For the love of Keret-IV

Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is no longer weeping for Salman Khan. Ajay Devgan is playing Salman’s role. The villain- her father, stands arms folded between Ash-Ajay. Someone forces him to muster the decency to leave them alone for final goodbyes and he does. Ash collapses into Ajay’s chest. Then she cries, he cries (although I can’t see his face) and over his strong, broad shoulders, I see her eyelashes, heavy and wet with tears.

***

I am in a Thai film. I am in a hurry to get cake for my mother. Someone drops me off at a market where I am suddenly adopted by the people living there as one of their own. The architecture of the building is funny and scary, like strange buildings in new cities are. The entire building is zigzag, like our parking spaces in malls.

A tall woman with shiny black hair and swan’s neck is my new mother. My new mother gathers me in her arms but we are quickly separated by something. There is chaos, the enemies are coming and just the word is enough to send everyone running. I am everywhere and here at the same time but deeply, miserably aware that my new mother isn’t with me. I can suddenly understand why babies need their mothers so much, why I need mine, what all the deal with mother’s love is about. I pine for her, gathering my heart in my hands and running and looking for her in the chaos. I’ve lost her.

***

My year-old nephew is playing in my arms. We are at a big, bright house by the beach. Everyone is here, my whole family. And even as I am with them, I can’t fight the all too familiar feeling of having/needing to be somewhere else. I curse myself. Why am I such a terrible planner? Why do I make promises I know I cannot keep? There’s a furious wind and I remember with great desolation, my alone and small bike that I’ve parked at college, right in front of the beach (How to move here permanently?)

I tell Amma I have to go. She is mad.

***

The Haunting of Bly Manor

It is all kinds of thrilling to finally be able to meet a ghost who likes dresses, and dressing up. I dreamt of The Lady in the Lake this morning, at 3:30 am that too. And thought how unfair to be trapped that way under the lake when all you want in life is to wear nice dresses, and make your own decisions, and be your own woman.

I had goosies watching her wake, walk, sleep, wake, walk, sleep. I’m not able to get her stubbornness to live out of my mind. I wish I never have to. And this coming at that same time as *that time of the year* when I do Didion in class. Self-respect, folks, is the stubbornness to keep on living, even when your fucking sister murders you because she wants to wear all your dresses.

So sly the makers of The Haunting of Bly Manor are: they took an age old irritation with younger bloody sisters who keep stealing all our dresses and made a horror/love story out of it. Super.

Sigh-filled dyku scenes, and amazing clothes also. And they are right, all love stories are horror stories only no? Especially if miserable people like me have to sit at home and watch hot women in amaze clothes (HANNAH GROSE FTW) all over each other.

For a while, we are children again – my cousins & I

In the Mannagudda house in Mangalore where the tallest point of the slope touched sky and one section of houses bent their ears to gravity.

We didn’t want to sleep but we had to.

Under the angry eyes of my mother and theirs,

we pretended to sleep, our eyes closed to them and open to us in every other way, grateful. They couldn’t see that we were playing behind the red screens of shut eyes.

I have stayed up many nights after that but never quite like I have on that night.

We lay in silence, stifling giggles because someone tried to find his way to the others and was kicked back to sleep by an awake, upset adult.

Little by little, each of us managed to leave our beds and walk with our palms pressed to our mouths as if that would somehow mute our feet.

We gathered in the backyard and poured laughter

All delight of a sleepless night released.

Then the pointlessness set in. We had escaped sleep, the dangerous quiet it brought, and adults. Now what?

We couldn’t do nothing with the time we had stolen (and stayed up all night for)

So some of us went to gather sticks – big and small

– just so our hands had something to do that early in the morning

And the others dutifully went back to sleep.

For the love of Keret-III

In a dark corner of the mind where there is rain everyday – there are infinite spaces in which to write. The terrace with its right angled cushion sets, plants, sun. The room under the terrace which is also a terrace, and here too, plush sofas and round tables, plants, sun.

Sandy is here with the children, her temples permanently dotted with three drops of sweat, her armpits soaked and her teeth, perfect squares. She is fascinated by the space, plants, sun and is wondering what it would be like to begin the day with this every morning.

