Megha Majumdar at Okey-Panky:
In my childhood, Hollywood films played at three cinema halls in the city of Kolkata. Grand destinations of the British era—marble staircases, red curtains which parted before the screen—these theaters sought contact with a world of which, we already knew as children, we occupied a filthy periphery. We were still a colony, in thrall to the west. Even the names of the cinemas declared it: Lighthouse, New Empire, Globe.
With the obsessions of a colonized people taught that we were unclean, we noticed the cleanliness and comfort of the west. On screen, the streets of America were so pristine that people could come home and jump into bed with shoes on. Americans had silent, efficient machines for everything—curling hair, cleaning carpets, chopping onions, washing clothes. We had nasal-voiced maids who slapped and punched our worn garments on the bathroom floor as if on riverside rock, after which we clipped dripping dresses, in summer, winter, and monsoon, to ropes strung from the verandah.
Our lives were terribly unsophisticated, even coarse. The lanes flooded every July, drowning roaches whose brown shells floated in the water. In all seasons, beggar children touched our elbows and whined with upturned palms until we gave them a rupee, and uncles on the minibus pinched our breasts.