Saturday, November 3, 2007

Of Love and Other Monsters

Yesterday I took a chunk of the day off to drive up to Bellingham with Kath (Aqueduct’s managing editor), where we picked up a run of new books from Applied Digital Imaging, the people who print the volumes in our Conversation Pieces series. As we waited for a dolly to be fetched, Kath asked me if I wanted a tour of Applied Digital (which she, of course, had enjoyed taking prior to our doing business with them). No, I said, baldly revealing my lack of properly geeky interest in the technology that makes Aqueduct possible. “Not even the Big Machine they have in the back, the one that” “Yeah, I know it’s really cool,” I interrupted, “but not today.”

After a tasty lunch in Bellingham, we gave ourselves the treat of taking Chuckanut Drive (delaying our return to the interstate) and savored the remains of the fall foliage. On one side of the road lay Puget Sound, on the other, Chuckanut Mountain, and in my mind, memories. The sun didn’t burn through the clouds until we were nearly home. But that didn’t matter. It was the perfect fall day.

The first of the two books we picked up is Vandana Singh’s Of Love and Other Monsters. Let me offer you a taste of the first few paragraphs:

When I think about him I remember a wave I watched near a beach once, a big, beautiful, smooth wave, perfectly rounded, like molten glass. It came into a narrow channel from the open sea, muscular and purposeful, hardly breaking into surf. I thought it would climb all the way up the end of the channel, wash over me, and carry on, unbroken, till it crossed the entire Deccan peninsula. But it met the sand, rolled over it, little traceries of white disturbing its smooth, translucent aspect. Touched my toes, broke up into little tongues of froth, and dissipated. So I like to think of him—Sankaran, I mean—like a wave that came out of the ocean for a while to fulfill some purpose (whatever that was). Then he was lost to me.

Physicists have a name for that kind of wave. It is very unusual, and it is called a soliton, or solitary wave.

When, as a young man, I met Sankaran for the first time, I thought he was the one I had been searching for all my conscious life. But as the poet Faiz says, there are more sorrows in the world than love. As soon as I had settled into a certain youthful complacency, the world and its attendant sorrows got in the way.

The study of minds, soliton-like or otherwise, is my particular passion. Mind-weaving is the one extraordinary ability I have that makes me different from other people. I like to go into a gaggle of housewives bargaining over turnips or a crowd at a cricket match. I drift about, trying to determine what kind of entity the crowd has the potential to become. I take the embryological possibility of the meta-mind, make a joining here, a parting there; I wave my baton like the conductor of an orchestra and sense a structure, a form, coalesce in the interactions of these knots of persons. The meta-mind I construct has a vague unity of purpose, a jumble of contradictory notions, and even a primitive self-awareness.

Which is why I am so disturbed by solitons. They walk into a meta-mind as though nothing were there, and they walk out, unaffected. They give nothing, nor do they take away.

Such was Sankaran-with-stars-in-his-eyes, Sankaran the astronomer. This is not his story, howeverhis is just one thread in the tapestry, one voice in the telling. This is my story, and it begins when I was (so I am told) seventeen years old.

At age seventeen, Arun, the narrator of Of Love and Other Monsters, emerges from a fire, his memories and identity vanished with the flames. He finds a refuge and home with Janani and soon discovers his unique ability to sense and manipulate the minds of others around him. Intimately connected yet isolated by this insight, he inhabits a dangerous place outside conventional boundaries: man/woman, mind/body. When someone who shares his ability, Rahul Moghe, arrives on his doorstep, he senses a power beyond any he has known. Janani warns of the grave danger posed by Rahul and sends Arun on his journey, fleeing the one person who may have answers to the mystery of his past.

Arun weaves his story as he weaves minds. I love the richness of his sense of life, even as he struggles to discover who he is and what his place in the world might be, could be, should be.

If you’d like to read the rest of Vandana’s story, you can purchase her shiny new book now from Aqueduct for $9.

1 comment:

Jason Erik Lundberg said...

Very cool news, Timmi. I've been a fan of Singh's since her first story was published, and this looks like a wonderful new story.