Toba Tek Singh
I’m Toba Tek Singh caught in the partition of myself between America and India, my upper half in the country I have voluntarily exiled myself to, while my lower half, sunk deep in the rich loamy soil, slakes with every passing year because in a corner of my brightly lit kitchen brass, silver and sandalwood statues of baby Krishna, Laxmi and Ganesh sit dusty in their miniature wooden mandaps, and silk, cotton and chiffon sarees in hues of peacock blue, vermilion and emerald green, neatly folded in rectangles, rest in cotton boxes, and my wedding gold — earrings, necklaces, bangles and mangalsutras — sits dull and inert in a red velvet pouch, because I wear skins of Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic that dominate my closet, and when I read Manto, I lose his essence in the English translation, so I read Premchand in vernacular but can’t decipher phrases and words and get lost in the regional complexities that slip from my linguistic memory while my epicurean senses search for firm mangoes, tender coconuts, green guavas and bitter melons because continents separate me from the sensory overload of crowded, smog-filled streets where buses, rickshaws, cars and motorbikes drive recklessly, roadside vendors sell food, clothes, vegetables, fruit and cheap plastic goods, and pedestrians and cows don’t follow traffic rules and when I miss the ordered chaos of the cities I left behind, I appreciate the wide three-lane streets and four-way stops and roundabouts of my American suburb, where neighbors’ cars are parked in their driveways and garages are filled with used furniture and lawn equipment, refrigerators and exercise machines, because there is so much space here but I sometimes miss the intimacy of the one bedroom-living room-kitchen house with the sunny balcony and the twenty-one narrow stairs it took to climb up to the second floor of the house that my father built, the first floor rented out like so many other homes on our street, where I grew up with neighborhood aunties watching over me while my parents went to work and who, sitting on three-legged stools and rickety chairs on their balconies, taught me to cross-stitch and knit, skills I am slowly forgetting and have no patience for in this new land where it is cheaper to buy ready-made than hand-made, which is why the bedsheets I embroidered for my trousseau lay forgotten on a shelf in my closet while I shop for five-hundred-thread-count cotton sheets and pillows and have learnt words like box springs, shams and dust ruffles, but every evening as I cook dinner with my Hawkins pressure cooker and roll rotis and puff them up on the blue flame of my GE burner, the whistle of the pressure cooker and the sharp pungent aroma of the mustard seed-asafetida tempering pulls my feet towards desh, my homeland, my parents, my siblings, while my heart resides in my adopted country, my family, my friends, and Toba Tek Singh is where I am.
Jaya Wagle is a former Indian expat, current US citizen. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Rumpus, Hobart, Little Fiction, Big Truths, The Write Launch, Litro, THAT Literary Review and elsewhere. She has an MA in Creative Non-fiction from the University of North Texas where she is now an adjunct professor of World Lit and Developmental Writing. She lives in Fort Worth with her husband and thirteen-year-old son.
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