Liesl Schwabe speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her essay “The Marching Bands of Mahatma Gandhi Road,” which appears in The Common’s spring issue. Liesl talks about the time she spent in Kolkata, India listening to the mostly-Muslim marching bands perform at Hindu weddings and religious ceremonies, and what drew her to this subject. She also discusses the research, writing, and revision that went into this essay, her approach to teaching creative writing, and her next writing projects.
Podcast: Liesl Schwabe on “The Marching Bands of Mahatma Gandhi Road”
“Name and fame,” Mohammad Sabir said in English, shouting over the noise of the traffic. Manager and occasional trumpet player for one of dozens of marching bands for hire in Kolkata, India, he was describing the glamor that once compelled families across the city to hire bands like his.
Fifty-year-old Master Sabir, as bandleaders are known, was sitting behind his desk in a pink, threadbare shirt. A goat was tied to the electricity box out front, barefoot children raced past, and, nearby,bidimakers sat chopping dried tobacco by hand. According to my phone, it was only 103 degrees, but the reported “feels like” had hovered between 118 and 125 for days, and it was sometimes hard to breathe. This was in May of 2019, halfway through Ramadan and an hour before iftar; Sabir had not eaten or taken a drink of water all day.
In Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where I grew up, Rex Humbard was the first Pentecostal evangelist to have his own television program. Next to the Cathedral of Tomorrow, where he hosted his weekly broadcast, he also built an enormous tower—locally known as Rex’s Erection—with the intent of making one of those revolving restaurants like at Niagara Falls. But despite eventually officiating at Elvis’s funeral, Humbard ran out of money and, ever since, the tower has just stood there, tall and useless. Though my grandfather, who was a flight instructor at Kent State, once told me that pilots used the tower as a landmark when giving their coordinates over the radio.