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 In the mornings and then through the rest of the year, this space is different – cautious, withdrawn, and more tucked in than the people in it.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.

***

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

Listening to Dorianne Laux: Pause. Poetry

Reading Dorianne Laux’s poems is like taking in a deep breath and realizing that your lungs have never been used this way before – that all these days, you have wasted their capacity to hold, and you begin to worry – now that you have discovered it – this late in life – is there any point?

But of course, asking if there is any point to it is to miss the point entirely. I don’t have a train to catch. Even if I do, even if I am grossly late and have missed the train – I can always get to the next station and catch the train at my own pace. ‘No need to hurry, no need to shine’, Virginia Woolf said.

I read this poem by Dorianne Laux today. It is a regular day and like any other regular day, I am daydreaming about fighting with my parents. About marriage, about babies – about all the things that they want of me, that I do not want to give.

In these dreams, I am tall and wearing jeans that stretch easily whether I am running or walking. My mother’s loud voice cuts the air and lands on my hands. I run out the door and make life elsewhere. This poem fit in beautifully on this day and after I’d read it, the afternoon stretched itself out like a yawn and sat with me.

Waitress

When I was young and had to rise at 5 a.m.
I did not look at the lamplight slicing
through the blinds and say: Once again
I have survived the night. I did not raise
my two hands to my face and whisper:
This is the miracle of my flesh. I walked
toward the cold water waiting to be released
and turned the tap so I could listen to it
thrash through the rusted pipes.
I cupped my palms and thought of nothing.

I dressed in my blue uniform and went to work.
I served the public, looked down on its
balding skulls, the knitted shawls draped
over its cancerous shoulders, and took its orders,
wrote up or easy or scrambled or poached
in the yellow pad’s margins and stabbed it through
the tip of the fry cook’s deadly planchette.
Those days I barely had a pulse. The manager
had vodka for breakfast, the busboys hid behind
the bleach boxes from the immigration cops,
and the head waitress took ten percent
of our tips and stuffed them in her pocket
with her cigarettes and lipstick. My feet
hurt. I balanced the meatloaf-laden trays.
Even the tips of my fingers ached.
I thought of nothing except sleep, a TV set’s
flickering cathode gleam washing over me,
baptizing my greasy body in its watery light.
And money, slipping the tassel of my coin purse
aside, opening the silver clasp, staring deep
into that dark sacrificial abyss.
What can I say about that time, those years
I leaned against the rickety balcony on my break,
smoking my last saved butt?
It was sheer bad luck when I picked up
the glass coffee pot and spun around
to pour another cup. All I could think
as it shattered was how it was the same shape
and size as the customer’s head. And this is why
I don’t believe in accidents, the grainy dregs
running like sludge down his thin tie
and pinstripe shirt like they were channels
riven for just this purpose.
It wasn’t my fault. I
know that. But what, really,
was the hurry? I dabbed at his belly with a napkin.
He didn’t have a cut on him (physics) and only
his earlobe was burned. But my last day there
was the first day I looked up as I walked, the trees
shimmering green lanterns under the Prussian blue
particulate sky, sun streaming between my fingers
as I waved at the bus, running, breathing hard, thinking:
This is the grand phenomenon of my body. This thirst
is mine. This is my one and only life.

 

On a Monday, the sentiment of “This thirst is mine. This is my one and only life” is enough to hold my own against my mother’s loud voice and her big hungry eyes.

***

Listening to Dorianne Laux read out her poems is like swallowing a long pause.

What is a pause anyway? A dot. a comma, a semi colon; — in the breathless routine of the everyday. But here with her, as she tastes each pause, as she smacks her lips after every line, you taste the pause too and before you know it, the afternoon is not yawning anymore – it is quietly awake and softly blinking.

 

 

30~

As a Tamil woman,

I am fierce in love,

like all Tamil women are –

when they run towards their lovers

with gritted teeth and dancing hair

*

As a Konkani woman,

my laugh will match your fart

— in loudness and vulgarity

*

As a Malayali woman,

my hair is messy, like a dabba joke.

— but if you walk into it with all your heart

you might have a good time

*

As a Kannada woman,

I hug tightly

— and when you wake up next to me

on cold November mornings

like this one

I will hug you with all that I have

— and all that I am yet to have

*

As a Hindi woman

I will open doors and windows

— with the longing of a mother

waiting to escape her life

— with the passion of Chameli

waiting to elope with Charandas.

