Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kathmandu Post review of "House of Snow"

The Kathmandu Post's review of "House of Snow" says:

The book crisscrosses genres, straddles ages and dissolves the boundaries of nations and cultures to bring together those who are bonded by the common desire to talk about their Nepali experiences. Alongside the works by the gems of Nepali literature (Bhupi Sherchan, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, Lakshmiprasad Devkota, and Lil Bahadur Chettri) and popular Nepali authors writing in English (Manjushree Thapa, Sushma Joshi, Samrat Upadhyay) are the accounts of foreigners writing about the country. There is Michel Peissel with his story of Boris Lissanevitch, the Russian émigré who opened the first hotel in Nepal; an excerpt of Jon Krakauer’s bestselling  personal account about the 1996 Mount Everest disaster; and  Michael Palin with his trekking diaries.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Far Cry Zine

And if you are into science fiction, do order a copy of the Far Cry Zine, which just published my short story "Orange Peel."

Here's their website:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Emanations: 2+2=5

I was thrilled to receive in the mail a jumbo copy of Emanations!

 As an earthquake victim buried under rubble for half hour, 
with seventeen days in the hospital for various surgeries,
then four months on my back as I tried to get up, via physiotherapy,
then more months as I realized I needed pins in my ankle if I was to walk,
then full body anasthesia again to remove the implement in my broken arm,
and to insert pins into my right ankle, and then more post-op recovery, exercise, 
and physiotherapy... I was feeling exhausted. 
 I had had no access to any reading material other than Twitter,
and the books that my friends bought me, during all this time. This includes 
a tattered copy of world poetry
that belongs to Wayne Amtzis, and a book about a dog written by Jack London, 
which formerly belonged to Sara Shneiderman's 8 year-old son Sam, if I'm not mistaken. 
Both of these were excellent (the Chetan Bhagat and Jhumpa Lahiri bought
by other concerned friends I declined to read, because I don't read Bhagat or Lahiri.) 
So I was very thrilled to see a jumbo anthology by my bedside,
in which my story had not just been published, but also seem to have a number of other works
which kept me reading throughout the blackouted nights. This was a good sign.
So I hope you will get Emanations, a copy thereof,
because there is a lot there you won't find in mainstream journals. 
And I say this not just because I am on the board,
but also because I think you will genuinely like it. 

(End of crappy poem #78. The great thing about having a blog 
is that you can write things like this 
and none of your 12 followers will mind, or even notice.) 

Emanations' blog:

House of Snow: An anthology of the greatest writing from Nepal

Dear readers! Please do order a copy of "House of Snow," newly published by Head of Zeus in London this August. The anthology looks big and fat, and I'm sure there will be something there for everyone! You can also find my short story "After the Floods" in the anthology. All proceeds go to rebuild a school in Gorkha, one of the districts most affected by the 2015 earthquake.

Thank you for your support, and I look forward to hearing your feedback!! -- Sushma

Amazon says: 

HOUSE OF SNOW is the biggest, most comprehensive and most beautiful collection of writing about Nepal in print. It includes over 50 excerpts of fiction and non-fiction inspired by the breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural heritage of this fascinating country.
Here are explorers and mountaineers, poets and political journalists, national treasures and international stars such as Michael Palin and Jon Krakauer, Laxmi Prasad Devkota and ManjushreeThapa – all hand-picked by well-known authors and scholars of Nepali literature including Samrat Upadhyay, Michael Hutt, Isabella Tree and Thomas Bell. All profits from sales will be donated to charities providing relief from the 2015 earthquakes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Quake in Setopati

