I dreamt that I was severely irritated with myself for repeatedly using the phrases ‘holding with eyes’ and ‘didn’t let go’ – when I write. I felt liquid shame in my mouth when I saw that a whole lot of people would also recognise that as something I would say. Bah. In my dream also I am irritated with my writing. What does this mean?
In other news, while brushing teeth this morning, I suddenly became very grateful for having read Claudia Rankine’s Citizen the way I did. That morning in Seattle, I had nothing but Citizen on my mind. It became a book that I could write too. How nice to have had mornings like that. How nice to know that all I have to do now to have more mornings like that is just get lost in a book.
Announcing the ninth edition of The Prof. Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay. The theme for this year is Breaking Away. Here is a little something on how I understand it.
I often dream that I’m running a relay race. The audience is a stadium full of people cheering for me, and a small yawn of people rolling eyes. That’s their only job — both in my dream, and in their life. In the beginning, I ran against boys who were annoying classmates, and when it no longer thrilled me, I ran against annoying boys I was teaching. A pataki female student and I are usually up against this boy and his friend. When pataki gives me the baton, I run with grit in my teeth, calves, and veins. The boy is far ahead of me and going to win. My mind speeds this part along because a) I am not a runner and b) within seconds, I am anyway already running next to him. At this point, the audience erupts in cheers. Their faces are indignant with vengeance on my behalf. I don’t know what the yawn of people look like because nobody cares about them. My own face is part grit- part replaying every humiliating account from my teaching life. I break away from the boy in the slowest way possible and when I cross the finish line, everything goes black and I am panting a lot but mostly dying.
I didn’t know this then but what I was imagining and getting thrills from is a moment called ‘breaking away’. Like breaking away from a group you no longer believe in — or from someone you used to be held captive to — or from a pack when you are racing and getting closer to the finish line. The moment is charged with the erotics of being free.
Sometimes it’s not easy to see the things that bind us to people. We believe we are free because we seem to walk just fine when the leash is long enough. Nothing is holding us back because whatever is holding us back is following us so closely, they don’t need to hold us back, and we don’t need to feel held back.
That’s why breaking away is so glorious. Suddenly there’s more of you for yourself.
What I like most about breaking away is that there is no time to self-congratulate or self-pity. It’s an extremely short-lived moment — there now, gone next. Perhaps it’s a good thing that these moments don’t come with pause buttons. What do we expect to find there anyway?
When I first heard of breaking away, I thought it was breaking up. The difference, as I understand it now was made clear by Kate Winslet’s face in ‘The Holiday’. After being in love with a jerk for over three years, she finds gumption one evening to break away.
In the moment that I am talking about, they’ve already broken up with each other multiple times but he keeps coming back to see if she’s still there and leaves when he is convinced that she is. It’s probably because breaking up with someone still means it’s with. Breaking away, on the other hand is always from someone or something. The only way to go after breaking away is forward. Kate Winslet’s face sees this, understands this, and we get to watch it dawn on her.
When I fantasise about breaking away these days, it’s not a race anymore, it’s a happy dance and no one is around to cheer, frown or roll eyes.
Something they don’t tell you when you first start writing is that when you keep doing it, you lose people. At first you won’t notice it because it’s absurd that this should happen. Then you see it and you can’t unsee it. Then there will be sleepless nights like these where you wonder if you will get people back if you stop writing. You feel smaller than ever when you realise that you’ve actually already stopped. It’s too late. Thankfully, the gates are only closed, never locked and you can open them whenever you want to.
Such a boss Toni Morrison is. She’s my shield against woke twitter rage.
Here she talks about writing with so much honesty and intimacy that whatever little hate and rage there is, she pats gently. Listening to her and reading her are both lessons in humility. My quick fall to self-pity is helpless in front of her kindness, her hard and clear logic.
This came out today and I am smiling. To think that someone sitting so far away (not that it matters) has read me and allowed rumlolarum.com to sit inside their body and mind is a gift I will cherish for a long, long time.
