Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Regarding Our Complicity! Part I

The issue of complicity often comes up when the US engages or allows its imperial outposts to engage, directly or indirectly, in violence. That could be when the US invades other countries or carries out long distance attacks, killing civilians, destroying infrastructure. But also when the US sends a green light to its partners who help her maintain political and economic hegemony to indulge in similar behavior. The simplest reason is that the US is often mistaken by its residents as a democracy, only. It does have a democratic make-up, but besides being a superpower, it's also an empire and for that logical reason alone, its mainstream media turns itself into an extended arm of the US foreign policy. Look no further than the lies made up by the neocons, our political and military ruling elite before we invaded Iraq. If it weren't for the extra efforts made by New York Times, Fox and CNN among other conservative and neoliberal media outlets and their foot soldiers to create a prowar consensus and/or neutralize a popular antiwar movement, we might not have the blood of millions of innocent Iraqis staining our fangs. Journalists had already looked at how outlets like PBS/KQED (pseudo public broadcasting enterprise) would have on their talk shows two conversative Republicans and one or two conservative Democrats to present a fair and politically balanced set up. And people were more than happy to be fooled. The charade of fair journalism has continued to work, albeit with destructive consequences for the global south and other disadvantaged people, not to mention our bruised, angry Mother Earth.
   Continuing with a similar tactic, recently, Fox network's intellectually infirm Sean Hannity had on his show Cornel West and Alan Dershowitz discussing the tragic loss of men, women and children at the beginning of the new cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the occupier and the occupied, while the host playing clearly on the side of the occupier and missing the point that victims are seldom passive, who can and will strike back and commit acts of violence, too, a la Nat Turner, to cite one example from the page of African American history. Many readers of the world history would, or should, know the watershed event often described by two names: 1857 War of Independence and Rebellion of 1857, depending on the points of view of the colonialists and the colonized. The uprising against the British was brutally crushed, but before that the natives, too, committed acts of brutality towards the British, including women and children. The great of poet of the time and resident of Delhi, Ghalib mourns and condemns as such in his letters. To assume that the colonized/occupied/brutalized will not retaliate or strike back or commit murder of civilian population stems from our racist tendencies to view the defeated as incapable of fighting or writing back.
   Now back to the pairing of Mr. West and Mr. Dershowitz. Both are religious, to begin with, but fair enough since they represent two opposing poles of American political landscape. Now, both academics, but Mr. Dershowitz has been accused of plagiarism by Norman Finkelstein in a very well-known encounter on Democracy Now. You can watch the entire exchange here.
Scholar Norman Finkelstein Calls Professor Alan Dershowitz’s New Book On Israel a “Hoax”
   Let's backtrack a bit. Norman Finkelstein had discovered after a thorough reading of Joan Peter's book
From Time Immemorial
that the book was a hoax. In a very informative article, Prof. Chomsky writes about it here:
The Fate of an Honest Intellectual The Chomsky article is also informative in that it fleshes the complicity of our academic culture with regards to perpetuating lies surrounding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. So, the question arises why Fox and Sean Hannity would invite a plagiarist!? For a simple reason, perhaps? Because he, the network, the system are complicit in the suffering and dispossession of an indigenous people. Having a gullible citizenry also helps.
   Mainstream media outlets are business enterprises and one can understand their moral bankruptcy. Now let's turn our attention to an institution that's revered by many, partly for itsnon-profit posture. Our public libraries! San Francisco Public Library carries 3 copies of Joan Peters From Time Immemorial, unanimously seen as a hoax. One copy for the record's sake would've sufficed. Worldcat database shows over 1500 holdings across the US and beyond. Only one copy in SFPL of Norman Finkelstein's book Image and reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, which debunks the book by Peters. Worldcat shows arout 870 copies. Now look at the book that was plagiarized from a hoax: The Case of Israel by Dershowitz. SFPL has 3 copies, not including 1 copy for Large Print, whereas 1 would've sufficed, alas, for record's sake. Worldcat shows at least 1500. Many of the holdings are by academic libraries. Now let's turn out attention to a wonderful service most public libraries offer, Link+, serving public library users in California and, I believe, parts of Nevada. Peter's book: 15 copies. Finkelstein's book: 5 copies. Dershowitz's book: 30 copies.