Dawn to Dusk

I had the strangest dream this morning. I was reading Dawn Powell & I reread 5 lines over and over because they said something fantastic about life that I obviously can’t remember now. I had the knowledge that writing and reading wouldn’t be the same now because it was all going to change, because I had something delicious just within reach. My first copy of Dawn Powell is on its way as I write this and I am feeling terror within.

More when I’ve read her.

Raat Akeli Hai

I like the songs of frogs and whisper of crickets, especially in films. Raat Akeli Hai is full of these sounds. My ears were sharper than the poke of a single stray hair hanging by the shoulder.

In DC, where we stayed at Georgetown University, the cicadas kept me smiling. I walked around the campus, fighting a mild slew of loneliness but the crickets kept me independent and helped me gaze outside instead of inside. It’s why I like watching films too.

It’s a delight to watch Nawaz on screen. He brings the sort of sharp deliberation to every pause so that you are forced to never leave his face. His face is a moment.

Here are some scenes that made me giggle:

  1. (Nawaz and friend at a restaurant ordering food) Nawaz says no to chowmein and orders fried rice because chowmein reminds him of worms. This offends his friend and they have a tiff. Despite his refusal, chowmein has somehow landed on their table which Nawaz, like the grumpy husband that he is, refuses to eat. I seem to not just tolerate but also like men on screen only when they perform such coupledom.
  2. Nawaz has an even funnier relationship with his mother who is looking for a wife for him. She doesn’t seem to mind the women he minds because he is a man baby she mostly ignores.
  3. My favourite anecdote was Nawaz complaining about his name (Jatil Yadav) which was apparently the result of a spelling mistake his mother made when she was trying to spell Jatin.
  4. How he hides flattened tubes of fair & lovely behind the mirror.

There are ample Uttar Pradesh shots in the film. Lots of Kanpur and Jajmau. And this is more reason to watch any film – roads, gallis, rain, and sky.

My one serious grouse with the film is its glaring absence of the notorious police-boots sounds. The only good thing about the Bollywood-cop films were the sexy kitchkitch sounds those boots made. It’s also why I still enjoy watching 90’s Kannada kalla-police films.

But that was forgiven and forgotten when I had a Jhilmil moment with a scene showing Babasaheb’s portrait in the police station. It was strategically and predictably placed next to Gandhi’s (barf) and Modi’s (double barf) portraits.

There were various references to caste, some flung around carelessly – others making an attempt to go somewhere but holding back noticeably. I will come back to it when I know what to do with it. For now, all I wanted to say is this is how a film gathered around my evening yesterday.

Cielo Drive, Didion, & Dawn

I have been obsessed with the Cielo drive murders. It began one ordinary morning three days ago, when I was minding my own business by not paying any attention to deadlines. I was watching Didion again with my breakfast and we got to the point where she describes sitting in the pool when news of The Manson murders reached her. 

The 60s ended for her with these murders, she says. And for the first time in the many times I’ve watched the documentary, I felt compelled to dig into the murders. The thing with culture, contrary to what I believed all this while is that it is sometimes as alien to the person in it, as it is to someone outside. That was the point of  ‘the center will not hold’

Why and how – what kind of dark instinct could cause someone to drive to a celebrity’s house and murder a pregnant woman and her friends? But it didn’t occur to me that everyone who heard it in 1969 found it just as confusing as I did in 2020 hearing about it in my Bgudi home.

When I first watched it, many things about the documentary didn’t make sense to me. And I assumed someone who was born and brought up in America might find it easier to understand. Three days ago, I realised that even Didion wasn’t clear about what the hell was going on. Of the many things that I found puzzling was why strangers lived with one another in big mansions at Hollywood. Firstly, I thought only film stars lived there. Secondly, wasn’t it weird for married people with a child to have loud musicians over at their house all the time? And just what in the world did Didion mean when she said they had no idea who was sleeping at their house of 28 bedrooms?

Turns out she was just as lost as I am about the whole thing. She was just moving with things and when they got unbearable (drugs on her child’s bedroom floor) – she wanted normalcy, silence, order.

I can’t believe there’s the slightest chance that I might have driven past the Cielo Drive last year at L.A. I am wildly mad at myself for not having been in the mind space to absorb the city as deep as I know I have the capacity to.

Like one waste body, I was thinking constantly of internal group politics. Gahhhhh. Why does it always happen that I don’t know how to make friends and if I do, I don’t know how to keep them, and if I can’t, I don’t know how to still have the time of my fucking life? I want too much. I still think it would have been perfect to have found my soul mate in LA with whom I could’ve walked its slopy streets, drank its orange sun with some tall drinks, and talked endlessly about women and writing and stories and love.

