COVID-19 Couplets: Part II

A Day in My Shoes

To all the extroverts out there,
I’d like to say:

Remember this moment,
Remember how you feel.

 drained of energy
disoriented
bored
anxious
tired
really tired

To all the extroverts out there,
I’d like to say:

Remember this moment.
Remember how you feel.

As introverts, this is how it feels for us,
to live in your world—

—to live in cities,
where the noise doesn’t stop

—to go to parties,
where we don’t want to be

—and to wear high heels
on tired feet.

goodnight

A city that never slept is now falling asleep. When was the last time she got a moment to herself? When was the last time someone wasn’t walking all over her? Empty subway stations and traffic lights are still on their same frequency of wondering: when are they coming? But she won’t allow it. She won’t allow it because she has finally fallen asleep. She is so tired, so very tired. Tired of the noise that rings out through the night and floats in and out of the day like a pesky bug. We have failed you with our ignorance and incompetence. We have abused you and worn you out like a broken toy. You give, and give, and give while we just take. We are selfish and manipulative and at the end of the night you’re still there. You’ll always be there to pick up the pieces. You’ll be there glowing brightly, our North Star. Now we will pick up your pieces and guide you home. For now, you just rest.

Revati Gelda is 17 years old and is a junior in high school. She lives in Tivoli, NY.

COVID-19 Couplets – Part I

Some poetry on this moment in time:

Downtown
traffic lights blink
at an empty street

Downtown

 

Syllabus
I wonder when this day
will become a story—

Scantron—a paragraph
in a history book—

—multiple choice questions
on a biology exam—

—a case study
in an economics paper.

I wonder when this day
will become a story

Will we smile and laugh
in disbelief?

Frown and sigh
with somber colors in our eyes?

Or merely shrug
and turn the page?

 

Small Talk Never Changes
People ask: How are you?
You say: Good.
Like it’s any other day

Speech

 

A Suitable Read

Vikram Seth was one of those rare students who could pursue an education outside of—and, even in defiance of—the structure of school. After completing boarding school in India, he went to Oxford, where he studied Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).

“Studied,” however, is a loose term at best—during his three years as an undergraduate, he attended zero tutorials and only 15 lectures, spending nearly all of his time reading, thinking, and writing.

Still, Seth must have had some faith in the system; after completing his undergraduate degree, he went on to Stanford University to pursue a Ph.D. in Economics. He continued to write poetry in his free time, gradually gravitating toward the university’s writing program to seek advice on his work.

He soon abandoned his PhD (he never completed it), choosing to follow his literary passions instead. Before graduating, Seth published his first novel, Golden Gate, a story told entirely in sonnets—580 to be exact. He then moved back to India and dedicated six years of his life to writing what became his most acclaimed novel, A Suitable Boy.

One of the longest novels ever to be published in the English language, A Suitable Boy clocks in at 591,552 words, making it 4,265 words longer than War and Peace.

Seth makes no apologies for the novel’s length. As he quips in the acknowledgements, “Buy me before good sense insists/You’ll strain your purse and sprain your wrists.”

(He isn’t lying. A Suitable Boy weighs 2.5 pounds and did indeed strain my bag and sprain my wrists.)

Still, I shoved the book in my suitcase, lugging it home over the course of three separate vacations, calculating and re-calculating how many pages I needed to read to reach the halfway point, the three-quarters point, the seven-eighths point, the nine-tenths point, and, finally, the last page.

And yet, of those 591,552 words, not a single one is excess. In fact, it comes as no surprise that Seth was a poet before he became a novelist; the book’s prudent use of language is perhaps its greatest strength. Seth takes us on a journey across geographies and histories, all the while maintaining a poet’s careful, utter control of each and every word and its placement on the page.

Picture2

The story begins with nineteen-year-old Lata and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, as they search for the elusive “suitable boy” for Lata’s marriage. Their quest starts in Brahmpur, a town in the fictional state of Purva Pradesh. Desperately (and, in Lata’s case, grudgingly), they pursue the referrals of their friends and family, searching for potential suitors in Calcutta, Delhi and, finally, Banaras.

All in all, Lata meets three suitors, their diversity in religion, class, and aspirations reflecting different versions of what it was like to grow up in the early years of post-independence India (1951-52).

As the novel progresses, this narrative fades into the background, emerging to center-stage from time to time but, for the most part, co-existing with a series of subplots. The sheer number of subplots is astounding, and it’s what allows aSeth to paint a startlingly vivid picture of life in 1950s India.

Entering the lives of Lata’s extended family and friends, we see their stories unfold across a series of mini-worlds—most prominently, courtrooms, bazaars, farms, country clubs, palaces, and dining rooms.

Among others, we follow Lata’s father-in-law, as he fights a legal battle to abolish the zamindari system (a land revenue system that significantly disadvantaged peasants); her youngest brother-in-law, as he falls in and out of love with an infamous courtesan; her elder brother-in-law, as he struggles to keep the local shoe trade afloat; and her mother, as she works to preserve religious traditions and hold the family together in hard times.

