Lives Reimagined in Fiction: On The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol

by Hazel Ann Cesa

First published in 2009 and a recipient of the Philippine National Book Award, Gina Apostol’s The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata is at once an exploration of the Philippines’ revolutionary past, an evaluation of the challenges of translation and interpretation throughout the process of meaning-making, and an inquiry into the role of the intellectual1 in unveiling the politics of historical truth by countering the “authoritarian version of truth” with an “egalitarian version of truth.”2 In this story about a story, it is clear from the get-go that the author writes for the Filipino readers first, everyone else second. Gina Apostol masterfully entangles and unravels the skein of Philippine colonial history, presenting its messiness in all of its complexity. 



Bold, utterly chaotic, and at times hilarious, Apostol’s novel takes the form of a fictionalized memoir by a certain Raymundo Mata, a night-blind bookworm, freedom fighter, and a fan of Jose Rizal. Providing snippets of his childhood and accounts of his participation in the revolution, Raymundo Mata’s memoir consists of forty-six diary entries, which are all muddled by a present-day foreword, footnotes and an afterword from three feuding intellectuals: a pseudonymous translator, an American psychoanalyst critic, and a nationalist editor.

There is a palpable violence and madness to Apostol’s hyper metafiction—that of the Philippine revolution and language. Our translator extraordinaire who goes by the pseudonym Mimi C. Magsalin (magsalin means “to translate” in English), the person responsible for the translation of Raymundo’s diary entries, comments how difficult it was to calmly translate the memoir and declares it “linguistically deranged.” For even though Raymundo’s first language is a curious variant of Tagalog, his manuscript has scatterings of Spanish, Latin, some pidgin, and other major Philippine languages such as Waray, Cebuano, and Ilocano. Only the last diary entry is completely written in English. The first entry is nothing but gibberish, which Apostol’s fictional erudite scholars can only presume as some kind of Katipunan code, a secret form of communication of the Katipuneros.3

Dr Diwata Drake, an American psychoanalyst critic with Filipino roots from her mother’s side, writes an addendum and describes Mata’s manuscript as something filled with “the misconstructions of the ego and the malapropisms of time” and “classic psychopathologies of the tongue (typical of the Filipino, who has an irritating penchant for puns).” For Diwata Drake, Mata’s diary is also replete with suggestive instances of “frustration, aggressivity, regression—the triad of resistances that mark revolutionary pathology.”

This madness in Raymundo’s language is symptomatic of the oppression and violence of the war against the Spaniards in which he participated. It is metaphorical madness: as the ink bled on the sheets of Raymundo’s notebook, the blood of his fellow revolutionaries stained their birth soil. The Spanish had guns while the natives4 had slingshots and slippers. As for Mata’s revolutionary circle, the Katipuneros wielded a bolo5, the literal weapon and symbol of the fight for independence. In one of his diary entries penned at the start of the revolution, Mata reveals he witnessed the rather tragic end of Matandang Leon, the first katipunero whom he saw fall in battle.

Completing the fiercely quarrelsome modern-day intellectual trio in Apostol’s novel is the nationalist editor, Estrella Espejo. In the section where she writes her notes on Raymundo’s patrimony, Estrella mentions that Raymundo Mata was captured by the Americans and was in Bilibid jail for much of his remaining days. Here, Gina Apostol hints at the unreliability of our memoirist. In entry #42, Raymundo writes down the battle of Balara as the first of the many battles of the Philippine revolution. Estrella’s footnote disputes this, citing that various commentators of our history have already noted this error. It is Pasong Tamo that is more likely the first battle, not what Raymundo has written in his diary entry. Estrella goes on to say: “Why Raymundo persists in this error is obvious: he was losing his mind.” But in the editor’s preface, Estrella also writes of Raymundo: “That the storyteller is, I must admit, flawed, maybe mad, does not diminish my faith in his story. In fact, his madness amplifies its truth.”


Apostol touches on the veracity of memory and the truthfulness of historical records over personal narratives, a recurring theme in her work. The process of remembering is a dominant topic in her more straightforward novel, The Gun Dealer’s Daughter, and in Revolution, this becomes evident throughout the fracturing narrative as Mata’s accounts are questioned, corrected, and interpreted by the three academics. As such, Mata’s fictionalized memoir serves as a montage not only of his life as reimagined in fiction but also that of the whole country. Through the linguistic interactions of Mimi, Diwata, and Estrella in the margins of the text, the reader sees how Mata’s memoir becomes a portrayal of the ways in which individuals and groups remember their past on the basis of recollected memories, both personal and collective.



The push and pull between external forces, in this case the relentless annotations of Apostol’s intellectual trio, add to the maddening cacophony of voices remembering the past and the stories about stories being told. One voice writes and records, another one translates, while another one edits, and yet another one opines. This goes on and on as Apostol, with her asynchronous storytelling, takes the reader through the various threads in her novel.

In the footnotes of the three feuding intellectuals, Apostol leaves clues on how to approach, and what to expect from, the text: “[K]nowledge occurs by distortion—for a mirror is never truth, and yet for a while it relieves us of the burden of not knowing,” and “[T]he storyteller at one point indulges in infinite recapitulation to avoid decapitulation, a literal instalment.” The narrative spawns these infinities in the translation, interpretation, and retelling of Mata’s telling.

Where does the modern Filipino reader lie in this vast labyrinth? How does one reexamine the relationship between the past and the present and the manifold functions of cultural memories for the constitution of one’s identity? Gina Apostol does not provide clear-cut answers. Instead, through Raymundo’s accounts and the dizzying annotations of the intellectual trio, she shows that the rendering of cultural memories tells a lot more about the rememberer’s present than about actual past events. Their unquestioning acceptance or vehement denial is proof of the role of memory and the social dimension of dialectical truth6.

This layer to the novel leaves the present-day reader with a simultaneous sense of hope and dread. In the era of post-truth where historical revisionism runs deep in Philippine society, it is a revolutionary act to read Apostol’s novel. The victims of our country’s bloody history (whether they be 19th-century revolutionaries rebelling against colonial forces or the Desaparecidos of the Martial Law Era7) may remain just footnotes, their memories suspended over time, their stories negated by fascist narratives. In the case of Apostol’s protagonist, a freedom fighter once a footnote in history but granted his own footnoted memoir through historical fiction, there’s barely extant evidence in the manner of physical details to allow an effective tracing of his life. But we later see that dates and localizations are largely insignificant in the discourse of pain and violence. To borrow Diwata Drake’s words, “I have no wish to deny Raymundo’s story.”

Apostol’s novel does not deny historical truthfulness. It does, however, question historical accuracy. This is evident in the blending of the fictional with the factual. Raymundo Mata, with his initiation into the secret society, meets the founder of the Katipunan—Andres Bonifacio. In the teaching of our history, Andres has been inaccurately portrayed as the Great Plebeian, when in truth, he came from a middle-class family. Mata’s memoir depicts him as the well-read person that he actually was, a reader of novels like Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. The annotations of the nationalist editor, Estrella Espejo, prove especially helpful, filling in the gaps in our history where Andres Bonifacio and other key players of the revolution are concerned.



One rather intriguing twist is a comparison between Mata’s fictionalized memoir and Dr Pio Valenzuela’s actual (and very controversial) autobiography. When news of poet-ophthalmologist Jose Rizal’s exile in Dapitan broke out, Andres Bonifacio commissioned Dr Valenzuela to seek Rizal’s advice. Would Rizal give the green light to rise against the Spanish authorities?8 As Raymundo is half-blind, Andres deemed him fit to accompany Pio to Dapitan. Any contact with the exiled Rizal would have been suspicious, so it was only fitting that Mata be introduced as Valenzuela’s patient and that their trip to Dapitan was only made in pursuit of Rizal’s medical opinion.

Our historians have long since noted the inconsistencies in Valenzuela’s version of events. And Apostol blends fiction with history to demonstrate this. In Raymundo’s thirty-first journal entry, we read about how Valenzuela travels under an assumed name, Procopio Bonifacio, and was accompanied by our night-blind bookworm, Raymundo Mata himself. Editor Estrella adds a footnote on the discrepancy in the two versions of Valenzuela’s memoirs. The first one states that Valenzuela was accompanied by Raymundo Mata and Rufino Magos, both residents of Binakayan, Kawit, Cavite. A later edition specifies that Valenzuela was with Mata the blind man and Magos as Mata’s young aide. Estrella notes: “The truth of Raymundo’s memoirs asserts Rufino Mago [not Magos] was an old man while he was the young patient. In addition, while they were both from Binakayan, Kawit, they were residents at the time of Manila: further proof of Valenzuela’s notoriously unreliable testimony.” In writing Raymundo’s fictionalized memoir, Apostol offers a counter-narrative where Valenzuela has written down misleading or inconsistent information.

In the novel’s last chapter titled “Epitaph”, Diwata Drake states that Raymundo’s memoir “seems cousin to other vibrant forgeries and textual ambiguities that have plagued this fervid democracy’s highly imaginative history.” A neo-Freudian psychoanalyst critic right through to the end, she maintains that the textual deceptions in the annals of our history “underline without a doubt the eternal trauma of the Philippines: like everyone else, it is a contingent being, born of words.”

The nationalist editor, Estrella Espejo, writes that “the Philippines may be the only country whose war of independence began with a novel (and a first novel at that)—Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (‘Touch-Me-Not’). Our notion of freedom began with fiction, which may explain why it remains an illusion.” Before that statement, she writes: “The American revolution had farmers and dentists; the French revolution had a mob of lawyers. Our prime mover was a poet.”