What do you think?

Peace and justice!

Monday, August 21, 2023

Spanish Memories

 In August 2023, my wife, our two sons and I braved a two-week trip to Spain - Madrid to Seville to Granada to Barcelona to Madrid again - under the average temperature of 100-degree heatwave, which we survived. The excitement of being in Spain so rich in history worked as the invisible umbrella over our heads. For me personally, it's hard to pick a favorite, but if I were given a chance to go and live there, I'd choose Madrid and it's hard to explain why I say that. Whenever I travel, I'm always more drawn to speaking with people I meet whether they are travelers like me or native. A few interactions stood out. On our second day in Madrid, we ended up in a Pakistani restaurant near Gran Via. The food was good, but the most surprising part was to find the cook speaking to us in fluent Punjabi, but when I enquired what part of the Punjab he hailed from, his reply left me speechless: Nepal, I'm from Nepal. He blamed it on the people he'd been working with for several years. 

Another hilarious moment presented itself when we went to a Pakistani restaurant in Barcelona where the waiter/owner tried to dissuade us from drinking tap water instead of the bottled one they sold. He said he would, and did bring us, tap water but added that he wouldn't drink it himself because Barcelona water was bad and would give your tummy a run for its money, adding that the reason being that the tap water came from the beach where all kinds of people swam. I freely drank tap water in Spain though being addicted to San Francisco water (courtesy of Hetch Hetchy reservoir) doesn't help and I was fine. 

One fine interaction occurred when my younger son and I went into a cafe where I engaged a young barista in a light conversation. I forget her name as I write this but she was a native of Madrid and though she had traveled to the South, she had never been to places such as Seville, Cordoba or Granada, so she was obviously very envious. She shared with us that most young Spaniards live with parents for extended period of time because the wages in several sectors are low. Once she heard we were visiting from San Francisco, she couldn't control her excitement and probably that's why she made an excellent single espresso, something which, sadly, most cafes in San Francisco can't crank out anymore. (Just today I ordered a single espresso at Earth's Cafe on Geary St. and got a loaded triple, but café owner insisted it was a single. Sigh! I drank one-third and left.)

In Barcelona, we met a group of very charming young Italian women (either late teens or early 20s), at the tail end of our visit to Sagrada Familia. Due to heat and a lot of walking, everybody was tired. The young women were sitting next to me and trying to take a selfie when I injected my presence into their life and offered to take their picture. In turn they took ours. And I began talking to one of them, the leader type. They were from Rome and all into foreign languages, and since then we have exchange a few emails. I asked the leader - Serena is her name - to share with me their favorite Italian writers and here's what she wrote back: 
After talking with the girls, we've agreed on some Italian authors who stole our hearts and whose works you might appreciate.
   We especially recommend Umberto Eco (his mystery book "The Name of the Rose" was a quite complex read but definitely worthy of mention), Italo Calvino (you might know who recommended this one), Luigi Pirandello (I personally find his philosophical reflections on the concept of identity quite brilliant, especially in "One, No One and One Hundred Thousand").
   Cesare Pavese, Michela Murgia and Marco Balzano are very interesting as well.
   We tried to be a bit general but if you're looking for something more specific, you might ask with no worries!
   Here's the picture you kindly took of us at the Sagrada Familia, we'd be happy to be in your blog!(As for our names, from left to right: Elisa, Chiara, Elisa, Sonia, Serena and Federica).

Needless to say, I plan on reading most of their recommendations. I have already placed a hold on One, No One and One Hundred Thousand, a novel by Luigi Pirandello. The women were amused when I told them that my eldest had studied Italian for three years at his high school.

