A. K. Natarajan and the
Three Varieties of Love
A short story by Vivek Narayanan
We moved from India to Southern
Africa when I was a child; when I was twelve years old, we lived in a place
called McAlpine Court. It was a half-rectangle of twelve joined duplex
houses. Our backyard stretched past tall yellow grass to the shade of an
old tree from which an improvised rope-swing hung; and beyond, one could
walk through a thicket of banana stalks that hid the servants’ quarters.
On the front side was the lawn with its moss-choked birdbath and its small
playground, avocado, guava and lemon trees and then the hot, sharp stones
of the gravel driveway, and the long garage-shed. I had wanted to move
to the place for years before my father finally received his promotion.
McAlpine: it was the impeccable foreignness of that name that made it so
impressive. Today, the name still gives me the feel of mountains nearby,
though in Southern Africa we were far from any kind of big landscape. In
place of the non-existent mountains, my memory substitutes the largish
sign which announced the court from outside. The sign defined the attraction:
the grandeur of living in a place with a name and not a street address.
My father was bald and built like
a giant. His physique was the one thing I envied him for. Yet, he never
used his strength, indeed, did not seem aware that he had it—always
he let people cut in front of him in the queue, always he accepted responsibility
for accidents. He refused to take bribes. He drank one beer every night
after dinner. For years, he said to me, “Do well in Math, Science and English,
Vivek; that is important. Do not be distracted by silly things.” In the
new country, he was terrified of breaching the “wrong topics” and being
“arrested by the authorities.” He did not want me to take economics or
history as subjects because I might stray into territory that would offend
the president, though how the president would come to know what I wrote
in class was unclear. Alas, if there were one subject I found irksome,
it was mathematics.
My mother was cloying and over-protective.
She was a small, dark, intensely religious woman. Her English was not very
good. She went into spasms of anxiety each time I ventured past the front
gate with my bicycle—in fact, she did not
like to leave the house herself. She fretted when in the car, she was mortified
in the supermarket, and, most of all, she was terrified when men looked
her up and down in the public squares.
My father, you see, was a practical
materialist, and my mother was nun-like in her fear of the corporeal world.
They were badly matched. No wonder, then, that at a certain point in my
childhood, my parents began to sleep in separate single beds in their room.
I suspect that through much of my adolescence, they did not have sex very
much. They never once spoke about sex.
hated—my parents simply because they loved
me and worried about me, and because they did not seem to love each other.
That was what propelled me towards A.K. Natarajan. Natarajan was a schoolteacher
by profession, unlike most of the expatriate Indians, who were accountants
like my father. He arrived to teach physics at my school in January 1982,
just before the first term of the new year. Like most newcomers, he stayed
first at the Ridgeview motel. There, along with the other families, we
took turns to go and welcome him and bring him home-cooked food. Soon,
he was free to move into his allotted flat near the school.
This is my first memory of him:
standing in the door of his motel room to receive us with his forefinger
still tucked in a book. He was tall and very thin. He wore a light green
unironed safari suit, his longish hair was untidy, and the black scratch
of a moustache marred his upper lip. His near-joined eyebrows seemed to
be permanently furrowed. His cleft chin jutted out as if it were a small
peach grafted to his face. In other words, I ought to have registered him
as comically ugly, but what I remember more was that he looked completely
serious and very calm. Behind him, in the gloomy lamplight, we could see
small stacks of books on the bed, on the dressing table, and on the floor.
This impressed my parents.
“I myself studied physics, long
ago, in my higher secondary,” my father said shyly. “Of course, those days
Einstein was just coming in. It was very backward, what we studied.”
“No, no. No, sir!” Natarajan yelped.
“Do not underrate your knowledge, sir. Newton is still very important.
In fact, Newton is more important. After all, Einstein was the dreamer.
Newton spoke of things we could touch and see, not so?”
My father, who did not often have
the opportunity to have discussions about science, shook from side to side
with excitement. He motioned to my mother and said, “We have brought some
small eatables for you. They are in the car. Vivek, you stay here and listen
carefully to this uncle, okay?” When they were gone, Natarajan winked at
me and said, “So tell me, young man, you are twelve. You have found yourself
a girlfriend yet?”
Non-Indian readers will probably
not understand why I was shocked by this question coming from him, or why
I looked away and did not answer. There was a girl in my class that I liked
and fantasized about from time to time but no one, not even my only friend
Roderick, knew about her. While I fidgeted, Natarajan cleared his throat
and continued, “I shall tell you a little trick I learned at an ashram
in India. It is good practice. When you are holding your penile organ,
In sudden terror, I looked at
the open door of the motel room and wondered if my parents were near.
