Children’s Books and my Father: A Remembrance

Culture and memory share a root, like branches of the same plant. That root is us, human beings, in our most creative and unself-conscious renditions. Once again, after the whirlwind of systemic violence and structural upheaval engineered through the COVID19 pandemic response, the time has come to honour the memory of those we love who have been lost to the novel coronavirus. My father, the late Professor Manabendra Bandyopadhyay (1938-2020), was one such deep loss. 

Although he had been suffering from loss of sight and other health issues in his last few years,  for over half a century, he contributed vastly to the field of Bengali literature and poetry, fiction/poetry in translation, and critical approaches to the early discipline of comparative literature— from the late 1950s until his retirement from teaching at the Department of Comparative Literature at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, India. In his participation in the cultural and socio-political world of Bangla letters, my father often searched out unusual or unique writers— “against the grain”. While in his translations for adults, he often examined and explored different schools of writing from Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, it was his love of books for kids that had a big impact on me as a  young reader and thinker. 

For my father, books for children were as eclectic and engaging as those for adults. He presented me with hundreds of books over the years, and it is especially those books of childhood I often turn to, for a break from the grinding neo-liberal world with its anxieties, bleakness, and inhumanity. 

I fondly remember a range of books from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales to Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series, to Toronto poet’s Dennis Lee’s Wiggle to the Laundromat. Along with these, Andrew Salkey, George Lamming, James Kruss, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Erich Kastner, Rhoda Power, Sherlock Holmes, Jules Verne,  and the inimitable Tove Jansson made paths into the rich and exciting world of books, a world that was both escape and confirmation, at different times. Through the reading of such international cast of characters, historical moments and types of books, my interest in historical periods, and how people live in different times and places, was piqued. 

In particular, I am grateful to my father for sharing his love of Indigenous and Aboriginal cultures from both Turtle Island and Australia. This awareness of the space I inhabited as a brown child of an immigrant parent to Canada, set me apart from other primary and middle school children as did my experience of racism from a very early age at the hands of my peers in the pristine provincial primary schools of Ontario of the 1970s. 

But when reading, the ability to imagine other worlds and ways of being, allowed me to understand and perhaps at a young age, confront the reality of racial inequality which I experienced. Books like Aguhana, Half-Breed, The Island of the Dolphins, A Nice Fire and Some Moon Pennies gave me a glimpse of a world that was made invisible and silent in the Canadian educational system, that of First Nations, Metis,  and Inuit peoples. Stories by Lois Lenski based on interviews with children and families, gave me an idea of how  working class and rural children, especially girls,  lived as recently as the 1930s-50s in the various United States of America, and how important they were to household economies as recently as the ‘50s and ‘60s. Stories about Harriet Tubman and Julius Lester’s To Be a Slave, were a part of my personal canon, as much as Anne Frank and Laura Ingalls Wilder were the staple authors for little girls at the school library. 

In remembrance of the important role that fiction and poetry has played in my own life,  I offer up today’s blog post as a tribute to all those amazing writers who tackled the daunting task of writing gripping and memorable fiction for children, writing that satisfies at any age, books such as Alice in Wonderland, and those of Roald Dahl.  And through acknowledging them, I acknowledge the fount of this fictional diversity, my father. 

Yellow Butterflies, Kaushalya Bannerji, August 2022

This week on the second anniversary of his passing, I have been thinking of him even more. When my partner planted a butterfly bush in his honour, butterflies immediately came to visit. White, orange-patterned, and yellow, they fluttered down to the purple, pink and red flowers. We will always think of our absent loved ones when the butterflies float and dance by us on their invisible currents.

I want to end by sharing a musical piece about the world of Macondo,  from One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A  Colombian Nobel-winning writer who was popularized in Bangla by my father, and whose work he explored for many years. Here the lyrics are by Mexican accordionist and composer Celso Pina and performed by Leiden (Cuba-Mexico) and Andrea Echeverri (Colombia) formerly of the group Los Aterciepelados (The Velvet Ones). I am sure he would have enjoyed hearing this rendition.

