Friday, October 10, 2014

Interview in Friday magazine

You can read my author interview in Friday magazine here.

My answer to this question: "What is one book that everyone must read?" is tongue-in-cheek. Obviously there is only one book in the world whose proponents think should be read by everyone. Open my interview to find out which one!

My second answer is also right in line with my beliefs about what kind of book everyone should actually be reading. Those of you who have read my articles over the years, advocating for food and planetary security through less meat eating, will understand why I answered as I did.

"The Fourth Child" in Living Magazine

My short story "The Fourth Child" is now published in the October issue of Living Magazine. Buy the big fat copy! 

Check out the cover here:

Saturday, September 06, 2014


A version of this appeared in the World Literature Today in 2010. THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. The story does not represent any moment that occurred during the real civil conflict in Nepal. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The little girl is a metaphor for all the innocent people who died in the crossfire. 


Major Krishna Basnet jerked his bitten hand back, as if stung. Tooth marks, where the seven-year old girl had bitten him, left dark indentations in the hollow between his thumb and forefinger.

The Major stared at the tear-stained face of the little girl. Then he spat into her defiant eyes. “You should have learnt to respect your elders, you bitch.”

  A cold moon glittered in the black sky. No wind stirred the leaves. The Major’s voice carried upwards, towards where Ambika lay, hiding. Ambika could hear and see everything from where she was—a recessed ledge of rock embedded in a cliff above the village. Respect, spat out from the Major’s throat, floated up with a strange resonance.

Ambika felt like a little girl below, held hostage by the Major with his gun on that brilliant moonlit night. How many times had she been told to respect her elders? The rage rose in her with the same uncontrollable force as when she had been a child.

She closed her eyes and remembered the moment, years ago, when she had fallen from a cliff, hunting for wild honey, and almost broken her neck. A little keyhole to death had opened up in her mind as she lay on the ground. Then she had heard sounds of the next world, the atonal moans echoing through red, cloudy vision, the sighs of terror and despair from unseen beings. That’s when she had known, on a visceral level, the certainty of death. Ambika felt her finger tighten on her trigger. “Perhaps I’ll die today,” she thought.

Ambika looked through her viewfinder. Major Krishna Basnet’s head looked like a black blob from where she lay, about twenty meters away. It would be easy to put a bullet through his back. Would paralyzing him for the rest of his life be more fitting than death? Ambika would die in the return volley of gunfire. But death would be worth the price to rid the earth of this torturer. As her finger tightened around her gun’s trigger, she was jerked out of her single-minded intention to kill the Major by a sound. Gita, her youngest cadre, sixteen, lay on the rocky ledge along with her. Gita shuddered as she breathed. This was her first battle. 

Ambika became aware of her five comrades—the clove-laden breath of Comrade Nepali, the warmth of an arm pressed close to hers, the huddle of bodies behind in the deep black corners. Shame took the place of the adrenaline that coursed through her body seconds ago. How could she have imagined putting her comrades in danger? Justice would have to wait. Ambika forced her tense finger to slacken.

As Ambika lowered her gun, a single shot rang out. Ambika could not have said whether the terrified scream of the little girl came before or after the gunshot. Or perhaps she screamed twice—once, seeing death hurtle towards her, and twice, when the bullet hit her between the eyes.

The gunshot, and the scream, appeared to richot around the enclosed valley where the small village nestled. A ghostly gunshot and a ghostly girl-scream magnified and echoed, then fragmented into a thousand pieces of broken sound. An eerie silence followed. Ambika put her forehead down on the cool limestone, and closed her eyes. She felt a wetness on her cheeks and realized she was crying.

* * *
 The little girl died one hour and thirty-two minutes after Ambika spied the soldiers running down to the village.

“They’re coming.” Ambika was terse as she looked through her binoculars. Blurry figures streaked downhill. They seem to carry heavy loads. The Royal Nepal Army, the guerillas had heard, now carried sophisticated weapons.

“How many?”

“Twenty-five soldiers. Maybe more.” Cold metal pressed around Ambika’s eyes as she strained to count.
“We have to…have to…kill them.” Gita, who’d joined the Maoist People’s War at the age of fifteen, was on the edge of hysteria.

“If you shoot now, you’ll reveal our location,” Ambika looked back and saw the young girl stand up. Her legs astride, she held her gun up, as if ready to shoot. “Sit,” Ambika commanded. Her voice was harsh, with the slightest hint of a tremble.

Comrade Nepali’s semi-automatic gun had served him well during Mangalsen battle. Ambika carried the same model. The two had killed a fair number of policemen with those two guns. But then the police in Mangalsen had just been armed with outdated .303 rifles. Today, it appeared, they would have to face a Royal Nepal Army force armed with sophisticated weapons. But what tipped the scales was the armament their comrades were carrying—the four new cadres, recent recruits, had homemade muskets. They had learnt to clean it, and shoot it, but the muskets did not fire well.

 “What do we do, comrade?” Fresh-faced, wide-eyed, Rama, the other female cadre, scared Ambika with her phlegmatic innocence. 

“I am ready to die.” Gita sounded combative. The command to sit infuriated her. With her childish face, and her red band she wore like a fashionable hair band, she was the youngest girl that Ambika had worked with. She appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“Up!” Ambika commanded. She did not need to deal with a nervous breakdown right now—the single most useful thing her cadres could do was to hide themselves. The rocky ledge they had scoped out earlier, carved into the cliff, was their hideout. “Wait for us.” The two girls, frightened, ran. The two boys, eighteen, followed close behind. All of them had been recruited two months ago. This was their first battle. 

“Why did they send these raw recruits?” Comrade Nepali muttered. “They’re useless.” Last week, seven cadres, experienced fighters of the People’s Army, had headed up to meet them. They slept at a widow’s house. At three am, a low whistle awakened them. They didn’t need to hear the knock on the door to know that a cordon of soldiers surrounded the house. Blindfolded and handcuffed, they were taken in a black jeep. The soldiers took them to the army barracks of the district headquarters, Ambika was certain.

Ambika thought about her seven comrades, the ones with whom she had shared many battles, and felt an impotent grief. The three women were almost certain to face rape, and the men would be tortured. Some, or all, could be killed. The precious cache of guns, bullets and bombs, meant for this crucial battle, had been seized, and would be paraded to the cameras of TV journalists, for all the world to see.

A teacher from a Ramechap village had informed the police, they heard. The teacher was now strung up in a tree, dead. His tongue had been ripped out as a warning to others.

Ambika followed her cadres up the rocky cliff, pulling at roots and clinging vines to pull herself to the shallow, recessed ledge. The entry was narrow, but inside it was cavernous, with enough room for the five to stretch out. Ambika laid herself flat on the ground, and raised her binoculars, to her eyes. The warm, rich smell of harvest rose around her. She inhaled – drying stalks, the glorious smell of seeds thrashed on the ground in the fields below rose to her nostrils. In her binoculars, she saw the soldiers running downhill, getting closer to the village.

* * *
Flat on their stomachs inside a rocky shelf inside the limestone cliffs, out of eye line of the settlement below, the six guerillas waited. Ambika, at the very edge, her navel pushing into rough ground, had a clear view of the village. More than a dozen soldiers, weighted down with arms, arrived soon after. They bashed the wooden doors down with the butt of their rifles. The sharp barks of dogs, howling at the intruders, rose to a crescendo. A couple of bullets flew past, lodging themselves on the wood of a porch near a howling dog. The dog ran off, hiding its tail between its legs. 

The yellow beam of the soldiers’ flashlights lit up the smoky corners of the cottages. Faded lamp-black walls. Sooty rafters. An uncleared cobweb. Here was a young mother, hoping a pile of firewood would hide her. There an old and toothless man, a resigned look on his face, on his bed. A soldier seized the mother by her hair and shoved her, infant cradled in her arms, on the ground.

“Shoot anything that moves!” a voice commanded.

