Saturday, February 28, 2004

Attack on Professor Humayun Azad – a Twisty Forewarning?

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 28, 2004

How to contemplate on the vicious attack on Bangladeshi Professor Humayun Azad? Several minutes passed by. And several hours are gone. Only things come into mind are expletives detesting the maddening profanity engulfing our world, not to be written for the civil consumption.

The horrific images published in several Bangladeshi newspapers, showing the blood soaked shirt, the deep wounds in his left jaw, dazedly walking, still conscious, but looked in pain.

Professor Humayun Azad is fighting for his life in Combined Military Hospital.

Professor Humayun Azad is unconscious; his blood seeped through his shirt, heartbeat unstable, for expressing views against communalism and fundamentalism’s resurrection.

What is happening in Bangladesh?

A nation born out from the oppression and colonialism filled past, fought a gruesome battle against sadistic subjugation, a proud nation for its national identity, its cultural vibrancy, is in the grip of recurrence of defeated forces of the past, “the collaborators” and their successors, long thought to be buried in the trash-bin of history.

Is communalism, religious fundamentalism the only responsible entity in degradation of moral and political fabric?

Indeed there are resurgence of fundamentalists, the bearded and non-bearded mullahs, many of them are engaged in their conniving onslaught of grabbing power, like the others, in the name of almighty, the provocation on behalf of omnipotence, materializing the ultimate goal of eradicating the intrinsic tranquil nature of Bangladesh.

Power is corrupting. Power insinuates political leaders of all hues distort facts.

The political culture in Bangladesh is puzzling. Some say, there is no veracity in contemporary political leaders. Their allegiance shifts, their ideals reshaped and repackaged for the suitability of their fierce desire. The major political parties, mainly the two, in the past had shook hands with diametrically opposite mullahs or corrupted and convicted leaders of the past for the sake of shoddy political gain.

There are also allegations of embracing violence under the cloak of political agitation, hired guns, the goons and thugs have been nourished and fed, protected under official seal. Like changing sports team, these highly coveted bullies are lured from one political entity to another. The top guns, the pack of the brutes, are given grand choice: face extinction, or shift your allegiance. When the government changes, brutes hop or rot in the mortuary.

There is the unmistakable linkage among the attack on Professor Humayun Azad, the exploding bombs in Romna Batamul and movie theaters, killings of liberal journalists, uncompromising political leaders, and activists in various parts, suppressions of minorities and ransacking or burning of their religious places. Not long ago the scorching of eleven Hindus of the same family stirred the soul of this nation. The same can be said on killings of people with opposing views, mostly occurred in the past governments.

Is the hacking of Professor Humayun Azad an isolated incident? In most likelihood: No. He was hacked for his intrepid views on freedom, the defeated force and fundamentalism.

In the waning days of 1971, along with the killings of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis from all level, there was a systematic approach in eliminating the doctors, professors, engineers, writers, journalists and the overall intelligentsias.

The terror, that almighty word of our time, acts as a forewarning: rescind from your unpalatable views on liberty, or you are the next.

But the nation that has tasted the flavor of liberty, the victorious terror is never a certainty.

Professor Humayun Azad, the 56-year-old Bengali teacher at Dhaka University, rested on the cold hospital bed, is struggling, and in enormous pain, but the shocking imagery of butchery may very well boost the struggle against terror and the twisty powerful “leaders” behind its cryptic design.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is:


Monday, February 23, 2004

The Wall Quandary

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 23, 2004

The International Court has begun the proceedings on the litigious wall issue between the Palestinians and the Israeli government on February 23rd of this year. Israel claims that the wall is for protecting innocent Israeli civilians from the Palestinian suicide bombers, and they gravely point in the direction of last weekend’s bomb blast in Jerusalem.

Their position is understandable. Protecting a nation’s civilians from terrorism does have merit. However, the construction of wall in Israel exposes a stunningly different image than the bureaucrats of Ariel Sharon’s Government wish the world to reckon.

In many cases Israel indicates that the security wall already in place along with other heightened security measures are working, the number of suicide bombings has come down considerably than its previous high average. According to Washington Times editorial: “In the spring of 2002, when Israel began building the West Bank barrier, the country was experiencing more than 15 successful suicide bomb attacks per month and thwarting eight attacks per month. By fall 2003, with the barrier less than 50 percent complete, Israel was experiencing two to three successful attacks per month and intercepting more than 20.” [7]

There is no independent verification of this number, as most of Israel’s “security measures” are covered in secrecy. Only when innocent Palestinian civilians get killed in missile attack or Palestinian boy or girl’s body is shredded with leaded bullets, the world gets some of this news.

More often than not, it is suspected that news of Palestinian deaths and injuries are relegated as less important, tucked in inside pages or buried under other columns in most of the Western nations while the Palestinian suicide bombings get the front-page space. And Israel alleges that the Arab and the Muslim world do the opposite, they ostensibly incite more tensions by highlighting these Palestinian deaths over and over again.

The problem is not with the protection of Israeli civilians. Israel must take all the legal measures in protecting its citizens. But the problem resides in Israel’s adoption of illegal measures, violating human rights in the broad daylight or under the cover of night. Israel has repeatedly violated international laws in handling Palestinian concerns.

And this construction of fence is being used as a “weapon” that Noam Chomsky described in his recent New York Times article as follows: “What this wall is really doing is taking Palestinian lands. It is also — as the Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling has described Israel's war of "politicide" against the Palestinians — helping turn Palestinian communities into dungeons, next to which the Bantustans of South Africa look like symbols of freedom, sovereignty and self-determination.” [5]

Another Bantustan, more hideous than the one the South Africa’s disgraced apartheid government started, this time, the Sharon’s government wants to take the next step in their journey, on the way to the “final solution”, constructing the wall in a complex matrix form that “imprisons thousands of Palestinians in enclaves encircled by 24-foot high walls, electronic fences, and watchtowers manned by armed Israeli soldiers.” [1]

Behind the security and threat pronouncements, there are other motives that Israel does not want the world to know. It is about its unyielding control over the vital water resources, fragmenting the Palestinian communities, forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children living in small enclaves that the wall is purported to achieve. And its eventual design is creating more wretched circumstance for the millions of Palestinians, entrapped by this wall’s conniving zigzag pattern, incising deep into the occupied lands, so that, in years to come, Palestinians are forced to accept their inevitable fate, their complete eviction from their ancestral homes for the purpose of a greater Israel.

Israel’s defiance on the wills of the international communities is nothing new, many previous resolutions either laughed at with impunity, or simply being vetoed by Israel’s staunch supporters, in most cases, United States. “They are American-Israeli policies — made possible by unremitting United States military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel. This has been true since 1971 when, with American support, Israel rejected a full peace offer from Egypt, preferring expansion to security. In 1976, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for a two-state settlement in accord with an overwhelming international consensus. The two-state proposal has the support of a majority of Americans today, and could be enacted immediately if Washington wanted to do so.” [5]

Even though United States’ State Department routinely condemns Israel for its flagrant violation of human rights in the occupied land in its yearly report, it is a case of bewildered contradiction when the same U.S. Government sells billions of dollar worth of tanks, F-16 aircrafts, apache helicopters “with laser-guided missiles” and voluminous artillery, that are being routinely used in suppressing Palestinians, even in the refugee camps, tiptoeing the balance of power where the aspiration of Palestinian dream attaining freedom from oppression remain a remote possibility.

Michael J. Bohnen, who is the Chairman of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, cites the raising of the wall issue in the docket of International court as propagated by Israel’s staunchest foes. He writes in his Boston Globe commentary: “the states pressing this issue onto the agenda of the International Court seek to use The Hague as part of a campaign to delegitimize Israel. The court, by taking on this issue, would set a dangerous precedent as it opens the door to other politicized campaigns. The damage this could do to the peace process is immeasurable, as it serves to undermine the bedrock of the process -- direct negotiations -- and leave both parties without the mechanism, the road map, that they agreed should be the mechanism for resolving their disputes.” [2]

Mr. Bohnen is wrong in this aspect. What can an oppressed, subjugated, shackled nation and its people do when there are no genuine peace process on the table, when the wall is slowly reducing Palestinian lands into pockets of enclaves, making the lives of poverty stricken Palestinians into further desolation? International Court, binding or without binding, is deemed as the place where their cries for help can be answered that had been repeatedly ignored in the past.

“Deligitimizing” Israel is not the issue here, but most of the world is resoundingly behind challenging Israel’s illegal legitimization process, the process that envision uprooting Palestinians for the greater purpose of Zionism.

At this point one should be clear that there are millions of peace loving Jewish folks who themselves are against Zionism’s discriminatory steps taken toward the Palestinians. They rightfully feel that the sacred memories of Holocaust victims are disgraced with the ardent attempts of association by the zealous Zionists.

In their deceitful invocation of Holocaust victims’ memories, they have abandoned the lessons that the world had learned from that traumatic experience from the Second World War era, the subjugation, ethnic cleansing and annihilation of millions of people in the name of other eras’ “great causes” propped up by the fascist Hitler and gang.