Macondo by Celso Pina (Mexico) (Trans. Kaushalya Bannerji)

The hundred years of Macondo, sound, sound, in the air

And the years of Gabriel trumpeting, trumpeting, his announcement!

Enchained,  Macondo dreams along with José Arcadio

And although life is a whirlwind of memories

Aureliano’s sorrows, are four

The beauties of Remedios, violins

The passions of Amaranta, guitar

And the spell of Melquiades is the oboe

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

Úrsula, one hundred years, loneliness, Macondo

You are the epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

You are epic of a forgotten town

Forged in a hundred years of love and history

I imagine and live again

In my memor,  burned by the sun

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

Yellow Butterflies,  Mauricio Babylonia

Yellow butterflies flying free

Season of Verses

I haven’t been on the blog for quite a while. 2021 is proving to be a year of elusive concentration, spiralling exhaustion, sadness, and intense physical pain. I have re-acquainted myself with some drawing, although I have been reading about the state of the world and am often disturbed by what I see our little planet coming to. But visually, October, and the autumn in general, is a beautiful time– as in this part of the Americas, foliage puts on a show as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the northern lights. Thousands of stock photographs and painters can attest to the power of fall’s colours in the northern hemisphere.

Poets like the U.S’ Mary Oliver, whose primary inspirations were self and nature, give us an idea of the feelings evoked in this season of impermanence and darkness. Cultures all over the world celebrate the vanquishing of the long bleak night of winter and pay homage to those we love who are journeying beyond this life. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead on November 1st is a time to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have gone– their favourite foods and music, flowers and marigolds to adorn their visit between the worlds. Offerings and altars, graveyards and candles, photos and colours, not for nothing are Mexicans famed for being detallistas! And the lived-in voice of Chavela Vargas reminds us that the passion and drama of artists live on in all of us who hear and read the works of those who have gone before.

Black Velvet Autumn, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Fall

the black oaks fling
their bronze fruit
into all the pockets of the earth
pock pock

they knock against the thresholds
the roof the sidewalk
fill the eaves
the bottom line

of the old gold song
of the almost finished year
what is spring all that tender
green stuff

compared to this
falling of tiny oak trees
out of the oak trees
then the clouds

gathering thick along the west
then advancing
then closing over
breaking open

the silence
then the rain
dashing its silver seeds
against the house

Mary Oliver (1935 – 2019)

A Neighbourly Appearance, Halloween 2021, Kaushalya Bannerji
Chavela Vargas, La Llorona
You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by.You were leaving a temple one day, Weeping Woman,and I saw you passing by. You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman, I even thought you were the Virgin.You wore a beautiful huipil, Weeping Woman,I even thought you were the Virgin. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman from a field of irises.Woe is me, Weeping Woman.Weeping Woman from a field of irises. 
He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony.He who doesn't know about love,won't know what is agony. 

I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery.I don't know what's with the flowers, Weeping Woman,the flowers from a cemetery. When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying.When the wind moves them, Weeping Woman,they look like they're crying. 

Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river.Woe is me, Weeping Woman,Weeping Woman, take me to the river. Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman, because I'm freezing to death.Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman,because I'm freezing to death. (Trans DaphneKarina PG)
Autumn Leaves, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2021

Late September Commemoration

I’m late this year in commemorating the anniversary of September 11, 1973. This infamous date came into being as the day that the military dictatorship of General Agusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens in Santiago, Chile. Much has been written and recorded from that time and in terms of historical and personal testimonials of thousands of Chileans who experienced political violence/murder, persecution, and exile. I thought I would share a song written by fellow Latin American singer/songwriter Silvio Rodriguez of Cuba, as he responded to the events of the 1973 coup d’état in Chile.