As we completed our circle around the Iberian Peninsula and found ourselves staying at a hotel situated at the southern edge of Retiro Park, just a couple of blocks away from the great Atocha station, I walked into a small, independent bookstore, displaying both new and old books. By then, I had learned to begin every conversation with hola, habla español? and Oskar, who manned the cash register in Re-Read Libreria Lowcost, and I had a one of the loveliest conversations I have had in a very long time about books and Madrid and the US. I then told him that I would like to give my novella, A Footbridge to Hell Called Love to him/his store as a gift. Touched, he said he was deeply honored by my gesture. I said that was the least I could do to repay the kindness Madrid had showed me and my family, even when people saw me and my younger one playing baseball in the early hours at Retiro Park (by the way, we might have set a record by playing baseball in Madrid, Seville and Barcelona) and brought back our wayward throws or told their dogs to get out of the harm's way. I insisted on purchasing a book from his lovely store as a parting gesture and paid a small amount for Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men for my eldest son to read. Oskar explained the story behind Me Vuelves Lorca which was printed on the bookmark. Before saying my final goodbye, I asked Oskar to share a few of his favorite Spanish authors and he so very kindly wrote them down on a piece of paper. He highly stressed Patria by Aramburu, which I look forward laying my hands on. Gracias, 
Señor Oskar!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Let Me Touch Your Mind: an interview

The ever friendly and probing DJ Marilynn interviewed me on her radio show Let Me Touch Your Mind. It was brief, but she allowed the conversation to go beyond the issues contained in my novella, sort of the political mise en scene of A Footbridge to Hell Called Love. 

You can listen in here: 

Before I left to meet Marilynn at KPOO, the radio station on Divisadero, I had written a handful of notes, words and phrases that would describe the novella, but our conversation went in a different direction. I'd like to take this moment share them here with you. 

FHCL is a love letter to San Francisco - perhaps a certain kind of San Francisco. But it's also a critique and/or protest as well - a probe into the city's self-absorbed, narcissistic image as being liberal and/or progressive without questioning its silences. The narrative of FHCL may read as if it's only a love story or a story about a man in search for love, yet beneath that layer exist spaces which are political, spaces which, by and large, are not touched by American fiction. The novella also creates a road map to avoid falling into the habit of neo-orientalism, quite popular among South Asian American authors, by becoming a native informant - explaining the "complex" east, detailed India or Pakistan, as authentically, accurately, as possible with subconscious ease. 

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Words of warning after reading A Footbridge to Hell Called Love

From Lucy F., a published writer of creative nonfiction and a film and literature enthusiast, who's been living in San Francisco since 2010:

Moazzam Sheikh's novella, A Footbridge to Hell Called Love, is a rich read. The first part of the book describes a glorious time in San Francisco in the 1990s, when someone looking for cultural edification and lively conversation could wander the inner city and easily find like-minded souls looking for same – along with a side of sexual adventure.
  That first section of the book was a moment-by-moment recounting of a boisterous house party. The writing was similar to watching a hand-held camera following characters in and around a scene. The dialog part was colorful – to say the least! For me, it credibly reflected the quick banter of a very particular social set.
  For someone like me who didn't live in San Francisco during that era, I relished a glimpse of what I might have missed. Some pages in, though, I was relieved to be released from that opening party and move on.
  The second and third parts of the novella made more of an emotional impact on this reader. Once the action slowed down a bit, I could ease into the psychology of the protagonist, Aslam, and the other characters who made the cut. The changes in their lives that took place rather surprised me, which is a good thing.
  Thanks for letting us know about the novella, Moazzam, and good luck completing the rest of the series!

From a loving friend, retired librarian Bill Lynch, an avid reader

I just finished your novella A Footbridge…
I loved it. I was delayed a bit before I could start it (another library book with an earlier due date), but once I got into it, I basically couldn’t put it down.
The entire book from the energy and confusion of the initial 20-30 somethings party scene, and onto his temporary almost accidental relationship with Amelie, then to the Stephen Daedalus trek through SF with Shirin Ghobadi (a Persian Holly Golightly?) through making peace without ever forgetting Debbie and finally arriving at Aslam’s deeper, mature connection with Barbara that literally bears fruit both in their writing and their progeny. A portrait of the artist, indeed.
Your compelling story that resonates with me as I see myself in many of the scenes and situations. You subtitled it “San Francisco Quartet, Novella I”. I excited to see what comes next.

