Excerpts from Broomrider’s book of the dead by Mukta Sambrani
A book in no genre based on found fragments
from the notebooks of Anna Albuquar a.k.a. Anna Plum
The First Reader (I am also wondering in terms of the linearity of the manuscript, if you were to read all of what is in this book, as one book, it would make better sense to read this after the dedication page and before the book begins.)
By happenstance the first reader of this book comes upon some poems. A tourist, he would like to believe he is in Bombay for work alone. Not pleasure, he is quite sure until chance brings him to Kamala or Chamilla in the hotel lobby. Chamilla brings him to Nariman point and then to her one room chawl dwelling so he can take some interesting pictures of one room chawl dwelling with the toilet downstairs. He looks like the adventurous sort to Kamala but he refrains from drinking water she offers him from the large earthen pot which looks peculiarly green on the outside, algae green. She buys him peanuts at the corner and a bottle of mineral water, Bisleri to be very sure. “Oh thank you,” he says with a polite smile Kamala hates, for the nineteenth time.
Later, in his hotel room after Chamilla has left for her part time sales job in the lobby, he decides to dispose of the peanuts in the toilet. There, as he is rolling the paper the peanuts were wrapped in, into a ball, he reads Anna’s first word, and then her second, and her third, and then he is reading Anna’s words everyday after paying Chamilla fifty dollars to help him buy the entire paper bundle from the peanut vendor for another fifty. Anna’s words are mixed in with pages from Cine Blitz and fragments from Marathi and Gujarati newspapers that look like pieces of intricate calligraphy or samples of mural sculpture from the mysterious temple facades he saw in the tourist brochures from his travel agent. He thinks Anna is like him, a tourist, lost somewhere in mystic India taking Sanskrit and Tantra lessons or perhaps learning a temple dance somewhere in the southern states or in Orissa.
When I write I break into two and then three. I write because I like to think of the press clamoring to meet me. I am likely not to be understood here in the east and there in the west. I like my work to have two headings as far as possible. Like having two heads. Writing about the self in the third person is a gift Ishmail doesn’t care about. When I write I have voice. Voices find themselves in me. The line is punctuated like the pauses between waves hitting rock. I have memories and books Ishmail sends me.
Anna and the literary leach
(when Ishmail thought Anna’s book had promise, he made some phone calls)
I write because I know no other way.
…the politics of purposefulness implied in the work is hardly less satisfactory…enhances what the writer calls “non-existent mysteriousness”… Non-ness implies the existence of the thing.
I don’t write about culture or identity.
…immense talent for negation
English is my first language.
Great gift for irony and great talent for a language not her own. …more of the purposefulness of politics in the measured use of words replaces the missing possibility of the multitude of expression possible in the mother language.
I don’t write from myths. They find themselves in my work.
My life before this has nothing to do with what I am writing now.
…humility which can only come from the east and a gentle shyness… charming readers everywhere
I write as a tribute to the life before. I also write to mingle my life with the life before this language, the life before Christ, the life before this narrative and phonology. Anna Albuquar is the point of intersection. She has been received with degrees of misgiving and criticism about technique and politics. My protagonist and I come from the same place in words. I am told that she is not I, is something I merely like to believe. So I have allowed her to rest for a year and discovered her language is where it always was, raw and luminous. Mine is uncertain and evolving.
(after a number of inconsequential interviews, they asked her to write)
It is not without trepidation that I approach the subject. I have always believed that after writing a poetics statement, one dies. That is the reward. I don’t write for rewards, literary or otherwise.
I am suspicious of writing my own poetics statement. Here is what I do best: I invoke the muse. I close my eyes and have a supernatural experience and imagine trauma and poetry on the same page.
I am suspicious of my relationship with the written word. I am suspicious of my relationship with writers. I am suspicious of my relationships. I am suspicious. I shudder to think what if I am not.
In the life before this language, I imagine extremes of opulence and depravity. In the life before Christ I imagine other conquests. I imagine sailing east and west between the cape and the peninsula. I imagine languages walking across many mountains. Knowing for many years that talking to animals is no myth. Knowing that imagination about beings from outer space is the same as cultural gaze and the fear of the unknown.
I fear that if not in this life, I will leave things unfulfilled. Someone will have to find my notebooks then.
In the life after I have come to believe that if not in this language, then in nothing else and if not in this life then nowhere else. I must learn suspicion from Anna and know that no one will find notebooks after the recycling plant. It is Anna who likes to use the word I more than twenty seven times in three quarters of a page as I shirk responsibility. Neurosis, affliction, anguish, desire, conflict, successful and unsuccessful writing.
this or have been well
he or words
can’t say whether
schizoid or twin or someone else
violating the grass on the other side
What the author is not
the disclaimer mediator the medium the muse the maker the participant the precipitator the conductor the sole the arbiter the arbitrator the lynchpin the vortex the cortex the core the mean the meridian the margin the compass the median the medium the sextant the value the vault the fault the censor the sense the palate the probe the hypothetic the hypotenuse the catalyst the talent the marker the herder the being the redemption the redeemer the redeemed the fusion the purpose the function the functor the seeker the taker the keeper the inheritor the inheritance the savior the saved the savored the severer the mutant the mute the fruit the bloodline the reporter the police the statistician the master the actor the enactment the statement the fragment this this
What the artifact museum keeper is not
What we are is space
heresies space dysfunction
space ethos space
contrary to meaning space illusion
space mutable space
the enactment of space time
space duration of space
a day in the life of space earth
space god or evolution space
you choose your heresy space
Editor’s after word
Broomrider’s book of the dead relies heavily on the premise that the reader will accept and internalize the fact that Anna Albuquar, the author writes in isolation, everything the reader sees in this manuscript, including editor’s notes, foot note like quips, post scripts and afterthoughts, poems, notebook entries and essays.
