400

I can’t look back properly. I don’t know what I will find there. Some days, I’m afraid that I will be so ashamed of what I find there, I turn around quickly. But why must an unsure, timid version of you shame you? It’s still a girl – writing, scared, writing anyway, longing to run away, confused, angry, bitter, sad, but mostly in love. And I am not devastated that I am still all these things.

Dawn Powell says, ‘Better not to trust anybody much until you know them; then, not at all’

This helped me discover that if there’s anybody I don’t trust at all, it’s me. Never have and never will. It’s why I find myself in situations where I don’t like what I am saying or doing.

What I think and what I say are not always the same thing, except when I am teaching (and here too I have to try very hard). What I think and what I write are more sisterly even if they are not always twins. Sometimes the writing launches a thought. Often they happen together. But more often than not, the struggle, as always, is to retain the music of the thought in writing which is getting more and more difficult, especially after having noticed it.

I have always been afraid of people who can say what they are thinking clearly with very little reluctance and interruption from their own selves (Lila Lila Lila) With me, it seems as though I am so used to the interruption that even when I am close to a semi-solid articulation of a thought, I anticipate (sometimes even welcome) the interruption so I abandon the thought entirely.

***

I’ve been watching reruns of GG again & thinking how much I want to undo a piece written in 2016 . There’s so much more to say, so much better, so little I am now willing to be satisfied with. But it’s because of my blog that I am unable to feel shame about what I can’t undo now.

Last week, same day, I woke at dawn to write about Dawn Powell (gihaha) I don’t know when the piece will be out but that’s how it’s been with everything I have written over the last few months. I work at and push through pieces which I send off in a hurry, and then don’t see for a long time. I like this. It’s a new way of working and learning distance. All my editors in the past two months have been tough to please, I like this even more.

This is my 400th post and I am happy. (Reading Sheila Heti’s Motherhood has come at a perfect time)

rumlolarum.com is my baby; so much so that even after it became a website 2 years ago, I still won’t call it a website. I built my life here. Anniversaries are the only great thing about time. How else would we acknowledge who we were (are), keep them at eye range, and nod at them occasionally? (Didion)

Happy 400th to me.

In other good news, my Silk Smitha piece was translated to Kannada and you can read it here.

For a while, we are children again – my cousins & I

In the Mannagudda house in Mangalore where the tallest point of the slope touched sky and one section of houses bent their ears to gravity.

We didn’t want to sleep but we had to.

Under the angry eyes of my mother and theirs,

we pretended to sleep, our eyes closed to them and open to us in every other way, grateful. They couldn’t see that we were playing behind the red screens of shut eyes.

I have stayed up many nights after that but never quite like I have on that night.

We lay in silence, stifling giggles because someone tried to find his way to the others and was kicked back to sleep by an awake, upset adult.

Little by little, each of us managed to leave our beds and walk with our palms pressed to our mouths as if that would somehow mute our feet.

We gathered in the backyard and poured laughter

All delight of a sleepless night released.

Then the pointlessness set in. We had escaped sleep, the dangerous quiet it brought, and adults. Now what?

We couldn’t do nothing with the time we had stolen (and stayed up all night for)

So some of us went to gather sticks – big and small

– just so our hands had something to do that early in the morning

And the others dutifully went back to sleep.

Dear Toni

I broke down in class last week when I was reading out this piece by a student. I haven’t wept in class before. I have caught myself just short of breaking down (sometimes unsuccessfully) while saying goodbye to students in the last class. But never like this, never in the middle of reading a piece. Maybe I wouldn’t have broken down if the piece wasn’t written by a student. Maybe I wouldn’t have broken down if she had never sat in my classes, if I had never watched her write, if I didn’t know what she was talking about. But I did, and I do. I am making excuses after all. I have always cried after reading her, sometimes privately, and now I can say publicly as well. She wrote things that aren’t easy to write. I cried because she was walking around with everything she hadn’t written until she wrote that piece, I cried because I don’t know what else she is still carrying.

I could have stopped reading, told the students to read it on their own, switched my camera off and composed myself. But I kept going, I don’t know why. I think she made me keep going. And I pray she keeps me going.