  • 936

A rain of bricks.
I thought somebody was hitting me from behind with bricks.
Surprise, anger. What the…! 
My instinct was to turn behind, to look, to react. But the earthquake gave me no time. Everything happened in the fraction of a second. The next thing I can remember, I had slid down the stairs midway to Mangal Hiti, and was lying pinned on the ground. A latticework of heavy pillars of wood and bricks, the debris of a temple that had collapsed behind me, pinned me down. It took me a while to register this thought: “This is real. This just happened.” This wasn’t fiction. This was the real deal, the apocalyptic accident of unimaginable horror that we think will lie safely within the pages of books and on the screens of the cinema, but never experience in real life. The incident I’d imagined would never happen to me—until it did.
I could raise my head a bit, and I could see the light through the small chinks and openings. I had just eaten my samosa and in my left hand I held a jelabi wrapped in paper wrapping—one of those absurdist details that bring home the irrelevance of human concerns when one is face-to-face with death. My left hand opened and I let go of the sweet—I knew I wouldn’t be eating it that day.
I put my head down again, and noticed the drip-drip-drip of blood from my mouth. The blood was dark red. I put my tongue against my tooth, and felt it shake. I had no idea, in that moment, what had hit me, and what had hit my country. As the cries of the people rose around me in eerie terror, it felt like an attack of some sort—a military attack, perhaps, or a bomb. It didn’t occur to me that this was an earthquake.
I’m not a good practitioner of dharma, and my practice tends to be patchy, at best. But at this instance of gravest danger, I fell back upon the Tara Mantra, almost by instinct.
This is how I’d gotten to it: on a visit to Choeki Nima Rimpoche, I had requested his support to do a Tara puja. Rimpoche had said to me: “Why do you want to do the Tara puja? That is very complicated.” When I insisted, he’d said:  “Here, I will teach you the Tara mantra instead, and you can do it at home. After you’ve practiced for a while, come back and we can discuss about the puja.” Then he’d given me the mantra. Which was the same mantra I started to repeat in my head, over and over, as I lay buried under the debris in Patan Durbar Square. There’s something about a mantra that automatically calms the mind, gives solace and dispels fear.
I knew somebody would come get me—the Patan Durbar Square is usually full of people, and I imagined that people would start to come down the steps to get water from the stone spout at Mangal Hiti around 5 pm for their evening meals, if not before. So there was little chance I would be left behind, buried under a pile of rubble. I waited. The apocalyptic cries of despair around me did not cease. After about half hour, I started to panic. “Didi, didi!” I shouted, thinking of the handicrafts vendors who laid their wares on the left side of the water tap complex. “DIDI!” The more high pitched my screams, the more agitated I became. As if in punish my cries, the second earthquake hit. The shaking was extraordinary—everything on top of me and below me and around me shook and gyrated violently, like the wheel of the Kalachakra. It seemed certain I would die—it did not seem possible that anybody would escape this moment alive.
The shaking stopped. I lay quiet and supine under the debris. Making a noise and disrupting the atmosphere, it seemed, could bring certain death. And besides, there must be so many other people who needed more help than I did, I reproached myself. I knew I had to exercise patience, and I had to do was wait. Sooner or later, people would come get me. And this is when I went back to Tara’s mantra, and this when I made a promise to the female form of the Buddha: If I ever get out of here alive, I’ll spend my life spreading word of your teachings.
After another ten minutes, I heard someone climbing down. I imagined the person who scrambled down to be a child—a curious boy, perhaps. “Babu, I’m in here, please take me out,” I said, in what must have been a perfectly calm and casual voice. Then all of a sudden, a crowd was upon me, pulling the wood apart, trying to force apart the pile of brick and centuries old earth to get to the human body lying at the bottom. From their terrified voices, I felt everybody must be shaking with adrenaline and fear—nobody knew when the next quake would hit.
The instinct of the crowd was to pull me out as fast as they could. Which is what they did. First they tried to forcibly pull my body out, but the ankle was pinned. Instead of raising the big blocks of wood, they tore the leg out--mangling the ankle in the process. “Didi, let go of your bag!” somebody said, and I let go of the straps on my arm.
Then as they held me aloft in what must have been a spectacular rag-doll human effigy moment, I felt the crowd pull me to the left, then the right, as if I was the ropes of the Machindranath chariot—and then in that push-pull moment of Newar co-operation and competition, I felt my left arm snap, fractured by the energy of a crowd trying to pull me in different directions. I’m a Vipassana meditator, and can be unnaturally calm in the face of pain. But this thought occurred to me: “I better cry out, or I might be pulled apart by the crowd.” Which is what I did: “My arm! My arm! Please don’t pull!” I felt like something out of a jatra—held aloft, a mangled body covered with centuries old dust, a totem of some ragged victory. My eyes opened to blinding light. I saw what appeared to be the white ramparts of a fort, where people stood in a line, watching the rescue. And then I lost consciousness.
My first responders were kind and brave, and they worked hard to get me out. I will be forever grateful to them. I look back at the photographs my friend showed me later of the site where I’d been buried, I wondered how they’d managed to get to that pile of rubble, because the pile of broken wood and construction material seems impenetrable. I am alive today because my accident happened in the middle of an urban space, with a co-operative community of individuals who were ready to spring to the rescue, putting their own lives at risk to rescue me. My only motive in sharing the above anecdote is to hope that the UN and other agencies will provide first responder training to communities, especially ways to remove bodies from rubble, and to work in teams, so that next time the earthquake occurs, injuries of this nature can be eliminated.
An ambulance siren blew. I heard two men discussing where to take me. “She’s a bideshi,” one said. “Lets take her to B and B.” The ride from the site of my accident to the hospital took half a minute—it was incredibly fast, or perhaps I was injected with so many painkillers I lost my sense of time. A minute later I heard the man say: “Didi, here’s your bag.” That bag, with my cellphones, keys, and papers (and sadly, some rather lovely silver jewelry), was never found again.
Later, my father would laugh and say with amusement about a cousin traumatized by aftershocks, and her method of sustaining her sense of security: “Your cousin is walking around clutching a small bag. She has her citizenship and passport in it, and some other things, like a torch. Everywhere she goes, she takes this small bag.” And I replied: “Tell her the bag is useless.”
The much-hyped go-bag is in fact rather useless. The only thing that will save you from a situation like this, of course, are the networks of family and friends who love you, and who will eventually pull you out of this mire. I had months of painful rehabilitation and surgical operations awaiting me, but I did not know this as I was laid down on the ground by the hospital building, and from where I stared up at the giant concrete buildings, wondering if they would collapse on top of me, crushing me into the void after all, despite my rescue. Another after-shock rippled through the grounds that afternoon, sending the hospital staff into a state of anxious anticipation, as they had no idea if the building would hold up or collapse in the aftershocks.
I lay on the ground with hundreds of other injured people and their families. A triage situation was going on--teams of young medics swooped down upon me and injected me and bandaged me. “Amputation?” I heard one of the doctors say, unaware I could hear them. My drugged eyes flew open, and I rose as if from the dead and said loudly:
“No! I’m fine!” They left me alone after that. As the afternoon lengthened, a tent was set up, and people set up camp, as if we were a field of war injured.
My family arrived at the hospital at 6 pm--they wandered around calling my name, because they couldn’t recognize me lying on the pallet, my face swollen, my hair matted with blood and dust.
Dr. Bibek Baskota of B and B Hospital, and serendipitously also my cousin, drove back from the children’s camp he had been attending and came straight to the dressing room at 8pm, where he washed my wounds and pushed the bones back in place. Bibek had driven by himself, and he described how he’d seen houses rolling down the hillsides as he drove on the highway to get back to Kathmandu. “It looked,” I overhead him say, “as if a bomb had gone off.” As he talked calmly and worked expertly to bandage my feet, he made me feel perhaps my pain wasn’t so excruciating as I felt it to be—only later he told me that he’d pushed the bones back into place without anesthesia and that if left unattended, I could have died from my injuries.
- See more at:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

