‘Victorious’ by Namrata Poddar (New Asian Writing Short Story Competition 2019 Prize Winning Entry)

When I turned seventy-five, a few years back, both my children moved out of Southern California—for good, my daughter even said—, and fearing I may not have many years ahead of me—I feel it in my body these days—, I decided to write the story I’ve always wanted to—the story of my journey from India to America. Then I took my manuscript to publishers people suggested to me but most said that immigrant stories aren’t in fashion anymore; they wanted something original. I told them every story is an immigrant story so how to write something original? I mean, I still remember how much my children cried the first few nights of their lives—adapting to our world, missing home, the sounds and smell of their mama’s womb, the ability to float freely in a fluid space instead of sleeping with flat back on a crib mattress. Aren’t we all born immigrants? To this, two publishers agreed, still they said, it’s not what you say but how you say it. They advised me to tell my story like a Hollywood movie, make more drama and scenes, shownot tell, take lessons for good English, sin tax and what not. I told them frankly I’m not interested in competing with Hollywood or the Queen’s English. I just want to share my story for the children of immigrants like me, and there are so many like me in California. To this, they shrugged, and I decided to not bother with publishing business. Now, I tell my story whenever I can to whoever likes to listen. In the age of iPhone, iPad and Google, most people are too busy to listen, agree, but sometimes, at the community parties my wife and I host at our house in Anaheim, our retired friends want to live their story with me, sometimes their children or their grandchildren want more details about our past. The youngest of grandchildren are my favorite audience—maybe because I’m still waiting for my own—and when I see them seated across from my heechko, elbows on their knees, two fists holding their cheeks, urging me to start from the beginning, beginning, because they too want to explore new worlds, I know it’s time to retell.


Like other Gujaratis in my community, I left India in 1963 with ten dollars in my pocket, a Masters degree in Statistics and a copy of Kabir’s poems. Vishal, my one-year-old son, and Sheela, my wife, left our rented flat in Surat and returned to our village Deshun—about 50 miles south of Surat in Gujarat. When I came to America, they lived with my parents, uncles, aunts, cousins and their children. Twenty-six members of a joint family living together under one roof—can you ever say that about gora families? Sheela helped my folks on farm like she helped her family before marriage and my parents helped babysit in return.

            Why leave home when blessed with a large, close-knit family, you maybe wondering. My answer—same as many of my generation. I was teaching Mathematics at a college in Surat and 15 years had passed since the British left India, but boy, they left the country in bad shape. From one of the world’s richest economy in the past, the British made India one of the world’s poorest countries, and this was most felt in our villages where clean water, sanitation, basic schools or medical care was a big problem. I was lucky to have a good teaching position, still, my salary barely covered the monthly expenses for Sheela, Vish and me in Surat—rent, utilities and food. Besides, I didn’t want to do all my life what others in my family did, live one day at a time, worrying if we would have enough food to eat at the end of each month. In Surat, I’d heard from a couple of Patel friends who returned every Christmas to Gujarat with pocket full of dollars that life is really like paradise in America—clean air, clean water, clean roads, reward for hard work and a young President who wants more immigrants in the US. So I decided to give it a try too—the American dream. Of course, now with more than 50 years in this country, I know there is a thin line separating the American dream from the American nightmare—you only have to look at the current President who hates brown people and loves building walls to keep them out—but then, I believed whatever people told me about America. 

            After leaving Surat, I sailed on Liberty ship for about eight weeks with stops in African and European countries and finally reached London. There, I lived with my cousin and his wife who ran a convenience store while completing their Masters. With three roommates from Zambia, Mauritius and Uganda, also working and studying there, we all shared a one-bedroom flat. I helped my cousin at his store, buying and delivering provisions, playing handyman, helping enlarge the storeroom and adding wooden cabinets. He appreciated help in physical labor as his wife was pregnant. After three months, when I was leaving for America, he gave me fifty pounds. I promised to return it to him in a year’s time but he insisted I keep it. It was a big sum for both of us, and those moments never made me forget the importance of one’s own community in life.

            From London, I sailed for about fifteen weeks on Dorado ship and reached Washington D.C. where I stayed with another cousin and her husband, both of whom had clerical jobs at departmental stores. I borrowed from them two hundred dollars to get an education in computers—a guaranteed pathway to good job abroad as others had told me in India. I took lessons in BASIC at Microchip, a coaching class nearby. But computers were rare and expensive then. The coaches kept promising us they would soon have computers for a practical session. In my six months of stay, the computers never arrived and we learnt BASIC only in theory.