No character remains a side character; each has an opportunity to take control of the narrative, allowing readers to see the world through their values and belief systems.

Take this excerpt, for example, describing Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s thought process as she reads a letter from her elder son:

“She was used to rereading her letters a dozen times, examining for days from every possible angle some remark that someone had made to someone else about something that someone had thought that someone had thought that someone had almost done.”

Here, in the dizzying chain of social connections, we feel exactly what it feels like to be Mrs. Rupa Mehra, the Quintessential Indian Auntie.

And here’s another one of my favorite quotes—from Mahesh Kapoor (Minister of Revenue) meditating on his wife’s recent death:

“The sunbird, as usual, was flying in and out of the pomelo tree; and, from somewhere, a barbet was calling insistently. Mahesh Kapoor did not know either the Hindi or the English names of the birds and flowers that surrounded him, but perhaps in his present state of mind he enjoyed the garden more truly for that.”

Here, we feel exactly what it feels like to be Mahesh Kapoor, to be powerful in the courtroom, powerless in the garden, and at peace with this balance of knowledge.

As you can imagine from the above quotes, most of the novel takes place in the minds of our characters. The story itself moves at a glacial pace, so it’s more for readers who appreciate language more than plot.

And, as forewarned, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book unless you have strong wrists. And a sturdy bag.

[Interested in A Suitable Boy but don’t have time to read it? You can listen to the audiobook instead—it’s only ~10 hours long. Probably a good option for this book, too, as Seth’s attention to language makes it worth hearing his words out loud.]

 

What’s the WiFi Password?

June 23rd, 2120

About half the crowd was present; the other half had dialed into the funeral service via Skype. When the priest spoke, we could see the crowd’s reactions—mostly teary-eyed emojis and the occasional heart-eyed face—floating across the projector in front of us.

“Alice was beloved by all in our town. She would #ShowUp for you whenever you needed her. She was Followed by many and Liked by even more.”

The crowd solemnly nodded.

The priest dabbed his eyes. A few leaves fluttered in the trees.

“And now, let us use our devices to scan the QR Code on Alice’s gravestone. It has been programmed to direct you to her Gravebook page.”

There was a momentary shuffle as everyone pulled out a device. (A few people used the spare moment to catch up on their WhatsApp messages, too.)

“Let us bow our heads in a moment of silence as we come together as a community to click the “Like” and “Follow” buttons on Alice’s Gravebook. Please do take a few minutes to post on her page as well.”

I tapped out my condolences, adding in a few downcast emojis for good measure. Gravebook was, admittedly, one of my favorite social media platforms. As declared in its mission statement, Gravebook gave people “the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” To share memories, opinions, and life events.

And cat videos. Lots of cat videos.

Gravebook

After Following Alice’s Grave, a number of other “Suggested Graves” popped up on the bottom of the screen.

With a jolt of guilt, I realized I had forgotten Uncle Al and the family goldfish (Goldie). I quickly Followed them, hoping that no one had noticed my social faux pas.

Because they were unable to post on their own, the dead relied on Legacy Contacts to maintain their pages. Legacy Contacts were typically close family members or friends who were entrusted to post photos, monitor page traffic, and respond to friend requests for their loved ones.

Using sophisticated algorithms, Gravebook could also use the digital footprints of the deceased to generate posts on their behalf. In fact, Alice had already made her first post: “Can’t believe July is around the corner! [Sun Emoji].”

Several others—including Goldie—had liked the post.

Goldie had also posted a comment: [Blub].

After most had finished scrolling through Alice’s Gravebook, the priest began to speak again. “To commemorate this day, we shall all take a selfie—or what I like to call a gravie.”

He pulled out a selfie stick (adorned with black ribbons and a single red rose for the occasion) and clipped his device to the end.

We huddled around Alice’s gravestone.

A sea of backlit faces stared back at us.

“Bad lighting,” we chorused.

“Bad lighting, indeed” the priest echoed.

(We shuffled to the other side of the headstone.)

After the gravie was posted, shared, and liked, the priest motioned for us to return to our seats. He opened the “Heaven, Inc.” app on his device, indicating for us to do the same.

“And now, her spirit shall be released to the Cloud,” he said.

As I swiped to the app, I realized my grandparents had forgotten to take out their devices. Hands folded in their laps, they were staring up at the sky.

Strange, how they thought Heaven, Inc. existed there. I rolled my eyes. In the sky, of all places. Geez. I nudged them, pointing to my device so they could follow along.

Heaven, Inc. was a cloud-based database of souls. And it was customary to upload the soul at the end of a funeral to ensure proper preservation of the spirit.

The screen showed a picture of Alice set against a bright blue background. Together, we watched the progress bar slowly fill as her memories, thoughts, and photos entered the Cloud.

A few advertisements for flowers and coffins floated across the screen (I hadn’t yet invested in the ad-free version), but I swiftly swiped them aside.

When the bar reached 100%, a succession of angels flew across the screen. Upload complete.

By the end of the service, the sun had dipped below the horizon. Walking home, I could see the last rays of the day’s light glittering over the rolling hills.

