Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mitali Perkins takes us home

In February 2007, Mitali Perkins wrote the following story in her blog. We are glad to re-post it here and share this story of going home. Please feel free to comment or tell us a story about your own home and family.

Pub Date: In Search Of My Mothers' Gardens

It's 1996. I'm returning to our ancestral property in Bangladesh fifty-some years after my Hindu parents fled during the war. The Muslim man who lives there now looks suspicious as I approach, and I don't blame him. After all, my ancestors hated his with a passion, and I suspect the feeling was mutual. As we begin speaking, though, two white doves fly down and perch over the entrance to the house where my father was born. They stay during my entire visit, even while I go inside to chat, laugh, and share tea with the women and girls. (If you think I'm drifting from the genre of blogging into fiction, check out the photo I took that day.)

Today, as we send Rickshaw Girl out like one of those doves, I think of my tiny paternal grandmother who raised nine children on that jute farm. Barely educated herself, she made sure my father had a hot meal of rice and fish and lentils after his long walk from school, and enough kerosene in the lamp to do his homework. I think of my maternal great-grandmother, forced to marry my great-grandfather when she was nine and he was eighteen. (If you're curious about their post-nuptial details, you'll have to wait for The Secret Keeper/Asha Means Hope. But do some math in the meantime: her youngest child was a dozen years younger than my mother.)

The novelist and poet Alice Walker remembered the women who came before her in a famous 1974 essay called In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: The Creativity of Black Women in the South:

In the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., there hangs a quilt unlike any other in the world. In fanciful, inspired, and yet simple and identifiable figures, it portrays the story of the Crucifixion. It is considered rare, beyond price. Though it follows no known pattern of quiltmaking, and though it is made of bits and pieces of worthless rags, it is obviously the work of a person of powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling. Below this quilt I saw a note that says it was made by "an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago." If we could locate this "anonymous" Black woman, she would turn out to be one of our grandmothers - an artist who left her mark in the only materials she could afford, and in the only medium her position in society allowed her to use.
Were there any storytellers among the "anonymous" grandmothers who lived centuries before me in Bangladesh? Any painters? Musicians? Rickshaw Girl is for them. And for girls throughout rural Bangladesh today, unknown to us but full of heart and dreams, like Naima in my story.

Reprinted with permission. Visit Mitali Perkins online at Mitali's Fire Escape.