From a loving friend, Spanish artist Maria Alvarez, and my roommate from the time the novella draws its inspiration: 

I haven't told you how much I enjoyed reading your book. Sometimes [it] was even painful to confront such a lively and intense sense of recovery/memory from a shared past there in San Francisco. Thank you so much for bringing it back. I love your writing. I love you!!!

From historian and anthropologist Karen Leonard:

I got it and have read it. A shift in South Asian American writing? To
multicultural American writing? It’s about a young man’s shift from a
preoccupation with sex to a preoccupation with love, and in San Francisco’s
youngish literary set, which I can only assume is realistically portrayed.
Not sure what is South Asian about it, and maybe that’s the shift, to a
broader entangled identity.

From a true San Franciscan, poet Lynne Barnes, the author of Falling into Flowers the author: 

congrats again on the new book . . . so steeped in SF . . . such fascinating characters… glad there is more ahead . . . 

disclaimer: Lynne Barnes and I met for coffee where I answered several questions she had about the book and the process behind writing the novella. Most satisfying conversation with a fellow writer ! 

From the brilliant author of Bright Parallel and Kala Pani, poet Monica Mody:

Sharing some quick thoughts:
First of all there is some lovely language here.

"their mouths turning into tropical caves"!
"voice splintered into tufts of dust"!

I wasn't initially sure what to make of the insight we are given into guy-mind, but then Aslam's character deepened into a sensitivity, self-awareness, and awareness of others beyond melancholic filters. Good for him! I am curious how he will continue to grow, and curious about the narrative development as we move through the series.

What an amazing sketch of SF in three movements. I have to say the party in the first movement reminded me a lot of parties in Delhi in the early 2000s. How interesting that young artists everywhere have the same patterns when they come together.

So glad Barb and Aslam refused to turn middle class. Finally, a beautiful ending. That last line!

From librarian, branch manager Doreen Horstin:

A short exchange

   I really enjoyed reading it! The book captured so well the San Francisco social scene, the parties, the coffee dates, and the chance meetings that can lead to so many things. The party scene was almost cringe-inducing, and yet so familiar! The various characters were spot on! And I loved the air of romantic possibility that was lurking throughout.
   I send a big round of applause to you both, for the writing, the proofing, the editing, and the fantastic cover art. Well done, and I look forward to the next one!

Thank you for taking the time to read the book so thoughtfully. It was a risky endeavor to write such a book where almost every character is a composite of so many people I have known for the last 35+ years of my life in SF. One wrong move and I could've upset someone. I had to tread where angels wouldn't dare, so to speak. This book would not have been what it is now without Amna's help, with language and tone and other errors of judgement I'm prone to make.
   With your permission, may I share your comments with others on my blog?
p.s. we're working on the second volume currently.

Yes, you can share my comments. Even though I don't know your friends (or maybe I do, SF is a small town), I also had moments of recognition! You really captured the characters in this town. Bravo!

From the author of After, a multi-faceted (re)telling of Ramayana, poet Vivek Narayanan:

In its ambition to provide a smoky, ineffable but thoroughly authentic taste of an era, of a scene (San Francisco in the 90s) with all its complications, self-importance, ironies and little delights, in the midst of gently encountering difference and other beings, its prose a delightfully heady cocktail of lightness and depth, Moazzam Sheikh's new novel instantly recalls other such serious and sublime trifles: Isherwood's Berlin and Pinckney's Berlin, Linklater's Austin in Slacker, Bolano's Mexico City. And Sheikh's prose, moreover, is also shot through with the melancholic, longing notes of a certain mode of South Asian poetics, and of fiction writers like Naiyer Masud and Nirmal Verma, making him a truly hybrid original American writer unlike any I know of. Mischievous, political, brimming with minutiae and the transitory, A Footbridge to Hell Called Love ultimately gathers up a true time-haunted power in its short one hundred pages, a novel as much about friendship and our undying obligations to each other as it is about love.