A dog, snarling, appeared from beneath a bed. A swift and well-aimed kick from a soldier’s boot sent it fleeing out of the door and across the yard.


“Yes, Major.” A short burst of gunfire. The dog fell, and started to whimper. There was the sound of another gunshot. The dog’s body twitched, then became still. A dark pool started to collect around the body.

This voice, with its polished and modulated edge, belonged to Major Krishna Basnet. The Major was now posted to Ramechap. Ambika raised her head to catch a good look at his face. This was the man she had come to kill. And now, because of an informer in Ramechap, her goal remained unfulfilled tonight.

The Major was handsome, with fine bone structure, and regal poise. He grew a thin black moustache above his lips. Ambika caught a glimpse of him as he moved towards the door. Even in the darkness, she saw his grace, his commanding presence.

A seven-year-old with a dirty face and a wispy pigtail, frightened by the sudden invasion of men, clutched her mother. The move annoyed the Major. He grabbed the little girl’s hair. He pulled her head back and forth. Her head lolled on her head like a broken doll. Over the child’s sobs, he asked: “Where are the terrorists? Speak, you bastards. Where are the terrorists?”

Ambika felt bound, as if she were inside an airless room with hands and feet tied. Comrade Nepali was still, as if he had stopped breathing. The two girls huddled in terrified comradeship. 

“We don’t know. We don’t know!” The mother pressed her palms in plea.

“Please, let my daughter go!” Major Basnet let go. The child’s face was smeared with snot. She sniffled and wiped it with the back of a dirty hand. The sniffling annoyed the Major—he found the child dirty and repulsive. The Major looked up and around the village—the darkness of the surroundings warned him guerillas, as ugly and as repulsive, were lying in wait to ambush him. The moon was bright and cold, but he couldn’t see anything. This sense of helplessness, which he had felt many times in the past few months, infuriated him.

The Major bent down, and picked out a rubber band with a rose from the child’s hair. He held it up to his nostrils, close his eyes, and inhaled with exaggerated enjoyment. “Ah, a beautiful rose,” the Major said. The child stared at him with a dirty, tear-smeared face, petrified.

The mother’s face, pleading for mercy, angered him. Is this how I look when I am afraid?, he wondered. The Major cocked his revolver, aimed at the center of the mother’s forehead, and squeezed the trigger. The mother’s brains splattered the red sari of an old woman behind. The old woman crumpled to the ground in a faint.

Nobody moved.

“Hatyara!” The child’s shrill accusation echoed across the valley. The Major was surprised, for an instance. He hadn’t expected this snot-smeared girl to know such a complicated word. A murderer? He considered this verdict for a brief instance, then grabbed the girl’s chin. “What did you call me?”

“Hatyara, hatyara, hatyara!” The girl, overcome with rage and grief, lunged forward and bit the Major’s hand.
* * *

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The jyotish astrological analysis of Robin Williams' death

I took a look at Robin Williams birthchart through the jyotish system of astrology today (note this is NOT the same system as the horoscope people read in the newspapers, which is sun sign based astrology.) There is really nothing surprising about his suicide once you see the chart.

Williams has a formation that’s common for celebrities: His Moon is with Rahu, in lagna, or ascendant. Rahu signifies great fame, glamor, and also electrical lights and methods of communications. Rahu also signifies alcohol and drugs. Together with Moon, it often signifies mental illness as well. Rahu matures, or shows its full strength, at age 42. Actress Catherina Zeta Jones, who came out saying she had bipolar manic-depression at 42, is one of many other celebrities who manifest this. In South Asia, actress Manisha Koirala (who had a well-known alcohol problem), came down with cancer at age 42—since lagna or First House is the house of the self and body, Rahu and Moon can also show itself through bodily illness. 

When Rahu is placed in the First House, Ketu falls in the Seventh House, the house of marriage and relationship (Rahu and Ketu are always 7 houses away from each other). Ketu is a signifier for detachment and separation. Often the spouse can be “different,” or the partners remain together but separated by one factor or another. Ketu can often lead to a feeling of separation and alienation from marriage partners but also other relationships. The only solution to Ketu’s isolation and alienation is spirituality. Ketu shows its peak power at 48 (and it continues to shows it effect from 48-54). This is for everyone, not just celebrities. Here you can see a post about the maturity of planets:


 Take Brad Pitt, who has a number of planets with his Ketu. At age 48, when his Ketu matured, you could see him physically moving away from his marriage partner and children. But it appears he still took advice from his psychic (the spiritual life becomes heightened.)

Johnny Depp, whose Moon is with Ketu, separated from Vanessa Paradis at age 48.

Most painfully, Tom Cruise, who has the classic celebrity placement of Rahu in First House and Ketu in the Seventh House, faced a painful divorce from Katie Holmes at age 48. Cruise had not just Ketu, but also Saturn, in the house of marriage-and Saturn commonly denotes grief. Cruise separated when Saturn was exalted, which only happens once every thirty years, so his grief was magnified to great extremes. 

Not all people with Rahu-Ketu in the 1/7 axis kill themselves, of course. Other factors have to be at work. In Williams’ case:

11.  Maraka (killer) Second House, has Jupiter in it: In June, Jupiter, his killer planet, became exalted in Cancer, which rules his house of ill health.

22.  Maraka (killer) Seventh House, has Ketu in it: On July 12, Ketu moved to Pisces, his Second House, to align with natal Jupiter. 

33. Saturn, which was the dispositor of his lagna or the  self, is in Eighth House, or Mrityu Bhava/house of death: jyotish astrologers commonly look for the cause of death in the Eighth House. Interestingly, it is not a maraka or killer house like the Second and Seventh Houses--instead, it is the house from which one's longevity and cause of death can be known. In Williams’ case, the significator for the self lies in Eighth House, meaning there was a high likelihood the self would become the cause of death. Saturn is not just getting an aspect from Mars, a violent planet, from his Fifth House, but also an aspect from Jupiter, his functional killer. Saturn is also exalted, meaning its showing its fullest power in 30 years.

44.   To top it off, Rahu also moved to Virgo, his Mrityu Bhava, on June 12th. The Eighth House had Rahu conjunct natal Saturn when he died: Saturn/Rahu is thought to bring about suicide. Rahu brings the kind of sudden violent death that Williams experienced. 

Often after a high profile Hollywood death, there appears to be a lot of discourse around how selfish the actor was to kill themselves. Their addictions and mental illnesses are cited as causes of selfishness. But through the lenses of Jyotish astrology, you can often see the extreme fame and talent are often the same planets that can cause mental illness, addictions and the like at certain points in life. I should stress that not all people with these planetary influences end up dead from addictions and suicides. There has to be other factors at work to create that possibility. 

Often the only way to control Saturn’s grief, and Rahu/Ketu’s abrupt termination, is to focus on spirituality to bring the mind in balance. And the classic Hindu/Buddhist solution—do good deeds to clean up your karma. Often by detaching from the Self to the Other, the ego lessens and so does its pain. Take Pran, Bollywood’s beloved villain who lived to be 93. Pran had Moon, Rahu and Mars in lagna, in Libra. Mars signifies violence, but his was only on the screen. He apparently had people lining up outside his house  even till the end, and he would try to help all people. Nobody was turned away.  Social work can lengthen your life! His Saturn is retrograde in Eleventh House, which also signifies friends and networks. Saturn is very auspicious for Libra. 

Saturn in Eighth House, interestingly, could also have led to a long life. But then Williams would have had to have led a humdrum, ordinary life in order to escape the excitements of Rahu, which he lived to the full.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Do you own a Nook, and read in Spanish? If so, download my play!

And in case you own a Nook, here's my play  Maté al padre de mi mejor amiga in the Barnes and Noble website for you to download.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Where does the magic realism come from?

After reading Francisco Goldman’s tribute to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I wanted to know where the magical realism came from.

