Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
a selection from Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
3. What is Ban?
Ban is a mixture of dog shit and bitumen (ash) scraped off the soles of running shoes: Puma, Reebok, Adidas.
Looping the city, Ban is a warp of smoke.
To summarize, she is the parts of something re-mixed as air: integral, rigid air, circa 1972-1979. She’s a girl. A black girl in an era when, in solidarity, Caribbean and Asian Brits self-defined as black. A black (brown) girl encountered in the earliest hour of a race riot, or what will become one by nightfall.
April 23rd, 1979: by morning, anti-Nazi campaigner, Blair Peach, will be dead.
Is is, in this sense, a real day: though Ban is unreal. She’s both dead and never living: the part, that is, of life that is never given: an existence. What, for example, is born in England, but is never, not even on a cloudy day, English?
Under what conditions is a birth not recognized as birth?
And from Ban: “banlieues.”
(The former hunting grounds of King Henry VIII. Earth-mounds. Oaks split into several parts by a late-century lighting storm.) These suburbs are, in places, leafy and industrial; the Nestle factory spools a milky, lilac effluent into the Grand Union canal that runs between Hayes and Southall. Ban is nine. Ban is seven. Ban is ten. Ban is a girl walking home from school just as a protest starts to escalate. Pausing at the corner of the Uxbridge Road, she hears something: the far-off sound of breaking glass. Is it coming from her home or is it coming from the street’s distant clamor? Faced with these two sources of a sound she instinctively links to violence, the potential of violent acts, Ban lies down. She folds to the ground. This is syntax.
Psychotic, fecal, neural, wild: the auto-sacrifice begins, endures the night: never stops: goes on.
As even more times passes, as the image or instinct to form this image desiccates, I prop a mirror, then another, on the ground for Ban.
A cyclical and artificial light falls upon her in turn: pink, gold, amber then pink again. Do the mirrors deflect evil? Perhaps they protect her from a horde of boys with shaved heads or perhaps they illuminate — in strings of weak light — the part of the scene when these boys, finally, arrive.
The left hand covered in a light blue ash. The ash is analgesic, data, soot, through when it rains, Ban becomes leucine, a bulk, a network of dirty lines that channel starlight, presence, boots. Someone walks towards her, for example, then around her, then away.
I want to lie down in the place I am from: on the street I am from.
In the rain. Next to the ivy. As I did, on the border of Pakistan and India: the two Punjabs. Nobody sees someone do this. I want to feel it in my body — the root cause.
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil is now available from Nightboat Books.