It has been a somewhat happy morning. In your late 20s, the only monster dread is waking up in the middle of the night and not feeling sleepy afterwards. There’s that precarious window of 5 seconds after you are thrown out of sleep and you are afraid that your mind will now wake up loudly and show image after image of your biggest insecurities. Who needs a nightmare after that?
Even so, sleep devi has been kind. Maybe that’s why the happy itch is back. Yesterday a friend told me about Karunanidhi’s disciplined routine – waking up at 4:30 to write and all. I was supremely disturbed. What the hell am I doing in life?
My students are eating books week after week. I am only eating.
Yesterday was a day of many discoveries. I reread Aunt Julia and felt thunder bolts of love for Pedro Camacho. This morning I read bits of Alain Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel.
It has left me giddy. I’ve been waiting for the biggest heartbreak of my life to start reading Proust. That kind of defeats the point of reading Proust in the first place, I realise. So today I am happy that the itch is back and I am waiting waiting to read Botton’s book. Maybe after that and after Didion and Eliot – I can think about Proust.
In other news, I wrote a thing about my bleeding, oozing, puss-ing love for 9 songs. You can read it here.
When it rained in Mangalore, amma made us wear raincoats and carry umbrellas but we’d still get wet. One afternoon after school we went looking for a new house in an auto. The broker was on his bike in front of us, his feet slanting upward on both footrests. We followed his yellow raincoat. The huge bungalow we first stopped at had two coconut trees growing out of it. The trees shot upwards from the roof, and looked uneasy like the swords I’d sometimes seen emerge out of Swamiji tongues in Kanyakumari.
I looked at Amma. She squinted at the trees and looked miserable. I looked at the broker. He sighed and started giving the auto driver new directions for a new house.
I wanted to tell him no. I had already imagined spending all my free time under the trees. Never before had life organised itself so beautifully as it did on those house- hunting days where the space of a new home offered dreams of being good girl – set up a solid routine, do homework on time, sleep at 9, wake at 6.
Amma and broker were damaging my creative juices.
The second house was inside a huge compound sharing space with another house. I stepped out of the auto and into a puddle, slowly, deliberately. The water seeped into my socks making it squishy. I walked around carefully listening to each squish.
A girl climbed out of a school van in front of the other house and watched us. I recognized her as a classmate but struggled to remember her name. Amma was quick to notice when we greeted each other shyly. I’d already started day dreaming a routine – this time my new best friend was in all of them.
When I was pulled away from the house, and from her, and thrust into the auto – I was beginning to bawl. Amma patted my back loudly and said that closeness is not ok. It will ruin your life.
Through the month spent binge-watching House MD, I worried that the irony of losing eyesight from watching a medical show would be too funny.
My eyes are tired now but the head is clearer. It scares me to think of the times when I’d look up from the screen to speak to someone and my eyes would begin watering.
I don’t know what to do with all the sunset that is suddenly falling on my desk now.
But I am glad it’s over. I didn’t know that a big part of binge-watching is also the bleeding hurry to get it over with and move on with life. I will miss listening to the words Tachycardia Lupus CT MRI Cardiomyopathy Cushing’s Vicodin Pithy Psychosis.
Goodbye, House. Thank you for believing that work really is everything. Even if proved otherwise.
It’s like watching tragicomedy. Not because Rishi Kapoor is an *Amul baby (cos who doesn’t know that?) but because it made me wonder about Neetu Singh in the way that I sometimes wonder about my mother and her mother and everyone’s mothers – wouldn’t they all have been better off without marriages and Amul-baby husbands?
Yes yes, their choice, and like Neetu Singh repeatedly says – she has always wanted the life she now has. When Simi Garewal asks her if she could do over her life, would she still marry Rishi Kapoor? Neetu Singh loudly says YES.
But it was still amusing to watch that throughout the show, even though the Amul baby is worse than his twitter self; Neetu Singh is pretty much telling the world ‘listen up peeps don’t take my husband or his tweets seriously cos even I don’t. Plus he’s drunk out of his mind when he’s tweeting’
My favourite part of the interview was when Neetu Singh and Simi Garewal exchange looks over Rishi Kapoor’s horrible parenting skills. Simi Garewal is like that really sweet well-wishing, tch-tch-tching moral science teacher. ‘Please go home and think about what being a father really means to you’, she says.
