30 days into Summer

I get an erection when I think of free time these days. Yet somehow all that glorious free time is spent watching Season 2 of Gilmore Girls. I am not complaining though. I noticed a guitar in Luke’s apartment in the episode where Jess comes to Stars Hollow for the first time. I might be growing fonder of Emily than Lorelai – this is when I slow down, shut my laptop and contemplate life.

Summer is here – there’s blood and pus in my nose, boils the size of balloons on my face, grease and leaves in my hair, an egg that I am sure will neither fertilize nor crumble in my uterus, leading me to believe that much like me-that damned egg will live and die alone. In my uterus.

So PCOS 10: VJ Loser. It’s alright actually. I don’t even realise I have a malfunctioning uterus until a drop of the theertha is eventually squeezed out, once in three months.

Mintu and I went to Fenny’s last Sunday. Madam wanted to watch the match so she got there 30 minutes early and sat annoyingly close to the projector. I yanked her away to a nice little table with tall stools under some tree. I am yet to figure out how people grow so many trees on the third floor. Next to us was what they called a Lucky Ficus. Here’s something about sitting under trees –no matter how calm I am from the inside to be sitting right under nature’s bosom and all, I am permanently worried that there are snakes in nature’s bosoms. I kept looking up to see if there were any snakes hanging above my head and hissing. I didn’t tell Mintu because she would start crying and screaming and make us switch tables.

Mintu starts shaking if you so much as say ‘snakes’. Even the word, she says is snake-like.

In other news, I am no longer practicing tolerance and non-violence when people start screaming their guts out while watching cricket. At Social the other day, the waiters whistled with actual whistles everytime the blue men caught a six. My ears bled. I wanted to make something of theirs bleed. The drinks were nice though. The LIIT was an actual tower, a drink called trip on the drip actually came with a drip bag, and there were appetizers called crab balls to you.

Later that night when I went home, the match was still on and the peeps were mental. I was too happy and tipsy to complain so I joined in. But mother, B, M and V started throwing things at me because I was cheering for Bangladesh. When the match came to an exciting near end, my mother kept bouncing up and down, my brother was half sitting half praying, B and M were kicking me because I had spotted a man dressed as a tiger whom I decided to call Bengal Tiger for the rest of the night. Bengal Tiger beat his chest at various points and wept when India won. He had both his hands on his head and cried like a baby. Everytime he appeared, I yelped. Soon, they all joined and laughed the match off whenever they saw Bengal Tiger. He looked so sad – I think he died.

I am reading Tipping the Velvet and feeling bad for myself because after this and Night Watch, I won’t have any more Sarah or Waters to read. She reminds me of London, and the coach we saw London in. I can’t think about London without sighing and also feeling a little guilty. It’s close to a year now and I am nowhere near to finishing that Europe piece.

B is engaged! The wedding’s in August and I promised to wear a saree if she came with us for a vacation. B will celebrate her bachelorette or the Konkani version of it, on a cruise. I am making my list  for the vacations– hopefully I will find the courage to let go off Gilmore Girls and get a life.

 

Mere Nas Nas Mein

After watching Titanic for the first time, I told my sister that the locket that Rose threw into the Atlantic goes down and lodges itself very neatly around Jack’s skeleton-neck. The truth of their incomplete love was too much for me to deal with. Or maybe I just couldn’t stand the thought of the locket being thrown away like that. I had to make up a story that would make me feel better. I was 12, Mintu was 10. She believed me. Two years between us wasn’t big enough for her to think of me as wise and not small enough for her to completely ignore me.

As a child, I had a bed-wetting problem that continued well into my teens. I was embarrassed and this made me a very insecure and bitter child. I could never freely sleep in other people’s homes, much less mine. Rubber sheets were thrown under my mattresses. And it always seemed like these rubber sheets were sticky and dirty, no matter how many times they had been washed. Things like these never stay within the family. Relatives are always over –eager to let you know that they are not embarrassed by your bed-wetting problem and the only moment they choose to tell you how cool they are with it is in front of other relatives.