A longstanding debate is whether the national hero Jose Rizal was in favour of the revolution. It is said that Rizal believed a premature revolution would only set the country to failure, the blood of freedom fighters unnecessarily shed, their deaths unwarranted. There’s also the inconsistency in Pio Valenzuela’s memoirs, which simultaneously incriminates and vindicates Jose Rizal. For Valenzuela was never clear on what transpired during his meeting with Rizal in Dapitan. Gina Apostol’s gifts of insight enabled her to humanize Rizal, who has long been idealized by radical propagandists and the general public alike.

Before Raymundo Mata joined Pio Valenzuela to meet the exiled hero, he too put Rizal on a pedestal. We read in the thirtieth entry in his fictionalized memoir: “Despite my bravado, this is what I knew: I would be terrified to speak to the man. I was glad that I had not brought my copy of the Noli—no need to ask him then about an autograph and risk looking like an idiot.”

Apostol sets enough tension in the scene where Mata eavesdrops on the conversation between Pio Valenzuela and Jose Rizal. Raymundo notes his admiration towards Pio, fulfilling his mission as the Supremo’s secret messenger to seek Rizal’s signature, the sign that the hero has given the go-ahead. As things stand, there is only one right answer for the Katipunan. Raymundo then shifts his focus to Rizal, noting that the hero knew damned well what they were up to. Here, we read a moving epiphany from Mata: 

“It’s true. His bones did not matter. We wanted of him what was air and nothing, such as his name, a ghost louse-scratch. As for his novels, his words? Not futile but culpable. Blameless, but still: bloodstained. This pained him. I was shocked. This is what I got for my crime, arrant listener. Struck dumb: for this must be our Medusa, worse than a hero’s death was a hero’s truth.”

Through Mata’s eyes, we see Rizal in his humanity—a gifted polyglot, polymath, and patriot, who despite his knowledge of medicine, mathematics, and engineering, is stuck in a bind. To agree to a revolution or to warn against a premature one? In humanizing the national hero, Apostol provides a critique of the nation and nationalism.



And like a rabid member of the Rizalist cult, Raymundo Mata steals the manuscript of Jose Rizal’s third novel, Makamisa (a mix of Tagalog and Spanish, ‘after the mass’ in English). Apostol cleverly crafts the last entry in Raymundo Mata’s memoir as passages from the stolen manuscript. In the words of Diwata Drake, Mata’s conclusive memoir entry, written completely in English, interlaces with Rizal’s third novel. Our pseudonymous translator Mimi Magsalin adds that there is a resemblance between Rizal’s Spanish and Mata’s English. The novel’s anti-colonial sentiment shines here; the interlacing of Rizal’s Spanish and Mata’s English is symbolic of their motherland’s long colonial history. First, under the Spanish and later, the Americans9.

Gina Apostol takes the revolutionary fervour and psyche-searching of a historical novel and moulds it into a kaleidoscopic work of reflecting mirrors and looping intrigues. As per Raymundo Mata’s thirty-sixth entry, written in English and unpunctuated: “Like a novel revolution is never finished.” The statement could be interpreted as a subject-puzzle, as Mimi Magsalin suggests in her footnotes: “Like a novel revolution, [something] is never finished.” Another interpretation is conventional, using splice, “Like a novel, revolution is never finished.” Or perhaps it is none of these or all of these at once. In the end, the reader is left with an awareness that there is something beyond the intellectual exercise of writing, translating, and reading: something inexplicable, unfathomable, but still somehow understood.


Footnotes

1 Filipino poet, fiction writer and playwright Eric Gamalinda writes this blurb for Gina Apostol’s novel: “The role of the intellectual, according to Edward Said, is to present alternative narratives on history than those provided by ‘combatants’ who claim official entitlement to official memory and national identity–who propagate ‘heroic anthems sung in order to sweep all before them.’ In this fearlessly intellectual novel, Gina Apostol takes on the keepers of official memory and creates a new, atonal anthem that defies single ownership and, in fact, can only be performed by the many–by multiple voices in multiple readings. We may never look at ourselves and our history the same way again.”

Intellectuals, according to Antonio Gramsci, fall into two groups. Firstly, there are the “traditional” professional intellectuals, literary, scientific, and so on. In the second place are the “organic” intellectuals, distinguished less by their profession but are nevertheless the thinking and organizing element of a particular social class. For Gramsci, the intellectual has the responsibility of keeping society together and in harmony, creating a new consciousness for a social strata and bringing meaning and understanding to one’s role in life and society.

Gina Apostol’s novel asks the question: who are the intellectuals, what are their social functions, and are they even relevant in the modern world?

2 From Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual. Drawing upon Gramsci’s views of the roles of intellectuals in society, Said writes that the intellectual should critique power and authoritarianism of all kinds at any cost to ensure social stability. The critical concern for the intellectual, according to Said, is the search for the Truth, which would counter oppressive power structures and fascist narratives.

3 The members of the revolutionary secret society organized by the Supremo Andres Bonifacio, they launched the Filipino independence struggle in 1896.

4 Spanish colonists called the natives of the Philippines indios. Interestingly, the term Filipino did not exist then as we know it today. It was once synonymous with Insulares, the term used to call Spaniards born in the Philippine islands.In one of Magsalin’s notes on translation, we read: “Spanish caste terms are particularly troubling for a translator of nineteenth-century Filipino society.” Magsalin asks what a translator should do when met with the term indio when translating colonial era texts. Using such a denotative term would mean taking on the Spanish prejudice but using Filipino would mean translating the text inaccurately. She writes, “I took the path of least resistance and just footnoted.”

5 Only using traditional pre-colonial single-edged knives, Filipino freedom fighters had little chance of victory against the Spaniards armed with guns and cannons.

6  On Hegelian dialectics. Hegel postulates that Truth is correspondence. We uncover Truth in the idea of others, questioning them and revealing their myriad contradictions and convolutions.

7  During the Marcos dictatorship, over 1,600 people disappeared. None of them were ever found. The fate of the disappeared remains a question mark in our history.

8 Although Jose Rizal was not a member of the revolutionary secret society, the Katipunan revered him for his revolutionary novels and sought his advice on whether or not they should start a revolution.

Rizal thought otherwise as he believed the freedom fighters needed more sophisticated weapons and a more organized strategy to mobilize the masses into rising up against Spanish authority.

But in the end, a premature revolution broke out when the Spaniards learned about the secret rebel society.

As for Rizal, he was tried and convicted of sedition. The Spanish authorities believed his novels incited indios to rebel against them.

9 The Spanish-American war ended with the Treaty of Paris. Spain sold the Philippines to America for twenty million dollars.


Born and raised in the Philippines, HAZEL ANN fell in love with reading and writing at a young age and went on to pursue Literature as her area of study in university. Her writings have appeared in national and regional publications in the Philippines, including a now-defunct multilingual folio of performance poetry Bukambibig and an anthology project telling the struggles and joys of being a young Filipina, Inday-Inday. Her review of Gina Apostol’s The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata is her first work to be featured in an international literary magazine. She shares mini-book reviews and literary musings on her bookstagram, @literary.hazelnut.

The Things We Know: Finding Comfort and Fire in Disability Knowledge During a Global Pandemic

BY CHARLOTT SCHÖNWETTER

“The virus is not so bad, it is only really concerning for the old or people with pre-existing conditions,” is a sentence I heard loud and clear too often to count at the beginning of a still ongoing pandemic now spanning more than two and a half years. I have heard it in different iterations ever since. Disabled and chronically ill people have been forced into prolonged isolation as covid continues to rage. In some cases, even that is the privileged form of dealing with the pandemic; others do not have the option.  Just like they have been warning since early 2020, disabled people have been either “forgotten” or easily dismissed. Eugenicist logic is voiced by politicians and media without sustained and visible pushback. Disabled people did realize early on that this pandemic has the potential to become a mass disabling event if careful measures were not put into place. But as is so often the case, their analyses were not taken seriously.

In January 2019, the Black queer disability activist, writer, actress and model Imani Barbarin created the hashtag #ThingsDisabledPeopleKnow on Twitter. As a direct response to critiques on Barbarin’s take on disability representation in Hollywood, but also in general to the constant dismissal and ignorance of knowledge disabled people hold, disabled people shared their experiences and nuggets of knowledge under this hashtag. There is so much disabled people, especially those living at the cross-section of several marginalisations, know. This knowledge—which, of course, is also shaped by different experiences depending on the kind of disability or chronic illness the person lives with, if the person has moved through this world disabled right from birth or acquires it later in life and other factors—might include an on-point analysis of societal structures which add to people being disabled, nuanced critiques of capitalism but also information on how to keep things sanitized as well as possible.  

In the midst of the daily onslaught of ableism provided by people negating Covid, I found myself drawn to books written by disabled and chronically ill writers, especially non-fiction that engaged with our possibilities to live and to create lives worthy for all. I was hungry for the wisdom, humour, poetic phrases and biting commentary of fellow chronically ill and disabled people to counter a world in which our very right to existence is daily debated. I longed to see disability and chronic illness as a well of possibility, a lens which enables inclusive thinking.



The first time I felt truly seen in my experiences of pain, was when I read Sonia Huber’s essay collection, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, in 2017. One of the essays is titled “Welcome to the Kingdom of the Sick” and I felt that embrace while I leafed through the pages. In the book, Huber writes about her experiences as a white woman with chronic illness and pain, looks at the (US) health system, analyses common discourses on health/ illness, and asks what pain actually is/ means/ does. This might sound dire but this book made me full-on belly-laugh, especially while reading Huber’s take on the pain scale. Even if you are not chronically ill/ disabled, you might have been asked by a doctor to judge your pain on a scale from 1 to 10. And while other more complex and accurate pain scales do exist, this is still the most common one employed in a medical setting. 

