Tarika Sankar

Notes that don’t belong in a research paper on Indo-Caribbean history

Tarika Sankar

 
 

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My mother’s sister told me that my great-grandfather was from Hyderabad. I was taken aback. India, so vague and distant, suddenly focused around this point on the map. (My dad doesn’t believe her. “How would he have made it from Hyderabad to Calcutta?”)

An older white man (he’s lived in India, so he knows a lot about it, of course) once looked at me and said I was probably from the South. “They tend to be smaller and darker.” It was the height of July in Washington, D.C, and I had spent the day hiding from the sun under a tent, teaching others about migration. 

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I moved to Miami, thinking I would be closer to sun, the Caribbean sea, the oil fields, and the answers. Now I resent every scrawny coconut lying on the grass outside my apartment. I think about the one my uncle placed in my hands, its round weight settling in my arms. When I had drained its cool cutting sweetness, he halved it with a machete, and I scraped out the chalky jelly flesh. When I see them cracked open on the sidewalk, I think about the animal that pawed inside its belly, looking for life. 

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I want to feel something when my grandmother dies. But what? I was never able to call her nani, the proper name for my mother’s mother. She was always just grandmafromtrinidad.

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You know I’m studying gender and the history of Indians in Trinidad, that kind of stuff.
My mom said I should have asked her some questions. But when she saw me and my sister after a decade of absence, she didn’t say anything. Just held my hand while her eyes filled with tears.
What do you do with that kind of love?
Can you put it in a footnote?

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Excerpts from an imagined interview with my grandmother:

Born in Siparia, south Trinidad: the localization of Indians to rural areas
Married at 14: patriarchal Brahmanic/Vedic ideals of purity and womanhood
Work, pain: gendered violence
Knowing how to write, just a little: lack of widespread secondary education prior to the “creolization” of culturally insular Indians

Archives visited: the body of the woman who gave birth to my mother, and my mother who gave birth to me

~

Grad school, 94 F:
for the first time in my life, I was the only person of color
in the classroom

They talked about this queer theory/Shakespeare scholar
kind of an outsider, not actually gay [BROWN]
probably only successful because she’s married to that [WHITE] guy

“controversial” [BROWN] “provocative” scholarship
all I can think is, nobody can say her name right, 
not even me, but I know how it’s supposed to sound
a shudder and a whisper that tinkles into song
my lips feel out the contours of the word, learning
Madhavi

~

Maybe if I went to Canada I would find what I’m looking for. In the twisted cartography of placelessness, the map would bend on itself until its Korea town touched the equator. “One Dance” would play in white marble temples and the roti shops would shutter against snowdrifts. A delicate origami map, where corners are surprises and folds make shapes they shouldn’t.  

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Are you out there? Cloistered in the stacks, sitting at scratched oak desks on chairs of cheap maroon felt? Living in a hundred-year-old apartment on the South Side, keeping out the cold from cracked windows? Missing the tang of curry when you heat the stove to make scrambled eggs? Hunched into a North Face, crossing the quad to an ivory-wrapped castle? Nodding when they ask if you are Indian, shaking your head when they start speaking Gujarati?   

I promise I will find you. One day I will see your name in a byline or a website or in between the covers of a novel. I will find you somewhere far away from the Caribbean sun, and you will tell me all about your grandmother. 


Tarika Sankar is a PhD student in English at University of Miami. She earned Bachelor's degrees in English and anthropology at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she helped create a student literary journal focused on social justice, identity and diversity. Her research interests include feminist critical theory, Asian diasporas in the Caribbean, and critical university studies. She was born in Washington, D.C.