The Lessons of Adolescence

Looking back at my years in junior high school from the view of a 79-year-old woman is filled with bittersweet memories. I couldn’t wear pants to school despite living in Minnesota. My music teacher used to play the piano at the movies before “talkies” arrived and class consisted of singing the old songs of her time. Learning to stay clear of my homeroom teacher, “Spitting Katie”, who had a space between her front teach which resulted in her spraying on you when speaking. Helping my boyfriend set type for the school newspaper which required setting each letter in a wooden frame that had separations for each column and had to be then tightened by huge handles that kept the letters in place. We then mounted this frame into a machine that resembled a thrashing machine which then individually printed each page by the operator raising and lowering a crank. The most vivid memory of my junior high school last year is being my English teacher’s “teacher’s pet”. He also organized the lunchtime activities in the school gym. My girlfriend and I were invited by this teacher to join him in the audiovisual room above the gym to play records for those dancing in the gym. My girlfriend was far more savvy about the ways of the world, but when the teacher wanted to dance with me I had no idea what his groping my buttocks and his arousal meant or have the courage to confront this authority figure. Being very naive for my age, I was afraid to refuse his continued invitations. Only now do I know the effect those impressionable years had on me.

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Lesson 1:

The assignment was to listen to a song that brings back memories, then to write for 10 minutes about that/those memories. I chose to write about a time just before I became a Christian and lived a pretty unsavory lifestyle to my taste now.

Song: Days n’ Days “F**k It”

There was a freedom in those early days. There was a lack of care and responsibility. Driving around carelessly, the biggest and most important goal of the day was drinking more and passing the time. Finding something entertaining to do. It was freedom on the outside, living rebelliously because we were there “other”. We were embracing our “otherness”. It was an acceptance that we were powerless to anything larger than our own ability to sedate ourselves. It was a putting up of hands and saying “F**k it” and learning how to be free. There was not much to do, so we spent hours chain smoking and dreaming up a future that would never come. It was the best and worst of times, ignorant to anything that didn’t affect me or what I cared about. I was self indulgent and selfish. There was a freedom in the grit and there was type of sick virtue to it all. We had embraced our lower-middle class stature. We were born into this without a choice, why not make the choice to feel good? We couldn’t control much, but what we could control we did. We didn’t have an urge to preserve ourselves, because, after all, what was the point? We had each other and that was all we needed. We passed the time with nicotine stained hands and alcohol induced arguments about nothing. Chasing passions that meant nothing but self glorification. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We loved and hated ourselves because we knew the strange comfort of not being enough. We died to the idea of more. God was an idea we couldn’t relate to. God was in everything, but we searched for him at the bottom of bottles. It was the best of times, it was the worst of time. Our demons danced the nights away with us and we fed them the best food and drinks we could buy them.

It was long days full of caffeine and adrenaline and late nights full of gin, tonic and cigarettes. We couldn’t do much more than that. We were destructive and wanted to tear down society and dismantle it’s sickness, thinking we could do that with calloused elbows on a bar stool. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

10 possible ideas to write about:

-My spiritual journey
-my mother
-Moving as a child
-Prison Letters
-Church of Christ
-Urban edible landscapes

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Lesson 1

I had told my kids I would write the story of my life for them. I even set up a notebook to put the memories in. I titled it “This is Me”. But at 78 I have so many memories and due to a small stroke many years ago, there are some foggy areas of the past. I am hoping with the guidance of this course I will be able to give my children some idea of the world I grew up in and how it shaped me. There are so many stories it’s hard to know what and where to put them.

I doubt I’ll ever attempt to publish any of these stories, but they do open up avenues for the fiction I write and maybe I’ll publish one of those.

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Essentials of Memoir Writing Lesson 2

  • Moving to America/ A different country

-Where I moved from

-Where I moved to

-How it affected me

  1. Lessons learned from a bad relationship

– What happened?

-A lesson I learned from it

-How the lesson benefitted me

  1. Adolescence

– What I learned

-Reflection on adolescence


Set an alarm for 10 minutes. In those 10 minutes, as fast as you can, write more things that could go into a memoir related to any of your 3 topics. Don’t worry about whether the ideas are good or bad, the point is to write as fast as you can.

If ideas occur to you that don’t fit into any of your topics, add new topics for them.