So I went to my trusty astrological chart calculator and plugged in: March 6, 1927, Aracataca, Colombia

And this is what I got. 

An Aries moon: Aries is the first sign in the zodiac. People born under Aries are fire. They embody  the start of new things, and they blaze new trails. They can often be great leaders. President Obama is born under an Aries moon as well.

Mars in second house: Second house is the house of speech (and also material wealth). Mars  is the planet of passion and energy. Those with Mars in second house often have powerful, almost militaristic abilities in speech. Mars and Saturn aspect each other. Saturn confers discipline and the ability for hard work to the fiery energy of Mars. Without this combination of Mars and Saturn, no great works come to fruition.

Rahu in third, in Gemini:  Rahu is the planet that rules worldwide fame. Right here, he’s sitting in Gabo’s house of communications. Rahu gets an aspect from Jupiter, the planet of wisdom. Rahu magnifies to extremes. If Jupiter, the planet of good fortune and material prosperity, and Rahu combined in 3rd house of communications, it also means he got filthy rich.

The fifth house of creativity again gets an aspect from Mars, Sun, and Jupiter. These three planets work well together as a trio, and also hint towards a great interest in truth and justice. And the fifth also gets an aspect from Saturn, ensuring discipline to the fiery rush of creativity.

Saturn in eighth in Scorpio: Those with Saturn in eighth house live a long time. Marquez died at 87. Saturn in eighth ends up delving into all the eighth house topics that nobody wants to talk about—death, despair, loneliness, alienation. The fourth from the fourth, ie; eighth house, is also the house of the maternal grandmother. This house obviously had deep impact on Marquez's entire chart--Saturn, as Jyotish astrology says, is the "planet that gives everything." And: "What Saturn gives, nobody can take away."

Exalted Venus and retrograde, "neechbhanga" Mercury in twelfth house in Pisces: And here are the planets that caused him to enter that space of magical realism. The twelfth is the house of dreams and fantasies. Pisces is the watery sign of liberation. In this house, all boundaries are dissolved, and the space of the real and the imagined lose their perceived separateness. Venus, the planet that rules the arts, is exalted in Pisces. The twelfth house is also the house of retreats and sanctuaries—bounded spaces, just like the house that Gabo grew up in. Mercury, the planet of quick wits, is debilitated in Pisces. Debilitation often signals that a planet is super powerful because  it is receiving a “neechbhanga,” or cancellation of debilitation, which leads to the extraordinary facility with words.  Einstein’s Mercury receives a cancellation of debilitation as well. The retrograde energy of Mercury may be what people seize on when they decide the magical realism is “not smart enough”—Mercury is the planet of smartness, and often people whose Mercury is going backwards can appear too simple, on casual encounter.  

 Sun and Jupiter in the eleventh house in Aquarius: Jupiter is the planet of wisdom. The Sun is its friend.  And the Sun confers fame. Both are in the eleventh house of gains (and incidentally, also thought to rule publishing.) Aquarius, ruled by Saturn, also imparts a strict disciplinarian ethos, as well as great interest towards humanitarian philosophy.

Ketu in ninth, in Sagittarius. Ketu is the final and most mysterious planetary force in Jyotish astrology. The ninth is the house of spirituality and philosophy—many philosophical writers have planets placed here. To have Ketu, that planet of ultimate spiritual dissolution, in ninth house of destiny, signals his readiness to enter the world beyond this one.   

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Future books: A historical novel about Nepal

A young man from England who I recently met sent me this email after reading my book:

Sat, Apr 19, 2014
I very much enjoyed reading your short stories in the Prediction. Most of all I liked the historical ones, the Promise and the Prediction. Rana-era Nepal was vividly realised, the characters seemed very true to the period and to their social station, and the synthesis of traditional Sanskritic forms of belief and practice, such as astrology, with modernity -- as represented by democracy and revolution, intruding on the feudal court-politics of the late Ranas -- made for a highly satisfying parable of Nepal's rites of passage through the twentieth century. It occured to me that I've not come across any other examples of Nepali historical fiction, in English at least, and this would be a very fruitful genre for writers to take up. I would love to see you turn your hand to a historical novel, maybe one that features astrology as a major component, since you seem to know a lot about the subject. Is this something you've considered?

And the answer is:
Glad you liked the historical stories. Interesting that it seems to
appeal to a broad range of readers. Usually I get a male/female split
on my stories (men like some stories, women like some stories) but
these two seem to appeal to a universal group of readers. Yes, maybe I
should write a historical novel! One has been
percolating in my mind-its a family saga/Hundred Years of Solitude style
Nepali novel. Obviously astrology would play a big part.
I was just reading a book on Saturn and realize Western astrologers
and philosophers, quite respectable ones too!, have a lot to say about
the subject. Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade being prominent ones.

(Author's belated addendum: I just realized Gabriel Garcia Marquez died on 17th April. Perhaps his spirit was hovering around when I wrote this email. An homage, either way.) 

Republica review: The Prediction

Through a spyglass
Though Sushma Joshi names her book The Prediction, it is not very predictable. Most stories in this collection have surprise endings, or even begin from strange subject lines. For example, there is her first story about a man getting lost in Mongolia, and another about a satellite that crashes among the Himalaya, both very unusual subjects for Nepali writers.

Sushma sets the tone right at the start with a very readable story. The Discovery of the High Lama has an intriguing subject matter and enough dialogue so that the reader is not bored. Her plot, too, holds the reader’s interest till the very end. And that perhaps defines most of her stories: unusual subject matters, lots of dialogue, and interesting plots.

When it comes to the subjects she addresses, they are a wide variety: From a Nepali drummer making a life in Europe to an astrologer in Mohan Shumsher’s court. Sushma seems to know a lot about each of these subject matters, and the tidbits she scatters makes the stories appealing. For example, in A Boleria for Love she describes intricate drumming patterns of Tabla, an instrument of classical music, and in The Prediction she goes into the technical details of classical Hindu astrology. She also gets the accent and tone for her characters right, whether Nepali, Mongolian, Spanish, or American.

Where Sushma falters is in denouements. The first story, about a man who is perceived by everyone as stupid takes a trip and gains a remarkable kind of wisdom, is superbly told. But then comes the conclusion, of the narrator becoming convinced of his own inadequacies compared to the former stupid man’s wisdom. And it is so sudden and abrupt that the reader is not at all convinced about the narrator’s conviction. Sushma mentions in her afterword that the story is a true one that she heard from a friend. It almost seems as if she should have stuck to the true narrative of the stupid man and left her narrator, presumably her creation, out.

In fact, as Sushma mentions in her afterword, all her stories are either true or partly inspired by true events. This gives her stories a journalistic quality, as if she has looked at real-life characters through a spyglass. For example, there is the story called ‘Hunger’ about the newest daughter-in-law of a large joint family who never gets enough to eat. As Sushma has admitted in her epilogue, this story is very similar to Law and Order, another story she has written previously about hunger. And yet, Hunger brings to light the plight of women, especially younger daughters-in-laws, who are at the bottom of the pecking order in large families. Sushma portrays their unwritten rule of suffering everything in silence, which prevents them from seeking solutions, very well.

And then there is the story about correct astrological predictions, which Sushma reveals in her afterword as an account that has been passed on in her family as a true one. The story portrays not just Hindu society’s (including royals’) dependence on astrology, but also astrology’s roots in science. This story raises astrology from mere superstition to something which has deep connections to the Hindu psyche, and depicts why we are so influenced by it.
The Promise and Shelling Peas and History Lessons both deal with the historical place of women in Nepali society. The Promise is a multi-layered story, where a goddess who will improve his fortunes has been promised to a man. Women of all stripes enter his life, including a pretty maid, an old crone and self proclaimed priestess, and a slumbering family deity. The reader is left wondering which one of them is the promised goddess. In the meantime, the reader takes a fascinating tour into the debaucheries and family politics of the high and mighty royals of old. The ending makes it sufficiently clear which one of these women is the goddess, and also, how goddesses are actually treated in Nepal. Shelling Peas and History Lessons adds another facet to the life of the super-wealthy. It portrays one of the many casualties of unequal society: women who pay in life for proximity to the rich.