I once cried at Meta when a girl student had yelled at me under the banyan tree in college. I didn’t know what to do. But I just kept thinking, if I were a man, or a tall & pretty Savarna teacher with perfect teeth, sharp nose, and bright wide eyes, I wouldn’t be crying under the banyan tree. Maybe I would, I don’t know – but it’s unfair – this desire to know what it would’ve been like if I was Savarna. After all, how often does a Savarna teacher spend time thinking about what it’s like to be a Dalit teacher?

And also – I don’t like feeling that way. Because I know that if I were Savarna, I wouldn’t have been able to read Beloved the way I did and let it live inside me like it now does. There is a reason you write the way you do and when I’d finished reading Beloved, I felt closer to you in a way I wouldn’t have been able to feel if I were Savarna.

I don’t know if I’d have not cried if it were a boy yelling at me, not a girl. Because boys and their words have a way of hiding behind my teeth and making me angry and sour, never sad. The girl returned after months with two roses and an apology. I smiled and accepted all three. Then I wondered if I shouldn’t have, then I was happy that I had. Will I ever reach a stage where I’ll be confident about the choices I’ve made? Will I ever know what to do immediately? Will I ever have it in me to not cry, not be angry? But why should I not cry? What will I do with all that strength it takes to not cry? Where in my body will I keep so much strength? So much self-respect? So much control? I don’t have that much space in my body for that kind of control.

***

I have been waking up early, not to write oh but how I wish I could. I have been waking up early to look at the sky and think of you. I had read that you woke at 4 to make coffee and watch the light come. It’s how you knew that you were ready to write each day. That you didn’t have to be in the light, you had to be there before the light with coffee to know you were ready to write. I loved the sound of that so much that I have been waking early to watch the sun come up, to look at the way it touches the tree outside my door, and to think of you. Thinking of you makes me want to get ready to write.

I don’t know how it’s possible but your belief in storytelling, in the stories your parents told you, about themselves, and the world is how I see mine. I think it’s not easy for Savarna people to understand this or to even take this seriously. And I am learning to live with that. Because their inability to see love and stories makes me never want to give up on myself.

Today, I woke at 4:30 from a dream I wanted to urgently return to so I went back to finish it (Possessed teddy bear-owl with flapping, beating wings is going nuts in my room. Doesn’t leave me alone so I dump it in the trash outside. It becomes a baby and sits on the windowsill cackling at me before jumping to its death and returning again to my bedroom to haunt me. Basically this is Clifford Geertz + Mixer Week + Google Meet+ Online classes)

And when I woke up again, it was 5:59 and I felt like the day was already over, that I was too late. Then I really woke up, told myself to fuck off and begin the day (take trash out, bring milk, put it to boil, put bread in the oven, boil water, make coffee)

After that crying episode, I was afraid the students wouldn’t take my classes seriously anymore. That because of this ’emotional’ outburst, I have shown them that my intellectual relationship with the subject at hand (Resisting caste) has been compromised.

But then I thought, wtf – a teacher moved to tears because of something her student has written is nothing to be ashamed of. If there are teachers who have cried teaching Shakespeare, then A. Suresh is no less than Shakespeare. But it will be used against me, I know that. Someday, when I am least expecting it, it is going to come back and bite me.

So yes, bite me.

“I am not interested in happiness. Not yours, nor mine nor anybody’s. I don’t think we can afford it anymore. I don’t think it delivers the goods. Most important, it gets in the way of everything worth doing. Happiness has become a bankrupt idea, the vocabulary of which is frightening: money, things, protection, control, speed, and more. I’d like to substitute something else for its search. Something urgent, something neither the world nor you can continue without. I assume you have been trained to think- to have an intelligent encounter with problem-solving. It’s certainly what you will be expected to do. But I want to talk about the step before that. The preamble to problem-solving. I want to talk about the activity you were always warned against as being wasteful, impractical, hopeless. I want to talk about dreaming. Not the activity of the sleeping brain, but rather the activity of a wakened, alert one. Not idle wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision. Entrance into another’s space, someone else’s situation, sphere. By dreaming, the self permits intimacy with the Other without the risk of being the Other. And this intimacy that comes from pointed imagining should precede our decision-making, our cause-mongering, our action. We are in a mess, you know; we have to get out, and only the archaic definition of the word “dreaming” will save us: “to envision; a series of images of unusual vividness, clarity, order, and significance.”