à Bad relationship topic

-How I got out of the relationship

-Why I got into that situation in the first place

-Events leading up to the situation

Which topic did you choose to write about first?

– Most traumatic

Which topic did you automatically focus more attention on?

  • Bad relationship
  • Adolescence

Which topic did you generate the most ideas about?

– Bad relationship

Which topic do you feel the most attracted to? Which one interests you the most?

  • Adolescence is the most attractive.
  • Bad relationship is the most interesting


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Silk Pants

Whether you’re shopping for fun or you have a specific event in mind that you need to dress for, Walmart’s Women’s clothing section has just what you need. With a generous selection of wardrobe staples and fun accent pieces to wear for formal, casual, professional or athletic occasions, you’ll find the right items at Every Day Low Prices. You can build an entire wardrobe in this section. We offer a full range of women’s clothing sizes, including plus and petite size ranges, allowing everyone to shop for and find women’s clothes to suit their style. Dresses, skirts, scrubs, jeans, shorts, jackets, T-shirts and tank tops are all available in this section. If you’re looking for underwear or pajamas , you can find those items in our Intimates & Sleepwear section. Women’s dress pants at Gap Factory are designed to flatter. Slim fits sit just below the waist and provide a sleek look through the hip and thigh, creating a streamlined silhouette that’s classic and stylish. Choose the original Slim City Pant or the Cropped Slim City Pant, which sits just above the ankle and is perfect for the season. These designs are great for work, going out to dinner with your girlfriends or that friend who’s starting to become something more, or simply any time you want to look amazing. Pair with flats or classic pumps for a look that’s polished and easy.

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PLEASE NOTE: is not responsible for delivery delays that may occur as a result of poor weather conditions and parcel volume. A piece that combines free time with sartorial elegance. These buttoned jacquard trousers in stretch silk wool blend are brought up to date with a drawstring waist and feature a regular rise and straight side pockets. Leg cuff width 18.5 cm / 7.2 in.

Robert Rodriguez Wide-Leg Silk Pants w/ Slit Detail Details Robert Rodriguez silk pants with slit detail. High-rise; hidden hook-zip fly. Side slip pockets. Back welt pockets. Relaxed fit through wide legs. Dry clean. Imported. DRYING – Silk should be hung to dry. Heat can cause shrinkage and damage many expensive fabrics, and silk is no exception. Protect the fabric and it will last for years.

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LESSON 3, EXERCISE 1:Come up with at least 5 details about your childhood bedroom

Come up with at least 5 details about your childhood bedroom.

My bed was in the middle, the head of the bed against the wall. If i was lying in bed, Jonathan’s crib was on my left. I think I was 4 or 5 when I slept in that room.

The floor had a kelly green color linoleum with raised flower patterns. I loved to take a paper and shade a crayon to get the flower pattern on the paper.

One night in my bed in the middle of the room, my finger started irritating me. I remembered that earlier I had tied around my finger, a twistie tie from the produce section of the grocery store, to create a beautiful green ring. But now it was tight and my finger was swelling up and turning red. i got up and went inside where I found my father and Roxanne talking by the front door in the living room in the soft evening lamplight. I showed them my problem and Roxanne helped get it off while my father waited. I feel good; there is no judgement. Gentleness. A vapor of love slowly comforting me.

I sometimes climbed into Jonathan’s crib with him to play. Fun. Exciting. Silly.

Once my mother came in at night to bathe Jonathan and change his diaper. She said she’d be back in five minutes. Almost instantly I am standing in the doorway of the bathroom, “Is five minutes up yet”. I don’t remember any yelling. I just waited there until she was done.

Memories. Warm, soft.

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Hi, I am an amateur at writing. To be honest I really don’t like to write. However, I am trying to write a memoir about my mother’s death, even if it is just for me. I am looking for positive criticism on how to improve.

The following is from lesson 2.

They hugged said goodbye, took a picture with her (this would be the last picture she would ever be in and just minutes before she died) and left. I finished hanging up the clothes on the outdoor clothesline. Hot humid summers are good when it comes to needing a free dryer. What better than free, fresh outside air.

Mom and I walked back into the kitchen and I went to sit on the couch. I watched her count her meds again and take a bite of the FiberOne cookie. She then walked silently into the bathroom. She never made a noise just calmly and quietly walked into the bathroom. My dad walks in there to brush his hair.

