Hitching a ride, trusting a partner, marrying the same person three times
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When I told Thomas about my experience — “transcendental,” I called it — he was skeptical. I had only been studying yoga for three weeks. Thomas, on the other hand, had been practicing yoga and meditation for eight years. In all that time he hadn’t felt anything even close to what I was describing.
I told him maybe I had an edge, being an Indian and currently in India.
We were on the phone, but I had originally mentioned the experience to him in a greeting card: I was on a city bus, traveling from Opera House to Breach Candy. I had just been to yoga class at Kaivalyadhama — the same place my father had studied, reluctantly, half a century earlier, because a doctor had prescribed yoga to his mother, and she’d refused to go alone. The bus was loud and crowded, so, to escape, I decided to practice the meditation techniques I had learned in class. I chanted my mantra silently. I followed my breath. I closed my outer eyes and opened my inner ones.
That’s when I transcended. My proof? I was supposed to alight near Parsi General Hospital, where I was meeting an old family friend. Instead I ended up at a shopping mall in Bandra hours later with an overwhelming sense of contentment and no memory of how I’d gotten there.
On the phone I could tell Thomas was avoiding giving any reaction to my story. When I pressed him, he said, “I’m not sure it was what you think it was, Mohan.”
“What do you mean?”
“Are you sure you didn’t just fall asleep?”
“I know what I felt,” I said. “What, you don’t believe me?”
“It’s not that. It’s just that, as you deepen your practice, you’ll understand how naive your claim sounds.”
“Someday,” he said, “you’ll reread what you wrote and laugh.”
I remembered the card I had sent him: A sheep on the front dabbed at its tears with a Kleenex wedged in its hoof. Inside it said, “I miss ewe.”
“How will I reread it?” I asked. “Haven’t you thrown it in the trash?”
The previous fall, a few days after Thomas’s birthday, I’d found the birthday card I had given him in the wastebasket by his bed. When I’d asked him how it had gotten there, he’d said something about “avoiding clutter” and “just because I don’t keep things doesn’t mean they mean any less to me.”
“I’ll keep this one,” he said. “I’ll show it to you when I visit in May.”
“Keep this up, and you may want to consider canceling your trip.”
I had come to Bombay three months earlier, leaving Thomas, my boyfriend of less than a year, in New York. Parting was difficult. I told him I would return as soon as I could, though I wasn’t sure when that would be. Thomas promised to visit.
My family thought I had come to take care of my ailing grandmother, since all her children lived in America, and I was the eldest grandson. I thought I had come mostly to learn Hindi and its close cousin Marathi, so I could translate some little-known eighteenth-century Indian poetry and finally finish my dissertation. Thomas thought I had come because I didn’t know what I wanted — in life or in love — and it was easier to run away than to stay and sort it out.
As for my grandmother, I wasn’t sure what she thought. She looked at me suspiciously. Late at night I could hear her rummaging in cupboards she kept locked. I was living with her in the same flat in which my father had grown up, on the third story of a well-appointed building in Breach Candy. She had windows facing the sea and marble floors everywhere, but she had let the place deteriorate since her husband had died. The couch in the living room had lost its legs and was now fit only for dwarves. The drapes were dingy. She couldn’t bother shooing the crows that flew in the window, so she let them come and go as they pleased. They hopped on her kitchen counters, picking at lentils and taking chapatis to go.
Worst of all, when I picked up the phone upon my arrival, I found the line dead. In my grandmother’s bedroom I discovered a desk drawer full of unopened bills.
At the telephone office the next day, none of the clerks spoke English, and my Hindi failed me. We honked at each other and flapped our wings but got nowhere. A few days later my grandmother’s upstairs neighbor intervened on our behalf. Afterward he said to me, “It could be weeks — maybe months. Who knows? This is India.”
So I would make my calls to America from one of the expensive international pay phones scattered about the neighborhood. I had two nearby from which to choose. One was attached to an open-air tobacco stand abutting a busy boulevard and lacked the benefit of even a booth to dampen the sounds of scooters and cars. Men hung around it in a cloud of smoke and exhaust fumes, beedis pinched between their fingers. Some chewed betel nut, and their red spit stained the sidewalk like paint splatters.
