February Fever

The morning-afters are something else. Your body doesn’t return to you for days, it’s still with them, in the tightness of their arms, and in the blurring outline of your desire and theirs.

This morning, my face towards the sky, my back on the floor, I watched a hawk (eagle?) flying. It was high enough for me to want to imagine what it sees from up there — the triangle of terraces, the straightness of pipes, the black opaqueness of water tanks, the rough crookedness of roads, and low enough for me to notice the lazy flap of wings it brought every 30 seconds. Was one casual flap enough to sustain flying for 30 seconds? I watched until it reached the edge of my vision and then looked straight up again to find 3 more hawks (eagles?)

In my dream this morning, I saw an open tap next to my bed. If only it had drinking water, I thought – I’d never have to worry about going to the kitchen six times a day.

It’s January February March and already I have seen versions of myself that make me drop things with joy, bring aches to parts of my body that I can only reach when I am sitting a certain way, do nothing but sit on my purple sofa and read endlessly.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is calling.

reckless

Today, I felt recklessly free, and therefore pleased.

It began last evening when I made uppitu without any instructions hissed behind my shoulder. It was not bad at all. This morning, I made tea after class, and as I was taking it to my room, I was very aware of feeling absolutely at ease with myself. This hasn’t happened in a long time. I don’t remember if this has ever happened before. Never been home alone like this and I almost can’t seem to contain how happy it makes me.

Then I read this essay and felt my neck become cool as if someone was blowing into it to wake me up gently from a most wonderful sleep. I picked up Mrs. Dalloway soon after because reading that essay made me want to feel read by the book. Then I listened to this song by Lucinda Williams and felt cheated for not having known about her before.

With Lucinda Williams on loop, I read this essay on Hemingway by Lillian Ross. These lines — He called Dawn Powell a wonderful writer who “has everything that Dotty Parker is supposed to have and is not tear-stained.”  made me smile as if Dawn Powell was my baby.

Read Dawn Powell in the evening and felt reassured. Two gems: ‘Nothing or nobody outside yourself should be so important’ and ‘The one thing I will work myself to death for is the protection of my own laziness’

Here’s another song by Lucinda darling – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvzJ39m4vsA&ab_channel=moliken3

Small gratitude

I dreamt that I was severely irritated with myself for repeatedly using the phrases ‘holding with eyes’ and ‘didn’t let go’ – when I write. I felt liquid shame in my mouth when I saw that a whole lot of people would also recognise that as something I would say. Bah. In my dream also I am irritated with my writing. What does this mean?

In other news, while brushing teeth this morning, I suddenly became very grateful for having read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen the way I did. That morning in Seattle, I had nothing but Citizen on my mind. It became a book that I could write too. How nice to have had mornings like that. How nice to know that all I have to do now to have more mornings like that is just get lost in a book.

THE PROF. BARBRA NAIDU PRIZE FOR THE PERSONAL ESSAY 2021 – BREAKING AWAY

Announcing the ninth edition of The Prof. Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay. The theme for this year is Breaking Away. Here is a little something on how I understand it.

I often dream that I’m running a relay race. The audience is a stadium full of people cheering for me, and a small yawn of people rolling eyes. That’s their only job — both in my dream, and in their life. In the beginning, I ran against boys who were annoying classmates, and when it no longer thrilled me, I ran against annoying boys I was teaching. A pataki female student and I are usually up against this boy and his friend. When pataki gives me the baton, I run with grit in my teeth, calves, and veins. The boy is far ahead of me and going to win. My mind speeds this part along because a) I am not a runner and b) within seconds, I am anyway already running next to him. At this point, the audience erupts in cheers. Their faces are indignant with vengeance on my behalf. I don’t know what the yawn of people look like because nobody cares about them. My own face is part grit- part replaying every humiliating account from my teaching life. I break away from the boy in the slowest way possible and when I cross the finish line, everything goes black and I am panting a lot but mostly dying.

I didn’t know this then but what I was imagining and getting thrills from is a moment called ‘breaking away’. Like breaking away from a group you no longer believe in — or from someone you used to be held captive to — or from a pack when you are racing and getting closer to the finish line. The moment is charged with the erotics of being free.

Sometimes it’s not easy to see the things that bind us to people. We believe we are free because we seem to walk just fine when the leash is long enough. Nothing is holding us back because whatever is holding us back is following us so closely, they don’t need to hold us back, and we don’t need to feel held back.

That’s why breaking away is so glorious. Suddenly there’s more of you for yourself.

What I like most about breaking away is that there is no time to self-congratulate or self-pity. It’s an extremely short-lived moment — there now, gone next. Perhaps it’s a good thing that these moments don’t come with pause buttons. What do we expect to find there anyway?

When I first heard of breaking away, I thought it was breaking up. The difference, as I understand it now was made clear by Kate Winslet’s face in ‘The Holiday’. After being in love with a jerk for over three years, she finds gumption one evening to break away.

In the moment that I am talking about, they’ve already broken up with each other multiple times but he keeps coming back to see if she’s still there and leaves when he is convinced that she is. It’s probably because breaking up with someone still means it’s with. Breaking away, on the other hand is always from someone or something. The only way to go after breaking away is forward. Kate Winslet’s face sees this, understands this, and we get to watch it dawn on her.

When I fantasise about breaking away these days, it’s not a race anymore, it’s a happy dance and no one is around to cheer, frown or roll eyes.

What is your breaking away story?

HUNTERRR

I watched Hunterrr today and it made me howl and giggle and laugh and oof. It was refreshing to be drawn into the world of young male cousins bathing together, of them seeking a chest to lean against and cry at funerals, of them speaking of nothing but love and marriage and sex and shit, of men who don’t forget to carry left over pieces of chicken kebabs while running after their Devdas friends who drunkenly leave tanni on the table to go settle matters of the heart.