I spent the last two days watching one film after another on the Manson murders, watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood which I found funny and very well-done. Everything from the loud, wet plop that I came to look forward to with delightful anticipation every time Brad Pitt emptied the can of dog food onto a plate — to the conversation DiCaprio has with the intimidating little girl who tells him ‘And if I can be a tiny bit better, I want to be’ which became my motto for the night — I loved.

I can never understand what the fuck people mean when they say things like ‘didn’t reach expectations’ or ‘overrated’ or ‘hyped’ – Why do you think it’s about you? And why the insistence to measure everything watched, heard, and read in a system of numbers and ratings? Doesn’t your body watch the film along with you? Even in the most dabba film in the history of the world, you can’t find a scene that reached out to you, and held your attention?

When you say something is ‘so overhyped, it scares you to watch/read it’ – you are saying that you value other people’s judgements over yours and your body’s so much – that you don’t think you can muster the capacity to allow room for art to stand on its own with you.

When did we become bigger than art? Who are these important people who can make room for the hype to reach them but not the films and books? Pah. Self-importance is yet another prized Savarna possession. The Avarna relationship to art on the other hand is far more reliable. It’s you – your body – your eyes- and whatever it is you are breathing in. That is all. In the arms of an Avarna romantic, hype dies, math dies, and so does the English-medium love for logic and neatness.

This doesn’t mean you force yourself to feel and love everything you watch and read (although I don’t see the problem with that). No no. It means you believe in the capacity of even the most badly done film or play or book to have its moments. Didion said it best – “Let me lay it on the line: I like movies, and approach them with a tolerance so fond that it will possibly strike you as simple-minded. To engage my glazed attention a movie need be no classic of its kind, need be neither L’Avventura or Red River, neither Casablanca nor Citizen Kane; I ask only that it have its moments.”

Spent the day reading and dreaming about Dawn Powell. Her diary entries are just thrilling as her short stories. And I am feeling delicious feelings in my stomach about stalking yet another writer and eating her words inside out.

Read a few bits from Didion’s The White Album and am in awe of how her mind is what I am actually reading when I am reading her – every jump, map, note, flutter is readily available. How it would be to own her mind! Reminds me of a Borges short story called ‘Shakespeare’s Memory’ in which various people come to own Shakespeare’s memory in the hope of being able to write like him, they can’t and keep looking for ways to get rid of it. Lol.

Jamaica Kincaid is yet another writer giving me butterflies. This story called Figures in the distance blew me away. A young girl is obsessed with death and tells the story of each dead body she hears and dreams about. Her mother’s hands catch dying people all the time and the girl grows more and more curious.

Storytelling becomes so much more intimate when a woman reads out another woman’s story, and a woman watering plants, and adjusting the phone tucked into her waist, listens to it and believes that it’s all she wants to do for the rest of her life.

For tonight, Mary Oliver

Needed to read this today to be grateful for words, and a tomorrow where these words will still be here, sitting like always, and I can give them a stir and make them do things for me.

Forty Years by Mary Oliver

for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
    to improve their peaceful

emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
    little flames leaping

not one page
was less to me than fascinating
discursive full of cadence
    its pale nerves hiding

in the curves of the Qs
behind the soldierly Hs
in the webbed feet of the Ws
    forty years

and again this morning as always
I am stopped as the world comes back
wet and beautiful I am thinking
    that language

is not even a river
is not a tree is not a green field
is not even a black ant traveling
    briskly modestly

from day to day from one
golden page to another.

Stupid

Oh how stupid I’ve been. Life itself is a distraction. It distracts me from living. So much of what I do is a response. To be better, to be good, to make it count. What kind of a soulless way to live is that? So far I’ve felt most alive when I don’t respond to anything, especially time. I’ve felt alive when I am learning, when I’m watering plants and listening to short stories, when I am discovering someone’s reading life, when I feel the itch to write & succumb to it wholeheartedly, full-bodily, beautifully – when I am hardly aware of time.

This beautiful blog reminded me that I am not really living. Why do I even bother doing anything that is not living? For now, this means giving myself permission to be swallowed by books and being unwilling to part with time to do anything else. Gahhh