That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine …”
“Poem in October” by Dylan Thomas, written on his 30th birthday, one year before his death
People look at him with sympathy pouring out of their pupils. Poor Indian boy, they whisper to themselves. One of his legs must be shorter than the other. And he must be so hungry … he can’t find clothes that fit him! Then it hits them. It is not a limp at all. His clothes are not multigenerational hand-me-downs. They realize with a jumpstart that what they are seeing is simply a gangster-ass-desi (GAD). Then their jaws begin the slow descent towards the earth, and their eyes widen. What a sight! A brown teenager walking like a street killa, sporting fubu pants with the belt around his knees and a hat pulled low at a perfectly gangster 39 degree angle to the left. His face is set in an angry, deadly expression and the people know, from the aura of danger emanating from his body, that whatever happens, they will show respect to this sand-nigga.
Walking down the street from the other direction is another desi, this one a female. She is more of the typical Indian girl, and unless you look closely, you’ll miss her. With ordinary dark hair atop an ordinary head set on an ordinary body, one could easily classify this desi lady as “normal.” She is currently on her cell phone with her pheonce, an ordinary Indian boy who lives in Atlanta.
As the two Indian Americans pass each other, the female utters three words that change the universe: “adhe enneke venda!” she says into the phone. Three words, spoken in Malayalam, which mean, “I don’t want that!”
Time stops for a moment. It then resumes. However, during that brief, infinite moment of timelessness, a transformation of magnificent proportions takes place within the psyche of the GAD boy. He stops dead in his tracks. For a moment he just stands. Gone from his face is the expression of death; gone from his body is the aura of danger; gone from atop his head is the gangster-style angle of his hat.
What has happened to this boy? Where has the commanding street presence, cultivated over many years, disappeared? What has happened to his identity? Who has he become, if he is no longer an apathetic hip-hop rapper? The answers to these questions may remain a mystery forever.
All that one can say for certain is that those three innocent words spoken in Malayalam by the passing desi lady sparked a life-changing transformation in the boy. Perhaps the words, somewhere along their arduous path into his ear and on to his eardrum, or perhaps in the process of being translated into signals and symbols to be interpreted by his brain, triggered a deep, subconscious psychological memory. Perhaps the boy was seized by a feeling of being enveloped in the warm arms of his mother, a deeply hidden feeling of trust and safety. Or maybe it was a memory of his mother’s soft whispers in a foreign language; of pure, unadulterated comfort, completely untainted by the decadence of adulthood and all the understanding that comes with it … comfort caused by soft syllables from the first voice he ever heard, from the first mouth he ever saw.
Whatever it was that caused the inner revolution in the boy, he walked home a different person. He walked into his dorm room in a daze and picked up his phone in a trance. His roommates did not know whether to laugh or call for help when they saw tears in his eyes at the sound of his mother’s voice. He did not even notice them, let alone care about their reactions.
Everybody believes in God. Everybody has had a deeply personal experience with God. Who is God, then? The boy-gangster from India realized that evening that God is the all-loving, ever-forgiving creator of the universe. Before God, there was nothing. He was nothing. Through the benign grace of a woman, his universe was created. As the boy took off his hat, he was born again. He realized, with the words of the desi lady, that 50 percent of what he perceived as reality was actually obscured by the bill of his gangster-cap. He re-entered the world with a new vision, with a wider scope, with more innocent eyes.
When he began to cry on the phone after talking to his mother for the first time in months, the change was final. He would never become a GAD again. He would change, he would become someone else. Perhaps he would forget about God again, but in that moment there was simultaneously an infinite loss and gain of innocence. He spurted out to his mother in a flurry of emotion, “Oh mom, I’m so sorry, I’ll never be like this again, I’ve done so much … you’d be ashamed of me, I’m so sorry … I’m so sorry, I promise you, I’m a different person now, I’ll never be the same, I’ll never change, I’ll always call everyday at least three times, I’ll never leave, I’ll live at home foreve …”
He could almost feel the dead seriousness in her voice as she interrupted, “cheh! adhe enneke venda!”
Sidharth Muralidhar is a freshman at the New York University and writes for India Abroad and www.lokvani.com. He plays many musical instruments, including guitar, tuba, flute, and flugelhorn, and also writes lyrics for and performs with his desi gangsta rap band Two Dirty Desis.