There are groups from all nations, all academic backgrounds, coming forward in response to Israel’s aggressive executions of this construction of wall. Scholars at the prestigious Oxford University in England, who are experts in international law, laid out their transparent observations that agrees with the world’s opinion: “In its current form, Israel's construction of the separation Barrier in the Occupied Territories violates both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Israel has not presented any compelling justification on security grounds for the Barrier as it is currently being constructed, and the Barrier imposes unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the human rights of the Palestinians." [6]

These scholars opine that Israel is bound by the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, in all the Occupied Territories. “The West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem constitute Occupied Territories under international humanitarian law. No derogation is permissible from humanitarian law, even in times of public emergency. The existing and planned route of the Barrier, the operation of the gates, and the adjacent closed military zones (between the Barrier and the 1949 Armistice Line [Green Line], are not necessary or proportionate measures of control and security according to the Fourth Geneva Convention...."the security objectives it seeks to serve ... could be achieved through alternative, less detrimental means.”” [6]

This is the vital point. The security objectives Israel seeks could be achieved through less detrimental means, that would comply all the international laws, abide by Israel’s commitment in maintaining human rights provisions in the occupied lands while protecting its citizens with prudent security measures.

Noam Chomsky, the prolific writer with Jewish background, writes that if the security fence were indeed for the preservation of Israeli lives, it would have been built “inside Israel, within the internationally recognized border, the Green Line established after the 1948-49 war. The wall could then be as forbidding as the authorities chose: patrolled by the army on both sides, heavily mined, impenetrable. Such a wall would maximize security, and there would be no international protest or violation of international law.” [5]

Indeed, in that genuine case of protecting lives of Israeli civilians, there would not be any need for pressing this issue on International Court’s docket, but Ariel Sharon’s plan is quite different from the mere protection of his citizens. His plan is driven by his long time wish of expanding Israeli lands, driving out or starving the Palestinians for the benefits of his orthodox constituencies and quite possibly, as the allegations are abundant, for other concealed design, like expansion into ancient Babylon or beyond.

As the world knows, even if the International Court declares in favor of the Palestinian pleading and against the construction of Israeli apartheid wall, in reality, the hope is faint and weak for attaining any practical resolution for this delicate issue, since, United States is still behind Israel’s arrogance. And with the superpower friend’s blessing, Israel can continue building its wall, without giving a hoot to international opinions or Palestinian agony.

Jeff Halper, who is the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions in Israel, said the best in his direct address to the American taxpayers: “We are all responsible for what happens everywhere. What made the Berlin Wall so significant for us all? What motivated President Kennedy to declare: "We are all Berliners"? It was the idea that there are certain fundamental rights, certain fundamental conditions of life that, if violated, compromise the very essence of human existence. To the degree that the international community accepts responsibility for the well-being of people everywhere, you as a part of civil society have a responsibility to oppose the wall. To the degree that our tax dollars enable Israeli occupation and violations of human rights such as those represented by the wall, we bear a direct responsibility. If Kennedy were alive, today, he might travel to the besieged, walled-in city of Qalqiliya to pronounce: "We are all Palestinians." [1]


1. Jeff Halper, “America is Complicit in Illegal Wall”, Boston Globe, February 21, 2004.

2. Michael J. Bohnen, “A Case Pressed by Israel’s Foe”, Boston Globe, February 21, 2004.

3. Greg Myre, “Israel Says It Will Dismantle Barrier at Palestinian Town”, New York Times, February 22, 2004.

4. Selim Nassar, “Israel Launches the Battle of Anti-Semitism in Response to the Lahaye Battle”, Al-Hayat, February 21, 2004.

5. Noam Chomsky, “A Wall as a Weapon”, New York Times, February 23, 2004.

6. Yuval Yoaz, “Oxford Legal Experts Take Aim at the Fence”, Haaretz, February 24, 2004.

7. “The Fence and Palestinians”, The Washington Times, February 19, 2004.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is:


Sunday, February 22, 2004

Russian Grizzly Politics and Chechnya

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 22, 2004

Chilly Russian Politics

Russian winter is bitter. Severe wind-chill cut through flesh and bones and piles of snow cover streets, roofs and trees. While the winter may last a few more months or weeks, which is already in fazing out period for this year, Russian politics is gearing toward more cold and chilly wind.

When the Berlin Wall collapsed more than a decade ago, the old Gorbachev’s Perestroika was in the headline news, and the vigilant Yeltsin brandishing democratic flags in between his drunken stupors, there was hope in the beginning, amidst the starved Russians and also the cold-war threatened the rest of the world, that possibly a better future awaited the Russians, democracy might get its hold on Russia for the betterment of the entire population.

It did not work out quiet that way. In the recent days, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s turning away from the cogent democracy, his unwillingness to listen to criticisms, silencing the oppositions with the old tactics of intimidation, bribes and other not-to-be-mentioned means, are beginning to take a lucid shape for the observers from near and far.

What democracy? The ordinary Russians may mumble while huddling around a heating furnace, or standing in a line for baked bread, but albeit in lower tone. Vladimir Putin’s Government has stranglehold on virtually all Russian news media, newspapers, television and radio. The editors, program producers, journalists are being threatened with legal actions unless they implement self-imposed censorship. There are allegations that, whoever crosses the line in criticizing Putin’s increasingly autocratic rule, may be in danger of losing their dear life or livelihood.

Recently, a popular Russian writer, Elena Tregubova, who wrote a book on Vladimir Putin with her opposing point of view, had narrowly escaped from an assassination attempt, a bomb exploded outside her apartment.

Popular Putin

Putin does have measurable popular support. And why he shouldn’t be? All the media is censored, like the old communist days, and the fear of Chechen rebels, justified and unjustified, stoked whenever any major violence erupt in the streets of Moscow, the old comrades emphatically beat the drums of Chechen involvement without the due process of any investigations. A few weeks ago, Vladimir Putin was quick to point finger to Chechen rebels for the deadly suicide bombing in Russian metro without first adopting a thorough inquiry.

It is true that Russians are feeling the burnt of false promises made by the Western nations in propping their democratic infancy, capitalism’s journey in Russian soil was all but rocky.

In the past after the communism collapsed, no more iron curtain of Communist dictators was available on the streets, there were chaos in the Russian cities, there were skyrocketing crimes and corruptions, Russian economy took a tumble.

Millions of Russians found themselves in poverty stricken days, no old government support for their collapsed pensions, newly privatized factories could not provide steady paychecks to their employees, there were loss of domestic trades because people could not afford to purchase high flying priced of necessary commodities. There was massive inflation caused by the price reform implemented by the previous Russian government, and that caused millions of Russians lost their savings.

“Even as they witnessed Russian suffering, most Western experts showed little concern for the pain inflicted and urged Russia to stay the capitalist course. The West held this position until the very day the financial dam finally burst in August 1998, when the Russian government devalued the ruble and suspended payment on most of its foreign debt.” [2]

One aspect of Putin’s growing support among many Russians is for his success in economic growth, “Consumer goods are again being manufactured at home. Russia has paid off most of its foreign debt. And if high oil prices have been the single most significant factor in reversing Russia's fortunes, so what? Russians still credit Putin with the reversal, pointing to an impressive growth in domestic production and sound taxation policies that have also contributed to both growth and the restoration of health in public finances. Russians are pleased that their country is again a major player in foreign relations and that foreign leaders take Putin seriously in a way they never did his predecessor, Boris N. Yeltsin.” [2]

In spite of supposed ending of cold war years ago, Russians feel threatened being subjected to Western nuclear targets; many in Russia see the vast arsenals that the Western nations, mainly United States, possess, whose unmistakable purpose is the destruction of Russia.

Russians yearn to be part of NATO, Germany already proposed this issue but no result was obtained, instead, NATO intends to establish military bases in Eastern Europe that many hard elements of Russian Federation see as a clear threat toward their sovereignty and existence.

Can the world afford to slide back to the old treacherous and vicious cold war era? Absolutely not. It would make our already fragile world more susceptible to deaths and destructions, wars and killings of innocents like that occurred in Vietnam, Korea, Africa, South America and other places in the name of preserving capitalism or communism.

But can the rest of the world stay silent while antidemocratic forces erase all the previous incremental progresses Russians made toward a more democratic and accountable society and government? Surely not. And this is the reasons, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and other major democratic powerhouse of our world, should be clear in their expectation of democratic reform in Russia, in their unified voices against brutal repressions against the Chechens in Moscow and Grozny.

Chechen Predicament

Putin is abusing the age-old rule of stoking fear, the same old gambit of demonizing a minority segment of Russians, in this case, the Chechens, to boost his support for his autocratic rule.

