The Alterlife



Volume 10, Issue 00
May 5, 2024

The “Alterlife,” coined by Canadian academic Michelle Murphy, refers to the condition of simultaneously becoming and unbecoming, the acknowledgment that bodies are not separable from land, water, air, and even other human beings.1 It is this paradox that lives inside every immigrant, and the children of those immigrants, who hold far less of that duality.

I inhaled and it hit me: that unmistakable blend of diesel, incense, and heat wafting in from the busy streets told me I was home. I stepped out of the airport and was inundated with rickshaws, carts, and crowds. My father expertly wove us through the masses and hailed a taxi. After nearly a decade, I returned to India as a twenty-three year-old woman.

100. My grandfather is nearly a century old. He lives in a Bangalore rocked by World War II, shaped by Partition violence, and newly independent, but influenced by the British Empire. He speaks with an English accent.
10. My father lives in Bangalore for a decade before leaping continents and making a life for us in Texas.
0. I am born and raised in Dallas, never living in Bangalore.

The driver honked at a cow resting on the road before turning into a quiet corner. Before us, my mother’s ancestral home, named Veda Nilaya,2 rose up from behind the gates like a yellow sun. I took off my shoes and crossed the stone threshold, eager to meet my grandfather after ten years apart. As soon as I walked into the room, Kannan thatha, who was ninety-two years old, sprang up from his chair and pressed my hands together in his. He looked hard into my eyes and without a word, he shuffled to the kitchen to make me chai.

Kannan thatha flitted from one end of the counter to the other like a hummingbird, rounding up the spices and tossing them into the pot sitting on a hot plate. He came to rest right in front of the pot, stirring wildly with one hand while the other steadied the brew. I looked over his shoulder, suddenly aware of how small he was and how much I had grown.

His simple gesture touched me deeply. In spite of his fragility and age, he summoned the strength to serve his guests. I felt as though no more than a day had gone by since I last visited him. The tea he prepared for us was more than tradition and hospitality, it was an expression of endurance that immediately reunited us. It was kinship in a cup, and it overflowed.

Your identity is patchwork, filling in the wears and tears with fragments, moments, and gestures that bring you closer to where you came from. The tapestry of my heritage constitutes and reconstitutes my view of time and togetherness. Perhaps Kannan thatha and I can chat about this over tea soon.

  1. Murphy 118, “Against Population, Towards Alterlife” in Making Kin not Population ↩︎
  2. Translates to “abode of knowledge” in Sanskrit ↩︎

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Volume 10, Issue 00
May 5, 2024

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