I preferred the phone at the laundry across the street. The shiny, heavily air-conditioned shop catered to a wealthy clientele. The shopkeeper was pleasant and always wore a clean white shirt with a Western collar. But even here privacy was a problem. The small phone, an urgent red, was on the same counter across which business was conducted. As I talked, customers would come and go, looking at me curiously as they waited for their clothes or change. The phone was wired to a digital readout that hung on the wall, displaying the charges as they accrued at an alarming rate. The shopkeeper, when he wasn’t busy, would listen to my conversations, chin in hands, elbows propped on the counter, eyes on the red numbers as they raced higher. I thought he’d be thrilled by his profits, but he looked concerned, perhaps wondering if this would be the time I couldn’t pay. He appeared relieved only when my money was in his palm. Then he slapped me on the shoulder and shook my hand vigorously.
As I entered and exited the store, two raggedy boys loitering on a low stone wall tried to sell me American products I didn’t want: one day a package of Schick disposable razors, another day a travel-size bottle of Shower to Shower deodorant powder. They held the items in their small fists, which opened before me like dirty lilies.
Once, one of the boys showed me a single, loose cigarette.
“I don’t smoke,” I said.
He looked baffled and said sternly, “You should.”
Not long after my conversation with Thomas about my “transcendental” experience, I phoned him from the laundry. After we’d discussed our mutual friends in New York, my grandmother’s idiosyncrasies, and Thomas’s impending visit to India (“You will see things that will haunt you for the rest of your life,” I said, refusing to elaborate), Thomas told me unceremoniously that he had cheated. At first I thought taxes. Then I understood.
“I’m so, so sorry,” he said. “I love you.”
Somehow I wasn’t surprised. We’d promised to try to be faithful to one another while I was away, but I’m not sure either of us really believed it.
“How did it happen?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
“I meant to go straight home after yoga, but I had overdone it. My body ached. I stopped for a beer.”
I knew the bar. I had been there once, before I’d met Thomas, and had gone home with a stranger — tall, muscled, blond — who would realize the next morning, in the stark fluorescent light of his building’s elevator, that I wasn’t cute enough for him. His realization would be so visceral, so obvious that, upon reaching the lobby, I would know without having to be told that we would not eat brunch as planned, would not linger over eggs Florentine and mimosas, would not exchange phone numbers or promises to call. I pictured Thomas with such a man, but because Thomas is much more handsome than I am, the outcome in the elevator would be different.
“What did he look like?” I asked.
“What does it matter?”
“It matters to me.”
“This isn’t going to help,” Thomas said. When I didn’t respond, he said reluctantly, “Medium build. Average height. Nice smile.”
“Was he cuter than me?”
Before, I hadn’t been sure that I wanted to know the details. Now I couldn’t seem to stop. “What did the two of you do? Did you do the things we do? Or did you do something new?”
“I was lonely,” he said. “I miss you so much. I only wanted to be touched.”
“Did you suck his dick?”
I looked at the shop owner, who was looking straight at me and biting a hangnail. His English was good, but how good? Did he know dick? Did he know suck?
“What did it look like?” I said quietly.
“I don’t remember.”
Thomas probably thought his lack of attention to detail would prove to me that the incident had meant nothing. Instead it made me think he didn’t notice things, not even what was right in front of him.
“I’m the one who got hurt,” I said. “You owe me at least this. What did his dick look like? Big, small? Hooded, cut? Thin, thick?”
Thomas sighed. We were both silent.
After a moment he said, “Bent.”
I hung up on him.
Much later, walking along the rocky seashore toward Mahalaxmi Racecourse, fixating not on Thomas’s infidelity but, more specifically, on how Thomas had described the man’s dick, I thought, Like a finger, beckoning.
I waited a week and a half before calling him back. I had meant to say something funny — perhaps, “How’s my little adulterer doing?” I had hoped we could laugh and move on. Instead I started crying and couldn’t stop.
Thomas stuttered syllables that sounded like “Sorry”; I interrupted him with sobs. The laundry man watched the numbers on the digital display shoot upward. Finally, after a very long time, I hung up. I paid the laundry man one thousand rupees — about thirty dollars, a small fortune. He asked me if I wanted my clothes now. I said I did, and he said, “Thirty rupees,” and I gave him that too. He brought me my bundle, and I left.
Outside, the boys stared at me as I walked past them. They must have seen I had been crying, was still crying. One of them offered to sell me a saltshaker shaped like the Empire State Building.
Thomas arrived in Bombay a few weeks later, as originally planned, except a day late. There had been a delay in Kuwait, and he and the other passengers had spent the night in a hotel. Thomas was cranky because the officials had confiscated the bottle of Grey Goose vodka he had brought for my grandmother. I’d told him she would like it, even though she didn’t drink, because foreign liquor was a status symbol, and she could serve it to guests.