After the February 6 metro blast that killed 41 Russian civilians, instead of calming the understandably restless populace by implementing a detailed investigation of this ruthless terrorism, discriminatory steps and rhetoric are being used against the Chechens. Putin’s instant accusations of Chechen rebels for the blast sounded curiously spurious and infantile. While the Chechen rebels were indeed responsible for other prior attacks in the Russian capitals, there are other extremist elements, domestic and the foreign, who might very well get benefited by creating instability in Russia prior to its national election.

Amnesty International reports, “it has been reported that an extremist organization has been calling upon people to attend a public meeting, under the slogan "Cleanse Moscow of Chechen bandits!" Amnesty International is concerned that this may amount to incitement of hatred on grounds of nationality and incitement to racially-motivated violence. Prominent Russian human rights groups have also expressed their concern regarding the demonstration. "In the current climate, we are concerned that the meeting could lead to incidents of racially-motivated violence. Such inflammatory slogans appear to be aimed at inciting racial hatred and should therefore be immediately removed from all public places in the capital", Amnesty International said.” [4]

Chechnya has remained a burning unresolved issue. The brutal war that begun in 1999, still raging in Chechnya, killing innocent civilians in Chechen cities and villages. Russia never implemented any safeguards for the noncombatants that resulted deaths and injuries of high number of Chechens.

What can the devastated Chechens do in their destroyed cities? Many Chechens had to abandon their homeland, living depressing lives in refugee camps in Ingushetia. Many of them are still living in shocking condition, trying to survive among destroyed buildings and collapsed infrastructure. [1]

A war without ending, furthermore, has its toll on Russian soldiers, the underfed military fighting against the Chechen rebels, have plunged in “torture, rape, pillaging and hostage-taking”. [1]

And the Chechens, the victims, the remaining loved ones of slaughtered and crippled Chechens, the widows who have lost their husbands, the mothers who have lost their children in the war, the young and the old, are distraught, disenfranchised, who have only seen injustice and sufferings in their lives, are more than “willing to engage in suicide bombing and other acts of terror in Moscow and other parts of Russia.” [1]

What Can the World Do?

The United Nations and the world’s industrialized nations must pursue its commitment toward preserving human rights in the world, which includes addressing the Russian Federation’s grossly inadequate handling of Chechen issue. In the post September 11 world, under the disguise of “war against terrorism”, along with handful genuine cases of thwarting back the murderers and thugs, there are decidedly far more repressions imposed on the minorities, and strict censorship enacted on opposing views to the direct contradiction of democratic norm.

While it is paramount in keep supporting the Russian Federation’s journey into the democratic world, offering all the cooperation they can for making sure that the old cold war does not reappear, it is likewise significant to use all the available diplomatic and marketable means in dissuading Putin for not legitimizing repression as normal Russian code.


1. Rajan Menon, “Cold Political Wind Blows Across Russia”, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2004.

2. Charles William Manes, “Losing Russia”, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2004.

3. Susan B. Glasser, “Chechens say blasts reignites Backlash”, Washington Post, February 15, 2004.

4. Amnesty International, “Russian Federation: Out of Control: Anti-Chechen Sentiment in Moscow Post-Metro Blast”, February 18, 2004.


Mahbubul Karim (Sohel) is a freelance writer. His email address is:


Will Climate Change Destroy the World?

Dear Readers,

Please read the attached news article published in Great Britain’s The Observer newspaper. It is about the climate change and the imminent threat it possesses to our world, the global catastrophe it predicts is shocking.

This is an election year in the United States and we must be careful in separating hyped up news for the cheap political gain from the one that has real values. There sure will be heads rolled reading this piece, especially, powerful people from all sides will come forward, denouncing or agreeing with this report, or showing no emotion at all.

“Secret Pentagon Report” – it has that sheepish attractive force, the magnetic way pulling peoples toward the news, now the question is how authentic this report is.

It predicts, “abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.”

And all of these may happen by 2020, a mere sixteen years from now, within the possible reach of many of our life span.

Here is another snippet: “according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.”

Bush Administration’s unwillingness in acknowledging global warming as a serious threat is seen as quid pro quo for his energy-lobbying groups who flourish from fossil fuel profiteering. So much so this administration’s sensitivity toward this issue that they see climate change and global warming as bogus issues, hoaxes fancied by the environmentalists.

Well, not everyone is “born again” dogmatist, many of them can put aside futile creed in favor of valuable scientific researches around the globe, that time and again are indicating a severe global warming trend that is lurking in our periphery. If no prudent actions are taken in time, disastrous effects will befall on earth, in frighteningly near future.

Billions of people live in nations bordering the climbing ocean, where significant changes of sea-level will wash away unimaginable number of human and other animals’ lives; prominent and not-so-prominent cities, towns and villages will be permanently submerged, and the remaining survivors will fight for the left-over and ruined resources, food and other dwindling amenities.

Trillions of dollars being spent on new innovative killing machines, fighting-crazy robots, weapons with renewed efficiency for the purpose of murdering millions, while all along, nature is creeping in, waiting patiently, observing with mocking eyes, like an ancient hunter, an approaching spider. Our empty pride and egotistical selves are “destined” to be awash by extinction force way beyond our grasp.

For Mother Nature, this is a routine task. This had happened before. The world has seen the cycle of transgression and regression, rise and fall of sea level in many periods throughout our billions of years of historical geology, but perhaps, the most destructive species the earth has ever seen, the human beings, will prove to accomplish in speeding up the geological process, its own doomed "fate".

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 22, 2004

Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

· Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
· Britain will be 'Siberian' in less than 20 years
· Threat to the world is greater than terrorism

Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday February 22, 2004
The Observer

Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defence adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.

Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.

A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America's public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.

One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President's position on the issue as indefensible.

Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK's leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon's internal fears should prove the 'tipping point' in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.

Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office - and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism - said: 'If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.'

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defence. The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.

'You've got a President who says global warming is a hoax, and across the Potomac river you've got a Pentagon preparing for climate wars. It's pretty scary when Bush starts to ignore his own government on this issue,' said Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace.

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.'

Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. 'We don't know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,' he said.

'The consequences for some nations of the climate change are unbelievable. It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.'

So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.

The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defence's push on ballistic-missile defence.

Symons, who left the EPA in protest at political interference, said that the suppression of the report was a further instance of the White House trying to bury evidence of climate change. 'It is yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.'

Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received sceptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.,6903,1153513,00.html


Monday, February 16, 2004

The Failing Light -- Despair of a Poet

Dear Readers,

This long essay, The Failing Light, published in the Washington Post, is profoundly sad, and I find it is written with sincerity.

Poet Reetika Vazirani’s life, so suddenly ended in painful suicide, and her taking the life of her own two-year old son along with her, is disconcerting, but perhaps not so atypical in our world where creative artists or poets and writers, emerging ones like Reetika and many others, find it disheartening in coping with the harsh reality, economic struggles and not fulfilling one’s long cherished dream of becoming a successful and recognized writer.

Also, this is a story of an immigrant, though a “1.5 generation”, Reetika found it not easy in integrating with her adopted place, and she perhaps felt not harmonized with her birthplace India either. Possibly, the immigrant diasporas amongst us could relate to her feelings. Being an immigrant, I feel deeply saddened reading this essay, her struggling life and unhappy ending.

I wish life wouldn’t be so harsh.

As the writer Paula Span mentioned in her essay, in the end, Reetika could not see a psychiatrist or psychologist since she could not afford a health insurance. Why should that be? Knowing fully well that one should not point finger on this delicate issue, but still it bothers me realizing that if she had had the crucial health insurance, if only she could seek timely professional help, perhaps, she and her son would have been alive today. This reminds me of millions of Americans who, like Reetika, cannot afford health insurance. Perhaps, there are hundreds and thousands of them going through similar depressions, and other severe medical or psychological problems, right this moment, in a nation that is considered as the world’s richest and the most powerful. I find this appalling.

I feel sad for Reetika and Jehan, and for millions others in America, and also billions more in the world.

A request was sent to the writer: Please write more real stories, the plights of luckless many, the poor, not from America only, but from around the world. These stories need to be told.

Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)
February 16, 2004

The Failing Light
Why did a rising young poet plunge into despair, taking her own life and the life of her 2-year-old son?

By Paula Span

Sunday, February 15, 2004; Page W16

The life and the work of poet Reetika Vazirani straddled two cultures, Indian and American. (Photo Illustration by Doug Mindell)

The memorial service proved a study in numbed, dignified restraint.

Reetika Vazirani was so warm and open, so brilliant, so beautiful, a procession of mourners said, taking the lectern to share their recollections. Reetika, the gifted, painstaking poet; the encouraging but rigorous teacher; the magnanimous friend. And her son, Jehan, such a captivating 2-year-old. A sprite attending a grown-up friend's party in a wizard's cape. A wonder, learning his colors in Spanish -- azul, amarillo, verde. In the photos displayed at the entrance to the room -- in which he rode a carousel, perched atop a slide, or nestled on Reetika's lap -- he was always beaming.

