Ashok Rajamani

AUTHOR + POET + ESSAYIST + ARTIST + ADVOCATE

ABOUT ASHOK

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reader talk
poetry
"words, brewed and unbrewed."
flash fiction
"stories, thumb-sized."
"why on earth would a brown american boy want to be an all-american star?"
essays
"Salman Rushdie uncovers the dream that imprisons."
"How a Drag King and the Carnival Stole the Show in the World's Greatest Poem."
fiction

booksellers
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publications
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radio shows

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publications:



barcelona review

322 review

alternative reel poet's corner

cogitemus: journal of philosophy

amphibi.us

kill poetry

south asian review

NAA News
(newspaper association of america)

mantram magazine

catamaran literary magazine


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other books onsale:



Description (per Danse Macabre website): "Lovers of the imaginative and monstrous, epicureans of the grotesque, the furry, the freaky, and the far-out ... re-enter l'ossuaire ancien du Danse Macabre! A nonpareil literary buffet of 38 dishes from around the world and beyond the grave, drawn from departed issues of Danse Macabre ~ An Online Literary Magazine {originally edited & published by Adam Henry Carrière}."


South Asian Review, vol 26 no.2


Three Line Poetry, Issue 2012


catamaran literary magazine, 2007


Description (per Blotter website): "Existing to nurture underground, outsider literature and art and to provide it to a wide audience. We believe that the economic viability of good art and writing should not interfere with its life, liberty, or happiness; and we deliberately seek to avoid the pretension and “overintellectualism” for which the world of literature and art has become known.)"


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brain injury radio: host



call-in appearances:


about the day my brain exploded

Publisher:
Algonquin Books,
a division of Workman Publishing

Synopsis:
After a full-throttle brain bleed at the age of twenty-five, Ashok Rajamani, a first-generation Indian American, had to relearn everything: how to eat, how to walk and to speak, even things as basic as his sexual orientation. With humor and insight, he describes the events of that day (his brain exploded just before his brother’s wedding!), as well as the long, difficult recovery period. In the process, he introduces readers to his family—his principal support group, as well as a constant source of frustration and amazement. Irreverent, coruscating, angry, at times shocking, but always revelatory, his memoir takes the reader into unfamiliar territory, much like the experience Alice had when she fell down the rabbit hole. That he lived to tell the story is miraculous; that he tells it with such aplomb is simply remarkable. More than a decade later he has finally reestablished a productive artistic life for himself, still dealing with the effects of his injury—life-long half-blindness and epilepsy— but forging ahead as a survivor dedicated to helping others who have suffered a similar catastrophe.

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excerpt



From "Chapter 2: Aftermath (Orange Envy)"