Rubber sheet togondenamma? – became a question that every well-meaning aunt asked before I left with them for a sleepover with cousins.

Mintu was a chubby, dark-haired, second-rank student. She had no bed-wetting problem and was always very respectful of elders.

Over one summer, I don’t know how but to make matters worse, she got taller than me. It was at this point that I invented ‘Kamoon’ – a flying spirit that was my close, personal friend. Kamoon was green, visible only to me and shy. He didn’t like my sister very much because he thought she was too proud and first and foremost – she didn’t wet her bed. I showed Mintu the green in my veins to convince her of his existence. It didn’t take much time. After she believed Kamoon – giving him a story wasn’t difficult. He lived in my veins when I summoned him and left only after I had wet the bed.

I found her one day, sitting near the washing machine and weeping quietly because she didn’t have a spirit-friend she could share her feelings with. She begged me to make Kamoon her friend. She bawled when I said that it was simply not possible. That she couldn’t just start bed-wetting to become friends with Kamoon.

The next morning, mother was furious because there were two maps of urine on the bed sheet. One Sri Lanka and one Africa.

Fine, I said. But I cannot give you Kamoon. I can give you Kummi, his brother.

And so it was that I gave Kummi to my sister. Every now and then, she would look at her wrist happily and whisper to it. Kamoon and I watched with great delight, sighing a great big pity for her. Soon, Mintu stopped bed-wetting but I continued to. It took her a while to figure out that Kummi wasn’t really living in her veins—that I had never really passed the order of transfer – that Kamoon was a lie – that a large part of her childhood was a lie.

Over the years, Mintu and I will grow apart and come close and grow apart again. Kamoon has never visited me after that but I think of him very often.

Bombay Diaries

Pachi* found my diary once. It was a white spiral bound notebook that said ‘My Diary’. She said she wanted to read it. When I gave her a dirty look, she promised she wouldn’t tell ma about it. After I handed it over, she scratched the ‘Diary’ out and wrote in bold, confident letters ‘Dairy’.

She wakes up at 5:00 every morning to do Pranayama and Yoga. It all began with Baba Ramdev 10 years ago. That evening after he demonstrated how to grow hair—ma, aunty and everybody else at home sat and rubbed their finger nails. They have been doing it since. They do it while watching TV, in the theatre while watching a movie and in restaurants while we wait for food. Dad joined in when he realised that all the ‘grow hair in one week’ medicines were failing him.

Pachi lives in Andheri, Mumbai. She has lived there since Mumbai was Bombay. A man who lived in her building used to be secretary to Juhi Chawla and then later to Hrithik Roshan. When they got Juhi Chawla to come to aunty’s home one day, my cousin L – Aunty’s son, picked a strand of Juhi Chawla’s hair and put it in a plastic cover. He hid it in his cupboard and never showed it to us.

Because of the secretary connection, she claims that her gossip about Bollywood movie stars is 100% pakka. She is convinced that Rani Mukherjee drinks and smokes; that Aishwarya doesn’t; and that there really is something between Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. Her maid who has connections too, tells her some of these things. When my sister and I were 13, 14, and 15 – we listened to all these stories with envious interests. We had to know if L had really hugged Hrithik Roshan or if Shah Rukh’s son was really promised to Madhuri’s daughter or if Salman really stood outside Aishwarya’s door every night, threatening to break it down, miles apart from how Amitabh stood outside Rekha’s apartment (My mother and pachi swear by this. They say that in all the award functions, they have seen nothing but true love for Rekha in Amitabh’s eyes)

When we became 21, 22, and 23 – we resisted these stories like we resisted everything else at that age. We were rude to pachi and back-answered her at every chance we saw fit. Somehow we were more vulnerable then than we were at 13, 14 and 15. We refused to believe that she even saw these stars close-up—let alone knew them in person. We were mad at ourselves for having believed the stories in the first place. At 25, 26 and 27 – we forgave her because we had learnt a lot about her life by then.