It was beautiful. Picturesque.

Instinct made me reach for my device, but something stopped me. A slight tug, a vague sense that some moments were not meant to be Posted and Liked. Or even pictured in the first place.

The feeling had come to me on various occasions in the past as well. Though it always felt strange, I honored it nonetheless. So I let my hands settle into my pockets, the fingers of my right hand resting against the cool, black surface of my device.

Illustrated by Mahathi Gottumukkala

Types of Craigslist Rentals

About a year ago, I was desperately searching for a room in Washington, DC. I was about to start my new job in less than three weeks—and still had not found a place to live.

A new wave of summer interns and college graduates meant the rental market was flooded. Rooms would enter and leave online listings in a matter of days or even hours.

Searching  for a place was difficult. So I decided to try a new strategy—putting up a Craigslist ad for myself and letting the rooms come to me:

“I’m a 22-year-old female looking to rent a room for a year. Starting a job as a grant writer and planning to move sometime around the end of July.”

Within minutes, my inbox was bursting with offers:

THE CLOSET

Super-duper cute room available for only $600/month! Aside from a twin-size bed, the room has a strip of 3 in x 6 ft floor (hardwood!!). Ikea hasn’t yet designed furniture thin enough to fit in this strip, but they’re working on a New Age Narrow© collection that will be released soon!

You’ll be sharing the bathroom with six other people. Please do not disturb the dozens of shampoos, conditioners, soaps, and hairsprays perched on every surface in the bathroom. We also like to have our boyfriends over, so there can be up to 12 (sometimes 13) other people here on the weekends.

Overall, we’re a clean and easygoing bunch and would love to have you on board!

The Closet

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

Live out your Disney Princess Dream in the heart of Washington, DC. This four-story townhouse is fully furnished and could be yours for only $800/month!

Master bedroom with private bath. Recently renovated modern kitchen comes with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and state-of-the-art dishwasher. Living room includes flat-screen TV and plush carpeting. Enjoy panoramic views of the city day and night.

I’m currently out of town but would be happy to mail you the key. Please send me your Photo ID and Social Security Number.

I can be reached at ScAmMeR1993@yahoo.com

Princess

THE CREEP

I am a single gentleman looking for a female companion.
Please send me a full-length photo of yourself.

Creep

THE EXTRAS

Hi there! We’re a group of three gal pals looking to add another homie to our group. We have Family Dinners on Friday nights and go out for Mani-Pedis on the last Wednesday of every month.

We’re hosting a dinner on Friday, May 24th for those who are interested in the place. Throughout the evening, we’ll be evaluating your conversation style, jokes, and general aura.

After the dinner, select guests will be invited to a second round of one-on-one interviews. The final round will include a trip to Trader Joe’s, where you’ll be asked to select the ideal items for preparing a Gal-Pal Dinner.

Overall, we’re a super chill and easygoing group, and we think you’d fit right in!

Dress is semi-formal. Hope to see ya there!!

Gal Pals

MOVE IN TODAY!

ROOM FOR RENT: ONLY $1!!! Airport pickup provided.
Send us your credit card information so we can verify your identity, and you could move in…TODAY!

One dollar

THE TERMINALLY-ILL

Hello. I have  a beautiful house in the Columbia Heights neighborhood that is available for $800/month. I am looking for someone responsible to take care of the place and call it home. I am not sure if I should be sharing this with you, but my mother has a terrible ear infection. I am currently in North Carolina, taking care of her at the hospital.

No matter how much Jell-O the doctors give her, she just isn’t getting better. I would love to come meet you in Washington, DC but cannot leave my mother alone in this fragile state of health.

If you are interested in the place, you can wire me a security deposit of $1000 and I will mail you the key.

I would greatly appreciate getting the deposit as soon as possible. Money is tight these days, and your support could help me buy some much-needed medication for my mother. God Bless.

SIck

***

One year later, I am happy to report that I am not living in any of the above rooms. (Many of which, as you can tell, were scams and probably did not physically exist.)

I did end up finding the perfect place though. I’m not letting go of it anytime soon–but check Craigslist in a year or so, and you may just be lucky enough to stumble upon it, too.

Hiding

Hiding

“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

I hung the painting between a sketch of a snow-filled alley and a watercolor print. “Trust me, no one looks in the obvious places.”

Sidney glanced nervously over her shoulder. Then she stepped back, quickly lifting up her camera to take a photo. “Just in case,” she said. She snapped the shutter closed. “Let’s hurry. Ella’s train will be here any minute.”

Inspired by Sonya’s #3LineTales at Only100Words. Interested in writing your own three lines? Here’s the original prompt. Happy three-lining!

Unmoored

SOS

Eyes sunken in, hair matted with salt, skin taut against our bones–Ella and I must have looked a sight. It seemed like ages ago that we were lounging on the beach, painting our nails and comparing summer reading lists.

I had put Life of Pi on mine but, given the present circumstances, I figured I could probably cross that one off.

Inspired by Sonya’s #3LineTales at Only100Words. Interested in writing your own three lines? Here’s the original prompt. Happy three-lining!