Categories
In Between

U for Uppitu

In school, they called it concrete for the gravel-like mixture taste it left behind. In my dabbas, it stuck stubbornly in a way I imagined only rice had the authority to. Often, I had to plunge the spoon into its middle & make a cave to be able to get in. But such fake stubbornness – for in my mouth, it came apart like things that are not meant to come apart. This was followed by a fascination with the way in which my parents ate everything, especially idlis & uppitu.

When I made faces at cold, spongy idlis, Appa would say ‘Idli tinakke punya maadirbeku (you should have done some virtue in life to eat idlis) And Amma, in the hope that I’d perhaps eat everything if it was made more tasteless, began mixing everything with curd, even uppitu.

Appa & Ajji ate it with a half-cut lemon sitting sharply on their plates. They squeezed the life out of it, its juice never enough so there would always be more lemons waiting. And I, watching – never tired of imagining the sizzle it would leave on the tongue, never gathered courage to taste it. I don’t know when in my damn adulthood I fell in love with uppitu. My guess is that I love the process of oggarane (Acclimatization in English it seems avar janmak isht benki haaka) so much that I have grown to like everything that comes out of it.

I now like to take it off the stove when it is still mushy & the water still bubbling, popping, threatening. I like its semi-solidity in the plate when it falls with a plop. The spice is never gentle, and the bele – the only crunchy thing in this wildly hot mess – comes & goes consistently, while the tomato slips itself quietly, leaving its taste somewhere. Soon, I was submitting it to cold buttermilk topped excessively with coriander. And lemon, which I now realise is the true culprit. It rescues uppitu when left on the stove for too long and adds the most joyous sting if eaten when still mushy.

It taught me to give things a chance & I continue to find it strange that the most boring vegetarian breakfast item also taught me to never judge a dabba by the hisses it produces in Brahmin schoolmates.

 

Categories
Books Teaching

V for Veil

Apart from Lihaaf, the other Ismat Chugtai story I often return to is ‘The Veil.’ It has the most memorable image of a man fleeing his bride because she is too shy to lift her Veil on the wedding night, and he is too afraid to do it himself. I’m fascinated by why I remember ‘The Veil.’ Sometimes, it’s the bride’s momentary courage to not lift her hands to please the groom. Sometimes it’s the groom’s voice as it moves (in the most humane way anything can) from a request to an order to eventually cries of pleas.

But what I’m most curious and delighted about is the window from which he jumps out twice. And what are veils if not windows? For the first time in a story written by a woman, I’m more smitten by a man who is so afraid, that he isn’t afraid of running away – twice. He’s the only man I know who has made the most accurate use of windows. Someday, I wish I have half the courage that Kale Mian did.

Tagging this under #DalitHistoryMonth because when my UC feminist teacher taught me this story, I had no language, no eye to look at the man in this story. It was not considered important. And I didn’t think to ask, to wonder, to keep looking. The luxury and tragedy of Savarna Feminism is that it has never been honest with itself. It doesn’t deal with male vulnerabilities derived by caste and religion because then its job would never be over. And my tragedy is that after discovering Ambedkar and Savitrimai, I find it increasingly difficult to trust an ethic that is afraid of hard work.

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Categories
Dalit History Month Writing

W for Words

I thought it was ok to use them in excess, it was what made W for Writing possible. Then I saw that those who did it well, didn’t use too many. They were precise with a surgeon’s purpose. Their images flourished with little to no words. And I was left behind with the hollowness of too many words that have stopped singing. I felt betrayed at first. Then I thought what the hell, if it comes in excess, I’ll take it like an angry Tamizh man swallowing insults and spit it out like a Konkani Devadasi spurned in love. Writing, after all, is Avarna in its form. That’s where shamelessness comes from. Suspicion is a Savarna birthright. Let them keep it.

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Categories
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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Categories
Books Dalit History Month

Y for Yearning

Chimamanda Adichie was once complimented for not using difficult words in her stories — for writing in ‘simple’ English. She laughed her watermelon laugh and said ‘Thank you very much but that’s probably because I don’t know difficult words.’ I like to imagine that the interviewer bit their tongue and did not recover.

Reading Americanah was patting that low grumble in my stomach that is hungry to have written, never to write. It was feeling grateful for Adichie and her ‘simple’ words that brought me Ifemelu, the writer who came into being because she started blogging. It was regarding Ifemelu with a sense of wonder and being in awe of her pauses that allowed her quiet, ceaseless moments of self-respect. And then it was feeling happy for seven years of rumlolarum.com.

Race and Caste are so much the same and so much not. Reading about race is reading about caste and yet there seem to be so many Indians who are more comfortable talking about racism than caste. They don’t know caste, they don’t see caste, they say.
Ifemelu after she returns from America, says that she stopped being Black when the plane touched down in Lagos. Babasaheb said he’d forgotten he was an untouchable in America and that he became one again when he landed in India. I thought of Rajini Krish who wrote about his first time on a plane, and how he described the view from the window as ‘full white, full silence, full powerful, full myth.’ I thought of his struggle, and what he was thinking moments before he took his life.

I thought about Isidore from Togo whom I met last year at an internship program in Seattle. I thought of his hands as he beat his chest with them one day, demonstrating how wildly his heart leaps everytime he tries to speak in class. How I wanted to grab his hands, slow them down and say me too. I thought of Sandra Cisneros’ Salvador whose name the teacher cannot remember. I thought of how dense must someone be to not see the loneliness of others.

In these stories, and in others, I have always yearned to find the perfect sentences to begin writing. But I’m afraid my words aren’t perfect and I’m hungry to make them perfect. What an odd demand it is no? To write perfect about things that aren’t.

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Categories
In Between

Z for Zingat

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For #DalitHistoryMonth, I’m curating an archive of short essays on nothing and everything. It’ll be done like an A to Z challenge. I’m petrified that I won’t be able to do it everyday but I want to try.

We’ll begin with Z.
Z is for Zingat. Zingat is more feeling than meaning. You can perhaps understand it better in the way the Dalit women here danced at a conference in 2017. I stood uselessly in front of them, clinging to my phone, (hiding, really) weeping. The parai didn’t stop playing and the women didn’t stop dancing. I’ve never seen something this powerful on stage before. They were/are beautiful, wild, free, thunderous – my Dalit women.

More on the conference here.