Inventory

Where did my birthday go?

You woke up feeling a biting change. You used to be more excited by things like this. What’s up? Last evening, you joked with friends about tired knee joints and baldness. Is something catching up with you?

I am beginning to hate my hands. They don’t rest nicely. When I am on my desktop trying to work, my hands are always itching to open new tabs. They are restless to know things I can live without knowing (which movie has Shah Rukh kissed most neck in?)

The worst thing your hands do is take you to Netflix long after you have finished watching season 3 of Crown. What business do you have there, especially after binge is over? What is this compulsion to open 5 tabs at once when all you need to do is send one email?

On my way to lunch today, I thought of Pa and how he has a relationship with movie titles. How pissed he still is with all Shah Rukh films because the titles are mostly about love (Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, Dil Se)

You should start writing even the little things down – even the ones you are sure you won’t forget, especially the ones you are sure will make a great beginning to your book. They will excite you then leave you. Things are leaving you. You are leaving them too but you have no memory of it. At least not now.

I feel guilty when I use too many words.

There is no shame in using too many words. Use as many as you want. Fill your teeth with words, pour them out on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and your blog. What are you afraid of?

I am afraid that it’s not necessary.

Well, it’s not necessary for you to write. Why do you do it then?

That’s different.

If you only want to do things that are necessary then you are living quite badly.

I live alright, even you know that.

Then use words – in excess. All the time. Why feel guilty? What is the point of telling your students that writing must come from a place of shamelessness when you refuse to do it yourself?

Shouldn’t I be less shameless now? I am 31.

Fuck you.

Ok, I get it. I just want to be a different person on some days.

You already are. You were 30 yesterday, you are 31 today, you will be 32 tomorrow.

Fuck you.

What 2018 taught me

This news story from yesterday cheered me up.

Screenshot via TOI
Screenshot via TOI

“I was feeling cold and I thought Ambedkar would be feeling the same, and therefore I have covered him with a blanket and lit a bonfire near the statue”

This is the sort of story that Gabito would have loved – the sort that Manto showed us so often in his. But why that soulless headline? This is probably why Garcia Marquez said that journalists should read more fiction – someone who’d read Manto would never have written that headline.

*~*~*

In other news, my time is being vacuum- cleaned by god knows what. Suddenly, there is too much to do and suddenly I am only watching Sex and the City. It’s January already which means it’s not long before the Pink Tabebuias outside my house start blooming and falling – not long before Meta comes and goes, not long before I whine about Orion Mall and BIFFES – not long before BQFF – and definitely not long before I am 31.

I wore a damn saree to celebrate turning 30 but mostly as tribute to Savitri Mai’s extra saree. Last year, I learnt that cow dung is best fought with an extra saree. 

My blog carries an extra saree more than I do because it gets attacked with more cow dung than I. It changes sarees like my mouma does – lazily, quickly, and effortlessly.

People who really want to engage don’t carry around cow dung. It’s a good thing that so much of Savarna opinion is unoriginal which means it’s the same old ghissapita flavor of cow dung which hasn’t changed since 2014.

But really – can’t you at least throw something of a challenge along with the cow dung?Even so, my blog likes wearing shimmering pink sarees with small mirrors on the border, and bright yellow bandhani sarees with backless blouses. In a small bag, it carries a plain cotton one – the color of cow dung.

*~*~*

Some nice things happened in November – I realised that what I have really wanted since 16 was to be independent. It has taken me 14 years but it is finally beginning to feel like it’s happening – I am 16 again. It’s like coming home and finding myself waiting all these years.

And then, more answers began falling – a mad writing energy took over, First Post asked me to write columns for them (!) and I found new love for podcasts and poetry.

Everything is moving too fast, like news on Twitter – and like always I must come back to my blog to breathe.

I can’t help but recollect that when I began writing for The Ladies Finger – I wrote about what I really only care about – films, TV shows, and books. I wish I could go back to doing that. It’s where I learnt everything I know today. They took me seriously as a writer and made me believe that I am more than my caste. This is something that other news websites and magazines should probably learn – you only notice us when some burning caste issue takes over and suddenly Dalit women are in demand to write. It’s not a nice thing to do.

That’s why I am thrilled about writing columns. I am waiting to write about Sara Ali Khan, Mrs. Maisel, food and gossip.

