October 2050, Bombay

I don’t know why all my apocalypse dreams begin in Bombay. Mahim, to be precise. Mahim of the old, blackened buildings. We are on the 4th floor of a building with no lift. I like it when dreams don’t improve memory. If there was no lift in real life, you don’t get lift in the dream – it is sad but so reassuring.

Outside the huge window, Bombay dawn is breaking the sky into blues and darker blues. And even though it is apocalypse I am excited about going out because I have never been up so early in Bombay.

My family is on its way out. In all my dreams, they never wait for me. This doesn’t make me unhappy but I worry that if I choose my own way or wander and get lost, they will be the ones to panic. And I hate knowing that they were afraid and panicked when I was off looking for an adventure. The thickness of dad’s belt on my shin is a permanent reminder of this.

I gather my things with panic boxing my ears. I take coat, earphones and I know I took my bag because I stuffed my socks in the corner pocket. Socks, why would I need socks? No reason, maybe just so I have an excuse to take my bag. In all apocalypses – whether imagined or dreamt – to take or not to take bag is the real question. Even if I don’t make it alive, the fact that I am with my bag means I am prepared for whatever lurks out there.

But more than the inconvenience, I am worried that a bag with things in it only for me means selfishness. My father will frown and be mad. He won’t approve of this independence. Even so, I launch my bag on my back and walk down. My uncle is in his white panche and white buniyan, waiting by the door, saying bye.

When I am down, my family is nowhere to be seen but I am acutely aware that it is October 2050. Then I remember that the apocalypse is right on time because everybody knew that there was no space on the calendar anymore – not even for 2 tiny boxes next to each other to meekly say ‘November’ and ‘December’. There were no trees left.

Now it’s not dawn anymore but bright and noisy. My family still nowhere to be seen, I walk on the main road where there are buses and children and cars and lots of people. At the bus stop there are a few men who are sitting. A double-decker bus pauses at the bus stop for a moment. It is full to the brim with Hindutva-Goondutva type men wearing black, they leap up together and cover the bus stop with a terrifying national flag. Then they scream at the men sitting down and laugh dangerously. They must have thought the men sitting must be Muslim so they start swearing. Before the bus has turned at the corner, the men who were sitting all stood up suddenly and pulled the flag down. I start cheering and clapping. I recognise a student on the bus. He motions the bus to stop because some passerby has brought his attention to the flag that was insulted.

There’s no difference between patriots up top and down below. I know I should run faster now because the apocalypse has become a Hindu-Muslim thing. A man with no sockets and no eyes runs with murder towards me. I run away from them all like I have no lungs. I run run run. Up ahead is a slope and I don’t know if I am still in Bombay but at the top are two churches.

I must have given up because in the middle of many apocalypses (apocalypsi?) all I want is to find a quiet place and sit. I run towards the churches. I feel someone following me. I turn back and throw a stone. It hits another stone and a boy emerges. It’s a small, sad boy whose face is the face of a student I teach. Small boy small face who had once written about a teddy bear that he hugged while he slept and how one morning it was wrenched away from his hands and dumped into the garbage truck. He stood on the balcony, watching it, weeping, waving his hands slowly even as the teddy bear turned to him and looked at him mournfully.

I do not want to be followed. I have only one pair of socks I might not even need. He trundles towards me and complains about a sick grandmother and how afraid he is about leaving her behind. At this point, I start wailing loudly. I cannot take it anymore. His small sad face made me cry for his grandmother who was going to die, along with the rest of us. I was touched because his face still didn’t change now that I was crying. It showed no satisfaction of having had the desired impact and I felt bad for the boy and said ok, I will help you.

I was woken up because I was still crying and my grouse this morning is that I wasn’t able to steal time to sit quietly by the church and watch the apocalypse.

***

The Prof. Barbra Naidu Prize for the Personal Essay 2019 – Voyaging the Kitchen

As a child, my fascination with food came from watching appa eat. His temples bobbed in and out, as if a small, writhing organism was inside. Often I’d put my index finger on his temple not knowing what to expect – sometimes I felt a soft, warm dot moving in and out, and sometimes there was just a dull throb.

After many days of watching him eat, I understood that the temple rebelled when he ate non veg, and didn’t when he ate veg.