There I loved a terrible woman,
crying through the everlasting smoke
of that city, cornered by winter symbols.
There, I learned to remove cold skin 
and throw my body into the drizzle 
in the hands of hard white fog 
in the streets of enigma.

That is not dead. 
They didn't kill me.
Neither through distance, 
Nor by the vile soldier.

There among the hills, I had friends
That among the smoke bombs, were as brothers .
There I had more than four things that I have always wanted.
There our song became small, 
Among the desperate crowd, 
A powerful song of the earth broke over us.

That is not dead .
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier 
Neither through distance, 
Nor by the vile soldier 

Even there, it followed me like a shadow
The face of him, who I no longer see
And death whispers in my ear that it will still come.
There I felt a hatred, ashamed by
Children beggared by dawn
And this desire to exchange each string for a bag of bullets…

That is not dead.
They didn't kill me .
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier. 
Neither through the distance, 
Nor with the vile soldier.
Santiago De Chile
Silvio Rodríguez Dominguez

allí amé a una mujer terrible 
llorando por el humo siempre eterno 
de aquella ciudad acorralada 
por símbolos de invierno

allí aprendí a quitar con piel el frío 
y a echar luego mi cuerpo a la llovizna 
en manos de la niebla dura y blanca 
en calles del enigma

eso no esta muerto 

no me lo mataron 

ni con la distancia, ni con vil soldado×2


allí entre los cerros tuve amigos 
que entre bombas de humo eran hermanos 
ahi yo tuve mas de cuatro cosas que siempre he deseado
ahi nuestra canción se hizo pequeña 
entre la multitud desesperada 
un poderoso canto que canto de la tierra era quien más cantaba

eso no esta muerto 
ni con la distancia, 
ni con el vil soldado

Hasta allí me siguió como una sombra
El rostro del que ya no se veía
Y en el oído me susurro la muerte del que ya aparecería
Allí yo tuve un odio una vergüenza
Niños mendigos de la madrugada
Y el deseo de cambiar cada cuerda por un saco de balas

Poetry in a Thousand Tongues! International Mother Language Day

It is International Mother Tongue Day, today, the 21st of February. It’s an important day to celebrate because imperial monopolies of language (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French) have erased so many forms of communication and Indigenous and languages. Only this month, the Mexican government recognized 68 Indigenous languages as national languages alongside Spanish. This took over 500 years, to return official status to languages that existed at the time of Spanish Conquest. In East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, language was one of the key issues in the bloody war between Pakistan (then West Pakistan) and the territory now known as Bangladesh in 1971, fifty years ago. In Canada, French and English have battled for official language status with franco-separatists resorting to desperate measures in Quebec, to protect their French language from what they see as English encroachment. Canada’s invocation of martial law, the War Measures Act, was applied against French language separatists, the FLQ, also in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the country committed torture against children through the Residential Schools designed to eradicate the speaking of native langugaes among Indigenous peoples and churn out domestic labour for settler colonialists. Sri Lanka saw a brutal conflict dispossessing thousands and terrorizing the island for many years, over Sinhala and Tamil identities and languages, among other issues.

It’s also important to celebrate that language is a living thing, one we all construct and participate in daily. So I think it’s essential to also celebrate languages that have been assigned inferior status or “Dialect” status because of colonial and politico-economic imperatives. So I include here a tribute to Jamaican patois, though I prefer the term “nation language” coined by Barbadian academic and writer, Edward Kamau Braithwaite. And finally, while New Zealand is far from being a land of full equality for the Maori people, the adoption of Maori language classes and the popularity of the Haka, demonstrate that mother tongue and artistic creation are important components in struggles for language, which often also imply struggles for equality and social and economic justice. There are thousands of language I’ve left out here, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. According to the UN, of the 7000 languages spoken today in the world, at least half will be lost by the end of this century. But I hope this post will help us all reflect on the importance of mother tongue in an increasingly globalized world.