~Toni Morrison~

When I read this from your Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address, I had a warm desire to hear you and Babasaheb talk to each other. I grew hungry to have you both in my belly, walk into a classroom and roar, walk to my table and write my heart out.

Someday, it will happen. I can feel it gathering in my fingertips.

Image credits: Speakola

Featured image credits: nytimes.com

For the love of Keret-III

In a dark corner of the mind where there is rain everyday – there are infinite spaces in which to write. The terrace with its right angled cushion sets, plants, sun. The room under the terrace which is also a terrace, and here too, plush sofas and round tables, plants, sun.

Sandy is here with the children, her temples permanently dotted with three drops of sweat, her armpits soaked and her teeth, perfect squares. She is fascinated by the space, plants, sun and is wondering what it would be like to begin the day with this every morning.

Dawn to Dusk

I had the strangest dream this morning. I was reading Dawn Powell & I reread 5 lines over and over because they said something fantastic about life that I obviously can’t remember now. I had the knowledge that writing and reading wouldn’t be the same now because it was all going to change, because I had something delicious just within reach. My first copy of Dawn Powell is on its way as I write this and I am feeling terror within.

More when I’ve read her.

Raat Akeli Hai

I like the songs of frogs and whisper of crickets, especially in films. Raat Akeli Hai is full of these sounds. My ears were sharper than the poke of a single stray hair hanging by the shoulder.

In DC, where we stayed at Georgetown University, the cicadas kept me smiling. I walked around the campus, fighting a mild slew of loneliness but the crickets kept me independent and helped me gaze outside instead of inside. It’s why I like watching films too.

It’s a delight to watch Nawaz on screen. He brings the sort of sharp deliberation to every pause so that you are forced to never leave his face. His face is a moment.

Here are some scenes that made me giggle:

  1. (Nawaz and friend at a restaurant ordering food) Nawaz says no to chowmein and orders fried rice because chowmein reminds him of worms. This offends his friend and they have a tiff. Despite his refusal, chowmein has somehow landed on their table which Nawaz, like the grumpy husband that he is, refuses to eat. I seem to not just tolerate but also like men on screen only when they perform such coupledom.
  2. Nawaz has an even funnier relationship with his mother who is looking for a wife for him. She doesn’t seem to mind the women he minds because he is a man baby she mostly ignores.
  3. My favourite anecdote was Nawaz complaining about his name (Jatil Yadav) which was apparently the result of a spelling mistake his mother made when she was trying to spell Jatin.
  4. How he hides flattened tubes of fair & lovely behind the mirror.

There are ample Uttar Pradesh shots in the film. Lots of Kanpur and Jajmau. And this is more reason to watch any film – roads, gallis, rain, and sky.

My one serious grouse with the film is its glaring absence of the notorious police-boots sounds. The only good thing about the Bollywood-cop films were the sexy kitchkitch sounds those boots made. It’s also why I still enjoy watching 90’s Kannada kalla-police films.

But that was forgiven and forgotten when I had a Jhilmil moment with a scene showing Babasaheb’s portrait in the police station. It was strategically and predictably placed next to Gandhi’s (barf) and Modi’s (double barf) portraits.

There were various references to caste, some flung around carelessly – others making an attempt to go somewhere but holding back noticeably. I will come back to it when I know what to do with it. For now, all I wanted to say is this is how a film gathered around my evening yesterday.

Cielo Drive, Didion, & Dawn

I have been obsessed with the Cielo drive murders. It began one ordinary morning three days ago, when I was minding my own business by not paying any attention to deadlines. I was watching Didion again with my breakfast and we got to the point where she describes sitting in the pool when news of The Manson murders reached her. 

