It races over the Bay of Bengal.
It charges through river, paddy, and city.
From Boston in my WhatsApp to family in Calcutta,
I speak of Arfan.
Perhaps Irrfan slipped into my fingertips,
one soft vowel nudging the other aside.
Irrfan Khan, recently passed,
remains in the Namesake
where he travels continents to tell the story of how
the wind- fluttered pages of Gogol in his hand,
emerged from under a train wreck and
became a signal.
And rescuers pulled him into a second life
from a womb of hot steel.
So that I will misspell Amphan, spun off the Thailand coast,
and meaning Sky.
Image: “My City, My Joy” by Dipanker Dutta, licensed under CC 2.0.
It was May 2020, and the cyclone Amphan was approaching Kolkata. I worried about an elderly beloved aunt, recently widowed. Though she has friends throughout her complex of flats, in the middle of the pandemic, she was on her own. I called her on her cell, and she said she was sitting in the dark with her flashlight nearby; windows were rattling and rainwater was trickling into her living room and bedrooms through gaps between window frames and walls. She did not want to talk for very long, as she was worried about her phone losing its charge, as the electricity was out. After speaking to her, I WhatsAppd her sons who lived in Delhi and Bangalore. In my distress I confused letters and words as I typed. Days later, after the storm had passed and as my aunt resumed her life – as much as it could be during Covid – I reflected on my texts with my cousins, and was reminded of the old days when my parents, here in the U.S., tried to keep in touch with family in India, through aerogrammes and monthly expensive international calls. Connection across continents was crucial to maintaining the diaspora. At the same time, culture was a precarious matter, subject to the forces of nature, fortune – and language.