What I learnt from reading The Murder Room by PD James

The Murder Room

It’s probably a bad idea to read a detective novel over three months. You forget who died, who had the most convenient alibi, and whose house was most unkempt. But if you’re reading PD James’ The Murder Room, it’s pardonable to stretch it for as long as you want.

The murder is just a background against which you discover characters whose lives and routines keep you more occupied and thrilled. This is what makes PD James incredible, that she is able to keep your interest in these things despite an equally compelling murder mystery.

***

I have learnt more things about teaching from Adam Dalgliesh than I have from my own experience in the classroom. Today I’m as unprepared as I was on the first day of class. But I have come to realise that in the profession of teaching, it’s sometimes an ordeal to talk to students like adults.

My response to their various hostilities range from giving hostility back; to ignoring them completely; to confronting them to talk it all out. But neither of these is a fitting response.

In a room full of Murder suspects, Dalgliesh interrogates everybody with the sternness of a businessman and the aloofness of a lover caught daydreaming. This is possibly the best response to unwarranted attacks and general hostility. When the suspects are tired of the cross examining and the hundred odd restrictions on their movements, they begin attacking Dalgliesh – sometimes even personally.

Dalgliesh has a clear sense of his job. He doesn’t care about settling power matters with those who question it. He wants to solve the case – if that gets in the way of people’s fragile ego, he gives exactly two and half fucks and moves on with his life.

A recent discovery that has made me very uncomfortable is that as a teacher, I have taken too many liberties to feel offended at the drop of a hat. While sometimes, I reserve the right to take offence, I should probably learn to be aloof.

I have bad days. Trapped in files and piles of admin work, I have often lost my temper. I continue to envy colleagues who talk to students in a consistently reasonable, annoyingly patient way.

When I think back to all those times that I have lost my cool, I cringe. Because there is nothing not performative about anger. Both on the inside and outside.  Regardless of what it’s about and where it’s coming from. This doesn’t make it less genuine – even if performance is a lie. It just makes me wonder if it’s really all that necessary – ashte.

Adam Dalgliesh is calm. During his worst moments – he’s still calm. He’s never severe on himself.

When Adam and Kate go to interview the mother of some murdered woman – Kate is taken aback by the generous make-up on the mother’s face. For a moment, I was also judgy bitchita. I was all ‘Why are you putting make-up on face when cops are coming to talk about your daughter’s murder?

The stepfather doesn’t figure here because it’s clear from his mannerisms that he’s happy step-daughter’s dead.

Adam Dalgliesh, calm as iceberg on ocean says – ‘It’s her wish to grieve the way she wants to. Clearly her daughter’s death made her vulnerable. So if she wants to brace the day by doing something that makes her feel powerful – why shouldn’t she do it?

I couldn’t applaud because book was heavy so I made my feet applaud.

***

Tally Clutton is my wonder woman. She craves solitude more than anyone else I have ever known. And she craves it not because she likes herself, but because she loves London. She knows she’ll never be able to enjoy the city if she doesn’t see it and live it alone, day after day. She walks the streets of London with the calm desperation of a woman in love willing to surrender.

She wants nothing more than to spend her last few days swallowing the city in slow, deliberate gulps. Sigh. I want to live and die like Tally Clutton. But before that I want to read all the PD James I can get my hands on.

You can watch the BBC adaptation here. But it’s a little blah because it ain’t the Tally Clutton from the book 😦

BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

4:20 PM:

Missed Portrait of Jason. The auditorium is full of heads bobbing, nodding, and laughing so I hang out at the stairs for a bit. At 5:45 there’s some room, so I squeeze in next to two women who smile as they make place for me. My toe pokes the big man’s bum in front of me but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t mind but I hug my toe and protect his bum from it for the rest of the evening.

Ladies & Gentlewomen by Malini Jeevarathnam begins, and I am not prepared for the heart fail I’m going to have in the next hour. When Joshua Muyiwa introduces it, he says the director intended the documentary to be watched by Indian parents.