From future historian based at Princeton Meher Ali:

Dear Moazzam mus,

Greetings from Bombay! It's hot and muggy here but I'm eating delicious food and having the best time.

I wanted to write as I finally had the chance to read your novella this last weekend. I devoured it in one sitting on the flight from Kolkata to Mumbai and felt a stab of panic when I reached the end — I was totally hooked and unprepared to leave the story so suddenly. But then I remembered this is only the first of a quartet (is that correct?) and felt relieved. When will we get to read the next one?

I just think the character of Aslam was so finely drawn — he was infuriating and exasperating but I found myself strangely attached to him. I felt all his loneliness and his joy (and when he starts secretly meeting Debbie behind Barbara's back, I wanted to jump inside the pages and yell at him). You created a whole world inside his head — and amidst all the insecurities and anxieties and uncomfortable fixations that existed there (around women, sex, intellectual posturing, class difference, etc etc), there was this wonderful core of perceptiveness and vulnerability and humor. It kind of snuck up on me how genuinely funny Aslam is — and how he's kind of laughing at the world even as it bewilders and overwhelms him. I laughed out loud more than once on the plane. There were so many lines I loved — noted down a few favorites, which I'm just copying below.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you how much I loved the book and am really looking forward to reading more.

With love,
- Mehru
"Eddie's eyes narrowed as if they were protecting a pleasurable memory."
"he suspected it could have been a man she followed only to either lose him to the fog or let go once she found her own footing on a rare bright day."
"If they had a conversation, its memory, he was sure, would flap its wings through the forest of their private thoughts for a long time as they'd just touched the wings of a dream."
"..it was not healthy to carry another person's grave in the heart. The heart was not a tomb."
"Suffocating thoughts swirled around in his head...revealing to him how the monster of unpredictability hovered so close to ones world..."
"But what if the ending didn't give a fuck?"

From a lover of literature and cineaste friend Francis Downing:


Just finished your novel and much enjoyed it. Path dependency, private inner life and the unpredictability agency of others. Some nice turns of phrase and observations. Reminded me of Kierkegaard’s “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

From San Francisco based playwritght Mira Pasikov:

It was great to be able to read your fine complex novel. Please let Amna know how much I like her cover.

From poet Joseph Mihelarakis:

I was able to pick up your book the other day and read it for a second time, a bit at home and the rest on a plane trip to Boston.
So l guess you could say it’s so good l read it twice! And l am glad l did. Aslam is quite the character and l found myself thinking about him when not reading the book. I think that’s good.
   There is a time in most of our lives when we live almost exclusively for our lovers and friends. This is depicted beautifully as Aslam progresses along the path of love with Amelie, Barbara, Debbie. Along with a memorable interlude with Shirin. Other characters in his shifting friend group also held my interest. I wonder if l will ever find out whatever really happened to the bath-fearing David?
   But ultimately it was Aslam who held my attention. Socially principled yet sometimes a literary snob, self-aware yet impulsive, calculating yet ultimately simple in his desire to love and be loved. And funny! He made me laugh a lot.

   I look forward to the second novella!

From novelist John Goins:

I finished your novella, and enjoyed it very much! I'm looking forward to discussing it with you when we meet, and might email you a few thoughts that I have about it before then, if you don't mind. I'm also looking forward to book two of the quartet, which I hope will be coming soon.

   Very, very good writing, old friend!

From novelist Elizabeth McKenzie

I really enjoyed it, and was impressed.

From librarian Marina Bacchetti

Just finished reading A Footbridge to Hell Called Love. Very SF bohemian. Humorous and thought-provoking. It took me a bit to get into it at first but then it quickly drew in me wanting to find out how it all was going turn out for Aslam, Barbara and Debbie. Now the burning question is: when will novella #2 be published?