“When you are holding your penile
organ and masturbating—you know this word,
yes?—what you must do is before the white
fluid comes out completely, you must hold yourself and then try to retract
it, okay? Just try it. Our ancient yogis knew of this practice. It helps
build strength and willpower.”
At the words “strength and willpower”
my parents re-appeared, carrying several stainless steel containers of
elaborately cooked food. Smiling, my father said, “Yes, Natarajan, very
good! You must put those values into him. The schools here are full of
bad influence. You will see how those other boys—Whites,
Blacks, Coloureds, even the local Gujaratis—they
are simply not interested in studies, nothing can be done. Their parents
are themselves letting them watch wrong movies at home. The girls are all
in the family way before even finishing school. You will not believe it!”
Natarajan merely rubbed his chin, glanced down at me and said, “Is it so?”
At that moment, I saw how confident he was of being able to charm those
around him. My initial sense of unease was transformed into a kind of worship.
The members of our small Tamil Brahmin
expatriate community sometimes scoffed at the local Indian traders for
being unfairly racist towards Black Africans. We had arrived in the 1970s
mostly as government-contracted accountants, engineers, and teachers, and
so considered ourselves to be more educated than they were. Nevertheless,
we were the ones that lived sometimes as if Africans did not exist. We
took turns hosting dinners and lunches, built temples, quibbled on cultural
committees, exchanged videotapes of the latest films from home, held badminton
tournaments in each others’ backyards, and visited nature reserves en masse.
The arrival of this new school teacher—especially
one who was young, single, friendly and rumoured to be knowledgeable about
everything from quantum physics to Sanskrit drama to classic film songs—caused
quite a stir among us.
Thus, in the few weeks after his
arrival, many meals were thrown in A.K. Natarajan’s honour. The men clamoured
to air their views in his presence. Wives chirped about how tall and fair
he was and wondered if he would make a nice marriage match for anyone they
knew. The one or two single women, who were actually living in the country
or visiting their parents for the holidays, were discreetly paraded in
front of him, but he appeared to show no interest. At every party, a string
of young children followed him, clinging to his shirt-tail.
By the end of January, however,
a few complaints and rumours began to circulate about Natarajan. The first
thing he was suspected of was throwing away the cooked meals that were
brought to him; apparently, some of the cooking was too spicy for his taste
and he preferred non-Indian cuisine. Then, a few people remarked about
how much alcohol he consumed at parties. My father said, “So he is taking
drinks—what is the problem with that? Does
he ever say a bad word? Does he ever behave badly? He is taking drinks
because it is good for your health, I say.” There was more unusual behaviour:
Natarajan always appeared to have large wads of cash in his pocket, which
he took out and waved from time to time, saying, “Notice? It is currency.
Simply currency. Index of value. Labour-time converted through the production
process. That is all.” About this habit, my father said, “He is a generous
man and he does not trust the scoundrels at these local banks, what is
there?” Once Natarajan disappeared with a number of uncles and, when they
returned, it transpired that they had all gone gambling at a local hotel
and lost a small sum of money. My father was among them; his face shone
and he seemed thrilled about having lost. In school, too, Natarajan was
tremendously popular with his students, though this was partly because
he occasionally handed out small-denomination notes as rewards for solving
difficult questions asked in class. My father asked the other uncles, “What,
after all, is the matter with incentive? Perhaps that is what works best
with these local children. Perhaps he understands the mentality.”
Just as interest in him began
to peak, A.K. Natarajan became scarce at community gatherings. He would
excuse himself, saying that he had papers to mark or tuitions to take.
A new set of rumours began to circulate: that he had been seen outside
this shop or that, laughing and joking with “the locals”; or that he had
been spotted walking down Great East Road—even
though he had bought a car—on a Sunday afternoon,
red-eyed and haggard. Yet, when he showed up at the Pongal celebration
in April, he remained remarkably sober and cordial and charming, if a little
distant. My father, and my mother as well, for that matter, continued to
sing his praises. There was another reason for this. By then I had been
going to him every week for two months, for math tuition, and my marks
in that subject had improved substantially. This was also why, to the best
of my knowledge, I was the only one who knew some of Natarajan’s secrets.