I remember Neetu Singh as the lovely Salma Ali from Amar Akbar Anthony – the only film after Mr. India which I watched as a child over and over again. Simply because those were the only two video cassettes we had. I liked Parveen Babi the most because she was Christian in the film and back then I was fascinated with everything Christian.
I watched it again today and was smitten by Salma Ali – the doctor who is given one fleeting moment in a hospital scene where she is absorbed in her work despite being wooed by Akbar (Amul Baby) in the same shot.
A nurse comes running to tell her that a patient needs blood urgently. Ali begins to worry, Akbar says he’s leaving and she just brushes him off saying haan haan bye and gets back to brooding. It is a three second shot but delightful.
It is the same energy she brings to Comedy Nights with Kapil where the host asks her what it is like to have married into a khandaan full of super star actors and she says ‘Main bhi toh thi award-winning actress’ (I too was an award-winning actress)
It almost erased some terrible flashbacks about watching her instructing Ranbir Kapoor on Simi Garewal’s show. ‘Women come with either scissors or needle. They either break or make families. Pick a girl with a needle’
Needless to say, no matter what instruments they bring, what can you mend Amul babies with?
Premalata is a 23- year-old MBA graduate from Telangana. I met her on Day Two of the Dalit Women Speak Out conference in Pune, 20 Dec 2017.
When I first saw her, she was angrily untangling the beads from her dupatta. She had just ended a very upsetting phone conversation. She snapped the phone shut and jammed it inside her bag. On the other end of the phone, I had heard a man who was persistently asking her where she was.
Poooonaaa, pooonaaa. Pooongaa alla pa, thooo. Poooonaaaa, she’d screamed. After she noticed me, she smiled apologetically and began straightening the creases on her orange Anarkali salwar-kameez.
– Appa? I asked, pointing to the phone now recovering in her bag. Father?
– Illa. Mera Maama – Morning se phone karta. No, my uncle. Has been calling since morning.
This girl was my heroine. She’d refused to give the annoying uncle any bhaav, and now she didn’t want to waste her time talking about him.
She saw my open notebook and asked if I was writing about the conference.
Yes, I tell her but I want to write about her. Is that ok?
She giggled and said, “Main itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” But I’m not a big man.
“Main bhi itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” I’m also not a big man.
She smiled and I was distracted by the calm in her eyes. I didn’t know Telugu and she didn’t know English so in our garbled Hindis we continued to talk.
She said she was fighting with her family because they didn’t want her to work. And that she was seeking an NGO’s help to negotiate with her parents.
When she thought she’d said enough she began interviewing me.
– Tum kya karta? What do you do?
– Main English teacher. I teach English.
I thought back to what I knew about Telugu and grudgingly arrived at fair-skinned heroes against shiny backdrops of big temples; and bubbly heroines with flowing hair. But I’m wondering what her version of the language is.
So I asked her the most personal, most important question in my life.
Tum picture dekhta? Do you watch films?
She nodded wildly and her eyes looked like they were swallowing me along with the entire room.
– Tumko heros main kaun pasand? Who is your favourite hero?
– Ram, she blinked.
– Kaunsa Ram? Ram Charan Teja? Which Ram?
Cheeee! Her face tightened up with disgust and my eyes widened with surprise.
– Toh phir kaunsa Ram? Then which Ram?
– Ek hain Ram karke. Ready main bahut acha acting kiya woh. Ram has done super acting in the film Ready.
I felt slaughtered. I was desperate but equally dreading her answer to my next question.
– Mahesh Babu pasand? Do you like Mahesh Babu?
Cheeeee! She squirmed again.
– Kyuu? Sabko pasand hai na Mahesh Babu? Why? Everyone loves Mahesh Babu no?
– Agar sabhi log Mahesh Babu ko pasand karenge, toh Ram ka kya hoga? (I don’t want to translate this sentence. English doesn’t deserve it)
My shame shame -puppy shame evaporated because I had fallen in love with her. I was too unsettled to say anything but her eyes were calmer than ever as she stifled her guffaws behind the beady orange dupatta.