It is a rare film. Because usually male narration of itself is exhausting. Hunterrr isn’t. Because usually male narration of itself tends to have a Ranbir Kapoor- type aura around it even if there’s no Ranbir Kapoor around. But Mandar Ponkshe is delightfully anything but Ranbir Kapoor. And that’s not the only lovely thing about him. The man is full dil. Gulshan Devaiah who plays Mandar is apparently a Bengloor huduga who went to Cluny’s and then to Joseph’s Indian.

There is also Radhika Apte in the film before she became the Radhika Apte. She is Trupti who is stunning in her clarity of what she doesn’t know she wants in life. There is a small shopping scene at a market where important conversations around love and marriage happen simultaneously with alteration directions to a tailor ( also featuring in the scene is Satrapi’s Persepolis) 

Mandar lost in shops is a whole museum of comedy.

*Scene One: Women are bra- shopping and Apte tells Mandar to go talk to (read: put line for) one of the women. Hero goes there in his most sex energy on legs kind of way and is asked by the woman to give her a 36 D bra. He is staring, Apte is laughing. He puts his hand inside a tub full of bras. Sales boy comes and tells him ey don’t put kai man, you are dabaoing everything. Mandar says eh fuckoff man what is there to dabao here anyway? (In my head my mangloor sisters and I are rolling & laughing)

**Scene Two: Mandar in a supermarket following Apte. But the store manager is following him and asking him questions like ‘Sir what you eat in morning sir? Corn flakes, muesli, bran, tell me sir tell me”. Mandar says I eat poha and walks off. Hengappa kannada huduga ishtu sexy aada Marathi alli? I am asking. 

The scene that took my heart away has young Mandar, his father, another young cousin walking to his village. Random paapa smol kid doing open tatti stands up almost militarily to greet them and say ‘Haiiiii’. Tatti-doing boy’s father yells in the background ‘ey gadhava bas khali’ 

Man organising bloo fillum in seedy theatre instructs men not to do dirty things or he will rub tiger balm there and all. The other thing he rubs is one burn for young Mandar whom he calls ‘Baby Mushroom’. In the middle of the screening, cops come off. “I came to watch chota chetan”, mandar says. “Came to watch chota chetan or to make chota chetan bada?” cop asks. 

_________

Getting to know a city through a film set in it is becoming rare. I am not complaining. I am grateful that it happens only now and then because when it does, it teaches me to look where I am not used to looking, and to pay attention when it’s so easy not to. Hunterrr has Pune in the way that Mumbai is never allowed to overshadow it. In the way that Mysore used to be until everything became Bangalore.

Hunterrr has the same energy of old Bengloor love stories that I keep demanding from friends to narrate and re-narrate until I can see them instead of Anil Kapoor in Naguva Nayana, and see Premier bookshop every time I walk past Church street. It makes room for a rare pause in that song where you can walk to a cart selling guavas and buy some for your lover and yourself. Fruits man, fucking fruits.

***Scene Three

Mandar and cousin sleep on the footpath after the chicken kebab- scene. Context is that Mandar is waiting to go and tell Apte everything about his raunchy past. Cousin says fuck you bastard tell after you get married otherwise she will leave you ra. Mandar doesn’t listen. Cousin convinces him to sober down a little so they decide to sleep on the footpath. Early next morning Mandar goes into Apte’s apartment leaving sleeping cousin behind. Camera doesn’t begin and die with heroes only. At one paapa moment, it returns to find sleeping cousin being rudely woken by a walking passerby thatha. 

Haven’t watched a film like this in soooo long. It returns with grace to the moments other films have trained us to forget and move on from. Pah.

Mr M discovered this byooty on Prime. But I sincerely believe he is lucky to have me give him all these lovely film reccos man.

I open at the close

Something they don’t tell you when you first start writing is that when you keep doing it, you lose people. At first you won’t notice it because it’s absurd that this should happen. Then you see it and you can’t unsee it. Then there will be sleepless nights like these where you wonder if you will get people back if you stop writing. You feel smaller than ever when you realise that you’ve actually already stopped. It’s too late. Thankfully, the gates are only closed, never locked and you can open them whenever you want to.

Open,

write.

Remembering to Read

This morning, on the way to SLV to pick up breakfast – a security guard, in his 70s, sitting on a plastic chair outside an ATM with a pen and a Kannada newspaper, solving crossword. A little ahead, another oldish man with a shovel, uprooting a small plant by the compound of his house. He was wearing a white baniyan and panche.

Pretend it’s a city: have a list of books and films I must run to. Days are happier when I remember to remember that there is a woman named Fran Lebowitz who lives the way she wants to, reads, smokes, eats, walks, and goes back to live in her apartment alone– and no man no woman no child no parent can ever tell her anything. I am most curious about her love life, her sex life. But she’s given me so much that the other stuff, though I want to know everything about her — can never compete with how she makes it possible for me to believe that I can live however I want to, that I am young to not have to work hard to feel alive. That anything I’ll ever need is already with me, that I can move to NYC and live there forever (bring money, she says but – lol)

I spent all of this week crying. I cried in lifts and restrooms, at home, and at work, while riding. I don’t want to be that way ever again. I like to believe that I am not myself when I am not reading women. The months I spent in lockdown reading Toni Morrison, Marieke Lucas, Makenna Goodman, Sheila Heti, and Dawn Powell were the best days of my life. Nothing can ever come close to the intimacy I share with a woman whose work I’ve just begun to discover and rediscover. My problem is that I give too much attention to my life. I must remember everyday what Toni Morrison said: “I write because otherwise I would be stuck with life” and what Fran Lebowitz said, “Reading is better than life”

Reading is real, supremely more real than anything else I’ve ever known. More real than even perhaps, writing.