Before long, the service last July at the National Press Club took on the feeling and cadences of a poetry reading. That was fitting: The room was full of poets, and poetry had given Reetika her place in the world. One friend chose Edna St. Vincent Millay. A colleague from William Mary offered a few lines of Langston Hughes. A poem by Yusef Komunyakaa, Jehan's father, began "I am five"; the friend who read it wanted to evoke an age Jehan would never reach.

People read from Reetika's own poems, too, of course: the one starring Billie Holiday, the one titled "It's a Young Country" ("pack lightly we move so fast"), several reflecting on the immigrant experience she knew well, having come to America from India as a child. And someone read her aching three-line "Lullaby":

I would not sing you to sleep.

I would press my lips to your ear

and hope the terror in my heart stirs you.

Did anyone wail or pound at the lectern? Or demand an explanation -- "How could you do this? Why did you do this? What on earth happened?" Nobody did. Reetika's family, stoically listening in the front row, said nothing, except for her brother, Ashish, who welcomed everyone with remarkable composure. Yusef Komunyakaa, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet with whom Reetika had a troubled relationship, also kept his silence.

The week before, on July 16, while housesitting on a lovely block in Northwest D.C., Reetika killed her adored son -- stabbed him with a kitchen knife. Then she stabbed herself to death. No one who knew her had thought she was capable of such violence, against anyone, much less her child. No one could understand.

Reetika Vazirani last year with her son, Jehan. (Courtesy Heea Vazirani-Fales)

In the wider world -- as people called one another with the news, posited theories, posted opinions and tributes on the Web -- there was anger at Reetika for her murderous selfishness, for going beyond suicide to the still greater horror of infanticide . Or at Komunyakaa for somehow failing to halt her descent and its awful consequences. Or, if they knew Reetika, at their own inability to stop her. There had to be someone to blame.

Rita Dove, the former U.S. poet laureate who became Reetika's teacher and mentor, tried to counter the outbursts. "This was not the Reetika that you knew," Dove kept telling the enraged and appalled. "At that moment, she was truly insane. She couldn't find her way back to herself."

But none of that debate penetrated the dull sorrow at the memorial. There, Dove recalled the younger Reetika she'd taught at the University of Virginia. She spoke of her eyes that "shone out with a clear, invigorating joy" and of her poems "whose musicality was threaded through with pain and yet, simultaneously, the ironic acknowledgment of pain's passing." She wondered whether Reetika's artistic perfectionism meant that she "could not confess, even to her closest friends, the unfinished, unpolished despair that drove her to take leave of us.

"We didn't know, Reetika," Dove concluded, in the end yielding to the impenetrable mystery at the core of any suicide. "We didn't know."

I say, sailor, we are both marooned on this beach.

-- from "White Elephants"

SHE TAKES THE MICROPHONE looking poised, at ease among friends, sure of her power. She's wearing a low-cut, coral tank top under a black jacket, with a pendant shining against her collarbone -- a stylish, dramatically beautiful woman with a mass of glossy black hair, brows arched over wide eyes. She's 39 and starting to appear in public in rimless spectacles. A tiny person, about 5-2 and a size 4, she has always worried about playing into ethnic stereotypes ("she hated more than anything being portrayed as a submissive Asian woman," a friend says); the eyeglasses add gravitas.

For years, doggedly determined to establish herself in the poetry world, Reetika Vazirani would travel almost anywhere to read her work: bookstores, campuses, festivals. Often she had to tote her own books to sell, buy her own train ticket, e-mail friends in the area to drum up attendance. As long as the audience outnumbers the poets, the joke goes, that's a successful reading.

But now, to see and hear Reetika read requires videotape. This one dates to January 2002, when Callaloo -- "the premier African diaspora literary journal," to which she'd contributed for years -- was celebrating its 25th anniversary.

"Let me just say, it's always a challenge to be the Other," Reetika says, before reading from World Hotel, her second volume of poetry.

Many of the poems she reads, in a breathy, incantatory alto, tell about Otherness. One series fictionalizes the life of her mother, Heea, educated in an Indian boarding school and then a college in the American South, who straddled two cultures ever after. Another, from her 1996 debut collection, White Elephants -- a title, she often noted, that in India refers to a sacred animal but in America denotes cast-off possessions -- delineates in sonnets the experiences of newcomers to the land of opportunity.

People who knew her as a child might be surprised by her sense of alienation. The Vazirani kids went to "a melting pot of an elementary school" in Silver Spring, says her older sister, Deepika Harris. Reetika (pronounced REE-ti-kuh) biked with friends, took ballet lessons, made the varsity track team at Springbrook High School. It looked, from the outside, like a normal middle-class suburban life. Yet her poetry picks relentlessly at her immigrant discomfort. "She wasn't segregated," insists her sister, who thinks Reetika "magnified" her experience. Maybe, Deepika muses, she needed a compelling, even fashionable subject. Whatever the reason, Otherness became an enduring theme.

When the children went to church, Reetika tells the Callaloo audience between poems, "there were these elderly ladies who loved to question us, the five of us kids in my family. How many books are in the Old Testament? they'd ask us. How many books are in the New Testament? And weren't we the cleverest children ever? They were so happy that we were the 'Vietnamese refugees' they had decided to sponsor." The crowd chuckles.

"I grew up in a house of accents," she observes at another point. "I wanted to have no accent. I wanted to be Nancy from the Midwest." More chuckles. "My brother changed his name to Kenny for a while." Then, adopting her grandmother's British/Indian tones, she reads from her ruefully comic poems about a transplanted Mrs. Biswas who laments:

last week I sent my sari

to new dry cleaner, and I was in shock

to be billed for two tablecloths.

She's telling her own history, but embroidered, reimagined.

She was 6 when her family left Punjab in 1968 and settled, after a few interim stops, in a new colonial in White Oak, part of a wave of Indians coming to the United States after its immigration laws loosened in 1965. Her father, Sunder Vazirani, an oral surgeon who'd gotten his graduate education at the University of Illinois, became assistant dean at Howard University's dental school. There were four children then (Reetika was the second oldest), members of what Indian Americans had not yet dubbed "the 1.5 generation," meaning born there, raised here. The youngest sister was born here in 1969.

Reetika, center, with her mother, Heea, and older sister, Deepika, at a sports facility in India in 1964. (Courtesy Heea Vairani-Fales)

In some ways, the Vaziranis were multicultural before the word came into vogue. Sunder and Heea didn't have an arranged marriage, Deepika points out; they met in the United States and married despite differences in native region and language (he was Sindhi, she was Bengali) and in religion (he was Hindu, she was Christian). Because he taught at Howard, many of their friends and associates were African American. Heea exposed the children to a variety of religious practices, as well as to museums and theaters.

Then, in June 1974, Sunder Vazirani committed suicide at 46. As the police and paramedics arrived, the children -- just coming home from a day's shopping -- were whisked off to a friend's home. Reetika, almost 12, and the others weren't sure until later what had happened. "Mom was very discreet and protected us," Deepika says. "It didn't even click for us that he'd died. We were having pizza."

Their father had worked almost nonstop, combining a dental practice with his academic duties. Even so, he'd found it difficult to support a family of seven, Deepika says. Beyond that, she can't explain what went wrong; it was a family where much went unsaid. Today, she's the only family member willing to publicly discuss her sister's death.

As an adult, Reetika grew to resent her mother's tight-lipped approach. "She never said he was dead, and I didn't ask, because I knew he would turn up in an airport and come back to us," she wrote in an unpublished essay, part of a collection assembled by University of Tennessee writer Marilyn Kallet. The children weren't told how their father died; it was Deepika, pointedly questioning her parents' friends, who eventually determined that he'd taken an overdose of Valium. As teenagers, she and Reetika were "the snoops of our family," Deepika says. "We discovered things, rather than things being told to us."

After her father's death and her mother's remarriage four years later, Reetika spent a long time feeling "numb," she told Renee Shea, who interviewed her for Poets Writers magazine in 2002. "I had no sense that there was a place for me in the world except in books."

She went off to Wellesley College, planning to become the doctor her father had urged her to be. Then she went to a reading by West Indies-born poet Derek Walcott -- another chronicler of cultural and racial crosscurrents -- and knew suddenly that she was not headed for medical school.

The letters she wrote her friend and adviser E. Ethelbert Miller in the late '80s and '90s show her struggling to get noticed, to get published, to connect with the world of culture and literature where she clearly felt she belonged.

She was living, instead, with her husband, John Jordan -- a family friend and aspiring musician she'd married in 1989 -- in Nashville and then Blacksburg, Va. She was sending her submissions to small literary journals, getting turned down, sending them out again, all the while scrounging for money for postage and photocopying.

"I am in the Nice Note Phase," Reetika wrote Miller in 1990, when Callaloo editor Charles Rowell had accepted a poem, but almost everyone else was sending encouraging rejection notes. "I Would Like to Get Out of It!" The following year she reported: "So far I have had six journals accept a total of 10 poems. Do I qualify for an NEA [grant] yet? Or do I have to be in 10 journals? Or 150 journals?"

