Sunday, July 12, 2009

I am Kaali

The lake was calm but the storm was within. I sat by the water with my best friend that cool summer evening. The sun was out; it only set by ten 'o clock at that time of the year in Toronto. The Sunday breeze had brought out a picture-book neighbourhood of families, children, bikers, dogwalkers, and joggers. My friend busied herself with her new camera, taking pictures of the crispy sky and my toes. A tempest was gathering within my chest.

About half an hour earlier, my friend and I had walked out to lake Ontario, a short walk from where I was staying with relatives. We climbed onto the narrow rocks that bordered the perimeter of the lake along a busy walking trail. A group of boys, in their late teens and early twenties, hollered at us from a boat from the left side of the cliff we were on, but we couldn't understand what they were saying. We knew they were calling out to us by calling my friend 'the purple one' and me, 'the blue one', because of the colour of our shirts and jeans.

Then we noticed another group of boys on the right end of the cliff, a few feet away from us. They were standing under the sunshade overlooking the lake, and they began to holler back at the boys in the water. My friend and I tried to mind our own business even as the boys near the cliff started talking about us loudly, referring to us by the colour of our clothes. We tried to ignore them as two of the young men flung bottles of water over our heads at their friends in the boat. It looked like friendly fire to me.

My muscles tightened as one of the boys, an Indian fellow in a blue shirt that read 'India '07', slithered behind my friend and I on the narrow rock and whispered, "hello aunties, goodbye aunties" as he passed us by. I glared at him through my sunglasses.

"What!" I said. He turned and gave me a dirty grin. He passed us by three more times on that cliff, keeping a distance of a few inches from us each time, circling us like prey. There wasn't much room on that rock my friend and I felt imprisoned on. I looked at the water below and remembered that my friend couldn't swim.

One of the boys, a black guy, yelled at us to ignore his Indian friend, but we couldn't. My friend mumbled a "goodbye, fool" the last time he slid behind us, saying, "hello aunties, goodbye aunties". The group of boys under the sunshade laughed and hooted at us the whole time.

My friend and I felt afraid and decided to leave. We walked down the rocks away from the boys as they howled at us like apes in heat. My cheeks burned with shame and outrage as they called out to us, singing, "aunty, don't break my heart!". Men and women of all colours witnessed the bullying but did nothing. My friend wanted to curse back at the boys but was conscious of the little children playing around us. She showed them the finger but the gesture got drowned in the sound of catcalls. The world turned a blind eye to two young women being bullied by a group of even younger men triumphantly high-fiving each other and celebrating their budding manhoods. As we walked away, trying to hold on to our dignities with our heads buried into our shoulders, the world silently witnessed our humilation. Every victorius laugh and hoot shot me in the back like arrows dipped in Scylla's venomous blood.

I stopped a little way off to complain to two elderly Indian couples, but the men just tittered. One of the women asked my friend and I for more details, and then smiled at us in a silly way. "Teenage boys," she said, her head trembling slightly. "It's okay, you are probably finding it odd because you haven't seen it happen often." It happens, she meant to say, isn't life funny sometimes?

I couldn't believe her.

"Actually," I shot back, "where I come from, this happens a lot, but I didn't think it would happen here." I walked off with my friend in disgust, the silly woman still smiling a smile that lasted too long.

I sat by the water with my friend, my mind replaying memories of a life filled with older men harassing and molesting little girls in public and in private. Long-forgotten old shame that lay buried under layers of tears curdled once again inside my belly.

"It never ends, does it?" I asked my friend. "You grow up with older men making you feel dirty, and if you survive to make it to adulthood, a new batch of younger men takes their place. No matter what a woman achieves and lives through, she never gets respect? Does it never end? Is she never spared?" I couldn't believe it. I had little cousins as old as those boys who all treated me like a big sister.

"We weren't dressed slutty or were even sticking out," I continued. "There were plenty of females around in all kinds of clothing, but they picked us. Why? Is it because we're desi girls that they know won't retaliate because we're conditioned to be docile?"

"And that Indian lady didn't help either," my friend said. "Look at her, enabling the boys' behaviour."

"She actually said we weren't used to it!" I said. "I'm sorry, but why should I have to get used to this??"

Something thick was boiling inside me. We hadn't done anything wrong, but they had misbehaved with us and taken control of us...again. The faces had changed, but the story was still the same. They had controlled us again, and we had had to leave because they had made us feel dirty and scared and ashamed.

My friend and I decided to go home, but that meant walking past where the boys had been under the sunshade again. All of them, black and brown. I felt like blinders were growing by my head. A phantom gush of air hit my face as I felt like I was entering a tunnel.