Monday, April 10, 2023

Between violets and violence!


I must confess I'm a fan of Korean fiction. It began with a chance encounter with Yi Munyol's Our Twisted Hero many years ago. A blurb by Rushdie, too, might have played a role. Last year it was The Old Woman With a Knife by Pyŏng-mo Ku, probably a recommendation by a fellow writer. Although I can't recall the person but it was again a writer friend gloating over the title that I picked up another well-written novel Violets by Kyong-sook Shin. 

It's a story of what may happen to one as a grown up when one has encountered abandonment by one's parents. To make matters worse, a sort of rejection by a close friend can add fuel to the fire, innocent/nascent sexual attraction notwithstanding. Each person will react to such an accumulation of deeply embedded sorrows differently because of each personality is different. Still, the wounds of abandonment, especially by the parents, have the power to make one feel unworthy of love and care. In a delicate show of such behavior, San, as a young woman now, refuses whenever she's offered good food because of its association with the special dishes San's mother would make before her periodic and then final disappearances. 

As San leaves her childhood and village behind, she finds some solace at a flower shop owned by a kind man, who is mute but can hear and scribble his conversation. She also forms friendship with her coworker who is able to lift her spirits due to her natural sprightly demeanor and similar history of abandonment. San tries to have a good time here and there and makes an attempt to come out of her deeply ingrained moroseness. Even though her anger and a sense of unforgiveness towards her mother persist, despite the older woman's pleas to reconnect as she suffers from deteriorating health, San takes the ultimate plunge to allow men into her life. There are setbacks, non-acknowledgment, refusal, a scary encounter with a motorbike cop, a figure one is supposed to trust, and though she appears to survive those, one wrong move on her part crushes her soul and body. After the man who she thinks is attracted to her does not remember her, she calls another acquaintance who she doesn't care for much - but it's too late. The man, feeling insulted by her change of mind, manages to overpower her. He is able to drag her to a room because of the inequality in their physical strength where he violently rapes her. The final pages of the novel assure the reader that San is not dead but has only disappeared, left the flower shop, faded from the story. That assurance is needed because San, post-rape, reaches a construction site where she willfully bruises her body by banging into a huge machine. 

Despite being a very well written novel, it errs in suggesting a logical connection between unloved, abandoned childhood and becoming a prey to male violence. That somehow the scars of San's childhood stunted her ability to sense danger, and in doing so, the novel shirks from looking at the issue (and nature) of sexual violence. It is common sense to assume that even if San had grown up with loving parents, with all the gadgets of comfort provided, she still could have found herself in the wrong place, at the wrong time. In other words, she could still be one more victim of sexual violence or rape. 

And, on a slightly different note, although the narrator assures her reader that San, like many others like her, live and survive, Kyong-sook Shin's literary choice to push San off the page further consolidates her error. Perhaps I use the word error reluctantly. It is a complex novel and in complex novels, authors of higher stature take risks. Their choices are their risks and sometimes a risky choice will, for one particular reader such as me, have a reflection of an error. Those reflections, sometimes, make a novel even more layered. This is one such novel!

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Tiny Stone, Bigger Ripple or the Weight of a Minor Incident

