Madness and the Inadequacy of Language in Swadesh Deepak’s ‘I Have Not Seen Mandu’

by Abheet Srivastav

‘I Have Not Seen Mandu: A Fractured Soul-Memoir’ by Swadesh Deepak, trans. Jerry Pinto (Speaking Tiger Books, 2021)

“The rest is silence.”
-William Shakespeare

In the beginning of summer, when I read I Have Not Seen Mandu, I thought of this line from Shakespeare that Swadesh Deepak quotes in his book. Mandu is a book of loud silences. I wonder if this is one of the few books that chronicles the life of an individual with bipolar disorder in India, written by the individual themselves. Deepak is telling us that there is no language to communicate his experience. Beyond all that is written on page, the rest is silence. His is an attempt to breach the silence, an attempt to leave us with more of it.

In 2006, Swadesh Deepak went out for a walk in his hometown Ambala and never returned. This was the last book he wrote where he tried to present a collage of his seven years of mental illness. Jerry Pinto has translated the title from मैने मांडू नही देखा: खंडित जीवन का कोलाज, into I Have Not Seen Mandu: A Fractured Soul-Memoir. The second half of the title is not a literal translation, but it sums up an important aspect of the book by highlighting that this is a broken memoir of the soul. The body, which Deepak tried to abandon three times, does not have memories. It is the soul which transcends time, which remembers the dream that the body inhabited for seven long years, which felt the memories that are relayed in this memoir. Deepak himself puts it thus: “Memory lives in the soul and therefore the soul is immortal.” It was, and still remains, the assertion of that immortal soul. 

The question worth pondering, for me, was how do I begin to understand this fractured memoir? How do I inhabit this language, which is borne out of a lack, a madness whose central theme is its failure to be articulated? At the beginning of the book, Jerry Pinto, puts a caveat for the reader, “Where you think fit, add the word ‘perhaps’. For some unsettled memories are fractured.” Hence, we begin with mistrust, or maybe a warning of the fantastical events that will subsequently transpire. Against Swadesh Deepak’s gun with which we hunted his characters, all we have is a ‘perhaps’, rendering the space between language and truth infertile. 

The reader is presented with an interesting choice from the get go, which is absent in the original Hindi version. They are  provided with the ability to approach the book with suspended faith, as a clinical examiner would, adding ‘perhaps’ wherever necessary and thus staying within the bounds of sanity, separating the mad from the lucid, the dreams from reality and, in an extended metaphysical way, the realm of Swadesh Deepak’s body from his soul. This ‘perhaps’ supplied to us by Jerry Pinto adds an entire dimension which not just questions or saves us, but also opens up a whole new world for us–to interpret something that we don’t understand yet, to add a hint of indecision and remind us to not be too certain about our realities, to say that just like Swadesh Deepak, as we try to understand these fractured memories, we can add the word ‘perhaps’ where we see fit.

In a Hamlet inspired sentence, Swadesh Deepak writes, “There is no method in this madness.” As I begin to delve into this fractured memoir, the paradoxical need to understand the absurdity of the structure becomes the central tenet. Despite the lack of method, we need a spatial and temporal “method” to understand both internal and external events. Events which are fractured in time jump forth as isolated memories strung together with a thin thread. They offer the reader the challenge to allocate them in neatly defined temporal slots in order to make sense of it all. 

Spatially, the terrain of the narrative itself jumps between reality and dream. The lines between internal and external drama are often blurred. We move from the internal chaos to an external stasis. The temporal and the spatial tie into each other, as we jump between time and space, or are stuck in an elongated moment that refuses to pass. Often time flows linearly, with him stuck in his hospital bed. People keep arriving and leaving. While, at other times, time abruptly stops in the middle of a sentence and we are transported to different places and different realities. As we search for a “method”, this narrative style offers an insight into both the fractures in thought, and often thought itself.  It gives us, not an objective truth but an attempt to retrospectively reconstruct the thought process of a particular time. 

The other challenge in developing a method to understand this memoir lay in building a shared narrative with Deepak. In an intensely personal work, we share the truth offered to us. However, in a memoir of his meandering thoughts, we are not privy to all the details of the paths we tread with him. The reality we build around him is formless. He sits at a party and wanders off into his dreamland. The parking lot gives way to a fever dream of a stranger prophesying his death. Symbols present themselves in disjointed realities, with varying meanings. It hints at a broader theme, where Deepak is a reader of his own experience. 

While he tries to write a memoir true to his fragmented thoughts, he has to build within it a method with which it can be understood, not just by the reader but by himself. When he writes “But there, I was back from my frightening dreamworld. From dreams, in which I change form, change form endlessly, dreams which do not end or break or fracture until someone drops the curtain…” there is a need to drop the curtain to extend beyond this frightening dream world. The only method that we develop is to approach the fragmented reality on its own terms and when the curtains drop, to introspect about the frightening dream world that he has offered to us.

We are invited to take part in this fragmented reality, which is not just fragmented at a singular level of identity, but at multiple levels, which does not necessarily form a hierarchical structure or move in a fixed direction from outwards to inwards or vice versa. They form a chaotic jarring state that Swadesh Deepak is able to bring out through an honest account of his words. The fragmentation is visible at the outset with his body being a shared inhabitant of both the Psychiatric and Burns Wards. It enters into a linguistic relativity with him being torn between Hindi and English–the two languages he switches between, his multitudinal feelings for the Seductress who visits him constantly, and him dangling between life and death. His dreams are formless and his identity takes various forms in them. Sometimes he is a tiger, sometimes a hunter, sometimes the hunted, sometimes a bird in a cage, sometimes a wolf, and in certain moments of lucidity, a patient tied to his bed robbed of time.

The language of this fragmentation, of this divide that Swadesh Deepak feels within himself, is a space to meditate on the symbology of his language and to form a bridge to the internal psychological state of a person which is both limited and enabled by this language. Throughout the book, we get glimpses into the strained relationship of a writer with his own language and words. He calls English the language of lies, and yet in his most vulnerable moments of breakthrough, he switches to English. There is a threatening quality to English offered throughout the memoir. The language offers alienation and disdain, and yet demands reverence. It is when Deepak switches to English that everyone cowers down and listens to him and yet everyone, from the boy next to his hospital bed to his wife Gita, asks him to never use the damned language. Deepak himself reprimands his children when they show a disregard for Hindi and use English, and yet goes on to quote English authors to transmit some of his most honest emotions. 

The constant tussle between the two languages is present even in his play, Court Martial, where English is given an aristocratic, alien quality, that implies a disregard for the lived reality of the people of the country and yet some of the most sublime moments in the play is when English itself is employed against the colonial and aristocratic heritage it defends. 