May Peace Prevail: A Memorial for Nagasaki

(Click on image to enlarge)

I made the collage above 20 years ago, as an undergraduate at Brown University. I was taking a class on digital design and art at Rhode Island School of Design. The collage brings together old photographs of Nagasaki after the atomic bombing. 

The yellow images at the top are of Fat Man, the bomb that was dropped on the city on August 9th. 

The bird is the fallen bird of peace. 

The blue gate symbolizes peace. We cannot go in or out of the gate till we have looked at the horrors of the past, and acknowledged our mistakes. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Art Matters: download your copy now from Pustakalaya!

Download your copy of Art Matters from Open Learning Exchange's Pustakalaya.

Art Matters was published in 2008, with support from the:

यसैमा फेरी खोज्ने

 The book is a compilation of reviews I did for the Nation Weekly Magazine as well as ECS Magazine between 2004-2008. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My short story "Tom's Diner" in Cerise Press

To read my short story "Tom's Diner," go to Cerise Press and click on the link on the right.

New Asian Writing: "I Woke Up Last Night and I cried"

I found the link to my short story "I woke up last night and I cried" on the New Asian Writing website. It was published in 2010.

‘I Woke Up Last Night and I Cried’ by Sushma Joshi (Nepal)

Short story selected for the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
I woke up last night and I cried. This is all too much, I thought. I can’t handle it. My husband’s been gone for six years and he shows no sign of returning. He doesn’t send any money either. Wait till I return, he keeps saying. I’ll return next month, he says. He’s been saying this for a while now. He’s in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah, you ask? Never heard of Jeddah. Bantum? Somewhere. I don’t really know where.
His mother comes straight to my dera when she comes to Kathmandu. I’m the eldest buhari, after all. She stays with me for a few days then goes to her daughter’s house. She broke her leg the other week. We brought her down and took her to the hospital. So much expense, so much money. I wish I had another job, but I can’t find another. How did she break her leg? She was climbing up a cliff to cut grass—you know in the villages we have to climb these steep cliffs to get grass. Then she lost her footing and fell. The leg is broken. I took care of her for two weeks, and then it got too much. Her other son took her then. She went back to the village but now I hear she’s worse, she can’t even step on the foot, so she’s coming back. They were asking me to come to the village but I couldn’t, not with two children to look after. They think I live in Kathmandu, work here, take care of myself, and don’t care about them. Thuli bhayaki, they think. What do they know? Do they know how hard I work? Do they know how tough life is?
And my father-in-law, he’s not well. He fainted for four hours — lost consciousness for no reason. My sister-in-law doesn’t take care of them very well. She doesn’t cook food for them on time. She only feeds them when she feels like it, and you can’t do this to old people. We have to take care of them better, you know? We’ll also get old one day. We’ll have to go through this one day.
I asked my husband to send home money to put our son in school. He’s three now. “Paisa,paisa,” he begs all the time. Yes, I’m smiling but I want to cry at times. He takes the paisa and goes to the corner shop and buys a chocolate. All the time, all the time. I am getting so tired, I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t know what to say. “Baba, baba,” he says, while looking at the photograph and pointing at the man in the picture. He’s never seen his father. And no, his father has not seen him either. “Baba, bring me a car when you come home,” he says on the phone. He took my cellphone the other day and threw it at the wall. He keeps taking the cellphone and throwing it. I have to buy a new one because he broke the one I had. My daughter, she’s seven now, she’s not like that, she understands everything. My son, he’s too proud. He does what he wants.
My husband, he works as a cook in a private home. He thought he was going to work at a hotel but they put him in a house. And life there is hard too. Sometimes I feel like crying when I hear his stories. His shirt can be wrung out, it is that hot in that place. All that sweat. He used to work as a carpenter, then he got this new work. He had come back three years ago, but he stayed only… only fifty days before he left. Never seen his son, and look at him now, he’s three now. I said to him: “Lets stay here, as husband and wife. We can share our sorrows and our happiness. Now we are scattered all over the place, and we don’t know anything about each other any more.” When you’re close to the people you love, even hunger can make you full. But he won’t listen.
He’s twenty-eight now, two years older than me. I was married at sixteen, so we’ve been married for ten years. But last night I got so mad I told him he doesn’t have to contact me when he returns. He can stay by himself. Maybe he’s afraid of not finding work here, that’s why he stays behind. Maybe he doesn’t have the same tensions I do. He’s leading a free life, just one soul to take care of. He makes fifteen thousand rupees in Saudi, and most of it goes on food and telephone. Maybe he goes out and spends it. I asked him to send me ten thousand for school fees, he told me he would and that’s been a month ago and I still haven’t seen any money.
It’s better to be single, I realize. If you don’t feel like eating, you don’t have to eat. All you have to do is take care of yourself. You don’t have any tension — no children, no in-laws to look after. I don’t want to live like this all my life — always doing the dishes. I’d get a better job if I could, but there aren’t any. I work in two places and I would work more, if I could, but even these kind of jobs are hard to find. I also want to eat good things, to enjoy my life. I told my husband: “Come back, we can sit down and think about this together. We can make a common decision.” Maybe he’s afraid he won’t find work if he returns. And would I take care of him then? No, I can’t. It is already too much for me. He’d have to take care of himself. Each to his own. I couldn’t sleep all night last night thinking about all this.
You think I’m smiling all the time – but last night I got up and I cried.
Baba: father
 rented room
 small monetary unit used in Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; it is worth 100th of a rupee
 currency of Nepal 
thuli bhayaki:
 to be bigger than your boots

