For the love of Keret

short short nothings II

After the zoom meeting, we sat in the board room to go over it. Insi, who had missed the meeting was next to me and Sharan, next to her. We were filling her in on what she had missed and how everyone had looked (Simba’s hair, Fiona’s children who kept peeking in and giggling, Nat’s wedding)

Mia was sitting at the back and I felt ecstatic that for once, her plans hadn’t worked. She was quick to strategise seating arrangements for herself so she wouldn’t not be the centre of conversation but I couldn’t tell why she’d missed this one. How was it possible that Sharan was sitting here, and Mia wasn’t?

Sharan told Insi that Simba was not doing so well in the pandemic. His university was unstable and he had been looking at other options. I went a step further and confirmed that he had told us that he had been fired. Sharan looked disturbed. Without betraying any kindness in his eyes, he shook his head and told me “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this bit of news is yours to tell. It’s Simba’s”

I felt my head reeling. I looked around to see if Mia had heard and watched me being shoved into my place. She was engaged in a lively chat with others, and no one seemed to be paying any attention to what had just happened. Insi herself was a blur between Sharan and me. It didn’t matter what she thought.  But I loudly agreed with Sharan. “Yes yes, you are absolutely right. It’s not my news to share. I’m so sorry”

Sharan continued talking to Insi and I couldn’t hear anything he said. I was distracted by how easily he had made his discomfort known and how despite being told off, I wasn’t feeling resentful towards him. I felt a mad urge to undo what I had done, to impress him somehow before the day was over so he wouldn’t have to carry his bad opinion of me into the next day and forever after that. 

I wished I had kept quiet. It’s so charming to watch women not as desperate as I am, those who firmly seem to know what to say when. I wished I had that fierce cross-legged independence. Next time, I told myself.

Mia was laughing.

For the love of Keret

Short short nothings.

I told Amita that at the training programme last week, they made us stand in a circle, remove our shoes (and socks) and step into the shoes of those standing next to us. This was to teach us what it’s like to literally stand in someone else’s shoes. Amita slapped her forehead. When the session was over, I told her, I felt bad for the organisers. They had even the most empathetic person in the room now permanently repulsed to the idea of placing oneself in someone else’s shoes, even metaphorically.  

Her eyes glowed with terror when I told her how when I had put my feet into the very big shoes of the man next to me, there was a squelching sound and the wet horror of what I assumed was sweat which swallowed all of my five toes. She pulled the slap down to her eyes and then wiped the karma all over her face.

I didn’t tell her about Suman from Chemistry who had straight up refused to stand in my shoes. (‘Uh uh – no, not happening’)

Amita didn’t have to sit through the training because her migraine had arrived that morning and had shown no sign of retreat. Pregnant with relief, she sighed inaudibly but I caught it when her exhaling back became suddenly aware and straightened itself audibly.

We were in the canteen. My green tea was cold and her badam milk was covered with cream. She pinched it with her index and thumb finger and put it in her mouth. 

Franny & Toni

Spent all of last week scrounging through everything Fran Lebowitz wrote and spoke. Read Beloved and came to discover Toni Morrison as a lot closer to me than I’d anticipated. My body is filled with her words and I’m letting them sleep inside as long as I can hold them there. But the better discovery was the close friendship between Fran and Toni. I am feeling an envy that is both happy and relieved. I’m excited to learn the things they said about each other.

Watching Fran is one kind of thrill. Reading Toni and realizing that my best writing years are yet to happen is another kind. Fran arrived in New York, much like Didion did. To write. To learn to write. Fran was barely 17. I want to go too. Discovering these women has made my resolve to see New York stronger. And so much that I don’t give a fuck about wanting to be special. I want to be as hopeful and as plain and as ordinary as those women were before they became famous. I want to see the city and feel the echo of their words in my eyes.

Stitcher is a gift. Here are some fab interviews that I loved by Etgar Keret, Claudia Rankine and Fran Lebowitz.

Keret narrates a funny incident involving his mother who, proud that her son had become a famous writer, made sure to ‘split’ her vegetable shopping just so she could return to the green grocer and say ‘you know my son’s story was published in the New Yorker’ while buying carrots – and then again — ‘you know he teaches in this great American University’ while buying cucumbers.

He says some really interesting things about fiction, something that I am getting more and more terrified of writing.

Claudia Rankine takes me back to my time at Seattle, and that evening we watched ‘Citizen’ performed powerfully on stage. So powerful that for the rest of the evening, I saw nothing but guilt and fear in the eyes of that one severely racist colleague.

I’m itching to write about it even as I gaze lovingly at the other three writing deadlines. Even so, I read this Paris Review Interview of Fran last night and went to bed happy and songful. She’s making me return to reading furiously. She says in an interview “If you want to learn how to write, and your parents are willing to pay obnoxious money to put you through a writing school, take that money, buy lots of books and read. It’s the only way to learn how to write”

In this interview, she says “But really, I read in order not to be in life. Reading is better than life. Without reading, you’re stuck with life”

Gahhhhh.