I have my own devastating experience with this scale as I was asked to name a number a few years back in an ambulance on the way to an ER after not one, but two trains were stalled as the conductor—seeing the amount of pain I was in—did not feel well leaving me at the train station without knowing that the ambulance had arrived. In the ambulance, I named a fairly high number for the pain I had just experienced though I already felt better. The ambulance driver ridiculed me and replied that this number was only appropriate for a woman if she was giving birth. Without unpacking the gendered (and surely cis-normative) assumptions, the full irony is that when I was finally diagnosed a few months and many ER visits later, I found out that a lot of people who had the same illness and had given birth compared the pain levels and judged birth to be less painful. But even if taken seriously, a privilege many chronically ill and disabled people—especially multiply marginalized ones—never have, one sole reply to the pain scale as a single data point seems so utterly useless. Huber’s tongue-in-cheek “alternative pain scale” instead is practical, relatable, and more importantly, funny. Her steps include: “4. Couch. All I want is my couch and Netflix”, “8. Do you still love me? Someone tell me they love me because I worry you hate me when I am in pain. Am I irritating? Is it hard to love a near-invalid?”, “13. I can’t read. The sentences are too hard. Remember when books?” and “20. Am I going to puke? Would I feel better if I puked?”.

The tone within the collection changes from lyrical to outright snarky, the form from essay to open letters to lists. The writing and stylistic choices themselves are an echo of living in constant pain. It is not just the content but the form as well which changes, adapts, and makes room for new approaches. A lot of the texts are fairly short. Some of the texts do not have long paragraphs but are written in a sort of poetic staccato: sentence, sentence, sentence. This way of writing reminds me of how my mind works under the stress of pain and the accompanying brain fog. It takes a lot to even formulate one coherent thought in one sentence as the concentration span is often incredibly short. Another lesson here: The specifics of your disability/ chronic illness does not only affect your perspective on things but also the ways you will be able to convey the knowledge you have.



I will admit that it is not always easy to truly embrace such lessons. While I nod reading and agree with what feels like my entire being, there is a lifetime of ableism lying like heavy sediment on all my muscles. It’s difficult to shake that off. It’s hard to divorce oneself from societal values and expectations around health, productivity, and what makes a good life. Eli Clare takes the metaphor of a mountain and runs (stumbles, moves carefully?) with it in their 1999 essay collection, Exile and Pride. Disability, Queerness, and Liberation. They ask how many marginalized people have tried to get up the mountain and how many marginalized people measure their lives assessing how close they get to ascend the mountain. Clare writes: “We’ve hit our heads on glass ceilings, tried to climb the class ladder, lost fights against assimilation, scrambled toward that phantom called normality.” They go on to explain that all our lives we are told the summit is worth it and the only reason for us not making it is that we are lacking in one way or another.

But the thing is, this mountain and its paths up were never meant to enable everyone who wishes to make the journey: the paths are not accessible for wheelchairs, the signs are only ever in one language, the necessary gear is too expensive for many, and the knowledge of how to use the gear is not widely shared. But even knowing all of this, it is hard to not want to even try for capitalism also tells us that if we don’t even attempt to achieve the arbitrarily set goals in this society, we are losers. 

Reading Clare’s beautiful descriptions of this struggle helped me partially reassess my priorities. During the pandemic, I found myself sicker than I had ever been before. When I was diagnosed, my body was ready to shut down. I was told that I could fall into a coma at any given point. I was given the choice that either the specialist doctor in whose office I sat would call an ambulance and send me to the hospital or I could go home to monitor my situation and come to the doctor’s office every day in the mornings for check-ups. I chose the latter and was told that if I were just five minutes late, they would call an ambulance to my home as they would suspect that I am in a coma or dead. 

In 2019, I would have chosen the safety of the hospital without a doubt but in February 2021, I was afraid I might contract Covid in the hospital. On top of everything, that would be the last straw. I was also afraid of not being able to keep in touch with anyone. I of course didn’t even have a phone charger on me. As you read these words on your screen, you will have already rightfully concluded that in the end, I made it through. I did not die and I also did not fall into a coma. But even after this harrowing experience, for a couple months more, I tried to run up that mountain. 

I would like to say that I returned again to Clare’s words immediately—or similar words by other fantastic disabled writers—let them speak to me, and found the strength to do the necessary cuts in my life. But even if all this knowledge is out there and we can consume it, sometimes it still needs therapy, weeks of crying, and a full breakdown in the middle of the night to not only intellectually get the message but actually feel it and act on it accordingly. A few weeks after I committed to a very difficult decision in order to make my life more livable, I fell ill with a rare, but often curable, disease on top of the chronic illnesses and issues I already carry. Now, one year later, I still wait to hear the words: “You are healed from that disease.”



The first book I read about disability which also touched upon the Covid pandemic was Shayda Kafai’s Crip Kinship: The Disability Justice & Art Activism of Sins Invalid. As the title shows, this is not a book about the pandemic as such, but how could you write a book within the pandemic about disability justice and not refer to the ongoing onslaught on disabled people? Sins Valid, founded in 2005, is a performance project rooted in Disability Justice and centers, in particular, disabled BIPOC and LGBTQ artists. In Crip Kinship, Kafai documents the history and praxis of Sins Invalid and analyses how the project tackles or relates to topics such as community, storytelling and art-making, education, the titular crip kinship, sex and pleasure, beauty, and manifesting futures. The book is an incredible source detailing not only the work of Sins Invalid but it also deepens one’s understanding of Disability Justice as a concept and as praxis. 

Kafai’s words deeply resonated with me when she describes how living through this pandemic, the climate catastrophe, and just the day-to-day of this world has affected her in the past few years. She writes: “I used to have expectations for humans that I don’t anymore. It’s sobering to experience a pandemic and see how difficult change is for people. It’s sobering to see how much pain the ocean can be in and how few fucks humans can give. It’s painfully sobering. I’ve had to do some serious expectation management of our species. You can only get heartbroken so many times before you recognize the nature of the beast.” I have read this paragraph so many times. It has fueled my anger but it has also soothed something in me. To see a person outside of myself give voice to these ideas actually ignited brief sparks of euphoria as in the middle of the often isolating experience of living during Covid, I felt deeply connected to others who are experiencing the same things as me.

As a result, Crip Kinship is not a sad book but a hopeful one. Shayda Kafai celebrates the knowledge production and inventive praxes of disabled, chronically ill and Mad people. She refers to the archives they carry and the intergenerational memory banks which exist, the stories which are told and retold and the effect this can have, especially when the perspectives of “radical disabled, queer of color contemporaries, elders, and ancestors” are centered. This knowledge could enable us to dissect white supremacy in all its forms and layers for colonialism, capitalism, racism, ableism, hatred towards trans and queer people and other forms of suppression are interlinked in their roots and effects. Kafai sees disabled people crafting themselves new routes to follow, the routes which will hopefully show us all how to circumnavigate the metaphorical mountain once and for all.

Disability knowledge–or whatever term you might find for it–is so rich but, thanks to ableism, it is all too often disregarded. Disability knowledge is about how we observe the world, how we understand and make sense of the world, how we move through the world, and how we make our own existence possible. Disability knowledge spans from vast and complex theories to the exchange of information on the nitty-gritty of navigating everyday life. One writer, artist and activist who exemplifies this is Leah Lakshmi Piepzna‑Samarasinha and during the last two years I found myself re-reading two of her books I had at hand: Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (2018) and Tonguebreaker: Poems and Performance Texts (2019). 



In the former, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes about the history of disability justice and their justified fear of this movement being co-opted, about rethinking care and access, suicidal ideation, new models of survivorhood, so called call-out culture, and making space for disabled/ chronically ill elders. Again centering the experiences and knowledge of disabled/ sick/ Mad QTPoC, especially femmes, Piepzna-Samarasinha documents activist history (which is (made to be) forgotten or over-written), offers practical tips (for example in her essay “Chronically Ill Touring Artist Pro Tipps”), and discusses conceptual work like “care webs”, which describe ideas of collective care outside the medical industrial complex. The content and context of creation is also reflected in the different text forms: there are essays, lists, and conversations with other artists and activists. 

Tonguebreaker takes up a lot of similar themes but sees them reflected in poetry and other kinds of performance texts. The variety of forms Piepzna-Samarasinha employs throughout her works offer access points for different kinds of people but it also might speak to different parts of one and the same person. The texts help me to think through specific problems but also lead me to my emotions. In Tonguebreaker, they describe disability as “adaptive, interconnected, tenacious, voracious, slutty, silent, raging, life giving”. It is this contradictory truth which many abled people seem not to grasp at all but which is also often difficult for disabled and chronically ill people to access as we too have to wade through ableist thoughts and teachings. Still, for us to be able to think about disability in such a way is a lifeline.

This essay was due months ago, and then again a month ago, and then again yesterday. In my early twenties, I prided myself on making deadlines work, on being reliable, and pushing through. I still often make plans as if my body with all its realities wasn’t mine to handle. But in the last month, I had to suppress my immune system to treat one illness (a special joy in an ongoing pandemic which many treat as if it’s over) and the domino effects of medication led to me having to inject myself four times a day for a totally different illness. I have been struggling with extreme fatigue, not making it through a day without sleeping. I have been constantly in heightened pain. There have been changes in medication again and again. There are new tests scheduled.  This is draining.

