High on LSD tomorrow

Comrades and Comradies,

My lou for The Open Dosa, Paromita Vohra and Agents of Ishq is coming in full force tomorrow at the Love, Sex, and Data conference. Banni. In spirit of total khud-ki-lena/ self- love feels, dropping these cute posters here, please don’t mind.

You can register here

Metonym 2021

In the coming month, our classrooms are going to change. So will our department. As always, the people desperate for these changes are neither students nor teachers. They are idiots drunk on power and god knows what else.

Sometimes when we sit in the department drinking chai, I get nervous because Arul sir won’t sit still. Let’s do Metonym, let’s do colloquium, let’s do screening, let’s do causerie. I always think where this man gets his energy from. It’s from chai, yes. But also from an intense desire to build a space for students that others are constantly trying to take away.

What he gives us is also a way of reimagining students as people beyond register numbers and DPs on MS Teams. Very few people take youngsters seriously these days. And most others like to believe that the only way in which youngsters can be taken seriously is if they do political things. As if that’s all young people are good for- and if they aren’t, a couple of heavy-metal english words are thrown at them to make them feel like crap.

In the last two weeks, I’ve seen young women show up for each other, be cheerleaders without pompoms, giggle and laugh together, be curious about each other, and hold each other in a way that only people who’ve never been held can. It always tickles me to watch two girls become friends. I watch them like a cat and smile and think, ah, this is why I became a teacher – to watch female friendships for free.

When those high on power like to stand in a line and throw cow dung on others who are on their way to work, the only way to defeat them is by playing everyday. It’s what my work allows me to do. It allows me to play with students which is all kinds of amusing because I didn’t play this much even when I was a child.

Despite what’s coming, I’ve gone to bed every night these last two weeks feeling great intrigue, envy, surprise, and above all, extreme fidaness for students.

So my dear Ashwath Narayana, what I want to say is, if you take our classrooms away, we will go outside and play.

On Self-respect or how to unpark a car in Basavanagudi

This Insta series was originally published on the Scrolls & Leaves Podcast.

Ever since I first read Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect a couple of years ago, I have taken it to every class I teach. My wish, that it gives young girls whatever sense of self I didn’t have when I was growing up is only slightly overshadowed by something selfish. I take it to class every year because I need to read it every year.

My self-respect tank runs on reserve through the year & for that one week when we do the essay in class, I feel like I have my self-respect firm in my palm. I try to understand how and why a white woman sitting so far away can know and have anything useful to say to a not- white teacher. But I’ve given up trying to reason with it. Those better equipped to deal with the ‘problematics’ of the situation may deal with it. I am more interested in taking the gift and running away with it.

A very Basavanagudi thing happened in Basavanagudi last week. We recently moved into a rented house and our neighbors already hate us. One doesn’t like that we park our car in front of our gate because he wants to park his car there. His caste, kula, gotra I don’t want to get  into, we live in Basavanagudi; you figure. 

One afternoon, my father was rushing to the bank and requested him to move his vehicle because it was blocking ours. The neighbor shrugged and didn’t come out of his house. My father went walking. 

After that, my father made it a point to park our car right at the gate before the neighbor could. Even though he shouldn’t have to, let’s proceed.

The neighbor called the traffic police & complained bitterly to the confused young officer who responded. If the officer was entertained, he couldn’t hide it well:  ‘So you have a problem if they park their car in front of their gate?’ Still, the neighbor persisted. My father lost it and ran screaming at the neighbor. The anger in my father’s voice does the same thing to me today that it has always done: irritate me, get me to think about how unnecessary it is, and bring me to automatic tears. In the past, I’ve seen my father scream so loudly, the red in his eyes don’t leave until the next morning, his face is concretely unmoving, and his temples throb as if struggling to come out. But when he was shouting at the neighbor, I realized it was the only thing he could’ve done. I understood the source of all his anger.

By then, the neighbor had gathered supporters on the strength of his and their births. Some stood on balconies, threads visible, saying to my father: ‘Just because you have a big car doesn’t mean…’ And that’s when I saw it – the source of their anger. The problem may not have been the car after all, it was the size of the car, which was perhaps as big as their bruised pride.

This morning, returning from a walk I saw a couple of policemen pacifying someone very much like the neighbor. He kept pointing at a few discarded flowers on the footpath. An hour ago when I’d walked the same way, I’d seen flower vendors sitting on the footpath under the shade of a large tree. The flower vendors were nowhere to be seen now. A man came running to them and said, “Saar, look at all this dirt, that too in front of a Brahmin house.”

What I’ve learnt from this tragicomical angst towards outsiders/’polluters’ in Basavanagudi is that the centre is not holding.

I am thinking of Gogu Shyamala’s ‘But Why Shouldn’t the Baindla Woman Ask for Her Land?’, where Saayamma bangs her fists, makes a fuss, and pushes the village heads with an iron grit and won’t leave until she takes back what belongs to her. I am thinking how much indignity there is in asking for things that you shouldn’t have to ask for (because they are yours to begin with).

