Excerpts from Vijay Balakrishnan

Reacting to:Dwaraka by E-mail

I ran across these excerpts of memoirs on The Paris Review website.  They're an interesting read, though I wish the publication had provided us with free access or at least a larger taste of what is contained in the full version.   Here's the first (and best imo) of the three that are free-99

Sent: October 20
      So this house—our house—in Coimbatore was built in 1957 by my maternal grandfather shortly after he retired at the age of fifty-five. A couple of years before, he’d completed what he considered his life’s work: one of the first hydroelectric dams in South Asia. Nehru even came for a visit to celebrate the engineering prowess and power of the new India. My grandfather drove the Jeep while Nehru stood waving at the gawking crowds. “The girls”—my mother and her sister—didn’t meet the great man, but they both remember that as he passed them in the throng he tossed them his flower garland. My grandfather was the executive engineer in charge of the project, and among the boisterous gang of junior engineers my father proved himself the alpha by succeeding in his bid to marry the boss’s eldest daughter.
      My grandfather built this house with the same precision and care as the dam. With ten-inch-thick concrete walls to keep it cool, deco window grills, teak doors, mosaic tile, and multiple terraces, it’s a tropical moderne classic. He named it Dwaraka after the capital of the Yadavas, the city of many gates, Krishna’s home in the Mahabharata. It’s the house I’ve known since birth, the place to which we descended from the hills of Ooty to the warm plains for school holidays. It’s the house in which I slid down my first banister. It’s here that I committed a stamping genocide of ants and then, in remorse and regret, cried through a burial ceremony orchestrated by my sister. It’s the house from which we left India—forever, or so I imagined.
      I was almost nine then, and for the first year or so in Chicago I had many dreams in which I woke up in Dwaraka, embraced by the security of its walls, the sounds of crows and scooters and car horns, only to wake again to twenty-below wind chill and gang shootings at my elementary school. I counted on Dwaraka to remain unchanged, the place I would be able to go back to at any time. A child’s wish, one I still carry somewhere in my heart. Each trip back, every three years or so, the house would grow huge in my anticipation, and always shrink as I arrived at the gate. And each time we left again for America, the departure was charged with the knowledge that it might be the last time you’d see someone. My grandfather went first. Weakened by a sixty-year smoking habit of fifty a day (a full tin, my aunt said, eyebrows raised), his health started to fail, and when I saw him for the last time, he said good-bye by making me bow down for a blessing.

By: on 14 Mar 2009