Then the dust got so bad in the winter you had to do the floors every day, twice a day, grime thick on the table, my laptop, our books. I hardly left the boys’ place. Woke with my mouth glued open and my nostrils dry, construction workers banging across the way. Deep in the night (and we all crashed at their apartment in a last study binge, kept jagged hours in the sore-throat tipsy-sunny early December, scrambling to get papers done) the watchmen knocked their staffs against the bone ground calling jaagte raho! jaagte raho!—stay awake!—striding in tandem like the ladies that power-walked together every day down the streets of my New Jersey housing development.
That was around the time the Aam Aadmi Party won big gains in the Delhi elections, and men in support of them kept loping around the city in those sloganed white caps that read main hun aam aadmi—I am the common man. They came by accident to the gay protest the day after the Supreme Court reinstated Indian Penal Code Section 377, which made most of the sexual behavior of most of the queer community (and most everyone else in the country) illegal again. The Aam Aadmi guys kept asking yeh Aam Aadmi ka protest hai kya? A whole group of us standing there sucking cigarettes, nervously, passing them back and forth, discarding them under our dusty sandals, talking big and wounded and swaggery—so much for that government job; why don’t we just be separatists; I’m leaving this fucking country. And my head floated somewhere by the stage where the angry woman was shouting we shall overcome, ham honge kamyab. Is this the Aam Aadmi protest? And we kept saying no, it’s 377, until we realized afterward just to make them stay we should have told them it was.
Earlier that Delhi fall I had sat in a conference of well-known feminists, the kind that made me feel like a frizzy-haired fangirl, listening to them fear for the state of the country in the face of spring’s upcoming national elections. A beleaguered anxiety. One of my professors was the facilitator of that feminist conference, and the day after she stood in lecture speaking about labor politics in Assam under the British, and I could tell she was still coming off the anxious nihilism of the day before. The anxiety that maybe one cannot do much against the kind of dull, pervasive extremism whose aim is the eradication of alterity. She was looking at me and she said something like, well, students, all our attempts at getting it right thus far have failed utterly. And I could see she hadn’t quit thinking about yesterday, had kept it going through the night like an ulcer or laugh lines, something etched across your face or fracturing deep inside your belly that’s not leaving you, and how it was the undercurrent of her current lecture. She said, we haven’t managed to get it right thus far in history. (Winter in the city, the dusty streets resplendent in all their fetid paradisal beauty. On the dry road the textured alphabet of watchmen spelling stay awake.)
She was looking at me. But history isn’t over.