The evening birds never come to drink water, the morning birds do. The evening birds are always flying, towards home perhaps? And they fly quietly, like they have time.
The koyal near my house sings sweetly but it doesn’t take very long for it to get aggressive. It begins mostly at 5 am and does it continuously. I have a feeling that it knows I am writing this.
One evening at Glen’s, it rained like it does in May in Bangalore – moodily, heavily, nicely, laughingly, groaningly. I sat and watched it feeling dizzily happy and not realising that my helmet which was left hanging by the seat was slowly getting filled with rain. When I saw it, a big laugh came out and then I said, ‘Why do you do this, Vjjjj?’
Reading Natalia Ginzburg is a gift. I unwrapped it slowly one evening and wept bitterly. Her essay ‘My Vocation’ made me tell myself that I am ok, it’s ok, everything is ok, as long as I just keep writing.
I want to write like Alice Munro and Deborah Levy and Natalia Ginzburg. They wake me up in beautiful ways.
Chai immediately after coffee is heavy, curdling.
Having female students in my life is very important. Without them, teaching doesn’t make sense.
Cold water bath after 12 suryanamaskars is slicing, gasping, happy.
I like avocados and eggs.
The sun falls beautifully on some days. Last evening it fell like a disturbed egg yolk. It broke and then the orange oozed out in various places, places it wasn’t even setting in. I was puzzled by this and went looking for the setting sun in the west, couldn’t find it. But its colors were beautifully soaking in the east. I like that this is possible.
After days of being terrified of writing, of running away from the humiliation of my own words at 6 in the morning, of wanting to erase all the words I have ever used in excess – in emails, in articles, in texts, on twitter, on instagram – I scrolled down my old posts on FB and discovered that through the good days and bad – even though I have always told myself I suck at this – I have always still written. For now, that’s enough.
Dorothy Parker said ‘I hate writing. I love having written’ This is the month where I realise that I like eating. I don’t like having eaten.
I don’t trust the words I use with people anymore. They are too much.
I want to watch a Simone De Beauvoir and Sartre film. She lived. She really did. I want to do it too.
This semester was odd but gratifying. I was just back from a surgery – so every step I took on campus was measured, aware, and keen on changing history – or at least understanding it. Would I not have broken my ankle if my fuckall big bum hadn’t landed on it? If it hadn’t rained, would I have slipped that badly? Was this a conspiracy? Were aliens involved?
Even so, it took me months before I returned to the accident site for revenge. Standing a good few feet away, I watched the spot achingly. Some mild time-travel type exercises later, I concluded that I should have just taken the bloody lift that evening.
When I wasn’t busy avoiding those stairs, I was worried that I’d now have to sit like a normal human being at the desk – with my feet firmly on the ground and not in some weirdass asana on the chair. Of all the things I thought I’d miss the most about my pre-surgery days, I never thought it’d be my sitting style. But it’s true. I cannot sit that way without worrying about a slicing steel-type pain in my ankle anymore.
Some lazy reading happened across the semester. I fought with people on Twitter – all of them Savarna, most of them women. Felt murderous rage at various points, kicked myself when I wanted to be unkind – was unkind anyway, told myself to shut up a lot. Needed urgent lessons in humility which only some time-off could have taught me.
Offline, I faltered often – feeling drowned by deadlines so I made to-do lists in at least 3 different notebooks, and then on my phone, and some post-its. All reminding me to do things that weren’t reading and writing. I mostly remember January as the month where I was straddling in between attacking and being attacked. Wrote 3 pieces.
Like every year, February was swallowed – didn’t write anything except a lot of Meta-related emails, and announcements. Lost 3 kilos – which didn’t show anywhere- fucking nonsense. Felt like it was the best Meta – loved working with students, loved walking back to the department with them, and watching the moon from the bathroom window, loved returning home tired and collapsing on the bed, loved waking up to a hundred odd things already gone wrong overnight, loved fixing, loved freaking out — mind mostly calm – not pissed and angry like last year, which might have been the most disappointing Meta to say the least.
Did some dabba translation for a piece that I was going to read out on the last day of Meta. Had a lot of fun writing and reading it out in Kannada – slowly discovering that English and Konkani are not languages for the ridiculous and what are my family stories if not ridiculous?
Got some new writing gigs – all of which had to be pushed until college work was over – stressed at various points. The mounting deadlines – writing and otherwise led to a couple of small outbursts – which I did not manage very well – learnt to remain calm by eating.
