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Authors: Vivek Shraya

She of the Mountains

BOOK: She of the Mountains
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SHE OF THE MOUNTAINS
:

She of the Mountains
is a wonderfully textured book that knows better than to offer hasty answers about identity—rather Shraya draws us into a series of highly poetic and hyper-intimate scenes that allows us to feel and explore for ourselves.

—Amber Dawn,
AUTHOR OF
Sub Rosa
and
How Poetry Saved My Life

She of the Mountains
is a forthright, honest, damned sexy book written, gleefully and counter-intuitively, in a lyrical, epic, transcendent style. It is not your typical debut novel, but rather one ripped apart at the spine and then reconfigured via alchemy, Tantric mysticism, the open verse of social media, and pure, raw talent. Sensual, smart (and smart-assed),
She of the Mountains
is the beginning of something big, bold, and—hold your purse!—glamorous.

—R.M. Vaughan,
AUTHOR OF
Compared to Hitler

Given the intersection of Vivek Shraya's writing and his music up till now, it should come as no surprise that his newest book is an equally compelling fusion of stories, voices, and textures.
She of the Mountains
is a touching and transporting prose-poem that has a music all its own.

—Rakesh Satyal,
AUTHOR OF
Blue Boy

SHE OF THE MOUNTAINS

Copyright © 2014 by Vivek Shraya

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any part by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may use brief excerpts in a review, or in the case of photocopying in Canada, a license from Access Copyright.

ARSENAL PULP PRESS

Suite 202–211 East Georgia St.

Vancouver, BC V6A 1Z6

Canada

arsenalpulp.com

The publisher gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council for its publishing program, and the Government of Canada (through the Canada Book Fund) and the Government of British Columbia (through the Book Publishing Tax Credit Program) for its publishing activities.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to persons either living or deceased is purely coincidental.

Illustrations (including cover) by Raymond Biesinger

Design by Gerilee McBride

Edited by Susan Safyan

Author photograph © Zachary Ayotte

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication:

Shraya, Vivek, 1981–, author

         
She of the mountains / Vivek Shraya.

ISBN 978-1-55152-561-7 (epub)

         
I. Title.

PS8637.H73S54 2014

C813'.6

  
C2014-903727-9

 

 

C2014-903728-7

To Shemeena

Contents

Parvati

Sati

Kali

Ganesha

Acknowledgments

In the beginning, there is no he. There is no she.

Two cells make up one cell. This is the mathematics behind creation. One plus one makes one. Life begets life. We are the period to a sentence, the effect to a cause, always belonging to someone. We are never our own.

This is why we are so lonely.

Briefly, ever so briefly, we linger as one. Our true first. Then we divide over and over again, always by two.

Inside the body of another, our heart is constructed. Inside the body of another, our heart drums its first beat.

Other organs form too. Skin stretches, bones harden, teeth bud. Sound is captured. Light is perceived.

If given the choice, we would stay here forever, sleeping. Pure and golden potential. But outside, they wait for us, sing to us, name us. They sculpt expectations we will not live up to, imagine medals we will not win, dream of highways we will not build, and hope for reformations we will not make.

Pushed out of the body of another, in sweat and screams, we experience the greatest rejection we will ever know. Out of warm fluid and into rough, biting air. No coo or pat or praise can ever compensate for this violence.

This is why we are so lonely.

PARVATI

I am the mother of the universe.

I am the planets and the years of darkness and light in between.

I am the oceans, the sky, the land, the air—the four corners.

I am life itself, the spark that makes a heart pump, that keeps a tree alive for centuries, green and reaching.

I am Parvati.

Today, I need a shower. Life can be filthy.

I apply a paste made of crushed sandalwood and jasmine to my skin with a circular motion. Right-hand fingers slowly spread over left hand, over left wrist, around left elbow, up left arm, over left shoulder.

I sing, but no one can hear me. The notes are too high, the melody too beautiful. Not even my husband can hear me—not just because he is out hunting right now. Shiv, my beloved Shiv, is often buried deep within his own mind, seduced by the possibility of an even quieter silence, a firmer stillness, the kind that borders death. Sometimes I think he has more in common with the corpses in that graveyard he has been dancing in lately than he does with me.

The First Song was born from pure grief. It happened the instant I felt the heartbeat of the first life form, my first child, stop. I was at the foot of our mountain Kailash when my mouth opened in
pain, and the first notes, too high to be a scream, too beautiful to be a howl, ran up from my diaphragm through my throat and into the dawn. Being married to Shiv, Lord of Destruction, I understood the necessity of death, but this did not make my loss any easier to endure. Days passed in song and mourning, and I vowed never to create life again.

But is there anything more consoling, more exhilarating, than creation itself?

I look down at my body, covered in brown paste that lightens as it hardens, and wait patiently. When the paste is firm and tan, I gently peel it off, this time starting at my right toe, over right ankle, up right calf, over right knee, up right leg. I sing a different song, my voice cascading like desert sands, each peak unique and transient. The tiny hairs along the newly exposed skin respond to my voice, standing at full attention. But it's not just my own body that responds.

I notice that the crumbled paste in my hands is softening to my song, turning golden. Excited, I continue singing and removing the paste from my body, adding it to the other remnants in my hand. My song gets clearer and faster, the flow of air in my throat running effortlessly back and forth over the scale, stopping briefly at the mid-notes, creating the sound of wind gliding over rivers and eroding stone.

I am naked now. All the paste has been removed and formed into a radiant ball of clay that vibrates with the sound of my voice. My hands take over: they pull, ply, roll, mould, and stretch the clay.

I know what's happening in my hands. I know this feeling so well, but every time, I weep. With every sprout of grass, every bursting new star, I weep.

When I clear the water from my eyes, I see that I am standing face to face with a statue of a young boy. With my final note, he opens his eyes.

Without hesitation, I pull him into my arms and say: Your name is Ganesha. Ganesha, my son.

He says nothing, but I know he can hear me, his eyelids fluttering. I tell Ganesha to guard our home while I rinse off.

Let no one in. Under any circumstance.

It is not protection I seek, but a moment for myself, a moment undisturbed by the prayers and plights of my children. As I finish the final part of my cleanse, rinsing the oil and salt of creation off my body, I can't help but sing as I think of my new son. For a moment, I think I can even hear him humming along in the distance, and again I cry.

When I emerge, I find Ganesha's head on the doorstep, next to his headless body.

The first time she put her hand on his body, he winced.

And the second time.

The third time, he cried.

The fifty-seventh time.

Then, gradually, he began to lose count. He relaxed. Her touch was still painful, but now, instead of fearing it, fearing what her hands might discover, the ugly they might find, the coarseness of a terrain unclaimed or untravelled, he anticipated it. He desired it.

After years of hiding and being unseen, her touch was a deep thawing, a memory of heat lost long ago.

BOOK: She of the Mountains
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