“Are you chocking Judy?” He said this in such a quite calm manner, I was stunned and confused at the same time. I jumped up to see and she was blue. She looked straight at me. I mean not just her lips were blue her whole face was blue. I could see she was afraid. She understood what was happening. The strongest feeling of fear washed over me. This was a complete terror, panic, and helplessness hitting me with a beam that is comparable to a firehose.

“Call 911!! Do the heimlich!! Do something she’s choking!!” I kept going in circles. He handed me the phone as he tried the heimlich. It took what felt like forever for the phone to connect. The feeling of panic was so strong it was choking my ability to think. I just knew that she was going to die and there was nothing I can do. As I waited for someone to answer the phone he began to panic even more.

“Are they sending an ambulance? Where are they?” He has a round bloated face and when he is upset it can be quite intimidating. He gently sat her on the floor. There was no sound coming from her. She was not moving but her eyes were open, she was awake. Was she hurting? Did she know?

“No one has picked up!” I gave him the phone to try. He must have gotten through because he started to talk to the 911 operator.

I picked her up, I wanted to try. I can stop this. This is not going to happen. I took my fat arms around her frail wast from behind. I pushed as hard as I could. I kept expecting the cookie to come flying out of her mouth. Noting. I pushed and pushed. I was sure the with my strong will alone that it would come flying out and she would be breathing again. Her body started to convulse. She was shaking in my arms, and then went limp. At this point, panic turned to desperation. I had to stop this. I gently laid her body on the floor, then I ran to get the other cell phone to call my sister. If I could not stop this, then maybe she could.

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Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

Rough hands lifted David up and propelled him forward toward the smoking corpse of the immolated man – toward his own fate. He wanted to scream, to fight free, but shock and disbelief kept him mute. A cane struck him across the back and another across his face. Fists beat into his chest and shoes against his legs. His two captors shouted at him to stay silent and then at the crowd of men.

“We are taking this white man to our village,” they announced. “He is an American! CIA!” They spit the words as though something foul were in their mouths.  “Our village mourns the death of our Mother Gandhi. We have not had a way to revenge the murder. We will take him to sacrifice there.”

“Where is your village?” challenged the brute who had started the fire.

“Awagarh,” David’s captors answered. “We deserve our own sacrifice, so our village knows we honored the Mother,” he repeated, as though the crowd had not heard him the first time.

Somehow the crowd acquiesced. Their need for revenge had been sated by the horror of their deed. Much later, David would reflect that the ungodly screams and the sickening smell of burning kerosene and flesh brought them out of the collective trance that drives a mob. When the spell is broken, each man then becomes an independent witness to the atrocity of the mob and must carry the cruel act alone in memory. But in the cold emptiness of that night, held rigid by his captors, all David understood was that his fate lay somewhere else.

They walked for miles in the dark. At first the two men struck him viciously with canes and shouted in threatening tones, telling him he would die like the men who had killed their Mother Gandhi. David’s eyes swelled shut, his legs bled from the rake of thorn bushes, and he broke toes on unseen rocks. His lips bled and he vomited bile from the stomach kicks. But miles away from the train tracks, miles from the immolated man and his friend who’d been left behind, alive, when, sobered and perhaps ashamed, the vigilantes had dispersed, David’s two captors grew quiet and gentle. They stopped at a river to rest and to bandage his wounds.

“My name is Suresh,” said the older man in soft, broken English. “What is your name?” David couldn’t answer. Shock, fatigue and pain had reduced him to a shell. “What is your name?” repeated the man. David looked in the man’s face and saw neither anger nor unkindness. “This is Arjun.” Suresh pointed to his partner and David looked into the face of a boy who had yet to reach adulthood. “What is your name?” Suresh insisted.

“David.” The sound was garbled in his broken mouth. “David,” he tried again.

Suresh bound the worst of David’s cuts with a bandana and Arjun picked gaanja along the stream, crushing the leaves into a pulp. “Eat. Eat,” mimed Suresh, as Arjun forced the bitter mash into David’s mouth. Within a few moments, David lay back on the ground to sleep. Dawn was a light streak across the sky, so Suresh and Arjun stripped to their lungis and bathed in the river, quietly invoking the goddess as they watched for danger. When David woke, Suresh and Arjun were squatting silently nearby.