The first couple of scenes show a woman with a mic asking random strangers in Chennai if they know what a lesbian is. ‘Ayaaayoo venda pa, no comments’, says a woman who giggles and walks away. ‘Yenna ma, dustbin ah?’ says an uncle on his scooter. The audience erupts in a little volcanoes of laugh. Next to me the woman says what’s wrong with these people why are they laughing?

As the documentary takes us through activists, lesbian couples, and bisexual men – there’s a parallel story of a mythological couple – an upper caste woman and a lower caste woman both in love with each other. They are found out, separated, and ostracised. When they can no longer bear it, they run away and meet each other. They spend some time together before setting themselves on fire and jumping into the well.

I am saddened by their suicide but I cannot stop thinking about how these women held each other – eyes full of love, hands full of trust.

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Image Credits: silverscreen.in

Lesbian relationships are just meant to be. That’s all. It’s the only way that women’s bodies can learn to trust again. But that’s not all. It’s fulfilling in a way that nothing is. Maybe this is my fascination with Ferrante. There’s so much secrecy and violence but there’s also so much love between Lenu-Lila.

I long to walk the streets of Bangalore with a woman in my arms, or I in hers. How will I do it in Basavanagudi? I can. The cows don’t mind as long as there are enough roads for them to plod on. And my suspicion is that all the ajjis here are closeted lesbians anyway. So we are basically full of lesbians and cows – just like the rest of the world.

A woman in a yellow kurta smiles into the camera as she says that there’s no space for a man in a lesbian relationship and that’s the best thing about it.

Smiles. Hearts. Giggles. A lot of women nod loudly.

The other couples in the documentary inspire similar feelings and by the end of the documentary – I am full of joy but am unable to understand why I’m also a little sad.

A middle-aged bisexual man says – ‘Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I’ll say yes to sex to whoever asks me. See, this is the misconception. Queer people aren’t with each other only for sex. Like heterosexual relationships, they are also about eating, sleeping, walking, and doing other things together.’

The first thing that Malini Jeevarathnam says when she takes stage amidst the roar of cheers and applause – is ‘I don’t know English’

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The applause grows louder and some people from behind me scream ‘It’s okayyy’

“I am happy and full of tears”, she says. And the audience says – ‘us too’

It’s the only way to feel after you’ve watched this documentary. So much so that my stomach craved love so I went up to the café, drank wine and stuffed my face with potatoes.

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Sounds – On screen – the crackling of fire as the many couples jump to their deaths, the sound of waves as lovers walk hand-in-hand by the sea.

Off Screen – applause, hoots, cheers from the audience. The sound of my heart breaking into millions of pieces. The tch tches I imagine my father would produce if he were in the auditorium.

***

Ein Weg (Paths) – German, Directed by Chris Miera

The mattresses are mostly empty so I plonk my bum right in between – head is dizzy with wine.

I begin watching and am surprised by my focus on the faces of the two men on screen – Andreas and Martin. I watch as they scratch their noses, and hold their chins when they skype with each other. I am soon obsessed with the closed windows of the house. I see that it opens just the one time in the film – when they both fight and one of them leaves and the other puts his head out the window and begs him to come back. I am familiar with the sounds of the house now. The sounds it makes when they fight and stomp feet, when they make love and their bedsheets ruffle, and when they make tea, and when they clean.

So strange no? That when you watch a film, you too begin to live in the same house as them.

Sounds – House, Baltic Sea, crickets, and trees.

***

Day Three

Today, I see the festival itself, not the films. I am sitting in the projector room with the organisers. I watch as the tension, and the anxiety of running festivals unfolds before me. Delays, Subtitles not working heart attacks, people queuing up to watch films – line growing and growing.

Irattajeevitham – Malayalam, Suresh Narayanan

Favourite scene in the film is when Sainu and Amina take off someone’s boat out into the sea. Sainu is shit scared and tells Amina let’s go back. Amina is thrilled because she can’t believe they are floating in the middle of the sea and can’t stop squealing. As they row back to the shore, a crowd has gathered to wait to see if they’ll return alive. Because not one of the boys in the town has had the balls to take a boat out like that with no experience.