He’d take a chicken bone and eat out all its meat before tapping it hard on the steel plate. Then he’d suck at the end of the bone and his temples would inhale – exhale.

‘Idu yenu gotta?’ he’d ask each time, and then proceed to explain regardless of whether I said yes or no – about what bone marrow was and how strong it made our body. He said this with purpose.

Liver, bone, marrow were all meant to be consumed – not for their taste or some such rubbish but because they were there on the plate and it made us strong. When Mouma, his vegetarian mother-in-law was around, he frowned when she covered her mouth and nose with the end of her pallu on days amma made fish.

He’d say to no one in particular but loudly enough for her to hear – “Your Sai Baba hides & eats one kilo of chicken, two kilos of mutton, and three kilos of fish every day. Kal nan maga (robber my son).” Mouma would say chee chee and walk out.

***
Years ago in Vaishnodevi, we came down the hill on horseback and appa collapsed out of exhaustion upon reaching the hotel. His sugar had gone very low and I ran to the hotel kitchen to get sweets. When I raced back up, amma was standing over him with a wet towel and he was lying down, his eyes barely open, both hands on the chest. When I walked in, he looked at me mournfully and said ‘If I am ever not around, you have to make sure you give fruits to everyone at home. You have to take care, okay?’

I didn’t find it odd at all because appa’s romance with fruits is legendary. I had once caught him standing next to a Guava plant on our terrace, eating its fruit. He wasn’t plucking it off – he wasn’t even using his hands. He was eating the Guava without touching it – standing on his toes, his hands tied at the back. When he heard me laughing, he turned around and I ran inside to fetch my phone to take his picture.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked me. This is how fruits are meant to be eaten. ‘Keelbardu’ – ‘shouldn’t be plucked’

***
From the very beginning, he was one of us – especially when we watched Tom & Jerry and he smiled like a child everytime Tom opened the fridge and out came cheese, roast chicken, turkey, and sausages. He was also one of us when Amma chased my sister and I around the house for having smuggled Bournvita and Horlicks pudi again. She would barge into the bedroom, only to find bits of horlicks stuck to appa’s moustache. We would roar with laughter and Amma would say Karma and leave us alone.

***
These are only some of the many things I have come to know food by. This is my story. What is yours? Do write and send to barbranaiduprize@gmail.com
Deadline – 31st Jan 2019.

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What 2018 taught me

This news story from yesterday cheered me up.

Screenshot via TOI
Screenshot via TOI

“I was feeling cold and I thought Ambedkar would be feeling the same, and therefore I have covered him with a blanket and lit a bonfire near the statue”

This is the sort of story that Gabito would have loved – the sort that Manto showed us so often in his. But why that soulless headline? This is probably why Garcia Marquez said that journalists should read more fiction – someone who’d read Manto would never have written that headline.

*~*~*

In other news, my time is being vacuum- cleaned by god knows what. Suddenly, there is too much to do and suddenly I am only watching Sex and the City. It’s January already which means it’s not long before the Pink Tabebuias outside my house start blooming and falling – not long before Meta comes and goes, not long before I whine about Orion Mall and BIFFES – not long before BQFF – and definitely not long before I am 31.

I wore a damn saree to celebrate turning 30 but mostly as tribute to Savitri Mai’s extra saree. Last year, I learnt that cow dung is best fought with an extra saree. 

My blog carries an extra saree more than I do because it gets attacked with more cow dung than I. It changes sarees like my mouma does – lazily, quickly, and effortlessly.

People who really want to engage don’t carry around cow dung. It’s a good thing that so much of Savarna opinion is unoriginal which means it’s the same old ghissapita flavor of cow dung which hasn’t changed since 2014.

But really – can’t you at least throw something of a challenge along with the cow dung?Even so, my blog likes wearing shimmering pink sarees with small mirrors on the border, and bright yellow bandhani sarees with backless blouses. In a small bag, it carries a plain cotton one – the color of cow dung.

*~*~*

Some nice things happened in November – I realised that what I have really wanted since 16 was to be independent. It has taken me 14 years but it is finally beginning to feel like it’s happening – I am 16 again. It’s like coming home and finding myself waiting all these years.

And then, more answers began falling – a mad writing energy took over, First Post asked me to write columns for them (!) and I found new love for podcasts and poetry.