            I needed to figure out a way to repay my loans and send money back to my family in Gujarat. Sheela wanted to buy new blankets, a sweater and woolen socks for Vish and a small heater for the room where she slept with him at night; he was constantly catching cold because the window didn’t shut fully. My cousin brother-in-law in D.C. told me then that he had a Punjabi friend running a newspaper stand in New York City. His wife’s father had died in Trinidad so they needed to return to the Caribbean for funeral and pending paperwork. He was urgently looking for a replacement, and Ram kasam, I was relieved a source of income showed up! I left for New York where I took over the friend’s newspaper stand but working sixteen hours a day in January cold, ooouf. I mean, I’d purchased cheap winter clothes in London but the wind chill in Manhattan, the way it sawed my bones, that I will never forget. If Vish had trouble in Gujarat’s winter, how will he ever survive in this country, I often wondered while walking in snow with three pairs of socks under my open-feet sandals, all to save ten cents daily from the bus ride. One day, I slipped on my way to the subway station. Fortunately, I kept my hands on the ground so prevented breaking a bone—leg or hip. But I fell on my face, broke my glasses and realized that breaking a bone in America or breaking your glasses—not big difference. Just as expensive. A new pair of glasses cost me three weeks of rent. Besides, there were hardly any Indian stores around so no dal available. I was too tired to cook anyway so I started eating meat as hot dogs cost five cents, two blocks away from the newspaper stand I worked, and gave me a break from pizza—my only food option then. Later, I started putting chilies inside my hotdog and developed a taste for them but the first week I started eating meat and was limping to my newspaper stand with a good amount of savings spent on my glasses, I missed my wife like crazy, especially her curry-dal-bhaat.

When I returned to the studio in Hoboken I shared with two Pakistanis and a Sri Lankan, I slept by the kitchen area and dreamt of Sheela and our joint family hanging out in sugarcane fields that surrounded our house in Deshun. Next day, I wrote to my wife that I planned on returning to India once the Punjabi was back from Trinidad. After all, what use making a life in America? I came here to escape the survival game in India but survival is so much harder without family or community to share your heart with. I mean, yes, I was living with Asians for most time, people I knew through family or friends, but we rarely spent time together, most of us working sixteen hours a day, and once home, too tired to do anything but sleep.

            Sheela wrote back and repeated, as she would often in her letters, that I’d to stick around for Vish. A cousin’s son was bitten by snake in Deshun when he was pissing out in the open. One distant relative had died in childbirth and another of pneumonia. Our villages were still without decent doctors, not like Mumbai or Delhi, and most schools continued to have students sit on the floor to study. Even if we moved back to Surat, we’d return to the same fate—high rent, no savings. One day at a time, Jeetu, she ended the letter each time with a different poem from Kabir. The melody of love swells forth, and the rhythm of love’s detachment beats the time—I remember my favorite.

My wife, Sheela. I first met her at a poetry session on Kabir at Gujarat University when she was a first-year and me a third-year degree student. It’s in exchanging his poems that we had shed our mutual shyness and fallen in love. Were it not for her faith and iron strength in those letters—I can show you, I’ve preserved them all—I know I wouldn’t have lasted in this country.

            Back in New York where I was selling newspapers, I came across a job opening in the classified section and got a statistician’s job at Rudy’s departmental store. My degree in Statistics and training in BASIC came very useful here and working indoors felt like a big promotion. This job was only five days a week so I took up another job driving a taxi on weekends from a Nigerian desi who was looking for help so he could take classes at adult school. I was desperate to experience freedom that comes without constant debt. I was still lonely and homesick but at least not freezing crazy like before.

            In two years, I paid off my loans and got an offer from Los Angeles where a couple of Patel students had opened three motels. My cousin was married to one of them and she told me that weather in Southern California was very nice—one sweater mostly enough. My cousin and her husband needed a helping hand and you know how gora labor always expensive so I said yes and moved to East LA where I helped manage their motel, hung out with other Patels from India and Africa and learnt more about motel business. At first, driving on huge freeways scared me but thank God I’d previous experience driving taxis in New York unlike other desis who had to spend a lot of money taking lessons. Another year passed and I was able to borrow some money again from Gujarati family and friends in America. I decided to start a Mom and Pop motel close to Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County and applied for Sheela and Vish’s green card under family category.