Friday, January 01, 2016

Republica: Inside the Pool Lies Two Dead Bodies

Inside the Pool Lies Two Dead Bodies 

Two white grains of rice are stuck to the man’s forehead, strangely askew. The vermilion that should have colored the rice bright red is absent. You are reminded again of who’s not there. 

“The bodies,” he said, “were found inside the pond.” Next to the gurgle of the river, halfway up the hillside, in the heart of a jungle, where the women, seduced, had entered. 

Note: The original title of the story was modified by Republica. 
- See more at the Republica website.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Setopati: Kachin-Gorkhas

Read my travel essay about Burma: "Kachin-Gorkhas," in Setopati, Nepal's digital newspaper.
It was published on December 7, 2015.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Setopati: A Visit to the Vihar

Read my travel essay on Burma: "A Visit to the Vihar." It was published in Setopati, Nepal's digital newspaper, on November 30, 2015.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Emanations: 2+2=5

Read my short story "The Zia Motel" in Emanations, Issue 5. 

Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth" exists. ... The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, "It never happened" – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs.
            -- George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War" (1943)

The quote above from editor Carter Kaplan's blog:


Two past lives plus two past lives equals five past lives. Two hand grenades plus two hand grenades equals five hand grenades. Two votes plus two votes equals five votes. Two speech crimes plus two speech crimes equals five speech crimes. Two laurel wreaths plus two laurel wreaths equals five laurel wreaths. Two genetically modified organisms plus two genetically modified organisms equals five genetically modified organisms. Two celebrities plus two celebrities equals five celebrities. Two political parties plus two political parties equals five political parties. Two decapitations plus two decapitations equals five decapitations. Two pandemics plus two pandemics equals five pandemics. Two financial crises plus two financial crises equals five financial crises. But two volumes of Emanations plus two volumes ofEmanations equals FOUR volumes of Emanations. The addition of the fifth fake integer is embodied in this volume, and all it contains are real emanations.
Buy the fifth edition of Emanations here:

Monday, November 23, 2015

Setopati: A Visit to Myitkyina

Read my travel essay "A Visit to Myitkyina" in Setopati.

Interesting note: Himal South Asia published an abridged version of this essay on October 2011. A day after it appeared online, Burma cancelled the dam contract with China and for the first time since the death of Bogyoke Aung San took the side of the Kachins, with which the state of Myanmar had been at intermittent war for almost 65 years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Asialyst: Interview regarding the Constitution

Népal : la nouvelle constitution
 dans l’oeil des artistes

Check out this interview with six artists and writers about Nepal's new Constitution in Asialyst, a new publication. I am featured in the interview.

You have to create a username and password to log into the site.
Interview by Ingrid Chiron, in French.

You can find Asialyst here:

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Setopati: Gasoline by Sushma Joshi