“We had to beat you,” apologized Suresh with a deep sorrow in his voice. “They had to believe…” A long silence followed. “Are you American?” Silence again while David’s fogged brain tried to decide the right answer. “American?” pushed Suresh, and David nodded, no idea what that meant for his future. Nothing more was said so David succumbed again to the pain and gaanja, slipping gratefully back into semi-consciousness.

At dusk they woke him and wrapped his head and face with their dried lungis so he would look like an Indian. Crossing the river, they circumvented the main road of Awagarh and wound through fields to a mud and straw house with open windows, a cow, several chickens and a few stray dogs. David ducked as they pushed him urgently through the small entry and into a storage room on the side of an open courtyard. He heard Suresh silence the alarmed voices of women and then he was alone.  The windowless room held pots, bags of grain, and a pile of dried buffalo dung patties for cooking. He fell to the ground in exhaustion and when Suresh came in some hours later, David was asleep on the mud floor.

Suresh carried a bowl of dal, some chapattis, and a lota of water. He sparked a kerosene lamp and squatted near the wall. “Kha,” he grunted. Eat. David painfully curled onto a bruised hip, aware of every wound, and looked warily at Suresh.  He took up the lota and drank, but most of the water ran through split lips down his filthy shirt. He soaked the chapattis until they were sodden bites and drank the dal. Then he looked Suresh in the eyes and asked why. Why was he pulled off the train? Why did Suresh beat him and then feed him? Why was he here… in this village…in this storeroom?

“They would have killed you.”  Suresh followed the simple statement with a matter-of-fact silence. “They’ll kill you if they find you here.” Then it was David’s turn to be silent. “We’ll guard you, but don’t come out of this room.”

Tension wrote itself across Suresh’s face. David’s own anxiety waned only slightly as he began to understand the risk Suresh was taking on himself and his family. Gangs of men were wandering the roads killing Sikhs and their supposed ally, the American CIA. Suresh and his young brother Arjun had saved him in the only way they could…by convincing the mob at the train that they would show him real punishment when he got to their village.  It had been a convincing ruse, and he had the bruises to prove it. But the danger had not passed. Now he would have to protect this family by hiding in silence, as Suresh had protected him by shouting and beating.  The very thought was exhausting. Suresh said nothing more as he left and closed the door, plunging the storage room into darkness again. David dropped back to the mud floor, a grain sack for his head. His clothes smelled like burnt flesh, his cuts still bled, and his teeth were loose, but he was alive. As he passed into sleep, he saw the man afire and heard his screams, and he knew that scene had been burnt indelibly into his brain.

Two weeks passed in the darkness of the storage room. Before dawn, Arjun would take him to the field to relieve himself, wrapped always in a lungi to disguise his white skin. Then he’d have a banana, some chai and perhaps a clay bowl of poha mixed with yogurt. By the full light of day, he’d be back in the storage room until nightfall. Occasionally he became restless, but the persistent darkness caused sleep that helped heal his wounds and, except for his broken teeth and toes, he started to feel mostly whole again. In the evening Suresh would bring dal, chapati and more chai. They’d sit in the dimly lit storage room talking about life in America or David’s interest in Hindu philosophy, then Suresh’s work in the jute field and gossip from villagers about the current level of safety. Suresh had a plan to take David across miles of open fields on the next moonless night and put him on the slow cargo train to Calcutta where he could ride 3rd class with the goats, chickens and grains.

David anticipated the escape would be as terrifying as the night he’d been thrown off the Rajdhani. Memories of the burning man had grown and morphed in his dreams until he saw himself alight and more than once woke screaming, to the dismay of Suresh’s household. He imagined himself stumbling through the dark, hiding from mobs of killers, missing the train, or worse, catching it to find the same killing mob in the cargo car. Cowardice bent his mind into perverse anguish, but shame made him humble in front of Suresh, the gentle, simple man who risked everything to save him. When the moonless night finally came, David rallied and accepted whatever fate allotted.  Dressed in the ragged clothes of a villager, hiding behind a scruffy beard, uncut hair, and a lungi around his head, David set out with Suresh and Arjun for the long walk.

