Binti, a woman of earth and stars

Binti and Binti: Home, by  Nnedi Okorafor
The above incredible image was sourced from DestinAsian 

I really want to write you a review of the novellas Binti, and Binti: Home, it’s a long time since I read such real science fiction. But I find I’m not sure where to begin. Instead of finding words or images to share with you, a story line to attract you, instead my brain is still and I can feel earth, coarse damp earth, rough wet clay on my skin. I want to smear it, rub it onto myself. This is unusual for me, I am a woman of water. But the scent of living soil is in my nostrils, minerals seeping into my blood. Enervating. I feel grounded. Real. Growing, alive, but still and stopped. I want to go outside and bury my hands in the soil, feel its pulsing life. To stand on rock and earth. I don’t want to appropriate her culture, to claim for myself otjize, the culture of the Himba women of Namibia. I just want to inhale that grounded life. Maybe I want to reach out and touch that warm supple skin. To taste transcendence in immanent earth. That is the gift of Binti.

Binti is a young woman of colour, the first of her people to be accepted into university on a far planet. She leaves alone in the early morning. By leaving she is exiled. She is the sole survivor of a massacre. She is a harmoniser, a woman who weaves mathematical patterns of meaning and peace. She is powerful. Transcendent and deliberately immanent. Woman.

I don’t think Binti asked me any profound questions, other than why she should be the first woman of colour to have a science fiction series of her own. I love that this is a book written by a woman, about a woman. A book about a woman who dared to defy social strictures that would have held her at home, told her who to be, how to be a good woman. Instead she journeyed away, redefined the meaning of being a good woman. Took the earth from which she came and healed others. Created earth with the power of womanhood and healing and home, although the distances of space ached between. Returned to find change for all life is change. To find something new of herself and her people and her universe. To find echoes of time.

Not since my earliest readings of Ursula Le Guin’s Rocannon’s World some thirty years ago have I felt so connected to a science fiction culture, a science fiction character. And I love science fiction. So that is the highest praise I can offer. Neither Binti or Binti: Home are long, they leave you aching for more. And to be honest, I don’t think I liked the end of Binti: Home. But I desire, long for the next instalment Binti: The Night Masquerade. I’m holding a deep hope that Okorafor doesn’t fly Binti away into unreality, when she has been so grounded, so real to date. And so sniffing earth, tasting ground, smelling stardust with our toes, we wait.

 

 

Prologue February 2014

We are driving back from Chennai beach through the slum. Ok to be accurate, we are crawling through the fish market on the edge of the slum on the edge of the beach on the edge of Chennai. Even in the locked car with a/c on full recirculation the smell of the fish is penetrating. The fish lie there eyes all milky, guts smeared on the ground below. The flies covering them are like a heaving pepper crust. Stall holders are pushing trolleys laden with more buckets of fish to hawk to the evening throng, the madding crowd. Down by the water’s edge, looking away from the market’s filth there’s a film crew with a press of onlookers and extras filming – on some level I wonder if it’s drama, reality or both? Children press against the car windows begging. Shoppers and commuters patiently wend their way through, each occupied in their own drama, threading between waves and cameras and stalls and traffic and road works. It’s a chaotic whirl, but it’s a whirl that’s outside the secure insulated bubble of the car. And inside my bubble I’m starting to realise I’ve lost my heart.

Karthik is pattering a monologue on change in India, loss of moral values, the concentration of wealth in the upper and middle classes. While some things change, caste is still very bad. Progress isn’t helping the ordinary family who lives and works outside IT. He’s just a poor man who wants to make enough money to go back to the country and live with his kids. He so rarely says much, so rarely opens up about his thoughts, and I’m not listening. Well I’m listening but not processing.

My heart is somewhere back behind us on the beach.

Home is where your heart is, but tomorrow even though I’m on a plane going home, I’m leaving mine here.

All India is change…

Chennai Beach

A Madurai morning – market magic

The next morning

day-9-img_5187aToday is slow. I’m in a five star resort converted from a British cotton and silk merchant’s company estate. It’s lovely. There are peacocks outside my bedroom window. There are cool sweet scented breezes. There is a pool to which I will retire directly for the afternoon.

After last night and before this morning’s violent re-emergence of breakfast in under 15 mins – Karthick took me early to the Madurai markets. Apparently it’s Sunday and in good post-colonial style Sunday is still a holiday here so much of the markets were closed. But I still had fun wandering around the flower wholesalers taking photos scented with jasmine and rose. The rose wholesalers offered me chai and a smile.

Then we went to the vegetable market where my pictures smell of coriander, mint and curry leaves. Lots of smiles and waves and head wobbling.  Being 80% closed was much more relaxed than a normal day I’m sure, but that suited me and my camera.

Aren’t these just such beautiful people? Makes me smile just remembering them welcoming me like it was perfectly normal for a crazy Australian woman to be wandering around at dawn taking their photographs like they were royalty.

It was then back to the hotel for breakfast hmmmm. You will have guessed above, it was a fatal mistake. No more to be said about dodgey omelette. I’ll live, just feel like a day by the pool. Sorry to today’s three programmed temples, but I’m sure there will be more in the next 12 days.

I now receive a daily call from Delhi office to make sure everything is in order madam. Ah well, good to be memorable! I’m not mentioning the omelette, they’ll only worry. Now for that nap then the pool.

