C for Coming home

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This is my workplace. I learnt to read & write here. Over the years, I have tried & failed at finding the right words to say how grateful I am to be here. Futile as it may be, I never tire of trying again – and this time, in the spirit of #DalitHistoryMonth (er, still)

To discover oneself as Dalit – not of your own accord but by the way others treat you, is one of the crudest expressions of caste. If you grow up not realizing you are Dalit, then school will show you. If you make it to college, then college will confirm it for you. If you come out alive, then you can always count on the world outside to show you & shame you for it. And this department taught me to wrench out shame, and suck it bone-dry. 

If the only acceptable & desirable way to be anywhere in the world is by being Savarna- Brahmin, this place showed me the strength of laughing at it & reclaiming being Avarna as a better way to live & work. The HoD, an Avarna man himself, imagined & built it the way he envisioned Ambedkar’s work ethic. 

The idea of a classroom, of a good student is usually built on Savarna ideals of speed, quality, & good English. Our syllabus & practice say lol to this. Designed as it is for students who will not be left behind simply for not being born in families where good English does push-ups, our syllabus makes me believe in the work I get to do everyday. And the work I get to do everyday is humbling which is why it is also easy to lol at the baboons who keep attacking it. My only yardstick to measure the worth of these attacks is to see whether they are drenched in Savarna ego, which more often than not, they are – so, meh.

One of my most crucial learning here has been that I have failed as a teacher if I have, even for one day, stopped being a student. And that to be a student is to be a sponge – learning what thrills you & drinking it up fully. And it isn’t only by reading or writing that the students & I found a self here. It’s by learning how to have full-body conversations with people, & listening to their stories.

The boy who is a Vijay fan but dances only to Dhanush songs often returns, perhaps because he sees something here. The girls who had zero interest in reading or writing come back year after year to say thank you perhaps because they learnt something more valuable from the course. The little chili from Tirunelveli returns often to sit, breathe us all in with her eyes, eat books, & laugh her heart out. As for the others who may come here half or full Savarna, they always leave with Ambedkar. What they do with him later is really up to them.

And then there are those who sit inside, drink tea, laugh, or sit outside read, talk, play the guitar – never quiet leaving.

A remarkable thing about Hogwarts is its inclusivity & diversity.  There was a half-giant, a squib, a werewolf, those born to muggle parents, Severus Snape whom it used to be so tempting to distrust, and all kinds of people who would have been left behind for being misfits. The department is my Hogwarts. In more ways than one, it makes room for misfits like me.

The first night Harry spends at Hogwarts, he is shown sitting by the window with Hedwig – looking outside and sighing. He’s finally home.

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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.