Deepak complains of having lost his words and how his illness has not just taken them but his hands with which he held his pen. His break from reality, and its relationship with language comes forth: “When it is an incurable disease, we generally forget even the mother tongue, for one lives in a land of forbidden memories. That’s when we withdraw to a foreign dream world.” In this foreign dream world, the tether to one’s own language is broken. One has to inhabit a foreign language to emote and communicate. The untethered desires and memories need to be translated into a foreign language–the “language of the mad”, as he calls it–to be transmitted to the world. The manifestation of the disease, the Seductress, does not exist in Hindi. “Hindi has no seductress. The only way to talk about Mayavini is in English.” In this confusing relationship with the two languages, I wonder if the disease of alienation from oneself drew him to English more and, at the same time, made him hate it. The use of language by a writer could be a statement in itself, a way to communicate how it feels to be stuck in a self that feels untethered.Yet, we cannot be sure if this is the exchange of one language for another or a hatred of the limited nature of language itself. All language eludes him. He confesses to Giridhar Rathi, when asked to write about his illness, “I don’t want to write about my illness. I don’t remember the events in any order.” Lost in time, there is no language for the spaces he inhabits: “We are international citizens. We have no language.” His distance and unease with literature is also filled with duality. He talks about writers and artists extensively, and then goes on to lambast them. He quotes everyone from Plath, Shakespeare and Eliott to Nirmal Verma, Soumitra Mohan and Faiz, and then writes, “Now I will not sin by reading. Wisdom destroys.” Perhaps, in one of his lucid moments, when asked to talk about his illness, he acutely sums it up: “What do I say? What do I tell you? Words have become enemies. They punish me.” With dreams that cannot be translated, he has to rely on the words of others and a foreign language.

In the foreign dreamland, there are ominous signs of an impending disease. This dream reality carries meaning. Symbology of his dreams comes forth in various forms. He is always looking for signs. Just like the reader’s attempt to establish a method to this madness, these disparate symbols are also an attempt to emote something of value to us. He is enraptured by a Seductress, who he first finds after the premiere of his play Court Martial, in Calcutta. She asks him if he would come to Mandu with him, and he insults her in return. Thus starts the fall, the revenge of the Seductress on Swadesh Deepak. The Seductress appears with three parrots. 

When he meets Arun Kamal at an art exhibition and watches the paintings, he recounts looking at a particular painting. “When I asked Arun Kamal about it, he said: Swadesh, I don’t know much about painting. In our folk tales and fairy tales, we always have parrots. They are never female. For the epitome of beauty is always masculine, never feminine; and a female character always wants to bring a beautiful male character into her control. And if she can’t find a man then at least a symbol, the parrot in a cage, will do.” I wonder if each of those parrots is a life offered to Deepak. Having tried to kill himself thrice, he tries to fly away but is captured again and again.

 It is often difficult to decipher if the Seductress is a metaphor for his bipolar disorder or if he was literally haunted by a seductress. I carry both interpretations in parallel as they both together offer a richer view into his inner life than either in isolation. The Seductress becomes a common recurring symbol, which prompts us to ask various questions. Why is the Seductress a woman? Why is the Seductress intermixed with symbology of animals, with birds and leopards? What is the relationship of the Seductress with his impending death? What is the significance of Mandu? When we approach the text, with all these questions in our mind, several symbols jump forth. With most of Swadesh Deepak’s literature filled with violent, male-dominated, testosterone-filled characters, the presence of a woman as both an object of disdain and desire, offers us an avenue to investigate this dialectical relationship. 

In his conversations with the Seductress, he alludes to the trope of the femme fatale, recounting the tale of Helen of Troy and Draupadi. He is misogynistic, and yet finds himself surrendering and belonging to the seductress. He often gives into his lust for the seductress, and finds books on tantric sex in her bookshelves. He is often torn between his immense desire and hatred for the same thing, where he both longs for her to arrive and yet knows that her arrival means his demise. His lust for her often rises to a spiritual sense of oneness and yet shows a lack of religiosity in his life. In his conversations with Nirmal Verma and his repeated allusions to disenchanted Gods, I wonder, if in all his disillusion, he did search for a broader faith that he could hold on to rather than this dangling, constantly oscillating desire. 

It makes sense, even when I extend this to a metaphor for mental illness, where mental illness manifests itself as a mystical being—a being he could not make sense of properly and yet he engaged with it in an integral and complex relationship which lies beyond words. The seductress, at the same time, also occupies the complex terrain between life and death in which Swadesh Deepak finds himself. On some days, the seductress wears a white sari and sings a dirge in his name, whereas on other days, she appears as a three-breasted deity, which might be an allusion to Meenakshi, the three-breasted goddess of fertility. She plots revenge on him and then cradles him in her arms and offers the only tether to belong in this world. 

The symbology of the seductress also hints at the fragility of the machismo he inhabits. This space between life and death is not just inhabited by the seductress, but also premonitions and prophecies. Most premonitions offer a feminine character to the impending doom. When he meets Faiz, he is told, “You will suffer at the hands of women. But why fear? Mirza too suffered much. May Allah protect you. But you are fated to suffer.”, while Amritlal Nagarji tells him, “Swadesh, beauty can often be dangerous….you will be destroyed. Be careful. Be watchful.” In yet another conversation when he travels to Madhya Pradesh, Malay diagnoses his illness as a fear of his machismo being shattered by the non-Hindi speaking audiences of Calcutta, at the first screening of his play Court Martial. In most of his plays, the characters are violent and loud. He is touted to chase his characters with a gun. In the language of his illness, those characters return, seeking revenge for their death. There are limited moments of tenderness, in a disease that has an immense requirement of it. Rather, all tenderness is suspicious. The moments of tenderness are also displayed as distant, acts of sympathy or through self absorption. 

I am never sure if the misogyny and the fragile masculinity is a quality of Deepak himself, or a disease that negates all classically feminine traits, until they arise from the disease itself. However, it does hint at the deeper malaise of the ingrained machismo and the inability to ask for help when brought up in a deeply patriarchal setting. This violent machismo also appears in his description of the Seductress, where he oscillates between conquering her or being destroyed by her. It is in his moments when his machismo falters, that he lets her cradle him and ask him to come with her. And yet, later, in his moments of rage he detests his supposed weakness. In a lot of ways, it opens up a conversation about mental illness in men, and how patriarchy can make it an incredibly violent struggle, both physically and psychologically.