*~*~*

Much of last semester was spent at home with my damn foot in a plaster. Probably a valuable lesson – I now watch where I am walking. Something else that I began seeing only lately is the idea that sharing is anti-Brahmanical – whether it’s knowledge of what you are reading/writing or what Tejas Harad thoughtfully did here by sharing  what he wrote last year and how much he was paid – sharing essentially breaks down a system that benefits from keeping knowledge and money a secret.

Here are a bunch of things I read/listened to/ wrote:

Reading:

  1. The Mill on the Floss (going back to it now) – George Eliot
  2. How Proust Can Change Your Life –  Alain De Botton
  3. The year of Magical Thinking -Joan Didion
  4. Normal People – Sally Rooney
  5. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  6. Essays by Rebecca Solnit
  7. Essays and poems by Patricia Lockwood
  8. Poems by Dorianne Laux
  9. The Neighbourhood – Mario Vargas Llosa
  10. Two Novellas – Paul Zacharia

Writing –

  1. A book review for The Open Dosa – A review of Mother steals a bicycle and other stories
  2. A report for The Open Dosa – What happened when Bengaluru’s working class women had a #MeToo meeting?
  3. An op-ed for First Post – Jack, what the hack: The absurd outrage of Brahmins against Twitter CEO
  4. An interview feature of Sujatha Gidla – In her words, and mine: Getting to know Ants Among Elephants’ award-winning author Sujatha Gidla
  5. A column on Maltirao Baudh- ‘Marenge toh manch pe marenge’: Experiencing love and finding answers in Maltirao Baudh’s songs
  6. Co-written with Sharmishta for News 18 – If ‘Untouchability’ at Sabarimala Makes You Angry, Then Welcome to the World of Dalit Women

I used to think that translation was effort, time, and energy. But it’s a whole other joy to get to know translation as an act of intimacy and love more than anything else. The Maltirao piece was translated to Hindi by Rahul Paswan and to Tamil by LJ Violet.

Paswan’s translation is much better than the faltu English original. Reading it in Hindi gives it another kind of energy altogether. If I could read Tamil, I am sure I would say the same about LJ Violet’s piece. Needless to say, the Maltirao piece is not mine anymore – it is theirs.

Here are a bunch of other things I am excited about –

  • Listening to Stitcher every morning
  • Getting back to riding
  • French press coffee
  • Sex and the City
  • Sara Ali Khan
  • Teaching Wordsworth for Research Seminar
  • At the Atta Galata event, Mandi said ‘Own your words’ – and I am now learning to stand tall and read out my work proudly.
  • Making time to write fiction
  • Goa
  • Reading Clifford Geertz
  • Writing academic paper proposals
  • ‘It was Gold’
  • Teasing the idea of a PhD on Joan Didion
  • Watching the stunning Living Smile Vidya speak so boldly here
  • Watching this Trevor Noah interview again and again – reminds me of mouma.
  • Owning days – especially weekends
  • Wearing sarees. I have always wanted to wear it the way Namsiess does.
  • Understanding quizzes as narrative
  • Wondering if there is more to math than numbers – understanding math as narrative too
  • One Sunday I talked about Pariyerum Perumal for The Lewd Cabal podcast run by a bunch of enthu tamil boys. I was nervous. I don’t think I made sense but I enjoyed being on the show
  • Every time I return from Dilli, and my AIDMAM sisters, I feel like I have become a better version of myself. This time, Asha Zech taught me to be less angry – nodkolona, aagatte (let us see, it will happen) she says about everything.

Through this all, I think I am close to understanding what Joan Didion meant when she said ‘Remember what it is to be me, that is always the point’

20182018

It happened to me

When he told me to sit on his lap, I should have said no. There were empty seats in the van. I should have been clear about why I didn’t want to sit on his lap, especially today, of all days. Maybe this incident had to have happened just so I could learn how to say no. So I made my way over to my uncle and sat as lightly as I could on his lap. No amount of polite concerns for the health of his lap would have allowed him to let go of me. What’s worse than your family’s impoliteness is also a grand amount of politeness.

‘Could he have felt it?’ I wondered, through the 40 longest minutes of my life. I had no way of checking if I even needed to worry. At every tentative stop the van made, I grew hopeful of an excuse I could use to escape from him and his lap.