The 60s ended for her with these murders, she says. And for the first time in the many times I’ve watched the documentary, I felt compelled to dig into the murders. The thing with culture, contrary to what I believed all this while is that it is sometimes as alien to the person in it, as it is to someone outside. That was the point of  ‘the center will not hold’

Why and how – what kind of dark instinct could cause someone to drive to a celebrity’s house and murder a pregnant woman and her friends? But it didn’t occur to me that everyone who heard it in 1969 found it just as confusing as I did in 2020 hearing about it in my Bgudi home.

When I first watched it, many things about the documentary didn’t make sense to me. And I assumed someone who was born and brought up in America might find it easier to understand. Three days ago, I realised that even Didion wasn’t clear about what the hell was going on. Of the many things that I found puzzling was why strangers lived with one another in big mansions at Hollywood. Firstly, I thought only film stars lived there. Secondly, wasn’t it weird for married people with a child to have loud musicians over at their house all the time? And just what in the world did Didion mean when she said they had no idea who was sleeping at their house of 28 bedrooms?

Turns out she was just as lost as I am about the whole thing. She was just moving with things and when they got unbearable (drugs on her child’s bedroom floor) – she wanted normalcy, silence, order.

I can’t believe there’s the slightest chance that I might have driven past the Cielo Drive last year at L.A. I am wildly mad at myself for not having been in the mind space to absorb the city as deep as I know I have the capacity to.

Like one waste body, I was thinking constantly of internal group politics. Gahhhhh. Why does it always happen that I don’t know how to make friends and if I do, I don’t know how to keep them, and if I can’t, I don’t know how to still have the time of my fucking life? I want too much. I still think it would have been perfect to have found my soul mate in LA with whom I could’ve walked its slopy streets, drank its orange sun with some tall drinks, and talked endlessly about women and writing and stories and love.

I spent the last two days watching one film after another on the Manson murders, watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which I found funny and very well-done. Everything from the loud, wet plop that I came to look forward to with delightful anticipation every time Brad Pitt emptied the can of dog food onto a plate — to the conversation DiCaprio has with the intimidating little girl who tells him ‘And if I can be a tiny bit better, I want to be’ which became my motto for the night — I loved.

I can never understand what the fuck people mean when they say things like ‘didn’t reach expectations’ or ‘overrated’ or ‘hyped’ – Why do you think it’s about you? And why the insistence to measure everything watched, heard, and read in a system of numbers and ratings? Doesn’t your body watch the film along with you? Even in the most dabba film in the history of the world, you can’t find a scene that reached out to you, and held your attention?

When you say something is ‘so overhyped, it scares you to watch/read it’ – you are saying that you value other people’s judgements over yours and your body’s so much – that you don’t think you can muster the capacity to allow room for art to stand on its own with you.

When did we become bigger than art? Who are these important people who can make room for the hype to reach them but not the films and books? Pah. Self-importance is yet another prized Savarna possession. The Avarna relationship to art on the other hand is far more reliable. It’s you – your body – your eyes- and whatever it is you are breathing in. That is all. In the arms of an Avarna romantic, hype dies, math dies, and so does the English-medium love for logic and neatness.

This doesn’t mean you force yourself to feel and love everything you watch and read (although I don’t see the problem with that). No no. It means you believe in the capacity of even the most badly done film or play or book to have its moments. Didion said it best – “Let me lay it on the line: I like movies, and approach them with a tolerance so fond that it will possibly strike you as simple-minded. To engage my glazed attention a movie need be no classic of its kind, need be neither L’Avventura or Red River, neither Casablanca nor Citizen Kane; I ask only that it have its moments.”

Spent the day reading and dreaming about Dawn Powell. Her diary entries are just thrilling as her short stories. And I am feeling delicious feelings in my stomach about stalking yet another writer and eating her words inside out.

Read a few bits from Didion’s The White Album and am in awe of how her mind is what I am actually reading when I am reading her – every jump, map, note, flutter is readily available. How it would be to own her mind! Reminds me of a Borges short story called ‘Shakespeare’s Memory’ in which various people come to own Shakespeare’s memory in the hope of being able to write like him, they can’t and keep looking for ways to get rid of it. Lol.