However, the symbology extends beyond the seductress, where premonitions and prophecies abound. A strange man meets him on a lonely night, and tells him first in English, and then in Hindi, that he will die. The wind knocks against his window and whispers to him. He moves in pictures, and the pictures talk to him. The sparrows and the Jungle Babbler, arrive in groups of seven to narrate his death to him. He is warned by the likes of Faiz, Amritlal Nagarji, Ranjit Kapoor and Abrahim Elkazi about his future. Death is represented in all his dreams. He travels to the space between life and death, where tigers abound and recite the poetry of Nirala, and W.B. Yeats makes friends with him in heaven. Leopards arrive along with the Seductress, and he chases them in his dreams, and is chased by them. He is both the hunter and the hunted. He sees horsemen in his dreams, which might be an allusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

In chaos that exists in his mind, there are still moments of lucidity. There are moments when Swadesh Deepak, the English professor, the radical playwright with his sharp critique on social issues, and the gifted writer is on display. He talks to his son Sukant and opens up to him about his mental illness. There are moments where he realises his own lack of power with his debilitating condition. The subject of the societal treatment of the mentally ill, though scarcely addressed, also presents itself in a conversation with his doctor who talks about how no one understands the illness properly and there is no language to talk about it in India. In another instance as Deepak sits in his home, an unemployed man working on his next book, we are shown his existence as a non-entity. It is a depiction of the resources and the respect that the mentally ill lack in our society.  Perhaps, that is why he could not find the right words, the right metaphors, in his own mother tongue to talk about his state. Maybe our mother tongue still lacks the accurate vocabulary to talk of mental illness, to discuss it with our close ones. That is why his attempt to create literature out of his experience becomes even more significant. 

I am reminded of a line of Soumitra Mohan he quotes, “भाग्य कहीं थमा हुआ है। (My destiny is stuck somewhere).” Swadesh Deepak offers us an insight into the complex life of an equally complex man. All I have is to offer theories and methods to understand a part of his experience but beyond all these analyses, all the literature he left behind for us, he teaches us empathy. He leaves us with an intensely human experience, creating a place where we can suspend our belief and exist in contradictions. A place where we can try to open conversation not just about mental illness but the nature of reality in itself and how the imagery processed by the human mind can create such a unique piece of work.


ABHEET SRIVASTAV is an analyst working in the field of Artificial Intelligence, and an avid reader. Always curious, he likes to learn about everything ranging from philosophy to science, and is always tinkering with both ideas and products to create something of value. His work has appeared in The Medley, an anthology of short stories, and various online platforms.  His writings can be found on his Instagram account @abheet_srivastav, and also his monthly Substack newsletter Figuring.

Tell me when the ocean will begin

1 / Rip Tide: A Prelude
Figure 1. “Anatomical figures on a cliff by the sea, their heads illuminated by light. Line engraving and etching by B. Probst.” 1735. Wellcome Museum.

The light in the room is a dim, dark blue. Shadowy people crowd around the bed where I am lying naked on my side, but they are without definition: a busy, blurry hoard.

I don’t feel my skin. I’m not aware that I am crying, though I have been almost continuously since the morning before, when my midwife said that if I went home, my baby would die.

Raising the mask to my mouth, I try hard to fill my lungs even as my body involuntarily compresses and tightens. Then, I have to let the mask fall away since the rubber around its edges only allows air to pass into my body, not out.

Raise to inhale, lower to exhale. Repeat and repeat and repeat. But there’s no change. The pain of the tide rippling through me — electric, uncontrolled — doesn’t recede with the inhalation of the gas. My work becomes still heavier: in addition to the waves engulfing me, I can’t quite catch my breath.

I get my movements mixed up and exhale into the mask and it is as though I am trying to add air to an already full chamber — it goes nowhere, or backwards down my throat. It cannot leave my mouth. In those moments I’m drowning and, though the medium is my own breath, I feel I’m deep in black water.

There are stories so ordinary and widespread that they quietly permeate every human life. They are tales we learn passively, through mention and missive, of water and floods, fire and disaster, of disease and illness and death.

The stories’ cultural commonality makes fear of what they portend rarer than it probably should be, until one or more of their subjects comes into lived life and reinstructs in human smallness.

Wildfire in Northern California is one such teacher, as, every year now, we must live through fire season with bags packed, always ready to evacuate. Flooded streets and subways, buildings that give way in the night — these happenings remind us that we are not in control. That technology and systems fail. That safety is an illusion.

Childbirth, too, can renew this old human awareness of frailty, of our passing nature. I know this from recent experience.

2 / Cyclical Torrent: thirteen months earlier
Figure 2. “The War in Egypt: hoisting invalids on board a hospital ship. Wood engraving.” Date unknown. Wellcome Museum.

In May of 2020, my grandmother — my last living grandparent — died. When my spouse, David, and I showed up at her assisted living complex in Troy, Michigan, there was still snow on the ground. The cold loss I felt came from more than just my grandmother’s absence. The Detroit suburb itself felt bereft — the streets wide and slick, the landscape brown and untended. If I had been from there, I probably would have recognized this as spring, but it was bleaker than any California winter I’d experienced.

Stepping inside her apartment, we found half a cup of coffee, the shower full of cheap shampoos, the fridge still stocked with Tupperware containers of food that no one was going to eat. Our task was to sort through the small mountains of paper and dollar-store jewelry that she had accumulated during her eight decades.

Our work began right away. We sifted through her belongings, placing most things into black garbage bags to be donated, and saving some others — old photos and letters, a notebook containing simple accounting of her monthly bills calculated randomly across its pages, and hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.

Grief and the sorting of her possessions tired us. When we went to prepare for bed that first night, David pulled down the left side of the covers and found that someone — probably my cousin or uncle — had pulled the blanket up over a large brown spot on the sheets. A strong body smell — of perfume, stale laundry, excrement — wafted up from the bed.

This must have been where she had had her stroke and soiled the sheets before falling to the floor. I felt my throat close, and my eyes burn as they filled. She had been alone for hours.

We searched for but couldn’t find replacement sheets. Even if we had found them, the problem would have remained: the stain had soaked through to the mattress. There was nothing to be done, and nowhere else to sleep. David covered the stain back over with the blanket and, pulling me into his side, told me he would sleep there.

That moment conjured the old realization: now she’s gone, my time for knowing her has run out. But the writer and physician Atul Gawande suggests that we ask questions of our dead. That there is more to be discovered, even when the person can no longer physically answer back. Though he means the questions to be asked in the form of autopsy, postmortem inquiry can also be extended to the emotional and ethereal, to things we cannot see.

So, I asked questions of my grandmother’s life there, as we sifted through the remnants of it, and I continued to query after returning home, as I was forced to add others to the group of addressees.