By 1994, important publications had begun to accept her work, but she still sounded frustrated. To make ends meet, she'd been working at Pier 1 Imports, then at a bookstore; she taught English at private schools. Restive in her marriage (it ended in 1997), she was starting to think about the graduate writing program at U-Va. "I guess it's partly the panic of being 32 having no job, no future," she fretted in a postcard.

But if Reetika found her campaign for a career discouraging, others saw only promise. Admitted to U-Va. with her first book contract in hand, "she came to our program as a poet who was going to make it, regardless," Dove recalls. "It was just a question of how fast."

Her subject matter was attractive, fresh -- America was slowly discovering the vibrant South Asian culture flourishing in its midst, with its attendant allures and confusions. In her early poems, elders remember their pasts in the home country; young people feel burdened by and curious about their history; everyone faces the New World's demands with bewilderment. Sometimes they can only shrug at its comedy and heartbreak. Her later work addressed another variant of contemporary rootlessness, a transitory America whose inhabitants stay in constant motion and can't seem to light anywhere for long.

What also distinguished her poetry, however, was her skill. She was known for continual revisions, for chipping at each line, sanding down every couplet. "Always just the right word in just the right place to evoke the exact, appropriate effect," says Rowell. "This is devotion to language, devotion to craft, the assumption that a poem is a piece of art, not just an assertion of an emotion or some sort of divine inspiration."

Marilyn Hacker, who had discovered her work among the 800 submissions she received each month as editor of the Kenyon Review, was taken with "the novelistic eye for detail and character and landscape, the spoken voices with different inflections." It was Hacker who awarded Reetika the Barnard New Women Poets Prize, which put her on the map and got White Elephants published.

Though she hadn't yet cracked the top tier -- her poems had yet to appear in the New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly or Poetry magazine -- Reetika was well on her way. By last summer she'd won a host of awards (the Discovery/The Nation Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award). She'd been invited to major artist colonies and workshops (Yaddo, Bread Loaf, Sewanee); she'd taught (superbly, everyone said) at colleges and conferences.

The poems and, of course, everything she said or didn't say, did or didn't do, are receiving new scrutiny now. Her friend Meena Alexander, a sister in the small sorority of Indian American poets, likes to quote Adrienne Rich on how poets must go where the fear is. "I would never have said this in this way, except for what has happened," Alexander says, haltingly, of Reetika's poetry. "There was extraordinary surface embellishment. Fantastic manipulation of form. But I always felt, this girl is not going where it really hurts. I always felt it didn't go to the darkness. And now I understand why -- it was just too scary."

Everyone I know and love is an ego-maniac.

-- from "Today I Am"

ANOTHER READING, last March. Reetika is about to go onstage at the Asian American Writers' Workshop in Manhattan, which has managed to shoehorn offices, a bookshop and a performance space into one Garment District loft. There's a stool and a mike set up on the low wooden platform, a flight of origami birds fastened to the wall behind her.

She's traveled up by train from Trenton, N.J., where Yusef Komunyakaa lives and is caring for Jehan while Reetika makes this appearance. She'll head to Smith College the following week, to a Virginia community college in April, on to D.C. and Texas in May.

She's finding it exhausting, the traveling wedged among classes (she's teaching at William Mary this year), the Q&A sessions and receptions, all made more complicated by the needs of her toddler son. But such events keep her name and her work in front of the small public that cares about and buys poetry.

Sometimes very small. At the appointed hour there are exactly eight people in the audience, including the workshop staff and a friend she phoned that day. "An intimate audience," Reetika says dryly. And then she reads.

Establishing a poetry career requires a combination of courage and foolhardiness. Success is likely to bring neither fortune nor fame, yet the competition is ferocious and growing.

Certain key numbers are tiny. Print run of Reetika's second book: 3,000 copies. Advance paid by the publisher, the nonprofit Copper Canyon Press: probably about $2,500. Circulation of the nation's largest poetry magazine: about 12,000.

Even at a time when poetry's visibility is growing, very few poets achieve financial security, most often through academic positions. Beyond literary circles, even the most eminent can remain obscure. Komunyakaa, who declined to be interviewed for this story, is about as honored as an American poet can be, apart from not having been named (yet) the nation's poet laureate. He teaches at Princeton; he's won the Pulitzer Prize and all the major poetry awards, published a dozen books, been elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. But stop any 10 reasonably well-educated people on the street and ask whether Yusef Komunyakaa is (a) an African diplomat, (b) a prize-winning poet or (c) the winner of the Boston Marathon. How many would get it right?

The marginalization can become painful. Yet the number of would-be poets -- and the university programs granting them degrees -- keeps multiplying. Editors and competition judges are overwhelmed by submissions. Entrants vying for the Barnard New Women Poets Prize when Reetika won: 800. Manuscripts sent to Copper Canyon each year: 1,500, of which it publishes a dozen, plus several reissues. Submissions to Poetry magazine annually: 90,000, from which it selects no more than 350.

Because of the intense competition, the poetry world can be an incubator for jealous scorekeeping as well as supportive mentoring. "The ambition, the monumental egotism that besets a lot of poets is not a very pleasing human characteristic," says Joseph Parisi, who edited Poetry for 20 years. "And it's fairly prevalent." Women and minorities still see the field as dominated by white males, and women swap stories of come-ons and liaisons that in another sphere would precipitate sexual harassment complaints.

But Reetika navigated this minefield "in a way that looked entirely graceful," says her friend Kendra Hamilton, a Charlottesville poet. "It was an amazing balancing act."

She was a genius at friendship: gracious and open (yet discreet), people say. You felt, after talking to her for an hour or two, that you'd known her half your life. You'd get little notes and know she was thinking of you, even if you hadn't spoken for six months. She once took leftover fabric from a shortened silk skirt and made scarves for her junior faculty (i.e., insolvent) friends. "Very giving, very effervescent, extremely sweet," says poet Garrett Hongo, who brought her to the University of Oregon to teach one fall. "It was not hard to be her friend."

She could be a hustler, too, ambitious on behalf of her career. Poetry is anything but an ethereal profession whose practitioners can rely on their muses. Getting attention requires relentless networking, a résumé full of publications and awards. "Create a buzz around yourself," Reetika advised a poet friend. "That's what I did."

Jeet Thayil, a New York poetry editor, watched with admiration as Reetika e-mailed notices of upcoming readings, reviews of her book, even order forms to a long list of friends and acquaintances, with exhortations to pass the word. "If she'd held a class entitled 'How to Promote Your Poetry,' I'd have paid to attend," Thayil says.

She had an instinct, too, for finding protective older poets to guide and advance her, like Ethelbert Miller, Washington's Mr. Poetry, who arranged her first readings, and Rita Dove, who included her in the Best American Poetry collection in 2000.

Yet despite the buzz, she still wasn't where she wanted to be. A stable academic job, financial security, the critical appreciation she thought she deserved, none of that had materialized. A woman who felt like a refugee much of her life had chosen a profession whose demands exacerbated her fears, and, as she became a mother and rounded 40, that was wearing on her.

Seven of us.

Six survive.

-- from "Quiet Death in a Red Closet"

SHE KNEW SUFFERING, even despair. Her father's death haunted her. It infiltrated her thoughts and her work -- the 42 sonnets dedicated to his memory in White Elephants constituted "my funeral for my father," she told an India Today interviewer. "I have been desperate, silent, silenced, alone, hungry, angry, and crushed," she wrote to Rita Dove in a 2003 New Year's letter, recapping three trying years that included pregnancy and birth, the start and looming end of her relationship with Komunyakaa, repeated moves, unsettling emotions. "Surviving that has been the last and best stage of my recovery from my father's rejection of himself."

She worked at recovering for years. As early as Wellesley, she sought help from a therapist, says her sister Deepika, who doesn't know much about her diagnosis or treatment. People sometimes glimpsed the melancholy under Reetika's high spirits. Rootlessness was not merely a poetic subject; her yearning for permanence was striking. She often listed the places she'd lived -- three Indian cities, addresses in and around D.C., Massachusetts, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Oregon, New Jersey -- and if the number of locations sometimes varied, her point was unmistakable. She lived, friends say, like a nomad.

"She had a longing for a home of her own that was overwhelming," says Kendra Hamilton, whose tin-roofed 1920s house in Charlottesville moved Reetika to expressions of envy.

The attempt to find a cultural and racial identity was a related preoccupation. Not a U.S. citizen until her college years, Reetika depicted in her poetry a lingering fear of deportation. "That feeling never goes away," says her friend Vijay Prashad, a professor at Connecticut's Trinity College with whom she kicked around questions of race and ethnicity. "When are they coming for me?"

She also developed an acute sensitivity to questions of color and wrote often of her mother's use of Porcelana skin cream. To Deepika, it was just a cosmetic meant to prevent sun blotches, no more meaningful than fingernail polish. To Reetika, Porcelana bespoke a desire for whiteness, "an attempt at erasure," she told Poets Writers.