The cargo train rattled across west India for an interminable two days. David squatted in a benchless 3rd class car crammed full of India’s poorest people, their livestock, and their meager household goods. He looked and smelled like a vagrant, and no one paid attention to him. He was relieved to be unrecognizable, even to himself.  Fear and humility had been great teachers over the past weeks, along with the miles walked barefoot in darkness with Suresh and Arjun. They had guided him safely to the train and given him a cloth bag with five rupees and three chapatis. He felt wealthy…full of their kindness and their gifts, full of life as a different person than he’d ever been.

End Assassination – Scene 3 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

My husband, David, was doing complimentary research at Jawaharlal Nehru Library in New Delhi. As a linguist, he worked with several translators on esoteric manuscripts dating back to the 16th century. I expected him back in Calcutta by early November, but days, then weeks passed and he did not return. Indira Gandhi had been assassinated in Delhi, so I assumed he was laying low somewhere until he could safely catch a train back to Calcutta. It was mid-December before I saw him again.

David had waited a couple weeks after the assassination, watching the same kind of urban anarchy that surrounded me. Delhi authorities, however, were quicker to bring out the Army and quell some of the violence, but not all. Finally thinking himself safe, David grabbed only a backpack and caught the Rajdhani at midnight – a fast non-stop train that would have him in Calcutta within a day. Once on the train, he saw the error of his decision. Entire Sikh families were fleeing Delhi, hoping to move into cities, rural communities, or anyplace they could be safe until the violence abated. Unfortunately for them, the non-stop train made a perfectly inescapable cage for the angry mobs of men moving car to car down the long length of the non-stop train…killing, maiming, abusing, raping.

David spotted an older Caucasian woman in the train car ahead of him. He made his way to her through a crush of bodies, crying children and piles of household goods. She was probably over 70 and alone, crammed in a 2-person seat with five other people, and looking distraught. Pulling out some luggage and shoving it into the lap of a sleeping man, then rousting out a couple other guys, David sat down beside her.

“What are you doing on this train alone?” he barked and then realized his own stress was showing.

“I’ve come to visit my granddaughter,” she responded in a tougher voice than he would have expected. “She lives in an ashram on the Ganges River and she invited me to spend a few months with her. I’ve been in a hotel in Delhi waiting for the violence to calm down. Now I’m not so sure this train was a good idea.”

David looked around at all the Sikh families and wondered if they were going to be safe. These were innocent people, but the anger of the Hindu nation had yet to be assuaged, and gangs of vigilantes still appointed themselves avengers of the martyred Prime Minister. He settled back on the hard, wood train seat, letting his tension subside, when his musings were abruptly interrupted by shouts and fighting from the train car ahead of them. Suddenly a frantic young man burst through the connecting door.

“Churee! Churee! Chaku!” Knife! Knife! he begged first in Hindi and then in Punjabi. “Cut my hair! Cut my hair!”  He pushed and shoved his way into the crowded train car with the desperation of a man about to be executed, which he was. His Sikh turban was in his hand and his long black hair hung wildly down his back and shoulders.

“They’re coming! Killing anyone with a turban! Killing anyone with long hair! Cut my hair! I don’t want to die!” he shrieked.

The deceptively agile old grandmother beside David jumped up and shouted, “Come here! Come here!” He hardly heard her over the frantic din of other Sikh men shouting, reaching for their turbans, knowing they would have to fight the killing mob if they wanted to keep their lives and families safe. The crowd propelled the young man back to where David sat and the fearless woman pulled out her knitting scissors and went to work on her first emergency haircut. Other men approached for haircuts and she never hesitated, cutting fast and furious. Then knives appeared around them and other turbans disappeared as men began to cut their own long hair and throw it out the train windows.

By the time the vigilantes reached David’s train car, two Sikh men still wore turbans. They sat proudly and waited, showing neither fear nor anticipation. Their hair was a connection to God and their turbans were a sign of their religious conviction. No one in the train car breathed when the turbaned Sikhs stood in silent opposition to the vigilantes. Then the train whistle suddenly rent the moonless night and the emergency brakes sent everyone lurching into seats and aisles around them.