I said to him right away that I wasn’t sure this was going to work. We were in a taxi, driving through the slums that surrounded the airport. “Maybe I shouldn’t have let you come.”
“I would have come anyway,” he said, smiling. He pulled at my earlobe, but I brushed his hand away.
At my grandmother’s flat Thomas sat on the dwarf couch, drinking tea and looking small. My grandmother hovered above him, patting the key ring hanging from her waist, the one that unlocked the cupboards. Thomas wanted to sleep, but I convinced him he’d get over his jet lag more quickly if he stayed awake until bedtime. I suggested we take a walk to a nearby temple. I had been translating a poem about the temple at Walkeshwar and its famous Banganga water tank, but I had never visited, even though it was only a short distance away.
As we walked, Thomas asked about the poem.
It was about the origins of the water, I told him, based on a famous tale from the Ramayana about Rama’s quest to find his beloved Sita, who had been abducted by the demon Ravana. Along the way Rama stopped at Walkeshwar. He had been traveling for years and was tired and thirsty, but he couldn’t find anything to drink. So Rama shot an arrow into the ground, and the holy River Ganga spurted forth.
“Speaking of tired and thirsty,” Thomas said, “I think I’m getting heatstroke. Shoot me an arrow, will ya?”
“The reason the poem is remarkable,” I said, “is that the poet argues that Ravana gets a bad rap in the Ramayana. He points out that Ravana held Sita captive for many years but never violated her, even though he could have. Ravana is thus actually a model of masculinity, because he protected Sita in a way that Rama, who let her get abducted, couldn’t. In the poet’s opinion Ravana should be honored in the pantheon of gods, not demons.”
“I’m not sure that not raping someone you’ve kidnapped is reason for canonization,” Thomas said.
“You’re missing the point,” I said. “He restrained himself despite his desires.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“All I’m saying is I’m saying,” I said, quoting a hip-hop DJ we both liked.
During our walk we collected a group of street children, who stuck to our legs like burs. They begged, “Chocolate? Pen?” I had heard these requests many times from street children, usually after they’d given up asking for money. I found the pen part confusing. It was obvious to me why they would want chocolate, but why a pen?
By the time we’d reached the temple and sat down by the water tank, we were surrounded. Thomas wilted. The children pulled at his sleeve until he fished around in his day pack and handed out three blue Papermates. When they weren’t satisfied, he found a roll of cough drops and gave them out, one by one.
“That’s medicine, not candy,” I said.
“It’s all I’ve got.”
There wasn’t enough for everyone, and one small child, who’d arrived too late, threw a tantrum. He pouted and wiped a soiled hand across Thomas’s chest and spat at him and started crying.
“It serves you right,” I told Thomas. “Do you think you are helping them by giving them cough drops? You were just trying to make yourself feel better.”
“Why are you being so mean to me?” He looked down at the brown smear across his chest, lifted his shirt to his face, and sniffed. His nose crinkled. “This is shit.”
He took his shirt off and threw it away. We left immediately, walking back under the hot sun without having had a closer look at what we had come to see.
I hoped that Thomas’s visit would improve, but it didn’t. We quarreled constantly and slept in separate beds, Thomas on a trundle that, during the day, nested underneath mine: our beds intimate in ways we were not. He developed a vague, Victorian-style illness and felt tired and numb. He lost his appetite for everything except oranges, which were expensive and hard to find.
I blamed the Bombay air and suggested we head south: first the mountains (“We might see tigers!”), then the beach. “South India is like a different country,” I said. “People there don’t even speak Hindi. We can both be foreigners.”
“Do you think your grandmother will be OK alone?”
“She’ll be fine,” I said, ignoring the fact that her ailments had gotten much worse since I had been in Bombay.
“Maybe a relative can stay with her while we are gone,” he said. I shrugged.
Thomas had taken an interest in her. He filled her hot-water bottles and bought her a silk shawl at the market. The shawl was too vivid a red for a widow (I’d told him so at the time), but my grandmother wore it anyway. She’d grown to trust him. Once, she even asked him to help her get something from one of the mysterious cupboards she always kept locked. I asked him later what was in there, but he wouldn’t tell me. “If she had wanted you to know,” he said, smiling, “she would have shown you herself.”