Initially, it seems to me that Anna thought she would write a book in sections a la Doris Lessing or William Faulkner (did I say anything yet about her need to constantly name drop and compare herself to makers of literary masterpieces?) with more defined sections. The more she wrote into that space, the more she realized how unAnna-like such a project would be. Ishmail Das first merged elements of the separate sections when he published the paperback edition, Anna’s Notebook, a work I refer to, in Editor’s note 1. The project has taken on the more amorphous shape of its present avatar of defined but fluid partitions since. I have also come to see how The Golden Notebook and The Sound and the Fury (books Anna says she originally modeled her writing on) are more amorphous in spite of their more obvious books within the book structure, thanks to Anna.
I have been working on the manuscript for years, taking Anna’s prose fragments and poems through several unsatisfactory arrangements or assemblages. This is then, yet another attempt or draft and it continues to evolve. I am also working on a new section to this book entitled Anna Metro which deals with Anna’s memories of life in the metropolis. This section might, but need not become part of the final draft of the present project, in case the addition and splicing feels more unnatural. At this point the publishers and I are considering a sequel using work not seen here. Need I mention that Anna was prolific? This is to tell the lovers of Anna that Anna’s writing does not or may not end here and I suppose I have the rest of my life to see where it could go.
I am curious about whether and how the reader accepts the fluid margins of Anna’s authorship and the constant redefinition of the author’s and consequently the editor’s place in the process. There are several possibilities or versions of the story of the book and all or some of them may be accepted by a given reader in his or her reading–
That Anna is the author of the entire text. This is the version I support the most in spite of the fact that it challenges my very existence.
That Anna is the author and the editor is someone else ( I ). Her notebooks passed through several hands before getting to the editor ( I ) who is reassembling Anna’s work after a previous attempt by Ishmail Das. This is somewhat more accurate but I would like Anna to get credit for her vision and madness.
That Anna is a tormented mind plagued by neurosis and mania and her notebooks offer an insight into mental illness.
That Anna is a political prisoner in a nameless place.
That Anna is a literary genius who plays with ideas of narrative technique, authorship and the office or place of the writer.
There is some suspension of disbelief at work here, in addition to the belief that this is a work of fiction in its entirety. At literary events I have been asked where Anna is from and when she lived or how I found her work. I take it both as a compliment and an indicator of the potential for confusion. It means that people are willing to believe that Anna’s words and her voice are authentic. People are however not willing to believe that I am the author of the fiction whose protagonist Anna is. They only want to believe that I am the editor, the inheritor of Anna’s work. I am excited by what this means for how this work is read. This creates a problem for you, the reader though. You need to decide whether or not you accept that the editor and Anna are one.
There might be some consistency issues in the use of language, given the collage- like nature of the project and my failing eyesight, maybe. I believe my love of Borges has brought this on. I am working on smoothing these out. Anna’s notebook- like entries are staccato, like Anna meant them and I use only periods as punctuation in these. This is meant to convey Anna’s voice. The foot note- like entries are meant to be more aware or self conscious. The short fiction in Children of the Broomrider witch is meant, by Anna, to open up the process of writing fiction. The poems ostensibly please Ishmail and are created through/ over dialogue with Ishmail. I may not be doing enough here to discuss the aspects of craft and process, but I am sure the reader sees them enacted in the manuscript.
Lastly, I am concerned that this project might come across as being full of needless conceit. I have striven for the poignancy not to be overtaken by the irony or the tone which often borders on the offensive (in jest of course), when Anna begins to talk more about the business of being a writer– editing, publishing, publicity etc. What I want most of all, is for Anna to be heard. I want to present the material as I found it or the tourist, who is also referred to as the first reader in the piece called “The First Reader” and the peanut vendor before him, with minimal organizational alterations.
So, with great caution, foreboding and hope, I bring you Anna’s. Take what you will, kind reader, and for the rest Anna says she will just have to take birth again.
Mukta Sambrani was born and raised in India where she taught English and worked as a freelance journalist. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Her first book of poems, The Woman in this room isn’t lonely was published by Writer’s Workshop, Calcutta in 1997. More recently, her work has appeared in Verse, Em Literary, Cipactli, Fourteen Hills, Hyphen Magazine, Laundry Pen, The Scribbler, Poetry Chain and anthologies such as Bloodaxe book of contemporary Indian poets, 60 Indian poets, We Speak in Changing Languages, The Dance of the Peacock, Suvarnarekha and others. She is the recipient of 2003 Audre Lorde creative writing award and an honorable mention for the Starcherone prize. Mukta lives in Oakland California, where she is a school administrator.