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Ajanta's mother plucks eyebrows. Mostly other people's, not so much her own. She earns her living as a sadist in guise of a beautician, winding the skinny white thread around her fingers, held between her teeth, perfectly poised strings ripping out the hairs of women, and some men. Plucked out one by one, every little hair is torn from the nourishing comfort of the facial skin, root and all.

When she finishes the eyebrow pruning, the men and women wipe the tears from their eyes and thank her, compliment her work, and tip her two extra dollars, honoring their tormentor. Their beautician. She is the queen of eyebrow threading at Sundari Salon, the goddess who elevates people from their hairy lowliness into undiscovered glamor. She sculpts the faces of angels.

Ajanta did not inherit her mother's talent. Plainly, she sucks, she's a failure, a complete flop at all forms of creation. Unemployed and nineteen, she follows her mother into the kitchen for tea at mid-morning and into the subway to Roosevelt Station. No college degree awaits the girl who did not write her SATs, few employment opportunities come to her, the girl whose friends all flocked off to college, te gateways to their high-powered, high-paying futures. Ajanta is left behind.

And she is thrilled.

The family did not always live in Queens. For a long time they lived in a warm suburban neighborhood in Palo Alto, California. Until the day the promise of a high-paying job came calling and beckoned Ajanta's father to New York. He earns good money as a software engineer and the women do not have to work, but Ajanta's mother simply loves plucking eyebrows and earns extra in Jackson Heights as a sculptor of perfectly perpetually arching eyebrows. Ajanta's uncle calls the place "the slum-infested armpit of the US of A" (a very agreeable term, in her opinion). "Hmph, you really wanna live in Manhattan? No space to live? Cars honking? People getting mugged all the time?" her mother asked at her (disgusted) reaction to the graffiti-marred neighborhoods of Queens.

And so Queens it was.

It was in Queens that reality first cast its heavy burden upon her life. School ends eventually, kids have to take their exams, work their a**es off for college so that they can work their a**es off in air-conditioned offices to support their families and save up for retirement so that they can watch their kids work their a**es off for college, to eventually get jobs, and then the people die.

How pointless. Ajanta thinks, for she's sick of the stupid clockwork society and all it's discipline. If she had her way, she would run screaming from the sinful city and take off for the Galapagos Islands, the Kalahari Desert, the tribal Adivasi communities of India, anywhere but here. She would tear her sweatshop-made clothes from her body and fashion dresses out of native leaves, harvest fruit and bask in the organic, earth-kissed glory of a world crafted purely by nature.

She does, in a way. And that is why there is no college, and no "future" for Ajanta. Her parents are ashamed, of course, but it's a free country, so they continue to support her, and she does little chores to help them out. But she hasn't told them about her dreams of escape, oh no, that would make them even more upset.

On the quiet days in Sundari Salon, when her mother sits at the counter puffing on a Marlboro Gold cigarette, and has no use for her otherwise, Ajanta takes her mother's subway pass and goes to Manhattan. She sits in her refuge, Central Park, where the noise of traffic is obliterated by trees and nobody gets mugged.

People pass by her and she longs to tell them of her escape fantasies- the baby mamas, college students, tourists; white, black, asian, hispanic -everything, even the Indians with plucked eyebrows much like er mother's own handiwork. Ajanta is Indian, but prefers to call herself Desi: a word South Asians call themselves. Her mother pronounces it "they see". Hearing the word makes her think of all that surrounds her, and the people within it. Them.

"What do they see?" she wonders, and thinks of all the I [heart] NY memorabilia in the cheapie souvenir shops. How can they love this place? What beauty do the see in such a congested, soulless city, huh?

WHAT DO THEY SEE?!





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