Ritual A - Cut the Cord - Week 1
Updated: Oct 14
Weeks ago, my friend Vignesh sent me an article published on Guernica by Meena Kandasamy called “The Poetry of Female Fighters” about five poet fighters whose work, in poetry and life, offers an alternative to the “poetry of witness” popularized by Carolyn Forché and others. I am a terrible student of history. I have sought out less historical information than I’d like to admit. What I have attempted to learn, I tend to quickly forget. Names, dates, eras, wars—of these I have been a terrible student. Before reading this article, I knew nothing of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam who fought the Indian Peace Keeping Force (its real name, like any agency with the word “Freedom” in it in the US) in Sri Lanka for independence. I knew nothing of Captain Vaanathi, Captain Kasturi, and Adhilatchumi—women fighters for the Tigers. And while I knew some of Maoists in South Asia thanks to Arundhati Roy’s writings, I knew nothing of Nibha Shah, a fighter in the Nepali Maoist ranks. The article was accompanied by poems from some of these fighters.
Being a cis-male of brahmin descent, my kin know nothing of these struggles. While my mother’s parents were jailed often in the fight for Indian independence from “the crown,” being brahmin, there offered a future they could see for themselves in the independent India being advocated by Gandhi. Liberation for brahmins did not mean liberation for all. That sort of liberation was feared, for such liberation would require a relinquishing of what small privileges, at the time, they had, being one step below white Christians. My lack of knowledge on these historical movements is negligence and ignorance. A way forward requires an intentional engagement and prioritizing of texts by those my caste and nationality has evaded. Evasion as defense-mechanism. As slow murder. As wasting of others at a distance.
In “Cut the Cord” I will use the thread from my Janoi ceremony performed when I was 18 (also called Upanayana Ceremony—ritual ceremony performed in slightly different ways based on region and caste to signify entrance into the “second birth” of life, that of mental and spiritual development) to tether myself to a colonial object.
Steps for Ritual:
1. Each time I will a. choose a place, in various levels of exposure to others, to perform the ritual, and b. choose an object meant to represent my tie to colonial institutions of control and my complicity with those institutions. I will wear the janoi thread throughout the day from morning onward.
a. Today I choose the beach Whakahekerau
b. Today I choose my cherished Oxford Annotated Bible, the book that first made me think I could enjoy literature. The book that helped me back my arguments of loathing Christianity. The book that has been used to justify our imperial world and that taught me, as a child, that my brownness and religious background were unamerican.
2. Once at place, remove shirt so that my torso is only covered by the thread draped across my chest from the left shoulder.
3. Prior to removing thread from my body to tie myself to the object, I will chant two verses from the Yoga Vāsistha, the Rsih Vāsistha, according to my mother’s family “gōtra,” being the oldest recorded ancestor on that side. The verses read like this:
Yatah sarvāni bhūtāni pratibhānti sthitāni ca
Yatraivopaśamam yānti tasmai satyātmane namah.
From which all beings shine forth and are sustained, where alone they attain dissolution, to that Truth, I bow.
Aham baddho vimuktahsyām itiyasyāsti niścayah
Nātyantam-ajño no tajjñah so’smin śastré dhikāravān.
I am bound, let me be liberated. I understand I am not totally ignorant, nor do I possess Truth. This one is qualified to study.
4. Remove janoi from body and use to tie part of my body to colonial implement. Bible for today.
5. Recite/read first of two poems chosen for the day’s ritual.
Today, I chose a poem called “Superpowers” by Captain Kasturi and a poem by Nibha Shah called “Bird” as focal points of this my first Relinquishing Ritual. The poems directly address an imagined colonial reader (Kasturi) or use metaphor to theorize the imagination of those complicit in colonial violences, while imagining a futurity through struggle (Shah). You can read the poems at Guernica here.
“Superpowers” by Captain Kasturi comes first.
6. With a pair of scissors, cut the Janoi (sacrilege) while repeating Bhanu Kapil’s question from The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers “Who is responsible for the suffering of your mother?” five times.