She identified with African Americans -- Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and James Baldwin show up in her poetry. No one at the Callaloo conference, where she taught each summer, paid much attention to the fact that she had scant actual connection to the African diaspora. Many of her friends, and ultimately the father of her son, were black -- not a common choice among Indian American immigrants. She fused that affinity with her own roots. Like her father, she was a serious practitioner of yoga; she studied Hindi and scattered it through her poems.

She didn't feel at home anywhere, she told one friend.

Perhaps the last time she knew some stability was at Sweet Briar College, a tiny women's school in a small central Virginia town where Reetika was writer-in-residence from 1998 to 2001. Sweet Briar provided a two-story brick house; she painted the rooms in bright colors, sunny yellow, robin's-egg blue. She acquired a circle of friends, self-christened the Very Junior Faculty, and brought her specialty, the lentil dish dal, to potluck suppers. And though her salary was modest -- in the mid-$30,000s -- the college offered health insurance, which she used in part to pay for psychotherapy. Friends knew she made regular visits to a Charlottesville therapist, though they didn't know precisely why, and that she had tried the antidepressants Paxil and Prozac.

It was not altogether a happy time. Professionally, she felt stalled, as her second book got rejected by one publisher after another before finding a home at Copper Canyon Press. Personally, she was searching for someone to share her life; she had a destructive tendency, she told her writer friend Carla Drysdale, toward involvements with older men who were unavailable, sometimes because they were married. She had always wanted a child, but she was in her late thirties and single. She and Drysdale mused aloud about men and love and whether, as poets, they would ever have the homes and families that others took for granted. People saw her struggling with dark moods.

Rits Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Reetika and Charles Rowell in 1988. Reetika had a troubled relationship with Komunyakaa, Jehan's father. (Fred Viebahn)

But they also started hearing about a new romance. Exactly where Reetika met Yusef Komunyakaa is unclear -- they'd been at several conferences together. She admired his work enormously from a distance, but now they'd finally arranged an actual date, and "she called me, all excited," remembers Garrett Hongo. "She'd had a crush on him for years."

Lots of women found Komunyakaa (born James Willie Brown Jr. in Bogalusa, La.) attractive. He was another older man, 15 years older than Reetika and starting to gray, but charismatic in the extreme. His readings, despite a whisper-soft voice, could be electrifying. "Middle-aged white ladies were about to toss their panties on the stage," says Kendra Hamilton. Reetika seemed both flattered and awed.

The relationship struck a number of people as odd, nonetheless. She was funny and gregarious, Komunyakaa cerebral and so reserved that ordinary small talk could be difficult. He already had an adult daughter with his ex-wife, and Reetika told Drysdale she was willing to sacrifice her own desire for a child to be with him. Though that became unnecessary because of her pregnancy, apparently unplanned, friends wondered how long the relationship could endure. "They were never around each other for any extended period," says a Sweet Briar colleague, who agreed to discuss the relationship only without being identified. "Nothing in it suggested permanence and commitment."

Still, they both cherished Jehan Vazirani Komunyakaa from the moment he was born, by Caesarean section, in December 2000.

Every day

I'll say there was joy,

but it was never what we had in mind

-- from "Letter to Jaipur"

SHE WAS EXCITED about motherhood and had prepared carefully, eating healthily, substituting a less demanding yoga routine as her pregnancy advanced, lining up girlfriends to help her through birth.

Komunyakaa took a train from New Jersey and arrived at the hospital in Lynchburg the day after Jehan was born. "Yusef was sitting in a rocking chair, and Reetika was in bed," her friend Diane Taylor remembers. "Yusef was holding tiny Jehan in both hands, just admiring this little baby, and a soft smile came across his face."

They raised him like "a little prince," adds Charles Rowell, his godfather. That fit: Jehan was named for the ruler who built the Taj Mahal. They exposed him to the things they cherished -- music, art, friends. He had a small guitar he loved so dearly that he slept with it. As he grew, instead of reciting that cows go moo, Jehan learned games about musicians and instruments. "Who's your favorite musician?" Komunyakaa, whose poetry is often infused with jazz, liked to ask him. And if Jehan replied "Wynton Marsalis," his father would tease, "I thought your favorite was Miles Davis."

A toddler able to gaze at paintings and identify the ones he liked, Jehan could amuse himself for a considerable stretch with crayons and paper. At the most recent Callaloo workshop, he could be found drawing horses with poet Percival Everett at dinner while they chatted about going riding at Uncle Percival's ranch one day. Jehan was frequently the only child in a roomful of adults, which had its advantages. "Everyone was always reaching for him," says Edwige Danticat, who also taught at Callaloo last spring.

Reetika loved watching Jehan grow -- he was "a total joybird," she wrote to Dove -- but coping with a newborn and her academic work drained her. "You won't be able to put together a sentence, but you have to keep trying," Dove had warned, and she had a point. Essentially a single parent -- Komunyakaa remained at Princeton -- Reetika grew emotional, occasionally even snappish, as she tried to regain her equilibrium. Colleagues thought she might be experiencing depression postpartum, a period when women with psychiatric troubles are particularly vulnerable.

Though she and Komunyakaa never married (she told friends that he was willing but she'd declined), she did want to give their relationship every chance, to give Jehan a family. She left Sweet Briar a year earlier than planned and moved into Komunyakaa's big old house in Trenton in the spring of 2001. But the place seemed "cavernous," she complained; the neighborhood felt dangerous; she was far from friends and family. The relationship -- about which she was discreet -- evidently wasn't working. She began to talk about being afraid, though she never said exactly what frightened her.

Vijay Prashad and his wife, Elisabeth Armstrong, academics living in western Massachusetts, received an unnerving message, apparently e-mailed to a group of friends, that fall. "It sounded sudden and it sounded scared," says Armstrong. "Something like, 'For reasons I can't get into here, for my safety and the safety of my child, I need to leave where I am. Is there anyone who can open their home to me?' " Prashad spoke to Reetika by phone. "She said, 'This is terrible. It's not working out with Yusef and me. I'm scared . . . ' That kind of language."

Prashad and Armstrong had a new baby, and they'd just moved -- but how could they turn away a friend in such distress? Without knowing any more, Prashad told Reetika to come. I'll send you money for train tickets, he offered. I'll drive down and pick you up. Just come. They made the bed in the guest room, emptied the drawers in the dresser.

But Reetika didn't come. After a few days, Prashad called back. Things were better now, she said.

She accepted an offer from William Mary for the next academic year, and she and Jehan moved into a Williamsburg apartment in August 2002. She seemed more in transit than ever, bringing only a desk, a mattress for Jehan, a futon for herself, her computer. She decided she couldn't afford to purchase health insurance on her $30,000 salary. Though Jehan was covered by his father's policy, Reetika had been uninsured, and apparently out of treatment, since leaving Sweet Briar.

That fall, Emory University approached Komunyakaa with an enticing deal: an endowed chair, a hefty salary, a reduced teaching load. He said he'd be more willing to relocate if Reetika could teach there as well, and a job appeared: an annual contract, indefinitely renewable, at a salary -- about $50,000 -- higher than she'd ever earned. They accepted, and Reetika started house-hunting in Atlanta. Here was a chance to end the annual job-hopping, to be in the same city as Jehan's father, if not necessarily the same home (she went back and forth on that). The nomad could finally unpack.

But doubts struck almost immediately. It wasn't a tenure-track job. She couldn't face moving so far from everyone and everything familiar. She was an afterthought, a consort. Perhaps she'd seen the press release Emory sent out: 10 glowing paragraphs about "Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa" and another prominent African American literature scholar joining the faculty, accolades from the provost, lists of their honors. And at the very end, a single paragraph: "Also joining the English department faculty in 2003 is poet Reetika Vazirani . . . "

By last spring, she was telling friends that the relationship with Komunyakaa was over and that she didn't want to go to Emory. That left her, once again, alone with her child, pressed for money (though Komunyakaa sent monthly checks for Jehan's care), facing unemployment, looking for a place to live. She had finished her third volume of poems and sent it to Copper Canyon, but she was losing altitude.

As the semester was winding down, her friend Diane Taylor spent a few days visiting. Taylor had gone out on an errand and returned to find her friend stretched out on the sofa, in tears. "Just lying on her stomach, bawling, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing." She'd never seen Reetika so miserable. "Jehan had his hand on her head. He knew something was wrong, too." Taylor helped Reetika calm herself.

Later, after Reetika and Jehan were dead -- as friends compared notes and learned that she'd several times told one or another of them she felt "unsafe" -- an uneasy idea began to take shape. Maybe the unnamed source of her fear wasn't Komunyakaa, as some had assumed. Maybe she was terrified of herself, of what she feared she might do.

Fog owns the morning and you can't travel.

-- from "Tiffin for Tea, Lorry for Truck"

AS DISTURBING AS JOB TRAVAILS or failed relationships can be, those events don't explain why people take their own lives, mental health experts agree. They can serve as "precipitating events," which push a vulnerable person beyond her instinct for survival. But in the great majority of cases -- 90 percent, by some estimates -- the person who commits suicide has an underlying mental illness, most commonly one of the "mood disorders," a category that includes depression and manic-depression. And those illnesses occur more frequently in creative artists than in the general population, researchers find, and in poets more than in other artists.