Dutty Tough, Louise Bennet Coverly, Jamaica, aka Miss Lou

Sun a shine but tings no bright; 
Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff; 
River flood but water scarce, yawl 
Rain a fall but dutty tough.
Tings so bad dat nowadays when 
Yuh ask smaddy how dem do 
Dem fraid yuh tek tell dem back, 
So dem no answer yuh. 

No care omuch we da work fa 
Hard-time still een wi shut; 
We dah fight, Hard-time a beat we, 
Dem might raise wi wages, but 

One poun gawn awn pon we pay, an 
We no feel no merriment 
For ten poun gawn pon wi food 
An ten pound pon we rent! 

Saltfish gawn up, mackerel gawn up. 
Pork en beef gawn up, 
An when rice and butter ready 
Dem jus go pon holiday! 

Claht, boot, pin an needle gawn up 
Ice, bread, taxes, water-rate 
Kersine ile, gasolene, gawn up; 
An de poun devaluate 

De price of bread gone up so high 
Dat we haffi agree 
Fi cut we yeye pon bred an all 
Turn dumplin refugee 

An all dem marga smaddy weh 
Dah gwan like fat is sin 
All dem-deh weh dah fas wid me 
Ah lef dem to dumpling! 

Sun a shine an pot a bwile, but 
Things no bright, bickle no nuff 
Rain a fall, river dah flood, but, 
Water scarce an dutty tough. Louise Simone Bennett Coverly

https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/online-petition-asks-for-cree-language-to-be-added-to-google-translate-1.5317866

Antidote to Grey! A Picture Gallery

The following drawings have been done over the last month. The greying days and short daylight hours contrive to make gloomier, an already difficult time under a second, though hardly stringent, lockdown. Every day has been a litany of anxiety and sadness, grief and powerlessness. Every day ordinary people triumph over extraordinary odds to grapple with how to keep themselves safe, fed, and sheltered during the time of covid-19. In the midst of this I have been drawing and trying to fight off the winter/coronavirus blues. It’s not easy and my heart goes out to all who are suffering at this time!

I want to thank all of you who’ve visited this blog since I first started it a year and a half ago, in another age. With your encouragement and visits, I’ve reached approximately 10 000 views in this time! Here are some pictures for a rainy, snowy, stormy Saturday!

All of Us or None by Bertolt Brecht
 Slave, who is it that shall free you?
 Those in deepest darkness lying.
 Comrade, only these can see you
 Only they can hear you crying.
 Comrade, only slaves can free you.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 One alone his lot can’t better.
 Either gun or fetter.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 You who hunger, who shall feed you?
 If it’s bread you would be carving,
 Come to us, we too are starving.
 Come to us and let us lead you.
 Only hungry men can feed you.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 One alone his lot can’t better.
 Either gun or fetter.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 Beaten man, who shall avenge you?
 You, on whom the blows are falling,
 Hear your wounded brothers calling.
 Weakness gives us strength to lend you.
 Come to us, we shall avenge you.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 One alone his lot can’t better.
 Either gun or fetter.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 Who, oh wretched one, shall dare it?
 He who can no longer bear it.
 Counts the blows that arm his spirit.
 Taught the time by need and sorrow,
 Strikes today and not tomorrow.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
 One alone his lot can’t better.
 Either gun or fetter.
 Everything or nothing. All of us or none.
Kaushalya Bannerji, Fish, 2020
Sunrise, Kaushalya. Bannerji, 2020
Firefeather, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Reflections, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
They Danced!, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
December Sunset, 2020, Kaushalya Bannerji

Fall Beauty

I love the myriad colours of fall. Along with early summer, there is so much variety in textures, hues, and scents. The scents of fall are unique to our Northern climate; just as tropical humidity carries the echo of over-ripe vegetation, the fall is a time of life buried beneath the insulating carpet of leaves, readying itself for the next rebirth. Similarly, moisture, the covid related decrease in pollution and the sun’s position in this season make for early but spectacular sunsets.

