Excerpt from American Canyon
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At the beginning of a tape the lights around us—the visible, have yet to leave their
impression. We lock away what we are sure to forget.
A year before I performed the naga pratistha in Rameswaram all my dv tapes plus
the hard drive with my edits were lost. Someone had stolen the backpack they were
in, leaving only the fading images in my memory—screaming dogs, a singing monkey,
my cousin’s face as he watched the camera, the digitized transmission of history from
aunt to nephew, grandmother to grandson, mother to son.
It took me ten years to return to India, after earning enough money for a ticket, the
camera, and twenty hours of tape.
I imagine the drive was erased leaving no trace of the stories I had learned, like myths,
which my family told to explain who we were. Its new owner, faced with a void like
the myth of the pioneer’s empty West, will do what they must—they will populate it;
they will construct an archive of their own.
Erasing a drive only destroys the surface index, but not the binary code that marks
the instances of magnetic repulsion and attraction that lies beneath. Behind the veil
of its emptiness a small town in India still remains.
The past is written over with new ones and zeros. An entry in the index is created
so they can be found again. This new data is stored randomly, and all around it are
the dispossessed strings of numbers that have no entry, have no name to be called by
anymore. When I had stored them, they were light and shade on a dirt road, or the
colors of buildings baked by heat.
By now, most of those strings will be gone. They will be replaced by the traces of
someone I will never know who bought them for a price that will always be too low.
The few that are left are small, like a part of a face, a sliver of sky, or a woman’s laugh.
If we could ever see them, they would haunt us like the fragments of ancient poems
that can never be fully reconstructed. A word, perhaps two, fills us with horror; we
turn away from a tear in the fabric. We imagine the rest of the poem. We dream of
the sky that was missing.NEXT