There are moments now when the wall, the one that grew up so strongly around me in childhood, seems to have dissolved entirely. Or I have absorbed it into myself; it is no longer made of brick, but of skin, and is perhaps no more than the boundary each of us has, our simple sense of self. It is a hard-won unity, not to live in compartmentalized fragments; easier sometimes to avoid explaining the rites and vocabu- laries of one tribe to the other. Yet the moments when I have felt truly integrated shine brighter than suns in my memory; I would not trade them for a princess’s ransom.
It was only when I began traveling among my relatives for this book that I came to understand how each life is a tangle of push and pull; how each migration opens up future directions; and how my own journey, which I had come to believe and been made to feel was so unusual as to be selfish and freakish, was in fact continuous with a long heritage of moving from the known to the unknown, from tradition into modernity, from village India into a cosmopolitan world. In my interviews I found not only success stories but also secret shames, sometimes one buried within the other: illegal border crossings, whisperings of second wives and concubines, stories of abuse and survival, turn-off-the-tape- recorder moments that I knew I could not retell but that I absorbed nonetheless. As I unveil a piece of the vast silence about sexuality in order to tell my own story, I know these other secrets are the context.
Shame is bone-deep, says my reiki-shiatsu healer, as her brown hands massage my muscles, tense from typing. I close my eyes, and an image arises: a grid of fishbones under my skin. Interconnected, sharp-edged, like the history of all of the women in my family, the bones are flexible and nearly translucent. I try to describe this new spine, its compelling, almost mathematical beauty.
My name means fish, I tell her. Where am I from? This is my body, this is where I live.