Even before I could ask her the next question, she had answered– “Genelia girls main pasand.” In girls, I like Genelia.
And then she blushed like red balloons.
– Tum idar kaisa aaya, she asked me. How did you come here?
– Akela? Alone?
– Tum bahut daaare, she said, giving the English word the lift of a plane taking off. And with a thumbs up in my direction, her eyes drank all of us in again.
Premalata gave me more moments to live in than all the waste Telugu friends from college who gave me nothing more than dabba fair heroes to remember them by.
I think of her occasionally and every time I do, I wonder why I didn’t ask to take her picture. Then I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. You can’t trust cameras for moments like these.
As I left the room after saying bye to her that day, I fished my phone out and began looking for Telugu actor Ram. Google showed me pictures of Ram Charan Teja. I rolled my eyes.
Missed Portrait of Jason. The auditorium is full of heads bobbing, nodding, and laughing so I hang out at the stairs for a bit. At 5:45 there’s some room, so I squeeze in next to two women who smile as they make place for me. My toe pokes the big man’s bum in front of me but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t mind but I hug my toe and protect his bum from it for the rest of the evening.
Ladies & Gentlewomenby Malini Jeevarathnam begins, and I am not prepared for the heart fail I’m going to have in the next hour. When Joshua Muyiwa introduces it, he says the director intended the documentary to be watched by Indian parents.
The first couple of scenes show a woman with a mic asking random strangers in Chennai if they know what a lesbian is. ‘Ayaaayoo venda pa, no comments’, says a woman who giggles and walks away. ‘Yenna ma, dustbin ah?’ says an uncle on his scooter. The audience erupts in a little volcanoes of laugh. Next to me the woman says what’s wrong with these people why are they laughing?
As the documentary takes us through activists, lesbian couples, and bisexual men – there’s a parallel story of a mythological couple – an upper caste woman and a lower caste woman both in love with each other. They are found out, separated, and ostracised. When they can no longer bear it, they run away and meet each other. They spend some time together before setting themselves on fire and jumping into the well.
I am saddened by their suicide but I cannot stop thinking about how these women held each other – eyes full of love, hands full of trust.
Lesbian relationships are just meant to be. That’s all. It’s the only way that women’s bodies can learn to trust again. But that’s not all. It’s fulfilling in a way that nothing is. Maybe this is my fascination with Ferrante. There’s so much secrecy and violence but there’s also so much love between Lenu-Lila.
I long to walk the streets of Bangalore with a woman in my arms, or I in hers. How will I do it in Basavanagudi? I can. The cows don’t mind as long as there are enough roads for them to plod on. And my suspicion is that all the ajjis here are closeted lesbians anyway. So we are basically full of lesbians and cows – just like the rest of the world.
A woman in a yellow kurta smiles into the camera as she says that there’s no space for a man in a lesbian relationship and that’s the best thing about it.
Smiles. Hearts. Giggles. A lot of women nod loudly.
The other couples in the documentary inspire similar feelings and by the end of the documentary – I am full of joy but am unable to understand why I’m also a little sad.
A middle-aged bisexual man says – ‘Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I’ll say yes to sex to whoever asks me. See, this is the misconception. Queer people aren’t with each other only for sex. Like heterosexual relationships, they are also about eating, sleeping, walking, and doing other things together.’
The first thing that Malini Jeevarathnam says when she takes stage amidst the roar of cheers and applause – is ‘I don’t know English’
The applause grows louder and some people from behind me scream ‘It’s okayyy’
“I am happy and full of tears”, she says. And the audience says – ‘us too’
It’s the only way to feel after you’ve watched this documentary. So much so that my stomach craved love so I went up to the café, drank wine and stuffed my face with potatoes.
Sounds – On screen – the crackling of fire as the many couples jump to their deaths, the sound of waves as lovers walk hand-in-hand by the sea.
Off Screen – applause, hoots, cheers from the audience. The sound of my heart breaking into millions of pieces. The tch tches I imagine my father would produce if he were in the auditorium.
Ein Weg (Paths) – German, Directed by Chris Miera
The mattresses are mostly empty so I plonk my bum right in between – head is dizzy with wine.