The idea of the tortured artist is such a centuries-old cliche that it's tempting to dismiss it. Writers themselves bridle at it. Surely accountants and electricians are equally prone to psychopathology? "The making of a monument to these madwomen poets," Meena Alexander protests, anticipating the inevitable comparisons to Sylvia Plath or Anne Sexton, both suicides, "I think that's terrible." And it's true that most artists don't suffer from mood disorders, while most people who do aren't particularly creative.

Yet a higher incidence of depression, manic-depression (also called bipolar disorder) and suicide keeps showing up in that group. "In the last 20 or 30 years there's been a great deal of research, some biographical, some studies of living artists and writers," says Johns Hopkins professor of psychiatry Kay Redfield Jamison, who's written about her own manic-depression. "There's a consistent pattern of finding an elevated rate of mood disorders in artists and writers."

Her book Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament includes her own study of major 19th-century British and Irish poets, accompanied by a chart. In it, black squares indicate which poets suffered from recurrent depression or manic-depression, spent time in an asylum, committed suicide; there are lots of black squares. Two centuries later, tests and interviews of graduate students at the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop found that the majority of the sample met the medical criteria for mood disorders. Other investigations have reached similar conclusions.

Genetics can explain some of this association. But mood disorders may also confer a kind of creative advantage, Jamison theorizes. "There's a certain kind of temperament that often goes along with having been depressed," she says. "People tend to be more intense, more mercurial; they see the world differently." Mental illness can kill; it may also, in its milder forms, inspire.

Researchers know that suicide -- which takes 30,000 American lives a year, far more than homicide -- also runs in families; the risk doubles if a parent or sibling has already committed suicide.

Reetika was therefore at heightened risk because of her father's death. But did she suffer from depression? While she told friends about seeking therapy and using (and disliking) antidepressant drugs, she doesn't seem to have actually described herself as "depressed." She was more likely to say she'd had "a very hard time" or "a difficult day." Without a diagnosis from her therapists, any exploration of her mental condition is speculative.

Yet last year, during the spring and early summer, Reetika did exhibit a number of classic symptoms of major depression. She showed depressed mood; several friends witnessed crying episodes. Always slender, she'd lost weight. She complained of fatigue; she had wicked insomnia. "We talked about how you got so tired of saying you were tired that you stopped saying it, but you were desperate," says Susan Sears, a Washington poet who also suffered from sleeplessness. "She said, 'Yeah, I know. Isn't it hell on earth?' "

Certainly she was indecisive, waffling almost daily about whether to proceed to Emory. "The cold-feet syndrome," her sister Deepika calls it. Sometimes Reetika announced that she'd return to Williamsburg and write a novel; sometimes she said she'd accept Deepika's offer to share her Southern Maryland farmhouse. Maybe she'd teach yoga; maybe she'd travel through Rajasthan with a photographer friend and produce a book.

And certainly there were suicidal thoughts. In June, on the phone with Meena Alexander, she bemoaned her conviction that Emory really wanted only Komunyakaa. "Something started to slip in the conversation," Alexander says. "She said to me, 'Meena, sometimes I think it would be easier to do what my father did and just go to sleep.' " Alexander heard her voice go flat.

Despite her reputation for an endearing openness, Reetika was actually selective about her disclosures. She confided lots of details to lots of people, but almost no one knew everything. People who'd felt close to her for years didn't know about her father's suicide. Girlfriends outside the literary world sometimes heard more about her relationships than longtime poet friends.

Whether or not her state of mind can ever be accurately labeled, she must have been experiencing an anguish few can envision, and people who thought they knew her saw only glimpses of it, if they saw it at all. It's a kind of torment that would normally produce more sympathy than censure, except that in this case, Reetika was not its only victim.

Why couldn't she at least let her son live? "I am still angry because there were so many ways to not hurt the child," Percival Everett says via e-mail. "I am sick with the knowledge that his sweet life is over."

She must have felt enormous rage, one interpretation goes. "How could you kill the child without realizing how painful it would be to Yusef?" says Komunyakaa's close friend poet Stanley Moss. "She clearly was trying to hurt him in this horrible way, and succeeded."

Yet psychologists investigating women who kill their children -- termed filicide -- seldom see retribution in these crimes. That's more likely to be a motive for murderous fathers.

Reetika didn't fit most of the categories of filicidal mothers developed by Cheryl Meyer and Michelle Oberman, authors of Mothers Who Kill Their Children, whose team tracked more than 200 cases. She wasn't a panicked, pregnancy-denying teenager; she wasn't an impoverished and isolated woman who inadvertently killed through neglect or abuse. She killed intentionally. But she does seem to belong with a group of women who commit what's sometimes called "altruistic" infanticide: A devoted mother plans to kill herself, and in her disordered mind decides to "take the child with her."

A mother's killing her child is not as extraordinary a crime as we sometimes think; Meyer and Oberman had no trouble finding 1,000 such cases in the United States over a decade. Among those who commit "purposeful" filicide, it frequently converges with suicide. More than half the 75 mothers in this category in the Meyer/Oberman study also killed themselves, or attempted to. They could not bear to abandon their children through their own deaths, explains Meyer, a Wright State psychologist who interviewed 40 surviving mothers in prison. They said and thought things like, "I cannot go on. And no one can raise my child as well as I can." Or, "I wouldn't want this child to grow up without a mother" -- an idea that might particularly seize a woman who knew the pain of a parent's suicide.

In reality, any number of people -- his father, his godfather, his mother's family -- would have given Jehan a loving home. But if Reetika was mentally ill, she was not thinking rationally. She may even have become psychotic, hearing voices or having hallucinations, Meyer points out. The extreme violence of the killings argues for psychosis; use of a knife is unusual, even among women who commit suicide or filicide.

To see Reetika's act as a disturbed form of love is the only explanation that makes sense to the people who mourn her. "They were always together," Deepika says of Reetika and Jehan. "I don't think she could imagine herself being without him. And I don't think she could imagine him being without her."

god knows what you sculpt in your mind

Sometimes after dark or first thing in the morning

-- from "Dolmen Builder"

HOW COULD ANYONE, watching Reetika dance through a big stone house in late May, have envisioned what was coming?

It was the end of the annual Callaloo workshops at Texas A&M University, and Charles Rowell, the journal's founder and Reetika's dear friend, had planned a small faculty celebration at his new home. He set tables with his best china; a student prepared fabulously seasoned catfish; the conversation was sheer pleasure. Rowell had Afro-Cuban music playing in the background, and at one point, succumbing to its euphoric rhythms, "we were all conga-line dancing through the house and singing, even though we didn't know the Spanish words."

Reetika, chic as always in a jazzy red blouse and black pants, was leading the line through the kitchen, the living room, the great room. Then she danced with Komunyakaa, in a hybrid swirl blending salsa with Indian hand gestures. "She was exuberant," Rowell remembers.

Yet only a week or so later, as Ethelbert Miller was preparing to leave for work at Howard University, Reetika called. "I just want to be with you," she said.

They drove together to the Howard library, where she spent hours working at the long wooden table opposite his desk. He assumed she was writing the lectures she would give the following week at Bennington College, where he'd invited her to spend a few days teaching in the writing program, a brief Vermont vacation. At lunchtime, they headed out to a West Indian restaurant on Georgia Avenue, then went back to work.

In late afternoon, he noticed Reetika slipping the pages she'd written into a cabinet where she knew Miller, an archivist as well as a poet, stored letters and manuscripts from scores of writers, herself included. After she'd said goodbye and gone, he wondered, "What's she doing messing with my file?"

She'd left him 12 handwritten pages, "all these instructions -- very careful and considered," directing what should be done after her death. They included friends' phone numbers and e-mail addresses, information on where unpublished manuscripts were stored, a directive that Miles Davis and Chaka Khan be played at her memorial. There was a long goodbye letter to Jehan, whom she clearly expected to survive her, reminding him that people loved him, that he'd be cared for. "This is scary," Miller thought; he called her and said, "I'm not letting you out of my sight."

He insisted she stay at his home, and she spent a few days with him and his wife, Denise King-Miller, a minister. Denise and Reetika talked into the night about her Emory misgivings. "I kept trying to tell her, you have options, you don't need to feel you're in a box," Denise says. She also pressed Reetika about her suicidal thoughts, asking if she was planning to "leave" the same way her father had -- and was relieved when Reetika said, No, she had to take care of Jehan. When she left, planning for a return to Williamsburg, Denise and Ethelbert thought that she'd righted herself, that her flirtation with death -- if that's what it had been -- was behind her. "She appeared to be happy, she really did," Denise says. "Ethelbert and I said, Maybe we've got her turned in another direction."