I am thinking how those who make you ask for these things not only get to keep their dignity but yours as well. I am thinking of how the consequence of not making a fuss is different for different people. I am thinking of how every other passerby who heard my father roaring on the street would’ve called him an uncouth wild man. I am thinking of a Bahujan writer on a zoom panel I once attended. She was accused of not having got the question right and wouldn’t let go until both the moderator and the other speaker had apologized.  These people who took back what was theirs, took it despite the consequences – they were not wild; they weren’t even angry; they were just holding on to their self-respect.

I am led back to the quietness of Didion’s words and wonder whether it is enough to sneak my self-respect out from wherever it is hiding, and- whether it’ll do. It will do. Didion says, “​​To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect” — which to me means that some of our routes to self-respect aren’t going to be dignified and are certainly not going to be quiet. The route is what often gets us called mad and difficult. But it’s what will eventually free us from the Savarna expectation that we will keep eating kadlepuri while they hack at our self-respect.

Rachel Cusk: how to proceed?

One morning last week.

Day had barely begun and I’d already surrendered to shame remixing in my head. Tried to get rid of it and took myself out for a walk and listened to this conversation between writers Rachel Cusk and Kjersti Skomsvold. Have been drinking Cusk’s sentences because they go in that smoothly. Kjersti Skomsvold herself is another bomb writer. Sample this delicious excerpt from her book ‘Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am’

‘Live life. Seize the day. I’m standing next to my bed, but I don’t know how to seize my day. Finally I decide to do what I always do: read obituaries. But first I head for the bathroom. Epsilon is a short man, so I don’t know why the bathroom mirror is hung so high. Epsilon says he is happy with it because he just needs to see where to part his hair.’

Three bits from the interview that I wanted to bring here – there’s apparently such a thing as writing without feeling like a writer and I am very curious to know why it made me smile. Towards the end of her trilogy, Cusk thanks ‘the people who treated me like a writer until I finally became one’. And I think that’s such a lovely thing to remember at a point when you are already writing and published. Gahhhhh. Skomsvold asks her about her reading life and Cusk very simply says that she uses reading to directly help herself. It sounded so light and easy when she said it. On some mornings I really do need to challenge the uselessness of my mind with honesty like that.

  1. ‘What compromises women,’ Cusk says, ‘babies, domesticity, mediocrity – compromises writing even more.’
  2. It’s ok if I can’t write 500 words every morning. If there’s something happening in my mind, I just want to bring it out. I want to perform the writing well enough.
  3. Arriving at truths while writing are more powerful than already knowing them beforehand.

***

Annalise Keating

Annalise Keating is a lesson in how not to apologize for wanting power and definitely not for having it. It’s easy to want to tear people down like her, especially when they’ve built their lives from scratch and must keep doing it over and over not because they fall so many times but because they are made to. History has shown no dearth of weak people who can’t stand watching someone of not the right color, caste, or face standing up there. And this is why Keating is such a reward to watch no matter how many times she falls, lies, fails, weeps, and picks herself up. In the end, she still stands.

There are many things about binge-watching a TV show that I am wary about. To begin with, I am uneasy with who I become: who knowingly puts her days on hold and acts as if she’s been given an extra life from watching an ad on candy crush. It doesn’t help that when I’m on a Netflix spree, I am also imagining how great my life is going to be after I finish the damn show. How I will make time at the end of every day, no matter how unwilling I am, how sleepy, to sit in front of the mirror and braid my hair, lotion my hands, put the phone away and read a book. It’s amusing no? That the people we spend days and weeks watching, listening, and soaking in aren’t on their phones and computers all the time?

While I continue to thrive on borrowed life and act as if I can return to the main one any minute I want, I don’t want to leave Annalise. So once the show is over, instead of moping around wondering what happened to her, I take her with me.

Why, I wonder, do I warrant such attention? What do I represent that is such a threat? ~Assata Shakur

I love Annalise Keating for many things. I like that she isn’t honest or likable. It’s reassuring to watch a black woman on screen who doesn’t take her suffering and turn it into kindness. She lets the suffering eat into her and remain in her body where it becomes anger, grows into bitterness, freezing her in despair. She spits fire when threatened, laughs thunder when she wants to, burns you with ice-cold logic when you attack her. She shows us parts of her she coerces into being liked by others, as well as parts she couldn’t and later wouldn’t. A term often used to describe the experience of watching women like her is ‘raw’ –but a better word would be surviving, I guess. The same word she uses to describe herself in the end.

I wonder what it’s like to have that kind of vision to imagine a life where you will not allow the color of your skin, the smell of your caste to determine how you will be seen by the world; and the grit to go and get it. She won’t be a hero. She isn’t interested in the medals of honor you want to garland her with for her victories, it’s perhaps why she doesn’t pine for people when she is in pain either. You like putting her on pedestals, your problem. She didn’t ask you to do that. She was just working. I’ve been thinking a lot about work and what it means to be disliked at the workplace. I’ve often been witness to watching the most hard working people be loathed by those who don’t work half as much. It’s not easy to love Annalise Keating, says Eve at her funeral. But it’s what made her the strong, stubborn, badass lawyer she worked hard to be.

