A meeting of discontinuous selves

On July 31, 1993, I took my very first international flight when my family moved from the city of my birth to the first of four other places I have come to live in so far. Looking back, I think of that day as the last time I was an uninterrupted, continuous, unselfconscious self, the last time the trajectory of my life was unsplintered—and not yet the ever-expanding fractal it resembles today.

In her poem, Claire Schwartz writes “Classification // is a country,” but there is no taxonomy for the widening sprawl of my life. The roots cannot always be traced. I have become familiar with many languages. And others that once comprised the fabric of my thoughts have grown unfamiliar. Family have become strangers then become family again; and strangers have become family and become strangers again. Cadences and cultures that were once at the center are now othered. On one shoulder sits the parrot of cultural smugness, on the other crippling nostalgia.

Often, things that have been left behind appear spontaneously in the middle of everything. A complaint I suddenly find in my mouth, the tug of a 1980s advertising jingle, a song starring Sridevi, the recently deceased Bollywood icon, show up like the crumble of foreign currency in the pockets of laundered clothes. Other times, it is the present that I furrow my brow at. Not unlike the grandfather in Kenji C. Liu’s bilingual poem, I inhabit the theme park of the here and now, in which I, a little Indian schoolgirl, am also an American cowboy. The languages of my heart run as parallel lines, not so much occasionally intersecting as abruptly materializing in each other’s paths like inconvenient Hindu gods.

Sometimes, I imagine taking the journey back, to a parallel India in which I never left, walking to the front door of some apartment, ringing the doorbell and coming face to face with the woman I might have been, the woman I have gone on being since 1993. It would be a scene perhaps like the last stanza of Benedict Robinson’s poem in this Dispatch, where two people from opposite sides of a great catastrophe are “standing in the dust / looking” at each other, “Not knowing whether to kneel, or lunge.” As Schwartz writes, “we might / share a homeland.”