A Boleria for Love and The Best Sand Painting of the Century are perhaps the most fanciful stories in the collection. A Boleria for Love is simply delightful, its unusual and seemingly impossible love story immediately drawing the reader in. But once again, one wishes Sushma had provided more of a conclusion. The current open ended one leaves rather more to the imagination than desired, especially after some pages of remarkable storytelling. The Best Sand Painting of the Century, on the other hand, offers too clichéd an ending, even though the lengthy pieces includes some priceless sarcastic observations. The characterization of a monk who degenerates into a worldly life is one of them, and another is the monk who displays a mandala of Princess Leah (from Star Wars, I assume) as the greatest mandala in the world.

Curiously, the best part of Sushma’s book is her afterword where she talks about the process of writing all her stories. It is like a behind the scenes peek, something equal to the “making” of movies, and makes you wonder if every other book you like has interesting “making” stories that you never got to read. Here Sushma offers insights that could not fit into the stories, and they give the stories a wholly new dimension.

Sushma’s book is for those who want to read the stories of Nepal in English language. Her elegant language and simple but effective and varied plots are the mainstays of this book, and will please the reader despite a few glitches.

Title    : The Prediction
Author    : Sushma Joshi
Genre    : Fiction, in English
Publisher    : Sansar Books
Published    : 2013
Pages    : 174, Paperback

Read the review in Republica online here.

Monday, April 14, 2014

List Challenges: "End of the World" in Read the World Proportionally

Once in a while, the Internet sends you a delightful find. 

And none more so than this one, on Nepali New Year's day. "The End of the World" is listed in this incredible list compiled by Ng Yi-Sheng, who decided to compile a list of 100 books that reflects the world as it is, demographically.

The list is available in List Challenges, and it is a list than any author would be honored to find himself/herself in. Not just because its a list of books that I would love to read (all of them), but also because there's a certain sense of comfort and "coming home" to a list that does include the breadth and diversity of the world, as it is. I say this beats any "100 books" list compiled by TIME.

Of course, that's a bit on the self-promotional side, you may say. Well, even if I wasn't on the list, I'd still say it's a better list than any compiled by TIME! Just click on it, you'll see.
In his interesting blog "Around the World in 80 Books!", Ng Yi-Sheng, who appears to be based in Singapore, says:

I recently got ticked off over a "Read the World" list that was still really centred on Western books. Then I started thinking: what if there were a reading list of 100 books that reflected the actual demographics of the world population right now?Behold:19 books from China;
17 from India;
4 from the US;
3 from Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan;
2 from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Japan and Mexico, and
1 each from the Philippines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Turkey, DRC, Thailand, France, UK, Italy, Burma, South Africa, South Korea, Colombia, Spain, Ukraine, Tanzania, Kenya, Argentina, Algeria, Poland, Sudan, Uganda, Canada, Iraq, Morocco, Peru, Uzbekistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nepal, Afghanistan, Yemen, North Korea, Ghana, Mozambique, Australia and Taiwan.50 are by men. 49 are by women. 1 is a work of divine revelation. Authors (roughly) reflect the ethnic makeup of their nations.Because if you're gonna read the world, you might as well do it RIGHT.

Friday, April 11, 2014

"The Prediction" in Himalaya

My story "The Prediction" is now out in Himalaya, a journal of the Association of Nepal and Himalaya studies published by Yale University. You can download it here.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Boleria for Love

 Thought I'd share "A Boleria for Love" with you all on this beautiful spring day. Needless to say, a love story about an older woman/younger man was inevitably rejected by the finest literary magazines (what else was I expecting?). I wasted a bit of my time submitting this to the world's "greatest" lit magazines, the editors of which may then have gone on to recruit writers to write nastier versions of older woman/younger man stories, which then went on to win gushing accolades and giant financial awards/rewards for misogynistic versions of my story... But never mind, there's still time to read the original and be inspired here!

And of course, don't forget to buy a copy of La.Lit magazine, which will be printing this story shortly in its new edition. And also of course buy a copy of "The Prediction" and read the rest of my other stories as well.


Xavier did not know, when he cut out the piece of newsprint from the New York Times that grey November day, that all his desires for a mad, passionate love affair was about to be fulfilled. He was not thinking about love when he took out his Swiss army knife and cut the advertisement from the paper. He was thinking about the dinner he was going to prepare as his hands moved over the square, cutting out what in hindsight would prove to be a part of his destiny.
"Hola, que pasa," he said, as he walked over to a kiosk, Carlo's Café, set up at the edge of the park. "Un café, por favor."
"Milkensuga?" the man asked, pushing back his black wool hat, which was almost as big and heavy as his Russian accent.
"Hmm?" said Xavier, disoriented. Wrong nationality. "Oh yes, always some milk and sweetness in my coffee. Any music going on around these parts?" he asked, drumming a little tune on the side of the tin counter. "In my kiosk, there is only radio." The man laughed. "Here, I don't know, but down in Queens we have many, many clubs. Have a good day, my friend."
With his curly hair and even features, and the gold earring in one ear to give him that exotic look, Xavier give off the aura of the world weary artist. He had that look that could situate him in mediaval Spain as well as it could in modern India, or London, or Rome, or New York. He got a salaam ale kum from the Northern African men down from the garment district just as fast as he got a smile and an hola from the Central American men on 14th street. Women, going to work in midtown Manhattan in suits, turned around in the middle of broad avenues in their high heels to give him brief, intense looks as they wondered whether he was not somebody they could make a quick merger with.  He looked like an the unknown musician waiting to be discovered. 
As a drummer living off nightly gigs, Xavier learnt to move into a new town and within a night meet musicians who wanted to play with him. His easy manners and lack of history made people claim him as one of their own. He was someone who understood their values, their lives, their yearnings. Xavier, with his reassuring beard and his silence could enter into people's houses with the quietness of a cat, set up shop and everybody would assume he was part of the family. People had a sense of recognition when they met him, even though he was unlike any other person they had ever met before. He did not, as a rule, have to find his gigs in the newspapers.
But the text of this advertisement had caught his eye. URGENT CALL FOR A DRUMMER. "Rosa Pilar Cuellar, famous flamenco dancer from Spain, urgently seeks a drummer.” She was doing a season in New York, at a small repertoire company in the lower East Side.
I wonder what happened to her drummer, he thought. Famous people traveled with their own drummers. They did not make desperate calls late into the season. But it was almost five o clock now, and he had to give up contemplating Rosa Pilar in favor of dinner. 
Xavier had learnt to drum as a toddler, banging tabletops and the floor with his fists.  His father, a music teacher who lived in a crumbling house in the center of old Patan, taught him to play the tabla at the age of five. He got up at six am every morning to practice in the cold, banging his fingers in the concrete balcony until his fingers bled from his efforts. "Practice, practice!! Discipline, discipline!" His father yelled at him when tears fell from the pain.
His mother, an orphaned farm-girl from Patan, was adopted by Jesuits missionaries at an early age. She had decided to call him Xavier, after the saint. The missionaries had long since disappeared, but Fulmaya, his mother, still had a faded portrait of the baby Jesus looking up sadly at his Virgin Mother which she had added to the altar of ancestral gods, and to whom she offered incense, hibiscus and vermilion powder every morning. Her husband, who had gone to Delhi to learn instruments the hard way from musicians both Hindu and Muslim, treated all matters of religion with contempt. He yelled at her and told her she was a fool. But she didn’t listen to him.  
His father wanted to turn Xavier into one of the most famous musician in the world. He kept the boy up to practice his beats until the boy felt his eyes growing smaller from weariness. Sometimes he fell in an exhausted sleep over the tabla. At times, his father put him to bed, but most days he woke him up with an angry yell: "You are going to be better than Zakir Hussein! Practice is the key. You must practice, practice, practice!" Xavier’s mother died too early for her to come to his defense.
On his fifteenth birthday, with an audience of five old eclectic musicians arraigned around him, the boy played the tin tal faster than his father. His fingers moved like a blur of light. "Its not how fast you can play that matters! Anybody can make that sound, bhut-bhut-bhut, like popcorn in heat. Its playing slow that's the difficult part," his father said.
Xavier’s heart sank. His father was impossible to please. He started to beat out a slow beat on the tabla. It was so slow, so soft, the two old harmonium players in the front strained their ears to hear him. "Wah, wah, wah,” they said at the end, chewing on their toothless gums. Slowing down, he realized, was painful. But it had its own rewards.
Xavier had to practice for five more years before his father announced: "I am taking you to play with me on Shivaratri." The temple of Pashupati had a number of small hills. Perched on top of one of these was the Kirateswor Temple, with a small courtyard with a towering peepul tree in the middle. Every full moon night, musicians met up for a concert. Shivaratri was one of the biggest nights for music. Xavier's heart jumped. He had played with his father before in gigs, but never at Kirateswor.
Naked sadhus rubbed grey with ash, foreheads lined with white and red, smoked themselves into some sweet oblivion by glowing embers by the gates. You would never guess from outside that inside was a courtyard filled with music. These were performances of musicians fluent on the sitar and tabla, sarod and madals, and many other instruments in between, brought out with the pure passion of worship and devotion to the gods.
Xavier drummed that night as if his twenty year old body was an instrument of its own, fused to his tablas. He drummed with such energy it felt like Shiva himself had woken up and started to do the tandav dance on the hilltop. Or so one young woman, heart beating along with the beats of the drums, body moving along with his movements, imagined.
Her name was Keri and she was twenty two year old. She came from a small town in California. She was in Kathmandu in a student exchange program. As soon as the tall boy with the curly black hair and the easy smile came on stage, she felt more alive. She was sitting next to the sadhu by his fire on the little threshold, and she could glimpse Xavier from her perch. She watched him as his body moved to the beats. Looking at him, she felt that pang – a sprinkling of loneliness and déjà vu mixed with physical desire that mixed in a cocktail that entered her blood and made her intoxicated with joy and sadness. She knew the two of them were going to fall in love. She also knew how it was going to end.
After the concert was over, she waited until everybody had lined up and talked to the musicians. Everyone would dissipate soon. When the courtyard was empty, and the musicians were packing up their bags, she went up to the young musician.
"Have you been to Goa?" she asked.
The drummer looked up in surprise. He saw a young woman with light blonde hair, wrapped in a blue cloth and a small blouse. She had a small pert nose and a smile that lit up her face like the full moon.
"No, I haven't. Why?"
"Because I think you will like it," she answered.