At the time, I believed that my
parents were—more often than not—simple,
transparent people. By the age of twelve, I had learned the word psychology,
and I had studied their psychology very carefully, to the point
of making notes about it in my diary. As far as I was concerned, their
main requirements were: a) that I should do well in school; b) that I should
eat well and properly; and c) that I should not ride my bike alone on the
streets. What would happen if these prime directives were brought into
conflict with one another? To satisfy rule a, we decided that I
should attend tuition at Natarajan’s house, but I insisted that the only
logical time for me and A.K.N., work-wise, was Friday afternoon, because
I knew that my father had an office meeting then and could not come home
to pick me up. I would thus have to ride my bike to his house, in
spite of rule c. Remarkably, my calculations, which worked out even
better than I had planned, cost me as little as one evening of argument
and one boycotted meal. My mother was the least happy, but she did not
have the confidence to walk me to his house herself. So it was that I set
out one afternoon for my first session, riding my bicycle through the wide
roads of the capital towards my school.
I should remind you, by the way,
that this was the early eighties, when the government still supported heavy
subsidies on housing, education, health and the staple grain; when the
poor of that place seemed happier than they seem now; when the wide roads
of the capital were safe enough for a middle-class brown boy to roam freely
through at any time of the day or night. I had made a small Indian flag
and fixed it on my bike. This was not because I felt particularly patriotic,
but because I wanted to meet an African boy—perhaps
even Roderick Banda, my friend from school, if I was lucky—on
a similar bike, with the flag of an African nation attached to it. We would
meet accidentally outside State House, I thought, shake hands solemnly,
then ride to school along Albert Luthuli Road, Mohandas K. Gandhi Way,
Patrice Lumumba Drive, Tito Corner, and the shade of the trees on Haile
Selassie Avenue, ticking off the leaders as we went along.
As it turned out, Roderick did
not show up by magic that day, and I made the ride by myself, riding as
fast as I could, making little circular detours from time to time. At four
p.m., I arrived at the housing complex where Natarajan stayed. He lived
in a second floor apartment. We had been there only once, when we had helped
him move his things. I thumped up the stairs with my bicycle, and I felt
again the difference of these teacher’s quarters from the company-owned
residences given to accountants. The walls had been blackened by smoke.
Below me, in the backyard, I could see a hen and chickens clucking around
a clothes line. A dull and heavy smell made me gag—now
I know it was the smell of frying beef, but at that point, I had still
not tasted meat. I felt sorry for Natarajan that he had to live in such
a place; then I remembered that someone had offered him a room in their
house as a paying guest and he had refused. When I reached his door, I
found that the smell was coming from inside his apartment. I knocked, and
there was no answer. I knocked louder, and I heard shuffling inside.
A woman opened the door. She was
a black woman. She was a tall and skinny woman with her hair in a beehive
style that made her look even taller. She had wrapped herself in a large
light-blue beach towel which began just below her armpits and reached barely
half-way down her thigh; below it, I could see the black frill of a slip.
Even today, it puzzles me why she liked to wrap a towel over her slip,
but that was what she often did.
The woman was wearing a pair of
fake leopard-skin house slippers. Her features were delicate and proportionate.
Her nose was a button, her black eyes were small and they looked directly
at you. She smiled. I felt a panic and wondered if I had come to the right
place. And yet—standing there in front of
this woman who rose high above me, who gave off a powerful perfumed smell,
who leaned against the frame of the door, raised the sole of one foot,
rubbed her toes against her opposite ankle, smiled gently and turned slightly
to glance behind her—I could not move.
“Wie geht’s?” she said
to me. I said nothing. She reached out and rang my bicycle bell. “A.K.,”
she called into the apartment behind her, “Ach, A.K., scheisse!
Your young friend he here.”
From inside, I heard his voice:
“Is that Vivek? Why you are making him stand outside, Mimi?”
“Sorry, mein kind,” she
said to me. “Come in, come in.”
It was dark inside. The curtains
had been drawn. The living and dining space were untidy in a way that I
found disconcerting, first; then, thrilling. There were little stacks of
books and papers everywhere. A plate of half-eaten omelette sat on the
dining table next to the daily newspaper. The television was on and the
national anthem was playing. It was the start of the daily transmission
on the government channel, which was the only one we received.