Nobody could have helped me. Not my mother, who sat in the corner of the bus, laughing at something dad was saying, not my sister who sat by the window, earphones plugged into her whole existence and definitely not me who was glued to her uncle’s lap and shivered everytime the vehicle ran over speed bumps.

Now I could feel it, the wetness, the thickness, the weird trickle between thighs, like urine dreaming its way out when you bed wet, you can feel it but are simply too paralyzed to stop it. I decided to sit mum and not do anything or say anything because I was sure the damage was done. There was no point in bringing everybody’s attention to the most embarrassing moment of my life, not prematurely. I wasn’t dreading it anymore because now all my attention was focused on delaying it. I wanted 40 more minutes, hell, I wanted the 40 minutes to not end, to never end. I wanted the daylight sucked from outside so he wouldn’t notice what had happened to his pants, on his lap. I wanted night, I wanted my mother, I wanted to lock myself somewhere and cry.

The van stopped eventually and I saw with wild fear, my mother, sister and cousins getting off the van, one by bloody one. My uncle had no way of getting up without budging me off his lap so I continued to sit until he summoned to get up.

As I stood up unhurriedly and scared, I turned to look at what I had left behind, and saw it. The most disgusting little three drops of bright red blood on my uncle’s pants. What followed must have been bad because I went temporarily deaf after a stupid boy cousin opened his mouth and screamed ‘Blood! Blood! Blood on uncle’s pants’.  As kind aunts shushed him to a full stop, I ran tearing out of the van and into the bathroom. When I came out, I had transformed into a firm believer of using 2 napkins on the first day of period.

Over and out

It is difficult to admit to yourself when you fall out of love. There aren’t signs nor symbols to tell you when you do, unlike when you are in love where every tear drop is out of feeling lucky and blessed, every smile is a play of memory and desire and every morning is a prayer. Here on the other side, there is a void now which is slowly beginning to fill with everything you don’t say to each other. A pause that appears more than once in a conversation; it twitches and you want nothing more than to wrap it up and put it in your pocket; to let it out only when it is healthier and is sure to inspire thoughtfulness and shared smiles.

It takes longer to dress up now, you pick clothes you don’t find interesting. When you turn back at your door and see the light and warmth in the curtains and the slow, rhythmic rising of fumes from incense sticks, you sigh and hang on to the hope of another Sunday, when all of this will be yours to touch and feel.

You go to familiar places, hoping it will rekindle forgotten desires, now abandoned in limbos – neither here nor there. The walk from the parking lot to the escalator is the hope for a good day. Then you say something, he says something else. Your face freezes in an expression you know he detests but it’s too late to think of what he detests and loves. Or perhaps you don’t care. Within a minute, the promise of a good day goes grinning by, and all you can do is stand there and wait to finish your thought, the fight.

A warped sense of pity and gratitude beckons you to walk along with him and force conversations on him, like squeezing an empty tube for that last remaining blob of toothpaste. But all you get is a set of grunts to match your ridiculous questions. You are only checking to see if the day still has potential, and then in that little distance between discomfort and accusation, you will know.

As you stand in silence on the escalator, you wonder if it always took you so long to get to the fourth floor. It seems as though another floor has been added because it really is taking you longer than usual to get there. Ringing echoes of laughter and memories of stories that you once inflicted on this escalator, this mall whisper behind you as you finally reach that dreaded fourth floor. And then a faint feeling of loveless coma whacks your face and you are left wondering if you just fell out of love.

Two pairs of hands are lifelessly sprawled on the table – they look yellow and tired. Every movement the hand makes is a battle between a desire to end the bickering, yet to not want to reach out and grasp his hand. The food arrives and you feel relief raining all over your insides. Hours later you are fighting the urge to push his weight off your chest while your face appears to be as calm as the moon. Every touch is a memory that your uncle left burnt on your thighs, hips and breasts. You go through with it and wait for it to end. It ends and you go home.

Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel. 

Nothing here

I gruelingly remember my undergraduate years at Jain College. Blow after blow, bully after bully, fight after fight.  A lot of my time was invested in either escaping said bullies or trying to confront them in my head, making speeches. I made terrible friends, wasted all my time in a college that was as aimless as its students. I didn’t know what I wanted from my career. Too much time was spent worrying about potential love failure. Too much more time was wasted in romance that didn’t blossom when it had to.