In the entire series, the only time we see Annalise talking to herself is in the final episode, where she wonders what to wear for the last day of her trial, the day of the verdict. She must choose between wearing something that can make it easier for the jury to declare her not guilty or something that will say ‘if you need my clothes and hair to prove my innocence, then fuck you.’ It was a revelation to hear her speak to herself. As it was to watch her mother, Ophelia keep the Anna Mae Harkness in Annalise alive. Ophelia on her own is a whole other show.

In court, Annalise is often told not to use the ‘race card’ and I think about how there is a deliberate yet subtle inattention to the fact of her as a black woman lawyer in her imagination of herself. In the beginning, there is something supremely regular and ordinary about the way she goes about her life. She shows you what it’s like to not have race hovering over you at all times, even though there is no escape from it. How people can have the potential to blossom despite the threat of it always holding them back. Eventually the inattention is avenged- they hunt her down and make her pay for it. But still, she rises.

The one card that we should be using is the card we don’t often want to use even if we aren’t left with any other cards. I don’t know if it’s because we want you to see that the card is actually for you, not us. Or because we know we are still of value without race/caste unlike you who will fall like a sack of onions without yours. And that’s how Annalise wins her fight. She throws your card in your face and becomes Anna Mae Harkness.

UNSTILL

Mind is crisscrossing. It’s a web connecting too many things and I came here to slow down.

I woke at 4:30 am feeling very happy because it had been raining and the sounds from the open window made me smile first thing in the morning. I lay in bed for a few more minutes, prolonging joy, wondering if I was only teasing myself with the promise of an early morning or if I was actually going to wake up and get one.

4:45 – I got up, went outside. It was dark and the rain had washed the streets and trees. Smiled more. Came back to bed and started reading. I am still with Patchett. Last two essays in The Story of a Happy Marriage. I am loving it. Went to the kitchen, made hot water, sat in bed sipping it, reading. It was still raining.

5:30 – Day broke. Went outside properly and smiled. Came back, changed into my walking clothes (oversized blue sweats and black yoga pants), took phone, earphones, Patchett and went for a walk. I listened to the soundtrack from Vita and Virginia as I walked. The music was composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s sister. Fuck them both. So talented.

Many fruits were fallen pachak on the road. 3 mangoes, 2 purple berries, 3 red berries, one half-eaten banana, and half a jackfruit. Took a few pictures. After 15 mins of being consumed by V&V, I walked to the park, went inside an enclosure, sat on a bench and read. An old man came to do various exercises. We left each other alone. I read for 30 mins and came back home.

I took coffee with Patchett again and spoke to the parents for a while. Came back to bed to chill and read a bunch of essays that made me think think think. Grateful for these mornings. Was distracted by Hamzy’s Korean food-eating videos again but only mildly.

  1. You Really Need to Quit Twitter
  2. Is Google Making Us Stupid?
  3. Habit by William James

Ignoring the doomsday headlines is not difficult because I recognize that we are already anyway doomed. The irony of being led to all these essays through twitter is somewhat charming.

Bookmarking these for later:

  • Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, Janet Malcolm
  • The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcolm
  • Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Maryanne Wolf 

Must return to Vita and Virginia.

Ann Patchett

I am drowning in Ann Patchett. When I read her latest essays now, I catch a fleeting hello, a nodding glimpse to something she has mentioned in her older essays which I am also reading. It’s like I am stitching. She is making me re-arrive at the personal essay as a form of journalism. Many gods of journalism, who cannot stand that other people read and write will die about this. But what else is new? They die about something or the other every day. But read Ann Patchett – she is remaking journalism, both the ‘serious’ one and the chota bheem one.

Whiny muffins like me who cry about too much work should read her essay ‘Nonfiction, an introduction’ where she outlines the beginning of her journey as a freelance writer. She says she learnt how to swallow pride as she watched some of her best sentences get chopped up by editors who worked with knives. She learnt, she says, how to write better by anything and everything that came her way. One day she’d be writing about ballroom dancing, another day about boutique farming, and some other day, about a lip balm. She soaked in everything she wrote and didn’t complain. In the end, it would all come together as she returned home to write what she really wanted to write – fiction.

“Somewhere along the line I learned to experience only the smallest, most private stabbing sensation when I watched my best sentences cut from an article because they did not advance the story. Ultimately, this skill came to benefit my fiction as well. The conversations I had had so often with magazine editors were now internalized. I could read both parts of the script. Did I think that was a beautiful sentence I had written? Yes, I did. Did it further the cause of the novel? No, not really. Could I then delete it? It was already gone”

AM had once said that to be a writer, one has to become small. There was so much to carry in that sentence that it made me afraid to think that I’d never be able to do it. But it’s true. Becoming small is the only mark of a writer thirsty to learn, a journalist hungry to see.