Note to self: if you want to be a happier person, don't go looking for old-school West Wing and/or Sports Night fanfiction. You know better than that.
So, I'm still thinking about the numb3rswom3n fic that I'm writing, and I've decided - for a little part of it - to fuck the idea of factual cohesion. Not in a huge way, and this will make sense when I finally post the damn thing, but for the sake of making the thing readable and believable. I'm not sure people are going to notice the difference, but I figure, you know, there has to be a point where you sacrifice some of the Real-Life-ness of a fic in order to make it feel real.
I'm not making any sense, am I?
I know I talk about books a lot these days, especially the Myth series from Canongate, but seriously, guys, is there anything better than mythology? We're always creating it anew, I think, but there's nothing like those first stories. Su Tong's Binu and The Great Wall isn't a myth that I know of, but it's that kind of folk story that tells you so much about a people, and so much about their lives without feeling didactic. I'm finding it very easy to read because as I said before, the narrative voice is that of telling stories, and I have always found that appealing. There is something timeless but childlike about myths, and the way that they're handed on these days. I think this is because myths are still part of the oral tradition of literature, and nowadays the only stories we tell this way - other than personal anecdotes, or narrative summaries - are children's stories: myths, legends, folktales. So these important stories always remind me of having stories told to me.
I told twincy a redacted version of the story of the birth of Ganesha, a Hindu myth that remains a part of our great tradition of faith; I'm not religious anymore but when I first came to university, my aunt gave me a little statue of Ganesha because his elephant's head represents wisdom, and because I was starting a new venture. I feel bad because I took the little idol home to D. and left it there with my parents. Religious iconography continues to make me uncomfortable, not because it offends me but because of the reverence I hold for it, despite not believing (it's the agnostic's fear, I suppose). But, anyway, there's another Ganesha story that tells you a lot about the nature of the relationship between parents and children in India, and in my family, and that's the story of the race around the universe. That link doesn't tell you the emphasis placed on how, for children, their parents are the whole world, and thus should be respected as such. It's an interesting story, and one that has always stayed with me because I resented its moral position when I was younger. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a story that is passed through the house, or the family. I'm fairly certain that the majority of my cousins, older and younger, have no idea about this fable. But when I was younger, my dad's sister used to send us these books - they were written in the style of comics - that had the ancient stories in them, and I read them and retained them the way that I read and retained other stories.
My favourite selections were the stories of Mirabhai's devotion to Sri Krishna, and Birbal's Fables (both of which are about real people), although I also had a copy of a text that told of the many incarnations of Vishnu. We also had a children's version of The Ramayan, the story of Rama and Sita, and the festival of Diwali. Except the children's book didn't have all the details which I now forget. I know that there was a king, that the king had three wives, and that from the three wives, four sons were born, but I don't remember the queens' names, or all of the sons' names, and I don't remember what started Rama's exile. The part that everyone remembers is that after Ravana's defeat at Rama's hands (with the help of Hanuman), Rama and Sita were allowed to return home, and people put lights on the street to guide them home. This is the history of the festival of lights, of Diwali, and like all things that belong to the world that I come from, I don't remember the details. It's a little embarrassing.
The Ramayan is an epic poem; related to that is The Mahabharata (Bharat is one of the ancient names for India itself), which I read a short translation of when I was a teenager, but I need to read it again because I have forgotten most of it. It contains within it a section that is very important, when Sri Krishna pauses on the battlefield to speak to Arjuna before a crucial war. The conversation does not take long, but is wise, and is actually very, very long. In itself it is an important text. This is the Bhagavad Gita, from which I know only one thing, which I often quote:
For certain is death for the born
And certain is birth for the dead;
Therefore over the inevitable
Thou shouldst not grieve.
And I really do believe in these things, much like I believe in the balance of all things. But I also believe that the universe is endless, and endlessly expanding into something beyond itself. Sometimes it's contradictory. And that's why I'm not religious.
