On a starry-night in 1997, I was walking with two female friends (Martine and Pam) down the French Quarter in New Orleans, a young smiling African-American came to me and said, “If you go 20 steps in this direction, there is House of Blues, and if you go in this direction…………” Rightfully so, he expected a tip, but I was a poor graduate student then, and I had no money in my pocket. He got flustered that I did not even tip him a dollar. A few minutes later, he saw me and the friends I was with, and he shouted in jest, “Ladies, dump this Chinese guy, he is no good.” I am not Chinese but Indian in ethnicity. We all laughed.
I do not know whether he survived the grinding poverty of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. We may remember him fondly even today and my friend Martine reminds me of the incident quite often but was he just a comic or a real human being to us?
Another starry-night in 1993, I sat on the floor next to the feet of some of the greatest Jazz musicians at the Preservation Hall in French Quarter. Between playing jazz, they would talk to all of us in thick N'Awlins accent seasoned with age that I barely understood. Sitting next to somebody’s feet in Asian culture is a mark of respect.
However, no matter the respect I showed or laughed with the African-Americans, I met in New Orleans for a brief moment – I failed, I failed miserably. When I walked past a project in New Orleans countless times, I never stopped and thought – how they were dancing with death, mired in poverty, violence, and dreams laid waste. Amongst all this, there is also a little, happy kid running with his pet dog who wants to be an astronaut.
After Hurricane Katrina, I better learn to keep my eyes and heart open. This time, I have seen their pain.Note: Also, cross-posted at Asian Writing Club.
Prologue: Yesterday was March 1st, the Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Mardi Gras epitomizes the spirit of South Louisiana and New Orleans to the core - Throw me something, Mister. I got an email from an old friend of mine who used to live in New Orleans and went back last week for Mardi Gras. He said, "I am really glad we visited New Orleans so often before Katrina". Immediately, after Hurricane Katrina, I wrote the following piece for Asian Writing Club. Here is my original write-up:
Epilogue: Maybe, people in Kashmir affected by the earthquake or hit by the Boxing Day tsunami could find some kinship with N'Awlins. Let me present 55 Flash Fiction I wrote for Sepia Mutiny in November.
In French Quarter, Saint Louis Hotel Bar, New Orleans.
“Hey, that woman is really striking, Martine.”
“She is a man, Kush.”
“How do you know?”
“Adams Apple. Only a man looks as pretty as Pretty Woman. You better keep that in mind; otherwise, it is going to be Crying Game.”
“Only in N’Awlins. Ms. Martine.”
and end with a quote from Rick Bragg from Washington Post.
"But I have seen these people dance, laughing, to the edge of a grave.
I believe that, now, they will dance back from it."