            This is probably the day most clear in my memory of those early US years—the day I welcomed my wife and son at LAX airport. Sheela was wearing a rani pink bandhani sari, neatly pleated and pinned on her shoulder, and my son was wearing a cream pajama-kurta, as if they’d both dressed for Diwali. They were also wearing open feet sandals and I felt thankful there was no fear of them slipping on melted snow in California. When I waved at them, Sheela looked at me, her eyes, steady, wide. Maybe she didn’t believe what she saw either—us as family in the same room again. I rushed toward them and first thing, I bent toward my son to lift him up. I couldn’t believe that at four he was almost reaching Sheela’s waist. But he stepped back and hid himself behind Sheela’s sari, his eyes huge like his mother’s.  I got up and when I stood in front of my wife, I don’t know what took over me. I hugged her tight, buried my face into her shoulder and cried for the first time since I came to America. It was also the first time we hugged in public. And we just stood there for a few minutes, quiet, not moving, trying to control our tears. I saw Vish give me a look that seemed to be wondering who I was and whether he could trust me.

            On our drive back, Sheela and Vish’s eyes seemed glued to the window as they looked at the countless cars, the freeway with five lanes on each side, the speed with which everyone was driving. And you can call me a romantic fool for this but truth is, when I smelled the jasmine perfume in my car that day, something Sheela would wear for special occasions, fragrance I’d first smelt on her at Kabir’s poetry session—our first “date” at Gujarat University, then at our wedding day, at our first Diwali as a couple, and so on, something told me it was going to get easier.

            And in many ways, it did get easier. Together, Sheela, Vish and I lived at our motel and managed it, split chores for its twenty rooms—Sheela cleaning rooms, toilets and bathrooms, making beds, changing linen, me—mowing the lawn, vacuuming, plumbing, fixing broken stuff, refilling supplies, taking phone calls and book-keeping, we both taking turns staying up at night to check in clients. By age eight, Vish started helping Sheela in cleaning rooms and making beds too. When he was nine and cleaning the yard one day, he slipped and fell into the pool while I was away shopping for supplies and Sheela checking out clients. Fortunately, our Filipino gardener heard him crying and rescued him. Vish didn’t know how to swim and since that day, he hasn’t overcome his fear of the ocean, something I still feel guilty about.

            Another day, a gora customer pushed a burned cigarette into our mattress and after his departure, the room caught fire. Fortunately, no one was injured otherwise we would have been sued and all our savings down the drain again. It was the eighties and we’d heard of discrimination against Indians by both white motel owners and customers, especially in Southern states. One of our friends in Atlanta even woke up a morning to find his motel’s entrance door covered in swastikas and the message, go back to your home.

            In six to seven years, we were able to pay our loans off and decided to have a second child. Ellie, our Chinese neighbor threw a baby shower for Sheela. My wife didn’t know what a baby shower was but she went anyway and when Ellie’s friends gave her gifts, she still tells me how she regrets not knowing then to properly thank them. When our daughter was born, we named her Radhika, but with time, started calling her Ricki like her American friends. 

            In another five years, we sold our Mom and Pop motel and got a bigger fifty-room property. Ricki started helping us on weekends but cleaning bathrooms disgusted her, maybe because she’d grown up in America and neither seen our Indian village nor their open-air bathrooms like Vish did, but also because she hadn’t seen our life in the first motel and its mishaps. She often complained about the stains on bedsheets of blood and semen, the smell of flushed cigarettes in toilettes, marijuana in vacated rooms and had an allergy to dust. We raised her with same humble values and work ethic as Vish though and she helped at the new motel anyway.

            One day, when I was at the front desk updating accounts, I heard Ricki screaming upstairs. I remembered Vish’s swimming pool incident and ran to find out what happened. I saw her standing inside a room, face buried in her hands. A woman lay dead in the bathtub, covered with water and blood that dripped from her cut wrist. The bathroom floor had a bottle of pills inside a pool of blood. I called the police immediately and was held back for inquiry at the jail. It turned out the woman had already records of extended stay in different drug rehab centers of California and I was set free after three days. But Sheela and Vish worried like crazy about me, knowing stories of bad treatment by American police toward Indians. 

For days after my return home, we would hear Ricki wake up screaming at night and we had to slowly talk her back to sleep. We had no health insurance and no idea about therapy or counseling. Besides, we couldn’t afford any of this anyway. But after that suicide incident, Ricki never came to motel and we never insisted. We hired a Mexican man for help instead and in the next decade, we had a good staff of Hispanic helpers, people very similar to us—strong family values, strong work ethic. 