Carpet, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Carpet 2, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Evening Canopy, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
November Sky, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

As we inch toward the December solstice, the days are growing darker. A good time for reading, for drawing, and appreciating the warmth we housed people take for granted. The dark days are not my favourite!

Here I share a poem, Plums by Gillian Clarke, about the stone fruit which is harvested at the conjuncture between warmth and chill.

When their time comes they fall
without wind, without rain.
They seep through the trees’ muslin
in a slow fermentation.

Daily the low sun warms them
in a late love that is sweeter
than summer. In bed at night
we hear heartbeat of fruitfall.

The secretive slugs crawl home
to the burst honeys, are found
in the morning mouth on mouth,
inseparable.

We spread patchwork counterpanes
for a clean catch. Baskets fill,
never before such harvest,
such a hunters’ moon burning

the hawthorns, drunk on syrups
that are richer by night
when spiders pitch
tents in the wet grass.

This morning the red sun
is opening like a rose
on our white wall, prints there
the fishbone shadow of a fern.

The early blackbirds fly
guilty from a dawn haul
of fallen fruit. We too
breakfast on sweetnesses.

Soon plum trees will be bone,
grown delicate with frost’s
formalities. Their black
angles will tear the snow.

Reading, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020
Reading , Kaushalya Bannerji, 2020

The Soloist

I’ve been having a hard time with this solo-self-isolation. All members of my family are thousands of miles away, experiencing their own lockdowns. Music, books, cleaning, and cooking are losing their charms after the 2 weeks I’ve been doing this! And I fear there will be weeks more. 

As a person with disabilities that make life unpredictable at the best of times, getting sicker and sicker has already meant losing my social life, long before this coronavirus even hit. 

People do not call you if you’ve cancelled at the last minute, or don’t even have the words to articulate what you’re feeling after a while. Causation is tiring to constantly explain or reason out,  when you have fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, active arthritis, and bell’s palsy. As such, navigating this time with the few good friends I have is crucial. 

Trying to figure out the every “why” of my body’s reaction had me going to doctors for years with questions to which they did not have answers. Things have changed a great deal in ideas about fibromyalgia and ME or chronic fatigue syndrome since I was first diagnosed in 1998. 

But the symptoms have not. In fact, they’ve gotten much worse. And sadly, I suspect as a woman of colour, I have probably not gotten the help I might have. I know very clearly that privilege and hierarchy play a huge role in accessing adequate healthcare. The best health care I ever recieved was when I was a law student, and the words engendered respect in doctors! However, that feels like another lifetime ago. 

Being in this situation has meant that all systems are go! Both the physical activity of carrying on solo life and disinfection under self-isolation, and the emotional stress can be a trigger to increased pain, fatigue and brain fog. 

The protocols of this COVID 19 time are alienating and isolating. Staying strong means breathing, eating twice a day whether one’s hungry or not, going out on the balcony for air a few times a day, and walks, weather permitting.  Staying hydrated. Getting vitamins. And listeneing to some other beautiful soloists! 

Staying strong means listening to some beautiful jazz in an impromptu concert by piano maestro Chucho Valdes! 

Staying strong means listening to the wondrous voice of the great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Staying strong means listening to the  intricate and soothing ragas of Indian classical music and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. 

Staying strong means listening to the beautiful cello solos of the imimitable and compassionate Yo Yo Ma!

Staying strong means listening to the latest piece from Chilean Popular artist, Ana Tijoux

Staying strong means listening to the wonderful contemporary Cuban-Mexican singer-songwriter, Leiden!

Staying strong means clanging pots and pans with my neighbours to honour our health care workers, and all those working and risking their health and lives— so people like me, and the elderly, who are most vulnerable — can stay home. 

Staying strong means signing petitions against homelessness, hunger, lack of basic human rights, and drinking water on First Nations lands, not only in the time of the Corona virus, but for all time. 

Staying strong means demanding those who rule us are accountable in making domestic policy that is fair, equitable and just for the most vulnerable in our society! 