Living with chronic illnesses and disabilities often means to balance feelings of “more of the same” and “wow, not another drastic change”. It means ongoing adaptation. It means grieving a version of yourself which you will never be (again)–often not only once, but again and again and again. Dealing with it in the middle of a global pandemic often is  more heartbreaking than usual as everything we know to be true about our ableist societies seems even more acute, dangerous, and damning. And while books are not the only source to disabled knowledge–and books and longer written texts are not accessible for everyone—they are one important source. Picking up non-fiction books by disabled and chronically ill authors allows us to feel connected, allows us to dream up better futures and to find some tools which help to manifest such a future. In October, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna‑Samarasinha’s latest book will be published. It is aptly titled The Future Is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs and I, for one, cannot wait to take another step towards a new world which includes us all.


When CHARLOTT SCHÖNWETTER was ill as a child, her parents always gifted her reading material. Now as a chronically ill/ disabled adult she feels she always has the perfect excuse to get herself new books. Her writing on pop culture and literature has been published mostly in German language publications such as an.schläge, ak analyse&kritik and WASD – Bookazine für Gameskultur. In English, she shares her thoughts on books, culture, and politics regularly on Instagram (@half_book_and_co) and less frequently but more in depth in her literary newsletter Have You Read…? (https://tinyletter.com/haveyouread).

The Groundskeeper and His Seven Lawn Mowers

The Groundskeeper—name Mr. Lenard Lentin—was found in the midst of the July heat by his estranged daughter, Mae Dean Wilde, neighbors said, “alive, afghan-covered, sitting up in the middle of his living room with nothing ‘cept his clothes: a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of jeans.” The living room was 41 degrees; the lights had been turned off. The Groundskeeper’s hands were blue; he wasn’t dead, but the carpet he was sitting on seemed to be so.

Neighbors in Greenbrooke started calling Mae Dean a month back, after the Groundskeeper began using their garages, without permission, to store the junk he had procured from the garage sales he frequented each Saturday and Sunday. Each neighbor said lots of things about the Groundskeeper, as neighbors do.

“Began buying tools at first: shovels and rakes, clippers and trimmers. Then came measuring things: measuring tape, rulers, measuring cups, a pedometer, a T-square.”

“The Groundskeeper was constantly getting things ready without readying anything at all.”

“Bought all kinds of hangers, too, without anything to hang them on.”

“His mowers (he had at least seven) he kept in top condition, often spending more time with them than he did tending his own grass or his house or his second wife, Martha Minnie, which must have pissed her off awful.”

“One mower or another was always upended on the sidewalk. Later it’d turn up parked in one of our garages.”

The Groundskeeper used to layer the grass back and forth with a sequence of mowers—using different mowers for different parts of the lawn, overlapping sections, and then pulling out the old silent push mower for the final touches. He sculpted to perfection, lining the edges, trimming the bushes and pruning the trees. He snarled at errant footballs, whose misplaced bounces found their way onto lawns, turned up his nose at beer cans or paper scraps that blew in, got down on his knees like he was praying and picked them all up.

“Don’t get me started on the cursing he called the leaves.”

“For just a hair’s breadth, after he’d finished a job, the patch of grass was near perfect as it could be. There was no room in that moment for any kind of disappointment at all.”

Then, in early July, Martha Minnie died, and the verdant world he made of his life turned brown overnight. Neighborhood lawns soon followed and faded to yellow—strange curled and busted patches fell up in swirls, clover and dandelions grew like kudzu.

The neighbors rapped on his front and back door—tried to peek inside; doubted he was there but knew he was there; walked around his house and kicked up great moments of dust they later found would not shake away.

Some thought the Groundskeeper gave up when Martha Minnie died. Others whispered through their teeth the word ‘breakdown,’ but, most waited for the Groundskeeper to reappear, for the dead circles to give up their ghostly swirls, for the grass to snap back.

“We rummaged through our garages, hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Instead we found shovels and rakes, measuring tools and empty hangers.”

“We searched through the bags of seed and empty water cans while our grass continued to brown and fall away all together.”

“We wished the Groundskeeper would tend to our lawns again.”

One night in July, neighbors thought they heard him walking around on their roofs, cleaning out their gutters so rain water wouldn’t pour off onto their patios and find its way into their basements or flood their garages. They heard the sounds of wet leaves hitting the ground like bombs. Then, Mae Dean found him huddled in the afghan Martha Minnie had made from patches of discarded yarn she had forever collected. The Groundskeeper sat in the middle of the carpet, which had turned to thatch.

In September, all but a few neighbors called the big lawn maintenance companies. They watched from their windows as men came in trucks and rode riding mowers and plugged in electric trimmers and stood around scratching their heads over brown spots. The men suggested turf, which came in large rolls that they spread out like green carpets.  

“We heard the sounds of landscapers’ machinery—the shrill buzz of distant electric clippers and riding mowers but wished for the distant hum of a single lawn mower. And, during the late afternoons, the silence was deafening when we realized the garage sale leavings—the measuring cups, the weedwhackers, the shovels, the rakes, the empty hangers, the water cans, the seed, and the seven lawn mowers, even the silent push mower—were for us.”


J. BRADLEY MINNICK is a writer, public radio host and producer, and an Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Minnick has written, edited, and produced the one-minute spot “Facts About Fiction,” which celebrates influential authors and novelists with unique facts from their lives. These spots air weekly on UA Little Rock Public Radio and its affiliated stations. In 2014, Minnick began work on artsandlettersradio.org, a show celebrating modern humanities with a concentration on Arkansas cultural and intellectual work. He has produced over 100 episodes, and this work has been acknowledged by the 2016 national PRNDI 1st Place award for Long Documentary for “Sundays with TJ,” and a 2020 SPJ Arkansas Diamond Award for Long Documentary/Investigative Reporting for the two-part “They Liked My Phras’n: The Life and Music of Rose Marie McCoy. He has published numerous journal articles and fiction.

The Demigod

I first saw the word ‘severe’ chiselled into the lines arranged on Baba’s face. Until then, all I had wanted to see, was ‘here’ or ‘fire’, maybe ‘revere’ instead of ‘mere’. What I received after ten years, just as I was getting to know myself, was rejection. I had never stared at a blank grey slate of wall— like I had nothing better to do, like the drool slowly leaking out of my mouth’s corner was welcome. Nobody actually adopts this vegetative state of their own accord. Isn’t it always thrust upon you? The arrangement of ‘severe’ was on his face but it severed me. So many things became clear then. The world was nothing as I had imagined. Baba taught me this lesson thoroughly. Guileless as I was, his words became both the holy word of the Veda and the sentence that incarcerated me. Aai’s odhni fluttered in his hands, the material so tender and transparent that I wanted to risk snatching it back.  Baba had returned home before I could remove Aai’s odhni and ‘nausea’ crawled over his face at my appearance. In that moment, it fought the lines of ‘severe’, before emerging victorious. I could not decide which word was worse. My mouth burned with the red stain of lipstick. Long clumps of twisted hair, which some people called luxurious, shivered on my shoulder, a drooping rose still stuck somewhere in it, one twist hanging along my left eye. I wanted to find it annoying but couldn’t. My ankles hurt in their raised position inside the awkward shapes of outsized heels. Aai’s metallic belt which she only wore for her Bharatnatyam performances (an expensive borrowed item), pressed diagonally across my chest. Some loose thread from holes in my vest caught the sharp edges of metal. I was afraid to remove it. Would his nauseous disgust not turn into uncontrollable rage?

Before that day, I’d had an indifferent relationship with my body. It existed and as long as I could do whatever I liked, I couldn’t care less about this subjective object. It was just a thing I was born with, like our surname. Upon hearing it, people turned their heads to the side and spat (Aai said it was the ‘jaat’ – our centuries-old meaningless burden. I thought it was all the same). I haven’t bothered to know when the definition of this relationship between the object and the self began to change. Maybe it was always there or it started years back. The lines on Baba’s face said none of that mattered. Did I matter? I suppose not. Is this the lesson he wanted to teach? Either way, this is what I will take with me as long as I live. Decades have passed and the cement of this lesson grows like a living thing, indifferent that it might be killing another living being – the one it resides in, on it’s metaphorical rise. I thought I knew then, what ‘severe’ meant but now I can write a Master’s thesis on it. You are surprised I know what that is. Isn’t it common knowledge – a thesis? If ‘ordinary’ people like you know it, so do ‘others’  like us. You never asked. But then, in my experience, ‘ordinary’ people think they are the only ones making up the world. I would call them naive instead of my ten-year-old self. Have I changed my surname? You ask. I did, years ago but there’s no shame in admitting it. Your mouth presses like you can’t decide your opinion about it. But I know that these small shreds of self I share in my tiny square-metered room, demand a certain toeing of line from you. My silences, the set of my brows, the line of my mouth, the twitch of my tongue and palm, the movement of breath in my chest, all demand it. I don’t get to act out this luxury – negotiate my worth – very often. I won’t admit this to you though. As it is, I never have the upper hand except in these minutes between seven and eight on the clock’s face. Sometimes, when you don’t want to give in, you look around the recently painted blue walls which appear gloomy and gagging. An easy lone bulb hangs in the center, always still because the single-hand-sized window hardly brings a breeze to sway it. In your ‘generous’ moments, you say I am like this stationery filament in glass. I can tell now when you will say this. The first time it was an enormous struggle to hide my hurt. Now, I cover it like pulling up a sheet before sleep.