There is a story that my grandmother used to tell me when I was very young; it is explicitly a children's story and the reason I know this is because there is a refrain in the narrative, the only part that I actually remember in the original Gujarati (so, I can't actually reproduce the narrative in Gujarati. I can only tell it again in English, which upsets me. I often ask my grandmother to tell me the story again but I forget the words, and my Gujarati is not as good as it could be). The refrain, when translated, goes, Old woman, I am going to eat you! Old woman, I am going to eat you! The story is reminiscent of Little Red Riding Hood, but really, now that I think about it, tells me a lot more about my culture than I originally realised. The story goes like this.
There was an old woman whose daughter had long since married and moved away to have her own family. She lived alone, and decided that she would travel to visit her daughter. So she set out to visit her daughter, and on the way, her path was barred by a hungry tiger. "Old woman, I am going to eat you!" said the tiger, but the old woman was unfazed.
"Tiger, I am old, and I am thin. Before you eat me, let me visit my daughter. There I will be well-fed and will grow fatter. Then, when I come home, you can eat me."
The tiger considers this proposition, and, finding it agreeable, lets the woman go. She leaves, visits her daughter, and does indeed relax, eat, and put on weight. A fortnight later, she makes the return journey, and is again accosted by the tiger.
"Old woman, I am going to eat you!"
Again, the woman is unfazed. She asks the tiger to let her wash, and make herself clean for consumption. The tiger, who is getting impatient, considers this, and lets her go, but follows her back to the house. In the house, the old woman takes her time, putting together a tray of spices. The tiger becomes more and more impatient. "Old woman, I am going to eat you!" But the woman has locked herself in her house. "Old woman, I am going to eat you!" The tiger launches himself at her door, knocking it down, and turns to pounce on the old woman. But the old woman is wise, and full of cunning, and she flings the spices at the tiger who, mad and blinded, howls in pain. Unable to see, he is unable to attack, and the old woman beats him into submission.
A lot happens in this story. For one, there are two refrains in the telling - first, that of the tiger's ominous words, and secondly, that of the old woman's activities (let me go to my daughter's house, and get fat; the phrasing in Gujarati is delightful. Jadi-padi is akin to roly-poly, and has this rhythm to it that is wonderful, especially because in Gujarati, that 'd' is much more like a 'r' sound). [edit (21.26): Was talking to The Dad; the phrase is actually taji-maji, and works along the same lines as jadi-padi. Jadi means fat (girl), so that's what I remembered the sound as. Obviously, I was wrong.] This is definitely a story for children, the telling makes that obvious. But it's also a story about how life happens in the gam (village) in India - the old woman is obviously widowed, she walks everywhere, and when your daughters are married off, if you have no sons, you have no-one to support you. This old woman was wise, and cunning, and able to fend off the tiger's attack; but the story tells of her going to her daughter's house, of being welcomed there, and well cared for, not only because children always have a responsibility to their elders, but because - or so I assume - this woman is from one of the middle castes, one who doesn't have to relinquish her daughter completely. This is a story that I will always love.
My grandmother also used to sing me a song when I used to take baths. In English it goes we bathe in the Ganges and it tells the story of a man on his religious pilgrim to the holy waters. In India, all water really does return from whence it came, and when you die, your ashes are tipped into the rivers leading you home, back to the sea.
If you are wondering why I am thinking about this right now, it is because (a) I'm considering mythology and (b) it is Diwali soon, and I have been thinking a lot about my family, specifically how our culture merges with our religion, or, rather, how it doesn't. When you are young, you are raised as a Hindu, but when you get older, when you forget these things, you only see the rites, not the meaning. My grandmother, as a widow, does not eat meat. During the month of Shravana, she fasts. (Incidentally, in the lunar calendar, my birthday falls on the last day of Shravana; this is why my grandmother always remembers my birthday). During weddings, you walk seven times around the agni, the fire. I know why, but I don't know how it relates to the fasting, or to all these stories that I know. I feel like the two are such varied and different things; like Catherine McKenna in Grace Notes, who believes in the rhythm and pattern of Catholicism, but not the god.
I am not Amita who tried to shake off her skin; I believe in a besting of both worlds. But sometimes I think I give up too much. I am not the same as my cousins, I'm not interested in the things that urban British Asians are interested in. But sometimes I think I believe in more than what they believe, and also less, because I am so far away.