My dead haven’t all died. In the months after my grandmother’s rainy funeral, my birth family fell apart. Fights erupted over differences that had long been there, unconfronted: views on Trump, Black Lives Matter, vaccines, and the pandemic. Siblings blocked other siblings on social media. My mother stopped speaking to me. Though I’m the middle of nine children, and this should mean always being part of a group, I found myself quite suddenly and shockingly alone. It was the final razing of an already shaky structure.

Querying my grandmother and her life brought a still resolve about my future that I hadn’t previously had. Though she had dealt with the alcoholism, abuse, and neglect of family members, worked in a factory for years, and lost my grandfather a decade and a half before her own death, my grandmother had always been ready with a quick, unoffending joke. She regularly drove her friends and grandchildren around town. When she dressed up for her Bingo group’s Halloween party, she chose a cow costume and won the contest. In short, she didn’t wait for others to change before living and loving her life. I didn’t want to wait anymore either. The point, I began to see as the losses accumulated behind me, was to make the choice to take a chance.

So, back home in California, with the awareness of my gutted family life ever present, I made an appointment with my obstetrician to get my IUD removed. Two days after my doctor pulled out the little copper T and set it, still a little bloody, on the blue-papered tray, I got pregnant.

3 / The Present Flood
Figure 3. “Geography: eroded rocks in the sea. Coloured wood engraving.” C. Whymper. Wellcome Collection.

Just after my child was born, I thought that the sadness I was experiencing was due to the way the birth had gone. Low amniotic fluid. Fetal intolerance of labor. Stress and stress and stress. My baby was taken out of my body with a knife and swept to a see-through bassinet for inspection. It was a full ten minutes before I saw my child’s face. When they* were finally placed on my chest, I was too shaky from the drugs flowing into my system through the epidural catheter in my spine to hold on to their tiny body.

I don’t remember being taken back to the room where I would have given birth, and I don’t remember breastfeeding them there for the first time, though there is a photo with a timestamp showing that this happened. This forgetting is a common source of sadness after C-section, and for a while it was mine, too.

At home, my body healed both too quickly and too slowly. My belly was gone and too soon, to the outside world, I must have looked quite like the person I’d been before.

But the line where I was cut open still stood up red and shiny right beneath the place where I zipped my pants. The adhesive from the tape that had held catheters, monitors, and IV in place sat in persistent patches across my body, blackened with lint from my sweats and t-shirts.

Each day in the shower, my grief was Homer’s wine-dark sea, spreading to the limits of the bathroom.

During my first attempts to pick open the knot of my sadness, I thought these quick bodily changes and my absence of memories of our birth were the reasons my heart was broken, despite my healthy baby. But as I gathered up the days between my various presents and the static, murky “then,” my understanding of exactly what I felt I had lost was changed. My child’s difficult birth drew out the many other deaths in my life — the many people and relationships that I couldn’t resurrect. It brought to my awareness the very small amount of control I had over the family I had brought into existence by creating my child. I could not mend my first family with the birth of a second. I had not bought myself safety, but greater than ever vulnerability.

With them napping on my chest, their head close to mine, their tongue working inside their mouth and smiles flashing across their dreaming face, I realize again and again that they will die. That this is the reality of what I have made — that they are something that will live briefly, hopefully beyond the span of my own life, and then die, as we all will.

If I tried to protect my child from all risk, they would grow up fearful, and I knew from experience that fear inhibits love and the ability to engage with the world in joy. We are not safer when we are afraid. The fear itself offers no protection.

4 / Coda: Without Inventing a Life Preserver
Figure 4. “An écorché seal: five figures showing the musculature of the body, with details of the muscles of the face.” Lithograph by C. Berjeau, 1872. Wellcome Collection.

In her poem, “Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich has her speaker intone: “there is no one / to tell me when the ocean / will begin.” When I first read this poem aloud to myself sometime in 2016 while taking a poetry class just because, I hadn’t yet lost my brother-in-law to overdose, my graduate school mentor to heart attack, my grandmother to stroke. My family, though troublesome to me, still felt like a coherent whole. And so, I didn’t quite understand what “the wreck” might be, or why an experienced diver would need someone else to tell them where their medium of travel — the water — began.

I know now that the water is engulfing sadness. The boat ladder from which the speaker must descend is the bridge between the “normal” world, calm and unaware of that which lies beneath, and the other. The wreck is the thing lost — the source of grief — drawing the mind like a circling explorer, again and again. The equipment is insufficient because you can never, no matter how many times you’ve made the trip, be prepared for what you’ll find below.

I was lucky: My expedition wasn’t doomed from the start as some birth adventurers find theirs to be. But there is still no one to tell me when the next ocean will rise up and swallow me whole. You might call it postpartum depression. But that doesn’t help me understand what this period of life is or means.

Grief is one of the skeletal structures of life, always there but not felt until something breaks. As I labored that late spring night, I wore my grandmother’s earrings. In that dark passage, I met her— myself engaged in birthing and she in dying — both of us knowing that this was the end of life as we had known it.

It is not a hormonal condition to grapple with the glimmering mortality of love and life.

My story is not the one I thought I would tell, of pushing my baby out and pulling them up onto my chest. I never had control over the process. That was taken the moment I learned my baby might not survive. But I know, even before that, I had only the illusion of it. That is one point of the common tales of destruction and loss — to remind of frailty and vulnerability. Another is just to tell of the endings that visit us all. I am grateful to share a beginning, though difficult, with my child.

I birthed my baby as ports birth ships — with the help of a large crew. We don’t know yet the voyage we’ve begun, though that horizon, always, looms.


*My spouse and I refer to our child using they/them pronouns.


SARAH HOENICKE FLORES studied creative writing (BA) at Mills College in Oakland, California, and journalism (MJ) at UC Berkeley. They are now working on their PhD in Comparative Literature at UC Irvine. They write about many different subjects — from inequities in the maternal healthcare system to Jesus Christ’s Instagram account — for a range of publications, including the New York Times, Literary Hub, and many others.

Life Changes in an Instant

PRIYANKA CHAKRABARTY

On 6th June 2015 I came to Bangalore. On 10th June 2015 M and I sat in the same classroom for the first time. On 23rd November 2019 afternoon with a little help from M I confirmed I am queer. On 23rd November 2020 we met for lunch and talked about her impending marriage while the sun burnt bright. Perhaps the brightness stopped her from looking into my eyes when she said how much she loves him and how great it feels, this socially sanctioned love business. The café caramel sundae is an ice cream that I blame for inducing queerness in my veins. It is the coffee, yes the deep dark rich coffee which makes me feel heady and wants to live a little more than I have been made to believe I am allowed. That ice cream tastes of liberation with the roasted cashews which I tasted on your tongue. Since then I have always spared some an extra moment of thought because when I taste those cashews I taste you, I taste that afternoon, the afternoon of my queerness and your continuous denial of it.

