Punjabi Girl, won’t you dance with me? :
A brief introduction.
“Was hoping this very hand-made, awkward, gold droppings on the textual
pattern might work with yr thoughts, or what I thought your thoughts
might be given our previous…”
Previous, I had a question about desire and writing. I wanted to work it out here, in the essay preceding selection.
Selecting for the basic pleasure of opening a document too big to see, gold spots and red ink filling the screen, I created two cell communities, one of which was heavily dependent on a shared membrane, and one which wasn’t. The first community was composed of writers who had at one time lived or were still living in London/its environs. These writers were Deborah Richards, Caroline Bergvall, Chris Abani, and Elena Georgiou. The second community was a bunch of coffee-drinking, beer-swilling yanks. I only wrote that in case someone who knew me in England reads this by chance, browsing for the latest trends in contemporary poetry and narrative function. Hello guys! It’s me, Bhanu! Can you believe it?
Okay, back to the intro. I was born in England, where I ate meat sandwiches at regular intervals. As a young woman, and before that, a child, I never imagined what the force of leaving a place would do. The permission a person could give itself, to desire certain things, to write multiple things, as quietly altered in the deep of your body, as with a dormant construction of any kind. Reading is like sleeping. Cell community 1: all of these writers are immigrants/re-immigrants with British roots of one sort or another - - Nigerian, Caribbean, Norwegian, French, Cypriot – and are the only writers I’ve met in this country who are: a bit like this, though they vary widely in their sense of the UK as an operative home. Chris Abani, for example, “trans-national mongrel” extraordinaire, is a well-established Los Angeles novelist/poet who gets up to dance in cafes. Deborah Richards lived in Philadelphia, then went home. When she left, I felt the weird suction gap of something missing from a culture that was still forming. Elena Georgiou: I’m so interested even just thinking about her, about the emigrant whose parents, in turn, emigrated, in reverse, bringing up the questions of home and directionality; the slipperiness of the earth’s crust. Caroline Bergvall, for example, moves fluidly between different spheres, and is slightly beyond my imagination. All I can say is that listening to and reading the work of these four writers, I felt a recognition. It was a weird feeling of desire to hear more, to keep listening, that made no sense when I took it apart, as there was nothing in their diverse application of genre or form to suggest a connective membrane.
The second cell community marked the six months or so since Christian Peet asked me to guest-edit an issue of Tarpaulin Sky. Here, I wanted to track the writers who, when we met or separated, engendered in me the feeling of writing. This was a mysterious community to me in many ways, in its variance between weak/casual and intense/valuable contacts. My only requirement was that, in their company, or after a delay, I could write again. I wanted to work out if it was the work that did this, or the writer, the writer’s body.
In this Punjabi edition of Tarpaulin Sky, the imaginal communities are merged. I was less interested in hybrid form than in the context that makes experimental works possible. Environmental, textured in different ways, blank/forthcoming, lovely, rejected, body-centered/no body: these writings represent a world that’s both limited and possessed of a freedom that I never knew was possible. That (not understanding your freedom until it almost too late to do something about it) is the whole entire problem with being a Punjabi woman who does not live in Queens, or Hounslow. In fact, I would like to formally dedicate this issue to Punjabis in general, with the hope that they might read something in this magazine and: a) feel happy; b) write something new. Are you a Punjabi? Would you like to become an honorary one? Traditionally, a Punjabi is that national or regional animal who has become subtly or in its entirety loosened from the domain that propagated it. Here’s a quick test:
1. If you drive a car, do you commonly balance your mug of tea on the dashboard due to having lost your travel mug somewhere in the boot?
2. Have you ever climbed onto your roof with a boom-box, a bunch of Nusrat Fateh Ali quawaali tapes, and a bowl of Ben and Jerry’s? Did you hang out up there to the very end of the summer evening, waiting for something amazing to happen, and it did?
3. Do you fantasize about winning the Man Booker prize with a novel resembling The English Patient but set in Southall, Middlesex, in 1982?
4. At Indian restaurant lunch buffets, are you, despite your allergy to gluten-rich foods, unable to prevent yourself from stuffing naan down your gullet as fast as they can bring it out, in unlimited amounts, in the oval-shaped bamboo basket?
5. Despite the events of the last five years, are you an unreasonably optimistic person with an unshakeable sense of your own virtue?
6. Whether or not you own a dog or cat, do you find it difficult to extend affection to domestic animals in the way that other people seem to?
7. Growing up, was there a matchstick replica of The Golden Temple on your mantelpiece?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, congratulations, you are officially a Punjabi. Please start reading.
Bhanu Kapil is a writer who writes out of non-existence. In India, she does not exist, but by the time you are reading this, she'll be home, in the familiar routine of breaking the heart of the dog and the cat, who need their kibble, whereas in India these animals have the status of rats. Thus, in ordinary life, at home, BK teaches writing at Naropa University and Goddard College. This writing, this book that becomes possible, with others, is her life's work. A British-Punjabi girl by origin, BK now lives in Colorado, on a street with cartoonists, homeopaths, acupuncturists, wolf-trackers, psychotherapists, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, home-schooling mothers, book-store clerks, and many, many children and babies, dogs, and cats.