That's how it had started. And that's how he had ended up in Goa. He had lost his virginity to Keri two days later in the same hillside, underneath a tree with gnarled roots. They could see the glowing red points of the sadhus as they smoked joint after joint and kept guard over the dark shadows of the night as they had wrestled and kissed and fused in the darkness and the dirt underneath the trees. Keri's body was so soft he wanted to hold it for ever, but eventually the chatter of birds and echoes of early morning worshippers told them they had to get up and brush themselves down. He kissed her feverishly and drunk with the madness of first love told her: "I want to be with you for ever." Keri smiled at him, with a tinge of sadness.
His father would never allow him to leave. He felt Xavier’s musical education was still incomplete. So Xavier did not tell him he was going to Goa. Keri had paid for his ticket. On the next full moon, he made his way out, carrying his bag of tablas, clean underwear and socks, and a copy of his dogeared notebook. In his notebook, he had pasted a sepia-tinted picture of his mother, smiling and holding him as a little baby, a picture of St. Xavier, a hologram of the Goddess Saraswoti, patron of musicians, and a few poems which had caught his fancy. He felt no regret.
He folded the cut out advertisement into a neat square, and stuck it into the back pocket of his jeans. On the way home, he stopped at the grocery store on 6th street and got a coconut, with the promise of sweetness in the watery cavity. The chicken that he made was multi-layered and satisfying, the tastes an exotic blend of Goanese and Newari cuisine. A hint of coconut milk with a touch of scallions. "Where did you learn to cook like this? Saint, that was culinary genius!" John said. John the artist, with his gym perfect body and his Peter Pan looks.
The two of them had met in the middle of some arty-farty party where everybody was talking about their future projects - their next book, their next film, their next incredible fuck. They both ended up in the balcony, smoking.
"They're just a bunch of big dicks in there!" said John, in a stage whisper.
“A bit boring.”
 "A bit boring! Darling, come clean and just admit it’s a Huge Bore in there!" John shook his head. John was fascinated by the quiet charms of Xavier ("Darling, what a name! Don't tell me you were one of those saints in Catholic school!"). Xavier loved the spontaneity, the humor, the queenly ingenue in John. No, the two of them were not lovers - although John tried hard to engineer this prospect. "Saint, you're just a closeted queer, admit it!" he said, falling on top of Xavier one day when he was drunk.
Xavier laughed and said: "Well, I've been dating women for the last twenty years and I seem to do pretty well with them. I just haven't had any cravings for men, but maybe you're right. Maybe it'll show up when I pass fifty."  
John was always surrounded by women. "Its pooling resources, man," Xavier would explain, when somebody expressed wonder at how he could live so intimately with a gay man in a platonic relationship.
 But something had felt wrong in the last few months. He had been sleeping with one woman after another, each one younger, more artistic and more thin than the last. It happened more on their insistence than his. They always ended up, after a good fuck, smoking and talking all night with John anyway. Then they would end up stripping for him so he could paint them in all their glorious nudeness. Xavier often thought John had more fun with naked women than he did. "What is going on with you, saint," John asked him one day. "Here you are, letting woman after woman slip from your fingers like slippery fish! I wish I was as prolific as you, but you don't even seem to give a damn."
Ever since he broke off with Dana three years ago, he was in mourning, holding his spirit and his heart in a plaster cast, a hurt that never healed. She lived in the Amsterdam now, with their three year old daughter Sristhi. Sristhi, who had been the birth of creation, and who had given a new meaning to his life. Now she was no longer in his life anymore. Every day, she played with a big man from Germany called Daniel, who bought her toys and chocolates with his salary as a tax lawyer. He burnt with rage sometimes, still as fresh as the day she left him, wondering if she would stay with Daniel forever, or if she would leave him just as she had left Xavier.
          And then that phone-call. "Xavier?" That soft, breathless voice. He  ached to hear it again after such a long time.
           "What do you want?" he asked her, because he did not want to be disturbed again from this surface calm that was settling over his life.
          "I want to come back and life with you in New York," she said. "I think we can work things out." 
          Xavier listened. His heart ached. He wanted to close his eyes and say: "Yes, yes, yes! Come back to New York," But then he knew it was too late. Too late for her to prove to him that she would not do the same again with some other man, if she returned. Too late for them to be perfect couple. "Dana," he said to her. "We can never go back, you know that. But I can help you get a divorce." And that's how it had ended. Shristhi had gone to stay with her grandparents in Leiden. Dana had after a year, finalized her divorce. She was now in an island in the South Seas, in a relationship with a half-French, half Guyanese man who distributed Bibles to hotels.
          Xavier watched the women come into his life. Plastic women, clean and hard and disposable as take-out cutlery, who he would be with for a night, and then replace with another the next night. "What is wrong with you, Xavier?" asked John. "Are you sure you don't need to go into therapy? I can recommend a very good shrink, if you want."
          Xavier refused. What could he say to a stranger in a room devoid of any personal belongings, sitting on a couch, watching his polite, uninterested face across the table? What could he possibly say? There was a void inside him like he had never felt before, except perhaps those undefined moment when he had first encountered Goa and felt like he had been searching to recover some irrevocable loss that he could not remember.            
Kathmandu melted like rancid butter from his memories as he came to Goa. Goa was a magical place of soft palm beaches, churches that made him wonder about all the worlds that had come before, and people who smiled at him like he was one of them.  
Xavier found a gig at a local hotel playing tabla during dinnertime. At night, he went back to the inn where he stayed with Keri. They had late dinners outside the porch with the leaves over their heads, watching the riotous blooms of bougainvillea, and then later on they went through the cool, dark hallways towards their room with the carved wooden bed and the sea-chest standing by it since the fifteenth century, and make mad passionate love that felt like it would never end.
As he lay there on the tall bed he would wonder if he, the son of a peasant woman and a one eyed musician from Patan, was not indeed a reincarnation of a Portuguese sailor, or perhaps a pirate, from five hundred years ago. How else to describe his impossible name that had given him countless hours of ragging from his schoolmates at the St. Xavier's Boys School. They called him "King Xavier" with mock humility. How else to explain his curly hair and his light-colored eyes, when both his parents had been compact, neat Newars with the hair as straight as silk and eyes like enlightened Buddhas? Nobody would ever dream that his mother had ever cheated on his father, for god forbid, she was a religious woman. So what unknown history and genes were manifesting in him, driving him farther and farther away from the only home he had ever know? And why Goa?
 Houses falling from hundred of years of neglect lined Goa’s streets. He walked through them as if he was walking through his own past life, trying to reclaim a story that he could not remember. The sea entered his body like a cooling balm, a memory which washed and flooded him, and yet there was something he could not quite put together, some yearning, some strange nostalgia. He was like the tourists who came to Kathmandu, coming for something that they could not name -- searching for some part of them that was hundreds of years old, some part of them they had forgotten.
          When he called up the number listed under the ad for "DRUMMER WANTED", he half expected a lovely Spanish version of Dana's voice to answer his call. Rosa Pilar, he thought, savoring the name. She must be young and beautiful, with a body like a wisp of smoke, curving with incredible delicacy through the air.
          "This is what's wrong with you, Xavier," John said, when he saw Xavier’s dreamy face. "You dream too much and are disappointed when dreams do not match the reality. You are doomed to live forever in a land of unfulfilled nostalgia."
          “You think so?”  
          "The things you feel nostalgic for do not exist," John snapped. "Now go out and meet that goddamn woman. I bet you she's the biggest nag you've ever seen."
          A male voice with a strong German accent answered. "Halo?"  Not Dana, but Daniel. 
          "I am calling in response to the ad for a drummer.”
          " Are you a drummer?"  
          "Yes I am.”
          "What drums do you play?"
          "I was trained on the tabla, but I can play many other styles. African, jazz, flamenco."
           "Flamenco?" the man said, almost with disbelief.
           "I spent a year in Spain," explained Xavier. He had spent a year wandering around with a group of Roma artists who sang and danced their way through the continent. He had fitted in so well, and had learnt the music so quickly, people had a hard time believing he was not one of them. One day he had been thrown in a jail in Madrid in a police raid. It took the Nepali embassy a week to pull him out. The only reason why they had gotten involved is because he had a second cousin who worked as first secretary at the Embassy. The man had felt obliged.
"Your name?"
Xavier Shrestha.
"Xavier what?"  
Xavier spelt it out for him - S H R E S T H A.
          Okay Mr. Xavier. Rosa is meeting drummers tomorrow at the Spanish repertoire theatre. Do you know where it is?