I keep secrets from you as well. One day, I walked barefoot to the Elephant-headed God’s temple. I complained of the blisters as I stood in front of the idol adorned with gold and sweets. I whispered a wish that my troubles would melt like cotton candy instead of lingering like rotten pigeon droppings or the water that refuses to drain from streets during the monsoon. I pleaded in the cold silver ear of the still mouse whose eyes had glazed after hearing so many wishes and cavils. And then I left my faith at the temple’s doorstep.

Once, I brazenly walked inside a mall, with the privilege of the word ‘ordinary’, past a conflicted security guard and snatched ordinariness for myself. I tucked the belt of my purse delicately, my limbs flirted with delicacy in your absence. I marvelled at my figure reflected in each ceiling-length mirror that passed. I entered a store branded with a neon-pink sign and the person floating about in this perfumed place demanded all my attention. Their lips were violently purple, eyelids violet and glistening, cheeks moister than mine on a sweaty day, and smart black heels matched with a lacy, ruffly skirt! I think I fell in love! Not with the person but… their presentation? Their air? Their naturally upturned cheeks? They were a person from some dream I had never dreamed, a dream I had but forgot. I go there as a treat. I went there the day I heard Aai, my solace, had passed away. I went there once just because. I don’t think I like ‘that’ world more than ‘this’ world. Maybe because we live the same everywhere. I remember many people before you admitting reluctantly that I had special powers. That I could read what they thought. You laughed when I confided this but I have caught your uncertainty flitting from brow to chin. It doesn’t matter. Baba’s lesson taught me much more than he intended. It granted me my power, or maybe it only awakened the power’s nerve. This power courses in my vein when I give sincere blessings to strangers on streets in exchange for money even as they tumble out insults or rejection gruffly. It surges when I am waiting in a queue for my turn in some degraded role at a village Tamasha, yearning that the audience has come to watch me perform. It percolates underneath the layers of my skin when I swallow the insults borne by the man inside me, seconds ago. It cowers when I see children directed by their families to recoil at my presence, women desperate to become pregnant gingerly placing money over my palm. They stare and stare some more. How did I become so soft and plump, they wonder. Am I not supposed to have hardness all over me? The Goddess knows I have enough in my heart.

Baba’s face in the shape of ‘Severe’, should have cut everything from me, even all forms of love. I had believed this until you daintily held my pinky. You still do at the beginning, middle or the end of our meetings. You declared I was Bahuchari Devi in earthly dimensions, a child in her reflection. The ten-year-old self in me awoke from slumber then. Sometimes I wonder how or why it is that the things they shrink away from, you touch and taste and explore. How do you do it? Can you show them how to do it? Would it make an easier world for me? Would I no longer need the sword or trident? You touch the hoops around my ears in reverence. I remind myself that I am a being of one gender attracted to another being of a different gender. I permit myself to place the lines. Over my face, yours, our bodies. The glistening freshly harvested grapes that are our skins. Thick matte hair curling up, where I please. You caress the marks on my skin made by ‘severe’, which blend into scars left after my skin stretched. You say you can’t understand beauty, but this is something close. I know what it cost, so I think it is. The shock of parts which ought to be there, absent in reality, this surprise of yours recedes with every meeting. You are still trying to understand me, but I want to scream “take me as I am!”. I wonder if you have the courage. I dare not ask. I’m damned to this shrunken state no matter how much ordinariness I have stolen- that is my greatest fear.

My more slender counterparts get away with metal tinkling at their ankles, necks and ears. They receive stares when they move in numbers. Chitra who lives beside me in the same narrow smothering box, has frequent call-ins from different men on different dates and hours of night. I get insecure when I see her carefree smile. That long flowing hair and delicate frame of bones is very attractive nowadays. Her face isn’t heavily set in gloom or cursed like mine. I know she, like everyone, must have their share of sorrows. Until I see it, I can’t feel sorry for her. But Chitra gives me strength. On days when my body refuses to get out of the tangled sheet, I listen to her coming and going out of her room. I stare at the long lengths of my fingernails. Sharp little swords. Sometimes red, other times pink. Currently chipped, uneven. It takes a lot to maintain their length. In times like these, the power unique to me, vanishes altogether, but I know I have only to call on it. I wonder what would make it stay permanently. It doesn’t act upon me or dare to surge when I look at how ‘affection’ falls on your nose. It only comes when I am alone. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Today, I am back to Baba’s lines spelling ‘severe’. Baba, the people from the chawl I grew up in say, has become obsessed with the lethal white powder that he deals people. I imagine Aai’s horror-struck body rustling. Her grey ashes adulterated by wood, have long since absorbed into soil, cloud and ocean. Someone politely alleged that I have a mental illness. A week ago, this white collar man nervously brushed his moustache and called me an animal roaming on his streets. Ex-lovers hang under my lone window and instead of ever singing a song of pining or yearning, their words lash and whip my back- ‘Hijada Whore’- Eunuch Slut. In all these decades, I haven’t gotten used to this. I can’t pull up a sheet like I do before sleep.

Now anger drives fatigue out. My powers might be stronger. I want to yell and fight with Baba’s face spelling ‘severe’. A chromosome gave me the body I have. Neither Aai nor Baba asked what I felt like. ‘Ordinary’ people change their bodies on a whim. This body isn’t my body until I claim it. If my self can’t unfurl and fill every crevice, is it really mine? Baba shouted that the world will laugh at me. I want to scream right back at him- why did you work, vote for and make a world that will mock me?

A journalist has asked to take my photos and when I meet them, they enquire about my real self and this way of life. They ask if they might be present when I make love to you. They hastily assure me they will pay me for it, but I feel apprehensive, hesitant. They gently murmur that I wouldn’t be the only one, they would ask Chitra for consent as well. ‘Consent’, suddenly I hold the word and turn it over like a treasured coin. That is how you treat me differently, how I have unwittingly reclaimed the oldest self of my past. I take the tiny relief and freedom and tell myself to make do with what remains of living. I comfort myself that the ten-year-old had always been right because a world that doesn’t let people discover and assert who they are, becomes an unlovable hell. I wrap saris, tighten petticoats and blouses, slide over kurtas and salwars, draw bindis, weave flowers and wear thin anklets, slip into peeling heels that fit better- each act in defiance of Baba and ‘his’ world that is just ‘a’ world. I sit on the Goddess’s rooster as another incarnation, hair flowing, limbs swinging. I whisper to the figment of Baba that the lesson he wanted me to learn was never learnt, lost and buried in that memory. I have seen the shape of ‘severe’ but now I cut and pierce the meaning. The power flows and speaks more clearly than ever. I make words mine.

For you. My lover, it is ‘I’. For the world, it must be ‘she’ and ‘her’ but they only see ‘he’ and ‘him’. Baba wanted me to sacrifice myself so he placed a word that meant it-‘Samarpan’ – over me. I scratched the first name out and wrote ‘Sumaiyya’- pure, high, exalted. I sacrifice to no one but myself. This is the legacy I create for myself and ‘my’ world, so that Baba’s patrimony eats itself, erodes with the acid borne of my reclaimed body, and vanishes out of existence- like it was never there.


SAMRUDDHI is a bibliophile and manga otaku since twelve and knew she wanted to become a writer when her teacher said her school essays were too outré. She writes short stories and literary reviews and is currently working to publish her first novel. Her literary review has been published in the ‘Verse of Silence’ literary magazine. She practices Japanese Calligraphy for inner peace and loves dogs.

A Conversation with Sergio Troncoso

I wrote my first short story only a few months ago. It concerns the truth of someone I know. It was told to my mother in confidence, but she decided to spill it to me anyway as most innocent mothers do. I wasn’t shocked by the truth when I first heard it, but it has stayed with me and assumed its own shape and form in my mind over the past few years. It is strange to say this, but I can almost feel it constantly shifting and being punctured in my mind and body in ways that have perhaps made that truth mine now. When I decided it was time to write it down and give it some form, I realized I couldn’t do it through poetry. It had to be done through prose; I had to write a short story. It needed a different body. But I felt odd being nearly paralyzed by the idea of writing something down as a poem. I had never written a short story. Where should I begin? How? How do I get my mind to think in sentences without line breaks? How much should I meditate on language and isolate words? How do I write with a poet’s mind? I never thought there was something I couldn’t say through poetry, but this instance felt different as though the real challenge was not the story itself, but the way to tell it. And so I finished writing the short story and wrote one after the next, and soon enough, I realized I had embarked on a novel. I haven’t written any poetry since and decided sometime in April that I wanted to attend a fiction workshop in the summer.

I came across the Yale Writers’ Workshop and spent a week with other writers on the beautiful Yale campus trying to find ways to write and revise our stories. There, I was struck by something that Sergio Troncoso, one of the faculty members, said at the faculty reading. He pointed out that it’s the challenges related to craft that he wants to explore in his writing now, as opposed to challenging themes or subjects alone. I thought he had spoken to what I’d recently experienced: the truth of the story didn’t challenge me as much as the idea of writing in a short story form did. So I decided to get in touch with Sergio and talk to him more about this idea.

We decided to meet one afternoon at a French-style cafe on the Upper West Side. I like going to a different neighborhood than mine, or meeting people in theirs. Each neighborhood carries a different personhood and conversations in different areas, too, perhaps are imbued with the identity of that place. I composed myself before meeting Sergio. I always feel like I am entering a different world, a different dimension when I exit the subway and it takes a while for me to reorient myself. Sergio was waiting for a couple of minutes. We decided to sit inside because we thought it would be too noisy outside. We ordered coffee and our conversation, of course, began with talking about New York. If I could have it my way, every conversation of mine would begin with the city.

