You wake up and you have this feeling of doom. You have palpitations. If you don’t do it now, it will never happen because you will not have any time left​. It consumes you like you have only a few days to live like Max Ritvo must have felt- the brilliant young poet who died too soon. Is knowing about your impending death and really feeling like you will die soon, the same?

The grim reaper is beside you and he grants you a final wish. You want to immortalise the place you live in because you feel indebted to it, you feel indebted to your loved ones too. You want to create fiction that might also serve as self-help for those who wish to write about the place that means everything to them, the people in it, everything. If you want to capture the place you love. How do you do it? Your friend has started a newsletter to capture the place he lives in. People have subscribed, not to know more about the place but because his zeal to capture his place is what awes them. Will that slip into them a bit too or will they still walk by people and landmarks pretending they don’t see, hear or speak?

Your place is where? The place you were born and raised or the place you are from. Where does your loyalty lie? You are not good at picking sides. You are always neutral. Who would want to listen to you rambling about your place? Let’s say you pick the place which helps your parents earn a livelihood. The place they braved during the Gulf war, your cousins had fled from Saddam’s fear. Your parents stayed.

You have been told that no good stories can come out of the Gulf. Khaled Hoseini, yes, but not from you. You don’t have anything to say as you have lived a pampered life while your parents have struggled. What is it that you want to talk about? From whose point of view? Shia? Not your place to tell their story. Sunni? No. An Arab man? No. An Arab woman. No. An expat? Who gives a fuck?

A fiction writer needs to tell the story and leave it to the critics to decipher the themes because your piece will have to be multi-layered featuring your multiple personalities. A writer has multiple personalities. Good fiction talks about many things at once. Your issue is not about being an immigrant, your immigrant plight is what to take for cousins back home on vacations and frustrated that nothing satisfies them, that’s not plight, plight is what is happening to the refugees because of Syria and with them the definition of ‘immigrant’ changes forever.

A story about discrimination might get eyebrows raised but that is the duty of a journalist, not a fiction writer. The only discrimination you face is just the manifestation of ego and that can happen anywhere in the world. Doesn’t have to be the Gulf. You learn to be deaf because it doesn’t really matter. They need you. If it is unbearable, still you pretend to be deaf because you need them.  You defend the people you love, justifying their flaws and magnifying their positive qualities. You are not white to have the free will to suck up or the freedom to retaliate. No Arab gets excited by your skin colour, not excited in an appropriate way, you are expected to work like a donkey and you have come to believe you are one. Your skin says it all. Even if your accent has evolved because of the TV shows and movies. But you get to go to church. You get to celebrate Christmas, your friend also gets to do Ganpati visarjan. This is not a place that the world would like to know about, the world likes exposure, women not driving in Saudi is now stale news and you want to be read by the world, not just a few friends but you also don’t want to offend them as they have given you a life your cousins back home can only dream of.

Home? The place you are from. What do you know about the country to write about it? You have visited only like guests. Courteous when you are around, critical when away. Repulsed by the misery all around and the grandeur too. It is a place you will never understand even if you tried. You have been to a few places within THE place, countries within the country. Now where do you base your story in? The place where the world moves so fast you feel you are in a roller coaster, Bombay or the place so slow that you feel you are competing with a snail, Mangalore or where you thought you had found love, Bangalore?

The place you remember from vacations is Bombay, wet with rains, not like the romantic rains you have grown up watching in Bollywood movies. The muck that splashes on you on your rickshaw ride that you can afford and because you won’t survive a train ride. You see regular people, regular women wet in the rain, their undergarments showing, waiting for the bus. You can see the fear in their eyes or is it your fear for their safety reflecting in their eyes? Where is the romance? The actresses who look magnificent in wet sarees that cling to their perfectly shaped bodies that you die to get a small glimpse of (that drives Arabs insane too), are safely tucked at home or maybe even out of the country.

History and Geography lessons in school, in Bahrain, tried to keep you as close to your country as possible. They tested your accuracy with dots on the map. You had to get it right. Your marks, your future was dependent on it. Your future as a writer is dependent on your fiction and your fiction must be accurate. About places. No one gives a fuck about emotional geography, you have to be right, they will take offence, this is not the place they know, you misrepresent them.

For the short time you were there, in Bangalore (What do you know about this place when you were hardly here?), you wanted to explore most of it, the hunger resembling the passion of a brief love affair, seductive yet cautious knowing it will be short lived and the memories you leave it with must be in your favour. You hunt for a dustbin to throw the wrapper of the chocolate that came instead of change. You were laughed at. Stop pretending like it matters to you, least of all to you, an outsider. Then you get accustomed like a relationship after a few years you take the liberty to take it for granted and you flick the wrapper in the air so thick with pollution it stifled you.

You were only a tourist there, wanting to make love to every new thing you discovered with your phone camera. Souvenirs from the place are parts of your body that ache now whenever you feel lonely. In the hostel you had a culture shock. What is it about the place that attracts people from different places? All students, grateful for being accepted, for this short term privilege but in turn will be a long term one on your C.V if you return the love.

Mangalore, the place you wish you were never associated with because it baffles you. You don’t know it, you don’t wish to. But you go because it is an obligation like Sunday masses. Your surname confuses people and they ask if you’re Goan? You don’t pretend to be Goan because you know you are not, the differences only you are aware of. Anglo then? You swell at that word because Anglo can only be a compliment but then with a sigh you say you are Mangalorean. Your surname is like the grim reaper that follows you everywhere.

You don’t end up writing the story or is it a poem you want to write? How does content take form? How do you decide which form will do justice to your idea? Even if you tried you couldn’t write a decent story, let alone a poem. You lie there feeling the weight of the grim reaper on you. You want to get up and write that story. However it turns out, atleast you would have tried, it will definitely not be brilliant like Ritvo’s poem, but how will you know what you are capable of if you don’t even try? You wish you were your friend who started the newsletter, you envy him because he is as brilliant as Ritvo and especially because he associates himself with just one place and not confused like you, like girls who double-triple date.

The weight of it all, of 25 years of your existence, the grim reaper, your friend’s newsletter and Ritvo’s poem and the knowledge that he had found love in his short life weighs down on you and you lie there and say, ‘Take me already, will you?’

 

Michelle D'Costa

Michelle D'Costa

Michelle D’costa edits fiction at Jaggery Literary Magazine. She has poetry/fiction published in The Madras Mag, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Open Road Review, Eunoia Review, The Bombay Review, Antiserious among others. She interviews writers.

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