Natarajan was sitting on one of
the chairs at the dining table, in his loincloth, motioning for me to come
and sit next to him. “Yes, yes, my young man,” he said. “You have come
for tuition class, no? Wait and see, you will come to love algebra before
I was being overpowered by the
meat-cooking smell and by a second strong odour as well. Thinking back
today, I see that they had just been having sex. The commingled smells,
the gloom and clutter of the room, the woman: all of this together was
a lot for me to take in. I leaned my bike against the wall and felt dizzy.
I collapsed into a seat by the dining table.
“What is it? Blood circulation?”
A.K. asked, “No, no. No! Sit up straight now! You must sit up straight
to concentrate properly on your lessons!”
The woman watched us from the
kitchen entrance. Looking at me looking at her looking at us, Natarajan
became suddenly aware that her presence might require explaining.
this is my associate: Mimi Tijou. She has come from Mozambique, did you
know? In a way, she is also a foreigner like us.”
said. She grinned and I caught a flash of gold in her mouth.
“Mimi is speaking Portuguese normally,”
Natarajan explained, “that is what they are speaking in Mozambique. Yet,
this other language of hers is German, because she has also been living
in Berlin. Wonderful, no? English, Portuguese, German.”
“Tell me, Vivek,” Natarajan continued.
“You would like something to drink?”
I did not answer.
“Juice, Rooh Afza, Coca-cola,
I rather enjoyed cola, which my
parents did not approve of me drinking. I kept quiet, trying not to incriminate
“One minute,” Natarajan said.
“You are twelve years old, no? But you are a growing man. Would you like
a sip of beer, to help you think more clearly about mathematics?”
It seemed a strange proposition.
I had sneaked sips of beer for myself several times at parties, but I had
never been offered it. Without waiting for a formal answer from me, A.K.
Natarajan went to the fridge, took out a large dark-orange bottle of Mosi
beer and poured half a glass of it into a coffee mug—very
carefully, as if it were cough syrup—for me.
He took a long swig straight from the bottle for himself.
“You are a very clever young man
indeed,” he said. “The first thing that most do not know about learning
is relaxation. You must relax to learn, ahn? Mimi! Switch off the television,
I had never before heard someone
called “darling” in real life, and I had never studied mathematics while
drinking beer. After we had worked through problems for about an hour and
a half, Mimi, who had been reading magazines on the couch, suddenly leapt
up and said, “Time for Music is beginning, A.K. Amayenge is playing
Time for Music was the
show on Friday evenings that featured local bands. Roderick and I did not
listen to local bands. We listened to Michael and Janet Jackson, Timex
Social Club, Kool and the Gang, UB 40, Madonna's first album, and the soundtracks
to Breakin’, 1 and 2. Bob Marley was our cutting edge. The African
music was something we made fun of. It amused me that both Mimi and A.K.
were so excited about Time for Music. I made my distaste clear,
but was ignored. The announcer came on, in his dark green suit and laconic
voice. Amayenge began to play. A.K. and Mimi began to dance and tried to
convince me to do so as well.
“Dancing is a necessary aspect,
Vivek,” I can hear him saying. “How much I have learned since coming here!
Do you know rhumba, soukous, kalindula?” I began to laugh. “Do you know
Franco, Tabu Ley?” He began to wiggle his hips, his knees, his shoulders,
and stuck his fingers in the air. He cut a quirky figure opposite Mimi.
I laughed so hard I could barely stand up. Then I began to take an interest
in Mimi, in how much of her was moving at the same time and in the smallness
and subtlety of her movements that A.K. was exaggerating. I noticed the
long coiling curves of her legs and the way her big bum stood up, as if
“Mein klein,” she said
to me. “Come and tanzen!”
I joined them and tried out some
of my breakdancing moves. Then I began to imitate her, and she came so
low and close to me I caught her scent again.
At six fifteen, we received an
anxious call from my parents. Was it only fifteen minutes that we had been
dancing? I rode back in the dusk of the dry season, still a little drunk,
the taste of the toothpaste A.K. had given me tart in my mouth. I thought
of my long life to come, of the great things I was surely destined for.
When I reached home, my father smothered me with kisses. I noticed that
my mother had been crying. I stole up to my room and locked the door, disgusted
by my worried parents.
This was how that first term of
1982 passed: each Friday I spent at Natarajan’s house, which cost my father
a tidy sum in the end. A.K. gave me books to read, impossible books, when
I think of them now—Nietzsche, Krishnamurthy,
the Communist Manifesto; I read a page or two each and let them
languish in my room. I came first in my math class. And each week I looked
forward to beer and meat and dancing with Mimi.