Being in love can be very exhausting. At 16, the exhaustion seemed weightless.  Also, I was too young to notice that I was exhausted. All my decisions were based on him.  Where we would eat, where we would go for the vacation, where we would make out next, which movie to watch, what lies should I tell at home, what excuses aren’t already taken. Not far behind was also the lurking, overwhelming sense of whether or not all of this was worth it.

I hate to admit, but maybe falling in love at 16 wasn’t really an achievement as I hoped it would be. I must be the bigger person here and also say that mother was probably right. I can never be so sure about this because back then, this wasn’t a house that encouraged a career in the humanities. Marriage proposals from men two decades older than me were considered and pursued with much enthusiasm just because I was anyway a B.A English student.

But my misdirected rage against them was no excuse for having exploited 3 prime years of my life, chasing nothing, but they didn’t seem like nothings then. They were what caused me dark circles – prolonged wait and hope for calls that never came, for text messages that were never returned, for love that remained unrequited long after I was his, and he, mine.

I don’t know how we’ve made it this far; maybe because for a good seven years of my life I gave it all of myself.  With every promise, every wound, every funny story, every fight, every touch. I did write now and then but they were all a bunch of things I could never tell him out loud. Like how much I hurt because of the sudden intense moments of love I often felt.

It doesn’t hurt now because the pain is all too familiar. The love remains and so do struggles of memory and hurt and fear.  I pass by that college every day on my way to work. On bad days, I cringe when I pass by those demon gates, on better days I laugh and feel secretly relieved about the disconnection I have managed with the college and its people.

It’s not as if I have outgrown the girl I was behind those gates. I still run after love in more or less the same ways. Except that my capacity for exhaustion seems to have plummeted down to obscene levels.

To Mr and Mrs Smith…

I watched Mr and Mrs Smith in the rainy month of June 2005. It wasn’t easy. Too much coaxing had to be done. I was nigh on 16 so going to the movies with friends was simply out of question.  I held my ground. Discussions ensued. A decision was finally made. I could go only if I was accompanied by my older cousin who worked night shifts. Bad enough she wasn’t a big fan of movies, I had to drag her along with me to watch the damned movie on the only day she got to sleep at home. So, guilt ridden and excited I dragged 2 of my sisters to watch the movie. I liked it. And then I decided to never tell the Gilmores about any of movie outings.

My next big movie outing was arranged in full secrecy. A bunch of friends from college and I went to catch Dus at Rex.  It took me half a day to realise that this whole business of watching a movie with friends was a big deal only for me.  Everybody else seemed unexcited and casual, even. I was disappointed because it was the first time in my life I was somewhere I was not supposed to be and nobody seemed to recognize or share my pleasure. My parents didn’t know where I was and that was the best thing about the whole movie outing. I felt great when I returned home knowing how I spent my day. It felt good to have lied and gone out for a day with friends, which if I had asked permission for, I would never have been allowed.

Further down the years, lying became my only way of getting what I wanted. I did try the truth occasionally but when I saw that it made their control over me seem tighter, I decided to stick with lies for the rest of my life. My Pre university days at home were horrible. Every movement was watched. So much so that mother faked coming late to a PTA meeting and arrived early so she could  hide behind some pillar to see who I talk to. She did this twice.

Key among incidents like these is two of the worst tantrums that they pulled. Dad – because he saw a boy’s name on my phone. Mom – because I asked to spend the night with my friend (a girl) because it was her birthday. Plates were thrown, dinner was abandoned and she sped up to her room, crying because I stubbornly wanted to go.

And then when I had to go on my next trip, I lied. And everything became super easy for me. I have had an educational excuse for every trip since then. And I realised I don’t have to deal with any of their tantrums at all because I was saving them the trouble of having to educate and bring culture to an ill cultured daughter; by lying to them about where I was going and with whom.

I must confess I take great pleasure in doing this. Even now as I am typing all of this, I cannot help but feel a little proud of myself for having done what I did. But, there is a but. The fact that I am an adult now and should be able to do what I want to without having to lie. Or the fact that there are days when I wonder if really telling them the truth would be so bad. Or the fact that maybe at some level I am still scared of them which is why I feel the excessive need to lie and cover up my flaws – which is that I am not as mature as I would like to be.

I don’t know if I’ll ever grow out of this phase. But I can see that I can only move forward if I forgive them and myself and realise that no matter how many tantrums they threw I still did everything that I wanted to. And that hasn’t changed at all.