It was an hour before they called him in. Inside was a small dark stage and two people sitting on chairs. The German man was there, in the front. Besides him sat another woman with frizzy hair piled on her head, and a forty something woman with a warm, kind face.
None of them could have been Rosa Pilar.
"The instruments are already up there." the German man, who turned out to be the theatre's manager, told Xavier as he walked up the narrow aisle. "Play with the music."
And that was all. The canto jondo piped in, suddenly, like an auditory hum, and then increased in volume. He sat down on the caja - an upside down wooden box, with the small round hole on the side. He put his hands down, and beat on the side of the box. The box came alive, responding to the call of his hands. He remembered the beats. He had slept through it for a hot and blazing summer outside Madrid, and had them followed the troupe from Italy all the way up to the Czech Republic. The first palos de flamenco was an alegria. A profound song of happiness. Slowly, he started to drum. Within a minute, he was lost in the music, and did not even see her as she entered from the side.
She came in, her back as straight as a soldier’s. She swept in like a ship liner making a turn, sweeping through the stage, and then started to dance. She was wearing a crimson backless dress with sweeping folds. She danced as if all the world had become crystallized in this one moment of music and rhythm, as if her muscles would never ache from the pain of exhaustion, as if she could never stop. She danced with the grace of the wind, and the power of a hurricane storm. She danced, and danced, until Xavier was lost in the red blurs and the arm, leg, body, head motions and could barely keep his eye away from her.
It was only when the music stopped that he realized, belated and bemused, that he was looking at the proud and beautiful face of a diminutive sixty year old woman.
Xavier had dreamt, in those long exhausting hours when he was repeating the ta-dhin-ta-dhin beats, that one day he would meet the woman of his dreams. She would be more than a woman who loved him, and who he loved. She would be his soulmate, a being who knew his every fear, passion, desire, who could sense his every mood through the slightest gesture, one who would be able to be present in the same room without sharing eye contact and who would know his most intimate thoughts.
His love for Keri had been full of innocence, untouched by any layer of experience which taint our later encounters. He had loved her without reserve. Dana had been more earthy -- a body full of fire and spirit, who had spilled anger, hatred, jealousy, envy at his direction, making him experience all of these emotions again as if he was feeling them for the first time, with a poignancy he had never felt before. All the other women in between had been sensations of the moment - pleasant to look at, easy to talk to, some of them with the promise of intimacy, all of them giving him physical pleasure, but none of whom had managed to fulfill that hole in his soul with the same presence. None of them were mad, like he had often suspected that Dana was on the point of being, and her madness had given her a certain depth, a certain bottomless quality that he could not get away from.
The only other person who made him feel as alive, oddly, was Rosa Pilar. "Xavier," She said, drawing out the "r" when he finished drumming. "Rosa. We are going to work together." Her face broke into a radiant smile. Then she walked out.

"Xavier! That woman is sixty years old!" shouted John in horror the first time Xavier found courage to tell him that he might be interested in a woman, and the woman was - don't be shocked - Rosa Pilar. Rosa WHO? John said, suspecting the worst, and then it sank in. Rosa Pilar, that admittedly fascinating dancer who Xavier had been drumming for the last month. John had swept into her dressing room after the performance, kissed her on both cheeks and told her she was the most accomplished dancer of all times. Of course, how could he not, after that spectacular performance? But did Xavier have to go and fall for her? That woman was sixty, for crissakes. It was a perversion of the worst kind that John, who had a horror of old age and wrinkles, could not stand. 
"Xavier," said John. "Are you sure this is not just some fad? Some horrible infatuation? Are you sure this is not an Oedipal complex mutating to replace your dead mother?"
Xavier, tuning his tabla, tap-tap-tap, shook his head. "I haven't felt like this in a long time, John." 
Like what? John said, with disdain. He couldn't live with a man who fell in love with sixty-year old hags. The whole thing was perverse.
"Its kind of funny, you know John," said Xavier, smiling. "Here I am surrounded by beautiful young women who would jump into bed with me without hesitation, and all I can do is fall in love with a woman who is twenty years older than me."
"Indeed," said John. "The workings of a madman's mind is hard to fathom." When Xavier continued to tap away at his tabla with that radiant look in his eyes, John said: "Well, if you were a woman, you might get away with it. But even that, barely. He better be fabulously rich for you to consider it. But a woman who is twenty years older! Perversity! Is she fabulous wealthy? No? Than what is it?”
Xavier just smiled.
 "It's the Madonna syndrome," John fretted as he went into the next room. "All these stars living with younger men, marrying younger men. Its getting into the cultural psyche. too much freedom, I always say…"
 "She’s in better shape than you are.”
“Oh sure,” John rolled his eyes.
“How do you know she’s not?” 
“How do I know…? How do you know?” Then it sank in. John looked at him in horror. “You been sleeping with the fabulous Rosa, Xavier?”
Xavier merely smiled, and did not say anything. 