            Few years after we bought the bigger motel, Vish got into UCLA for college and then went to Stanford for MBA. At Stanford, he met his wife, Noor Patel—an Indian who was born in Madagascar and raised in Mauritius. We were delighted to know that he’d fallen in love with a Gujarati girl but then he told us she was Muslim! To add to this, our friends kept warning us how Europeanized girls did not have the same values as us. Our daughter-in-law spoke French and Creole outside of English and Gujarati since she’d gone to high school and college in France before migrating to America. Sheela and I had worries about all this but over time we got to know Noor and frankly, in the way she cared for both of us, she was closer to the daughter I imagined having than my own daughter, Ricki.

            After finishing their MBA, Vish and Noor married and started living with us in Anaheim, expanding our motel business, buying and selling properties, and forcing us to retire in the next few years. Meanwhile, Ricki was finishing up college at USC, so after graduation, we wanted her to get a Masters and get married. But she insisted she wanted a break from school, went to Thailand where she taught English for three years. When she returned to California, her behavior looked quite changed. She didn’t move back with us; instead, insisted on living on her own at Venice beach while working at a nearby bookstore.

            By then, I was the director of Indo-American Society in Orange County where I helped with fundraising for Gujarati publications, giving donations to temples and setting up scholarships for Asian American studies in California colleges and universities. I was seen as ideal man for community service, yet I worried about my own family falling apart. As Vish and Noor got busier with the motel business, they travelled often for work. Ricki, in her turn, wouldn’t call home for days together, refusing to meet any guys we tried to set her on dates with. Worse thing—Vish and Ricki often got into fights over her future, especially since Ricki’s friend, Makena, visited our house one day, just before Ricki moved to her own apartment in Venice. Makena was African-American with short hair dyed purple, wearing leather jacket, and came on a big bike like Harley Davidson. In our community, we’d never seen a woman ride a manly bike and Vish made some joke that upset Ricki quite a bit. At 26, she finally applied to graduate schools—MBA, she told us—and we believed her until a big fight happened again between her and Vish. 

One evening, we were going to have a Diwali party and had invited several desi families to our house. After a long time, my whole family would be present with me—neither Noor nor Vish were travelling that season and Ricki had driven home from Venice too. Sheela and Noor had been working in the kitchen all day to make traditional Gujarati food for guests—sreekhand, puri, khaman, curry-dal-bhaat. At the party, Vish was planning to introduce Ricki to one of his business partner’s friend, a Gujarati physician working at Cedars-Sinai, and if they hit it off, they could take it a step further toward marriage. We’d calmly suggested this to her once while having dinner, not that we would force her anyway into marrying him. That day, early in the morning, Ricki took her laptop and left for a café nearby. She returned home hours later, her hair cropped short to the point that she almost looked bald.

            “Just when are you going to start behaving like a woman?” Vish was telling her when I left the hitchko in the backyard after hearing raised voices in the living room. On seeing me, he pointed his chin toward Ricki’s skinny upper arm with a tattoo she’d gotten made in Venice. Two feather-pens crossed like the alphabet V with lines reading: Thou shalt not die/ There will be memory/ left behind. Below the V, a name in cursive writing that looked like “Sapphal”; it meant victorious like my own name, Jeetendra. Personally, I don’t like tattoo on girls but this was my Ricki so I never said anything. Just to keep peace in family.

            “And what is womanly?” Ricki said, rubbing her palm across her naked nape.

            “You are not wearing those clothes for the party.” He pointed to the sleeves rolled up of her loose black shirt tucked inside skinny black jeans. “And better cover that tattoo,” he said.

            “You’re not the boss of me.” Ricki threw the mail she was carrying in one hand at him. Vish opened the envelope and read the letter.

“So that’s what she’s up to now,” he said, passing me the letter. I read it—an acceptance letter with scholarship to NYU’s Art History program. I didn’t know then one could get a degree by studying historic art. And when Noor explained to us later that day—her best friend had an MFA—, I still didn’t fully get it. What kind of job would Ricki get with an art degree? And even if she got a job, what would she actually do?

            Ricki and Vish continued to argue, she telling him how she didn’t want to reveal her grad school plans until she got a full scholarship. If not, she would’ve gone to Business School, worked a couple of years in finance and tried later for art history.

Vish caught Ricki’s tattooed arm and pressed it tight, telling her to dress up right for the party. “You’ve rejected six guys already.”

            “Just why are you arranging my marriage when you never bothered with one?” Ricki tried to wrestle out of his grip.

