27 August 2007

notes on the namesake

yesterday i read most of a book, not having read a novel in sometime.
written by a gorgeous indian woman -- at least according to the back
cover -- a novel about my mom. "the namesake". there's a lot going
there and for me especially, back here near my mom again, and trying
-- as always -- to understand how the past and present play into our

the mother in the book has feelings, confusions, fear, and attitudes.
she is not just am other or an indian mother but actually a person
with a beautiful and tragic story, always so out of her element,
always trying to hold on to a cocktail of past tradition -- indian
ritual and familial expectations. in some ways she's a lot more
traditional than my mom and in some ways a lot lower pressure. but the
parts of the book that really got me had less to do with her
relationships than her story, his emigration, her relationship to this
cold, foreign, and english place we call america.

she goes into a store to buy the cheapest address book available,
afraid she won't say the right words to buy it. she writes down the
three addresses she knows: her parents house in india, her in-laws
house in india, her husbands apartment in boston. she has left this
world of everything (and so much everything) for this emptiness of

when my mom moved to california they went through the phone book
looking for gujarati names and called all the families therein to make
friends. she had to get a job at some sort of walmart-analog and left
crying the first day, shelf in mid-restock. those might be the only
stories i know but i want a whole book, a whole life of them. to break
into me and really get a sense of what these people went through and
why they act the way they do.

it's all connected of course.

neilu came over last night to decompress a bit. her mother and aunt --
from iran, from maryland -- are visiting. she has known five minutes
of silence all day. my mother's cousin came for two weeks and we noted
the same -- there is no silence, continual chatter, worried questions,
repeated confirmations of the known or the irrelevant. a constant
worrying and nagging, a behavior that not only radiates stress but
begets it? why? why do my indian-american friends -- all of whom i met
in ahmedbad, escaping to the our roots -- all complain of the same

why do we talk so much?

do we really want to talk so much
to be so busy?
so worried?

what is really going on?

i think it has less to do with talking and more to do with listening.
i think most people -- and these immigrant women in particular -- do
not get listened to. they have uprooted themselves from all sense of
family and community and coping and find themselves in america
surrounded by responsibilities. husbands, jobs, kids. nobody listens
to them. i certainly did. and they don't know how to express
themselves either, perhaps, how to speak what's really going on, in
english or any other language. they're not aware of the depth or
subtle trauma that they've grown into, adopted, as the framework of
their lives.

so they talk and worry and talk and worry and pretty soon it's this
nightmare and nobody is listening and nobody is expressing themselves
and there's no other avenue to try so we just go on.

that's my conclusion, anyhow, as a foreigner, in so many senses of the word.

jhumpa lahiri writes:

Though no longer pregnant, she continues, at times, to mix Rice
Krispies and peanuts and onions in a bowl. For being a foreigner,
Ashimsa is beginning to realize, is a sort of lifelong pregnancy -- a
perpetual wait, a constant burden, a continuous feeling out of sorts.
It is an ongoing responsibility, a parenthesis in what had once been
ordinary life, only to discover that tat previous life has vanished,
replaced by something more complicated and demanding.

and the way out? the best I can think of is silence. Through silence
we can learn to see, to develop other strategies, to express ourselves
in ways we can actually express ourselves.

And ultimately of course it comes down to this feeling of not being
understood. More than X or Y not understanding me -- because it's not
about them -- but simply Not Being Understood. And the only way to
deal with that, I've found, is to understand yourself. And the only
way to Approach that himalayan peak, I've found, is some sort of
meditative practice (be it sitting, running, dancing, etc). Something
that points to the underlying dissolution of ego, the (beautiful) lies
that expression is based upon, the presence of this detached Self that
seeks expression to a discrete and foreign other...

Anyhow. Thanks jhumpa.

in sequim from august 2nd through thanksgiving
201 . 736 . 9684 + 360 . 683 . 5398

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