M, have you ever stood under the bright scorching sun for a very long time? The same kind I stood under when I waited for you outside Coconut Grove holding the chocolate coated biscuits wrapped in golden paper just for you. Standing in the bright sun for a really long time makes your vision momentarily blurred when you walk indoors. Blurred patches of black, red and purple swirl in front of my eyes as I wondered if it was going to be an afternoon of blurred lines. The drinks made us tipsy and our hands accidentally touched while we searched for poetry among the bookshelves of Blossoms. We kept chancing upon the same books, wanting to read the same blurb at the same time. I wanted to hurl myself miles away but stayed rooted to the ground.

Later in the evening we sat under bright yellow lights. I had just tasted the bitterness of the coffee at the back of your tongue. You took pictures of me because the light deepened the brown of my eyes. But you didn’t meet my eyes; I guess lasting eye contact was not for phases. You asked “How are you feeling?” I said, very asexual, still asexual. Once again you asked me to just wait for the right person to come along. Oh M, the right and the wrong people had come and gone. But my heart, oh my heart, stayed frozen, denied to beat while I stewed under your simmering gaze and lingering touch. I had wanted for my heart to skip a beat, feel breathless and goosebumps. I had none. I could be buying vegetables, making my bed, chatting with the sales man or having sex; it was all the same for me. The same when I kissed M, D who came before M and ABCs that have come after. It’s all the same, it always been the same. I had exhausted my explanations. M, your continuous denial was the force that pushed me to continuously accept. That evenings and, many evenings after that when we hurriedly dressed ourselves because your roommate could knock at any moment, I said out loud I am asexual. You gave me a long look and excused yourself.

We left when the sun had set. I reached for your hand, one last time. You gripped it tightly. We walked till the parking lot in silence. I wanted to look at you but it was sufficiently dark and our eyes couldn’t meet. You asked me one last time, are you okay? I said, “Yeah sure! Enjoy the biscuits; hopefully the chocolate has not all melted due to the heat”.

****

In 2015 I came to Bangalore. I finally had a home of my choosing. I knew no one in the city and prized my anonymity of just existing without scrutiny. Bangalore came with its canopied roads starching far off into the distance. I got what I had always wanted, hoped and prayed for- a clean slate, a fresh start. I was Priyanka and for the first time I could be who I wanted to be. The possibilities were endless and then I was hit by my queerness and M’s continuous reminder that it was just a phase.

Now, when I walk down the same long winding partially canopied roads, there is a cacophony of, “You are queer” on loop. Moments like these, my barely held together self is in grave danger of scattering on the roads. In an odd way, the city is reflects my interiority; while I am perilously close to spilling over, the city is already spilling over in every direction. My home in Jayanagar and some ruins in MG Road next to a sparkling Starbucks gives an inkling of the city I glimpsed when I occasionally visited, before finally settling down in this city. But it was quickly demolished. Concrete hurriedly pored over and the old parts kept getting replaced with new, shiny and gleaming parts. This city doesn’t know what was supposed to be and why does that resonate?

Enlarged, well lit closets often create the mirage of freedom. I am sitting in a locked room staring at the door. Taking in the stunned silence, the smallness of my metaphorical closet starts to close in on me. I share a poem on my instagram stories which goes as End of love should be big event/It should involve hiring a hall. M responds to that message; just want to let you know I wouldn’t ever stop loving you. I respond, I know that and I believe you. There is a cruel charm to this story; I shudder at what would have happened if the afternoon of 23rd November 2019 had turned out differently. Would I have continued the lead the straightjacketed life? Every time I think of kissing the razor blade of your collarbones I remind myself, the ones that entice also leave with a warm gush of blood.

***

M, it is grossly unfair and unjust, to leave me drowning in the sludge of queerness. I know you have said your apologies and I said it’s alright. You tinged me with queerness and I accepted it ; every time I reach for my favourite ice cream to drown the weight of living you are there in every bite, that afternoon is there in every bite. How much of what I love do I have to give up, to forget?

The fag end of Sunday and I am standing on the highway staring at the sky watching shadow of the half-moon peeping out. The sky is a sharp blue preparing for sunset. Slowly the sky swirls into an innocent yellow which has lost its capacity to scorch and burn. The yellow merges into the lovechild of orange and pink. My sister picks up the phone to capture the sunset. The dark green of the trees became black silhouettes on the screen against the setting sun, quietly shadowing the sky willing to lose its colour for a while. I lower the car window and let the wind smack against my face. The lingering winter chill reminds me of swiftly changing seasons. The queerness runs in my veins and the shadows of cost linger while the sky turns a pitch black.

Joan Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking wrote Life changes fast/Life changes in the instant/ You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. I sat down to café caramel sundae and life as I knew it changed. My life was suddenly marked by absence. The presence of queerness marked the absence of M. The presence of asexuality marked the absence of sexual desire. My absences were also my certainties. Life changed fast. I had a closet to maintain, identities to explore and reassess the business of living and loving. I spent many nights wishing queerness was a piece of clothing that I could wear when I wished and folded away neatly in the closet hidden from plain view. But queerness was my skin; sewn into the very fabric who I was and with options to peel it away like paper. My body is the only body I will ever inhabit and it is queer. I am queer.


PRIYANKA is a law student living in Bangalore. An ardent reader of prose and poetry, she has keen interest in social justice and human rights movement. She is a queer person and aspires to be a human rights lawyer.

The Black Stones of Regret


You drop the children at the sitter and hurry to your car, their protests grating in your ears like bad brakes. You tell yourself you have the right to a bit of private life; this isn’t the Dark Ages, you know, women pining for knights in shining armor. You’re taking the afternoon off, to hell with diapers and soap.

It’s springtime in Santa Clara and the apricot, pear, and cherry orchards are ablaze in their pinks and whites. Traffic on Prunedale is sparse, Silicon Valley light-years away. The station wagon you drive, a ’64 Olds, is the size of a hay barn.

Nick’s fuzzy-fuzzy slips to the floor from the mattress in back. He’ll wail for it all afternoon; should you turn around? Well, he does have his bottle. Bruce’s lunch pail is open on the floor, leftover cookie disintegrating, juice can rattling. Earlier he complained about his preschool teacher; seems she didn’t care for his drawing of a pony on purple grass. Purple, she said, is wrong for a meadow. Why’s it wrong, he asked you. Purple’s not wrong, you wanted to say but didn’t. American teachers, who knows what they think.