Sergio thought I look acclimated to New York. “For better or for worse,” he added. And he went on to tell me how he misses Texas, where he was born and raised in the city of El Paso. He misses connecting with people the most. “They can be rude and rough in New York,” he said. But he went on to add that the diversity of the city is unmatched, that one can meet fascinating people from various backgrounds doing all kinds of creative, interesting stuff. And then we got down to it. Sergio asked me to shoot my questions and I told him, then, that I was interested in talking to him about the idea of being challenged by some aspect of craft. He immediately said that he knew how to tell a good story, but that he wants to feel constantly challenged as a writer. He wants to do something difficult or something he wants to learn more about. I liked that approach. Sergio was stepping into the territory I like asking writers the most about: What do you not know about writing yet? What continues to scare or challenge you about writing?



And Sergio’s new novel, Nobody’s Pilgrims, is what he had in mind as his “adventure novel.” It’s his attempt at something new, something he hasn’t done before. He wanted to write something suspenseful, but also something about immigration, poverty and the working class. His other books, such as A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son (Lee and Low, 2019) and From This Wicked Patch of Dust (University of Arizona Press, 2011) deal with similar themes, albeit in different ways. Nobody’s Pilgrims, however, is interestingly described as “a cross between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and No Country for Old Men.” Sergio wanted to write about people who don’t belong, and his novel follows three runaway teenagers— Turi, Molly and Arnulfo— racing across the country in a stolen truck. “One of the things writers are supposed to do,” he said, “is entertain readers.” He laughed and added, as if suddenly conscious of what he had said, “I know it sounds ‘sucky,’ but it is true.”

But one of Troncoso’s main challenges related to craft in Nobody’s Pilgrims was to write short, fast-paced chapters and a novel in which all the protagonists are teenagers. The book, unlike his other works, was not what he calls “pre-arranged.” His other novels were laid out and he mostly stuck to the maps he had drawn. He said, “I wouldn’t call it an outline. It was more like a map of a lot of paragraphs… and I sort of followed it with a few adjustments.” But with Nobody’s Pilgrims, he only knew where to start and where to go, but he wanted to allow a chance of discovery.

I went on to ask him at that point, whether he ever conceptualized his book a YA novel even though it is adult fiction. His publisher, Lee and Low, after all, mostly publishes children’s books although they have started to make forays into the adult fiction and nonfiction markets. Troncoso stated that the presence of three teenage protagonists doesn’t necessarily make it a young adult fiction. I agreed with Sergio and he asked for my opinion as a reader. I told him how I was reminded of reading Salman Rushdie’s books, Luka and the Fire of Life and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. I read those titles only a few years ago as an undergraduate, and my experience of reading them was not from the perspective of children’s literature or YA fiction. The same, I believe, is the case for Elena Ferrante’s books, I told Sergio. Her latest fiction, The Lying Life of Adults, is told from the perspective of a teenager and although the narrator of her Neapolitan novel, Lenù narrates her childhood and adolescence in retrospect maintaining a touch of her childhood and adolescent voice, they are not books for children or teenagers alone.

But what also interested me about Sergio’s new novel was his attempt to explore the psychology of teenage characters in the present and insert his own self into them. In his new novel, he goes through just a few weeks in their life as opposed to a long stretch of time. One of his characters, Arnulfo, is like a version of himself, he said. And Molly is the kind of character Sergio knew while he was teaching in Independence, Missouri. Most Mollys, he said, were from white, working-class families who are “poor, blonde and blue-eyed,” but who perhaps saw Sergio as an elite, Ivy-league educated man— he graduated from Harvard before receiving two degrees in international relations and philosophy from Yale, and was a Fulbright scholar. And Turi, on the other hand, is as an orphan who doesn’t have a family to fall back on and is trying to escape the border from a bad family. “The more you educate yourself and spend time away from your family or origin, the more you can’t explain to them where you are and what you’re doing. And I have felt that acutely.” The reason Sergio started to write was because he felt he couldn’t talk to anybody, not about the works of Plato and Aristotle, or about what he had managed to do with his life.

But Sergio maintains that growing up in poverty never really leaves one and there’s always an imposter’s voice inside him that speaks at times. “I’ve always felt a sense of fear. Maybe I haven’t done enough, maybe I don’t understand enough. Maybe Yale and Harvard made a mistake.” And it is these apprehensions that he tries to write into his characters. Sergio started learning the craft on the fly. He learnt it on his own, he says, and he admits that it’s a lonelier path to take, but the payoff, he thinks, is that it has made his voice all the more unique.

But Sergio is always working on something new. He was working on research for another historical novel set in Juárez about a young, seventeen-year old woman who led a protest during the Mexican revolution, but has largely disappeared from history. Based on his research, he has reason to believe that she was probably killed but the more he dug into her life, he realized he would have to create her end to make her life meaningful. He wrote a little bit about her in his linked short story collection, but he said the fervor is gone now, he said. “The Yale Writers’ Workshop and a few other things,” he said, “interrupted it.” He did a lot of research, but he’s just not so sure of continuing with it. Sergio often advises his students to write something that really excites them, even if they don’t know everything about it. “If you’re not excited, you should put it aside and do something else,” Sergio declared, ” and that’s the other thing about craft. You should enjoy it.” Sergio is very serious about writing but he emphasizes on having fun with it, not a purposeless kind of fun, not a fun that isn’t ambitious. But the kind of fun that makes you feel more engaged with the task at hand. Craft is time-consuming and any lack of energy, Sergio believes, is reason enough to drop it and switch to something else.

He said to me, “You are your best experience. You dig deep into yourselves, you see many different selves and many different versions of people in you. I always see myself as an experiment, a vehicle.” And Sergio is always experimenting with versions of himself. But as he were talking, I was interested in his idea of discovery— it is something I think of as a translator. You’re not just translating words from one language to another, you’re also aiming to translate their discovery and suprises and how you replicate your discoveries as a reader, that delicious suspenseful feeling before the discovery, is crucial to your task.

But Sergio cared about it being a conversation, and asked me a few questions about my own writing project and obsession with Ferrante. I told him how the novel I am working on is an auto-fiction and before I could pick his brain about inserting oneself into one’s story, Sergio immediately acknowledged that creating a fiction of yourself and putting yourself in a story is also about “putting yourself through a lot.” When he was writing Nobody’s Pilgrims, it was a departure from From This Wicked Patch of Dust, which was about a loving, poor family who could get to the United States primarily because of the love that existed among them in the midst of their poverty. But Nobody’s Pilgrims is different and focuses more on the idea of violence haunting innocence. It was born out of focusing on the reversal of some ideals, out of Troncoso’s own inability to speak to everyone. I was certain many writers can connect to that— so many of us write when we fail to speak. It sounds ironic, but it’s true.

“I feel like a turtle. My home is on my back, it’s wherever I am,” he said. Sergio is accustomed now to working by himself, to the loneliness of a writer’s life that only occasionally crosses paths with others. But he is a firm believer in the freedom that loneliness affords, the one to follow one’s mind and delve deeper into oneself that emerges within its sad but liberating confines. One of Troncoso’s early stories, he recounted, was about a twenty-year old man, Victor, who goes out with a Mexican woman he met in El Paso who is a decade older to him. That relationship made his character wonder about whether he’s Mexican or American. The very first scenes describe them in a moment of passion and Troncoso’s father, upon reading the story, said, “Sergio, what are you doing? Are you writing pornography?” We laughed and Sergio talked briefly about not censoring oneself, or not writing because of the fear of people around us. There’s often a pull to write the “right characters,” he said, but Sergio tries to resist linear or perfectly moral characters, not the “right” kind of immigrants or women for instance.

“A deep freedom of consciousness,” Sergio says, “is what writing is about.” “Damn even yourself,” he says and advises writers not to fall for their own proclivities, judgements and tendencies. He wants to ask the toughest questions of himself, as much as he asks them of others around them and that’s why he loves writing. He said, “Let me be blunt. I don’t even think I know myself.” It’s a huge admission to come from a writer, and it is difficult to do what Sergio wants writers to do: to turn the lens onto our own selves as we do towards others. In many ways, my first short story felt like a test of my ethics, I told him. I wrote that story because I was uncomfortable harboring the truth. It wasn’t a lens turned towards that person’s secret, but a lens turned towards my own self. Should I tell the story that belongs to someone else and how? How do I capture the ways in which their truth is as difficult for me to harbor as it is for them? How do I write a secret and still keep it?

But I asked Sergio about teaching writing which is, in my eyes, a difficult terrain that forces one to test one’s ethics and morality. And, of course, since I know him through the Yale Writers’ Workshop Sergio laughed and asked me to talk to his students. He calls himself a “tough” teacher. He pushes them a lot, he gives them exercises each day. He has his students doing exercises three weeks before the start of the workshop. “I believe if you work hard, you should enjoy yourself.” He wants to help his students realize their vision instead of forcing his own on them. His workshop, he says, operates like a group effort in service of writing before anything else.

And I wondered if he had other advice for writers. “You should be reading three books a week as a writer,” he said. “That’s normal pace for a writer, and frankly, you should be reading a lot more than that.” I think of the beautiful Urdu word, riyaaz. For writers, one of the most important forms of riyaaz is reading, and to make it less solitary, one should perhaps espouse Sergio’s definition of teaching: an effort to create a community. He tries to run the kind of workshop he wish he could have been part of. At Yale, he mentions how he meets students over breakfast and dinner and talks shop. His workshop outside the workshop too, and while it exists for the sake of creating beautiful work and working on each individual’s weak spots, he is also equally motivated to helping his students get a contract, get published in the best literary journals and prepare a serious piece of work to be shared with the world, .