Staying strong means supporting alternatives to our current way of cruelty, I mean, life, under profit and the cash nexus.

I wish all of you a safe and well time during these uncertain and dystopian days. May you be surrounded by the love you need! 

World Social Justice Day

The United Nations has declared February 20th as World Social Justice day. In this era, social justice is like a carrot dangling before humanity while the vast majority of us are being beaten with sticks. So, social justice is an aspirational desire, a desire to remediate the wrongs of past times and current ways of ruling. I hope every single day, to see signs of positive and crucial social change.

 In the area of women’s rights, even as we expand our notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” to include non-biologically sexed people, there is so much to do. Women and trans-women who are the victims of violence all over the world, are really at the bottom of the barrel. Our lives are de facto worthless, if we are Indigenous, South Asian, of African descent, East Asian, even more so. 

This is so evident when we examine murder statistics (flawed and manipulated, though statistical data may be) from Mexico ( 2,795 in 2017), India (between 8000-5000 dowry deaths per year), South Africa (2930 in 2017-18 ), Spain ( over one thousand women killed in 8 years), Australia ( approximately 52 women per year) and the United States (approximately 1600 in 2018 ) and Canada (118 in 11 months in 2018, or 1 murder every 2.5 days ).  In Cuba, pressure from local women’s organizations and activists is pushing for statistics on violence against women and a new integrated law of  gender violence that will allow the state and the social services sector to keep track of violence aginst women. 2016 saw about 50 women murdered by male partners and intimates.

Rape statistics and/ or lack of, are also horrifying. In India, over 300, 000 are reported to police, leaving another 3 million unreported annually, as experts have pointed out, due to social and familial stigma, rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported crimes. In Mexico, thousands of women are violated daily with a reported rape rate of 12.6 per 100, 000 and about 3 million reported rapes in the 2010-2015 period. 

As we are well aware, rape and sexually motivated violence is the least reported, with official figures representing approximately 10% of actual cases globally. Biased and misogynist legal systems and law enforcement in every country in the world, makes sure that it will remain that way. In Canada, one in three women experiences some kind of partner assault in her lifetime. The violence against women of Indigenous descent has reached horrific proportions, a genocidal violence that is rooted in the making invisible of native cultures and nations. 

Discussing women’s wages, social and economic opportunities and acquisitive power, we see that the gender gap prevails here as well throughout the world. I have seen how the gap in wages translates in housing vulnerability for women at even higher rates than for men, in one example. Disproportionately, women also shoulder child rearing and housing costs as well as actual child-care. 

In terms of other social justice issues, and there are so many— racism and imperialism rank among the highest impactful issues on the planet. In North America and Europe, racism saves employers, corporations and states trillions of dollars in historical and current under/unemployment, substandard housing and education. Racism makes huge profits for war industries, law enforcement related industries and municipal developers, furnishing companies that supply concentration camps and public and private prisons, and has fostered generations of white supremacist involvement in armed foreces and armed law enforcement. 

https://inthesetimes.com/features/ice-abolish-immigration-child-detention-private-prison-profiting.html

It is almost incomprehensible the ways in which “othering” and inferiorizing the lives of billions of people for the profit of a few white men and their families— global oligarchs— shapes our world view through the media and social networks. As many have argued the intersection of oppressions by race and gender as well as social class, account for the ways our very lives are shaped and the type of opportunities that may be afforded to us. 

If we add disability to the mix, poverty is an almost constant factor in the lives of people with serious and or chronic health conditions, as employment seems the last place in our lives where we might expect accomodation, though we live in capitalist societies that measure  all our worth in terms of what we “do” (read, earn) occupationally. 

Even the left plays into this bourgeois meritocracy. That is why, we so rarely see images of disabled people speaking about the complexity of their lives or political belliefs. They ( by which I mean, we), are relegated to speaking only about “disability”. Having an affiliation to paid, and well-paid employment at that, certainly gives “privilege” to those who are able-bodied but within our own social class.