She is a mindless exaggerator of details, almost to the point where she knows nobody is going to believe her but she continues anyway – I have never been able to find out why.

When I was in Mangalore for summer vacations some years ago, she thought it was a good idea to drag me the Government College that she had studied in- to pull out some really old records. I tagged along hoping it would be an interesting expedition. We took a bus and at the college I witnessed what my aunt is really famous for – her negotiations. All the women in my family from my mother’s side bargain beautifully. Neither my dad nor anybody from his side of the family knows how to bargain. I think I have his genes. I sat at a long, oval brown table and watched as my aunt had them pull out record after record from the 70’s.

Innu swalpa nodi, tumba problem aagtade illa andre. Nanna maganige interview untu americadalli. Nanna doucuments sikkilla andre avanige visa illa.

In the train, on their way back to Bombay – my aunt sat in somebody else’s seat the first half of the journey. Neither of the four of my family members that were on that train had a ticket. They just got on the train and left. My aunt- her son; my other aunt and her son. When the man whose seat it was boarded the train and asked politely to see their tickets, she fought with him.When the poor thing kept showing his ticket to her, saying that he had paid for it, my aunt only said – Toh hum kya phokat main aaye hain?

*Pachi in Konkani means aunt.

For the 200th blog post :)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you hit 200 posts on your blog, people will *nudge nudge wink wink* and say ‘Blogging is not actual writing no?’. It is also a truth partly acknowledged that it will not be said directly. Here’s a clue. This is what they want to say: but she’s not a real writer ya!

Maybe. Maybe not. But this is how many fucks I gave about it today. One. And that’s why I am writing blogging about it. And then I’m all out. I feel strangely at peace with things today. First day of the academic year and I almost called in sick because I didn’t want to leave home, didn’t want to leave mommy. I’m not even kidding. The only reason I wanted to get out bed was because I spent my holidays doing absolutely nothing and was hoping the first day would yank me out of this sick – gestation period. This is the worst I have been at holidays. Worst. All my days were chewed up by meaningless binge-watching of HIMYM. My nights were long, warm and useless. I didn’t even wake up feeling refreshed.

The only good day I had was the 31st of December. I woke up, kicked myself, didn’t make my bed, had a bath, watched Romedy Now (Reruns of HIMYM, obvi), took my scooty and went to college. In the department, I made chai, cleaned up and settled down. I found futureme.org. A website that allows one to write letters for the future self. I wrote one. It will be delivered to my inbox on the 31st of Dec, 2016. I can’t wait to read it. I am wondering if it will make sense at all. The letter is 2000 words. It tired me so I ordered food from Khazana and watched HIMYM while eating it. The Ghee Rice, Dal, and Phal all agreed with me. Except when I dropped half a packet of Dal on my white palazzo pants. Best 31st Dec, ever.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to end my 200th blog post. I’ll just say today was a very interesting day. I am glad that holidays are over and that it’s a new bloody year and everything. The good ol’ Ladies Finger ran an essay I wrote about the women in my family. It’s a great boost – To begin New Year’s with the finger. Hee Hee.

Back home, I got fried for writing about this because apparently the man of the house has to be protected. If I’m not too careful, I may end up falling in love with all the women in my family. They are too busy protecting the men from getting hurt. This gave me the giggles. Mean ones.

Bubbly and I sat for hours this evening, talking about out great-grandmother. At one point, I had to whip open a tissue paper to map a family-tree, which began with one woman and ended with plenty of sons. I discovered many things about my family today. Some surprising, some disturbing, and some crazy- funny stories about a great-grandmother I never knew. I feel strangely inspired. Strange because it’s the same feeling I get after watching movies with a superb female cast.

