“Hey, you’re not really mad at me,” I said, gently tugging on his curly chest hair, already graying and smelling so deliciously of him. “Look, look, that’s a smile coming out, I can see it, I can see it!” And, as if my very words cast a magical spell, his facial expression changed. From a puckered brow and a frown, my powers of alchemy brought light into his eyes and a smile broke into blossom on his lips.
He wasn’t mad at me; I could regain my sense of invulnerability, at least in the present moment. Sitting in his lap, I felt at ease, warm, loved, and, above all, safe. Maybe I could even talk him into taking me for a piggyback ride! He would stroll through our small apartment, his strong hands holding on firmly to my ankles, and I would delight in my newfound height, being on top of the world, literally and figuratively! I could gaze intimately at the patterns in the ceiling plaster; I could glory in the texture and feel of the upside-down tulip-shaped light fixture. I was above it all. From this vantage point, I was the monarch of our apartment and thus the whole world -what joy!
That was how it first came to my attention. My beloved hickory walking stick had been unceremoniously dumped in the brown river water, solely to satisfy adolescent curiosity. I don’t know which one of the ten-year-olds said it; nor did I know who actually did the deed. I only knew that my stick was fast disappearing in the swift current of the Trinity River, while I had the forced realization that, while it was a treasured possession – it figuratively represented my authority in the woods – I wasn’t going in after it. Nope. Bad choice. Current too swift, not a good swimmer, it’s just a stick. In that order.
It was the summer of 1973. A year after college graduation, I was making a life for myself on the gritty upper west side of Manhattan in a run-down tenement building occupied by a motley crew of hippies and disillusioned Columbia University graduates. My boyfriend Fred and I shared a fifth-floor walk-up at 105th Street and Columbus Avenue, adjacent to a building controlled by the local drug dealers. Each evening we were serenaded by salsa music emanating from the bodega just across the street, sometimes punctuated by the click, click, click of dominos accompanying excited comments from local Dominican and Puerto Rican players and onlookers.
The PS 52-school yard was completely enclosed with a ten-foot-high chain link fence topped off with barbed wire. Why the barbed wire, I’ll never know. The building and its grounds were a lot worse than some of our present-day work-release facilities. Aside from all that, it was one of the better places to play a good softball game. If we won the game, seven or eight of us would try to go home a little richer. With our game winnings in hand, we would go into the far corner of the schoolyard and shoot penny to nickel craps.
I would imagine I was about fifteen or sixteen at the time. Some old biddy who was being her nosey self, called the police to report the gambling activity. Either this harmless activity during the war years must have been unpatriotic, or perhaps the real New York gangsters were all in the armed services. And sure enough, this old-time paddy wagon backed up to the gate blocking our only exit.
I was born in India and given a name which originated at the time of Alexander the Great, who when reaching the Sindhu River with his armies, could not pronounce the word Sindhu because his language had no sound for the letter “s.” And so, Sindhu became Hindu. The name morphed to India during the British era when a classical education was highly prized. Yet where the classical Greek has the Iliad and the Odyssey, Vedic India has the longer epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana, texts which explain my first name. The origin of the word Aryan enters modern use after the linguisticlinkage by William Jones in his 1794 translation of the Indian Laws of Manu. Read more