Everything is moving too fast, like news on Twitter – and like always I must come back to my blog to breathe.

I can’t help but recollect that when I began writing for The Ladies Finger – I wrote about what I really only care about – films, TV shows, and books. I wish I could go back to doing that. It’s where I learnt everything I know today. They took me seriously as a writer and made me believe that I am more than my caste. This is something that other news websites and magazines should probably learn – you only notice us when some burning caste issue takes over and suddenly Dalit women are in demand to write. It’s not a nice thing to do.

That’s why I am thrilled about writing columns. I am waiting to write about Sara Ali Khan, Mrs. Maisel, food and gossip.

*~*~*

Much of last semester was spent at home with my damn foot in a plaster. Probably a valuable lesson – I now watch where I am walking. Something else that I began seeing only lately is the idea that sharing is anti-Brahmanical – whether it’s knowledge of what you are reading/writing or what Tejas Harad thoughtfully did here by sharing  what he wrote last year and how much he was paid – sharing essentially breaks down a system that benefits from keeping knowledge and money a secret.

Here are a bunch of things I read/listened to/ wrote:

Reading:

  1. The Mill on the Floss (going back to it now) – George Eliot
  2. How Proust Can Change Your Life –  Alain De Botton
  3. The year of Magical Thinking -Joan Didion
  4. Normal People – Sally Rooney
  5. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  6. Essays by Rebecca Solnit
  7. Essays and poems by Patricia Lockwood
  8. Poems by Dorianne Laux
  9. The Neighbourhood – Mario Vargas Llosa
  10. Two Novellas – Paul Zacharia

Writing –

  1. A book review for The Open Dosa – A review of Mother steals a bicycle and other stories
  2. A report for The Open Dosa – What happened when Bengaluru’s working class women had a #MeToo meeting?
  3. An op-ed for First Post – Jack, what the hack: The absurd outrage of Brahmins against Twitter CEO
  4. An interview feature of Sujatha Gidla – In her words, and mine: Getting to know Ants Among Elephants’ award-winning author Sujatha Gidla
  5. A column on Maltirao Baudh- ‘Marenge toh manch pe marenge’: Experiencing love and finding answers in Maltirao Baudh’s songs
  6. Co-written with Sharmishta for News 18 – If ‘Untouchability’ at Sabarimala Makes You Angry, Then Welcome to the World of Dalit Women

I used to think that translation was effort, time, and energy. But it’s a whole other joy to get to know translation as an act of intimacy and love more than anything else. The Maltirao piece was translated to Hindi by Rahul Paswan and to Tamil by LJ Violet.

Paswan’s translation is much better than the faltu English original. Reading it in Hindi gives it another kind of energy altogether. If I could read Tamil, I am sure I would say the same about LJ Violet’s piece. Needless to say, the Maltirao piece is not mine anymore – it is theirs.

Here are a bunch of other things I am excited about –

  • Listening to Stitcher every morning
  • Getting back to riding
  • French press coffee
  • Sex and the City
  • Sara Ali Khan
  • Teaching Wordsworth for Research Seminar
  • At the Atta Galata event, Mandi said ‘Own your words’ – and I am now learning to stand tall and read out my work proudly.
  • Making time to write fiction
  • Goa
  • Reading Clifford Geertz
  • Writing academic paper proposals
  • ‘It was Gold’
  • Teasing the idea of a PhD on Joan Didion
  • Watching the stunning Living Smile Vidya speak so boldly here
  • Watching this Trevor Noah interview again and again – reminds me of mouma.
  • Owning days – especially weekends
  • Wearing sarees. I have always wanted to wear it the way Namsiess does.
  • Understanding quizzes as narrative
  • Wondering if there is more to math than numbers – understanding math as narrative too
  • One Sunday I talked about Pariyerum Perumal for The Lewd Cabal podcast run by a bunch of enthu tamil boys. I was nervous. I don’t think I made sense but I enjoyed being on the show
  • Every time I return from Dilli, and my AIDMAM sisters, I feel like I have become a better version of myself. This time, Asha Zech taught me to be less angry – nodkolona, aagatte (let us see, it will happen) she says about everything.

Through this all, I think I am close to understanding what Joan Didion meant when she said ‘Remember what it is to be me, that is always the point’

20182018