Anything can happen at Knowhere

Monday, 14 December 2020, Knowhere, 10:20 PM

After half a bottle of wine, some excellent chilli beef on potato, Goan sausages, crispy prawn wafers, and beef biriyani, I was happily eating carrot halwa from a glass bowl when Mr M whispered to me, ‘Vj, your dildaar is here.’ D and K looked equally puzzled. I thought he was talking about some student so I turned around to see a bunch of grown men walking by and lost interest. But then I peeked properly and it was Saad Khan so I squealed. After partially damaging K’s arms I screamed ‘Razzak is hereeee’. I wanted to walk up to him, pat him on the shoulder and ask ‘mere koftein khaati?’

I badgered Mr M to use his utmost teacher power, walk to him and say ‘Ey basturrd, what man? I gave you attendance so now you give me autograph’ – but he just rolled his eyes. After thinking of many such scenes in my head, I gave up and booked Ola auto. It said 3 minutes so I began walking towards the exit. Saad Khan looked very posh under the yellow light and pushed back hair and nothing like my Razzak so I said chalo theek hai. Hands were sticky from biriyani and I was too lazy to go to washroom. So I stopped by the sanitiser at exit and wrestled with the damn thing. It wasn’t giving sanitiser so I kept kicking the pedal. Behind me, I could hear an obnoxiously loud man on the phone and I was thinking why only men are so loud on the phone in public places. Mr M walked calmly and told me that the sanitiser stand at the other end worked better. Obnoxious loud man was standing close to it and I could only see his periphery so didn’t want to go there. I looked at my hands and thought chalo, no saad no sanitiser in my fuckall janma and called lift.

D and K came running towards the lift. Something had happened. D was red in the face and looked flushed. She was screaming oh my god that was Danish Sait oh my god oh my god. I turned to see the fastly moving appearance of obnoxious loud man entering Knowhere. I glared at Mr M and asked ‘THAT WAS FUCKING DANISH SAIT???’

Mr M stroked his beard and said ‘ya’ with an angelic smile.

I screamed and kicked, wanting to rip that beard out. All the while I was fighting with the stupid fucking sanitiser, and when he was also telling me to use that one instead of this, he knew it was fucking Danish Sait and wouldn’t tell me? If I’d have told you, you would have screamed and embarrassed me, he said. Even if it was true, I still wanted to know he was right there when I was wrestling with fucking hand sanitiser.

Razia Razzak at Knowhere, I thought sadly and cheerily before the lift closed and my world was back to desole as the French say.

D and K kept giggling. Mr M and his beard were romancing. I cursed them all and walked to my auto.

PS – Razzak ko next time I won’t leave.

B for Basavanagudi

1

The neighbors have been flying kites & on some mornings I see silent blue threads hanging uselessly from the tabebuia tree outside our home. This morning, Appa rescued a pigeon struggling to free itself from one of those threads.

The thread, streaked with blood, was caught in the pigeon’s wings & lodged deep inside the skin, making several cuts every time it tried to get away. Appa held the bird in his left hand in that gentle way that might look rudely firm to an untrained eye. I kept wondering if he’d hurt the pigeon more in the process or if the pigeon would turn around and poke him but Appa was deft with the scissors, making one quick cut after another. When the last loop had been cut, he freed the bird and it flew away with a flutter, making Appa laugh.

Every morning Appa keeps a plate of pigeon peas & two troughs of water on the terrace for the birds. It doesn’t end here. He then stands behind the door discreetly, & watches them, smiling like a man who has just learnt how to fly. In the evenings, he identifies birds by the sound they make when they fly. 

***

Our house & its tree stand flanked between houses that wear thread of a different kind. This is perhaps why Amma was adamant about a house in Basavanagudi, in the heart of the city’s Baman-land. People have their own ways of annihilating caste. This was probably hers – as payback to all those times she & Appa had to swallow insults from Savarna neighbors.

In Basavanagudi where caste is rooted quite fiercely, its illness is visible, audible, & tangible. It began with our milk packets that were first stolen & then hurriedly left alone & untouched after their ‘Dalitness’ was discovered. Yes, milk has caste too.