Jamaica Kincaid is yet another writer giving me butterflies. This story called Figures in the distance blew me away. A young girl is obsessed with death and tells the story of each dead body she hears and dreams about. Her mother’s hands catch dying people all the time and the girl grows more and more curious.

Storytelling becomes so much more intimate when a woman reads out another woman’s story, and a woman watering plants, and adjusting the phone tucked into her waist, listens to it and believes that it’s all she wants to do for the rest of her life.

For the love of Keret

short short nothings II

After the zoom meeting, we sat in the board room to go over it. Insi, who had missed the meeting was next to me and Sharan, next to her. We were filling her in on what she had missed and how everyone had looked (Simba’s hair, Fiona’s children who kept peeking in and giggling, Nat’s wedding)

Mia was sitting at the back and I felt ecstatic that for once, her plans hadn’t worked. She was quick to strategise seating arrangements for herself so she wouldn’t not be the centre of conversation but I couldn’t tell why she’d missed this one. How was it possible that Sharan was sitting here, and Mia wasn’t?

Sharan told Insi that Simba was not doing so well in the pandemic. His university was unstable and he had been looking at other options. I went a step further and confirmed that he had told us that he had been fired. Sharan looked disturbed. Without betraying any kindness in his eyes, he shook his head and told me “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this bit of news is yours to tell. It’s Simba’s”

I felt my head reeling. I looked around to see if Mia had heard and watched me being shoved into my place. She was engaged in a lively chat with others, and no one seemed to be paying any attention to what had just happened. Insi herself was a blur between Sharan and me. It didn’t matter what she thought.  But I loudly agreed with Sharan. “Yes yes, you are absolutely right. It’s not my news to share. I’m so sorry”

Sharan continued talking to Insi and I couldn’t hear anything he said. I was distracted by how easily he had made his discomfort known and how despite being told off, I wasn’t feeling resentful towards him. I felt a mad urge to undo what I had done, to impress him somehow before the day was over so he wouldn’t have to carry his bad opinion of me into the next day and forever after that. 

I wished I had kept quiet. It’s so charming to watch women not as desperate as I am, those who firmly seem to know what to say when. I wished I had that fierce cross-legged independence. Next time, I told myself.

Mia was laughing.

For tonight, Mary Oliver

Needed to read this today to be grateful for words, and a tomorrow where these words will still be here, sitting like always, and I can give them a stir and make them do things for me.

Forty Years by Mary Oliver

for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
    to improve their peaceful

emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
    little flames leaping

not one page
was less to me than fascinating
discursive full of cadence
    its pale nerves hiding

in the curves of the Qs
behind the soldierly Hs
in the webbed feet of the Ws
    forty years

and again this morning as always
I am stopped as the world comes back
wet and beautiful I am thinking
    that language

is not even a river
is not a tree is not a green field
is not even a black ant traveling
    briskly modestly

from day to day from one
golden page to another.

For the love of Keret

Short short nothings.

I told Amita that at the training programme last week, they made us stand in a circle, remove our shoes (and socks) and step into the shoes of those standing next to us. This was to teach us what it’s like to literally stand in someone else’s shoes. Amita slapped her forehead. When the session was over, I told her, I felt bad for the organisers. They had even the most empathetic person in the room now permanently repulsed to the idea of placing oneself in someone else’s shoes, even metaphorically.  

Her eyes glowed with terror when I told her how when I had put my feet into the very big shoes of the man next to me, there was a squelching sound and the wet horror of what I assumed was sweat which swallowed all of my five toes. She pulled the slap down to her eyes and then wiped the karma all over her face.

I didn’t tell her about Suman from Chemistry who had straight up refused to stand in my shoes. (‘Uh uh – no, not happening’)

Amita didn’t have to sit through the training because her migraine had arrived that morning and had shown no sign of retreat. Pregnant with relief, she sighed inaudibly but I caught it when her exhaling back became suddenly aware and straightened itself audibly.

We were in the canteen. My green tea was cold and her badam milk was covered with cream. She pinched it with her index and thumb finger and put it in her mouth.