Bhanu Kapil / from Notes for a novel never written: Ban (TCR 3.19)

Read an excerpt from Bhanu Kapil’s work that appears in TCR’s winter 2013 special issue on narrative.

Notes Toward a Race Riot Scene:

In April 1979, I was ten years old.

This is a short essay about vectors. It’s about Brueghel’s Icarus. It’s about a girl walking home from school at the exact moment that her neighbor laces up his Doc Marten’s, tight. It’s about a partial and irrelevant nudity. It’s about the novel as a form that processes the part of a scene that doesn’t function as an image, but as the depleted, yet still livid mixture of materials that a race riot is made from. Think of the sky. Think of the clear April day with its cardigans and late afternoon rain shower. Think of the indigo sky lowering over London like a lid. Think of Blair Peach, the anti-racism campaigner and recent emigrant from New Zealand, who will die before this day is out.

Think about a cyborg to get to the immigrant.

Think of a colony. Think of the red and white daikon radishes in a tilted box on the pavement outside Dokal and Sons, on the corner of the Uxbridge Road and Lansbury Drive. Think of the road, which here we call asphalt: there, it is bitty. It is a dark silver with milky oil seams. A patch up job, Labour still in power, but not for long. It’s 1979, St. George’s Day, and the Far Right has decided to have its annual meeting in a council-run meeting hall in Southall, Middlesex, a London suburb in which it would be rare—nauseating—to see a white face.

To see anyone, actually. Everyone’s indoors. Everyone can tell what’s coming. It’s not a riot, at this point, but a simple protest in an outlying area of London, an immigrant suburb: a banlieue. We board the glass up, draw the curtains and lie down. Lie down between the hand-sewn quilts shipped from India in a crate then covered in an outer cotton case stitched to the padding with a fine pink thread. The quilts smell of an antiseptic powder, an anti-fungal, Mars. We lie down beneath the blankets in front of the fire. It’s 1979, so there’s a small gas fire and a waist-high fridge, where we keep our milk and our eggs and our cheese, right there, in the living room. It’s 1979, and so I live in Hayes, though in two months, after the riot, we’ll sell our house and move.

Move away. As would you.

Cobra Notes for Ban:

I want a literature that is not made from literature.

A girl walks home in the first minutes of a race riot, before it might even be called that—the sound of breaking glass as equidistant, as happening or coming from the street and from her home.

What loops the ivy-asphalt/glass-girl combinations? Abraded as it goes? I think, too, of the curved, passing sound that has no fixed source. In a literature, what would happen to the girl? She fails to orient, to take another step. I understand. She is collapsing to her knees then to her side in a sovereign position.

Notes for Ban, 2012: a year of sacrifice and rupture, murderous roses blossoming in the gardens of immigrant families with money problems, citizens with a stash: and so on. Eat a petal and die. Die if you have to. See: end-date, serpent-gate. Hole. I myself swivel around and crouch at the slightest unexpected sound.

When she turned her face to the ivy, I saw a cube of bunched-up foil propped between the vines. Posture made a circuit from the ivy to her face. The London street a tiny jungle: dark blue and shimmering a bit, from the gold/brown tights she was wearing beneath her skirt. A girl stops walking and lies down on a street in the opening scene of a riot. Why? At points it rains. In a novel that no one writes or thinks of writing, the rain falls in lines and dots upon her. In the loose genetics of what makes this street real, the freezing cold, vibrating weather sweeping through south-east England at 4 p.m. on an April afternoon is very painful. Sometimes there is a day and sometimes there is a day reduced to its symbolic elements: a cup of broken glass; the Queen’s portrait on a thin bronze coin; dosage; rain.

This is why a raindrop indents the concrete with atomic intensity. This is why the dark green, glossy leaves of the ivy are so green: multiple kinds of green: as night falls on the “skirt.” The outskirts of London: les banlieues.

Read more in TCR 3.19 (Winter 2013)—the narrative issue.

Kapil will also draw on the work above in her talk titled “What is Ban? [A short talk on narrative and diaspora]” on February 15 at 2:30pm at Capilano University, Library room 322, North Vancouver, with respondents Gail Scott, Ashok Mathur, and Alex Leslie. Sponsored by TCR and the Liberal Studies BA.


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