The old woman & her son who live next-door are close to murdering each other. Their fights are loud, his cries after each fight – louder. He throws plates & glasses at her, she throws insults. He cries because he’s ill. They both are. Caste made them that way. We were unsettled when we first heard the man cry.

We’d never heard a grown man cry like that before. Over time, we got used to it. But Appa continues to listen intently from his bedroom window, not missing a single fight. We were convinced the son is violent but it took a while to make sense of her violence that is less heard than his but lurking just as strongly as the thread across his shoulder.

He tried to break free at one point. He married outside his caste, brought the bride home but something chased her away. The old woman was particular about what was kept where, what she could touch, what she couldn’t, what she could eat on what days, etc and soon the wife ran away. He breaks down more often after that.

One morning, after a particularly nasty fight, the old woman hollered at the neighbours to call the police. He’s trying to kill me, she screamed. Pa called the police but she chased them away when they came. Then the son hurled insults at Appa, swore at him, & in my mother’s words, ‘said a lot of dirty things about us that I could not bear to hear’ 

After that, Appa doesn’t hide his curiosity to know why they are fighting. He stands outside, his hands on his waist to show them that he is listening. When I try to haul him in, he says ‘they can fight openly, I can’t listen openly?’ 

I think of the privacy he gives birds when they eat & drink and love him more than I ever have.

***

In the house behind ours, a 3-year-old child is oiled & washed with hot water every morning. Their bathroom nearly touches our grills & on some days, I can see the steam coming out of there. The child screams his Kannada lungs out – saaakuuu, tumba bisiiii, bedaaaa, nilsuuuuu, ammmmmaaa saaakuuu. It is torture. For us. I don’t know enough to gather if the child has some phobia because that kind of screaming is not just coming from a kid that doesn’t want to bathe. What I do know is that the lady bathing him is not actually scrubbing just physical dirt. Between the mother-son duo & the woman who scrubs the child clean from all potential ‘untouchability’, Basavanagudi is evidence that caste, as Ambedkar pointed out – is a state of mind. 

Its disease is so accepted that sometimes it appears as if ours is the only home that is bothered by these violences that are granted as ok, as shastra, as culture, and cleanliness.

I am glad that the trees & birds here are more ours than Basavanagudi & its people. Give a Dalit man a pair of scissors, & he’ll show you what freedom means like no one else can, regardless of what color the thread is or how long.

We are here only

We are here only

There is a girl who lives 2 houses behind mine, and she never misses sunsets. We don’t know each other and this is ok because what would we do with the sudden, almost brutal knowledge of seeing each other one morning, sitting demurely on our two-wheelers, in our office clothes, going to office? It is far too naked.

I like that this is the only way we have come to know each other. Together, we watch the sunset in Basavanagudi. It might be setting everywhere else too, but from the way we both swallow the orange pink light, and eat the sun whole – from here and from there – it feels like it setting only for us.

It’s nice to know that there is always a moment when we walk the length of each of our terraces, that when we are walking away from the sun, we are both wondering what we are missing, so we keep looking back to find that nothing has changed and everything has.

There is also a boy, a few houses to the left, who stands at the edge of his terrace, (dangling from it, really) to take pictures. Occasionally we look at him but in our universe, he is a dot. He isn’t here for the long haul like we are – where, after the sun disappears into the papery thin sky, and there’s that moment of total silence (as if the only thing that should happen when the sky is drained of color, when the plunger plunges everything out from the sink – is silence) he is gone, but we are here – she and I.

That’s when the birds come. They fly in the same pace, towards the same direction, often noiselessly, like a still painting where only the birds look alive. It’s then that we leave, the both of us, feeling full and somewhat empty.

BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

4:20 PM:

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 & Gentlewomen by 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.

silverscree in
Image Credits: silverscreen.in

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’

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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.

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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.

***

Day Three

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.

Sounds – Sea, Kerala, Trees, Birds, waves, crickets.

The Ice-cream killer – Ukraine, Anna Wasswerwoman

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.

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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.

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BQFF Diaries, Day One – 9/3/18

BQFF Diaries, Day One – 9/3/18

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)

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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.

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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   Image Credits: Scroll
                                                  Monika                                     Image Credits: Scroll

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.

Gaysi
Image Credits: Gaysi

***

Malila: The Farewell Flower (Thailand, Thai, Anucha Boonyawatana)

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.

