there is a joke among indians that our families never seem to smile in photographs. but this seems to be a strategy that we are losing in the diaspora
growing up i remember learning the names of relatives like the ways we are taught to identify constellations in the night sky: always looking from a distance trying to determine lines and shapes to recall should we be so fortunate enough to meet in person one day
i come from a family of shitty digital photographs of old people not smiling — with hearts made out of thousands of phone cords hugging tightly – attached to emails from across the ocean inundated with so many prayers and blessings that sometimes i think i could break all the rules and still be okay (cause grandma’s got me covered for life)
you see this is what it means to be of diaspora: to embrace half of your family as low quality photos of wrinkles and frowns is to become intimately familiar with the dust of a family album, the static of a phone receiver, the stories of a time and country always on the other side of your palm where the brownest parts of you reside
so family is never really about the kiss, the hug, the touch. it is more of a feeling that we learn how to carry deep inside our chests it is more of a type of connection that no border can swallow it is about hearing the news across the receiver that one of those stars thousands of miles away flickered out and maybe you only saw it once or twice but you are still weeping because you remember the aluminum of a voice remember the grayest of eyes remember that scowl and how deeply and defiantly it loved you amidst it all
but to be of the diaspora means that you are growing accustomed to this perpetual feeling of loss how much sense it makes to experience it in this country where they have tried their best to rid you of your ancestors (so they can call you their own) and all of the other ways of being before the smile they forced on your face that moment they took your photo after granting you a college degree and stealing your native tongue after giving you a pay raise and sending a bomb across the ocean after reminding you american and reminding ‘them’ terrorist
you see this is what it means to be of diaspora: to not be able to isolate the grief of one passing from another sort of passage, to become so familiar of losing that we become comfortable with mispronouncing our names and our faces with features that were never meant for us and we do not have a language to explain to the constellations that we were already lonely before they left us
so maybe i am terrified of my own smile because it reveals the vastness of an ocean and just how much we are capable of losing and how much we have already lost
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - this is an original poem by alok vaid-menon. please consider supporting the artist.
"Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact."