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Dalit History Month In Between

X for Xerox

After the board exam results are out, you are in school with your mother to collect your transfer certificate. Your science teacher with the kindest smile runs into you and asks you what you want to do after this. You have this rehearsed by now – draw in a deep breath and say, ‘Arts’ as if that breath is not meant for you. It is meant to steady the person who is hearing you say ‘Arts.’

Don’t be surprised when she looks horrified. After all, you’ve spent every day of the previous week delivering this bomb to relative after relative. But be surprised that she doesn’t look entirely devastated when she finds out how much you got in science. 66 is not bad at all, she says. Standing next to you, your mother shifts uneasily. Then why? You are smarter than this of course. Come on, why Arts? Believe her when she says smarter than this. Then stifle the need to ask – smarter than what? You can’t imagine her saying 92 is not bad to someone who got 92 because then the only thing left to say is come on with a little more effort, you could have got 99. 

But because you are weak, and don’t have the language to put up a glorious fight – take science. Sleep through the 5 am physics tuition where there are more students than there are in college classrooms. You are not hallucinating – everyone looks the same, and everyone sits in the same place. Regard the books and pencil boxes they keep on seats to ‘reserve’ it for their friends with fondness. Don’t diss it yet. Tomorrow these books and pencil boxes will come to your rescue when you have endless arguments about reservation with older versions of them.

Let shame prick you when you score in single digits but let it prick worse when they know how much you got but still ask you. 

When you switch to Arts, feel relieved with people’s lack of affection for seats. You are puzzled when anyone sits anywhere except that girl who doesn’t drink from other people’s water bottles and doesn’t eat from other people’s boxes. Discover that it’s not true that Arts students are carefree. It is the college that is carefree with Arts students. Feel happy with where you are and ignore that longing for a course where reading and writing is the only requirement.

In M.A English, realise that the more you read, the more there is to read. Look back and wonder where you would be with a degree in science, assuming of course, that you would have somehow made it. You don’t have to wonder long. Seeing one is seeing them all. The one thing that Savarna networks unfailingly produce is an assembly line of xeroxed graduates. Same to same, with or without dslr and the occasional tiffin at Brahmins’ coffee bar. 

Every time you see a tweet by Tejasvi Surya, you laugh but you know there’s a reason why this monkey was elected. You know who voted for him. That assembly line is not sleeping you know? It never does. Discover blogs written by some of them and snort every time you read ‘tambrahm blood,’ ‘tambrahm brains’, ‘tambrahm science’ — ask yourself why you wanted to be like them back in school.

They were good writers, readers, speakers, pretty. But why did it escape you that they were all spectacularly the same? There is no soul in manuals that teach good writing from bad writing for a reason. There is no soul in assembly lines for a reason. Wonder if they read your blog and roll their eyes. But you are oddly comforted and fairly unsettled by the knowledge that you are probably the only Dalit person they know so their rolling eyes is understandably of a different kind.

On some days, xerox brings relief. It is a relief rooted in knowing how easy it was to have slipped and fallen in. It is a relief rooted in gratitude. If the language for expressing gratitude is obnoxious, see which side of the assembly line you are in. On other days, wonder if your version of gratitude is the same as your father’s. He still believes science would have been the better option but you have learnt to recognise that his belief is untouched by assembly line pragmatics.

For days that are neither here nor there, there is Lorrie Moore. Read her. She makes you bearable. 

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In Between

Dementors, boggarts and other cold things

What can you call somebody, who, when they walk into a room, any room manage to suck out all the warmth there ever was? Your memories ebb away from you like little bubbles, floating away from you. All the happiness that you were ever capable of seems like a vast expanse of wasteland after wasteland. All the anger that you thought you had potential for is frozen. You can see it but it is cold, so you cannot touch it or use it.

Dementors were probably based on real life people. That J.K Rowling, vixen of the writing world. I’m sure all those Dementors in Harry potter were based on people she knew.  Dementors are these cold, unhappy lurking figures in grey waiting to suck life out of you, bit by bit at first and then all at once. That’s what they do in Harry Potter, that’s what they do in real life.  They walk into a room and everything freezes; happy thoughts, memories, and life.

I’ve known plenty many Dementors in my life.  On some I’ve managed to use the patronus charm. It is what keeps the Dementors away in Harry potter. Some I haven’t been able to use the patronus on, either because they are so cold, no charm works on them or because they are family so you have to see them every day of your life.

Dementors come in all shapes and sizes. They are like Boggarts actually. For Muggles (Non- Harry potter language speaking people), Boggarts are shape shifting figures. They assume the nature and shape of things that the seer of the Boggart is really scared of. So no one really knows how the Boggart actually looks because they sense your fears and assume the shape of your fear even before you realise it. So, that. I know two such Boggarts. One is married and packed off to the U.S now. The other is blah and very much not in the U.S. These are people who will say things just to see you react. They prowl on your weaknesses and insecurities. They become stronger by feeding on these.

They are warm to most other people. They single you out because you are easy prey. They know they affect you, or you allow them to affect you. So just to see if the affect still survives, they keep playing mental tricks on you, day after day. Nothing you say to them will affect them. If you are cold, they are colder. If you are dumb like me then eventually their coldness will overpower yours simply because they are better actors. They will walk out of the room looking absolutely unhurt after a verbal match and act like nothing ever happened after 5 minutes. Like you didn’t say mean things to each other, like nothing you said bothers them. They survive on your smallness.

Some are natural tricksters. They may be your staunchest supporters when you aren’t looking or listening. But the fact that they become Switzerland suddenly in conversations with you is what makes it difficult to trust them or trust yourself around them. They speak all languages of all people. Somewhere, you will find them talking in the same language your mother does when she gossips with her sisters. Somewhere else, you will find them talking like characters from an Ekta Kapoor serial. Somewhere else, you will find them speaking the language of superstition, of caste, of violence.

They will mock you and laugh at you if you so much as try to explain the connection between caste and violence, between religion and violence, between gender and violence. They will disarm you with cold arguments and colder expressions. They don’t care if the violence that they deny is a reality outside their fossilized and rosy view of the world.

The fact that they are cold to violence will stop bothering you because soon their new weapon of mockery is sniggering; continued fits of giggles to make you smaller than you actually feel every day. They will laugh quietly and look questioningly at your face, looking for that sign of weakness, of fear, of failing. This leaves you hopeless and desperate. So the next time when you look for something to say in Gender Studies class, for an argument, a thought, a voice, a quiver- you find nothing. Because you are sitting there defenceless, listening to the sound of their laughter echoing in your anger. You prod deeper and find nothing. That’s when you realize the power you have given them over your life, your voice and your mind.