I feel stronger because of the stories I heard today. Some days, maybe it’s enough to want to know more about the strong great-grandmother, and being told that she was strong. That’s all. It’s like watching Arundhati – scary, inspiring and deadly.

It was a pretty spectacular 200th blog post day. The high point of the evening was when Bubbly and I started talking about our Mangalore house. We began looking for a lost childhood that was short enough to fit into the house and long enough to follow us here, today.

Other Beef Things

Bornagain Titus and I met in my final year of M.A. I took a liking to him immediately because he was slightly mad. He is my only best friend today who doesn’t know any of my secrets. In 2015, I come to learn that that’s how one keeps best friends; by not sharing secrets. I also like him because he reminds me of actor Dhanush. His relationship with his mother is the funniest thing ever. On Mother’s day, Titus decided to wish his mother after having annoyed her by missing Church one Sunday morning. When he giggled and wished his mother, she threw a glass of water on him and told him to get lost.

One day, Titus fought with his neighbour because the neighbours’ toilet exhaust fan was right in front of Titus’ bedroom. When they were fighting, the man called Titus a ‘third class’ fellow. Later that evening, when Titus’ mother asked him what he wanted for dinner and Titus said ‘Beef fry’, his mother whacked him on his head and told him not to say it loudly because beef was why people thought they were third class.

This reminded me of my Brahmin friends who intimidated me then and make me giggle now. They would jump four benches away on days that I brought chicken curry and eight when I brought fish. They stopped talking to me once for repeatedly saying ‘Chicken – mutton – fish – Kolla Puchi’. I don’t know what Kolla Puchi means but my father would say that to irritate all the vegetarians in my family. My mother, for instance, who had became a vegetarian only because of an oath she had taken to save my new born Jaundice-ridden brother’s life.

I was 7 when I watched my Mother perform Madastana. That morning, we woke early and I saw that my mother was wearing a saree. She usually wears churidhars so I was mildly surprised. I don’t remember the color of her saree but it may have been cream or even white. Madastana is when lower- caste women roll on the temple floor, on the leftovers of Brahmins’ food. I saw crumpled banyan leaves along with grains of rice and drumsticks that were chewed until all the juice had been squeezed out, stuck to the sides of mother’s saree.

My father stood close to her, bending now and then to make sure that her pallu sat tightly around her chest. I know there must have been another elder person there with us, keeping watch over me, as I ran helter-skelter through the courtyard and came back panting to catch up with my parents. I stopped only once because mother had started to cry. I was afraid because my father looked more upset than I have ever seen him.

Now when I gather what had passed that day between them, my father hated that mother was being stubborn and wanted to do the Madastana. They stopped talking to each other for a while after that and resumed only after my brother regained his health, which is why the Madastana had happened in the first place.

When a friend took me home for the third time, his sister asked me which god we worshipped at home. I didn’t know and it didn’t matter because what she actually wanted to know was my caste. When I told her I was Korama and that I didn’t know much about it, she told me not to mention it to any of the other people at her home. It seemed like she knew a lot more about Korama than I did.

Shri Pehelvan Sahaveer Main College

In my 10th std, everybody was convinced I was going to fail because I was the dullest child in Math that my family had ever produced. My English was declared just average because I didn’t know what the word ‘uxorious’ meant when we were watching Monsoon Wedding. My sister was the Harry Potter fan girl when this happened. So it was believed that she was the rock star and I needed help. My mother told me not to worry because they were going to set up a pharmacy in my name if I failed tenth and that I wouldn’t be jobless.

Whenever I think of this, I think of what all my high school over- achieving Brahmin friends would have said if they had seen me duck under the counter covered with Orbits and Kama sutra in Chintu Pharmacy. Or under the counter at Chintu Rajasthani cotton expo that had come mind numbingly close to Chintu’s café. Mouma seemed to be the only one who saw me with a degree in Humanities yet not in any of the Chintu buildings. She was the only woman to have faith in me. She said she would write letters to Puttaparthi Sai Baba and that he would pass me in all my exams.

