It took me 3 weeks to finish writing this piece. I couldn’t write anything else until I got this off my chest. Now I can get back to dying about other deadlines.
On the last day of Meta, we were all tucked into a small room under the Banyan Tree, listening to stories. There was no space so some of us sat on the floor, hugging our bodies. Over many years, this image has been recurring and persistent in my memory of Meta. It was late in the evening and I kept wondering what this room would look like if one were to zoom out and keep zooming out until we were just a dot. We’d be a teeny tiny dot but we would be the only dot full of dil. Evenings at Meta have a mad capacity to change spaces of authority into spaces of stories.
It was quiet outside, except for the Banyan tree’s tall whispers. In the mornings and then through the rest of the year, this space is different – cautious, withdrawn, and more tucked in than the people in it. At Meta, it comes alive quietly like animals in the jungle come to drink water at night.
In 2013, at the first edition of Meta – I was supposed to emcee a talk by writer Kurke Prashanth and I was so nervous that I soullessly read out his entire bio from a website. I stuttered the whole time and when the session began with a weak applause, I was relieved because I wasn’t on stage anymore and could go back to being invisible.
That night I pinched myself into a crazy promise – that I’d be more organised. In the morning, I laughed and went to college.
Seven years later, I’m still making similar crazy- sounding promises but by now it is clear to me that Meta is not run by organisation, it is run by madness. It’s like a chapter from one of Marquez’s novels – our banners get lost on the first day and turn up months later, our mics grow hands only to give haath, our cables fail us like the government – year after year, and our stalls are like acche din – we are yet to see one.
Despite all this, it is nothing short of magical realism that with or without money – we still do Meta. We bought fairy lights this year and told each other we’d make the quadrangle look grand. And then for the next 12 days, we forgot all about the damned lights. It was discovered on the last day and we continued to shamelessly flaunt it with full josh for at least the remaining 30 minutes.
My own journey has been nothing short of magic. From the girl who wanted to hide behind the mic and become invisible — I became the crackpot who welcomed Paromita Vohra with total shamelessness.
All of Meta this year was a long smile. I went to bed every night like Ghajini and woke up every morning like Kajol in love. Last year I was excited because Parodevi was in my college for a conference and this year, she was at my table, in the department (!),and we had lunch together, and discussed Ranveer Singh, living alone, and writing.
Sometimes a ten -minute conversation is enough to find the dil to fuel your life. This was mine. And I am happy to report that the fuel is still on full tank.
On 14th February, we inaugurated The Rohith Vemula Archive (For Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi writing by students) on The Open Dosa.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to notice invisible people. It doesn’t need loud proclamations, meetings, or even action. It just needs a mouth that knows when to shut up, ears that have the heart to listen – no matter who is speaking, and eyes that have been trained to look properly.
My own writing has been shaped by these students. The fear that is often seen in the way they walk (head down, quickly moving aside to make room for other, faster moving people) hides itself when they write.
The five pieces that are up on the archive are all written by students who write with fire in their tongues, much like Rohith Vemula did and would have continued to, if only someone had shut up, listened, and seen him.
Activists from All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch came the next day to screen a film on the Dalit Mahila Swabhimaan Yatra organised last year. I loved the silence in the room when these women spoke, I loved the power with which they talked about their work, and I loved that when Asha Kowtal sat in the corner and watched her girls proudly, we stole a moment to look at each other and smile. Behind us, Babasaheb was glowing.
Later that evening, we sat and thought about how unafraid we feel when we are together and how unaware we are of our own power when we are alone.
There was a similar silence in the room when Gee Imaan read his stories ‘Emperor Penguins’ and ‘Ammumma’s Communist Pacha’ and Chandni read from her autobiography ದಡ ಕಾಣದ ಅಲೆ – ಕಿನಾರೆಗೆ ಕಟ್ಟೆ. There is still a lot that we don’t know and it’s shameful if we still want to behave like we do. There is humility in shutting up and listening. Sometimes it’s all we should do.
Upstage – our maiden theatre festival was conducted across 3 days after Meta. I will leave you here with two plays – One is our home production: A Beefy Tale – a modern, Indian English adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. (Our Shylock is a Muslim man who shoots himself in the end) But when they performed again a week later – we were slapped in our faces by Shylock. He cut across the stage right before Portia offered the whole ‘one drop of blood logic’ and said ‘What men, you think I never read Merchant of Venice in school? He then told us why we and that Shakespeare are all dabba. He reclaimed his person hood in one splash of chusthness, and made the most kick-ass exit – alive as hell.
The other play is Baduku Community College’s Kannada adaptation of Eugene Ionesco’s The Leader. If there was ever a dignified way of asking people to stfu and learn Kannada, it is this. Make them sit through four English plays and three Hindi plays in Bangalore. And then show them a Kannada play or even better – show them The Leader and watch how they sit up and watch with their eyes wide open.
The Leader has Hrudaya on its tongue the way our old Kannada films had Hrudaya in their songs.
Even so, one can’t go back to Ravi Chandran and Juhi Chawla and their 101 violins after watching the young lovers in The Leader dance to Premaloka songs in a way that makes you want to adopt them. Now that I have seen the girl from my ooru, who with her pink basket and high heels danced with her eyebrows – what else was left to do except go back home and listen to Idu Nanna Ninna Prema Geethe Chinna on repeat and yearn for some good OJ
Another notable character on stage was the announcer who was wearing shorts, and a vest made of newspaper (which made a student wonder if it was a metaphor for the dying stithi of print journalism)
On one hand you have young lovers who are dancing and looking at each other prettily and talking about buying mottes. On the other you have an announcer who makes art when he spits. Thoo on this side, phoo on the other. Everytime he thooed, I fell a little more in love with Kannada which is probably the only language in the world to have a word come out of your liver.
After 13 days of Meta and 3 days of Upstage, I feel somewhat dead but a little more in love with the world than I should be.