"Don't compare apples to oranges. All of you are in different areas in life. Remember that. Different categories completely.”
Kari, the moderator and social worker of the brain injury support group, was trying to give us a pep talk.
“You need to understand that your lives changed after your brain injuries. Understand that point, and you won’t get jealous or hurt,” she continued.
It didn’t work. Out of the twenty attendees in the room, four, including me, were still morose, sad, and bitter. I was there because everyone – neurologists, therapists, and counselors told me to join a group, as soon as I was released from the hospital. But it took almost four years for me to actually attend a meeting. I had never planned to go, but I was so lonely and depressed, that I felt I had no choice. Most of all, I had become painfully envious of everyone around me. To live in the outside world again, I needed to cope with non brain-injured folks, whom I called “norms” a la old-school carnival-freak patois. These norms, with their goddamn unscarred heads, were pissing me off. They would never understand what had happened to me.
I was nervous that first day as I made it to room 10B in the Center for Disability, a run-down twelve-story building on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. I had never before considered myself “disabled,” but now, as I begrudgingly accepted that possibility, I I tried to prepare myself for my first meeting with my new peers.
Twenty people wearing resigned expressions sat on cheap blue plastic folding chairs arranged in a circle. The dingy white walls, offset by blackened gray tiles on the floor, enclosed a room that was suffocating in stale air. On one wall hung a framed poster of a striped cat with a word-balloon over its head that said, “I meow, therefore I am.” I imagined Descartes’ reaction if he had seen this. He would have just rolled over in his grave. No, he would have climbed out, purchased a Colt.45, and shot himself.
Daunted but not deterred, I looked closer. All those in the circle displayed evidence of brain injury. Some had paralyzed legs, some were blind,some were deaf. Some were quadriplegic.
At five foot-nine weighing one hundred-sixty pounds, my average frame looked downright Charles Atlasesque next to some of the weakened bodies I saw before me.
This was one of the rare occasions when I didn’t wear my contact lenses, so my view was slightly obscured by the scratches on the thick lenses in my Buddy Holly frames.
The glasses accentuated my fleshy nose while downsizing my large eyes, which were widening in horror as I took time to look closely at everyone gathered there.
Of course, my looks hardly mattered at that point, and I knew it was ridiculous to even contemplate how I appeared. I had entered a room where fashion was the least of anyone’s concerns.
After each member had been seated, the moderator introduced herself as Kari, and welcomed us to “the once-a-month brain support session,” as she called it. She was a petite, attractive mid-thirties white woman who worked at the nearby hospital as a social worker.
The room was chillingly quiet, as in support group tradition. We told our stories one by one. I suddenly had monstrous pangs of guilt. I was one of the few there whose ailments, while severe, appeared non-existent. I wasn’t in a wheelchair. Though half-blind, I could see. I could hear. I could speak. And, yes, I could samba.
I had always been irritated about this lack of obvious scarring, thinking mine to be a silent disease. Nobody could look at me and tell that I had a scorched battlefield between my ears. IN part because, by all accounts, my brain still worked. I could articulate my thoughts, and even better, I had thoughts to begin with.
We went around the circle, each of us sharing our circumstances. We were different ages, different races, and different genders. The one commonality was brain injury. But even our brains were altered in diverse ways. Three of the younger ones, maybe in their twenties, couldn’t speak at all; they sat in wheelchairs and simply nodded.
An overweight mid-fifties white woman with an unkempt gunmetal bob sat lazily in her chair. Wearing an oversized gray running jacket over a shapeless green sweatsuit, she had a foolish grin and drooled thickly.
Kari smiled at the woman, whose name, she told us, was Sara.
“Sara’s just started speaking these past few weeks,” she said with pride.
Everyone smiled.
“She now can form full sentences,” she said, her pride even more pronounced.
Everyone applauded.
I learned after the meeting that Sara had been living with brain injury ever since the early nineties, when she was involved in a three-car accident on the Long Island Expressway. She was the only driver substantially injured. Kari gave me the background.
“That’s terrible,” I said, “but even though she’s in bad shape, it’s great that she’s speaking again.”
“I know,” Kari said, “I’m so happy for her progress. Just last year, she didn’t even understand the meaning of the word ‘the’.”
“That’s fantastic,” I said, attempting a forced cheerfulness that unsuccessfully masked my sadness. “What was she doing before her injury?”
“She was a corporate lawyer.”
Our group also included a former model. A brain bleed had left half of her face paralyzed. She looked like she was wearing a mask.