  Published in Setopati on: Wednesday, November 04, 2015 10:24:35  
See more at:
It was going to be a nice, relaxed baby shower video shoot in Edison, NJ. I was the videographer. Sammy, originally from South India, was the photographer.
Before we drove off, the driver of the rented van, a small, stocky man with an abrupt way of talking, asked Sammy: "Now did you forget anything? Cameras? Directions? Cellphone?" The man was organized, I could tell at first glance.
"I got everything," Sammy mumbled.
"Per-fact directions? Per-fact directions? It has to be per-fact, otherwise we waste lod-of time."
As we cruised down Queens, I asked the driver, "Are you a Sai Bhakta?" A small picture of Shriddi Baba, the previous incarnation of Sai Baba, was on one of the cupholders. Sai Baba, afro-haired guru of the Indian subcontinent, has millions of followers who believe he can perform miracles.
"My wife. She believe too much. Every year, she go to see him. She takes a flight from New York to India and then goes by train and car to his place. Every year."
"Why does she believe too much?" 
"Because she always get what she ask for. She pray, and then she get all she asks."
I had read about this wish-fulfillment factor of Sai Baba worship. When I had been nine, my great-aunt had come back with a richly illustrated book that showed in great detail how devotees always found their lost suitcases and recovered from polio when they followed him.
"Which wishes did she get fulfilled?" I asked. I wanted the nitty-gritty. Did she wish for cauliflower curry for dinner, or were her wishes more high maintenance?
"She want a son, because we had two daughters only, and it was granted. So now she give ten percent of all we earn to poor people. She sent it to her sister in India to distribute so that all our wishes will be fulfilled."
I was disappointed. Same-old, same-old subcontinental obsession. I had hoped the wife had asked for something more extravagant. At the very least, I wanted a couple of miracles - healing of blindness, parting of rivers and oceans, multiplying fishes, that kind of stuff. Something other than a baby with a penis.
The driver, it turned out, was an accountant in 7-11 during the weekdays. I wondered why he was freelancing as a chauffeur during the weekends if he was already a corporate money machine.
As we drove by Long Island City, he gave us a tour in his dry, precise voice: "This here is the warehouse of Bloomingdales. This big building, all six floors, is Macy's. That is the warehouse of LIRR." The whole industrial derelictness suddenly took on the delicious underhand flavor of insider knowledge.
Soon we were in midtown Manhattan.
"My company rents a store in the Empire State Building. The rent is $90,000 a month," the driver said.
"Monthly rent, or annual rent?"
"But its okay, we make $100,000 in one day."
More fascinating stuff flowed out of him. There was a man from B and H photo store who spent $40,000 on lottery tickets every month. He wired over the money straight to the lottery store's account. The Empire State Building, with 103 floors, was the second largest in the country - the Sears building in Chicago, with 108, was the first. Macy was the biggest retail store in the world, with six floors - except they had to declare Chapter 11 bankruptcy over their store on Queens Plaza because there were no customers.
Sammy, who was from Gujarat, started to talk to the driver in rapid-fire Gujarati. The syllables, rock-hard, rolled round every other line, but I could still understand fragments of it.
"Are you also from Gujarat?" I ask the driver.
"Gujurat, from Baroda," he replies. Both of his daughters are going through medical school. His sister's daughter just graduated from law school. "She make $150,000 straight out of school," he says. "Lod-of money."
"Lod-of money straight out of school," I agreed. Sammy, who had confided in me that his daughters would be married after high school, looked discomfited.
As we got to Edison, it transpired that Sammy didn't have per-fact directions. The highways soon turned into narrow cul-de-sacs and dead ends, and we spent a fruitless hour leaving messages for the man arranging the party.
"We will ask directions at Royal Al-bart Hall," said the driver. "It is owned by the Indian man. Everything here is owned by Indian people - Dunkin' Donuts is owned by Indian. Seven Eleven is owned by Indian."
Finally, we turned down the driveway into a large, white mansion-like building that had little sugar-icing, Islamic turret-like structures at the top. The glitter-from-99-cent-store look predominated. There was a gigantic black statue of an Indian man in traditional outfit in the front.
"Royal Al-bart Hall," the driver said impressively. "Million dollars to build. It is possible to hold five-six weddings in the same place. There are many halls here." He was clearly pleased at the bigness of the ambitiously titled Royal Albert enterprise.
The two men stood in front of the massive statue of the benign man in his Indian outfit and asked me to take their photograph. I framed them carefully, and hit the shutter. "Now your picture," Sammy insisted. I declined politely. Indian nationalism, especially of the large and expansive variety, is something that Nepalis always try to steer clear of.