Street parking where I live is cruel and the sight of a car carelessly or inconsiderately parked makes me upset sometimes. Sometimes it's not a big deal because one can spot  and claim empty spots. Certain times are bad. That's how the minor incident unfolded. After having dropped my son off at school, coming back, crossing Mission Street, going east on10th, I turned right on a neighborhood alley. As I neared the 12th Street, I noticed, with frustration, a white car parked wasting space behind and front. I was about to lift my foot off the break and move on when I noticed a man approaching the white car. I hoped he would be leaving. He reached car, opened the back trunk and fished out what looked like architectural sheets (there's a lot of construction going on around my neighborhood). So reversing my car by a few feet, thinking, ah, godsend, an angel, I ask him politely if he could either move his car a bit forward or backwards, so a space could be made for another car. He acknowledges me before giving me the most bogus answers anyone could've come up with. Here, I'm thinking, here's an educated-looking man, perhaps an architect, or a draftsman, even electrical engineer, someone with a civic and rational sense, and probably with a bit of respect for someone his father's age, but no, none of that seemed to be part of the equation, his moral education. First he says, there's a yellow line and that he doesn't want to get a ticket. I tell him it's fine as I know there's yellow in patches and is not enforced. I park here almost everyday, I tell him, and add, that the little stretch from the garage to the end of the street accommodates three cars. They way you have parked is wasting a space someone could've used. No, nothing doing. He apologizes, Sorry, man! and excuses himself, closes the back trunk of his car. As he walked away, I felt angry and couldn't resist calling him an idiot. Thank you, he replies as he walks away. I drive to a whole different part of the neighborhood and finally park my car. On my way back, I leave a note on his windshield: That was a very selfish behavior! 

I said to myself, Not the first time and not the last time. By the the time I got home, or when left for work later, I'd hoped to put the incident behind me. 

One could say the world is what it is or has always been. A little worse or a little better. At a given moment in time. On a given day. One could agree. One could disagree and move on. No need to waste emotional energy on a minor incident. On a fairly normal day, one might run into a nice person and perhaps one will remember the kindness of the stranger or forget it since memory, especially human memory, has been known to fade from time to time. On the other hand, one might run into an obnoxious person, have one's day spoiled, feel sorry for both. By the time one hits the sack, the obnoxious person has been left behind obscured by the day's dust clouds. The next sunrise brings a new start, love of family, strength of friends, empathy of coworkers, neighbors, pleasure of books, music, emails, phone calls, coffee, food, walks. Remember, I'm talking about incidents of minor nature, not something that's serious, life threatening, spirit breaking. 

Minor incidents, too, strangely, occasionally, have the power to expose their full weight and flex their intimidating muscles.

The anger I'd felt towards that uncaring person wasn't fizzling. I wasn't sure how to process my anger, but I took a couple of photographs and further realized how bogus his answers were because his car was already on a yellow zone (the zone is not enforces here and it's broken and choppy). If he had moved the car forward to the end line, his car would've been a little less on yellow. I couldn't help thinking about the motives of his callousness. Was he confused? Did he act on a racist impulse? Was it arrogance (which often comes from being educated, with a degree from a good college)? Was it callousness/selfishness courtesy of American-style capitalism? 

With all those questions sloshing around my head, I realize we're living in a very sensitive time. The level of distrust is high and so is the feeling of otherness. That doesn't mean that kindness and caring has totally gone out the window, but an individual's sense of safety and belonging has worn thin. If that unfortunate man had simply moved his car, that would've gone a long way in making me feel that he and I were part of the same society and part of the process of repairing the broken system. In times of stress and distrust, it is imperative that we act with kindness towards others. As I write this, I'm trying to forgive that person and forget the incident. But I know it won't be easy as every time I walk past that spot of our minor confrontation, I'm reminded of his selfishness! 

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Three days of almost bliss in Seattle for AWP!

I had gone to the AWP conference last year in Philadelphia and realized how exciting it was to be around other writers, to run into old friends and make a few new ones. Last year I was on a panel with other South Asian American Writers. I managed to attend a few interesting panels and spend time with friends, especially my old friend Vivek Narayanan. I was determined to visit AWP again in 2023 and so on March 8, I left San Francisco 5:45 AM to reach Seattle the same day and I did despite some nervousness towards the end as darkness and rain appeared all around.


I stayed with my wife Amna Ali's nephews in a nearby city of Redmond. 