I begin watching and am surprised by my focus on the faces of the two men on screen – Andreas and Martin. I watch as they scratch their noses, and hold their chins when they skype with each other. I am soon obsessed with the closed windows of the house. I see that it opens just the one time in the film – when they both fight and one of them leaves and the other puts his head out the window and begs him to come back. I am familiar with the sounds of the house now. The sounds it makes when they fight and stomp feet, when they make love and their bedsheets ruffle, and when they make tea, and when they clean.
So strange no? That when you watch a film, you too begin to live in the same house as them.
Sounds – House, Baltic Sea, crickets, and trees.
Today, I see the festival itself, not the films. I am sitting in the projector room with the organisers. I watch as the tension, and the anxiety of running festivals unfolds before me. Delays, Subtitles not working heart attacks, people queuing up to watch films – line growing and growing.
Irattajeevitham – Malayalam, Suresh Narayanan
Favourite scene in the film is when Sainu and Amina take off someone’s boat out into the sea. Sainu is shit scared and tells Amina let’s go back. Amina is thrilled because she can’t believe they are floating in the middle of the sea and can’t stop squealing. As they row back to the shore, a crowd has gathered to wait to see if they’ll return alive. Because not one of the boys in the town has had the balls to take a boat out like that with no experience.
The second half of the day, I sit demurely, in the back. It’s noisier here. Because I understand that people are full of opinions here.
This is my favourite film of the day. The film is five minutes long and shows a woman devouring an entire ice cream for five minutes. It’s a thick cone with Vanilla ice cream. The melted bits fall on the street and the camera zooms in on that for a while.
How often do you see this?
I love watching women eat. Die if you don’t.
Behind me two men loudly bemoan the choice of films. They haven’t liked a single film since morning, they want to talk to the selection committee, and they leave in a huff. I want to scream after them –you forgot your male privilege here boys, you’ll need it – take your opinions with you please, they are stinking up the whole place here.
Behind me, a woman tells her friend in Kannada to sit chakkla mukkla to ease her cramps. I think back to when the last time I listened to that phrase was. Very long.
All my love to the organisers of #BQFF2018. Keep doing what you guys are doing. Because it makes men leave in a huff.
As always, the darkness in the auditorium at Max Mueller was inviting, not too cold; and my first glimpse of whatever was on screen was the bluish glow from the white mattresses on the floor, and the various bodies sprawled on it.
When one is in the auditorium for the first hour of BQFF, one is a body – in that, you are conscious – the mattresses take about an hour to make you feel at home so you won’t put your feet in people’s faces, you won’t even put it back, out of respect for the body behind you, you worry that your feet smell, that you are taking too much space, but within an hour – the bodies become shapes and you become a shape too. Slowly, you begin picking on the cracks of your heels, the corns on your toes, your hands go back, your body feels lighter and then you are slouching too.
The people seated demurely on chairs behind you are very much there but you only acknowledge them when you exit.
I spent the first five minutes adjusting bum, and a few minutes after that – looking for familiar shapes. Found a couple but one can never be too sure so I stayed put and didn’t grope them like I usually do (with consent, of course)
The first film I watched was the Bengali & English – Aabar Jadi Ichchha Karo (If You Dare Desire) by Debalina. Two women who go by many names – Swapna & Sucheta; Aparna & Kajali; Moyna & Bandana leave home to be with each other. In Kolkata, they find family after family but not the space they need to simply be left alone with each other. Even so, they puncture the city with charming moments. Standing under a tree on a rainy Kolkata day – they both hold each other even as another woman offers them her umbrella.
They get in. A herd of goats pass by and they both move back quietly, shivering. They seem more afraid of the umbrella woman than of the goats. Here they hold each other warmly, their arms entwined. This is a moment I teach myself to look for in all of the following films. Focus on hands, faces, chins, and stolen smiles.
Sounds – Kolkata rain, crickets, and early morning birds.
Ektara Collective’s Turup (Checkmate) was the highlight. It reinstated a long-standing belief I’ve had. That only old women can pull off the best dialogues in films. The star of the film is the 60 something Monika Mausi who works as a maid in a family that I feel like I know very well. Husband – booming industrialist who gives money to right-wing mofos. Wife has quit her career in journalism because husband wants baby.