Mimi: when I think of her, who
was she? She comes out of the shower to check on the goat curry in the
kitchen, and I follow her in. She stirs the pot, and the towel around her
torso comes loose. She catches it before it falls. Her breasts spill out.
She is wearing only underwear. She knows I am looking and she laughs. “Oh,
klein, don’t worry. You find girlfriend soon. You are beautiful boy.
My son will be like you.” She bends down to kiss me on my cheek, with the
towel in one hand, as a kind of consolation.
I asked her where she worked.
“I am model,” she said, taking out a little album from her purse. “See?
My German boyfriend is photographer. He takes me to Berlin last year. He
make photo for me.” The photos in the album were small and amateurish when
I consider them now. She was wearing lace lingerie and posing on a bed.
“You like? I like.”
Mimi was more of a good-time girl
than anything else, and A.K. Natarajan was her sugar daddy, I am sure of
it. One day, when he was absorbed in teaching me quadratic equations—we
had come far in those few months—she came
up and said to him, “I need money.”
“We are working, no? Please.”
“But I must go. I must buy things
for my mother.”
“What is this, money, money, all
the time money. You think I am a millionaire or what?”
They stared at each other for
a while. She curled her long fingers around his neck and kissed him lightly
on the lips. He looked away. He loved her more than she loved him; I could
see that, she was making up for it with her tenderness. Perhaps she was
too pretty for him. She left without taking the money. He turned to me
sadly and said, “I have learnt much about love in my short years, my friend.
In fact, I am even right now working on a book about love.”
A book? “It will be my magnum
opus,” he said. “Three volumes. Each volume will eventually be about seven
hundred and fifty pages long.”
I marveled at the number. He continued.
“It will be called, ‘A Meditation
on the Three Varieties of Love and Their Intervalency Thereof.’ Do you
know of the three varieties of love, Vivek? Parental Love, Sexual Love
and Place Love. No author has before covered all three subjects together.
It will shock the world! But somehow that is the fate of whatever I do.”
Sometimes in the West, when I
am in a bookstore or browsing a library catalogue where all the books that
have ever been written can easily be found, I still begin, absurdly, to
look for this book by a man called A.K. Natarajan, whom I have not seen
since I was twelve years old.
While I studied with A.K. Natarajan,
I also developed a less than wholesome hobby—a
new passion for spying, for seeing without being seen. I made my father
buy me a pair of cheap telescopic lenses on the pretext of bird-watching.
With these lenses in hand, I climbed the guava tree in our yard, or onto
one of the low roofs in our school, and I spent hours observing the life
around me: the security guard sneaking breaks to smoke enormous joints,
the secret trysts of my classmates, or the principal and his male lover
holding hands in his car, in the staff parking lot. Over weeks, with a
sharp, pointed screwdriver, I made holes in wood; I chipped away a little
hole at the bottom of the door to our toilet and, very quietly on my belly,
I tried to peek at my mother while she sat on the seat; I never got further
than a look at her feet. I arrived early for my tuition, and pressed my
ear to the door to try and hear A.K. and Mimi together. I developed a special
way of looking through slightly open doors. A boy in school called Costa
liked to tell the story of how he caught his parents having sex, and this
became something I wanted to see as well. I spied on my parents while they
slept, or while they watched television together in their bedroom. For
months, I did not detect the slightest signs of physical affection between
It was in this context that I
witnessed A.K. Natarajan’s final fall from grace. One night, my parents
were watching Dallas in their bedroom; I had nudged the door slightly
open and was watching them. Then a small miracle began to happen. Without
turning around, my father reached out toward my mother’s bed and put his
hand on her thigh, or what I imagined would be her thigh, were it not covered
ambiguously by the folds of her sari. I felt my breaths grow short. Yet,
if my father was making his overture, my mother did not seem to notice
his hand on her thigh. They stared at the screen and nothing more happened.
J.R. Ewing smiled a devious smile and the closing credit sequence began.
Still, nothing happened. I felt disappointed for a second; then, it hit
me that the very fact that nothing was happening was, in fact, a sure sign
that something was happening! Normally, my mother should have pushed his
hand away by now.
The Dallas theme song was almost
over, the aerial shot of the ranch had darkened into the Lorimar logo,
and neither of my parents had turned over, or moved, or shifted even slightly,
or looked at each other, or relaxed. They sat there, looking vacantly at
the screen as the advertisements came on, my father with his hand on my
mother’s thigh, building up—I guess—his
Then, my father began to brush
his hand in slow, choppy strokes towards my mother’s groin. An advertisement
for a new nightclub came on: The Kapenta Inn Restaurant and DancingPalace.