Sounds – Sea, Kerala, Trees, Birds, waves, crickets.

The Ice-cream killer – Ukraine, Anna Wasswerwoman

The second half of the day, I sit demurely, in the back. It’s noisier here. Because I understand that people are full of opinions here.

This is my favourite film of the day. The film is five minutes long and shows a woman devouring an entire ice cream for five minutes. It’s a thick cone with Vanilla ice cream. The melted bits fall on the street and the camera zooms in on that for a while.

How often do you see this?

I love watching women eat. Die if you don’t.

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Behind me two men loudly bemoan the choice of films. They haven’t liked a single film since morning, they want to talk to the selection committee, and they leave in a huff. I want to scream after them –you forgot your male privilege here boys, you’ll need it – take your opinions with you please, they are stinking up the whole place here.

Behind me, a woman tells her friend in Kannada to sit chakkla mukkla to ease her cramps. I think back to when the last time I listened to that phrase was. Very long.

All my love to the organisers of #BQFF2018. Keep doing what you guys are doing. Because it makes men leave in a huff.

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Image Credits: BQFF Twitter page

BQFF Diaries, Day One – 9/3/18

As always, the darkness in the auditorium at Max Mueller was inviting, not too cold; and my first glimpse of whatever was on screen was the bluish glow from the white mattresses on the floor, and the various bodies sprawled on it.

When one is in the auditorium for the first hour of BQFF, one is a body – in that, you are conscious – the mattresses take about an hour to make you feel at home so you won’t put your feet in people’s faces, you won’t even put it back, out of respect for the body behind you, you worry that your feet smell, that you are taking too much space, but within an hour – the bodies become shapes and you become a shape too. Slowly, you begin picking on the cracks of your heels, the corns on your toes, your hands go back, your body feels lighter and then you are slouching too.

The people seated demurely on chairs behind you are very much there but you only acknowledge them when you exit.

I spent the first five minutes adjusting bum, and a few minutes after that – looking for familiar shapes. Found a couple but one can never be too sure so I stayed put and didn’t grope them like I usually do (with consent, of course)

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The first film I watched was the Bengali & English – Aabar Jadi Ichchha Karo (If You Dare Desire) by Debalina. Two women who go by many names – Swapna & Sucheta; Aparna & Kajali; Moyna & Bandana leave home to be with each other. In Kolkata, they find family after family but not the space they need to simply be left alone with each other. Even so, they puncture the city with charming moments. Standing under a tree on a rainy Kolkata day – they both hold each other even as another woman offers them her umbrella.

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They get in. A herd of goats pass by and they both move back quietly, shivering. They seem more afraid of the umbrella woman than of the goats. Here they hold each other warmly, their arms entwined. This is a moment I teach myself to look for in all of the following films. Focus on hands, faces, chins, and stolen smiles.

Sounds – Kolkata rain, crickets, and early morning birds.

***

Ektara Collective’s Turup (Checkmate) was the highlight. It reinstated a long-standing belief I’ve had. That only old women can pull off the best dialogues in films. The star of the film is the 60 something Monika Mausi who works as a maid in a family that I feel like I know very well. Husband – booming industrialist who gives money to right-wing mofos. Wife has quit her career in journalism because husband wants baby.

She asks Monika one day – Tumhari shaadi nahi hui na? (You didn’t get married no?)

Monika snaps – Shaadi nahi hui nahi. Maine Shaadi nahi kiya (It’s not that I didn’t get married. I did not marry)

Monika   Image Credits: Scroll

                                                  Monika                                     Image Credits: Scroll

Monika is actually a cat who can’t stand cats. She lives alone, walks alone, reads, plays chess, tears down Hindutva cow posters, and drinks chai standing up – thinking, planning, and living. A fab moment was watching her play chess in one scene. A cat walks by and Monika brushes it away, like a cat would, nonchalantly.

Journalist wife asks her one day – Don’t you ever get lonely?