We had just started walking past the sunshade when the boys, all twenty of them, noticed us and started hollering at us again. We were several meters away from them with a lot of families and single people all around us, but that didn't stop them. They began to call out again, "aunties, aunties, helloooo!" They laughed at us. My friend flipped them the bird, and they found it funny again.

I was in the tunnel and couldn't see anything around me anymore. I stopped and turned towards them laughing at my face and my body and my naked breasts under my clothes. "WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM???" I screamed. The laughter stopped. A few of the young men shouted back some quick apologies. "Sorry," a lot of them hurriedly said. A snigger made its way from the corner of the group, and someone called me "aunty" again. A nervous laugh circulated through the group as they remembered that there were twenty of them in a group, and then there was just me. My heart contracted in fear as I also suddenly realised that I was posed like a single hawk against a mob of scavenger vultures. One single woman headbutting against twenty young men in the prime of their lives. A small voice from somewhere in the corner of the group called me a cunt. They began to laugh at me again in front of the world that was still turning a blind eye.

What name have I not been called before, most by the very people who were supposed to have loved and protected me? Slut, whore, bitch, cunt, dyke - it was so easy to shut a female up. A male could do whatever he liked, right or wrong, but if a female ever confronted him, he'd demolish her femininity with one word. And the world would never question it. It was so easy. Did these boys think that calling me a name in front of the whole world would devastate me into silence?

It didn't this time. It energised me instead in the most primal way, like a mad she-wolf sinking her claws into the earth and baying at the moon. A rabid growl that has only come out of my throat once before barked out at the young men laughing at me. I don't remember what I said, but it blanched all of their faces, wiping away all of their smiles, physically jerking them into immobility.

One of the guys in the group roared at the Indian guy, "what the FUCK did I tell you??" The Indian guy lashed back out at him incoherently, "what the FUCK what the FUCK I'll FUCK her up I'll FUCK you up!" Etcetera etcetera. He was waiting for his friends to hold him back, but they had all lost their enthusiasm and stood there nervously, suddenly aware of the world watching them, a crazy woman clinging to them with her nails. I was bolted to the ground, facing them in an immobile posture, like a bloodhound that's detected the trace of prey. My body was hard. I noticed my friend standing beside me.

The infighting continued. Egos had been hurt and they noisily tried to defend their dignity by turning on each other. Whatever had possessed me was now gone, but the boys were still trying to be men. "SHUT UP!" I roared. I turned to my friend and we walked away. The sounds of boys trying to rescue their egos soon fell away into the past. Minutes later, we were screaming in delight as we rode the swings in the children's play area behind the house I was staying in.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dream home

The old man and the young girl sat on the porch under a busy spider furiously weaving an invisible web over their heads. "Look at it," she said, "so amazing. It's working so hard." The spider raced across the underside of the shade over their heads. Its silken threads were so delicate, the spider looked like it was walking on air, like some arachnid prophet.

The old man and the young girl looked on at the spider spinning a home out of moonbeams and raindrops.

"Now it's too bad," he said, "that it doesn't know that I'm going to use my broom to demolish its new home tomorrow."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The two energy spheres on the moon stirred. The first one resonated to the other's frequency and communicated its confusion at the sudden phenomenon.

What was that?

The other maintained the resonance.

I don't know, but it's coming from Earth.

They'd never encountered such vibrations emanating from their study planet before, at least since they'd started observing the deceivingly tranquil world many earthly revolutions ago. The invisible entities opened themselves up to the unusual waves that were washing over them and everything else that lay around the blue globe. Isolated occurrences of weaker strains were normal for the planet, but the visitors had been detecting a vibration that had been growing stronger over the past half revolution of the moon they were stationed on. This was a curious development that had not been seen before on this planet.

A sudden explosion of light ripped through the universe and interrupted the entities' focus. The epicenter of this cosmic earthquake was Earth. The entities sensed a spatial displacement in a nearby galaxy. A distant nebula crackled as if electrically recharged. The whole universe seemed to be ringing with the echo of...

...a song?

The entities maintained their mutual resonance.

The planet is singing?

The inhabitants are. One song, together, at the same moment.

Do you see that? The whole planet seems to be focussing on one thought strongly enough to have tripped the cosmic circuit.

The entities' energy spiked.

This phenomenon has only been observed in highly evolved species throughout the universe. Could it be...

...that the humans have discovered the secret force behind all of existence?

Do you know what this means? Do you think they are even cognizant of what they have just stumbled upon?

It is hard to say. Earth's inhabitants are not naturally inclined towards unconditional cooperation. On the contrary, their first instinct is to aggressively break themselves down into hostile groups on the basis of recursive layers of biological and social identity.

Precisely. But what can be causing this uncharacteristic behaviour in such a self-destructive violent species?