My mother turned. I could see shots of the band, could hear the horn section
and the double guitars. My father got up and joined my mother on her bed,
while the sexy dancers, the Kapenta Inn Dancing Queens, performed in front
of the band in loose t-shirts and skirts. He rubbed her back. An overdubbed
announcer’s voice came on, “Visit The Kapenta Inn Restaurant and Dancing
Palace, where everybody comes to have fun!” My mother gasped sharply.
My father said, “Oh my god!” The Kapenta Inn was a place Mimi and Natarajan
told me they liked to go, and I understood implicitly that their outings
were meant to be a secret. I knew also that Natarajan was the only Indian
who frequented the joint, which, being a hub of music, liquor, and prostitution,
did not have a good reputation among the pious Tamil Brahmins. Now on the
TV screen for the whole country to see, they appeared, and on an advertisement
no less: A.K. dancing—with Mimi in shorts
and a blouse so tight you could see her nipples. They were soldered together,
going lower, and A.K. had one hand between Mimi’s thighs. A cheering, laughing
crowd surrounded them. My parents saw everything. To make things even worse,
the clip itself lasted for not more than three seconds, but the Inn owners
were so eager to make their point about the diversity of their clientele
that they looped it, a second, and a third time. And then it was gone,
and the logo of the Kapenta Inn appeared against a white screen. My parents
were mortified; my father jumped from my mother’s bed.
Pandemonium ensued. The phones of
expatriate Indians were kept busy for weeks afterwards while the incident
was discussed and linked with all the other rumours that had accumulated
about Natarajan. Among Africans, opinion was more divided. For a few, he
was a kind of hero, the only Indian who was not above mixing. For others,
he was a comic figure on par with Peter Sellars, and his dance moves on
TV even inspired a new, short-lived dance, the Indiya jive. However, the
small powerful lobby which brought the incident into public focus, which
wrote letters to the editor and radio call-ins, was a conservative one.
For long, there had been concern about Indian exploitation. This lobby
argued that, apart from over-charging and stealing jobs from Africans,
Indian men were also constantly using African women for sex without being
willing to marry them or pay child support. They claimed that the poor
compounds of the capital were overflowing with “Indian” children. It was
an insult to African culture, and a double standard, because Indian women
were not similarly accessible to African men, etc. Unfortunately for Natarajan,
our school’s principal had long been one of the most active voices in this
traditionalist lobby, and he had powerful political connections. A meeting
of the school board was called, and Natarajan was forced to resign. As
for Mimi, she left the country, at least according to one rumour in my
On the day of his departure for
the homeland, Natarajan was a broken, chain-smoking man. He had asked my
father to drop him at the airport, and my father had agreed. I came along.
In the car he made bitter jokes, while my father shifted uneasily in the
driver’s seat. I did not know what to say to him. “Goodbye young fellow,”
he said to me before heading towards the immigration check. “You will be
a great man some day.” My father put his hand on my shoulder and clucked
his tongue. I am still grateful to A.K. Natarajan, my teacher, for saying
He is struggling up the stair-ladder
into the Air India plane with his hand baggage over-stuffed with books.
That is my last image of him. Afterwards, in the car, my father cleared
his throat repeatedly. I could see that his eyes had misted.
I asked, “What’s the matter, Appa?”
“Nothing, Vivek. Only I am feeling
“Worried about what?”
“Nothing. Just worried. Worried
about you. You must not let yourself be distracted by wrong things, okay?
You must study hard.”
I said, “I will, Appa. I promise.”
Years later, I returned to the capital
where I had spent my childhood years. The streets still had all the same
names, but everything else had changed. The roads had been neglected and
ruined. Half the population was HIV positive; famine loomed on the horizon.
Daylight murder had become a common affair. I was there on a UNHCR mission,
and think I may have spotted Mimi Tijou through the tinted windows of my
chauffeur-driven Audi, walking on the street. I desperately wanted to get
out and say hello, but so much time had elapsed that I hesitated, presuming
that she, in any case, would not have recognized me. The woman who might
have been Mimi had put on a lot of weight. She was crossing the street,
holding a young boy’s hand. His hair was nearly straight and he was looking
away from me.
Copyright © 2003 by Vivek Narayanan.