Even if he were to speak his mind, Rosa Pilar was outside his reach. She was married to Senor Emilio Francisco, a scholar from Madrid who researched the ancient art of China and who had translated three books from ancient Mandarin to Catalan. They had five children, three boys and two girls, and they had lived together in marital harmony for the last forty years. So indeed, Xavier would think wryly when he saw the shining bald top of Senor Emilio sitting with great ease in the front row, even if he had wanted to disrupt every rule of social order by declaring his love for Senora Rosa, his declaration would still fall a tree in the jungle. There would be no one to hear it. The woman adored her husband, it was clear. He was to all purposes a man in his sixties, happy playing with his grandchildren in the front row and watching his wife who he had worshipped for the last forty years once again come alive, like the young woman who he had first fallen in love with, on the dance floor.
And this is what fascinated Xavier. In spite of the age, she had managed to retain that body. She twisted and floated and stamped her foot for three hours every single night for a month, and not once did she murmur a word of exhaustion, or even tiredness. Indeed, she was stronger than a eighteen year old. So what was it? Was this woman some immortal creature who had drunk on the fountain of eternal youth, and would never get old or die? Her face revealed signs of old age. The skin on her face was pulled tightly back, like parchment over the sculpted bones. He wondered if her skin hung on her body like a wrinkled crepe dress. He had once gone to see an exhibition of photographs of older Japanese women. They had stood there, life-sized, black and white, their wrinkles laying on their skin like topography. They must have been in their seventies and eighties. The grotesque, the beautiful, the sublime and the scary were all rolled into that one moment and stared at him, daring him to look away.
"Mama mia!" he can hear her Spanish accent. She is mocking Simeona, her hairdresser from Milan. "What are you doing to my hair, Simeona? Do you want me to be bald for tonight's performance?" He smiled. How odd, he thought. I am in love with this woman.  And it felt like the most natural thing in the world.
Her laugh, he realized, when he waited for her to come out from her dressing room and happened to see her reflection in the mirror--her laugh was ageless. She was laughing like that when she was twenty. And yet when she was off stage she was a sixty year old woman, walking with the swift steps but with a hint of stiffness, as if the fluidity with which she flew on stage was turned off outside. This woman was a magnificent but still older woman, the corner of her eyes lined with wrinkles. Dressed in a red dress, she looked like a sexy older diva of Madrid. Xavier's mind, puzzled, compared her off-stage persona to the dancer, the other woman who perhaps did not exist except in his imagination. And those three hours every night on the stage. This other side of her would burst forth like a demon seeking vengeance and would start rampaging across the wooden floors. The audience watched, transfixed, by this apparition of a woman who would have beaten every single one of them in a three hour marathon. She was marvelous.
"Love's like dat, man. It hits you over the head when you least expect it - and you don't even know what hit you." Ramon, his drumming buddy with whom he met up for gigs, said to him as they met later for their weekly beer. "I don't know what to tell you, son. I lived with a woman twenty years older than myself, it was the best sex I ever had in my life. What can I tell you."
"What attracted you to her?" Xavier asked, as he took a swig of his beer.
"She was on welfare. She had four kids. She was twenty years older than me. She wasn't in shape. She was living in a trailer. What's attractive about all that? But I was in love with her, man. I was in love. And thass how it is."
Xavier looked at Ramon as the light flickered on his face. This ordinary looking guy had experienced some transcendental love. It was etched in the sincerity of his voice. Ramon, who he had observed towing around girls with big hair and empty smiles, seemed like a different man.
 Jon put down his mug with a bang. "There's no explanation for love, man - none whatsoever. Its like you’ve just been punched in the stomach. You go: ahhh, and you just know."

For the three months that he worked for Rosa Pilar, he drummed like he had never drummed before in his life. As soon as he saw her crimson shadow he would feel as if he was coming alive through some divine force. She swept across like a spring storm, and then paused, transfixed, an ice maiden, a statue in granite for what seemed like eternity. Then she would melt and rage again like a swollen river, taking his breath, his thoughts, his every socially conditioned responses with him. All he could feel was this being in front of him, who seemed to see him in every thought even though she never looked at him once during the entire performance. And yet he knew she was as aware of his existence as he was of hers. Without him, she would not have danced with the same electric poise.
"Xavier, you are being silly. A bit egoistic, aren't you? Darling, this woman was dancing long before you became her drummer. Now tell me, how can the addition of a new drummer make her change her entire persona?" John argued.
Xavier was not able to answer that question. But the proud tilt of Rosa Pilar, the way she swept across like a graceful storm across the wooden boards, the way she reflected each heartbeat of time in her empress stance - something told him Rosa was dancing like she had never done before. And his drumming, which fit her steps like heartbeat, was the reason. He was not being immodest - he just knew. He also knew, as the days stretched into months, that she started to become just as aware of his physical presence as he of hers - his curly hair, his lean hands, his eyes that followed her movement without the least bit of intrusion. They were both aware they were dancing a deep, dark dance of their own, one composed of the minutest ripple of gesture, the slightest lessening of a tempo, an infinitesimal change of movement. They were both so aware of each other the stage felt charged with electricity, a force that lit up her poise and charged his hands to even more incredible feats. Both of them knew.
"Xavier," sighed John. "This is all getting a little tedious. Now you are beginning to imagine intimacy in the most absurd things. If I were your shrink, I would say you are avoiding intimacy. Why don't you profess your love for her and get all that electricity out of the way?"
Xavier knew that whatever he said would sound incredible, no matter how hard he tried to explain it. His experience went beyond words. It was on such a profound level even he couldn’t articulate it. And no, it was not just about the intimacy between a man and a woman, not even the telepathic link that builds up after years of sharing the same bed, the same sink, the same toilet. The same fears, the same anxieties, the same old jokes. He and Rosa’s bonds were more intuitive than that, the bond that comes between two people who share the same rhythm so closely it feels like their heartbeat is synchronized to the same beat. Ba-boom, ba-boom.
"I am worried about Xavier," said John the next time he saw Emily at a party. Emily the art school student who Xavier had dated. "The man has not been normal since he started to work for that witch." "She put a spell on him!" giggled Emily. "Something is fucking with his brain," John said. "Do you think he has started to smoke hash again?" said Emily. "He told me he had given it up a year ago. And he has been stone sober as well - not even a glass of wine."
If only if it were a matter of brain cells, and electric impulses, thought Xavier. Then they could put a few wires through his brain and pull out all the strands that made him feel this connection with this woman. Was she his spiritual partner, his love from a past life? What about her gave him this feeling of recognition, like he could see her every whim, every desire, every thought hanging out naked, like as if their brains had been soaked in about two buckets of THC, and all their thoughts were now standing bright and colorful like laundry hanging in the washing lines. 
He knew, for instance, she loved Emilio like a mother loves her child - with unconditional love. And that she worried about her youngest son, Rafael, who had a tendency to drink too much, and had already been divorced twice in his short life. And that she loved Clara, her oldest daughter, with a mixture of love and sadness, because she had not followed in her footsteps and become the best dancer in the world, which she knew the girl had been capable of. But now it was too late - Clara worked as a researcher on mediaeval dance, writing treatise after treatise on la dansa de la muerte. She seemed happy enough with her two daughters and her comfortable life, her husband who worked in the government and took care of her every desire. And she seemed unaware of this force which her mother sensed inside her, and which only made her nervous and irritable.
Xavier knew all this, by the way she twisted and turned in the stage when a member of her family was present. Then he started to wonder. Could she see his thoughts as he saw hers? Could she tell the way he desired her, his impulse to hold her body along with her face in his arms? Did she know that he dreamt about her? She came sweeping into his dreams wearing the same crimson dress, and he saw heaven and earth entwined in her two clasped hands, saw the way her straight back reflected the glances and longing people had thrown her way for six decades?  Did she know that he had begun to desire to hold her body as if she was his lover?
The next time she danced, he knew. She danced like she had always done, a darting flame picking up strength as the night went on, but there was a joy in her step, a lightness to her clapping like you only find in a young girl when she first falls in love. Xavier was shaken. Even her family, sitting on the front row, were shaken. What was going on with Mama? There was something about her that was not quite right - she seemed to have lost her majestic sweeping presence. She seemed to be prancing on the stage like she was a dancing gaily, in her own private world, far away from the audience.
Rosa, my love. I hope everything was okay, her husband said to her at the end of the performance. Were you angry with the hairdresser?
Rosa smiled and said: Not at all. I danced today because I felt like I have not in a long time.
Her husband frowned. He had seen his own mother go senile, remembering everything up to the time she was twelve with the vividness of color film, but with no awareness of the present. He was always searching for signs that his beloved Rosa might go the same way.
Well, I hope you will regain your former presence soon, he said, before being pulled out of her dressing room by Clara.
"Mother, what was it?" asked Clara. "You were dancing like you were bewitched."
"It’s the springtime, Clara my love," said the dancer. "I feel it in my bones. Esta lugar tiene duende."

