Kuzhali Manickavel

IN CHINA They Do It with Chillies’ is a racist song, but it’s ok for you to sing it in India because there are hardly any Chinese people here. Your favourite line is ‘And fuck knows for what.’ You like the way everyone leans forward and spits out the word ‘fuck’. You believe it means something profound and sad when they sing it that way.

You look at The Young Man In The Blue Shirt. He is walking in front of you, shouting ‘In China they do it with CHILLIES. Chillies, machan, fucking red chillies, shove it right up their-’ he claps and nearly loses his balance. Yesterday you tried to tell him what it was like to carry a cello home in the snow. You told him how you easily made the transition from two braids to ponytail but getting your parents to let you wear your hair loose was a different matter altogether.

You tried to explain why Anne of Green Gables is so important to Canadians and why at some point, almost every girl and some boys wish they could run around Prince Edward Island wearing ugly dresses. The Young Man In The Blue Shirt frowned and said what’s a green gable? You shoved him in the chest because you know he hates this. You said he was retarded.

“In Mumbai they do it with MIRCHIS,” bawls The Young Man In The Blue Shirt. Kanna, who is walking beside you, immediately starts shaking his head.

“China machan,” he says. “It’s China.”

“Fuck you. This is India. We are all Indians. We do it with mirchis,” says The Young Man In The Blue Shirt. “Yes but it’s all about China,” says Kanna.

“In China they do it with CHILLIES,” bellows The Young Man In The Blue Shirt, grabbing you by the waist.

“And FUCK knows for what,” you say, even though that line doesn’t come yet.


When I grow up, I’m going to be an angel.

This is officially the stupidest thing you have ever said in your life. You said this in front of everyone in second grade, right after a boy called Jeff said he wanted to be a pastor like his dad. When your parents hear of this, they become upset because they think you want to be a Christian. They consider home schooling. They consider sending you to India. For the next five years, you live in perpetual fear that they will pack you off in the middle of the night and you will have to live in a hut and shit at the side of a dirt road because there are no bathrooms in India. You start drawing pictures of mutilated angels on the back of your binder. On the front of your binder you write things like Pantera 4ever, Metallica Rulz and I Luv Sebastian Bach. In the library, you start cutting out glossy pictures of angels and hiding their heads, wings and torsos in different Choose Your Own Adventure books. Someone tells on you and you are fined. As an afterthought, you are assigned a counsellor. You think this is awesome but ask them not tell your parents because they might send you to India and India really scares you. They tell your parents anyway.


The song of your life comes from a Kannada movie called Operation Diamond Rocket that was released in 1978. You are particularly fond of the chorus that goes ‘If You Come Today, It’s Too Early. If You Come Tomorrow, It’s Too Late.’ These lines mean different things to you at different times. You sing it under your breath when you wait for people. When you are very happy, this song makes you upset. When you are upset, this song reminds you of running through sprinklers in the summer with a best friend you don’t have anymore.

Sometimes when you are drunk, you call The Young Man In The Blue Shirt in the middle of the night to tell him he is retarded.

He says, If you come today-

It’s too early, you say.

If you come tomorrow, he says.

It’s too laaaaate, you say.

You pick the time, he says. Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick. Tick. And then? What comes next, he says.

You say Darling and he says what? He keeps saying what and you keep saying darling.

Later, you try to teach this song to some people at a party but they end up singing ‘In China They Do It with Chillies’ instead.


At school dances, no boy will dance with you. You are thankful for this because your parents would totally ship you off to India if they ever found out you were dancing with a boy. Indian parents are psycho like that. You say this to anyone who happens to be standing next to you.

In eighth grade during Social Studies, a girl called Adrian sits beside you when the class watches videos about Brazil. She smells like watermelon bubblegum. You are suddenly aware of your ribcage and how the bones in your hips stick out. You can feel the hair growing on your upper lip. You wish you were a boy. You think you would be better at everything if you were a boy. You secretly touch the ends of Adrian’s dirty blonde hair and think of having sex with girls. You think of having sex with boys. The Brazil video ends and you think of going home and killing yourself. You think of drinking an entire bottle of Dettol. You think of beating yourself to death with a snow shovel, even though it would probably hurt a lot.


