Two months at home; and indebted to Joan Didion & Jackie Chan

 

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My foot is now breathing in a tub of hot water. Barely two weeks ago, I was lying in bed, my foot hoisted up on pillows – the left leg waiting to erupt from layers of dead skin – all chafed and dry. I was almost sad to see the plaster go. I’d begun to enjoy peeling bits of skin from wherever my hands could reach. They’d gather in heaps of smiling flakes as I grew hungrier for more.

Amma changed the sheets and pillow covers once a week – on the day she’d give me a bath. The flakes would then scatter themselves across the room meaninglessly, like dust.

She insisted on giving me a bath twice a week but it was too much work so I convinced her that once a week was more than enough. I put shame and nakedness through various measurements and with every passing day, I began to fear it lesser and lesser. It began on the day of the fall – the very first day when Amma had to cut open the jeans I was wearing, which was anyway torn from below the knee to make room for the horrid white plaster.

There was no sense to the pause my body offered before taking my clothes off in front of her. She was quick to notice the scars on my body that’d faded over the years. One from the time I dumped hot chai point chai on my stomach, another from the time the hot parachute bottle melted from under my palms and burnt a good part of my thigh (don’t microwave parachute oil bottles)

As I chanted the history behind each scar, she shampooed my hair. And when she poured green hot water down my back, she looked more relieved than I was — scrubbing my back with all the energy she had – almost as if offering compensation for the loud dry zone which was my plastered foot, sitting smugly inside 2 dustbin bags.

In my mind, I observed that this was the closest she’d come to giving me the balanteero bath that they give to pregnant women. She has dreamed of giving me those baths even more than wanting grandchildren.

***

Days dissolved into watching reruns of women taking Karan Johar’s ass on his show and rewinding all the Eli Gold and Elizabeth Tascioni moments on The Good Wife. When I felt like writing and couldn’t, I sought Joan Didion.

I sped through The Year of Magical Thinking with an obsession to grow old like Didion. One December morning, her daughter was hospitalized. After spending a day in and out of the ICU – Didion and her husband returned home, unsure if they would see their daughter alive the next day. They sat down for dinner and her husband collapsed on the table with a heart attack, and died.

From that point on, my little fracture grief  became laughably manageable. It was ok that I could only listen to the rain and not watch it. It made me wonder if I’d ever really listened to rain and not just watched it – which is not too different from a grunt acknowledgement. After all what is rain without its sound?

In the two months I spent at home, there were two evenings whose colors belonged in a painting. From my dining table, I watched the Bangalore sky glowing furiously and pleasantly – or somewhere between the two which – as I have come to realise – is something that only Bangalore sky is capable of (As D would say)

Its orange was pleasant, but its force was furious. It came in shocks of rectangle and threw itself on the table, lingering there for a while before slowly fading.

***

A friend mentioned Frida one day and I spent the entire day in bed feeling grateful. It’s the one film that I have watched over and over again in the last two months.

The plaster was still on when I was told to walk without support. I cringed. With every half step I took, I expected to hear the crunch of bones and iron. I am now a firm believer of right time. Sometimes it is just not the right time to watch certain films. It’s probably why I had never watched Kill Bill and now was the time to watch it. Moments after Kill Bill Vol: 2, I took my first step with no support and walked on feeling proud as fuck even as I was imagining the Kill Bill Ironside Siren Sound playing somewhere.

Reading Cheryl Strayed and Rebecca Solnit made me think about walking a lot more intensely than that fucker Proust. And now I cannot wait to listen to the sound of my walk.

Those were my strong moments. In my most vulnerable moments, I thought about my astrologer aunt who had warned me about this accident months before I fell. She has predicted all my accidents so far. My resistance was weak and I was going to succumb to the haze of stars and shani, rahu and ketu and whatever when I suddenly remembered Jackie Chan.

I discovered that the man has had 14 major injuries in his life including a brain surgery and an eyebrow bone fracture that almost left him blind. He has slipped into a coma from hitting his head trying to jump off trees, leapt through a real window instead of a fake one, survived a Cervical spine damage from falling from a 25 meter clock tower and has had Pelvis dislocation almost causing partial paralysis. If this man had to listen to my aunty astrologer, he’d have had to quit doing what he loves long ago. Where the fuck is the place for Rahu kala Shani kala in Jackie Chan’s life?

Image Credits: myhero.com

Image Credits: myhero.com

Thanks to Joan & Jackie, I am writing from the other side with whatever little is left of my dignity.

What is Rum Lola Rum, ma’am?

