to make, with no assumptions either way.

Anu Jayanth: I'm straight -- this said very boringly, matter-of-factly. Also, I'm so far removed from India, geographically, and I don't quite know what it's like there. But tell me, you folks in India, is it really such a traditional, conservative environment as Lynn believes it is? Incidentally, I steeped my mind in Tarun Tejpal's, Alchemy of Desire, and Siddharth Dhanvant's, The Last Song of Dusk, to introduce a bit of sex in my novel :)

Lynn McJohn's first email:

Good Evening!

We haven't met, but you met a lady I work with, Rhonda, at the post office last weekend. She recommended your site as one I might enjoy. I'm awfully glad she did; I've just finished the first chapter of The Finger Puppet and am very impressed with the power of the story and the quality of the storytelling.

Anu Jayanth: Thank you :)

Lynn McJohn: Of particular interest is Tara's speech impediment. Are you familiar with Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior? In the book, Kingston's mother says she cut Kingston's frenum shortly after she was born, a traditional Chinese act intended to assert control over a female voice early (as circumcision both marks and warns a male child as to what's expected of him). Kingston's mother explains it to her as having quite a different purpose, however: "Your tongue would be able to move in any language. You'll be able to speak languages that are completely different from one another. You'll be able to pronounce anything."

Anu Jayanth: No, I havent read Kingston's, The Woman Warrior, but I'm aware of the Chinese practice. Tara's speech impediment was purely accidental. I wasnt thinking of voicelessness or women's issues. The story was sort of dwelling in me and it had to come out, that's all :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Of The Mouth Is Brahman Born

During the dark period after Sirocco's death, many were persuading me to go on anti-depressants. I stubbornly refused. I have never taken any sort of medication -- other than the rare tylenol -- and I was not going to weaken and grow dependant on anti-depressants.

Chocolates work great for me :)

And mouthwash.

Yes, mouthwash. Impossible to feel down and out when my mouth is tingly, pepperminty fresh. These days, I see more and more ads focusing on oral hygiene. And then I think of our forefathers and the wealth of knowledge they packaged in that one line, Of the Mouth is Brahman born, which would get me to play with some ideas and begin writing.

Some books that I found particularly useful.
On Becoming A Novelist -- John Gardner
Writer's Idea Book - Jack Heffron
DK's Visual Dictionary
Spunk & Bite -- Arthur Plotnik

Cheers :)

Anu and Decorum

And someone said to me, Anu you're a published author, you have to act with some decorum.

Oh help. I'm enjoying being ME again and not that Tara character who completely took over my sunshine personality. One of my readers emailed me saying how much she empathized with me...with my speech problems. I'm glad I was able to portray Tara's tongue-tie realistically, but I personally have a very nimble tongue.

This morning I woke up bubbling with laughter. I was soooooo high. No, I don't do drugs. No, I don't drink alcohol (my niece can tell you of the hilarious time everyone had when I took a few sips of champagne some Thanksgivings ago). Oh, but I do, do, do binge on chocolates. Though today's high is not sugar or cocoa induced. It's just pure me.

Built for fun.

A priceless trait that we three sisters possess is this ability to laugh. For a while -- after Sirocco died -- I thought I had lost it. It's two years now and I'm finally coming out of the sorrow I sank into. I had to keep telling myself, Anu you have another son that you have to care of. But in that dark period in 2006, there were many times when I felt I had no right to live. You have to stop blaming yourself, everyone said. Sirocco could have picked up the corn cob from anywhere. But I knew, oh well I knew, that I have now and then given him corn cobs. He enjoyed playing with them. An autopsy showed a piece of corn cob – smaller than a bottle cork – stuck in his intestine. Will I ever forget my boy stretched out on the vet’s table? Oh I was there, watching the scalpel split open his belly.

How could I live?

I thought of many ways to die.

Sirocco was a chocolate lab. Big, beautiful. Majestic. And I lay my head on his body that had now turned to rock. Sirocco was gone. When he threw up that day, I thought nothing of it. Like all labs, he gobbles up food and then throws up. He’d be fine. The feeling that he would be fine strengthened when my neighbor said that his dog throws up all the time. Nothing to worry. I decided to take Sirocco to the vet the next morning. Just to be sure. But the next morning Sirocco was dead. He had gone to the vet only the week before, for his shots and his annual check-up. And there was nothing wrong with him. Then, how?

No, I must not invite such thoughts again. For then I'll start running away from this house. As if it were the house's fault. And i'll start staring at the kitchen tiles and wonder why I had made such a fuss about the width of the grout line. Why had I not allowed the tile-setter to stay with the original 3/8 inch? As if it had anything to do with the grout thickness. No, I must not head in that direction for I'll surely go mad again.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Relax - Goes To Hollywood

I like switching to various radio stations to listen to the language of the hosts. For example, you're not likely to hear expressions like 'kick ass' in NPR. And I like to know the various Englishes out there because I sound mostly as though I have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.

While I was listening to a station that was playing some 80's music, I heard a song that my body responded to wildy. Sometimes when I am writing, I become so still and this song was so energetic that I had to jump up and dance. What song was it?

I immediately called a Know All in-law on speaker-phone and said, 'Hey listen to this music and tell me what song it is.'