*

As an English woman

I will make pots and pots of tea

and drink them all up

until my belly swells

and I cannot walk

*

Today I am all these women

and we are walking back home-

arm-in-arm

expertly avoiding all the cows in Basavanagudi.

___

24 days

In 24 days, I will be 30. If I was younger, I’d have said I am looking forward to my birthday. Today I only want to say I am looking forward to the days before and after my 30th birthday, just as much as I am looking forward to my 30th birthday. Maybe I really am growing up if I am more excited by 24 days than by the 24th day this month.

If I was younger I’d have the energy & the shamelessness to make a bullet journal for my birthday month & do one thing that excites me for 24 days. I’d sit at the dining table, smiling like a child opening crayon boxes, and giant handmade books. I’d have told myself to write every day for 24 days. I’d have told myself to wake up early and watch the sunrise every day for 24 days.

Maybe I really am growing up because I still want to do all those things but the heart is still full from reading Mary Oliver and that seems enough.

Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

Even so, I wish that for as long as I am alive, I am as shameless as I was when I was 16, 22, 24, 28.

Also today, reading poems by Dorianne Laux seems enough. Maybe that’s why we should read poetry more often, to fill ourselves with it only to realize that we were thirsty all this while.

Family Stories

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.

 

Have a nice day!

Caste teaches us not only how to walk but also what to walk away from

After a student was told that Dalit women have a constitutionally protected act in workplaces and anybody choosing to attack such women teachers with an intention to malign them professionally would be reported to the cops; the light left his face, he touched his hair just so he could do something with his hands and his eyes grew small with fear.

He may have gulped twice before leaving the room, shaking with rage. But he never bothered me after that. Even the smug way in which he passed by me in the corridor vanished. The gossip and the malice continued of course but the glint of fear I saw in his eyes that day remained.

The Savarna woman sitting next to me shrank in size. But she remained big in my head until I discovered Ambedkar.

There was continued debate whether that speech, the interference, as they saw it, was necessary. It was necessary. It helped – because in that moment, in that room, something shifted – without harming anyone. And I continue to be curious about how a simple reminder about the constitution can produce fear in someone who is extremely confident in assessing other people’s abilities.

I am amazed that the man who built the constitution that long ago was able to see so deep into our futures and know why even the ‘right’ kind of money, marriage, color, place would still be insufficient to live with dignity.

But how much of what happened in that room that day was triggered by my caste? Did they know I am Dalit? Does them not knowing it before they attacked make them innocent? Are they innocent? Am I making a big deal? Am I being a fraud by invoking caste in this narrative ‘suddenly’ ? —  were only some of the many questions I asked myself everyday. Until a much larger question arrived and my doubts were laid to rest. Why is it my burden to ask these questions and look for answers?

It is their burden.

Even so, I take that Ambedkar is warning us. We cannot live and die inside our castes, even if people will make sure we do. Just as there are ways in which we believe that everything is about caste, there are also ways to believe that not everything is about caste. And neither is wrong.

How do people live castelessly though? Is that possible?

I find it fascinating that some people can walk the earth as if they don’t need anybody. As if they’ve never needed anybody. It’s probably why I loved Piku, that 2015 film. I loved watching her. I loved that she was able to just walk away from conversations and men that she wasn’t interested in. She didn’t spend time impressing anyone. She didn’t wonder if anybody liked her, and even if she did – she definitely didn’t run around making compromises in her life to accommodate them.

Where does she get the strength from though? It wasn’t all because of her overbearing father no? I am not questioning it, I am celebrating it. And today I am still celebrating it while also being acutely, painfully aware of an answer to why she might be the way she is: Caste.

Caste teaches us not only how to walk but also what to walk away from. The strength that men and women perform onscreen and off, that I adore from the very core of my heart gains power from caste.

Balamma from Gogu Shyamala’s stories walks that way too. She has to. Because like her, there are many who don’t have access to the PoA act even though it was made for them. And the villains in their lives are real, unlike those in mine who, at the mere mention of Ambedkar and Constitution, vanish like the memory of a loose underwear.

