Friday, April 08, 2016

Dotbusters, Dothead, ...

As a fresh off the boat newbie graduate student, I had a great time spending hours in the libraries at the university.  I couldn't believe there were multiple libraries on campus.  Of course, this was also before the dawn of the internet age and, therefore, it was in the libraries that I could read the newspapers from around the country and the world.

One of the news stories from those newbie days was about the "Dotbusters" in New Jersey.  I tracked down a New York Times report on that, from October 12, 1987:
For years, Indians living in blue-collar enclaves here have been taunted with ethnic epithets by white, black and Hispanic youths, according to the city's Indian leadership and many other people here.
But in recent weeks, Indians here say, the violence has taken on a new and uglier cast. One Jersey City Indian was beaten to death in Hoboken. Another remains in a coma after being discovered beaten unconscious on a busy street corner here earlier this month. And in a crudely handwritten letter, partially printed in The Jersey Journal, someone wrote, ''We will go to any extreme to get Indians to move out of Jersey City.'' The note was signed ''The Dotbusters.''         
I remember many of us Indian students talking about the "Dotbusters" and how the Los Angeles area, where I was, seemed more welcoming.  But, it shocked us that the violence was not in some remote part of the US, or in the Deep South, but in New Jersey!
  A 40-year-old Indian shop owner looked out on to Central Avenue and wondered aloud.
''Why do they want to hurt the Indian?'' she said, apologizing for her broken English. ''We want to make America beautiful. We don't want to spoil it.
''America is a land of chances,'' she said, too fearful to have her name published. ''That's why everybody is here.''
Yes, that's why everybody is here and would love to come here.  Like why I am here and not back in India, nor was I interested to go anywhere else.

An Indian-American was on NPR yesterday, and stirred the stories lodged in my memories from nearly three decades ago.  Amit Majmudar is yet another Indian-American who makes me feel like I am nothing but a blabbering idiot who does nothing.  Majmudar is a radiologist, novelist, poet, and writes commentaries.  And, yes, he is a family man.  Seriously, isn't that supposed to be four different people?  And, oh, he is yet to turn forty! I hate such people who make a good-for-nothing out of me!!! ;)

Majmudar was featured in the NPR segment because he has been appointed "Ohio's first ever poet laureate."  How about that!  Does Ohio's governor, John Kasich, know about this? ;)

Majmudar's "new collection of poems, has as its title an ethnic slur, "Dothead.""  Why?
Well, if you look at racial slurs like this, there is a way to retake it, the N-word, for example. Rappers have taken that word back. And it's still off-limits to those outside of the sort of circle. But internally, it's something that they call each other. And in this way, you kind of take it back from the people who use it against you. And "Dothead" actually relates to something very beautiful and eloquent related to Hindu symbolism. And for me, the dot on the head is something that I associate with my mom. My wife wears one every once in a while when we go to, you know, an Indian wedding or something like that. And above all, it has this religious meaning for me. And so I wanted to take it back, and I wanted to make a poem out of it.
April being poetry month, here's Majmudar's poem:


by Amit Majmudar
Well yes, I said, my mother wears a dot.
I know they said "third eye" in class, but it's not
an eye eye, not like that. It's not some freak
third eye that opens on your forehead like
on some Chernobyl baby. What it means
is, what it's showing is, there's this unseen
eye, on the inside. And she's marking it.
It's how the X that says where treasure's at
is not the treasure, but as good as treasure.—
All right. What I said wasn't half so measured.
In fact, I didn't say a thing. Their laughter
had made my mouth go dry. Lunch was after
World History; that week was India—myths,
caste system, suttee, all the Greatest Hits.
The white kids I was sitting with were friends,
at least as I defined a friend back then.
So wait, said Nick, does your mom wear a dot?
I nodded, and I caught a smirk on Todd—
She wear it to the shower? And to bed?—
while Jesse sucked his chocolate milk and Brad
was getting ready for another stab.
I said, Hand me that ketchup packet there.
And Nick said, What? I snatched it, twitched the tear,
and squeezed a dollop on my thumb and worked
circles till the red planet entered the house of war
and on my forehead for the world to see
my third eye burned those schoolboys in their seats,
their flesh in little puddles underneath,
pale pools where Nataraja cooled his feet.

From Dothead by Amit Majmudar. Copyright 2016 by Amit Majmudar. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf.

Nataraja (ca 11th century) at the Met

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