At 4 am, young men have a contest to see who can say your name five times fast. They do tequila shots between each round and shout ‘Otha Mayire’ each time someone gets it wrong. Everyone messes up your name on the first or second try and this makes you feel powerful and hopeless at the same time. You are sitting beside Kanna, who is bored and wanted to leave two hours ago. You ask him if it is easier to be gay in America. He rolls his eyes and says can we go now and you say no.

At 4:15 am, young men have a contest to see who can say your name backwards. The Young Man In The Blue Shirt stands up and says he can say your name five times fast backwards. He can say it standing on one leg. He can say it with his eyes shut. Watch, he says. He closes his eyes and you hold your breath. Then he shouts ‘In China they do it with CHILLIES!’

You tell yourself you knew this would happen.


When you are 13, you are assigned two counsellors because nobody knows what to do with you. You think this is cool and tell them you are suicidal so they don’t lose interest in you. Whenever they ask how you are, you say you are depressed. You tell them that you give yourself eraser burns on your thighs. You also tell them you are a Satanist though you’re not sure what this means.

You secretly touch the ends of Adrian’s dirty blonde hair and think of having sex with girls. You think of having sex with boys

You write Anarchy Angel on your binder in permanent black marker but you spell ‘Angel’ wrong so it says Anarchy Angle and you can’t wash it off. People want to know what the Anarchy Angle is. They ask to see your wrists and you say you are into pills. You say you have boyfriends who live on the other side of town who wear safety pins in their ears and beat up their stepfathers. No one believes you.

On a Sunday when you are practicing your cello, you get a phone call saying your friend Anjali has hung herself with a belt but she isn’t dead yet, she is in a coma. Your father says if she wakes up, she will have brain damage. You ask if this means she will be retarded and your father says not to use that word in his house. During the funeral, you decide that Anjali was retarded. You think her funeral is retarded and the fact that everyone is crying is retarded. The next time someone calls you a Paki, you pummel them in the face with your binder, releasing surprisingly large amounts of blood. When you get in trouble for this, you point out that while you repeatedly used the term motherfucking asshole, you didn’t call anyone retarded, not even once.


Kanna decides he wants a tattoo. He decides you also want a tattoo but first, you both take the bus to Pondy Bazaar to look at the pavement stalls and think about the permanency of tattoos. While looking at piles of colourful 10 rupee underwear, you decide to go for it and quickly catch an auto before you change your minds. You meet a mechanic called John who gives you both village tattoos for 200 bucks. Kanna gets the word ‘Dasi’ done on the back of his neck, which makes John laugh. You think it would be a good idea to get ‘Anarchy Angel’ tattooed across your wrist but it is so painful you make John stop even though he’s only written ‘Anarch’. Kanna feels this is all his fault. To make up for it, he takes you to see Titanic dubbed in Tamil in a shabby theatre that is almost empty. Halfway through the movie, you notice Kanna is crying and you think this is because of the tattoo. You’re such a fag, you say. At some point, Kanna disappears. You call The Young Man In The Blue Shirt and he picks you up. He wants to know if ‘Anarch’ is some Canadian thing.

“It was supposed to say ‘Anarchy Angel’,” you say.

“Anarchy Angel,” he says. “Oooooh.”

“Fuck you,” you say.

“You could have just got ‘Angel’, no? Unless ‘Anarch’ is some Canadian thing I don’t know about.”

You don’t think about Kanna until the next afternoon, when he calls to say that he tried to kill himself by taking sleeping pills and he just woke up and now he feels really stupid. You think this is an extreme thing to do and tell him it’s just a tattoo. He starts to sob and says fuck oh fuck over and over again. He says how stupid is that? You try to kill yourself and you wake up! How fucking stupid is that?

At 4 am, young men have a contest to see who can say your name five times fast. They do tequila shots between each round

You tell him no, he is not stupid.