Image Credits: commons.wikimedia.org

Image Credits: commons.wikimedia.org

Two months at home; and indebted to Joan Didion & Jackie Chan

 

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My foot is now breathing in a tub of hot water. Barely two weeks ago, I was lying in bed, my foot hoisted up on pillows – the left leg waiting to erupt from layers of dead skin – all chafed and dry. I was almost sad to see the plaster go. I’d begun to enjoy peeling bits of skin from wherever my hands could reach. They’d gather in heaps of smiling flakes as I grew hungrier for more.

Amma changed the sheets and pillow covers once a week – on the day she’d give me a bath. The flakes would then scatter themselves across the room meaninglessly, like dust.

She insisted on giving me a bath twice a week but it was too much work so I convinced her that once a week was more than enough. I put shame and nakedness through various measurements and with every passing day, I began to fear it lesser and lesser. It began on the day of the fall – the very first day when Amma had to cut open the jeans I was wearing, which was anyway torn from below the knee to make room for the horrid white plaster.

There was no sense to the pause my body offered before taking my clothes off in front of her. She was quick to notice the scars on my body that’d faded over the years. One from the time I dumped hot chai point chai on my stomach, another from the time the hot parachute bottle melted from under my palms and burnt a good part of my thigh (don’t microwave parachute oil bottles)

As I chanted the history behind each scar, she shampooed my hair. And when she poured green hot water down my back, she looked more relieved than I was — scrubbing my back with all the energy she had – almost as if offering compensation for the loud dry zone which was my plastered foot, sitting smugly inside 2 dustbin bags.

In my mind, I observed that this was the closest she’d come to giving me the balanteero bath that they give to pregnant women. She has dreamed of giving me those baths even more than wanting grandchildren.

***

Days dissolved into watching reruns of women taking Karan Johar’s ass on his show and rewinding all the Eli Gold and Elizabeth Tascioni moments on The Good Wife. When I felt like writing and couldn’t, I sought Joan Didion.

I sped through The Year of Magical Thinking with an obsession to grow old like Didion. One December morning, her daughter was hospitalized. After spending a day in and out of the ICU – Didion and her husband returned home, unsure if they would see their daughter alive the next day. They sat down for dinner and her husband collapsed on the table with a heart attack, and died.

From that point on, my little fracture grief  became laughably manageable. It was ok that I could only listen to the rain and not watch it. It made me wonder if I’d ever really listened to rain and not just watched it – which is not too different from a grunt acknowledgement. After all what is rain without its sound?

In the two months I spent at home, there were two evenings whose colors belonged in a painting. From my dining table, I watched the Bangalore sky glowing furiously and pleasantly – or somewhere between the two which – as I have come to realise – is something that only Bangalore sky is capable of (As D would say)

Its orange was pleasant, but its force was furious. It came in shocks of rectangle and threw itself on the table, lingering there for a while before slowly fading.

***

A friend mentioned Frida one day and I spent the entire day in bed feeling grateful. It’s the one film that I have watched over and over again in the last two months.

The plaster was still on when I was told to walk without support. I cringed. With every half step I took, I expected to hear the crunch of bones and iron. I am now a firm believer of right time. Sometimes it is just not the right time to watch certain films. It’s probably why I had never watched Kill Bill and now was the time to watch it. Moments after Kill Bill Vol: 2, I took my first step with no support and walked on feeling proud as fuck even as I was imagining the Kill Bill Ironside Siren Sound playing somewhere.

Reading Cheryl Strayed and Rebecca Solnit made me think about walking a lot more intensely than that fucker Proust. And now I cannot wait to listen to the sound of my walk.

Those were my strong moments. In my most vulnerable moments, I thought about my astrologer aunt who had warned me about this accident months before I fell. She has predicted all my accidents so far. My resistance was weak and I was going to succumb to the haze of stars and shani, rahu and ketu and whatever when I suddenly remembered Jackie Chan.

I discovered that the man has had 14 major injuries in his life including a brain surgery and an eyebrow bone fracture that almost left him blind. He has slipped into a coma from hitting his head trying to jump off trees, leapt through a real window instead of a fake one, survived a Cervical spine damage from falling from a 25 meter clock tower and has had Pelvis dislocation almost causing partial paralysis. If this man had to listen to my aunty astrologer, he’d have had to quit doing what he loves long ago. Where the fuck is the place for Rahu kala Shani kala in Jackie Chan’s life?

Image Credits: myhero.com

Image Credits: myhero.com

Thanks to Joan & Jackie, I am writing from the other side with whatever little is left of my dignity.