When I began this blog in 2014, I had no idea where it was going. I only knew I had to write. WordPress was on the syllabus of a new course and I had to learn it before I taught it. Odd that students seemed to outgrow it but I never managed to. AM was saying last week that I am the prototype of the first EJP graduate, I agree wholeheartedly.
I did become a graduate in that sense only after I began reading and writing, which through my undergraduate and postgraduate days, I hadn’t learnt how to. Like RP Amudhan once said, ‘It took me 20 years to realise that I could learn’
I can’t look back properly. I don’t know what I will find there. Some days, I’m afraid that I will be so ashamed of what I find there, I turn around quickly. But why must an unsure, timid version of you shame you? It’s still a girl – writing, scared, writing anyway, longing to run away, confused, angry, bitter, sad, but mostly in love. And I am not devastated that I am still all these things.
Dawn Powell says, ‘Better not to trust anybody much until you know them; then, not at all’
This helped me discover that if there’s anybody I don’t trust at all, it’s me. Never have and never will. It’s why I find myself in situations where I don’t like what I am saying or doing.
What I think and what I say are not always the same thing, except when I am teaching (and here too I have to try very hard). What I think and what I write are more sisterly even if they are not always twins. Sometimes the writing launches a thought. Often they happen together. But more often than not, the struggle, as always, is to retain the music of the thought in writing which is getting more and more difficult, especially after having noticed it.
I have always been afraid of people who can say what they are thinking clearly with very little reluctance and interruption from their own selves (Lila Lila Lila) With me, it seems as though I am so used to the interruption that even when I am close to a semi-solid articulation of a thought, I anticipate (sometimes even welcome) the interruption so I abandon the thought entirely.
I’ve been watching reruns of GG again & thinking how much I want to undo a piece written in 2016 . There’s so much more to say, so much better, so little I am now willing to be satisfied with. But it’s because of my blog that I am unable to feel shame about what I can’t undo now.
Last week, same day, I woke at dawn to write about Dawn Powell (gihaha) I don’t know when the piece will be out but that’s how it’s been with everything I have written over the last few months. I work at and push through pieces which I send off in a hurry, and then don’t see for a long time. I like this. It’s a new way of working and learning distance. All my editors in the past two months have been tough to please, I like this even more.
This is my 400th post and I am happy. (Reading Sheila Heti’s Motherhood has come at a perfect time)
rumlolarum.com is my baby; so much so that even after it became a website 2 years ago, I still won’t call it a website. I built my life here. Anniversaries are the only great thing about time. How else would we acknowledge who we were (are), keep them at eye range, and nod at them occasionally? (Didion)
Happy 400th to me.
In other good news, my Silk Smitha piece was translated to Kannada and you can read it here.
I broke down in class last week when I was reading out this piece by a student. I haven’t wept in class before. I have caught myself just short of breaking down (sometimes unsuccessfully) while saying goodbye to students in the last class. But never like this, never in the middle of reading a piece. Maybe I wouldn’t have broken down if the piece wasn’t written by a student. Maybe I wouldn’t have broken down if she had never sat in my classes, if I had never watched her write, if I didn’t know what she was talking about. But I did, and I do. I am making excuses after all. I have always cried after reading her, sometimes privately, and now I can say publicly as well. She wrote things that aren’t easy to write. I cried because she was walking around with everything she hadn’t written until she wrote that piece, I cried because I don’t know what else she is still carrying.
I could have stopped reading, told the students to read it on their own, switched my camera off and composed myself. But I kept going, I don’t know why. I think she made me keep going. And I pray she keeps me going.
I once cried at Meta when a girl student had yelled at me under the banyan tree in college. I didn’t know what to do. But I just kept thinking, if I were a man, or a tall & pretty Savarna teacher with perfect teeth, sharp nose, and bright wide eyes, I wouldn’t be crying under the banyan tree. Maybe I would, I don’t know – but it’s unfair – this desire to know what it would’ve been like if I was Savarna. After all, how often does a Savarna teacher spend time thinking about what it’s like to be a Dalit teacher?