Image Credits: Kino pavasaris
Image Credits: Kino pavasaris

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.

Sounds – Rain, forests, crickets, frogs, hills.

***

Snapshot (USA, English, Shine Houston)

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.

Image Credits: Twitter
Image Credits: Twitter

Once upon a not so long ago

Image Credits: The TLS Blog
Featured Image Credits: The TLS Blog

If like me, you come from an adolescence that didn’t know it was happening while it was happening, if you weren’t aware of the joys that investing in oneself can bring — if you made the mistake of making one person central to your entire life, then you will hurry through the remainder of your youth with a biting madness.

Marquez’s life changed after reading the first line of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. It paralysed him first and then set him free. ‘I didn’t know you could lie in writing,’ he said.

Paris Review
Image Credits – Paris Review

A discovery that did the same for me was ‘I didn’t know I could live like this’

Live how you ask. Like you are alive after a long time of being dead. Like you don’t want to share your day with anybody because you guard the time you have like a lion guarding his cubs. Like any moment not spent doing the things you love (even if it is sleeping for 8 hours or staring at yellow curtains for 3 hours) makes you cringe. Like the thought of marriage makes you say no thanks, I’ll give you one kidney if you want. Pliss leave me alone.

When you spend your youth chasing fears and running away from them at the same time, there’s very little left to love yourself. You go to bed unhappy and wake up miserable. You will allow a beautiful thing like love to cripple you. You will invite self-pity and aren’t too far from depression.

***

I spent last night poring over Amulya Shruti’s blog. Her writing is like carpentry. You can’t help but watch as she is at it – tugging, pulling, breaking, joining, cutting, welding and then when she’s done: the work stands itself up and grins at you. Almost as if the writing came out of her body. This confirms a long standing suspicion I have had of the connection between music and writing.

The practice of writing is not to make writing perfect but to train your body to become a sort of vessel for writing.

Here is a piece on Kishori Amonkar. Read it. Ila explains it better than I can.

Kishori Amonkar has always said about music: that she was not singing a raag, but that the raag was coming through her — where the music was more important than the musician.

India Samvad
Image Credits: India Samvad

***

Before leaving to college yesterday, I listened to Paromita Vohra speak at IIHS on YouTube (Bless you) — been reeling from too much love since then – for everyone in general but myself, in particular. No one else has made loving oneself seem so attractive and desirable.

She speaks with a clarity that can arm you with a rare pleasure for work. I myself went to college with a spring in my bum.

She wonders what it must have been like for Lata Mangeshkar to go to work every day with the conviction of producing a perfect song. Apparently she drove directors mad because she wouldn’t let go until the song could not be made more perfect. What must it be like to have this kind of a relationship with work? Paromita asks. Then she says, “I like writing perfect columns. I’m not saying all my columns are great but they are definitely good”

With Paro Devi & her fans - Jan 2018
With Paro Devi & her fans – Jan 2018

I love women. I love it even more when they talk about their work and take pride in what they do. It’s the most glorious ache to spend hours agonizing over each word, sharpening each sentence until they become flesh- ripping canines.   

How to produce good writing though? How to make that glorious ache visible? How to begin? How to develop style? I was thankful to all the faces that asked these questions. 

Vohra said – ‘It’s important to know yourself and to know the kind of things you like to write. It’s the only thing that helps. You should be able to show your own political journey in your writing.’

Often she has said that she likens the act of writing columns to Bollywood film songs – there’s rasa, there’s oomph, there’s persuasion, there’s a question and then there’s some degree of attempt at solving this question.

This comparison never fails to make me happy. A large part of my childhood was spent listening to these songs, watching useless films and feeling guilty about not doing productive work. But then there are writers like these who seem to be rooting for all the pleasures of my childhood and saying — no no that was good, it’s what makes you write. Work is play, play is work.

For someone whose only occupation was to imagine her own death while brushing her teeth – and to weep while she rehearsed what others would say and feel at her funeral – a commitment to working towards something – no matter how bad she is at it – is a gift, a luxury.

"I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again - as I always am when I write" - Virginia Woolf Image Credits: The Telegraph
“I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again – as I always am when I write” – Virginia Woolf Image Credits: The Telegraph

***

Featured Image Credits: The TLS Blog