Yes. But it comes and goes.

Don’t you want to have a family of your own?

Why? We can choose our families no? That’s also possible.

The audience sighed, clapped, cheered, hooted, and whistled. Two tear drops came for me.

Sounds – A Koel cooing gently every time Journalist wife sits in her bedroom, wondering what she’s doing with her life.

Gaysi

Image Credits: Gaysi

***

Malila: The Farewell Flower (Thailand, Thai, Anucha Boonyawatana)

I learn that doing what one loves to do is the surest way of happiness – alone, with little joy, in sickness and in health.

Pich makes Baisri (an ornamental decoration made with leaves and flower petals) and this helps him survive cancer. He loves making them even if they wither and die soon. The most difficult thing about making this, he says, is that you must hold the leaves gently but fold them tightly.

Image Credits: Kino pavasaris

Image Credits: Kino pavasaris

Once he’s done, he lets it float away in the river and feels complete only after he lets go. Too many truths, too many moments. Many sighs. I liked watching him alone doing his Baisris than with his lover, Shane – who I wanted to kill. Pich died doing what he loved. In one scene, he tells Shane that he believes he gets better and his cancer goes away when he makes a Bai Sri. ‘It’s all in your head’, Shane tells him. Shane is just a husband through the whole film. Dabba fellow.

Sounds – Rain, forests, crickets, frogs, hills.

***

Snapshot (USA, English, Shine Houston)

Obnoxiously loud North Indian women howl and scream and laugh when a woman on screen is having orgasms for the first time in her life. Sounds of orgasms are far more desirable than the loud, raspy, insect laugh of people in gangs. Wankers.

Sounds – The camera’s kachaks, clothes ruffling, and women moaning. Off Screen sounds – disgust.

Image Credits: Twitter

Image Credits: Twitter

Meta Diaries: Days Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve

So we are saying bye-bye to Meta 2018.

Every year, I have valued the things learnt at the end of Meta. Most of the time, it has been learning to let go, moving on from blunders, prepping for next year and such. This year it was a lesson in patience, keeping kaam se calm, etc,.

Here is what happened over the last couple of days.

We had Poetry Slam on Day Nine with participation from 30 students (our highest so far). The theme was purple. And I am not sure if it’s a coincidence that most of the poems were about women.

Our judge Mr Timothy Paulson said he had a tough time picking the winners. In some classes that morning, students & I did a short poetry-writing exercise. The prompts given went from the first sip of coffee, to snake in the commode, to an ode to lendi (that stubborn piece of shit hanging by no man’s/woman’s land- refusing to let go – I now have a newfound respect for the proverb – Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka – na ghaat ka)

A thing that has blossomed this year, thanks to Meta, is my interest in Quizzes. The questions are intimidating and the answers are mind-boggling – not because you couldn’t have guessed but because you could have — giving rise to what is known as the AJM moment or the Akkan Just Missu moment.

At Magister this year which was conducted on the 18th Feb, I was amused to watch participants produce an assortment of sounds to celebrate both winning and losing. I am now a big fan of what I call the Quiz Boy Wolf Whistle – it’s when the answer is so stunning that you whistle to appreciate its beauty. It’s also partly a tribute to the question, even if the answer is way out of your league.

I also discovered what is called the slow clap or the clap of shame – of which Bhargav Bsr received plenty. It’s when the question-setter finds the question so interesting that he doesn’t care about the answer.

***

The Meta Valedictory was held in the newly inaugurated Atrium of the Arupe Block. The results for The Prof Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay were announced. We had 75 entries (our highest so far.) Archita Raghuof II EJP won the Overall category while Amulya B and Malavika Selvaraj won the Open and Schools category respectively.

You can read the Prize-winning essays on The Open Dosa soon.

When I look back, I wonder where February went. Sometimes even pictures, FB statuses,and tweets don’t do justice to preserving moments – there are bits that make themselves rebelliously un-preservable. But as always, no matter how tiring it is, I look forward to the next edition with a renewed spirit.

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