You find yourself touching your hair, your cheek: you’re still among the living—and stylishly dressed for your afternoon; none of the women you are about to join would guess you sewed your Coco Chanel look-alike while the boys slept. A blues singer on the radio is a motherless child a long way from home. Your own song, equally as sad, is a country a long way from home, a refrain that goes, You’ll never be mine again. Never my love. Words of regret roll in the mouth like pebbles.

The Olds will be a pain to park. Your husband bought it used, the safest thing around, he said, so what if it’s a few years old? Some weekends the whole family camps in the monstrosity, the dog sleeping underneath the car. The afternoon with Lawyers’ Wives, Inc., will make up for Bradley’s idea of family time.

They’ll serve Danish and coffee. The pastry will be sickeningly sweet and the coffee a mockery of what you used to imbibe at Weise & Monski, where you translated letters to clients in England and France, described fish pumps, sewage pumps, oil pumps, flipped through dictionaries for the names of pump parts. Herr Olle, proud of his language skills, liked to dictate in French. You and Annfried corrected his malapropisms, giggling behind his back, Herr Olle pretending not to notice. Everyone in the office—the department bosses, the engineers, and “the girls,” translators all: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, although Brigitte handled mostly German correspondence—everyone drank one cup of coffee twice a day during the rigidly-scheduled 15-minute mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks. At lunch the chef of the Kantine scooped noodles onto employees’ plates with his bare hands, likewise the salad greens. You used to mutter under your breath to co-workers, but it would not have occurred to you to raise the matter with the men who run things. Bosses don’t mingle with cafeteria eaters; the Herren partake in the dining room. In California, though the coffee is lousy, you don’t have to put up with the server’s hands in your food.

 At the meeting you’ll refrain from alluding to your past, the bread and pastries of those years; you quite understand why television Nazis get laughs from your in-laws. Thank God Brad’s dad and stepmother live fifteen hundred miles away and show up only once every three years or so. But there’s that figure of speech your husband uses on you, German Boots. Today you’ll try to minimize your inflection. Say vegetables for me, someone said last time, I love the way you pronounce your vees. You wish you could eradicate your accent, your past, your existence in another country, that sense of being left out. If only a woman was in your life: a cousin, sister, grandmother or aunt. The longing for female companionship eats on you even here, among the well-meaning ladies. In another time, friendship existed: Annfried, in France with you as au pair and later as co-translator at Weise & Monski; Nancy, an American high-school senior from Detroit, here for the summer, who would return the following year to study at a German university; Isolde on that cruise down the Rhine where you and Brad first glimpsed each other; your cousin in Neibsheim, a few years younger and named after you. These women live in your mind as your country, your birthplace, your mother, your longing for love.

Your mother died at forty-two, which stopped the insistent wheedling of her cancer yet did not silence it, for you, too, take it as a given that you will live in a body wracked with pain. Impending doom is your family story. Your mother’s line, Just you wait till your father comes home: Do you use it on your children when you’re tired or cross? If you could say to them it’s nothing but a woman’s fantasy, the Law of the Father translated into something else. Laws are inaccurate perceptions, interpretations that don’t go by the book, there’s no such thing as a father with capital F, there is only this guy remembering his hurting. Your dad the baker, away at war and prison camp the first eight years of your life: your idea of a father was your mother’s idea, a hand-me-down fantasy of the male as persecutor, judge, and executioner, a man to whom one says, Father forgive me for I have sinned, a creature who would unite in himself all the kings, knights, gods of all the family stories and fairy tales, the Übermensch, the prince and redeemer. At the Eastern front, a stranger in a foreign country, he maimed and killed his fellow humans for their perceived inhumanity. And then to come home to Father forgive me! If you could tell your children their father, too, is an ordinary mortal, a man who has suffered, who’s been defeated, who wants to be loved for a change. As a child you could not love your dad, and now that part of your life its gone for good. From your mother you learned to withhold love; your mother likely learned from hers. Is it possible to write out your sorrow, look at yourself from a distance?

A branch of Lawyers’ Wives works with delinquent girls. You signed up some months ago. Since then, some of you have traveled weekly to Juvenile Hall, where you stand beside a teenager cutting into fabric pinned to a pattern. You sit next to her at a sewing machine and demonstrate how to insert the reel beneath the slide plate, guide the thread from spool to threading points, adjust the tension of pressure foot, regulate stitch length. You work slowly, deliberately, with gestures that are easy to copy. Now you try it, you say to the young woman.

She is a girl with black eyes, a child of color. Her foot experiments with the pedal, accelerates, slows down. The machine stitches at uneven speeds, careens forward in jumps, coughs into almost-halts, but eventually begins to hum along, basting a neckline here, joining sleeve to armhole there.

I’ve never made anything for myself, the girl says, too hesitant to allow astonishment into her voice. I didn’t know I could do this. 

What’s your name, you ask. 

Amina, she says. 

Amina, what a lovely name. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

My brother’s been drafted, she says, tears dripping on green-and-blue paisley. He’s leaving for ’Nam in a week. I won’t be there to say good-bye to him. I’m so scared! She continues to rattle away at the sewing.

You nod, you glance at the young woman, a child yet, a girl of fourteen or fifteen. You want to tell of airplanes that terrify, toddlerhood disrupted by air-raid sirens, weeds cooked into soup.

Amina, you say, putting your arm around her shoulders, I know what it’s like to be scared. The girl continues to sew, snuffling down on her work, making sure the fabric scoots along beneath the pressure foot.

Touching is against regulations, the hall supervisor tells you. When you violate the rules, you’re only hurting the girls. 

You stare at her mouth, thin lips pressed together. The mouth can shape itself so lovingly; surely it shapes itself even for her? 

And today, listening to the drone of minutes read at the meeting, it occurs to you that you should have protested at the German pump-manufacturing company, raised your voice to the chef or else to Herr Weise or Herr Monski. You and Annfried should have lodged a complaint. But girls don’t complain to authority figures. German individuals do not complain. Their fear of passion. Their deference to authority. Everyone is an authority in his field, even a cook dishing out noodles with his bare hands. 

But this is America. This is California, the trendsetter state. It’s time you opened your mouth. At the meeting of Lawyers’ Wives you complain. In Juvenile Hall the girls don’t get to sew except with our supervision. The machines, half a dozen of them, go unused until we get there once a week. By the third week Amina has gone home or been transferred, the half-done dress and remnants still in her cubby hole. Before Amina you worked with Debbie and Ruth and Maria and it’s always the same. None of the girls finishes what you helped her begin. You’re agitated now, you practically shout at the women in their coffee cups.    

There’s only so much we can do, the president says, a woman in high heels and matching accessories, groomed and exquisitely coiffed. 