            “If you were to bring a boyfriend home, we’d happily give up the manhunt for you.” Vish leaned in and I patted my son’s shoulder, signaling him to stay calm. He loosened his grip on her.

            “I’m 26 for fuck’s sakes!”

            Vish and Ricki then started raising their voices louder, Sheela and Noor watching in silence from the kitchen, maybe because they knew it was best to not interrupt the siblings. Vish told Ricki how she needed to stop being the family’s baby. Everyone around including me had spoilt her rotten. If only she’d grown up in a motel cleaning toilets and stained sheets. “The problem with you is you have it all. Never had to work for a thing,” he said.

            “Because work must mean breaking your back in a motel. Physical labor alone leads the path to Nirvana.” She picked the envelope crumpled and thrown on the floor.

            They kept arguing, I telling them to stay calm, they ignoring my presence in the room. Vish was reminding her how she was gallivanting across the world after college instead of using her youth for education and securing a stable future—it’s why Sheela and I’d spent years breaking our own back. Even with a scholarship, living in NYC would cost a fortune.

            “And if I married your Gujju doc and pursued an MBA, big bro would help me out with grad school, right?”

            “You’ll recover that money in two years! But art and history, god dammit, it’s like what, choosing double suicide—” Vish walked toward the bar in the room. “But any fool can tell you this—you die only once.”

            “There are options with a degree in the Arts.” Noor stopped frying puris and stepped out of the kitchen. “We really don’t have to be the cliché of doctor, lawyer, engineer, you know?” She told Vish.

“No we don’t.” Vish poured Johnny Walker in a glass. “But I want her to take something seriously.”

 “See, I told you?” Ricki turned to Noor and picked her bag from the floor. “These guys will never get it.” She rushed upstairs toward her room.

Vish took a sip of his whiskey. “So you knew all along?” He looked at his wife as if both disappointed and unsurprised.  I mean, we all knew that if anyone in the family, it was Noor that Ricki was closest too.

“We need to talk.” Noor wiped her hands on the apron. “After the party.” She almost whispered.

“Fuck I love her but that’s the problem with 26.” Vish shook his drink. “She hangs out with artsy goras and thinks it’s noble to starve.” Another sip. “If she’d known real poverty—”

“There’s more to it.” Noor pulled her hair into a bun and held my son’s gaze for a while. “After the party.” She returned to frying puris.

            Vish emptied his glass and while I knew a fight could happen anytime again between my daughter and my son, it then looked like Vish and Noor would be fighting after the party too and there was little I could do to control the situation. My children arguing openly in front of us was becoming more than common for me and Sheela those days. I reminded Vish to stay cool for the evening but again, he accused me of overprotecting Ricki. And maybe he was right. I did protect my daughter from a rough life a lot more than I protected my son or even my daughter-in-law. What can I say, she was the youngest of us, and isn’t it nice to see someone of your own have it easier?

            Two hours passed and no sign of Ricki. Our first Diwali after a long time yet far from the family day I’d imagined having at home. So I stopped by the bookshelf in our living room and went to her room upstairs. “Ricku.” I finally knocked. No answer. “Papa here alone. I stay by your door till you open, okay?” I sat on the floor, hopeful for the evening.

            Ricki opened the door in sometime, then went back to typing on her computer. I stepped inside and looked at the posters on the wall I’d seen before—a couple of actresses from Hollywood most likely, and two more of Goddesses—one with Padma sitting on a lotus holding the Vedas and veena in her hands, another of a gori woman with knotted hair like you see in big museums; she was writing something on a scroll placed on her lap. Recently, Ricki had added a new poster on the wall—a scene from the Mahabharata where a transgender warrior is driving Arjuna’s chariot on the battlefield. I recognized him instantly. I wondered where she managed to find a poster with princess Amba reborn as Shikhandi to avenge Bhishma for abducting her in past life. Most paintings I’d seen of Mahabharata showed Krishna riding Arjun’s chariot, never the male-female reincarnation of Amba. Then again, knowing my Ricki, she loved the unconventional.

            “Why didn’t you tell us before?” I asked her about her interest to pursue historic art.

            “Like anyone would support education in the Arts?” she said. “Since I’ve a scholarship now, I can manage on my own.”

            She had her back turned to me as she pretended to type away and I sat on the armchair behind her, trying to bridge our worlds through words. Truth was, I continued to see in my daughter’s world, a world far away from mine—in the posters hung on her wall, in the tattoo on her arm, in the career she wanted for herself, a world where family was not an asset but a burden. And I wondered if what I’d worked all my life to preserve would fall apart one day, just like that, without any warning. Maybe it was best Ricki went away for the art program. Maybe the distance between my children would help them not take family for granted, just like living alone in those early US years made me realize how there’s no substitute for family.