Key of Magic by Hartwig HKD via Flickr

Key of Magic by Hartwig HKD via Flickr

This has been a week full of Magic. I’d like to show you some of this but I’m afraid you won’t like it very much. It’s heavy like a tall glass and salty like bloody Mary, and like both, it might tear the corners of your lips.

when i’d watched The Prestige long ago, i was only a girl in love, nothing but a girl in love. maybe some days it’s enough to be only a girl in love and nothing but a girl in love. Not today.

i watched the film again last Saturday, i watched it like a teacher. is a teacher not in love? yes she is: some days, every day, most days. Some days i fall in love like a healing wound – slowly at first, and then in big quick gulps. everyday i fall in love like shah rukh khan – kisi ke baal ache hai, kisi ke hont. On most days i fall in love like I have never fallen in love before – like magic, like disappearing rabbits, like orange color rain.

i watched the film like i was watching someone teach me something in a classroom. someone teaching me to perform. perform to teach. because teaching, like magic, is performance – it’s where i have to make something appear out of nothing.

“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”

teaching is getting them to see the magic that i have seen – in other people’s worlds, words, and works. some days this magic leaves me dizzy.

in the same way i was dizzy to discover the old Chinese man in The Prestige who sacrificed being able to walk properly to be able to perform magic. in the same way i was dizzy to read Pauline Kael who takes all her images and squeezes them inside out until words started appearing. in the same way i was dizzy when i discovered how endearingly Joan Didion wrote and taught the world how to make writing a part of your body – so much so that i now feel like all my words belong to her because she knows their weight more than I do.

when i am reading, i am sometimes confronted with a happiness that is far too big for me to hold. like Salvador’s hundred balloons of happiness, like the smile between Dhanush’s tragedy and Dhanush’s dance, like the smell of hot cardamom chai on my fingers, like the fullness of evenings in the department where we all sit and talk and laugh, like watching students be absorbed in their work, like i have the key to doors that open Macondo, Naples, New York,  Bombay, and Mangalore.

it’s a gift. it’s a curse. it makes teaching exciting. it makes me tired when i’m unable to recreate the same magic for students in the classroom – what i know i have felt in the bones, between the folds in my body where hunger is a disappearing rabbit in a black hat.

 

Featured Image Credits: Key of Magic by Hartwig HKD via Flickr

I Love You, Samuel Johnson

Featured Image Credits - http://www.bbc.co.uk

Featured Image Credits – http://www.bbc.co.uk

In one of my journals that I wrote as a student at Jain College – I remember recording an entry about how guilty I felt one morning for having asked amma some money to pay the college fee. She directed me towards the drawer and I took 18,000 from it. I must repay her, I’d written.

I have been reading The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary. Through last week and this – it’s all I’ve been reading. There is a chapter on Samuel ‘Dictionary’ Johnson and how he spent nine years writing it. The man, like so many other authors from that time, had to discontinue his studies because his parents couldn’t afford it. Just like James Augustus Murray – the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Just like Shakespeare, and just like Dickens. And just like so many other men and women who wanted to study but couldn’t.

What happens to young people with an immense appetite for learning when they are pulled away from schools? I asked in a class, earlier this week.

“They become desperate to learn”, said someone. I couldn’t have looked for a better word myself. This BBC documentary explains Johnson’s desperation to work through the hard years to produce the damn dictionary. He had Tourette syndrome and was often the butt of many jokes – some really offensive even. At one point, when the dictionary work was almost dying – he overheard his assistants ridiculing him. He didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked away.

The next morning, he showed up for work as if nothing had happened. What else did I expect him to do? He just wanted to work.

You would not deny me a place among the most faithful votaries of idleness, if you knew how often I have recollected my engagement, and contented myself to delay the performance for some reason which I durst not examine because I knew it to be false; how often I have sitten down to write, and rejoiced at interruption; and how often I have praised the dignity of resolution, determined at night to write in the morning, and deferred it in the morning to the quiet hours of the night.
~Samuel Johnson: Idler #83 (November 17, 1759), from “Robin Spritely,” a fictional correspondent.

When the dictionary was finally ready for print, he would still not send it to the publishers because he was waiting to receive an honorary degree from Oxford University (an M.A.), which later appeared on the title page of his Dictionary.

He waited. The way only a hungry man can wait. The desperation of a man who was hellbent on making sure that his poverty didn’t cost him what was taken away from him as a young boy – the appetite to learn, to achieve.

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Image credits – Wikimedia Commons | David Levy

W.C Minor – a major collaborator of the OED, did something similar when he was holed up in an asylum. Clearly he had more comforts here- a cell turned library, a writing desk, attenders on call, food and booze. His demons were however, larger. The man had been torn apart by war which had led him to murder someone. On grounds of lunacy, he managed to escape imprisonment but in his mind, he was perpetually imprisoned – by monomania, by fear, by the want to be productive which his restlessness wouldn’t grant.

James Augustus Murray too had the same fate, perhaps worse. He left school too because there was no money. But his curiosities got the better of him and the man taught himself to apply, to develop a nose for details. What happened at this spot in this city 200 years ago? He did well without school. He became assistant headmaster at 17 and headmaster at 20.