The planet now glowed with an unusual aura.

The collective consciousness of the inhabitants of Earth is directed towards one end of the continent of North America.

In the city they call Los Angeles.

An energy metamorphosis is occurring in a large structure there. I believe it is the human ritual of passing into a higher dimension.

Human beings all over the planet are focussing intensely positive thoughts on the one transformation occurring in that structure there. All of them, sending powerful mental signals over an extended period of time at the same instant. They've even managed to emit overlapping harmonic sound waves at the same time. That's the song. In its particular human language, it is called Heal the World.

Intensely focussing their mental resources on positive thoughts of love. They've discovered the secret power behind Creation. But who is the human that has stimulated its species to take the first step towards transcending its own barbaric nature?

It seems to be the one human we'd been documenting as emitting the strongest sonic and mental vibrations for fifty of Earth's revolutions. That specimen has just transcended into a higher plane of existence.

The entities transmitted this historic turn of events to their world thirty-six planes perpendicular to the one they were currently in. Even they, in their infinite wisdom and patience, did not know what this startling incident in Earth's present would mean for its future. According to their data, the human race had a history of unpredictable behaviour. That is what made the study of Earth a highly desirable assignment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's on your altar?

I barely had the courage to reach out and touch the old man's diary. It felt like I was going to disturb something silently sacred, but I couldn't help it. I picked up the leatherbound notebook and held it respectfully before touching its dry pages with my fingertips. I looked at the thoughts handwritten in dark blue ink and wondered about the dead man who had made sketches in his diary of the birds he used to like to observe as a hobby. My eyes wandered over the rest of the small table and stopped for a few pensive moments at the framed black-and-white photo of the old man at whose altar I stood. An old pair of eyeglasses lay neatly near an empty bottle of Dr. Pepper. A pair of binoculars together with an old hat and cane completed the altar of the man who's name I have forgotten.

It was the night of El Dia de los Muertos, or the celebration of the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead. A local art gallery in Tulsa, OK, USA, had been converted into a mausoleum of sorts where people had set up altars in memory of loved ones they had lost. A common practice in Mexican and Latin American communities around the world, these altars are decorated with items that represent the life and personality of the deceased relative or friend. Loved ones remember those that have passed on by retelling favourite stories about them at the altar. Some say that this makes the souls of the departed happy when they visit Earth on the day of the festival. It is a time of celebration, not of mourning.

The little art gallery was crowded with altars, the people who had made them, and the people who had come to see them. A crowd of merrymakers in the blocked off street outside was cheering on the fire-eaters that were breathing hot light in the dark night. A local band was performing near the stalls that were selling Mexican handicrafts and music.

The light inside the art gallery was yellow. I detected the musty smell of age at some of the altars. I saw one altar for a young girl that had her ballet shoes, bottles of nailpolish, and favourite music. Another young man's life was showcased by his guitar and songbooks. There were photo albums, clothing, perfumes, food items, certificates and prize ribbons, books, pieces of art, stationery, and other mementos. God knows when these people had passed away, but they looked at me through their photos and their belongings, like static phantoms from yesterday.

I wondered how I would be remembered after my passing. What would people put on my altar? More importantly, what would I want to see on my altar? I noticed that no altar bore any indication of the person's wealth, employment, or general status in society. What was I going to leave behind? How would people remember me after death snipped off the artificial labels?

What do you see on your altar right now?


She slid off the hairdresser's swivel chair and leaned into the mirror in front of her, bits of dark jagged hair lying about her feet. She peered into her reflection and began to critically assess her new layers. Her hands expertly tousled her hair, her eyes never leaving her doppleganger's mane.

She picked at the hair on her crown. She paused. Her fingers stroked a silver strand that hadn't been there before. She leaned in closer to the mirror when she saw yet another silver shimmer. Maybe it was the light reflecting off of the shine in her hair?

The sound of a giggle made her turn to the counter next to her. The middle-aged Trinidadian woman with the short red hair was chuckling to the elderly lady in her chair. "She just found a white hair," said the stout brown hairdresser. Her customer smiled on, her short fine hair wet against her paper-thin white scalp.

She turned back to the mirror and focused on the new colour in her hair. The salon fell away as her life played before her eyes. She thought it only happened when you're drowning. It felt like minutes but in just two seconds, she had witnessed all her defeats, her conquests, her humiliations, and her courage.

"Don't pull it out - you're lucky you only have one." The old woman in the chair had her eyes closed as the rust-haired hairdresser massaged sugar-scented conditioner into her hair.

She pulled away from the mirror, her eyes deep into the eyes that shone back at her. She smiled and flipped her hair back with a toss of her head. She had made it.