The Young Man In The Blue Shirt grabs the phone and says yes, he is stupid. People who try to kill themselves are stupid people.

You tell Kanna not to mind the Young Man In The Blue Shirt because he is retarded. We are all retarded you say and Kanna starts to cry again.


You are on the bus home after a Junior High dance. Sitting in the next seat is a girl called Heather who you were good friends with in elementary school but she won’t talk to you in Junior High. Because you are on the bus and it is practically empty, she tells you how a ninth grader called Mathew tongued her during the dance. She doesn’t need to tell you because you saw it happen. This was the first time you saw someone French in real life and you were surprised at how awkward it looked. My tongue feels weird, says Heather.

You get off at the next stop, even though it’s still four stops away from your house. When you get home your mom is angry because it’s late and there was a call from the school saying that you were taking an interest in Satanism and suicide.

Satanism, Hinduism, same thing, you say and your mother slaps you. You think you are going to cry but you don’t.


You lose.

You are sent to an all-girls college in India and this ruins any chances you have of becoming a single mother and living in an apartment with someone called Ryan or Darren. You get love letters from girls who are enamoured by the way you dress and your accent. They say they like your figure and your smile. You keep these letters safely and look at them from time to time to make sure they are still there.

There are no counsellors here. The “disturbed” girls roam around the campus, stay at home, sit in the library or wait in the car park. They are not allowed to loiter in the canteen or look out the window during class. The ones who wear long sleeves are the ones that cut themselves. You realise that you can sit in class, completely stoned and people will just think you’re sleepy. Nobody carries binders or advertises the fact that they listen to Pantera. Angels aren’t a big deal here.

There are no counsellors here. The “disturbed” girls roam around the campus, stay at home, sit in the library or wait in the car park

Whenever there is a group dance event, you get cast as a man along with all the sports girls. This is because you are not graceful but you are tall, quick and you smile easily when you move. Your partner is a Jain girl called Pooja who you usually don’t notice because all Jain girls look the same to you. But when you start dancing, she always looks straight into your eyes and she mouths the words of the song like she wants to fight you. When she sings the words ‘Bichua Jawani Ka’ she tilts her head and arches her eyebrow and you forget your steps. You think the song is about girls that are mesmerising and poisonous. After the college farewell party, Pooja hugs you and whispers something in your ear in Hindi which you don’t understand.

You tell this to Kanna when you are both sitting in front of a tea stall, eating violently orange bajjis. He says ever notice how Jain girls get really fat after they get married? You nod and he tosses the rest of his bajji to a stray dog.


The Young Man In The Blue Shirt is wearing a black t-shirt that is covered with tiny holes in the back. You are both in the hospital because Kanna has finally overdosed on sleeping pills but he is not dead. If he lives, he will feel stupid and try again later. If he dies, he will have accomplished what he set out to do and you think this is a good thing even though you don’t say this out loud.

You look at the word ‘Anarch’ tattooed on your wrist. Every time someone asks you what Anarch means, you tell them something different. Anarch is an Inuit word that means struggle within the heart. Anarch is Old Tamil — it means an absence or negation of everything. Anarch is Arabic — it is a term of endearment used among homosexual men. Someone tells you that Anarch is an actual word that has something to do with anarchists. You are secretly pleased by this but say you’re not interested in what it really means. Every time someone asks why you don’t get it removed, you tell them to go fuck themselves. Sometimes you say this in Tamil, without actually using the word fuck. Sometimes you say this in English using fuck multiple times.

The Young Man In The Blue Shirt is singing ‘In China They Do It With Chillies’ in a soft voice so it doesn’t wake the elderly couple that have fallen asleep in the next seat. You’re not sure why they are here but they have two wire baskets filled with food. They offered you idlis which you refused but The Young Man In The Blue Shirt accepted and said were very nice. They think you are married and you are flattered that anyone would think you were marriageable.

“In China they do it with chillies,” says The Young Man In The Blue Shirt, his hand tapping gently on your arm.

“And fuck knows for what,” you say.


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