To be an international student in America is a privilege that comes with loneliness, or at least it did three decades ago. Before Charlottesville was marked by an outpouring of hate, it was a small town. The earth in Virginia is red from buried slavery and the mountains are blue, perhaps it is absence and regret. During a walk, while playing “stappoo” – a children’s game from India akin to hopscotch – I jumped over the lines on the sidewalk and found a circular, solid lid of iron with INDIA etched on it. Cast iron manhole covers made in India can be found in Hawaii, Massachusetts, Colorado, Virginia, Tennessee, and many other states (including California and New York). The emotional power of objects and strange twists of memory emerge in these lockdowns. After independence in 1947, India’s industrialization included foundries and steel plants set up with the help of the USSR. These strange circuitries of empire and power – the end of the cold war, India’s economic liberalization, women’s education, racism and civil rights – were all there on an American street where a young Indian woman skipped alone. On that day, for the first time, my countries melded together. I was home.
Harleen Singh, Associate Professor of Literature and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Brandeis University
For more on Antipode’s “Conjunctural Insurrections” series – an experiment to amplify voices often unheard and invisibilised in politics, daily life, and academic discourse – see https://antipodeonline.org/2020/06/23/conjunctural-insurrections/