Ayayayyooo!

The little boy has the grace to continue walking with a man hellbent on embarrassing himself. He keeps slapping his forehead, meaning Karma- doing it in the most Kannada way possible — which is to slap your forehead and wipe that slap onto the rest of your face – as if to say my whole face is saying fuck you to you, you ass – stop being in love.

The man walks in and out of the song with no sense of what he is doing, often losing himself, falling again and again – on the road, on the beach. It doesn’t take very long for the song to move from desire to distance and finally to powerlessness. The woman laughs like a poem is finally finding the courage to be shameless with you. She does it often but when she does it with his glasses on her face, the poem is now grabbing your bum and dancing with you. And the man can only blush and say ayayayyooo nagthavlaaa (ayayayyooo, she is laughing!) — celebrating but also mildly nursing something wounded so he is also sweetly complaining.

I saw the bullet only after Kiruba pointed out that he was riding it very slowly. If you have a bullet and are not vying to draw attention, then either the bike must be really old or you must be really in love. What can be more powerless than a roaring bike made to submit to silence, to slowness, to pause?

The Kannada word for a man (bike) in this stithi is ಮರುಳನಾದನು. The Savarna feminist word for this is stalking. My word for this is that after a long time, a song is living in my body and my days are endlessly smiling at each other because I too want to ride a bullet like a man in love and think about Sairat’s Archie.

 

Part Two: Meta Diaries

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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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HOoH-Y10xY

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.

 

Part One – Meta Diaries: What does Fire in the Tongue mean?

Meta is seven-years-old. I will keep coming back to this again and again, but let’s move on for now. The theme this year is Fire in the Tongue. It can mean anything you want it to mean.

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At the inauguration however, it came to mean something else and I can’t see it any other way now. The threat that people with power are going to take away our history, our story from us is always there. It’s even more vicious these days. Speaking against such a power is necessary in whatever way and form we can. Here is the speech by Prof. Arul Mani that can tell you a little more about what Fire in the Tongue means —

“Across India, young men and women from communities excluded from education are beginning to find the fire with which to contest years of exclusion – that is the spirit that we pay tribute to when we say tongues of fire – Fire in the tongue.

This year we will be inaugurating the Rohith Vemula Archive of Dalit, Tribal, Bahujan, and Minority experience  – one of the small things we have been working towards. Jesuit institutions were among the first to make inclusion and social justice a part of their vision. Our Department has enjoyed this partnership that we have been working on for several years. And The Vemula Archive is one way of making visible the principle of inclusion, social justice, and the Jesuit Principle of preferential option for the poor.

When we say Fire in the tongue, if you want to look for another embodiment, another physical realisation of that principle, you don’t have to look much further than the man they are paying tribute to when they say Jai Bhim. The Constitution of India continues to speak words of fire to years of exclusion – look there and you will find words of fire every time you need it.

These principles are relevant. In a country where the government of the day in a circular, tried to declare the word ‘Dalit’ illegal as if declaring the word ‘Dalit’ illegal would somehow change history and allow us to continue to live happy, uninterrupted lives.

The idea of Fire in the tongue is also worth holding close to the heart when you remember that the septuagenarian politician in Karnataka who is trying hard to become chief minister before he dies will go down in history – not for how hard he tried – but for the fact that when he was in power, he passed a legislation which gave policemen the authority to open people’s tiffin boxes and check for whether they were carrying beef. That is the achievement that this politician will be remembered for.

In times like these, we all need to find fire in the tongue to speak for diversity, to speak for who we are, and to speak for the worlds we come from”

Let’s just say that fest and protest needn’t be the 2 horrifying opposites that we sometimes make them to be.

***

It has never been hard to locate a moment that signals the beginning of Meta for me.

Early in January, a young boy graduating this year came to the department feeling anxious. He was afraid of graduating. ‘I don’t know what will happen outside’ he said. It is normal for every graduating student to have this anxiety. But even though it was familiar, he was saying something else. I didn’t know what to say to him. His fear wasn’t very different from my own. One side of this fear is not knowing. The other side is knowing. In between, is a desperation to find kindness. He was afraid of leaving behind the kindness he had found inside, and terrified of not finding it outside.

And because I didn’t want to lie to him, we both sat outside the department looking at the sunset, crying.

Then we picked ourselves up, laughed because we were taking ourselves too seriously, and went in for chai.

How many people does it take to run Meta?

Later that evening, a colleague held up seven of his fingers at this boy and told him – “It takes seven people” The boy didn’t have to be told that he was among the seven. He only had to be reminded that he was capable of things he wasn’t giving himself credit for. When he was made to see that the kindness & humility he brings to his work were enough, he smiled. For me, this was when Meta began this year.

***

After the inauguration, the students of I MA English presented stage adaptations of Macbeth (At Midnight), Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet (Macha, where art thou), a shadow play on Hamlet (Ham-lit: The answers lie in the dark), exhibits of the Globe theatre and Queen Elizabeth herself, and a comic strip of Shakespeare.

The Found Books series is a great opportunity for teachers to explore their relationship with a book outside of classroom practices. Prof. Navya inaugurated the series yesterday with Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Hungry Tide’

At the Shadow play – lights were turned off, phones were on silent, and we proceeded into the Globe theatre – took our seats (some on chairs, some on the floor – deliberately executed by the presenters to show us what watching a play really was like back then) All this happened even as speakers played background noises from the 16th Century.

 

***

Day One began with a lot a admin annoyances and the regular tech-giving-haath situations. Watching students deal with all this in their own quirky, mad ways has always been a dirty, almost voyeuristic pleasure of mine.

There’s the girl who becomes Rudhramadevi when there are money/stall issues. The boy who never tires of running. The boy who puts in all his energy and love into delightful little works of art. The girl who can put many a techie boy to shame by making printers submit to her will. The girl who does magic when she designs posters. The little boss girl who walks in and everyone shuts up. The boy who smiles like an angel and works like a maniac. The boy who eats clean egg biryanis but doesn’t mind dirtying himself with mad meta work. The girl who is part lioness, part stand-up comedian.

They are a Justice League of their own kind. They could be fighting god knows how many inner-demons of their own, and still – they come here and become warriors of a different kind, with fire in their tongues.

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***

 

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