When I asked him if there’s anything else he’s working on, or what’s going on in general in his reading and writing life, he revealed to me that he works a lot with his dreams and frequently dreams about his characters. At the moment, he’s thinking of a short story based on this one character who appeared in his dream, but he also wants to work on some essays. An editor, he told me, has requested a sequel to Nobody’s Pilgrims and around the time we met, he was reading Gogol’s Dead Souls and Chekhov’s short stories as a way of “replenishing” himself while “getting lost.” He loves writing by some Russian and German writers, and feels very connected to them and the time they lived in. He thinks of American literature as something “flimsy.” He thinks of George Saunders, for instance, as a great writer, but very few American writers, he believes, can stand the test of time. He mentioned Elena Ferrante as a truly great writer (which obviously brought a smile to my face) and he struck a nerve when he mentioned how he had to leave everything he learnt about academic writing behind as a creative writer. The mechanics of the two are rather different and it requires one to switch one’s brain, he mentioned.

Finally, towards the end of our conversation, he said “writers don’t talk about money, but they should.” Despite growing up poor, Troncoso told me he is adept at managing money. And writers, according to him, should learn how to manage money in ways that helps them build a life in which they can write and explore freely. “Writing a story needs a great deal of meandering until one gets it right,” he said, and money is an entity through which one can afford that luxury so the writing doesn’t suffer. In the last recorded sentence of our conversation, Troncoso said, “You don’t have to be lonely.” It is a reassuring thing to hear from another writer, particularly when, as Michele Filgate writers, writers are the loneliest artists of all. As we got up to leave, I told Sergio I could walk down a few blocks with him to the 79th Street subway station. People, I saw suddenly with Sergio’s words still on my mind, were everywhere. There were people coming out or walking into the subway, going into the stores that lined the streets. Nobody was truly alone, nobody had to be.


SERGIO TRONCOSO is the author of eight books: Nobody’s Pilgrims, A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s SonThe Last Tortilla and Other StoriesCrossing Borders: Personal EssaysThe Nature of Truth and From This Wicked Patch of Dust; and as editor, Nepantla Familias: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature on Families in between Worlds and Our Lost Border: Essays on Life amid the Narco-Violence.

Troncoso teaches fiction and nonfiction at the Yale Writers’ Workshop in New Haven, Connecticut. A past president of the Texas Institute of Letters, he has also served as a judge for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the New Letters Literary Awards in the Essay category. His recent work has appeared in the Texas HighwaysHouston ChronicleCNN OpinionNew LettersYale ReviewMichigan Quarterly Review, and Texas Monthly Magazine.

Website: https://www.sergiotroncoso.com/

Book Review: Streaming Now by Laurie Stone

By Stephanie Gemmell


Postcards fulfill an impulse to share our experiences, concisely capturing moments in time and carrying brief messages to people in distant places. Now, postcards also tend to represent a sense of nostalgia, conveying some appreciation for an apparently simpler time.

In Streaming Now: Postcards from the Thing that is Happening, Laurie Stone’s writing reflects both a motivation to share her ideas and an appreciation for the past. Stone documents her experiences, thoughts, and seemingly random musings from the pandemic, along with some particular memories of her life before its descent.

The “postcards” that make up the book sound and feel like fleeting thoughts grasped just long enough to be put on paper. Many of Stone’s dispatches come from a place she calls “Pandemica,” viewed unsympathetically from her vantage point in Hudson, New York. She addresses a wide variety of topics, in no particular order, realistically capturing a steady stream of thoughts and ideas.

Stone recounts in detail the films and shows she watched throughout the worst of the pandemic. She unabashedly expresses her views on the value and necessity of feminism in frank personal terms. She candidly addresses loss: the death of her sister, the experience of caring for her dying dog. She questions the role of abstract language in the pursuit of social change. She describes her impressions of her early writing career and recounts the details of some gigs she worked as a caterer.

Some of Stone’s paragraphs flow seamlessly through intertwined topics. Others abruptly traverse chasms between disparate subjects. This unpredictability in structure conveys a pervasive sense of movement that evolves throughout the book. While this organizational element of Stone’s approach to the book can prompt confusion or unease in some places, even these reactions seem to support Stone’s intent. Stone shifts topics from sentence to sentence in some places, resulting in a stream of consciousness narration that feels authentic and artfully unedited.

The strength of Laurie Stone’s writing lies in her capacity to integrate evocative description with striking frankness and concision. Even the shortest paragraphs in this book embody Stone’s literary vitality and her palpable resistance to the weight of the pandemic. Her specific yet relatable narratives about mundane activities—buying plants for her garden, partaking in Zoom events, accidentally eating too much of a marijuana gummy—become increasingly engaging based on their apparent randomness and sheer number.

Stone’s writing in Streaming Now bluntly captures the complexity of life, as she details events ranging from the unremarkable to the life-altering. Based on what she includes, Stone’s forthrightness in this book serves less as a literary device than an effort to build real trust with the reader. 

Stone’s writing reflects the value of taking the time to freely capture thoughts as they come, honestly and without inhibition. As a whole, Streaming Now implicitly challenges readers to draw up vivid mental postcards of their own experiences and memories.


STEPHANIE GEMMELL is a writer and composer currently living in Pennsylvania. Her writing has been featured in Just Place ChapbookCapitol LettersThe Ekphrastic ReviewThe Rival GW, and in the poetry anthology Falling Leaves published by Day Eight. She also attended the 2021 Glen Workshop as a poetry and songwriting fellow. She recently graduated summa cum laude from George Washington University with a BA in Religious Studies and minors in Journalism and Psychology. Her work is motivated by the unique power of art to ask meaningful questions and inspire authenticity.

Numbers

We had run out of milk. I hurried to the store before it closed. It was a Friday and people had all realized in collective alarm that they had run out of vegetable oil, or Parle-G, or washing soap. I stood behind the row at the counter, a little inconspicuous, waiting patiently. It reminded me of a younger version of me playing football in school. All the other boys would crowd around the ball, kicking furiously and blindly, while I waited near my team’s goalkeeper, praying that the ball remained in the other half. Someone tried to sneak in from beside me. Perhaps a shopping emergency, a packet of salt that could not wait. I shouted, or rather murmured something about maintaining a safe distance. It was lost in the greater cacophony. On my way back I paid thirty rupees to the vegetable vendor sitting by the side of the road. She had only leafy greens. I didn’t need any, but I bought a bunch of spinach all the same. I untied the string around it and fed it to the lone white cow loitering by the garbage bin. She had a moment of vacillation but decided to go with the spinach I held out in my hand. I stood there watching as her jaws made circular crunching motions. She looked almost as bored as I was. When she tried to smell my hands after, I decided to move away, back towards my house.

            I remembered that my last grocery run had been more than two weeks ago. Seemed like a lifetime. I had this feeling that different events in life happened on different time scales. You had this monotony of chores like a continuous low drone of the Tanpura, while other events, births, deaths, bankruptcies, marriages, heartbreaks, played out on some parallel scale, far removed from the daily drudgery. I loved the chores. It was strangely comforting to think that I would be going out to buy a packet of cigarettes or taking out the garbage or washing up last night’s dishes until the end of my time. They were apathetic to everything else but themselves, chores. Almost transcendental. So, it was reassuring to return to it.

            Dad fell ill almost 3 weeks ago. His symptoms were typical. A persistent cough, fever, loss of smell and taste. His O2 hadn’t slipped too much yet, but I had him admitted after a positive test result. I was the one who brought it home, though I was more or less asymptomatic myself. Dad hardly went out since the start of the pandemic. He was happy at home, watching reruns of movies on TV, as long as he had his packet of cigarettes replenished every few days.

            I kept my eyes down, partly to avoid sympathetic looks, real or imaginary, and partly to avoid stepping on shit of every kind on the road. The sun was beating down mercilessly even though it wasn’t yet 10. I felt cool beads of sweat running down my back. Soon, the heat will overtake the day, bake the streets to a crisp, drive stray dogs to slumber in shades and slow down life in this suburban town. Most people will retreat indoors, and all sentient activity will continue in small concrete containers suspended in a sort of universal limbo. There was a sense of waiting everywhere. As if we were children shifting noiselessly on our benches in the final hour of the school day. A woman in a tattered green sari approached me along with her child who was in equally ragged clothing. He must have been 5 or 6. They raised their arms in synchronous appeal, a tired and practiced look of misery on their faces. I searched for change in my wallet and handed over 10 rupees. As their figures receded, I had this strange sinking feeling. Without cause it would seem. It wasn’t new, this sensation. I would from time to time feel like this. Like an unprocessed thought had lodged itself firmly in my head. As if a thought had arrived before its time, before its causes could fully materialize. And then not knowing where to go, it would stay, almost embarrassed of its own existence.

            I must have tried a hundred phone numbers, scrolled through countless WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts. All in search of a bed. Things seemed dire. My whole organizational skills were called upon to demonstrate their ability. I had none. I fumbled through phone numbers, calling hospitals, isolation wards, help lines. I called up the same numbers repeatedly, handed over the same numbers repeatedly – the SRN, the URN, the Aadhar number, the Pin code, the age, the date of onset of symptoms. A profusion of numbers that obfuscated the anxiety. Behind every emergency handling there must be at least 30 digits passed on from one person to another. It was symbolic of a tragedy that had been playing out in numbers too.