Amna Ali was initially supposed to come along, but decided not to because she didn't feel right leaving our fairly confident 12-year-old boy home alone. That meant I had to sit at the Weavers Press table all by myself, all day long. I had friends at a nearby table though, wonderful folks running the combined space for Chicago Quarterly Review and Catamaran Review. But before I settled down, my neighbors on the right-hand side table Word Crafters in Eugene introduced themselves and offered to look after my table if I needed food or bathroom break. It started slow making me wondered if the rest of the day and the days after that were going to be as boring. 


The game changed the moment Syed Afzal Haider showed up with his wife Janice. I cheered up. Soon after my friend Elizabeth McKenzie and her husband Steve had arrived too, assisting CQR and Catamaran, waving hellos at me. Just when I thought I'd faint of hunger, Janice showed up with pizza and insisted that I eat half of the pie. Godsend! As my body regained energy, a nonstop stream of fellow writers kept pouring in. Syed Afzal Haider accompanied me several times and we caught up on many personal and literary issues. Many young students of writing of South Asian background stopped by to chat, wondering about the motive behind having a press dedicated to publishing South Asian American writers. I had a wonderful time speaking with them. Vivek Narayanan showed up on Friday and spent many hours with me at the desk.


Writers from South Asian and other backgrounds made a stop to say hello. There were San Francisco and Bay Area folks and there were those whom I had either not met before face to face or had only met once or twice. I may not remember everyone who came by to hug or shake hands but the ones I remember include my old friend Cesar Love (poet), Maw Shein Win (poet), Heather Bourbeau (poet), Shadab Zeest Hashmi (poet), Zeina Hashem Beck (poet), Deema Shahabi (poet), Chris Cook (journalist/prose writer), Sarika Mehta (interpreter), who introduced me to her friend Allison deFreese (poet/translator), Tauheed Zaman (prose writer), Torsa Ghosal (fiction), Kathleen Wood (fiction), Rajika Bhandari (prose writer), Kate Jessica Raphael (mystery), Nawaaz Ahmed (fiction), Priya Subberwal (fiction), Mira Vijayann (fiction), and Christine Marie Lauder (fiction), who teaches at Habib University in Karachi. Then arrived Chaitali Sen (fiction), Oindrila Mukherjee (fiction), Faisal Mohyuddin (poet), Rooja Mohassessy (poet), Karla Heubner (fiction) and Douglas
Kearney (poet). It was nice to run into Kazim Ali (poet) and be introduced to Malvika Jolly (poet) at bar by Vivek and Faisal. 

The funniest moment, I believed, came when a man in his late thirties arrived at the desk and after a brief conversation, I asked him where he'd come from. When he replied Colombia, I overacted and exclaimed, From the land of Senor Marquez? While he smiled, nodded, I pretended to get and said, Can I touch your feet? I was honored to meet one of the sweetest poets I have ever met, Claudia Castro Luna, who was the WA State Poet Laureate (2018 - 2021) among other feathers in her cap. The high point came when Vivek and I noticed that Charles Johnson, whose Middle Passage I had recently finished (and Vivek being a big fan of his Oxherding Tale), had finally arrived at the Chicago Quarterly Review table. Vivek didn't mind parting with his magnum opus After for Mr. Johnson's pleasure who gladly accepted the book and quickly took our picture to text it to the distinguished Prof. Amritjit Singh, a common friend. I texted him and it seemed he never got our photo. I had briefly joked with a passerby, a man with an amazing handlebar mustache, on the first day. Two mornings later I spotted him outside a cafe near the Convention Center. He came to the table to buy a few titles and I told him I saw him working his magic on a woman. He corrected me that it was the other way around. It told him he should've thanked his mustache. 


It has taken me thirty plus years to start exploring North West when I took a trip to Portland by car, stopping along the way in small towns and big towns such as Ashland and Eugene. I have developed a small-time affection for a very small town called Weed. One of the three exits the town offers, there's a tiny espresso cubbyhole that I like to stop by while refueling. But on my way, I ended up taking a different exit and to my surprise found a young woman actually reading a book behind counter when not serving a customer. I asked for her permission before taking her picture for future generation who may not know the phenomenon of reading a book while at work instead of gawking at the phone.