These horrific underlying social inequalities shape every aspect of our lives. Women, not safe in their homes, or on the streets, live in a state of permanent alert that starts when we are little children. People of colour, indigenous people, colonized communities and nations, are constantly prevented from lifting the yoke of subjugation that presses down on our human capacity and potential. 

Social Justice Day is a day to take stock of all the work we have done in our countries and globally, while confronting the fact that we have barely begun to tackle the enormous overarching issues that literally, shape, and delimit our lives. 

I’ll leave you with a poem from a writer whose words echoed in my head and got me through the cult-like environment of law school so many years ago. Chrystos is a Menominee lesbian poet whose work addresses our real lives. Instead of growing up on the reservation, she was reared in the city around Black, Latino, Asian, and White people, and identifies herself as an Urban Indian.

MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T MEET

IF THERE ARE NO THIRD WORLD WOMEN HERE

How can you miss our brown & golden

a thin red scream

in this sea of pink

But we’re here

meeting & didn’t contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women’s Coalition or Gay Asians or anyone I know

You’re the ones who don’t print your signs in Spanish or Chinese or any way but how you talk 

You’re the ones standing three feet away from a Black woman saying

There are no Third World women here

Do you think we are Martians

All those workshops on racism won’t help you open your eyes & see how you don’t even see us

How can we come to your meetings ifwe are invisible

Don’t look at me with guilt Don’t apologize Don’t struggle with the problem of racism like algebra

Don’t write a paper on it for me to read or hold a meeting in

which you discuss what to do to get us to come to your

time & your place

We’re not your problems to understand & trivialize

We don’t line up in your filing cabinets under “R” for rights

Don t make the racist assumption that the issue of racism

between us

is yours at me

Bitter boiling I can’t see you

Stop the Crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Sarah Whalen Lund

My Dida’s House

Reading the stories of so many Indian women, I am reminded of this, my only heirloom. I want to tell too, of my hidden memories. My Dida’s house, the noise, the open sewers, the eternal mangy cat with her multi-hued descendants. The ceaseless summer war between cat and human, mosquito and human. The long afternoons after the lovingly prepared meal, the smell of the bus station, the market’s discarded rotting food and always the flies buzzing, as if to remind us there is something else, another species more desperate  and persistent than ouselves.

Since infanthood these noises and smells. The afternoon heat bringing our blood to a boil, the power-cuts, the grafitti, the red sickle like an unfinished question mark amid so much poverty.

Here, the distance of empire and geography, my own unchosen but present desires seperate me far more than oceans from my land. A land which I was made ashamed of by others, and which today, in a sad irony, might be ashamed of me. And thus, we make our own circle of desire and fear.

My Dida’s house saw so many dreams deferrred, so many roads not taken, so many wombs and hearts burning with unclaimed victories. In those early days, I explored like a fearful, cunning Columbus— every dust ball, every crack in the gray concrete veranda. I still remember the bathroom, the barred window like a small sadistic ornament  through which the drivers of the 8B bus could be seen, drinking strong tea and spitting paan juice like macabre avant-garde painters.

I saw men wilt and shrivel like sad dried flowers, betrayed by a politics they did not choose, by a patriarchy which hung loosely like an ill fitting dhoti. In the women’s faces, I saw a thousand resentments (like the faces of prisoners in solitary confinement, who envy the crowded regimentation of those still locked up, but yet more free).

And after the slow afternoon tea, the sweets bought specially, the women’s talk (so often described as gossip) soared into the sudden, coming dusk. My world was always one of communicative women, harsh-voiced or sweet, and silent men appearing like fullstops at the end of hurried sentences.

Dida = Grandmother, colloquial.

Paan = preparation with betel leaf and nut, delicious and addictive! produces a red spit.

Dhoti = men’s lower garment in traditional Bengal. More formal than a Lungi.