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Fields of Study

— Sudha Balagopal

Theology, 1975

Mother reads her religious books. She chants, lights oil lamps, makes offerings.

“Wear your dupatta,” she tells me.

She’s dressed in her red sari and matching bangles. A sticky maroon bindi shines on her forehead.

I know she’ll take me to the temple.

“Do I need to go?”

She asks, “How will you find salvation?”

When I respond, Huh?, she says, “We need to be saved.”

“I need to save my grades,” I tell her. The lines at the temples are long—so many warm humans in crowded spaces.

After Father returns from his work-related trip, she doesn’t ask him about the towns he visited, about the people he saw.

I wish Father could stay home. He has interesting friends.

Today, a lady and a gentleman visit. The lady is stylish and wears her hair in a bouncy bob. She brings me chocolates that I let slide smoothly into my mouth.

I like to hear Father’s laugh.

He pours drinks, then calls for Mother. He asks for samosas. She won’t answer. I find her in the bedroom. She’s reading her religious books. Again.

Biology, 1989

I meet the man at a restaurant.

He drinks coffee. I drink tea. He likes fried snacks—I savor my food steamed. He’s large, loud, and fills the room with the color of his sunflower-bright tie, a shade I’d never wear.

“Notice how Father and I are opposites,” my mother said. “For example, Father’s tall, I’m short. We’ve been married thirty years. Society respects the institution of marriage.”

The man slurps his coffee, crunches on onion pakodas. I nibble at my chutney sandwich.

Mother said, “You’re a biologist. You know biology doesn’t care about personality. It cares about ovaries, about time in years, about eggs that age, about a healthy uterus.”

I show the man my oily fingers, say, “I should wash my hands.”

I call Mother from the restaurant’s phone.

“How’s it going?” she whispers as if the man can hear.

“Okay,” I say.

I lick a remnant of chutney off my thumb. The finger tastes sour.

Chiropterology, 2018

My daughter calls to say she’s bringing her beau home. He’s a Humphrey Bogart lookalike, down to the bow tie.

“You look like…” I say.

“I know…” He examines his perfect nails.

“Sorry we’re late,” my daughter says. “He’ll only make right turns to get anywhere.” Her beau’s hair hangs like black wings: thicker on either side, thinner on the top of his head.

“Bats do something similar, you know,” my chiropterologist daughter says. “They only fly left out of their cave.”

The beau settles himself to the right side of the table, sips from his coffee cup. I ask my daughter to sit by me.

She picks up her plate and cup, moves to Bogart’s right.

“Bats know how to find their way back home,” she says.

“Do they now?” I ask.

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