Chimeras of Freedom
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” (~ Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 1968)
“Hoosh dao; hoosh dao” was supposedly my plaintive cry every day when I was three or four and I fell in love with soup (but couldn’t pronounce the word). The “hoosh” sound, apparently was of me blowing on the hot soup, which I associated with the food. Language development for toddlers are full of signifiers.
There’s a blurry Kodak Brownie snapshot of me in my eldest aunt’s (Boromashi) arms, while my mother and her youngest sister, my Chotomashi (youngest aunt) look on at a windswept Gopalpur beach in modern-day Odisha, on the eastern edges of India. The beaches overlooked the Bay of Bengal where the horizon hurtled into the Indian Ocean to the south. Back in the day, it was a pristine beach about 70 miles south of the more popular destination, Puri. The local fishermen (nuliyas) earned some rupees from the city travelers who didn’t know how to swim by carrying them physically into the waves and back. As with so much of India, there’s an opportunity to earn a buck at every twist.
What I'm going to say might seem naive. However, I felt it viscerally and genuinely when I came across the article yesterday as I was trying to grasp the reality of the Webb telescope seeing galaxies 13 billion years ago. 13 billion, folks. I have NO conception what that even means.
And then the man who led the teams to fix the telescope. A black man, in a U.S. that cannot even come to grips with its history of 150 years ago. An older black man who not only is an engineer with NASA but also one with special skills. And being named along with one of our civilization's greatest achievements ----to see at the edges of the universe.
This is the country I came to in 1971. A country where the impossible was possible. Where it didn't matter where you came from. You needed some assists but you cannot be denied. I had started to doubt that recently. Was it possible to bear the reality of calculated evil of a Trump and his cronies, a spineless GOP, hatred of people of color from every part of the globe except Europe or North America? Of police shootings that are so disproportionate by race?
The answer I can give today is YES. It's possible to hold the dual and even multiple realities in my head, and acknowledge that I will focus on what I consider the best, the compassionate, the caring of humanity. Evil exists but so does love.
And yesterday, also, a daughter of Mexican immigrants, born and brought up in the US became the 24th Poet Laureate. Ada Limón writes:
"Look, we are not unspectacular things. We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No."
From reader Annie Hartnett, Austin, Texas
The July 2022 issue of Monograph published two of my essays and said:
“We also have two essays from the brilliant Amit Shah, a retired publishing executive currently living in Somerville, Massachusetts. The essays, excerpts from his wonderful book 'Instincts of Beauty', are small autobiographical glimpses into his life in India. Beautifully crafted, his writing deserves to be read and re-read. It is, again, by all means, some of the best writing Monograph has ever seen.”
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The writings of Amit Shah are brilliant, insightful, and universal. I hang on his every word. They take me back to a better America where all of us at least had a fighting chance.