'That's Relax, Anu,' she said. 'I could make out from the opening chords. It was a big hit in India during my college days. Do you know it's an M song?' The M represented self-stimulation (I have to be careful about the words I toss in here. Earlier I was cautioned by a family member not to fashion provocative subject titles as I had previously for the one about flesh).

'Listen to the lyrics properly,' she said.

And I listened to the lyrics properly. Not that I'm particularly good at catching words especially because I have this marvelous quality of mishearing lyrics. For example, when I first heard Sledgehammer a long time ago when I was in Chennai, it sounded like SnakeCharmer to my Indian born ears. And to this day, when I hear that song, it continues to sound like Snake Charmer. Anyways, I tried my best to listen to the lyrics and then gave up. The good thing was that now I had a title I could search on the web.

And listen to it...and dance :)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Taking the ouch out of mammograms

In 2005, my husband noticed a bruise on my upper arm. Had I bumped into something somewhere?, I said, slowly, trying to remember my activities during the week. A colleague of his who had developed strange bruises on his upper arm had been diagnosed with leukemia. The chilling thought that I might have cancer crossed both our minds and off I went the next morning for a much overdue check-up. Some finger probing later, my physician said that I ought to have a mammogram, guiding my hand to the small lump on my left breast. While I waited for the big M-day, I gathered as much information I could about mammograms though I could have done without some of the stories I heard. My dentist spoke of a woman who had died a year after being diagnosed. The dental assistant said that her neighbor, too, had had a similar bruise as mine and she died within two years of being diagnosed with cancer.


About this time I was still rewriting and rewriting The Finger Puppet (I must have written the first chapter at least a million times over and then struck it out completely in my final edit). Convinced that I was going to die in two years, I decided to wrap up the novel and send my manuscript to Ann McCutchan (to learn more about Ann McCutchan please go to 'links' on my website for her feedback before sending to literary agents/publishers.

What were we going to tell our son? In the next few days, I kept myself busy by doing a massive clean-up of all my things. A friend of mine had found a stash of Playboy magazines in her late husband's closet and had felt terribly betrayed. No porno magazines or old love letters in mine but I certainly didn't want my husband going through all my stuff.

As it happened, the lump was just dense tissue which showed signs of calcification a year later, soon after our dog, Sirocco, died. In a stereotactic biopsy, the technician drilled out seven pink worm-like pieces of my flesh which had little white eyes (calcified spots) and then left a pinhead bit of stainless steel in that area. Anyways, I had a mammogram last week. Oh what torture! Looking at the digital images of my breasts on her computer, breast surgeon, Arlene Ricardo said, Wonderful. All was well. That certainly took the ouch out of mammograms.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Day After America's Election of Obama

I was leaving for Austin the day after the Election. At the gas station, while my husband was checking the tire pressure of my Acura, I looked around me. There was an African American at the telephone booth, his face and voice exhibiting the excitement of the Obama win. Then a SUV pulled up and parked alongside our car. The driver of the SUV -- another African American -- smiled at me. I smiled back. I have exchanged many a smile with many a stranger before. But this was different. This smile was not simply that of a polite stranger. This was a smile that would have been reserved perhaps for his wife, or sister, or daughter, or mother, or a very dear friend. And his eyes seemed to say, yes we did it! I didn't want to spoil the moment by blurting out the truth, that I am just a green card holder and I played no part in the voting -- as most minorities had -- except perhaps to wish mightily for Obama to win. And whoop and cheer when Obama and his family made their appearance.

On reaching Austin, I quickly got on my laptop to record the solidarity I shared with the stranger. And then I saw an email from a long ago friend. It brought back a lot of memories -- good and bad. Of another period in my life that I had swiftly blanked out. It was the first few years of my marriage. My husband and I were young and so terribly immature and we made a complete mess of our lives. But we held on, even though we were so totally incompatible. And when Yadav, our son, came along, driven by the responsibility of providing a secure home for him, Jay and I worked hard on rebuilding our marriage. We continue to have our disagreements but I know that he is just the right person for me. And I for him. I keep insisting though that he got a better deal because I have so many different personalities and so, for him it's like having a harem of women :)

-Anu Jayanth

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rima Kaur

Imagine how thrilling it must be for me to hear from my readers -- especially because you, Rima, were the very first to write me directly! Of course, I had to publish your comment along with my reply in the hope that it would catch your attention someday :) It worked.

I have always wanted to blog but I lacked the courage. Soon after launching The Finger Puppet, I felt emboldened to go naked, write about the real me. The thing is, because I looked back into the past, into a childhood life and world I had blanked out, I was now flooded with long ago images of India. I had to pick up my paintbrush again. Blogging will have to wait...


Blogger versatile.frost said...

Hi Anu!
Rima again! I just typed my name in google to see where in this web-world I have left my footprints, and I came across your blog. Surprise Surprise! You actually replied to my comment! And not only that, you converted it into a post! Wow this is so special for me, I cannot thank you enough! I have actually saved that particular page. I'll have some serious showing off to do in front of my friends now! And now I'll go through your website too.

Thank You ever so much. I never ever expected a reply!

October 31, 2008 6:10 AM