In the middle of Feb madness, I stole a day to go to BIFFES – caught 5 movies – loved all 5 – took the metro back home, noticed a young man who refused to go to the men’s side and stood sadly adamant in the women’s – wondered if it was because he felt safer here than there.
Reading Kancha Ilaiah was slow – took time but learnt a lot of things about writing. One evening, after finishing the book, I realized that all writing comes from a place of humility – not expertise. It was a rewarding evening.
Woke up early the next couple of mornings to finish writing Ilaiah piece– moved to Yashica Dutt’s memoir. Reading may have been quicker but writing the review for this one took longer – realised that it’s probably because with Ilaiah – I was already writing in my mind while reading the book.
Spent the last week of April finishing the Dutt memoir review and running around for passport renewal. I might be going to the US for a one-month scholarship study on Contemporary American Literature (more on this when I finally believe it is happening)
Proceeded unwillingly to do valuation work. Felt delirious joy when I finished. Want to now devour the rest of May with a lot of books and some early muscle-flexing for writing fiction. Currently reading Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? which is dangerously close to home. When I can’t write – I listen to podcasts on writing – and end up finding some outrageously good ones:
The Cut -Women discuss Ferrante – a few really good moments, only small annoying bits — It is severely painful when white people seem to know more about caste. Even so, the podcast ends on a funny note – best moment is when someone says “Ferrante comes from ‘ferrous’ meaning iron which is funny because women have an iron-deficiency. Basically we are all anemic readers getting their Ferrante supplement”)
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls– Refreshing to listen to an 8-year-old girl interviewing Lowri Morgan, a television presenter and marathon runner. Loved the questions which also include the only question I ever want to ask runners (Do you listen to music when you run?) Favourite line: “Running makes me happy. But what makes me happier is when I get to the ultimate limit of my endurance, I realise that my limits don’t break – they bend and then, I start to enjoy the experience and I start to revel in the challenge that faces me”
The Writing Bull Podcast – favourite so far. (“One thing you don’t want to be thinking about while writing fiction is…anything else. You don’t want to be thinking about anything else”)
I love listening to podcasts. I do them every morning when I go about making breakfast and tea for myself. Listening to a podcast is a lot like flying a kite, you can get used to it easily while your mind wanders to other things but you have to keep pulling the kite back to see where it is – and more importantly – to see where you are.
When it rained like the world was ending one afternoon, the doormat was wet and took 2 days to recover. I was happy because I didn’t have to wash it and when it finally dried, it was warmly hot, and I liked standing on it.
In the department one afternoon, I longed to be in Seattle already so I watched half of Sleepless in Seattle and remembered the days when I had a huge crush on Meg Ryan.
Spent much of mid-April nursing a solid crush on The Avengers – watched all the MCU films. Loved Thor Ragnarok. Finally understood what people see in both the Chrises. They are both extremely cute human beings no? Pleased to say that I really liked watching Chris Evans and to salvage the big love I suddenly had for him – proceeded to watch 2 of his films on Netflix – Playing it Cool and Before We Go.
Chris Evans is forever running after people who drop things accidentally or deliberately. And for no reason at all, I am now making the case that all MCU films are Romcoms.
Learning to take great pleasure in making my own breakfast. Understood why Avocados are expensive – what a brilliant thing to eat in the morning. Damn it.
~ Pinching anxieties – becoming old and helpless, never being able to live on my own, growing distance between parents and me over marriage-nonsense.
~~ Words to live by – AM once told me “Avarna people can never have real friendships” – I am beginning to accept this. It’s more difficult than I thought it would be, but I am learning to give what I can, and take what I get.
Sometimes ordinary people do extraordinary things. And even if the ordinary people have surprised us before, we tell ourselves not to expect great things from them because the stupid world trains us only to imagine extraordinary things, not believe them. Either way, Arya Stark reminded us yesterday that if you only keep doing the things that people expect you to do, you’ll never become what you are actually capable of. And what you are actually capable of is so much more than what anybody can ever understand.
Fuck man, Arya Stark. What a woman you are.
Thank you for showing us how to run after things that are above and beyond but still worth a shot, a plunge, a leap.
Maisie Williams who plays Arya Stark said she was worried that people were going to hate that scene because they’d think that “Arya didn’t deserve it”
Apparently Maisie’s dumbass boyfriend told her – ‘Mmm, should be Jon though really, shouldn’t it?’
The world is full of fuckers. They’ll have you believe you are good but not good enough to do that. And then we have champions like Arya who will do it quietly and show. When she did what she did, I heard a thousand rockets being launched up every mofo’s ass who make it their business to tell others what they are capable or not capable of.
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.
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.
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.
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.