I went to Shri Pehelvan Sahaveer Main College in Bangalore to do my B.A Journalism. It was quite a unique college. The Journalism course was run by the Psychology department and this was all kinds of hilarious. They kept finding saffronistas to teach us Journalism. My favourite cartoon was a Radio producer turned College lecturer named Radio Kantri. Radio Kantri taught us journalism by talking fondly of his childhood, The Hindu, Narendra Modi, and why A.R Rahman at the Oscars was the best thing to happen to India. Three years doing Journalism there and all I learnt was that The Hindu is a better newspaper than The Times of India.

In 2009, the infamous Mangalore Pub attack happened and I decided to send a pink Chaddi, thanks to The Pink Chaddi Campaign. Later that week, my father told me that he was friends with Pramod Muthalik, the bald head behind Sri Ram Sene, and that he had given him 10,000 Rs the previous year. I sent Muthalik another pink chaddi.

BRA & GSB

If I were to tell you the story of the women in my family, I would probably begin with Mouma and my aunts. My aunts are crazy in much the same way that aunts in most families are; and normal in a way that is still crazy. All the women in my family are various forms of the Metaphysical conceit.
When I was 4, I would sit on mouma’s lap with a glass of milk and refuse to drink it unless she showed me both her breasts. Soon, all my sisters started to demand this from her. We would sit around her smiling into our glasses of milk and wait for her to pull her breasts out. She must have been special because none of the other grandmothers did this. I think this is because she had lost her husband when she was rather young and not having a husband around makes old women very cool.

That’s the grandmother I remember. The other version of her is who she became when she was around her children. She had six; two boys and four girls. If I ever live to grow that old, I wish I inherit her madness. One morning she woke up having dreamt that the gods in Banaras were calling out to her. She demanded to be taken there right away. My mother laughed in her face and refused. It gave me an oddly primal pleasure to watch my mother being blackmailed first and bullied later by her mother to sponsor the Banaras trip.

Her extortion attempts are always successful because she threatens to go live with her children for ‘a few weeks’, if they don’t give her money. She knows her coming home means threatening them but it doesn’t make her sad because she makes a fortune out of it. When news of her arrival rocks the first floor of my house, the ground floor shakes with disapproval. Guestrooms are reorganised, undergarments are hidden inside lockers, bags are folded and kept away, and all the riches– shopped for carefully in various exhibitions, are stripped away until nothing but the gloomy exteriors of concrete remain.

 My Mouma, the bra thief snoops around the house for bras and chaddis regardless of how much they are torn or where, to give them away to other poorer relatives. I don’t know what she tells them when she hands it to them. I wonder if she’d collected empty Jockey boxes to fill them later with my bras and chaddis.

It’s more surprising to say this to myself but she’s also a fiercely independent woman. She prefers travelling alone and when she does, she travels in style. Hotels are booked months in advance, flight tickets are negotiated across two states – Karnataka (my mother) and Maharashtra (my Bombay aunt) and cars are arranged. Failing this, she goes AWOL for a long time and resurfaces at random points with new handbags from wherever she went but always smelling like Vibhooti. Wherever she came back from, she always smelled of Vibhooti, Marie biscuits and tea powder.

 When I ask for stories about my grandfather, I am only given one– like all those times I asked for too many things as a child and was given just the one bar of chocolate. My mother says he knew when he was going to die and that he scribbled the date on a wall in the house. He had a hole in his heart and died on the date he said he would. Nobody had time to be amazed by either this or his death because he had left behind a mountain of debt. It fell to the eldest son at home to take care of that and his siblings’ education.