We drove up to the entrance, where a wooden gateway decorated with flowers stood. Hundreds of men and women in elaborate outfits walked in and out. Inside the massive hall, a bride and groom covered with gold jewelry on a brightly decorated dais were being shot by a videographer and ten photographers. A thousand relatives sat back and fanned themselves, watching the proceedings with genteel tedium. The children ran around, screaming and chasing each other with manic energy. Sammy tried to get directions from the wedding videographer, unsuccessfully. The man, absorbed in catching every moment, glared at this interruption and shrugged Sammy off like an irritating bug.
I went to wait in the car. "Whose statue is this?" I asked.
"Sardar svdhvrddddmnmv Patel," the driver answered.
"Sardar who Patel?"
"Sardar svdhvrmnmvvrddd Patel."
"What did he do, Sardar Patel?"
"He was one of the great leaders. He did good things for our country."
"I've never heard of him," I say, ashamed of my lack of historical knowledge.
"Oh," he says disapprovingly. "He provided a solution for the Hindu-Muslim problem. Whenever there is problem with Hindu-Muslim, he provided answer."
Was Sardar Patel some sort of Gandhian figure? I cursed my Nepali education which had given me zero knowledge about our neighbours’ histories.
"When Hindu-Muslim fight starts, he get really fed up and said this time I am going to take care of it. So he go to the bazzar, and he says to people he will bring water to put out the fires. He come back and people think he bring water." Here he pauses and looks at me consideringly. "But he bring gasoline."
Oh, I say, stymied. Was this supposed to be some aphoric morality tale, some metaphor of explosion awaiting society? Was Sardar Patel going to demonstrate, like some wily fox in the Panchatantra, the literal quality of infernos that could destroy the fabric of society in order to knock sense into his followers?
"So he tried to negotiate peace by bringing gasoline…?"
"He said we have to deal with the Muslim problem once and for all. He said they cannot do bad things like take down temples and build mosques in their place. They are minorities, they cannot do what they want."
My instantaneous thought - but it’s the Hindus who are trying to demolish the mosques these days, not the other way around. Aurangazeb the temple-destroyer lived and died centuries ago - is left unsaid. The man, who had seemed eminently reasonable only a couple of minutes ago, suddenly took on the aspect of a caged tiger, somebody I would have to walk around carefully, offering no sudden movements. This was not the interfaith loving Sai Bhakta I had been imagining. This was the tip of the Gujarat inferno that killed hundred of Muslim men, women and children. The Gujarat massacre had been coolly calculated and pre-planned with cellphones, computer print-outs of Muslim houses and businesses, and SUVs. They had had per-fact directions. They had not wasted any time.
"Oh," I reply, unable to respond. My very silence seemed to communicate my sadness. For the first time he lost his numerical, factual calm.
"Muslims are minority, their leaders lead them, but their leaders are bad anyway," he said. "Sardar Patel told them they have to agree, or else they would be taken care of." Had George W. Bush had gotten his "if you're not with us, you're with them" ideology from Sardar Patel?
"India is a country for Hindus, for all people. But Muslims are minority, they cannot go around doing what they want."
As a Nepali, I was in a minority myself. Since the rights of minorities was being articulated with such unambiguous generosity, I kept my mouth shut. The silence lengthened. The tension in the car became taut.
"A lot of Nepali people come to Baroda to do business," he said abruptly. He had made the same minority connections between Muslims and Nepalis that I had done in my head. Being disagreeable, meat-eating Hindus apparently didn't win any brownie points. "They sell sweater in wintertime."
"Oh really?" I say brightly, as if I am oblivious to the fact that this has been couched as a grievance. I don't want to hear his opinions on one more minority. "What is that store over there? I've always wondered."
The conversation successfully deflected but not resolved, we drive down in crackling, electrical silence to the baby shower. On the way, we stopped for some gasoline at a gas station. "Fill up the tank," he said. When the gas station man, who sounded like an Arab, took out the pipe without filling it up, the driver told him in a dismissive and rude tone, "The tank fills up automatically, then it stops. You don't know?" The gas station attendant shrugged at this accusation of ignorance. It looked like his first day at work.
"Building number Tir-ple Five?" Sammy asked as the cellphone rang. The baby shower we were contracted to film was being held in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Everybody was lavishly dressed, and a preponderance of gold jewelry was in evidence - the Gujarati community, with prolific business links, tends to be affluent amongst Indians. As I walked around, I wondered how many of these gentle, vegetarian folks held the same views that the driver had expressed, and how many of them, if asked with enough conviction, would send back money to buy that gasoline.
(This piece was written in 2002 while the author was a graduate student in New York)
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ms. Joshi wrote a short story in 1996 that seems to echo the plot of "Force Majeure."