The Dedicated Temple Junkie – because it was totally worth it

So the totally excitement means I can never see too many temples, and believe me I’ve tried…

The first Vishnu temple Ranganatha was in excitement mode on the day before the end of festival. There was a massive chariot outside over 10m tall and the next day the gold deity dressed in a ruby studded cloak was to be taken outside at 6am and pulled a full lap of the temple town by hundreds of men.

day-11-img_5258
Apart from standing in muck, I had a great time. I was allowed inside the 5th wall where the statue was being prepared to be taken outside. There was much chanting and incense and drumming and blowing of a double reeded instrument called a Nadaswaram. Then the curtain hiding the god from the people was dropped and people raised their hands above their heads pointed in prayer and sought the blessing of the god. The carvings around the huge complex were astounding and I’m sure will prove boring and repetitive in my 1000 odd photos. But I had fun and quizzed the guide on Hindu mythology. Continue reading “The Dedicated Temple Junkie – because it was totally worth it”

That was it for 2014 & my broken heart

I can tell you that from Mamallapuram went to Chennai and you’ve had that post already Out of the world, liminal floating. In Chennai apart from walking on the beach getting lost, we did the usual tourist stops going up to Mount Saint Thomas where the Apostle Thomas is supposedly buried. Visited the cave where he was killed. Drove around town getting lost a lot, but it’s all a blur and only the beach seemed real.

I have to confess that I cried all the way from Chennai airport to Singapore. Maybe it was the idiot sitting next to me complaining about all the rubbish on the beach in Chennai, the beach I’d fallen in love with the two days before. Maybe it was leaving my spiritual home. Maybe it was that pained look in Karthik’s face as I hugged him goodbye, although it could have been that my bum bag got him in the nuts. But whatever the reason, I cried, and cried. The flight attendants moved the obnoxious man. And I couldn’t get a song out of my head

Close every door to me
Keep those I love from me
Children of [Kali] are never alone…

I promised Alison I would never contact him.
I am everyday inspired by the daughters of India, and
So I keep coming back to Kali, I’m always coming home

There’s no place like home… India

India is the land of my soul, the place where I feel so at home my heart aches with joy. No, you smarty-pants people, not indigestion, it’s heart-warming joy and belonging. I know every trip is different, it was just that leaving Brisbane this time was so rushed with preparations and distractions it hardly felt like I was supposed to be enjoying myself. But when the plane tilted turning to come into Bombay Airport and I caught my first glimpse of India, well my heart soared as Mata ji, Maa Durga, mother earth goddess, welcomed me back. I was grinning like, well a lot! Couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

When the plane touched the tarmac I realised the random selection on my phone was colluding with the universe: it was Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral that was reaching it’s enormous, brass filled crescendo in my ears, reverberating in my being. I knew I was not alone.

After a couple of hours in Mumbai meeting a dear sister-friend in person for the first time, it was into a car for the three hour drive to Pune, and the 6th National Bioethics Conference.

img_6593No the traffic hasn’t become any less traumatic, I just photographed a quiet bit!

To be honest I didn’t see too much of Pune, and not only because of the terrible pollution that shrouded everything and made breathing a chore. I spent a huge amount of time eating dhosa for breakfast, preparing for the conference, or at the conference, or getting to and from the conference in took tooks. In some ways, after 12 or so trips to India, this has been a trip of firsts. It was my first time in Pune. It’s my first time here “alone.” I’ve always been here for work or as an affluent tourist, and in both cases have had a hired a/c car and a driver. And now here I was standing on the road flagging took tooks, giving directions in my limited  Hindi. When I went out of the hotel there was no uniformed Karthik (name changed) waiting for me, I just walked off into the surrounding streets to explore. Continue reading “There’s no place like home… India”

Melbourne Town, coz there’s no place like home

Soundtrack: Hmmm might have to think about that a bit…
ok, Dire Straits, Walk of Life

So here I am, back in Melbourne for a couple of special family birthdays, to catch up with some amazing friends, and for Christmas, so I thought I’d better show you around. The image above is of the Yarra River (the only river in Australia that used to run upside down, but it’s much cleaner these days) and the spires of the CBD. The City of Melbourne is located on the traditional land of the Wurundjeri people. I was so proud to be able to buy my nephew a beautifully illustrated children’s book, produced by the Wurundjeri people called, Welcome to Country (Black Dog Books, 2016). I hope with his multi-ethnic background he can grow to be a custodian of his land, the land cared for today and over thousands of years by the Wurundjeri.

welcome-to-countryI bought the book on my first nostalgic stop at The State Library of Victoria. When I was finishing high school I used to come here to study. Truth be known it was more that in the building I felt smarter, and it seemed so grown up to be pretending to study and drinking coffee in the cafe of what was then the Museum. Today renovations have made a magnificent space for researchers and visitors alike, the light, the atmosphere, it still makes me feel more learned, more wise. You can inhale the journey of knowledge. I wished I had some Foucault or better yet, some Australian female philosopher to imbibe slowly, clearly my subconscious was thinking of Michelle Boulous Walker. But instead I sat back, breathed slowly and let the learning seep in the pores of my skin, let my mind wander up the layers of shelves to the enlightenment of the dome. Continue reading “Melbourne Town, coz there’s no place like home”