You slink down in your seat. It’s hopeless.You’re unaccustomed to standing up for yourself. You think of your babies, driven from the womb into your arms like rag dolls. For this you drag them to the sitter?

On the way to the sitter’s housing tract you interrogate yourself. Why did you marry a lawyer? To hitch yourself to a mouth that does the talking for you?

He wasn’t a lawyer when I married him. I am trying to find my way in the world.

Why did you decide on California? To escape some cook in some cafeteria?

It got me a ticket into middle class. Bradley got things too. We both chose this. 

Someday you’ll have to take a closer look.

Your fear of water. Mother gave up on life early on but her fears have become your own. How often you fantasize about death, about loss, about dying! King Tut, the boy king of Egyptian antiquity, played at funeral all his life. All sixteen years of it.

The voyage from Amsterdam to New York, the stroll across deck. On the fourth day you wondered why the ship wasn’t making any headway. Waves heaved and lapped, but the Nieuw Amsterdam rocked in place. You imagined a shipwreck, and you unable to swim. The ocean appeared to becalm. The many small teeth below seemed to be at rest. Yet the ocean, mother of all, would swallow you alive. The future—marriage, love, sex—would slip beneath the waves.

I am going to sign up for swim classes, you decide as you exit the car at the sitter’s. Gonna learn how to swim. Presently you scoop the kids into the Olds and roar off. Nick, rolling around on the mattress in back, gropes for his fuzzy-wuzzy. A pony, says Bruce, will I have a pony someday? What does pony-grass look like? Safely home in your three-bedroom bungalow you groan with relief.

In the kitchen with an American cookbook you chop celery and onion for a tuna-noodle casserole, but the children are restless. Hungry. You should feed them right now; why wait for the man of the house? To build a tale for him: look at the good wife, how she nurtures and feeds—myths passed from mother to daughter? Wait ‘til your dad comes home, you burst out. I’m sick of it, get out of my face.

I want to be hugged myself, sink into lullaby arms, return to the mother country. I am a daughter unloved. Mutti, my mother! Where has she gone?


EDITH COOK worked as translator before immigrating and marrying in California, where she functioned as administrator in her husband’s law office and they raised three boys. She has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including two Historically Black Universities in Tennessee. in Wyoming she has been a recipient of the Wyoming Arts Council’s Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her work has appeared in various anthologies and literary magazines, both in hard copy and online. Her poetry chapbook, A Slip of the Tongue, was published by Graham Press in California. From 2011 to 2017 she wrote weekly newspaper columns for Wyoming’s two main newspapers. Visit her at www.edithcook.com

Our Favorite Writing Prompts

It’s that time of year when the weather is changing, the world is being quarantined and folks are looking for new sources of inspiration and solace. Check out some of Inklette’s favorite writing prompts below to spark your creativity!



PROMPT 1

You’re sitting across the table from a character from your current work in progress. How do you start the conversation? What do you talk about? Are they talkative or reticent, joyous or subdued? Do they answer questions freely? What do they ask you? What do they notice about the world?


PROMPT 2
(Best done in a walkable place)

Pick a number between 1 and 10. Start walking, and when you reach an intersection, flip a coin. Heads, you go right; tails, you go left. Do this for as many times as the number you picked in the beginning. Write a short story set in the location that you end up in.


PROMPT 3

Choose an object near you or in front of you. Do each of these for five minutes: Ask questions to the object. Describe the object in as much detail as possible. Write the origin story of the object. Write a first-person narrative from the point of view of the object. Draw associations with the object– what else does it look like, what does it remind you of, what does it make you think– and talk about it without naming the object, using metaphors or similes. 


PROMPT 4 

Make a list of topics you would never write about, followed by a list of words you would never use. Then, write a poem on one of those topics and use as many of those words as you can.


PROMPT 5

Choose any letter from A-Z. Write the first stanza without using the letter you chose. Now choose a second letter. Write the second stanza without using the second letter as well as the first letter you chose. Keep going for 5-6 stanzas in the same way.



Best Books We Ever Received As Gifts

Regardless of which winter holiday you celebrate (if any), November and December are often filled with gift-shopping trip after gift-shopping trip. While we all like that special feeling we get when we give someone a gift they adore, it’s no secret that spending hours at the mall is exhausting, time-consuming, and, quite frankly, expensive. However, the Inklette team has compiled a list of the best books we’ve ever received as gifts to remind everybody what the holiday shopping season is about (and, if you’re unsure what gift to get your book-loving friend/family member/significant other, look no further).


The Hat-Stand Union by Caroline Bird

 

51xPRiL2IeL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_Those who know me know that I like obscure contemporary poetry (how much people are willing to let me ramble on about it is a different story). My parents gave me this volume of poetry by British poet and playwright Caroline Bird for Christmas when I was about thirteen or fourteen and just starting to become seriously interested in creative writing. Reading poems that covered a bizarre range of topics — from King Arthur to Chekov to suburban life — helped me understand that I had the agency to write about what I found inspiring, rather than what people told me to write about. Even now, in my final year of my undergraduate, I still have The Hat-Stand Union on my shelf and pull it out from time to time when I need inspiration. 

— Joanna Cleary, Blog Editor

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

9780345804327_lI received this novel as a gift from one of my aunts in college, and it’s travelled with me as I’ve moved from one coast to the other, and back again. It was my first introduction to the author, Colson Whitehead, who is a brilliant Black writer living in NYC, and who is also one of my earliest inspirations for the style of writing life I want to achieve. The novel itself won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017. It’s a fascinating depiction that turns the real-life Underground Railroad into a collection of underground trains, safe houses, and secret routes. It’s one of those books that I’ll always have on my bookshelf, and which consistently reminds me to return to Whitehead’s other works to see what other challenges he has in store.

— Naomi Day, Blog Editor

The Professor and The Housekeeper by Yoko Ogawa, translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

 

9780099521341.jpgThis book was gifted to me by Trivarna Hariharan, the former editor-in-chief of Inklette Magazine. I had never heard of Ogawa’s work before and hadn’t read prose that felt so light, so porous. I think Ogawa’s work best reminds me of the kind of cinematic language of Ritesh Batra’s films such as The Lunchbox (2013) and Photograph (2019). But this book, in particular, read like that thin line between myth and realism even though the materiality of its story felt like a weight, even a burden at times I had to accept, learn how to carry. Since then, I have read Ogawa’s other works but somehow The Housekeeper and The Professor is one I keep coming back to, because it also incorporates and disguises behind the porosity and poetics of literary language a stunning mathematical language as well as logic, and if you read the book you’ll perfectly understand the role these two levels and anatomies of language play. 

