I woke up today determined to be normal. To prepare tea with which I wake up my daughter daily, ready her breakfast, change into exercise gear, walk her to school, go to Central Park for a run. But overnight the definition of ‘normal’ had changed. A man who grabbed every conceivable prejudice against every available minority - women, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, gays, differently-abled - had hurled it to such astonishing effect as to win the presidency of the United States! A sexist, racist, misogynist hypocrite was voted to power and all prejudices had been rendered normal.
Meanwhile, my daughter, had one question, her eyes wide as chrysanthemums: What is going to happen?
I maintained a semblance of normalcy as I tried not to squint at the New York Times, lit the morning diya, we did our puja and wrapped our arms in a family hug - extra tight today as we huddled for something usual, familiar, normal - before heading out on our respective paths. All the while, the question - What is going to happen? - ran ticker tape through my mind. I remember asking that same question of my parents in the 80s when school days were regularly punctuated by curfew days, when hit lists interfered with my reading lists and people evoked 1947 as if it was a relative who’d gone missing had returned.
What is going to happen?
My parents kept their chins up, heads down, as they determinedly plowed their way through the morass of that time. They were Punjabis and Punjabis know a thing or two about the way life can abruptly upend itself, when all you have can be snatched away in one stroke, be it in the wake of Abdali’s rampage or the whirlwind of Partition. If you’ve seen the earth crack beneath your feet, if you’ve fled with your young children straddling your waist and shoulders, if you’ve deposited the dead by the roadside because the kafila cannot wait to cremate the countless falling off like flies, then when the question arises -What is going to happen? - you tell your child either of two things. You look your child in the eye and say: You’re my sher puttar. And the child knows, you don’t get to be a tiger cub for nothing. And then you bless them. In a land where calamity can arrive with the unpredictability of a dust storm, the exhortation-as-blessing always is: Keep living. And the child learns, you can determine to live.
As M and I walked down to her school, that is what I tried to tell her.
Then I went to the park, a book in my hand. And I sat on a bench and watched a pin oak leaf spiral its way down in the light breeze. The mellow sun lit a gentle fire in the auburn tupelo and I feasted my eyes on it. I watched a sparrow dip its feathers in a puddle, shake them, dip them again, the wet flutter of its wings informing me of its joy. I watched a black poodle pup sit on its haunches as a woman instructed him. She arced a red ball in the air, his body shivered with excitement, but he had to wait until her command: Go! Then he shot like an arrow.
There is joy in the world, abundant joy and beauty in small things, and I wanted to feast my senses on them to rid my body of its gloom.
The book I am reading is ‘Auschwitz and After’. A holocaust memoir by a French resistance fighter called Charlotte Delbo who survived Auschwitz but lived with it all her life. The book is assigned reading for a course I am taking: Representing Trauma in Literature. When I started college this Fall and chose this course, I returned from my first class and told hubby that there were only three men out of a total class size of 25.
He laughingly remarked: Why do you women have such trauma in your lives?
Today, November 9, 2016, the world has awoken or is going to bed with the knowledge that a man accused of sexual assault by a dozen or more women has been elected President of the world’s foremost democracy. Do we need any more evidence that the world is principally skewed against one-half of its population? That we live in a world that is sexist and openly demeaning of women’s quest to be treated as equal citizens? That a superbly qualified woman with a 30-year record of public service will be sidelined for a bullying blustering blob of orange?
That trauma - in one form or another - is a woman’s legacy?
And yet, there will be November 10, and 11 and the days will unfold in the unceasing march of time. What is going to happen? The Bhagavad Gita says that at each juncture in life we have a choice. From that choice follow consequences. The doing of one’s duty is the path of the karma yogi. The reward of one’s life doesn’t hang like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The living of a good life is itself life’s reward.
So, this is what’s going to happen. We are going to Keep Living, and Keep Being Tigers, and Keep Raising Tiger Cubs. And the consequences of our karma will right the world, one day at a time, one choice at a time.