Fair Night

There is a man at the fair who wears thick wooden hoops on his thin, dark arm. He stands inside and will only come to you if you pay him 10 rupees for 5 hoops. And then he goes and stands back in the corner again. The first two buttons on his loose, white shirt are always undone. I put my arm over the railing and wonder if he is watching. I wonder if he isn’t already tired from watching countless tiny girls making terrible aims at dolls, toy cars and teddy bears. I aim for the doll in the nice blue dress with the sparkly wings. I miss all three times. And then I aim for the packet of Parle G biscuits which I get. I am frowning and pa is now pulling me by the arm to take me over to where ma is standing with my little sister. She has made my sister try all of the three frocks which now lie crumpled and decided on the dirty chair. I look at her tired face and want to hit her. Ma has picked the same three frocks for me. Whatever I get, my little sister gets. That’s how it has always been.

Pa says that he doesn’t want to eat anything and ma says that we can always go back home and she will make something for us. Pa says no to that although I know he wants to eat karimeen sambar again. I wish we don’t. I want to eat Chinese but before I can say anything, Pa has spotted a Dosa point that will give you 33 different dosas and before I know it, I am being pulled into the tiny room with the four tables squeezed next to each other. It smells odd here – old and chipped walls, smelly table top and a tall, steel glass that I push away. Ma orders 4 masalas. I don’t want to eat it but I believe I am old enough to know that in this battle, mothers always win. I tear big pieces of the Dosa and dump it in the space between the table and the wall. I make sure that no one notices, especially the waiters.

On the way back home in our green Omni, I look at my little sister who is fast asleep. Her flabby cheeks are dancing sideways and I want to tear them off. She looks peaceful in her sleep and this annoys me very much. The road looks empty and noiseless. The street lights fall in neat box-like patterns on my lap and I play a game. I must poke in between all the yellow spaces that form and must hurry before the next one comes. Till we get home, I play this game. I miss just the one time.

In bed I cannot sleep so I keep shifting positions until I find one that allows me to look at the moon. The only thing that disturbs me is pa’s loud yawning. He is sitting in the hall watching TV. Every now and then, his mouth makes a loud quadrilateral and yawns terribly. And since then, I cover myself up fiercely whenever I hear a male yawn.

Penance

British Council organised a short fiction workshop with writer Jahnavi Barua last weekend. This isn’t my first attempt at fiction. But I don’t know what it is. Read and tell me. Thank you.

On some days Savitri hides behind the fridge and eats chicken momos. Her son doesn’t know. Ahalya, her daughter in law, knows but acts like she doesn’t. When she sees Savitri afterwards, she turns her head determinedly, refusing to make eye contact. Karthik first brought the momos two weeks ago; Savitri found out from the warm peppery smell in his bag, caught him and admonished him for eating gopi’s manchuri again. The doctor won’t find your heart only, your body will be full of China, she’d said.

  • Ajji, firstly it is not gopi’s manchuri. It is gobi. Gobi means cauliflower. Cauliflower means hookosu. And I’m not eating gobi, I’m eating momos.

Same thing, she said and then slyly asked for a bite. Karthik giggled. He wasn’t going to tell her that it had chicken. His eyes widened and as she took her first bite, he began making rooster noises. Ajji, you are eating chicken, he finally said. He wondered if she was going to collapse but she didn’t move and her face had the kind of smug satisfaction that was only seen when her son yelled at Ahalya for putting too much salt in sambar.

That her 18 year old hippie grandson had just destroyed her 72 year old Brahmin life didn’t seem to worry her even a little bit. After attacking three momos she went to have bath. The geyser was off so Karthik assumed she was having cold water bath as penance in the freezing mad winter. Since then she has been smuggling chicken momos into the house through Karthik every week. She gives him 50 Rs extra to keep his mouth shut. If your appa finds out, then I won’t be able to show my face to him, she’d pleaded.

But soon she started worrying. Often she’d sit huddled in the pooja room in a catatonic state, muttering and chanting prayers Karthik had never heard before. When Karthik told her that he didn’t feel bad about eating chicken because he removed his sacred thread before eating, she wondered if things would have been easier if, like Karthik, she could also be just not Brahmin for a few minutes every day.

She slowly started to take it all out on her son. She banged his coffee on the table every morning and growled at him whenever he asked if her leg was ok.

On Ganesh Chaturti, she told Karthik to bring her 2 plates of momos. When Savitri and Ahalya sat together in the kitchen making paysa for the pooja, Savitri asked her if she’d ever tasted chicken. Ahalya was silent for a long time and when she could no longer bear it, she said that she didn’t care about the gods but her husband would never forgive her if she ever did such a thing. Savitri withdrew into a corner that evening and devoured both plates of momos after which she went straight to bed. No penance that night.

(to be continued) (or not)