And also – I don’t like feeling that way. Because I know that if I were Savarna, I wouldn’t have been able to read Beloved the way I did and let it live inside me like it now does. There is a reason you write the way you do and when I’d finished reading Beloved, I felt closer to you in a way I wouldn’t have been able to feel if I were Savarna.
I don’t know if I’d have not cried if it were a boy yelling at me, not a girl. Because boys and their words have a way of hiding behind my teeth and making me angry and sour, never sad. The girl returned after months with two roses and an apology. I smiled and accepted all three. Then I wondered if I shouldn’t have, then I was happy that I had. Will I ever reach a stage where I’ll be confident about the choices I’ve made? Will I ever know what to do immediately? Will I ever have it in me to not cry, not be angry? But why should I not cry? What will I do with all that strength it takes to not cry? Where in my body will I keep so much strength? So much self-respect? So much control? I don’t have that much space in my body for that kind of control.
I have been waking up early, not to write oh but how I wish I could. I have been waking up early to look at the sky and think of you. I had read that you woke at 4 to make coffee and watch the light come. It’s how you knew that you were ready to write each day. That you didn’t have to be in the light, you had to be there before the light with coffee to know you were ready to write. I loved the sound of that so much that I have been waking early to watch the sun come up, to look at the way it touches the tree outside my door, and to think of you. Thinking of you makes me want to get ready to write.
I don’t know how it’s possible but your belief in storytelling, in the stories your parents told you, about themselves, and the world is how I see mine. I think it’s not easy for Savarna people to understand this or to even take this seriously. And I am learning to live with that. Because their inability to see love and stories makes me never want to give up on myself.
Today, I woke at 4:30 from a dream I wanted to urgently return to so I went back to finish it (Possessed teddy bear-owl with flapping, beating wings is going nuts in my room. Doesn’t leave me alone so I dump it in the trash outside. It becomes a baby and sits on the windowsill cackling at me before jumping to its death and returning again to my bedroom to haunt me. Basically this is Clifford Geertz + Mixer Week + Google Meet+ Online classes)
And when I woke up again, it was 5:59 and I felt like the day was already over, that I was too late. Then I really woke up, told myself to fuck off and begin the day (take trash out, bring milk, put it to boil, put bread in the oven, boil water, make coffee)
After that crying episode, I was afraid the students wouldn’t take my classes seriously anymore. That because of this ’emotional’ outburst, I have shown them that my intellectual relationship with the subject at hand (Resisting caste) has been compromised.
But then I thought, wtf – a teacher moved to tears because of something her student has written is nothing to be ashamed of. If there are teachers who have cried teaching Shakespeare, then A. Suresh is no less than Shakespeare. But it will be used against me, I know that. Someday, when I am least expecting it, it is going to come back and bite me.
So yes, bite me.
“I am not interested in happiness. Not yours, nor mine nor anybody’s. I don’t think we can afford it anymore. I don’t think it delivers the goods. Most important, it gets in the way of everything worth doing. Happiness has become a bankrupt idea, the vocabulary of which is frightening: money, things, protection, control, speed, and more. I’d like to substitute something else for its search. Something urgent, something neither the world nor you can continue without. I assume you have been trained to think- to have an intelligent encounter with problem-solving. It’s certainly what you will be expected to do. But I want to talk about the step before that. The preamble to problem-solving. I want to talk about the activity you were always warned against as being wasteful, impractical, hopeless. I want to talk about dreaming. Not the activity of the sleeping brain, but rather the activity of a wakened, alert one. Not idle wishful speculation, but engaged, directed daytime vision. Entrance into another’s space, someone else’s situation, sphere. By dreaming, the self permits intimacy with the Other without the risk of being the Other. And this intimacy that comes from pointed imagining should precede our decision-making, our cause-mongering, our action. We are in a mess, you know; we have to get out, and only the archaic definition of the word “dreaming” will save us: “to envision; a series of images of unusual vividness, clarity, order, and significance.”
When I read this from your Sarah Lawrence Commencement Address, I had a warm desire to hear you and Babasaheb talk to each other. I grew hungry to have you both in my belly, walk into a classroom and roar, walk to my table and write my heart out.
Someday, it will happen. I can feel it gathering in my fingertips.