-Devanshi Khetarpal, Editor-in-Chief

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

 

9780316133999_l (1).jpgI believe my sister gave me this book a few years ago (for Christmas or my birthday I can’t remember, they both fall in December so they tend to blur together. Both my sister and I are avid readers, so we often gift each other books, but this particular book was definitely one of my favorites.Though it took a while for me to actually open the book, once I began reading it I devoured it. The book is magical, poetic, and wonderfully poetic (I have several notes on my phone filled with pulled quotes from the novels that I use to inspire me, and I used an excerpt from the first book for an erasure assignment I was given in college). The author’s gift for world-building made me eager to get the next books in the trilogy and finish them just as quickly, and I can’t wait until I’ve forgotten enough of the series to reread it—Taylor truly knows how to wield a plot twist, and I can’t wait to experience the shock and delight of piecing the tale together all over again. 

— Savannah Summerlin, Blog Editor

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

 

9780486834368_l.jpgAlthough I’ve given lots of books as gifts, I’ve never been gifted a book (other than the ones I personally requested from my parents when I was a kid). Maybe people just don’t know what to gift me because they don’t know what’s already in my collection; I don’t know. My brother, though, frequently gifts books to my 6-year-old daughter. So far, one of her favorites has been The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. I avoided reading it when I was a kid because I hated the movie. I read it to my daughter, and we both loved it. My brother is a research scientist, so he often sends her science-y books. Another fun one he gifted her was The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure (Hans Magnus Enzensberger, trans. By Michael Henry Heim). Although I think my daughter needs to age a bit before she can truly appreciate it, I loved The Number Devil.

— Lisa Stice, Poetry Editor

A Necklace of Skulls: Collected Poems by Eunice de Souza

 

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Until the third year of my undergraduate degree, a lot of my poetry reading was either limited to canon, or to snippets and fragments I had read online. Reading Eunice de Souza’s work was formative for me as a poet and as a literature student not only because of the cultural similarities or her engagements with feminism, but because she spoke of the everyday with an almost unfounded sense of ease. There was this comfort in her navigation of language I hadn’t read before, which is what made her work all the more appealing – that poetry could be soft, simple, and yet impactful. 

 

— Smriti Verma, Poetry Editor

To learn more about our staff, please visit the Masthead page here.

Indigenous Voices

by Joanna Cleary and Maria Prudente

Having celebrated Canada Day and the 4th of July earlier this month, many people in North America may be feeling more patriotic than usual. However, it is of utmost importance during these days of national celebration to acknowledge and pay respect to the voices of those who rightfully claim first ownership of these lands. Here are some provocative, humourous, heartbreaking, and, above all, relevant works by Indigenous writers that you should definitely put on your summer reading list!


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Novel, Sherman Alexie 

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“I draw because words are too unpredictable.

I draw because words are too limited.

If you speak and write in English, or Spanish, or Chinese, or any other language, then only a certain percentage of human beings will get your meaning.

But when you draw a picture, everybody can understand it.

If I draw a cartoon of a flower, then every man, woman, and child in the world can look at it and say, “That’s a flower.”

So I draw because I want to talk to the world. And I want the world to pay attention to me. I feel important with a pen in my hand. I feel like I might grow up to be somebody important. An artist. Maybe a famous artist. Maybe a rich artist.

That’s the only way I can become rich and famous.” 

 

Junior, an aspiring cartoonist, has mixed feelings about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. As he decides to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school, one where the only other Indigenous presence is the school mascot.


Talking to the Diaspora 
Poetry, Lee Maracle

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“Some sons are trees

 

Quiet mist magic memory oddly named sequoia

General somebody or other who killed us

killed his own

killed worlds

then came to rest a crest on this man-tree”

                                          -from ‘Archer’s Body’ 

 

The second collection of poetry by one of Canada’s most prominent contemporary authors features a look at diaspora and identity that is both intimate and larger than the individual experience.


They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School 
Memoir, Janet Rogers

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“I read somewhere that everyone is born with the potential for success, and it is only through life’s experiences that we develop or destroy that potential. For many Aboriginal people, our most vulnerable and impressionable years, our childhood years, were spent at residential schools. Our mental, emotional and spiritual growth was extremely stunted because of the way we were treated there. You have to tell our story like it is, don’t hold back or make it seem like it wasn’t as bad as it actually was. People have to know and believe what happened to us.”

A defining part of Xatsu’ll chief Bev Sellars’ childhood was spent as a student in a church-run residential school. This honest and evocative memoir details her time at St. Joseph’s Mission, as well as how it has affected her and her family over generations. As Sellars discusses trauma, diapora, and healing, she makes it apparent that it is only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we, as a society, can begin to properly address them.


Islands of Decolonial Love 
Short Stories, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson 

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“bringing up trauma from my life made therapy-lady cry, especially if it was “aboriginal” themed. she said “aboriginal” a lot, and i knew she was trying to be respectful so i planned on letting it slide until the breaking point and then i was going to let her have it in one spiralling long manifesto. therapy-lady liked to compare my life to refugees from war-torn countries who hid their kids in closets when airplanes flew over their houses. this was her limit of understanding on colonized intimacy. she wasn’t completely wrong, and while she tried to convince me none of us had to hide our kids anymore, we both knew that wasn’t exactly true. i knew what every ndn knows: that vulnerability, forgiveness and acceptance were privileges. she made the assumption of a white person: they were readily available to all like the fresh produce at the grocery store.”

Simpson’s debut collection of short stories explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation.

Heartbreaking, absurd, and real, these stories aim to capture all aspects of what it means to be Indigenous in a world that has been taken from Indigenous people.


Prairie Rising: Indigenous Youth, Decolonization and the Politics of Intervention
Ethnography, Jaskiran Dhillon

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“The persistent sensation of being hunted, of monitored movement, of freedom being truncated through institutional caging is central to the daily reality of being an Indigenous youth in Saskatoon. It is not an anomaly. It is not the fictitious creation of a youthful imagination on overdrive. Through their existence as Indigenous youth, these young people constitute a direct threat to an already existing settler social order.” 

Dhillon’s ethnography sharply examines the indigenous-state government of Saskatoon, Canada’s strategy of dispossession and the state’s failure to uphold human and political rights of the indigenous community. We learn that indigenous alliances meant to help indigenous women, lack representation for whom they are advocating: indigenous women. Dhillon, who grew up on Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatchewan, details the state’s refusal to look for missing indigenous women and its failure to include indigenous participation in what they deem to be a community in need of reform. Are Canada’s state advocacy organizations merely visible tokens for what they consider invisible problems in their own country?


To read staff bios, please visit our Masthead page here.