6 thoughts on ““Breaking Water” by Indra Das”

  1. This story has to be read in the context of the recent huge protests in India seeking to raise awareness of violence against women. That is certainly what comes to mind in the first section. A corpse of a woman who appears to have died by violence… Krishna thinking of his father beating his mother and the police refusing to intervene… The corpse getting up and walking, seemingly in response to being ignored… The dismissive behavior of the crowd toward her ("The spectators stole quick glances at the woman while studiously ignoring her, horrified. This was a very mad woman. Undoubtedly sex-crazed, too, judging from her lack of modesty. Probably drunk. Crazy, for sure. And a junkie, and homeless, and a prostitute.")… Others coming out of the water, and the police (with riot shields and sticks) cordoning them off as if they were protesters… It brings to mind Sunny Moraine’s story "eyes I dare not meet in dreams" in which dead women protest the media’s normalization and glamorization of their deaths by silent confrontation. (And the two stories share the pessimistic speculation that people might, in the one case, get used to it rather than changing, and in the other case, simply round up the undead.)

    "Breaking Water" can’t be seen as a simple call to action. The attitudes of the men may be problematic: Contrast the tantric priest saying that the dead woman has been "abandoned by man" and needs a good husband, and Krishna’s patronizing behavior once he marries her (true, she is fairly infantile because of her limitations), his wanting to protect her and punish whoever killed her (a traditional husband attitude), with on the other hand her mother saying "My daughter never seemed interested in marriage" (would rather go abroad to study and have a career) and the female reporter feeling uncomfortable when Krishna says "She is a woman, just like you… You know what it’s like in this world. She asks only for sympathy." (And when he embraced the dead woman she bit him.)

    I’m not sure what the significance is that we start out with a tantric priest saying "Shakti and Shiva, female and male, should be at play in the universe." and then the only temple willing to shelter Guru Yama being the temple of Kali-Ma, the embodiment of shakti (Wikipedia: "Sakthi or Shakthi, meaning "power" or "empowerment," is the primordial cosmic energy and represents the dynamic forces that are thought to move through the entire universe. Shakti is the concept, or personification, of divine feminine creative power, sometimes referred to as ‘The Great Divine Mother’ in Hinduism."), consort of Shiva. There is nothing in the story that suggests any sort of worldly power for women — but lots and lots of references to motherhood. Maybe that is thought of as a valorization of female power — but the women in the story don’t really see it that way. The dead woman’s mother really feels powerless, and the reporter is filled with dread when she thinks, "And one day, when I have a child — if I have a child — I’ll have to have that conversation again, when they ask me [what I want after death]".

    The title is "Breaking Water," and "water breaking" suggests birth — that is how Krishna views the emergence of the corpses from the river (a powerful piece of description). He is going to view the dead as helpless beings he needs to care for, his "children." (This terminology the cynical reporter attributes to the need to "reduce the accusations of necrophilia.") He is called Guru Yama: a rather inappropriate name since the god Yama is in charge of judging and punishing the souls of the dead — judging is just what Krishna is not doing, he is instead cherishing/nurturing the dead and knows nothing of their former lives. But I guess outsiders who see him as being "in charge" of the dead think of him as being their "lord" — a metaphor of control rather than parenthood. Parallel to the police trying to maintain control.

    The name "Krishna" may be significant since the god Krishna is often depicted as a baby; one aspect of Hindu practice is to direct love toward a god-image of one’s chosing, and those whose concept of love is parental choose infant Krishna.

    Parenthood is tied into this story in such a multitude of complicated ways. That leads away from a connection to the theme of gender-based violence. We begin with multiple instances of the dead woman reminding Krishna of his parents, and end with the reporter unhappily contemplating how the new undeath has changed people’s relationship to their parents. The story seemingly ends in a very different place than it began, and yet not, if womanhood is to be seen almost entirely through the lens of motherhood.

  2. Another contrast: Krishna views the resurrections as miracles, and says that everyone will have to believe in God because "what better evidence of Bhagavan [the abstract divine] than this?" But at the end the reporter still describes herself as an atheist, and the way she talks about the undead certainly sounds more medical than miraculous.

    Of course the medical view of zombies is far and away the most common one in European/North American depictions of them. There’s a cultural tension going on — the undead are described by the foreign word "zombie", which Krishna, who doesn’t speak English, had never heard prior to this. There is no unified indigenous cultural interpretation for them, witness the chaos of different Hindu religious responses. Which is not to say that atheism is un-Indian; on the contrary, it has a long tradition in that country.

    I’m not sure why Krishna thinks of setting up his colony in Switzerland, when surely the Himalayas would be more suitable. But then, the attitudes toward the dead are not very favorable in India, so maybe he’s vaguely imagining it would be better elsewhere. "I saw them in magazines. It’s always cold, and they’re huge. There, my dead can roam free, and live longer. You watch; you’ll see. Away from all these people trying to take them, away from police. They’ll be happy there." Magazine pictures of Swiss mountains have no people in them. For the reporter, in the final paragraph, the distantness of Switzerland represents the unfathomable alienness of the undead.

  3. Weird story. I enjoyed it muchly.
    Comments to follow when I’m able – it’s Pesach now, and a little insane 😛

    Levana Taylor, your comments are phenomenal. They add a TON of layers and context to a story I already enjoyed in its own right.

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