My mother says she owned only two salwaar-kameezes when she went to Canara College. She would wear it every alternate day and her friends were kind enough never to ask her why. My aunts have always told my sister and I that we are lucky to be born rich because we don’t have to struggle with who’s wearing what. My Bombay aunt talks fondly about a time when the eldest sister would fold her favourite white salwaar-kameez neatly and put it under the bed to iron it and how one day, she- my Bombay aunt, sneaked into the room, wore it quickly and ran for her life for a family function that the elder one couldn’t attend because she had nothing to wear.

Growing up, my aunts navigated our desires with feel-bad stories of poverty from their childhood. Every time we made a fuss about not being able to watch a Salman Khan first day first show, my Bombay aunt would tell us the story of how she rolled on the floor and wept until dawn because it had rained and flooded and they couldn’t catch ‘Satte pe Satta’s last show in a broken theatre far away from home – so far, they had to change three buses to get there.

For a long time, I didn’t know what my mother’s caste was. I knew we were low-caste but whenever I asked for the name, I was told it was GSB. I knew that couldn’t have been right because Mouma said it all too hurriedly, like she wanted to say it fast and get it over with, like she had rehearsed it so often and so well that it had seemed a waste to throw it at a family member, instead of a stranger.

My mother, on the other hand said it with a half-smile, half- embarrassed look on her face. Once, I walked in on a conversation that my mother was having with Bubbly, my cousin.

-You should’ve told them no? That we are GSB.
-I told them but they didn’t look convinced
-Next time just remember to say GSB before anybody asks.

When I asked Bubbly about this conversation years later, she imitated my mother’s half-smile and told me that our ancestors were, for lack of a better word, ‘Nachnewaalis’ (dancers) and that’s why, collectively, they had all agreed on calling themselves GSB to avoid unpleasantness. Confused, I asked her why we had to hide it.

She said that that was because some of the Nachnewaalis were also prostitutes. I was 23 when I found out about this and I remember how much this information cheered me up. I imagined myself stumbling into old account books of clients or some such in one of the rooms in our Mangalore house.

We watched Shobhana in Manichitrathaazhu one evening. All of us sisters huddled in the last bedroom where there was no sunlight and the air was thick with the smell of Kannan Devan tea. For days I was convinced that I had in me, the spirit of my prostitute-ancestress. I explored all the rooms in a mad fervour to find old antiques/ jewellery/anything that looked like they didn’t belong in the house.

Sadly, all those rooms only had Kannan Devan tea powder rag-bags and one big, red old-school weighing machine. My cousins Avanti and Bubbly knew their way around the weighing machine. I looked, wide-eyed and thrilled at how they were able to use the correct weighing stones to weigh various things. I took a fancy to those weighing stones more than the weighing machine. My uncle kept that tea business for over five decades and continues to run it successfully. Even to this day, mother says she cannot stand to drink tea – green or black, the smell makes her nauseous.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma cannot stand each other because they are like each other. My Bombay aunt is the happiest woman I know because she tries. She is also one among the few people I know who have all the reason to be sad. She realised that her husband was an obnoxious person two hours after she married him. He was loud and uncouth.

Theirs was an arranged marriage. Their kundli had predicted a blissful union. In real life, she pondered over why their kundli lied so blatantly when she had to spend many nights outside the house after he had hit her and kicked her out. She didn’t leave him because she had watched and learnt what good wives do from far too many unhappy families and Bollywood movies.

Scooby was a stray dog that my Bombay aunt had taken in. He was a happy dog but ever so often he would get lonely so he would lie on the sofa and look woeful. My Bombay aunt would feel physically violated if she ever saw that dog unhappy so she would give him pep talks.

All the other colony dogs are jealous of you because you live luxuriously here with us. Don’t talk to them because they are all trying to usurp your position’.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma fight all the time. She knows that Mouma likes the other daughters more than her but what pisses her off is that Mouma does nothing to hide this. More than once I have heard my Mouma say ‘kauna gottu?’ Who knows? — when her other daughters said, ‘kasala amma teshi karta, tee ve tugeli dhuv nave?’ (Why do you act like that mother, she is also your daughter no?)