Before the train completely stopped, the cars were overrun by more angry men who climbed the train’s outside ladders from the open countryside. They had blocked the tracks and taken over the train, fueled by the fever of riot and revenge, knowing that fleeing Sikhs were trapped in the train cars like goats in a pen. Ten more men entered David’s train car from the outside. Spotting the turbaned Sikhs first, they let loose with canes and clubs, attacking the two men and anyone who tried to defend them.  Weakened and bloody, the broken men finally surrendered to their fate and were thrown out of the train car to the hardpan beside the tracks. Half the vigilantes still looked around the car, hoping to find another scapegoat for their unsatisfied bloodlust.  Not one passenger moved. Then a hot, angry hand grabbed David from behind and drug him to the center aisle. Accusations from the vigilantes of “American! CIA!” came in Hindi and broken English, and the rioting men were on him with feet and fists. He tried to fight but their canes bloodied his head and shoulders. They drug him to the door and flung him into the night. He heard the wail of the old grandmother as he hit the ground and lost consciousness.

David tried to sit up, tried to find himself in the cold, moonless night. A hard kick from the back sent him sprawling again, face down in the gravel bed of the tracks. Terror gripped him and he screamed through torn lips and broken teeth.  Then they had him by his arms and were dragging him out into the barren countryside.  Far from the tracks, they dropped him next to the two Sikhs who had fought and lost on the train. An argument amongst the captors had the group pushing and fighting each other almost as viciously as they had beaten David and the Sikh men. David listened to their slurred and possibly drunken Hindi and understood there was disagreement about the next move. They had stopped a train, raided the cars, and extracted innocent men for punishment. But they had no common resolve when it came to revenge.

A large brute of a man ignored the fray and grabbed one of the Sikhs by his long hair, dragging him in front of the other captors. From nowhere he produced a metal can and liberally doused the prostrate man with gas. Some of the captors shouted objections, but others cheered him on. He lit his small cigarette and threw it on the Sikh. A startling whoomph of fire, an inhuman scream, and the crowd was forced backward, into the shadow of their deed. The burning body whirled and writhed, bent and rolled, fought like a wild beast against the inevitable. Unholy screams called in both gods and demons, called in the land, air and water as witness, embedding themselves in the heart of every man who stood silent. On and on they went, as though the burning man would not be silenced until only ash remained, until the screams would rise unbidden from the earth having borne such a travesty. And when the sound was only an echo in their memories, the guilty men were bound by the smell of burning flesh, clinging to the fetid night, wrapping itself around their clothing and resting firmly in their nostrils lest memory of the deed fade. Then the train whistle wailed a last time in the far distance, leaving them alone and anonymous in the dark countryside. David vomited into the brown soil beneath him.

End Assassination – Scene 2 (Draft 1)

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Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

This is the opening scene from a story about my early life in India.  It’s the initial draft, and I’ll have to re-write many times before I’m satisfied. If anyone here can help with critical comments, I’ll be most grateful.  Stoney.


Assassination – Scene 1 (Draft 1)

I huddled over my balcony desk, surrounded by ancient texts and scrolls that hadn’t seen light for decades. Pages crumbled, tiny mites and spiders crawled out of the bindings.  I fussed over every item, documenting what I could, saddened by the knowledge lost from these dried and deteriorating scrolls.  The old library was dark except for my small lamp. Long rows of unlit archives spread out behind me, silent except for the scurry of a rat, the groan of an overladen stack of books, or the whisper from some long-dead scribe. Suddenly, the soft swish of fabric, and I startled as a librarian in her silk sari materialized at my side. I took a deep breath, covering my surprise by pulling out my library authorization form, one I had worked hard to secure. It was 1984 and I was a white woman in Calcutta; the Gandhi Memorial Library where I studied was never really convinced I could be a scholar of ancient Hindu mythology.

“You need to leave immediately,” she whispered in a surprisingly hoarse, frightened voice.

“I’m authorized to handle these old scripts,” I countered, showing her my card and letters of introduction from American University in Washington DC.  I thought she was just protecting her archives from me, as the other librarians wanted to do, but she paid no attention to my documents.

“It’s not that,” she croaked in a broken voice. “Indira Gandhi has been assassinated. You’re not safe here. Go home and stay inside.”  Then she disappeared back into the dark stacks, her sandals slapping hurriedly on the old stone floor.

My mind was blank for a few minutes. Then I looked at the priceless old texts around me and wondered if I’d ever see them again. “Why wouldn’t this quiet library be a safe place?” I whispered to no one. The urgency of leaving caught me as I looked over the balcony and saw the library staff and other patrons running out side doors, locking everything behind them.