7. After the thread is cut, read the second of the day’s chosen poems.
Today, that is “Bird” by Nibha Shah.
8. Sit in silence for 10 minutes.
9. Retie the janoi. Write.
Took Video. It was chilly today, but found a spot relatively isolated. Felt liberated, actually, taking off my shirt. Noticed for the first time in a long time that I was not self-conscious of the softness of my body of the little jelly rolls and love handles at the belt. Felt beautiful, dammit, which was really a surprise. Only noticed two people walk by in the distance walking dogs. Did not lift head up too long. Focused on ritual. Video recording of the ritual. Felt the string taut around my neck. When the Bible slipped, thought, “oh well.” Felt a real descending of warm energy when I cut the cord. Powerful. An actual chills through the chest situation. The waves. Yes, the waves. The waves. The still afterward. Not unlike the feeling after a long and powerful contemplative meditation.
Numb-footed walk back from the ritual site, habitual om namah shivaya.
Who is responsible for the suffering of your mother?
Kapil’s question haunts me since I read it. Haunts me like my sweet mother’s voice oceans away. Like a sloka. Like an oral questioning passed from her to me, a stranger.
Freeing, sitting shirtless on the cold beach.
Privilege in this world afraid of breasts.
I cut the cord. Biblical.
Sacrilege is a form of love.
For all those to whom I’ve given little thought.
This imperium hurts, too, the emperors.
Stupid little things.
I cut the cord to the arbiter within me.
Brahmin obsessed with gates. Whose gait is stiff yet easeful, arrogant as a shell keeping form against the surf. As fragile, too.
Two dogs walked past accompanied by their keepers.
During their ritual, my ritual, peripherally I caught the teal shirt on the biped. Glanced up for a moment before obeying my command.
Who is responsible for the suffering of your mother.
Not a question. Because the answers are too innumerable to exist at all, held by the gravity of the fiction called me.
Or I who eyes in the distance a tiny island unclaimed by the Queen. (Pounui-a-Hine)
I whose eyes have been conditioned to flicker,
A blink thinks milky as ink from the blued vessel of an oxygen deprived sphinx.
And I am nothing but a biped with sand in its cracks.
The Tamil Tigers fought for a worldly future yet-to-exist; an imaginary whose embers still flare.
What, in this life, has my breath offered?
What this pressure applied to implements by my opposable thumbs?
In the ritual, I did not think once about my love handles rounding the leather belt for all to see.
The Janoi thread pulled my neck close to the unholy book, whose many annotations I deemed sacred as the institutions the colonial dream would deem we serve.
Oxford. A name. Sand kicked into shape.
Rushi. A name. Sand kicked into shape.
The entire ritual, I had to shit and piss.
Though I know nothing lives as a foreignness, without the waves to soothe my nerves, what verbs would’ve saddled the curvature of my spine to abort?
Contortion is all my body knows.
For all I know, I was invisible in the sand.
Assimilable in my black Levis on the quietest spot of the beach.
Teaching is better without preaching and the badam, liquified, I swallowed into my brain.
Quiet and insane. Call me if I must be.
When I cut the cord a warmth took my chest. A warmth that now lingers in me.
Afterwards, I tied the thread again, so that I, again, can cut.
Cut the cord, then reassemble, then cut again. That’s the work attention takes.
Pretension is the convention to which I formerly attended.
Fuck the Queen and your flags in which I draped myself.
Should all be so lucky as to be nationless.
How seductive the fictions of this luxury.
You can smell all the dead fish at low tide.
I am vegetarian, and still bringer of demise.
Om namah shivaya, om namah shivaya.
Prayer to the destroyer in me.
If destruction is brown as my nature, attention is everything.
Dear Yahweh, I turn my attention to you. To me. To Gandhi, too.
A name is sand kicked into shape by the tideline.
I’m accomplice to the ocean.
Take my accomplishments and eat them.
My remainder is with the dogshit on the beach.