One distinguished-looking, middle-aged Black man dressed in a suit stood up. His companion, who could have been his twin, or lover, or friend, said the dapper fellow was named Matt, and had been a heart surgeon.
Matt shushed him. “I can speak for myself, Tim,” he barked. “I just want to tell everyone how proud I am of myself!”
We waited for Matt to continue, but he didn’t say anything more. He simply sat down again, closed his eyes and began rubbing his face. He looked exhausted.
Tim broke the silence.
“I’m proud of him too,” he said, without revealing the nature of Matt’s injury. “Time for show-and-tell,” he said and turned to his friend.
Matt revealed to us the reason for the delight: he stood up, opened his right hand, and showed us a small metallic object.
Then, like a five-year-old thrilled to understand finally the difference between a nickel and a quarter, Matt exclaimed, “For a while I’ve been thinking this is only some stupid pointy thingy. But now I totally understand what this is! I know what this is! It goes in your skin!”
He was holding a syringe.
A tall, attractive thirtysomething white man with longish black hair stood up. His companion, an elderly white woman, immediately told us the gentleman had been an established soap opera actor.
The man seemed to have come straight from a fashion shoot, decked out in sleek black slacks and a fitted blue sweater that hugged his well-built body. I wondered why a guy so sharp was in a place like this.
When he started talking, I understood.
“My—y-y-y-y- n-n-n-nayy-y—”
It took him more than a minute to utter “My name”.
One of the group’s main rules was not to interrupt any member when he or she was speaking. We waited out the next two minutes, until he was able to complete “My name is Charles.” But his main problem was not stuttering; he seemed to be floating in and out of lucidity itself. In the next breath, he began speaking coherently, but extremely slowly. Like a three-year-old reading Mary Had a Little Lamb.
Even though I was curious to find out the anatomy of his injury, nobody asked him. Perhaps that was the code of the group, I figured, to let everybody speak the way they wanted to, and to tell only as much as the felt comfortable revealing.
Standing up, he recounted the day-by-day schedule of his week. Everybody listened carefully, even me. Usually I had a tendency to be impatient and interrupt. But I said nothing and joined the others in offering silent nods until he was done feeding us his datebook.
Kari picked me to follow Charles. When I was done confessing, I looked around the room. Everyone appeared shocked. One wheelchair-bound elderly Hispanic woman, who had yet to speak in group, introduced herself as Natalie.
She stared at me.
”You seem very healthy and well-spoken, young man,” she said. “You must have had the brain injury around ten years ago, am I right?”
“Not really,” I said, looking down.
“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry. It was probably more than ten. That was stupid of me. I know brains take a long time to recover, honey.”
Her face became solemn. “Even if it’s taken you fifteen years, or your whole life to recover, you should be proud. You’re still alive, and that’s all that matters.”
“Actually,” I said, “this happened to me three years ago.”
“Listen, kiddo,” she responded, displaying hints of irritation. “Be serious. When did you have your trauma?”
I tried to explain that I was telling the truth, but nobody in the group seemed convinced.
Then the soap star stood up again. Perhaps feeling encouraged by my openness to talk, he was ready to tell us what happened to him.
Whereas before he couldn’t even speak one sentence coherently, now Charles’s words came out with eerie clarity. He started slowly, and progressed to a faster pace.
Ten years ago
My boyfriend was saying bye to me in the Fourteenth Street subway station at midnight waiting for the E train must have been behind a stalled car since it was taking so long to get to me
Mike and I had been holding hands and hugged when he left I didn’t think
much about it
Two minutes after he left a cop comes up to me
He holds his crotch and asks me if I want it I looked shocked and as soon as I say something he punches me in the face calls me all the names you can think of
He punches me four or five more times I beg him to please stop I’ll do what you want please stop he doesn’t I cant think straight when he’s finished he pushes me into the tracks I survived I ate pizza for breakfast today and
I held the slice with these many fingers

Charles held up three fingers on his right hand.
After recounting his tale, Charles left with his companion. The silent room became, impossibly, even quieter.


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biography and other works



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the tale of a brown redneck.


on sluts, jesus, vulgar darlings, and india
a collection of published poems.

three romances
flash fiction
three short stories about the greatest affairs of all: the true love between man and beast, the true love between old lady and death, and the true love between man and wall.

the damned mother and the unnamed other
Essay
a comparative psychoanalytic critique of salman rushdie's "midnight's children" and shyam selvadurai's "funny boy."

Carnivalesque
Essay
An exploration into gender identity, subversion, and sexual transformation in the Mahabharata.



huckleberry patel
a brown american boy who wants to be an all-american star.