            “I got something to show you, Ricku.” I broke the wall of silence between us. She turned around. I passed her my book on Kabir’s poetry, a collection I’d published over my time in Gujarat University, translating and interpreting his dohas, talking about the history of Bhakti poetry too. It was written in Gujarati and I’d never showed my children as they did not read Gujarati. Besides, with motel work for sixteen hours a day, Sheela and I rarely spent time with our children until they grew up understanding Gujarati basics but with no interest in learning the script. They proudly call English their language. When Ricki left for college, a Gujarati student in Asian American Studies at UCLA translated my collection into English.

Slowly slowly O mind, everything in own pace happens/ The gardener may water with a hundred buckets, fruit arrives only in its season. Ricki read to herself, then kept turning the pages, eyebrows creased with concentration. She asked me questions on Bhakti poetry and Kabir; she’d once read his poems in translation by a gora scholar at USC. For the first time in months, my daughter and I were having a conversation that was something more than family ritual with food, daily routine, weekly errands. Ricki sat opposite me and her cropped hair, her tattoo, the lines on it, all reminded me of the stories our neighbors often told about her. But then, I remembered lines from the book she was holding: Kabir, save the wealth that remains in this moment….

Today, as I tell you this, things are good overall with my family, maybe because we don’t live together under a roof anymore—we’ve become a bit like gora families ourselves. Vish and Noor moved to San Francisco few years back because they got a very nice business opportunity and they loved the city since their Stanford days anyway. Ricki shares an apartment with Makena in Hoboken, a city so different from when I first came to America, and very expensive too. The distance has managed to keep us close and we FaceTime every two weeks. My children visit us every Diwali, Christmas and Ramzan Id, including Makena who is now part of our family. And you won’t believe this but last month, Ricki managed to convince an editor at a small press in East LA to publish my story. The book is coming out next year and the best part, they love immigrant stories and don’t think my English is a problem!

That day before Diwali party though, I tried hard to not think about a resolution to the story of my family—would we stay together or fall apart? I tried my best to not ask: what happens next?

            Ricki stretched her legs on her mattress, her head bent over the book. “But I still don’t understand, Papa,” she said. “What’s with you and Kabir?”

            This was the story I should’ve told my children when they were growing up, not waiting until I retire. But there are many things I should’ve done when they were growing up. I should’ve watched Vish while he cleaned the motel’s yard so he would never fall into the pool. I should’ve not asked my daughter to clean motel rooms so she wouldn’t have nightmares about that suicidal woman for years later on. I should’ve taken my wife out for dinner for our 25th anniversary, in fact, every anniversary, just so we could share an intimate moment between the two of us, instead of falling asleep on our couch watching TV when tired, or serving our Gujarati community when free. Most of all, I should’ve shut up my own community when they started spreading stories about my daughter, about her love of women and a lesbian poetess tattooed on her arm because whatever her name—Sapphal, Sappha, Sappho—, or whoever my daughter loved, it was none of their damn business.

As I walked toward Ricki’s bed that evening, I tried to locate in my memories, the point of origin to this story, to Sheela and my story, to the story of our ancestors for whom Kabir was a father figure. I imagined myself lying next to my daughter when she was two as if I’d all the time and energy in the world to entertain her in the evening, to tell her stories until she fell asleep, and I imagined sharing that classic father-daughter moment you see in English movies. I sat by her side, ran my palm through her short, short hair, and began: Once upon a time.

Author’s Bio: Namrata Poddar writes fiction, nonfiction, and serves as Interviews Editor for Kweli where she curates a series titled “Race, Power and Storytelling.” For over a decade, her work has explored the intersection of storytelling, race, class, gender, place and migration, and has appeared in Longreads, Literary Hub, Transition, Poets & Writers, The Margins, The Progressive, Electric Literature, CounterPunch, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, VIDA Review, The Feminist Wire, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her story “Excursion” was awarded the first prize at the contest organized by 14th international short story conference, judged by Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise. Her debut story collection-in-progress, Ladies Special, Homebound, was a finalist for Feminist Press’s 2018 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, and is scheduled to release from Speaking Tiger Books (rights sold for South Asia). Namrata holds a Ph.D. in French Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, an MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars, and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Transnational Cultures from UCLA. She was raised in Mumbai and lives in Huntington Beach, California.

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