Published: Lili’s Song (Hot Metal Bridge)

Hot Metal Bridge is the literary journal of the MFA Program at the University of Pittsburgh. They have published work by Sherman Alexie, Sherrie Flick, Dan Chaon, Ewa Chrusciel, and Rodrigo Toscano, and more.

I am thrilled they accepted ‘Lili’s Song‘ for their 21st issue. As the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, Josh Graber, said in his Letter, “21 feels auspicious, like we’ve reached the drinking age in lit mag years and should pop champagne and get a little crazy.”

Lilima, an Indian-American teenager, is taking a two-week India vacation with her parents during the summer of 2016, before Junior Year. This story is set during the first day of their road trip from Mumbai to Goa.

Pushed by her parents into pre-med — something many teenagers of South Asian origin know only too well — Lili is trying to figure out what she wants, who she wants to be. Her anger has not been able to find expression beyond the usual parent-teenager quarrels and has turned in on itself. At a superficial level, she is upset about dress code, permissions, respect. But her real disappointment is the lack of her parents’ acknowledgment, as she sees it, of her own maturity and capability. They continue to remind her of the child-self that is still inside her. She wants to shake them into an awareness of the new and exciting person she hopes to become. As you might expect, each parent also has a different interpretation of what her “problem” might be, which causes more interesting friction.

The best part of writing this story was reliving a childhood coastal car journey with my own family from Bombay to Goa. Though we did not stop at all the specific places (Alibag, Korlai, Ahmedganj Palace, Ganpatipule, etc.) that Lili and her parents do, the overall raw, breathtaking beauty and diversity of the Konkan coast has stayed with me all these years. Writing about it made me want to do the whole trip again.

Their condescension makes Lili turn away. She stares at the weekend tourists herding behind them. A few feet from her, a young couple giggles into a phone camera as a wet breeze blows their clothes flat against their clutching bodies. She reserves her disdain for these self-absorbed pleasure seekers who show no purpose, no ambition, no bravery. That she, too, is presently a part of them makes her loathe the shallowness of such excursions more. The ancient invaders had come with great spirit and audacity, changed landscapes and cultures, and left enduring marks and legacies. They had mattered.

 

All at once, it is so beautiful, so intolerably beautiful—the intense blue-black of the sea, the rippled gold-brown of the sand, the silky mossiness of the rocks, and the solid gray-black of the fort. Her senses awakened, she aches again for some sign, some event that will allow her to finally understand what she is for. As if chasing some invisible target, she charges up to the fort gates.

Lili’s Song‘. Hot Metal Bridge. May 2017.

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