I caught a riksha and made my way through chaos toward the small apartment I kept near the Hooghly Bazaar. Shops were closing, people running home or somewhere, grabbing food and supplies. Calcutta streets were always a calamitous dance of vehicles, animals, bikes and humans that I could barely navigate, but now a palpable frenzy, a low hysteria, drove the street. The fear was contagious, and in the midst of the frantic, pushing crowd, I felt alone and vulnerable, even though I didn’t fully understand the cause. I’d been in India for years, and I’d seen impromptu street justice meted out at the scene of an accident, or fights between strangers on the road, but this desperation was something new. The riksha driver also sensed the urgency and left the main road to cut through back alleys, then loop around Fort William where travel toward the river and my home became easier. He was an old man, the riksha driver, and I could see from the tension in his muscles and the instinctual way he avoided groups of young men or agitated crowds, that he knew more about the danger we faced than I did. I paid him well when we reached my apartment and watched him run off, perhaps to help others or find safety in his own home.

Upstairs I found my 10-year-old son, Chris, home early from school. Konika was with him, as always. She had lived with me for more than a decade, guiding and guarding Chris through the perils and joys of young life in India. She had started working as Chris’s nanny in Uttar Pradesh, just after he was born, I spent my days in libraries, documenting old texts and manuscripts related to the origin of Hindu mythology. We had lived in Dehradun, Jaipur, Vrindavan, and Madras, but now we were in central Calcutta. I studied in the disquieting old Gandhi library – with library staff who didn’t want me there – and otherwise simply survived the crush of an overpopulated city that pressed in from all sides of our daily lives. Fortunately, Konika was an astute young Bengali woman and I could trust her to get Chris to school and back, shop for our groceries, and give me sage advice on how to survive rural and urban India.

“You’re home!” I gasped, out of breath from anxiety and climbing the stairs to our 3rd floor apartment. “Did the schools close?” I hugged them both a little longer than normal.

Chris remained silent which didn’t surprise me because he was an undemonstrative child. Konika answered in her soft Bengali, “I don’t know. I heard about the assassination on the radio and just brought him home. Many parents were picking up their children.”  I thanked her for her diligence and felt some of my apprehensive dissolve now that we were together and safe. Konika went to the kitchen to cook, Chris to read his Tintin comics, and I to tune the radio, first to a BBC station and then All India, hoping for some national news. I stood at the bay window, watching the local news act itself out on the street below.

Rikshas continued to run past my building, hot and fast. Normally patient shoppers now hustled through the streets, pushing and shoving, looking lost or frantic, trying to make quick decisions in the face of an unknown threat. Dogs were kicked out of the way and some large, slow animals were abandoned as people raced for security. Then I saw the first mob fight, 10 to 12 men against one, giving permission for violence to erupt across the city, wherever a gang of men could find a scapegoat.

I still didn’t really understand what was happening. Twenty years earlier, U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. I joined the rest of my countrymen in shock and sadness. We cried and mourned and asked questions of a government that lied, obfuscated, and promulgated war. Some of us blamed Texas, but we blamed Texas for lots of things. We did not, however, run into the street and start mobbing innocent people. The radio said Gandhi had been killed by her Sikh guards, and it was turbaned Sikhs being mobbed and beaten in the street outside my window. I believed that Lee Harvey Oswald – a young, white, American male – had killed Kennedy, but I would have been astounded if there had been a nationwide attack on all young, white males as a result. The lawlessness of the Calcutta street violence, the anarchy of all things moral and right from my own upbringing, made me tremble in fear as the end of day brought darkness to my window and terror for anyone on the street.

Days went past, Chris stayed home from school, the door stayed bolted although we heard voices in the apartment building hallway…shouts, cries, then silence. On the morning of the fourth or fifth day, Konika said we were out of food and that she would try to get to the bazaar. Neighbors had told her that the American CIA had been implicated in the assassination, and although I had no doubt that Gandhi’s death played out on the larger world stage, I didn’t want to be held personally accountable for the political machinations of my country or any other. If rumor on the street blamed Americans, how would a mob determine that I was a research scholar and not a covert operative? Perception is always reality in the absence of fact, and ignorance has a bullhorn in a mob. I let Konika go out, and she made it home without incident, while I hid like a quiet, hunted animal waiting for danger to pass.

End Scene 1 – Assassination (Draft 1)

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