Before we left Bombay, we visited a used-book store and bought a Malayalam phrase book, choosing the only one small enough to fit in a pocket. We didn’t look at it very closely until we were on the airplane.
The book was copyrighted in 1967. The cover showed a cartoon drawing of a tall blond man with long hair and bellbottoms talking to a small brown man wearing a sarong and washing an elephant. Other illustrations in the book all showed Indian men and women in traditional garb doing hard labor — pulling rickshaws, serving meals, scrubbing floors — with Westerners towering above them. We were horrified.
The text in the book was even worse. It was filled with phrases like “That’s the boy’s job,” “Tell the boy to come in the morning,” “There is plenty of work for the boy,” “Can’t the boy work any faster?” and “This room is filthy!” We vowed to throw it out when we arrived, but during our first day at a small hotel in the mountains, we recanted. Our room was filthy, and there was plenty of work for the boy, though we didn’t have the courage to say so.
One morning, eating breakfast on our terrace, we made the mistake of giving a monkey a mango. The next day he returned with three of his friends. When we refused to feed them, too, they made loud noises and hurled rocks and dirt at us. We huddled inside until the boy came and chased them away with his broom.
Things were better at the beach. We splurged on a room with an ocean view at an upscale resort that was staffed, exclusively it seemed, by beautiful boys — about a dozen of them in their late teens or early twenties, from all over India. They paraded before us like pageant contestants: Miss Orissa, Miss Bihar, Miss Rajasthan.
Our favorite we called “Miss Andhra Pradesh.” He walked around bare chested in a sarong, like an illustration from our phrase book. The sarong came to his ankles, but if he needed to do a bit of hard work — like hauling a bucket of water or climbing a tree to fetch a coconut (a trick the hotel management actually encouraged guests to request) — he could, with one graceful movement, halve the garment to his knees. His thin, flat torso glistened with sweat, reflecting sunlight. Thomas and I were dazzled.
We took yoga classes at a nearby school: I, a beginning class; Thomas, an advanced one. In the evenings we practiced yoga on the beach and watched the sun set over the ocean: a spectacle that, as East Coast boys, neither of us was accustomed to seeing. We were seduced by the sight of water on fire. Later we fed each other chocolate squares under the night sky.
In New York Thomas had a knack for spotting stars: uptown, Ethan Hawke waiting for the A train, scratching his goatee; downtown, Holly Hunter inhaling a slice at Two Boots to Go-Go. I never saw them until Thomas pointed them out — evidence, perhaps, that it was I who didn’t notice what was right in front of me. Now, on the beach in Kerala, Thomas spotted different stars: Orion, the string of lights encircling his waist; Sirius at his side; stubborn Taurus, forever on the run — stars we couldn’t see in New York, because the city lights were too bright.
One night, walking home along the beach, Thomas stopped me under a palm tree and kissed me long and hard. I caressed his cheek. Suddenly Thomas pulled away, and his eyes darted sideways. I heard what had stolen his attention: short, quick breaths coming from behind a nearby tree. At first we thought someone was hurt. Then we made out the shadowy figures of Miss Andhra Pradesh giving Miss Orissa a hand job.
The next morning, while serving us breakfast, Miss Andhra Pradesh said, “Yoga is hard.” He must have been watching us practice.
“It just takes getting used to,” Thomas said.
The boy twisted his arms and legs like a pretzel and screwed up his face in mock anguish. “I could never get used to this.”
“There are other poses,” Thomas said. “For instance, savasana: corpse pose. All you have to do is lie still like you’re dead. It’s not so hard.”
Thomas reached for a plate of idlis, and his hand accidentally brushed against the boy’s arm. The boy smiled.
That afternoon at the beach Thomas and I practiced the headstand pose, which I had just learned that morning. I had trouble staying up even for a second and kept tumbling into the sand. Meanwhile Thomas was serene in the pose.
I crouched in front of him and said to his upside-down face, “You think you’re good? Listen to what Ravana did.”
Ravana wanted Shiva to forgive him for all the bad things he had done, including kidnapping Sita, but Shiva wouldn’t. So Ravana stood on his head for a thousand years. When Shiva still refused to forgive him, Ravana, to prove his seriousness, chopped off his own head. (Luckily he had nine more.) He stood on each head for a thousand years, chopping them off one by one. Only after ten thousand years, when Ravana was about to chop off his last head, did Shiva finally agree to forgive him.
“But it was a trick,” I said. “Ravana wasn’t really sorry. Or if he was, he wasn’t sorry enough. Despite his promises, he never changed.”
