Through the course of the stories in this collection, Upadhyay builds new modes of seeing our interconnected contemporary world. A collection of formal inventiveness, heartbreak and hope, it reaffirms Upadhyay’s position as one or our most important chroniclers of globalization and exile.
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Vikas Adam is a classically trained actor with numerous credits in stage, film, and television. The recipient of multiple awards, including the Audie, Vikas has recorded over 200 audiobooks, appeared on various Best of the Year lists, and is an inaugural inductee into the Narrator Hall of Fame.
Read an Excerpt
DREAMING OF GHANA
He’d begun to dream about Ghana, of all places. When awake, he rarely thought about Africa, and the only time the continent intruded upon his consciousness was when, wrapped inside his large, unwieldy blanket, he watched television in the evening and pushed the buttons on the remote. There was always someone on the screen, often a white person, often with a beard and in khaki clothes, who crouched next to a dark child with a distended stomach and spoke urgently about nourishment and schooling.
Aakash changed the channel to something more palatable, often a Bollywood dance with men and women in bright clothes thrusting their hips at the camera. He watched with fascination, not particularly enjoying the performance—they were all the same, the hero at the front with a grin, the heroine’s eyes kohl rimmed and yearning—but finding in the gyrations and the pivots and the synchronized movements a dumb pleasure. He didn’t have to think when he watched these movie routines, whereas the plea for Africa got his mind spinning about inequalities and poverty and child labor and colonialism and whatnot.
But Ghana? What did he know about Ghana? Nothing. To him one African country was the same as another, except for South Africa, which he knew to be at the southern tip of the continent and also as the country that had imprisoned Nelson Mandela for twenty-seven years. But Aakash didn’t know where Ghana was, in the south close to Mandela country, or in the middle, where he imagined the Sahara desert was (or was it Kalahari?), or to the north, near the Arab countries (he knew the north was more Arab; he wasn’t a complete dunce when it came to geography). There was a map somewhere on his bookshelf, buried under a stack of books, or folded inside a news magazine, that showed a rough sketch of the world, and he’d probably be able to discover Ghana in there. But what good would that do?
Every morning he lazed around in bed, drinking the steady cups of tea brought to his room by Danny, who lived in the neighborhood and came every morning to help his mother. Then it was time for the morning meal. Even as he ate downstairs in the dining room, he wrapped his mammoth blanket around himself and endured cold stares from his father and mild chastisement from his mother, who said that a young man like him ought to be up at dawn, exercise, take a shower, be energetic and fresh. His mother repeated the word: fresh. Aakash ate hurriedly, then went up to his room, which had an attached bathroom, and showered (or not, depending upon his mood), changed, and left for the office.
He worked for a tourist magazine, Travelite, in the heart of the city, in New Road, writing articles describing the sightseeing spots in the country. The magazine was handed out to the tourists at the airport as soon as they emerged from baggage claim. Its pages extolled the cold lakes up in the mountains; the airplane ride that took passengers so close to the Everest that they could glimpse their faces on its icy surface, sometimes even observe a tight line of mountaineers on their way to the summit; the lakhey dance that had drunken men wearing colorful masks prancing and cavorting through the city’s lanes; the opulent hotel from where one could see spectacular sunrises that painted pink the white mountain summits, which looked like blushing brides. Aakash was sick of working at the magazine—the exaggerations, the fantasies, sometimes the outright false information—all in the name of tourism.
Just the day before, he’d written about a jungle lodge camp that used elephants rescued from the circus. Tourists rode the elephants to venture deep into the forests, where they spotted tigers, warthogs, the many-antlered deer, the lazy rhino, the crocodile, and such. All of it was true, except for the part about the elephants being rescued from the circus. Why he thought of inserting that bit of lie, Aakash didn’t know. He wasn’t instructed by anyone to do so—not by the chief editor, who mostly sat in his office and drank tea, and certainly not by the associate editor, who had a goatee and foul breath. Did Aakash conceive that falsehood because he figured it’d attract the bleeding-heart tourists? He didn’t recall consciously thinking along those lines, but then, his job was to entice the tourists into visiting these places.
I’m an unconscious liar, Aakash thought, at once humored and ashamed by this realization. When he’d showed the article on the jungle lodge to his associate editor, he’d hoped that the man would mildly rebuke him for the falsity. But the editor’s eyes briefly lingered on the word circus before he moved on to read the rest. “It’s all right,” the associate editor said, breathing foully at Aakash.
After work Aakash went to restaurants in Durbar Marg or Thamel to spend time with his friend Rahul. Rahul came from a rich family and didn’t work; he smoked Marlboro cigarettes all day and drank his Black Label whiskey, sometimes all day.
When Aakash told his friend about his Ghana dreams, Rahul said, “Maybe you were an African in your past life.”
That day they were in Haawa, on the upstairs terrace that overlooked Durbar Marg with its overpriced shops.
Aakash laughed. “Yes, I can see myself in the jungles, carrying a spear and chasing after an elephant.”
“What? You think all Africans are junglees? There are cities in Africa. Nairobi. Johannesburg. Mogadishu. Harare.” Rahul had raised his voice, probably to impress a group of girls, English speaking and silky haired, at the next table.
Aakash felt slightly ashamed at what he’d said, so he told Rahul, “I know there are cities. I was only joking. And what about past lives? You believe in that nonsense?”
“Of course I do,” Rahul said, and stubbed his cigarette into the ashtray. He stood and went to the other table and asked one of the girls, who was smoking, whether he could use her light. Then in the next moment, Rahul was sitting with them and relating to them a story about when he lost close to ten lakh rupees in the casino, which, as outlandish as it sounded, was true. Rahul gambled as though he didn’t have another day to live. He lived recklessly, driving his car at a high speed through the crowded streets, bungee jumping hundreds of feet over the swirling, raging Bhote Kosi River, getting into fights in dance bars. Aakash was milder in temperament.
The Ghana of Aakash’s dreams was always a desert, always with tents; often a furious wind blew across it. Men rode about on camels, their movements slow and deliberate. When Aakash woke up, there was a cold feeling in his chest, as though one of the unsmiling men on the camels had fixed his gaze there. After waking up, Aakash lay in bed, wrapped up in his heavy blanket, his mind sluggish. He wondered if he ought to get up and check out that map that was hidden on the bookshelf. Then he’d know for sure whether there was even a desert in Ghana. He suspected there wasn’t; even his dream was a lie, like the circus elephants.
Until now, Aakash hadn’t seen himself in his dreams about Ghana. But the day after Rahul’s comment about his past life, there he was, riding nonchalantly on the back of a camel that moved its mouth slowly as though chewing cud, a smirk lurking at the corners of its lips. For a night or two Aakash could only observe himself, as one does through a video camera—now he was inside the tent, now he was taking off his turban and shaking out the dust. A woman hovered in the background, and there was a flurry of bright-colored clothes, a shuffling of feet. But Aakash wasn’t inside his own skin. He wasn’t experiencing what was happening, merely witnessing. Even as he dreamed, Aakash thought to himself, I want access. This word came to him: password. Then he understood: a password was what he needed. He was required to have a password to become a participant in his own dream, to actually become the person who sat in the tent with a glass of mint tea in his hand.