Through the spring and into the summer, Reetika had alternately alarmed and reassured her friends this way. At times, she looked and sounded imperiled. After her reading at the Asian American Writers' Workshop, for example, she sat drinking herbal tea with Carla Drysdale in a bakery across the street. "Carla, I can't believe my self-esteem was so low that I thought being with a great poet could make me feel better about myself," she told her. Drysdale thought she looked "like someone who was in flight, like a ghost in lipstick."

Later, when Kendra Hamilton saw her in Charlottesville, "she'd lost weight, she was pale, her skin had broken out. She looked like she'd had a serious illness and was recovering."

People tried to help. Drysdale told Reetika to pack a bag, grab Jehan and come to her Brooklyn apartment that very weekend. Hamilton wanted to put her in touch with a lawyer who could negotiate a long-term child support arrangement with Komunyakaa. Meena Alexander urged her to see a therapist, and Susan Sears offered to help her apply for Medicaid to pay for one.

But Reetika would shrug, decline, offer excuses, simply melt away, or leave subsequent upbeat phone messages without providing a number to call back. Or she'd go off to Callaloo or Bennington and be her usual dazzling, spirited self, so that friends who had worried would relax: She was okay; they could back off.

Her time in Vermont seemed to confirm it. How could she still be in trouble if she could wow everyone with her Bennington lectures and readings, attract writers to a 6:30 a.m. yoga class, appear so cheerful with Komunyakaa, who arrived a few days later with Jehan? One afternoon she and Ethelbert Miller sat back to back on a campus bench, rocking contentedly in the sunshine. "I said, 'I can feel where your poems come from,' " Miller remembers. "We felt good. We said, 'This is better than sex.' I thought she'd put everything together." She seemed to be cycling between happiness and despair, possibly a sign of manic-depression, another mood disorder.

But laypeople often don't recognize the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses or the dangers they pose. "There is, in some people who are very creative, a great deal of independence and originality, the capacity to stand back and see the world differently, to have a great number of friendships, good relationships -- and still have an absolutely devastating disease," psychiatry professor Kay Redfield Jamison cautions. And such people can tailspin quickly.

Sunday, July 13. Reetika -- now housesitting in Washington at the comfortable Quesada Street home of poet Jane Shore and novelist Howard Norman -- took Jehan to services at Denise King-Miller's church in Georgetown. She'd been drawn to religion more lately; in Williamsburg, she'd joined a Bible study group. Reetika loved the service, but on the phone with Susan Sears that evening, she was weepy. "She felt hopeless," Sears says.

Monday, July 14. She invited herself to the Miller home for dinner, bringing salmon, broccoli and cherries from Whole Foods. While they chatted, Denise fixed the meal. ("That was delicious," Jehan declared afterward.) She was leaning toward Emory again, Reetika revealed, because Jehan had been accepted into an excellent preschool.

Tuesday, July 15. Jay Mandal, a New York photographer friend who took her publicity photos, visited Reetika while he was in Washington on a one-day assignment. "I think I want to kill myself," she confessed to him. Once he realized she wasn't joking, Mandal called a psychologist he knew in the District, leaving messages (not returned in time) at his office, his home, on his cell phone: A friend needs your help.

That same day, the Rev. Percival D'Silva received a message at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament down the street: A woman needed to speak to a priest.

He'd seen Reetika before, D'Silva realized as she sat in the brocade wing chair in his quiet office; he'd waved at her as she strolled in the neighborhood with her little boy. Maybe she felt drawn to him, though she wasn't Catholic, because he was also Indian American. Or perhaps the church itself -- an imposing Gothic structure with a bell tower -- promised sanctuary. She also knocked on a neighbor's door that day and asked to borrow a Bible.

"On the outside, she seemed pretty calm. But from what she was telling me, I could see she was disturbed. At times there were tears in her eyes," D'Silva remembers. After 39 years in the priesthood, he thought he could recognize depression. He asked Reetika, several times, to make no decisions that could harm her -- "Put things on hold" -- and she agreed. He promised to locate and lend her a book, Spiritual Help for Depression.

Wednesday, July 16. Reetika awakened her friend Diane Taylor with a 7:15 a.m. call. "Diane, I'm going to hurt myself and Jehan," she said in a whispery voice. Call the suicide hot line right now, Taylor urged.

"No, they'll put me on drugs, and they'll put me in the hospital," Reetika said.

"No, they won't."

"Yes, yes, they will."

Then call that minister you know there, Taylor said, changing tactics, and call me right back.

But the minister, Denise King-Miller, was out and didn't hear Reetika's message, "I think I'm going to hurt myself," until several hours later.

An acquaintance Reetika was scheduled to lunch with on Thursday also got a confusing call. She was having an "emergency," Reetika said, so the woman, a poet who knew Jane Shore and had a key to the house, should just let herself in. Her apparent role was to discover the bodies.

In a few hours, several people were frantically trying to reach Reetika: Diane Taylor, who hadn't heard back from her friend; Denise and Ethelbert, who didn't know the address where Reetika was staying; and D'Silva, who wanted to give her the book and see how she was. The phone rang and rang; no one answered.

The acquaintance did go to the house Wednesday afternoon, and found a horrifying bloody scene in the dining room. D'Silva, seeing the ambulances and police cars converge on the quiet street, knew something had gone terribly wrong.

Jehan, the medical examiner determined, was stabbed in the chest, neck and forearm, damaging his blood vessels, lungs and heart. Then Reetika stabbed herself, many times. Her death was ruled a suicide.

The note she left on lined paper was lucid, though the handwriting slanted noticeably. She said she couldn't take the "tough love" that everyone was giving her, recalls Deepika, who saw a copy. She'd moved so often, 22 times. Things hadn't worked out with Yusef. The note wasn't angry or reproachful, Deepika says; "it sounded like she had given up." Jehan, Reetika said, was going with her.

For months afterward, people close to Reetika, some haunted by guilt, played over their final conversations, the possibly unrecognized signals, and asked themselves what they should have done. So many people had tried to help, yet no one imagined how imminent the danger was. What if someone had just said, "Get in the car; I'm driving you to the emergency room"? But even seasoned professionals can misjudge a patient's risk. What Reetika's friends told one another, as they compared notes and tried to understand, was what Rita Dove would later say at the memorial: We didn't know. We didn't know.

The funeral took place the next Monday at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Montgomery County, a short service on a hot summer morning, led by Denise King-Miller. She and D'Silva said a few prayers, and Ethelbert Miller spoke briefly about Reetika and Jehan. "Maybe we could have loved them better," he said, "but we couldn't have loved them more." The cluster of mourners -- her family, Komunyakaa, a couple of friends -- left white roses on the two caskets, one large and one small.

I'm no anchor

life's points will cut you

-- from "Personal Ads"

"WE'RE IN LUCK," says the manager at Gate of Heaven, leading the way to a rise of land on St. Jude's Avenue. A snowfall has made finding graves difficult, especially in the gray pre-dawn, but because there was a burial yesterday, a swath of lawn has been cleared.

The surrounding markers offer silent testimony to the multicolored world Reetika inhabited and the transplanted lives she explored. The stones say Perez, Kim, Chiang, Nguyen, McClain, Diggs, Carballo. And there's a pink granite marker for Ras Mohun Halder, Reetika's maternal grandfather, to whom the first sonnets in her first book are dedicated. "A plot of grass down Rockville Pike," she wrote of this grave, perhaps preferring the hard echo of k's to the softer sound of Georgia Avenue, where the cemetery is actually located.

The Vazirani family hasn't yet chosen a tombstone for its most recent dead, so there is little to distinguish this site -- just a young tree nearby, some flowers half-covered by snow. But one day there will be a flat bronze tablet to show where Reetika and Jehan are buried in a single grave.

Paula Span ( is a Magazine staff writer. She will be fielding questions and comments about this article Tuesday at 1 p.m. on

It's Me, I'm Not Home

By Reetika Vazirani

It's late in the city and I'm asleep.

You will call again? Did I hear

(please leave a message after the beep)

Chekhov? A loves B. I clap

for joy. B loves C. C won't answer.

In the city it's late, I'm asleep,

and if your face nears me like a familiar map

of homelessness: old world, new hemisphere

(it's me leave a message after the beep),

then romance flies in the final lap

of the relay, I pass the baton you disappear

into the city, it's late and I'm asleep

with marriages, they tend to drop

by, faithful to us for about a year,

leave a message after the beep,

I'll leave a key for you, play the tape

when you come in, or pick up the receiver.

It's late in the city and I'm asleep.

Please leave a message after the beep.

From World Hotel. © 2002 by Reetika Vazirani. Reprinted with the permission of Copper Canyon Press (

If Someone You Know Seems Suicidal

Take his or her comments seriously; listen nonjudgmentally.

Don't try to argue him out of suicide, but explain that treatment is available.

Help him find a reputable therapist or clinic. If necessary, make the appointment yourself and accompany him.

In a crisis, when you believe danger is imminent, don't leave him alone. Take him to a hospital or call the local emergency number.

The 1-800-SUICIDE hotline provides trained counselors and referrals around the clock.

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