Strangely enough, Ms. Joshi wrote a short story in 1996 that seems to echo the plot of "Force Majeure." The film, shot by Ruben Östlun, is about a man who leaves his wife when an avalanche descends on a French hotel while the family is on a family trip. Ms. Joshi's story "The Best Sand Painting of the Century" has a similar moment. This is not uncommon for Ms. Joshi, she often finds that her stories get echoed by more famous Western writers and filmmakers with greater access to finance and distribution. Thankfully, "The Best Sand Painting" was published by Emanations in 2012, so she has proof her work predates the Swedish film. The story also appears in her book "The Prediction," published in 2013. Read on...

            May  we take your coat, madam? The head waiter had on a maroon bow tie and a benevolent smile. A group of young men hovered like a brood of black and white butterflies at his side. They swarmed around them, helping them off with their coats, gently, firmly maneuvering them through the huge hall. The walls of the old hall was covered with mediaeval French tapestry, and there were pink Persian designs beneath their feet. When they got to the table, the brood of handsome young waiters slid them into their seats, and stood around waiting, their hands folded on top of each other, identical smiles on their faces. 
            It's a pleasure to see you, madam, said the head waiter to the woman. Alex couldn't believe people still spoke like this in this day and age. Marie inclined her head graciously. She took out her glasses from her leather case and looked at the menu. She wanted to try the new aragula salad. She conferred with the waiter, who suggested the salmon to go along with it. I’ll have the plat du jour, said the younger boy, not looking up as he put his napkin on his lap. A young waiter scarcely older than him inclined his head politely and said: Plat du jour, sir. Alex rolled his eyes and looked out of the windows. The mountains were so near he could walk out of the big glass windows and climb through and disappear on the other side.
            “Well Alexander ? Are you going to be pleasant and talk to us or are you going to sulk all evening?”
            "I don’t see the point of this whole trip, dad."
            The woman leant forward, rustling in her silk and tweed outfit and addressed him in a hushed voice, as if what she had to say could only be heard by him: “David wanted to spend some time with you, Alex. He felt you were becoming distant from him. He wanted to take you and Phil skiing so that you could spent some quality time together.” It was embarrassing to watch her when she tried to avert a confrontation between them. Somehow, she always made it worse.
             Alex did not look at her. He had always felt nothing but contempt for this woman with her tasteful outfits and her vapid smile. She was a dainty ornament that his father sported on his lapel. He wanted to ask how spending his spring break skiing with his father and stepbrother would ever heal that chasm that had  been widening for the last fifteen years. He looked at the faces that surrounded him: Marie, with her  eyes  anxiously darting at his father, who sat there with his double chin and eyes snapping with cool anger at the arrogance of his older son, Phil who was turning out to be a carbon copy of his dad, filled with the knowledge of his own power. He looked at them all and realized the hopelessness of ever making them understand. He lowered his eyes, picked up his water glass and gulped, and replied in an expressionless voice:
             "I would appreciate it if you stopped calling me Alexander, dad. My name is Alex.”
                                    *                                  *                                  *
             Alex sat across from his father, watching the man eat. He watched him wrap the spaghetti around his fork, and put it in his mouth and swallow it as neatly and economically as he could swallow up small countries in real life.  His father was the driving force behind several corporations that exported food from small countries: bananas and coffee and chocolate and sugar, all the sweet things of life that people took for granted in North America. He had started out as genetic researcher in an Ivy League institution, and then had  expanded and expanded until now he owned the whole fucking world. Sometimes Alex felt tired even just looking at him, looking at the arrogance that swelled his frame until he felt like he was looking at a grotesque caricature of a human being. 
            “Alexander. How are your grades? I hope they are worth all that money I am spending on you.”
            God, how he hated him. He had only agreed to come on this trip because his mother had begged him: she could not afford to pay for his school fees, and he needed to maintain diplomatic relations at least until he graduated. Alex hated the feeling of having to crawl for the sake of money, but he could see where his mother was coming from. He sat there in the big echoing dining room on the Louis XV chair with the pink satin and the  tassels, and his anger with the whole situation slowly ebbed away. It required too much effort to maintain it. It could not stand up to the magnitude of this place, this time, this moment. The whole atmosphere came towards him and smothered him in its velvety grip.
            He watched them as if they were colorful fish floating past in an aquarium, his father with his slightly balding head throwing his head back to laugh, a playful carnivore of some sort. Marie twittering like a little green and gold angelfish by his side, Phil snapping his fingers at the waiters, a little eel with an electric sting.
            It’s my pleasure, sir, he hears the waiter saying to Phil.
            The voice comes across in a distorted blur, as if he is hearing the voice coming through water from fifty thousand miles away. It is all so ridiculous. He would not have been surprised if the whole scene had disappeared before his eyes at that moment: it all seemed so unreal anyway.
                                    *                                  *                                              *
            “Attention deficit disorder? That does not happen to anybody in our family, Alexander. You better straighten out that while you’re at it.”
            Alex felt his face flush. He would never have brought up the topic anyway, but his father was so gently ironical about his grades he had to defend himself. He turned away, and stared at the T.V that the waiters had placed discreetly out of view behind a wooden screen, where people could check out the tennis semi-finals if they wanted to. He could hear an excited commentator going on about Agassi.
            There is a gentleman who wanted this handed to you, sir, says the  waiter, as he puts a tray with a piece of cream-colored paper on the side. Alex’s father picks up the note and flicks it open. He reads it, and then glances to his right. Its Anderson, he says, and waves. A sharp faced looking  man sitting two tables away inclines his head and comes over.
            “Small world,” says Anderson, smiling and taking the scene in with his shrewd eyes. Alex watches him shakes hands with his father.  “Mr. Anderson and your father used to go to the same golfing club when we lived in New York.” explains Marie breathlessly in a pleased aside to Alex. The man is charming Marie, kissing the tip of her fingers, admiring her pearls. He tries the bluff genial tack on the boys. Phil answers with private school polish. Alex glowers at the man. Unfazed, the man turns back to David, murmuring “Charming boys.”
