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Introduction: Love and Affliction Late, by myself, in the boat of myself, no light and no land anywhere, cloudcover thick. I try to stay just above the surface, yet I’m already under and living within the ocean. —Jalal ad-Din Rumi, ‘‘Saladin’s Begging Bowl’’ (1995) January in north India is a strange kind of cold for someone used to Boston winters, to piercing air and eclipsing snowfalls. It is milder, but demands more effort—spreading quilts, seeking sunlight, finding warmth outdoors. On such mornings, after wiping the dust off my daughter’s mary janes, disciplining a scarf around her braids, and seeing her to school, I set off for a chilly interior, a space heavy with the difference between inside and outside . In a locked inpatient unit of a small, private psychiatric clinic, I visited with a woman I call Sanjana, a middle-class housewife about my age. As we sat on her bed shelling peanuts, she talked about her young son, her exhusband , her doctors, her sadness, her anger, her desire to find a job in one of the new call centers. When she got out of the hospital, she said, she would move to a different city, start a job and a new life. In the meantime, she paced the short width of the ward, beads in hand and prayers on her breath, keeping warm and filling hours with a metric of longing and devotion . When I asked what she and the other women talked about, she said, ‘‘We talk about the only thing there is to talk about: getting out.’’ What was temporary and what was permanent were unclear for Sanjana . They were unclear categories for me as well. The word ‘‘visit’’ intercedes in my accounts of this winter and the months and years before and after it. It describes many of my activities, though I called what I was doing 2 Introduction ‘‘research’’ as I passed through the halls of hospitals and clinics. I broke up long stretches in the city where my daughter and I were living (but really just visiting) with journeys north, to a smaller city near the mountains. Small treasures in large expanses of time, those visits took us to Ammi, or Mother, as everyone called her, a woman living in deep psychosis in a spacious house her son had built for. She had spent nearly three decades inside the infamous Agra Mental Hospital (as it was then called), a period punctured by infrequent though regular visits from her son and daughterin -law. Now, they visited Ammi in her new home, traveling from their own home overseas. Her ex-husband also visited for weeks at a time. Though he said little to her, Ammi called him the Librarian and every morning went to his room to receive a book. She pressed it to her forehead, then returned to her room in the servants’ quarters. Much later, after summer heat ruptured that short, unsettling winter, I visited another psychiatry ward—this one with open doors—where a goddess spoke through a young mother, entering the inpatient unit as a passenger in her skinny limbs and wild eyes. She shouted accusations at her doctor, ‘‘You are God. You have everything, I have nothing.’’ A younger woman a few beds down had been sent to the ward by court order. She insisted to her doctors that she would like to remain married to the two men she was involved with, while her mother argued that these men were taking advantage of her daughter’s mental illness. Signs of past abuse went unacknowledged by the otherwise attentive young doctors who saw to her diagnosis. Through a winter, many hot months, and two monsoons, I met with women in circumstances that defied connection. All the while, I was creating for my daughter and myself a series of homes out of what were really just visits, building small worlds and little stabilities far from the New England home where my life and family were dissolving behind me. I left those dissolutions for the security of anthropological research and the promise of purpose it offered, occupying with my four-, then five-, then six-year-old daughter an ever-expanding constellation of people, gestures to family, to connection. The things I encountered were anything but solidifying, though. Instead, they were undoing. This book is an account of that time and those moments of undoing. It is also an account of efforts to make something out of...


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