Amarnath Ravva

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.