She asks Monika one day – Tumhari shaadi nahi hui na? (You didn’t get married no?)
Monika snaps – Shaadi nahi hui nahi. Maine Shaadi nahi kiya (It’s not that I didn’t get married. I did not marry)
Monika is actually a cat who can’t stand cats. She lives alone, walks alone, reads, plays chess, tears down Hindutva cow posters, and drinks chai standing up – thinking, planning, and living. A fab moment was watching her play chess in one scene. A cat walks by and Monika brushes it away, like a cat would, nonchalantly.
Journalist wife asks her one day – Don’t you ever get lonely?
Yes. But it comes and goes.
Don’t you want to have a family of your own?
Why? We can choose our families no? That’s also possible.
The audience sighed, clapped, cheered, hooted, and whistled. Two tear drops came for me.
Sounds – A Koel cooing gently every time Journalist wife sits in her bedroom, wondering what she’s doing with her life.
I learn that doing what one loves to do is the surest way of happiness – alone, with little joy, in sickness and in health.
Pich makes Baisri (an ornamental decoration made with leaves and flower petals) and this helps him survive cancer. He loves making them even if they wither and die soon. The most difficult thing about making this, he says, is that you must hold the leaves gently but fold them tightly.
Once he’s done, he lets it float away in the river and feels complete only after he lets go. Too many truths, too many moments. Many sighs. I liked watching him alone doing his Baisris than with his lover, Shane – who I wanted to kill. Pich died doing what he loved. In one scene, he tells Shane that he believes he gets better and his cancer goes away when he makes a Bai Sri. ‘It’s all in your head’, Shane tells him. Shane is just a husband through the whole film. Dabba fellow.
Obnoxiously loud North Indian women howl and scream and laugh when a woman on screen is having orgasms for the first time in her life. Sounds of orgasms are far more desirable than the loud, raspy, insect laugh of people in gangs. Wankers.
Sounds – The camera’s kachaks, clothes ruffling, and women moaning. Off Screen sounds – disgust.
Every year, I have valued the things learnt at the end of Meta. Most of the time, it has been learning to let go, moving on from blunders, prepping for next year and such. This year it was a lesson in patience, keeping kaam se calm, etc,.
Here is what happened over the last couple of days.
We had Poetry Slam on Day Nine with participation from 30 students (our highest so far). The theme was purple. And I am not sure if it’s a coincidence that most of the poems were about women.
Our judge Mr Timothy Paulson said he had a tough time picking the winners. In some classes that morning, students & I did a short poetry-writing exercise. The prompts given went from the first sip of coffee, to snake in the commode, to an ode to lendi (that stubborn piece of shit hanging by no man’s/woman’s land- refusing to let go – I now have a newfound respect for the proverb – Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka – na ghaat ka)
A thing that has blossomed this year, thanks to Meta, is my interest in Quizzes. The questions are intimidating and the answers are mind-boggling – not because you couldn’t have guessed but because you could have — giving rise to what is known as the AJM moment or the Akkan Just Missu moment.
At Magister this year which was conducted on the 18th Feb, I was amused to watch participants produce an assortment of sounds to celebrate both winning and losing. I am now a big fan of what I call the Quiz Boy Wolf Whistle – it’s when the answer is so stunning that you whistle to appreciate its beauty. It’s also partly a tribute to the question, even if the answer is way out of your league.
I also discovered what is called the slow clap or the clap of shame – of which Bhargav Bsr received plenty. It’s when the question-setter finds the question so interesting that he doesn’t care about the answer.
The Meta Valedictory was held in the newly inaugurated Atrium of the Arupe Block. The results for The Prof Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay were announced. We had 75 entries (our highest so far.) Archita Raghuof II EJP won the Overall category while Amulya B and Malavika Selvaraj won the Open and Schools category respectively.
You can read the Prize-winning essays on The Open Dosa soon.
When I look back, I wonder where February went. Sometimes even pictures, FB statuses,and tweets don’t do justice to preserving moments – there are bits that make themselves rebelliously un-preservable. But as always, no matter how tiring it is, I look forward to the next edition with a renewed spirit.