          The dance season was coming to an end. Before it ended, Xavier had two conversations with Rosa Pilar. One, when he had gone up the dressing room to tell her he could not come for a rehearsal because he was going to attend a friend's wedding. They ended up talking until the early hours of the morning about - of all things - life and death. Come sit down, Rosa said, patting the rose colored cushion in the chair next to hers. She was sitting alone in front of the mirror. "I am tired of Simeona's chatter. I’d be glad to know how you ended up drumming for an old woman like me."
A great dancer like you, said Xavier.
"Thank you," she said. Her voice caught for a moment in her throat. She lost her poise. The hairdryer fell from her hand with a noisy whine, and she shivered. Xavier picked it up. “Its off,” he said, pulling out the cord.
"There's nothing to be afraid of these days except for death, isn't it?" said Rosa, recovering her calm.
Xavier said: "I guess so."
"People are always so afraid of dying." Rosa Pilar pulled out the pins out of her hair. "But I have never let any fear get into my enjoyment of life, and I know I am going to die the way I lived - with joy."
Xavier, watching her face in the mirror, had a prescient feeling that he is going to die long before her. He could not pinpoint the source of this knowledge, but it was there, filling his head like radio static. Looking at her in the mirror, he also had this feeling that she was going to live for ever. He could not pinpoint the source of this feeling either.
"Do you ever wonder whether you or your husband who will die first?" Xavier asked, the thought coming out of his mouth before he could check himself. And then he stammered an apology.  "I am sorry, I should not have said that. Its horribly rude of me."
  "No, no, its fine," said Rosa. "My husband's father takes walks in Madrid, and he is past ninety. A very strong man. My parents, on the other hand, died twenty years ago. So his blood is stronger than mine." She smiled: "Are you afraid to die, Xavier?"
Then it dawned upon him, this knowledge - he had already faced a thousand small deaths, the end of one existence and the beginning of another. A friend had once talked to him about time and the life cycle and how we went through all these metamorphosis, how we lived eighty lives, if not more, in a full lifetime, and how could that be explained scientifically? How could the memories of somebody at eight years be claimed again by an eighty year old insisting, indeed, that that was her life? The assumption of course, was that there was a somebody who was an amalgamation of all these other beings, and that somebody, at the present time, was the only one who could claim be right, and true, and correct. All other versions that came before became materials for revision. The whole thing was very confusing.
It was at that moment of acute existential confusion that Rosa Pilar leant over and kissed Xavier on the lips. Xavier had kissed many women in his life, evoking feelings of varying degrees. Kissing Rosa was something he could not have imagined. She was a passionate kisser, dancing her way into his mouth and tongue. Xavier felt the tensions of the previous months released in an explosive energy inside his body. The clothes, when they came off, came off without shame, with the same natural synergy as the kiss. "The door is locked," Rosa said. The carpet on the floor was soft, inviting. "Simona never enters without knocking." Xavier touched her neck, the soft folds of skin. His hands folded around her, underneath her breasts—and then they both felt it, the heartbeat. For a moment, they lay there like this, hearing the sound which had tied them together. Then he unbuttoned her blouse. The only surprise came from the ecstasy that both of them had not been able to imagine.
The second conversation happened a week before she left. Xavier had gone up to wait outside her dressing room to give her a bouquet for her birthday. She asked him to come in. It was a bouquet of yellow roses. She sat there in front of the mirror, half of her eye make-up removed, the other half still in place. He looked at her face in the mirror, and they caught each other eyes. They looked at each other for about a second before he looked away.
"How do you know when you are in love, Xavier?" she asked him. Simeona, with her hair piled to the top, laughed her high pitched laugh and said: "I think he should ask you this question, not you." Xavier wondered. Indeed, how does one know when one is truly in love, that this sensation of the moment will not be replaced by another memory in another month?
"Well, let me put it another way. Feelings between people change as time passes. This is inevitable. And love also changes, taking many different forms. But how, initially, at the beginning, when you see somebody, how do you know that you are in love?"
John had this theory that you could hear love when you first felt it. It was like a hum, some electric whine which would fill your ears with auditory information and tell you: this is it. Xavier had never heard that sound, but he wondered. Indeed, how could you tell? How could you know such an impossible thing? 
Simeona left the room. Rosa got up and stood in front of Xavier. He put his hand on the small of her back. She put his arm around his neck and pulled his face towards her. For a moment, they stood like this, in a close embrace. He smelt her perfume. 
The season came to an end. Rosa was in the dressing room when she saw Xavier for the last time. She wiped away the tears with her finger. “I love you,” she whispered, as he closed his eyes and felt his head resting on her for one last time. The yellow roses he had brought for her birthday were drying on the vase, but she hadn’t thrown them out.
John took him out to dinner at an Indian restaurant in the West Village that night.  “Leave me alone,” Xavier said, as soon as he came in. But John knew  knew Xavier couldn’t bear to be alone. 
"How can we live life without love?" John asked, his forehead furrowed with deep lines, his face chalky white in the light of the Indian restaurant. He had decided not to express his relief about Rosa Pilar's final night, instead choosing to adopt a somber mood of existential angst to match Xavier's mood of total despair. "But transgressing the rules is nothing. It’s not caring about them that is revolutionary."
"When you are in love, you feel a mixture of feelings. Exhilaration, admiration of the beauty of life, a deep relaxation. It is a feeling, like as if everything makes sense. Did you feel that with Rosa, Xavier?"
John decided, after a brief look at Xavier's face, not to go there. Tonight was not the night for psychoanalysis.
A feeling as if everything makes sense, repeated Xavier. He watched the rain falling outside through the glass windows, leaving streaks of melted water that blurred the outlines of the people hurrying past with black umbrellas.  
"Fear is the thing that kills us," said John before he could stop himself.  The sentence fell between them like a bad cliché.  
"Fear of what?"  
"Fear of love. Fear of life. Fear of death." John ticked off on his fingers. Seeing Xavier’s eyes glaze over, he added: "Fear of a badly done nan and greasy aloo gobi curry. Fear of going home and sitting in front of the television to watch "Sex and the City", all over again…"
  Xavier’s face broke into a small smile.
“Why are you smiling, Saint?” John was discomfited.
“You think she’s gone for ever?”
“Isn’t she? She’s in Madrid and you are in New York. End of story.”
Xavier smiled radiantly.
“Do you think that’s how this story ends?”