Thomas, still standing on his head, said, “Weren’t you the one defending him just the other day?”
I shrugged. “Demons are complicated. They can be both good and bad.” I pushed him over.
That night, when it was time to go to bed, Thomas said he was restless and was going for a walk on the beach. When he came back, I asked, “What took you so long?”
“It hasn’t been so long,” Thomas said.
I tried to sleep but couldn’t. I heard Thomas breathing beside me. I imagined him, on his walk, coming across Miss Andhra Pradesh leaning against a tree, his sarong flat against his thighs in the night breeze. I imagined Thomas approaching him and asking, “Want your yoga lesson now?”
I thought of a poem I had been translating, which described the goddess Kali straddling Lord Shiva’s dead body. Kali was fierce — a string of severed heads around her neck, her blood-stained tongue exposed, machete drawn — as she lowered herself upon Shiva’s dead but erect penis. Miraculously the sexual act breathed life back into him.
I imagined Thomas and Miss Andhra Pradesh taking turns practicing corpse pose in the sand.
We returned to Bombay to find my grandmother’s health worse than ever. She refused to get out of bed now except to use the toilet or take a bath, and even then she required help. The doctor said there wasn’t anything specifically wrong with her. She was just old and tired, and her body was giving out. She could persist for several years like this, or she could go tomorrow. At her age, the doctor said, a person who no longer wanted to live could essentially will herself to die.
My grandmother frequently called for help, and Thomas answered her calls more often than I; he was leaving in a week and wanted to help while he could. Plus he must have sensed I was feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of months of difficult caregiving. When he saw me getting frustrated, he would send me on long walks. “Don’t worry,” he’d say. “I’m here.”
He had formed a connection with my grandmother that somehow I never had. I remembered a story he had told me about how his own beloved grandmother had fallen ill while he was in college. It had been during finals week, and he had promised to see her when his exams were over, but she’d died too soon. Perhaps he was doing for my grandmother what he’d been unable to do for his own.
My grandmother appreciated the attention. I noticed in particular that she seemed to need to be touched. She would offer any excuse. One time she complained about her diamond earrings, which had been part of her dowry. She said they were weighing her down. When Thomas went to remove them, his fingers brushed her ear, and I sensed an electricity that traveled up and down her body and lit up her eyes. She handed him the key to the cupboard to deposit the diamonds for safekeeping. Another time she took his hand, placed it on her forehead, and asked if she felt feverish. When he said no and tried to withdraw his hand, she said, “Leave it longer, to be sure.” Thomas rested his hand on her forehead, gently stroking it until she fell asleep.
On Thomas’s last night in India — after we had brushed our teeth and checked on my grandmother, and after Thomas had asked once again if I was sure I didn’t want him to extend his visit to help, and I’d said yes, I was sure — I crawled into his trundle bed, kissed his ear, and whispered, “Thank you.” I continued kissing him, down his neck, across to the tender hollow between his collarbones, down his chest and torso. He shimmied his hips as I slid his shorts from his waist. As I started to take his cock in my mouth, he moaned. Suddenly I stopped and pulled away. Thomas sat up. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“That’s the boy’s job,” I said.
“That’s the boy’s job. Miss Andhra Pradesh.”
“What are you talking about? Wait, what do you think happened?”
“There’s plenty of work for the boy.” I used the words from the phrase book, repeating them in Malayalam.
Thomas stood up, pulled his shorts on, and walked to the other end of the room, where there was a chair. “You’re crazy,” he said. “Nothing happened between us. I swear.”
“Can’t the boy work any faster?”
“I’m really sorry about what I did in New York,” Thomas said. “Really. I fucked up. But can’t we at least talk about this like mature adults?”
“This room is filthy!”
“Remember, you were the one who left.”
The next morning, as Thomas was finishing packing, my grandmother called us to her room, where she was lying in bed. She said, “My heart is weak.” She pulled aside the thin sari cloth covering her torso. “Feel.” She was blouseless; her breasts were stretched and scarred. I recoiled. Thomas took my hand with both of his and placed my palm on my grandmother’s bare chest, holding it there. She breathed deeply. I tried to look her in the eyes, but I couldn’t. When Thomas released me, I found my grandmother’s red shawl draped over a chair, wrapped it around her, and left to finish packing Thomas’s suitcase while he sat by her side.
On the way to the airport Thomas asked if we could talk about what had happened the night before, and I said no.