            The golden shower trees by the side of the road were in full bloom. Bright yellow flowers hung out in bunches and their dead cousins lay on the ground beneath. They stood as reminder of short-lived springs that gave in to summer’s cruel days. I thought of using this bright yellow palette as background for the current project I was working on. It was a print advertisement for a cosmetics brand that was trying hard to jump on to the pandemic bandwagon. It also appeared that there was a need to justify your presence during a pandemic, that you were socially and ethically conscious as a brand. Especially if you were trying to sell lipsticks, eyeliners, and anti-aging creams to a country trying to locate the next cylinder of Oxygen. I found nothing wrong in it, by the way. Businesses had to survive; people had to look good. At any point there are always some people dying. Our client couldn’t come up with anything better than ‘If you buy our product, we will give a portion of the proceeds to pandemic relief’. I suppose there wasn’t much room to grow in the already saturated hand sanitizer segment anymore.

            The first night after I finally managed to get him admitted to a hospital, he complained of not getting basic amenities, like hot water to drink, a mosquito repellant. The food was apparently unpalatable and the toilets atrociously smelly. He said he was feeling almost as good as new now and was ready to come back home. Maybe it was simply that he did not have access to his cigarettes anymore.

            I ran into Nagesh uncle at the turning into my lane. There wasn’t enough time to react and plan an avoidance maneuver. So, I decided to jump right in.

“How are you, uncle?”

He smiled and nodded. I took it he was doing fine.

“Out for groceries?” he asked pointing towards the bag. This time it was my turn to nod.

“Did you receive the electricity bill yet? We got ours yesterday. It’s a 20,000-rupee bill.”

I didn’t remember if we had received the bill yet. I told myself I would have remembered if it were such a high number. I also made a mental note of setting up online payment for electricity, like I had done countless times in the past. Since the start of the pandemic, I would just send the watchman to pay the amount and give him a 20 for the effort. Before the pandemic it was always dad who handled it.

“I don’t think so, uncle. That is mighty high. Did you check why?”

“Something to do with arrears and correction amounts. Lot of folks are getting similar bills. It’s plain extortion, you know. Government trying to make revenue one way or another.”

I accepted the simplistic reasoning with a smile, said goodbye and moved on.

            He texted me instead of receiving my call, “Difficult to speak”. I think dad hated typing more than he hated talking. His texts would always be succinct. Not a letter wasted, not a comma misplaced. “Reached the tharavadu, thanks”, he would text when he used to travel to his hometown and did not want to bother me during work. I scrolled through some of the old texts where I had blabbered on for an entire screen and he had replied ‘Okay’ or ‘Goodnight’. I called up the doctor after several unsuccessful attempts. His O2 was a bit low, but nothing to worry, he said. I felt like an audience watching events unfolding behind the curtain. I flicked through channels pointlessly. Some claimed the government was doing all it could but that it was the system that was to blame. Others claimed it was the ineptitude of the PM and his sycophants, that they were too busy with their premature self-congratulations and unhinged election campaigns. Over the last year we had watched as our leader’s wisdom, like his beard, grew to saintly proportions. He was the undeniable patriarch now, the father of the new nation. At the moment though he was difficult to locate.

            The old lady whose name I do not remember stood at her gate, mask on, watching passersby. She wore a neck brace. She held her head straight but followed people with her eye. She reminded me of one of those ceramic cat clocks with eyeballs that move back and forth at the hour. Her husband paced behind her, across their small front yard. He was wearing white pajamas and a threadbare vest full of holes in it. They lived a few houses down from ours. I thought she smiled as her eyes followed me. I thought of waving but decided against it. A few days ago, she was out walking in the morning (I want to say on Rajaji street, but I could be wrong). Someone came up on a bike behind her and pulled on her lovely gold chain and sped away. She fell from the sudden jerk, tried to cry out after the assailant, but was left there gasping for words. Police had been informed. A request made to have additional patrolling in the area and dismissed. They did not have enough people on the force for managing the pandemic, they said. I of course got all this news from our local reporter, Nagesh uncle. ‘Basically, they meant, you are on your own’, he had said. I heard him say the word anarchy more than once. He had a penchant for hyperboles. I always felt he would do a good job as a reporter on one of our many newstainment channels.

            When I received the call that day at 7 AM, I was in the shower. I saw through the steam and spray that my phone was buzzing with an unknown number. I let it go on. The few minutes with my head under the shower were always therapeutic. I’d feel a strange tickle momentarily that made me want to both step out as well as stay in. As I was patting myself dry the phone buzzed again. It was the same number. I picked up, naked, my towel on my shoulder. They called me to the hospital as soon as I could make it. I did not probe further. Drops of water from the shower head fell on the faucet below erupting into tiny droplets, some of which settled on my arm. I wrapped the towel around me, cleared the fog on the mirror with the back of my hand and combed my hair. I picked out something to wear and got dressed hurriedly. All the actions I took were exactly the same as any other day. I slipped my right leg into the trouser leg followed by my left leg. I buttoned up before I zipped up. I slipped my head into the neck of the t-shirt before I thrust my hands through the sleeves. All the actions I had rehearsed over decades neatly executed themselves, far removed from the act of knowing or not knowing something.

            The gate creaked as I pushed it open. A reminder for the thousandth time that I had to oil the hinges. I noticed again that the flowerpots lined up against the wall were in disarray. Some were toppled over. I made a note to get it done on the weekend. My cell phone rang. It was Rashmi. I watched the screen come alive with her photo. An old one from our trip to Wayanad. She had put on weight since then. I pressed down on the volume button and let it flicker in silence. I wouldn’t know what to speak to her. We hadn’t spoken in the last 8 or 9 months. We never really had a breakup, only a slow withdrawal. Our relationship was like a terminally ill patient who can’t recall the onset of his symptoms. When pandemic started and we moved back to our homes I think we both knew it was the end of the road.  There were a few obligatory calls in the beginning. Then we called each other less and less often and then not at all. I would still check out her Instagram posts now and then. I hardly ever posted anything myself. I made a mental note to call her back on the weekend.

            When I reached the hospital, the scene was chaotic. There were relatives of other patients, some sobbing, others howling, and yet others throwing abuses at the hospital workers. I made my way through the crowd. At the reception the phones rang continuously. It was insufficiently manned by 2 ladies in white uniform and PPEs on top of it. I told one of them I was called. She asked me to hold on for a minute while she answered another phone call.

“I was told it is an emergency. Can you get off the phone for 2 minutes?”

She looked desperate.

“I’ll call the doctor, give me a minute please.”

I wondered if I should be rushing upstairs instead. But I did not know where dad’s room was. It would have been pointless. I waited, trying to block out the commotion behind me.

“Sir. Sir, please go to second floor. 202. Dr. Garve will talk to you,” the lady called out, phone receiver in her hand.

There were too many people waiting for the elevator. I decided to take the stairs. When the double door to the stairs shut behind me, the noise had disappeared suddenly and I could hear my own breathing, elevated. The smell had gone too, a strange mix of disinfectant and sweat. I took the stairs two at a time.

“Please take a seat, Mr. Rajiv.” He was bald, save a few tufts of hair at the side. A short and stocky fellow. I sat down.

“We are really sorry, but your father’s oxygen level dipped very low, early this morning – around 5 AM. We tried to revive him but could not. I’m really sorry for your loss.”

I must have responded in some socially acceptable way because I remember being in his room for a few minutes. I also remember questioning him why dad was not put on the ventilator. How could the situation get so critical so suddenly. I raised my voice but without the rage to back it up. All I felt was emptiness welling up inside me. It would take some time to claim the body, I was told. There were some formalities still. Someone would help me out as soon as they could. I waited with a group of people downstairs. Some of them asked me if I had lost someone too. I nodded vaguely. I realized I had become part of an angry mob of grievers. There were a dozen or so deaths that morning. Things unraveled fast from there. It appeared there was a shortage of oxygen, or a break in supply for a few hours. The hospital authorities would not reveal all the details fully. Police had arrived by now. They were trying to bring the commotion under control. Some of them were talking to the ward boys, nurses and doctors, taking notes. A few Hindi news reporters had also made their way, cameramen in tow. They thrust their mikes up against my face among others. Someone asked when I had last spoken with my father and if he had been doing well then. I said it was a couple of days back and that he was ok. In fact, when I had called him up he had said, quite plainly, that he hadn’t taken a shit in two days. Partly because the medicines were causing him constipation and partly because the toilets were in such a state that he’d rather hold it in. Then he’d said he’d call or text the next day and hung up. I did not think the reporter would be interested in that sort of thing. It must have been past afternoon by the time I received the wrapped-up body. They suggested I head straight to the crematorium.

             I made myself some filter coffee and came and sat down on the porch with the newspaper. A stray dog lay curled up outside the gate in the shadow of the house. I thought of feeding it some biscuits but couldn’t be bothered to get up and go to the kitchen. I flipped through the pages. There were the numbers as usual, and the graphs. I gave it a cursory glance. An opinion piece by a union minister claimed that we were a resilient nation and that we would overcome this temporary setback. I couldn’t make out if he was talking about the economy or the vaccination numbers or the oxygen shortfall. In any case we were just rounding the turn. It was only a minor blip in the otherwise unrestrained march of a forgetful nation.


Ajay Pisharody is a writer masquerading as a Project Manager in an IT firm and is based out of Pune. He writes fiction, primarily short stories, while toying with an idea for a novel. His book of short stories, titled The Weight of Days, has been published by Rupa Publications. Through his writings he attempts to reveal the literary in the ordinary. Themes of identity, memory and nostalgia recur in many of his works. He has been heavily influenced by writers like Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre, Milan Kundera and Indian writers like O V Vijayan and Jeet Thayil.