Diamonds

I looked at my mother, glittering in the smooth sunlight on Michigan Avenue, she was dripping in an excess of diamonds.

One day I will wear diamonds.

I looked at my mother, glittering in the smooth sunlight on Michigan Avenue, she was dripping in an excess of diamonds. In her watch, her bracelet, her rings.  When they caught the sunlight properly, they would spread sparkles of spectrums over her skin, her skin which is lighter than mine, my skin which is the darkest in our family.  Dark, black, Kara, Kala, Kalu.  “Who’s going to marry you if you’re so black?”

They weren’t just the diamonds that she inherited from her mother.  These were the diamonds her mother wore from Sindh to Pune when India and Pakistan were partitioned…sliced arbitrarily leaving a scar of nationalist violence.  A scar like the one on my mother’s abdomen because I wouldn’t come out no matter how hard she squeezed.  The diamonds that traveled from India to Gibraltar when my grandfather returned from a Prisoner of War camp in Germany to bring his family to Europe.

They weren’t just the diamonds that were given to her by my father’s family as a bride in India.  These diamonds also traveled from India to Ghana as her financial security in case this man she hardly knew was not who he said he was.  They met in November, married in January and gave birth to a little girl later that year.  A little girl who didn’t survive.  After having two sons, she had hoped that I would be a girl.

They weren’t just the diamonds that were given to her by my father.  Diamonds that said, I love you.  Diamonds that said, I am successful. Diamonds that said, if I can’t support you, at least you have these diamonds to sell.  And she sold them. The biggest of them.  She sold it because she—we—needed the money.  We weren’t poor, although I thought we were.  We always had diamonds.

One day I will wear diamonds.

My mother would keep her diamonds locked in a metal Godrej cupboard.  She would keep the cupboard key on a keychain covered in tiny silver bells, bells that I liked to jangle and pretend I was a classical Indian dancer.  But she told me not to jingle key chains and that it was an invitation to thieves to come to the house.

Silly superstitions.  Thieves didn’t come into our house.  Snakes, chickens, goats, lizards came into our house.  Corrupt military officials came into our house. Indians and Lebanese comprised Ghana’s new colonial class and during the coup Ghanaians raided our homes.  Which is why my pregnant mother, and my two brothers, and her diamonds, fled to Gibraltar in 1982.  My father joined us soon after.

One day I will wear diamonds.

When my mother was going out for a party, especially for a wedding, or on Diwali or New Year’s Eve, she would open both the doors of the cupboard and sift through her jewelry.  These were her opportunities to wear the biggest pieces of jewelry, the most elaborate, the most expensive. She described to me the carat, color, clarity, and cut. Tennis bracelets became hoop earrings.  Rings became chokers.  Those diamonds originating from her earlobes, to her fingers, to her neck and they carry the memory of her touch.

They carry the memories of other bodies too. Memories of those that mined them.  Diamonds.  Blood diamonds. That carry amnesia too.  Diamonds that forget who mined them.  Black bodies that scraped the black off of the diamonds.  Sweated and died over them.  Carved them.  Chiseled them.  Inhaled diamond dust.  Diamonds that were shaped by other diamonds because that is the only thing hard enough.  Diamonds that cry for DeBeers to flood the market with other diamonds so they lose their value. There’s my turn to the explicit.  Because nuances are not enough to explain the hold that this industry has over my mother’s body. That she knows the relative values of pink, yellow, white, pear, princess, marquise, and emerald diamonds; she is the ultimate consumer of diamonds. .  Her every extra dollar, pound, rupee, cedi becomes a ring, a bracelet, a necklace, a diamond.   Diamonds that have been smuggled across borders.  From Durban to Dubai to Delhi.  Worn on her own body past Indian, Ghanaian, Spanish, Indonesian, and U.S. customs.

One day I will wear diamonds.

As teenagers, my brothers used to claim my mother’s jewelry.  They would say, “I want this for my wife.”  Their future wives.  The wives that they’re married to now.  I too claimed some of her jewelry.  One set of diamond bracelets in particular. But I claimed those bracelets for myself.  For the fabulous queer man I would grow up to be.

Maybe those bracelets won’t be waiting for me.  Maybe they will become earrings, or rings in the next couple of years.  Maybe they’ve already been given to my sisters-in-law, or bequeathed to my nieces.  Maybe they will have to be sold to support my parents in their semi-retired life in Bangalore.  Maybe they will be sold because I haven’t been sending dollars to India to support them.   I used to think we were poor.  But I have found out quite the opposite.  That doesn’t mean we have money.  We have diamonds.  My mother’s diamonds.  And diamonds are memories.  Memories of holocausts and marriage.    Memories of colonialism and trafficking, of births and border crossings.  Memories of fortune, and failure, and family.

One day I will wear diamonds.  They will be my mother’s. 


[Editor’s Note : Kareem’s performance at Dirty Talk 2012]

About the guest author

Kareem Khubchandani