He asked what I had meant when I’d warned him, before he came, that he would see things in India that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
“Haven’t you seen things?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “but I want to know what you meant.”
The week before that conversation with Thomas — the same conversation in which he’d told me he had cheated — I had been walking in Colaba, the tourist district in South Bombay. I was looking for a shop that sold carved wooden boxes when I turned onto a side street and stumbled across a person lying in the middle of the sidewalk, completely naked and almost unrecognizable as a woman. Her skin was flaking and black, as if burned. Her eyes were white and wide open. Her right index finger was hooked between her legs, massaging her clitoris vigorously, violently. Passersby stepped around her, barely looking at all. No one stopped except me. She watched me watch her for a moment, her eyes wild, her finger furious, her face tensed as if with pain. Soon the passersby were glaring at me, as though it were I and not she who was crazy: crazy for stopping, for not turning away; crazy for having the audacity to look straight at what was there.
“Nothing,” I told Thomas.
When I returned from the airport, I found the card I had written Thomas, the one with the sheep with the Kleenex wedged in its hoof. Thomas had left it on my pillow. I read it before I went to bed. He was right, of course. I did sound naive. I was naive.
In the days that followed, my grandmother kept asking for Thomas, wondering again and again where he had gone, unable or unwilling to remember. Not long after that, she died. I telephoned my parents. My grandmother’s phone still hadn’t been connected, so I had to call from the laundry. I told them to come right away.
Outside, one of the boys from the wall approached me and tried to sell me a packet of instant chicken-noodle soup. When I refused, he said, “Go back to America,” and returned to his friend.
The other boy shouted, “Go home! Your boyfriend’s pregnant!” The boys gave each other high-fives.
The funeral was a traditional affair. My father and I and the other men in our family shaved our heads and carried her body through the streets. The burden was heavy, and I realized how accustomed I had become in India to having other people do the hard work for me.
According to tradition, we dropped coins periodically along our route, and the street dwellers eagerly swept them up behind us. Our female relatives met us at a designated site by the sea. We rested my grandmother’s body across a pile of logs, and my father said a prayer and laid a torch upon her.
My parents and I spent the next few days sorting through my grandmother’s things, preparing the flat to be sold. Her cupboards, it turned out, held nothing special, just odds and ends from her life: old clothes, scraps of paper, years’ worth of greeting cards. I found a toy car I remembered losing when I was ten: a sleek silver Aston Martin identical to the one James Bond drove. It had been my favorite. I collected the car, along with other items that seemed of marginal value, in a shopping bag, which I delivered to the boys outside the laundry.
The night before my parents were to return to America, my father said it was strange sleeping in his childhood flat. He hadn’t been there in years. He regretted not having spent more time with his mother before she died. He squeezed my hand and said he was glad I had been there, that she hadn’t been alone in the end.
I thought of my grandmother’s last days and how tenderly Thomas had cared for her when he visited. And I remembered one of the excuses Thomas had given for cheating: he’d only wanted to be touched.
I stayed in India a while longer — a year and a half total — relocating to Juhu. I abandoned my dissertation and took a job writing dialogue for a music-video show. The cohosts were a slick Indian American named J.J., who spoke American-style slang, and a puppet named Dharmendra, who spoke only rudimentary English with an Indian village accent. Part of the joke was that they were always misunderstanding one another. They argued about everything, including which music videos to play next. Each furrowed his eyebrows when the other spoke.
When I returned to New York, I tried calling Thomas, but his phone had been disconnected.
I ran into his friend Steve at a party. He told me Thomas had returned to India months before to do an intensive, two-year-long yoga training at an ashram in Pune, not far from Bombay. He hadn’t tried to contact me.
I kept up with my yoga, taking classes at a yoga center on Lafayette. I sat for meditation regularly and practiced the poses. Stillness was a struggle — my mind was a monkey — but I had made headway with the headstand. I could get into the pose and even hold it up to two minutes. I thought of Ravana, standing on each of his heads for a thousand years, trying to convince Shiva he was sorry, even if he wasn’t sure he was. I pictured Thomas doing the same pose at his ashram in India. I imagined the two of us, simultaneously inverted, on opposite ends of the world.
Rahul Mehta’s short story “Ten Thousand Years” [May 2010] gives insight into the often quixotic nature of gay and intercultural relationships. I truly appreciated it, having been involved with men of different cultures for most of my adult life. Stories about how love transcends gender, race, culture, and nationality make for great reading anytime.