            “Frank  is a well known critic in the art world. He researches for Christies. He thinks I should invest in some sculptures that he is convinced is going to fetch a lot of money in a few years' time. Weren’t you, Frank?”
            “It would look absolutely stunning on the walls of your living room, Marie. Dave, this is an insiders tip. If you buy those things now, their value is going to triple in a few years time. It's a bargain.”
            “I’m interested,” says David, looking Frank in the eye. “I’m definitely interested.” They get up and walk away.
            What a great family bonding trip, Alex thinks as he watches his father and Frank talking by the window. They have clinched a deal of some sort: they are both smiling and pumping their hands up and down. The T.V screen has switched from Agassi to some news commentator calmly talking about a missile from China that is hurtling down to the earth and might survive the reentry into the atmosphere. Great, thinks Alex. We can all die right here and I wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore.
                                    *                                  *                                  *
            Frank has left his party and joined their table. He is sitting besides Marie, entertaining them with stories about the most famous art robberies of all times. “When the Mona Lisa disappeared for the sixth time...” A sudden crackle of static rises up like a harsh cough behind them. It is the head waiter turning up the news.  He is watching it intently, with the stealthy surreptitiousness unbefitting to a head waiter.
            They all turn to see where the noise is coming from. “Another news junkie. Even faultless French waiters have their sins,” smiles Frank and is about to resume his trend of thought when he lets out an involuntary "Shhh.." as he snaps back and listens intently. The voice continues: “..An out-of-control, two ton Chinese spy satellite could fall out of orbit as early as tonight, and there's a chance it could survive reentry and smash into the ground, the Air Force said. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has been tracking the FSW-1 Chinese spy satellite since it was launched on Oct. 8, 1993.  It was only expected to be up there for about 4 years, said Major Justin Boylan. Now its finally coming back." A crackle of static obscures the rest of the sentence as everybody waits, without knowing what they are waiting for.
.           "...weighs 4500 pounds and is the size of a small car. The satellite has on board a diamond encrusted button commemorating Mao-Tse Tung's 100th birthday  and a 24 carat gold mold for printing U.S banknotes, according to a report last year by China's Xinmin Evening News. The report said the items were among the souvenirs put abroad the satellite in hopes the space trip would increase their value.” 
            Frank turns back, his eyes glittering with an almost insane gleam in his eye: God. If that thing were to survive reentry, that mold would fetch the biggest price of the century.
            Maybe you could make more money by using the mold to print your own banknotes, suggests Alex.   
            Frank looks at Alex for a moment, almost as if he cannot believe what he has just suggested. "Alexander. Apologize!" snaps his father furiously. Frank smiles, regains his composure, smiles again and sighs: “Boys will be boys.” Then he closes his eyes, smiles, and says dreamily: “But things like that never happen in real life, do they?”
                                    *                                  *                                  *
            Alex is getting tired of listening to his father. Money. That’s all he ever talks about, with Marie accompanying him his passionate performance like a tenor on the side. When it comes to money she can summon up as much enthusiasm as his father can. That’s why they have stayed together. They share the same overwhelming passion in their lives. He turns away from the voices going on: “The Horsteins have brought a Vermeer. We could buy some of those old ones, it would be a good investment...” He is bored. He wants to be back in his grungy college apartment, with his friends who are all working at five dollar jobs. He stares out of the window, hoping for something to break up the sense of deja vu he feels whenever he starts listening to his father and Marie talking. He stares at the mountains, willing the stillness to break, willing for something to happen. The sky retains its sunny brilliance. The snow sparkles on the peaks. Nothing moves.
            Phil snaps his fingers at the waiters. He hates Phil. If he does not stop doing that, he will have to tell him to stop it soon. He wants to go out. He is beginning to sweat. It is too hot in here, or else it was all that fancy cheese and strange fish that he ate that is making him feel dizzy and nauseous. He is beginning to see weird things. Marie’s face floats towards him, distorted out of proportion, its angular boniness accentuated as he stares at the specks of powder on the tip of her nose. The bald spot on his father’s head shines like an upside down bowl. Phil is like a little monster sitting at one end, snapping and snapping his fingers, an evil gnome with a smile wrapping him up in his own smugness. That is when, glancing out of the window in desperation, he sees a small white cloud gently moving down from the peak towards the hotel.
            The cloud gathers momentum. As he watches, it gets bigger and bigger, a whiteness of elemental force rushing down towards the hotel at the speed of a runaway train. He says: “Dad. I think its an avalanche.” His father continues to talk. The sound builds up over the crackle of T.V, an ominous howling that picks up decibels as the white cloud gets nearer the hotel. A wierd ohhhhhhhhh...Confusion. People getting up, half out of chairs, what the... The avalanche hits with a sound that if it were to be reduced to a simple crunching would be the sound of the World Trade center falling on Manhattan. It dumps five tons of glacial  snow and ice on top of the hotel, and then continues on down the hillside.
                                    *                                  *                                  *
            Screams. He can hear the screams in his head. He knows he has to get out before the snow compacts. He stumbles towards the light, cutting himself on the broken glass as he heads out of the French windows.  Outside, there is a stunned group of people crawling out of the debris. Marie is holding Phil and babbling hysterically about her lighter. As he stumbles out of the snow, he can see his father desperately pawing out of the ground. A stranger helps him out. He staggers over towards them.
            “I’m cold.” Alex had never known that Phil could whine like a snivelly kid.
            "Cold as a popsicle," says Alex, laughing through his chattering teeth.
            They settle down in the snow for help to arrive. The sky is the intense ultramarine of the Northern skies.
            “Dave. Do something.”
            “I don’t know. You’re the man,” Marie replies acerbically. It was the first time Alex had heard Marie replying to his father with spirit.
            David has the cornered look around him. For the first time in his life, he does not know what to do. "Dad, this is turning out to be the greatest family trip I have been on for a long time", Alex says from between his chattering teeth. Shut up, his father says, too tired to say more.