And then tragedy struck – he fell in love.

I wish I could go back in time – partly to live history as it happened and to see the events unfold before my eyes- the wars, the black & white London, the great fire, and most importantly – writers at work. Partly also because I am curious – would I have taught myself to read and write if I couldn’t afford 18,000 for an education?

Years ago, I found a diary while cleaning the department. It belonged to AM. It had a list of books he had purchased and read as a student in his early 20s. After each book he had also recorded the amount spent on it. I felt gravely insulted by his diary. He had read about 200 books in a year. Money was tight so much of his reading happened by borrowing books.

Some say that it was easier to commit oneself to reading back then because there were no distractions. Even so. It must have taken some sort of odd courage to chop yourself off from everyone else in order to learn, to apply yourself to something – anything.

And as if silence isn’t distracting enough. Every time I crave silence, I am rewarded by it but within minutes, it has the capacity to become a punishment. Nothing in the world is as menacing as silence when you first want it, and then don’t want it.

Even so – this has been the most inspiring week. Even if I am fucking 29 Olay years old, even if I have started only now. My only comfort is that I can never be too old to feel inspired. Again and again.

Read his very stylish Letter to Lord Chesterfield here. The man knew how to laugh.

Seven years, My lord have now past since I waited in your outward Rooms or was repulsed from your Door, during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of Publication without one Act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a Patron before.

Featured Image Credits – http://www.bbc.co.uk

Telltale Tingles

I must slow down.  I’m afraid I am running very fast. When free time rolls around, I begin to compete with the time lost in my painfully absent youth. There is an embarrassed yet unashamed burning in my chest when I see younger women going at it with all the energy in the world. I think about their slender, unripe bodies and all the time they have ahead of them. These are the women that my 16 year old self wanted to be at 20, 21, 22.

I must slow down because I’m in a hurry to get somewhere. I caught hold of Marquez after Siddalingiah. Took weeks to finish Living to Tell the Tale and never got around to writing about it. I don’t know what to say. I have exhausted my enthusiasm for the man after dragging him to all my classes and inflicting him on all my students. There’s only so much I can say about him. That I know now why I read or write – it’s because it is only in these moments that I feel unapologetically alive.

For some time now I have been wondering if it’s a bad thing to show passions to other people – the joy of reading a beautiful line, the emptiness after watching a brilliant film, the glory in talking to an interesting person. Because people stop trusting us when we don’t struggle to like something. I find that as a teacher, it is far easier to confess hatred than it is to admit passions. I wonder if students are annoyed by teachers who fall in love with everything that they read. But then I have come to learn that I must not apologize for feeling alive. Atleast not publicly.

I couldn’t bear to fill the void that Marquez left, with my own sordid writing. So I ran to other books – To Alison Bechdel, to Philip Pullman and this morning I stopped with Ambai. After three short stories, I just had to stop because I had run out of places in my body to feel full. Reading Ambai makes my body swell and I become afraid of what I see when I read her. The three stories I read today were each about women and their growing passions and how they struggled and went on to keep these passions. The women in her stories are what the women in my family would have been, if only they had run after their stories.

A couple of days ago, I watched ‘The Hours’ and found it strange that in Woolf’s death, I found an excuse to remain alive. I wish I could explain what that means. Nabokov said, ‘A wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle…’

I feel a tingle in the small of my neck when I read something nice, yes. And also in my stomach – where something of a warm pool begins to collect. And that’s why now I have to slow down.

Albert Einstein

After class today, I sat and watched a documentary on Albert Einstein. To begin with, I still mumble when I pronounce his last name. I have never been much of a learner of physics matlab, I have never shown interest in understanding the workings of matter, mind or body. Whatever little I remember of the man is because of the English text book from my 9th std where we learnt about the genius and the eccentricity of Einstein. I remember the jokes he made, his smile and his hair. Basically I remember one picture. This picture:

Image Credits: googglet.com

Image Credits: googglet.com

In college last year, there was a one man play on the life and work of Albert Einstein. The stage was set with a black board, a table and a chair. I was a little curious here and enjoyed the performance a lot. Also, in many ways, the play broke down the many theories of Albert Einstein in simple English.

Ever since women beat the shit out of themselves in Olympics last year, I have grown to become very fascinated by what and how people dedicate their lives to and how they sustain this dedication through practice and discipline.

The BBC documentaries are always fun to watch. They humanize their subjects by taking us into their very lives – their rooms, work tables, documents. This makes them come alive and away from solid and unfeeling textbooks. So I watched today, an Albert Einstein poring over equations in his notebook and then another conducting his many thought experiments. For the first time, it feels like I have missed out on something valuable for not having paid attention in science classes. For two reasons:

  1. This Theory of Relativity thing is damn cool. I kept rewinding and forwarding at various points today to make sure I got it right. And at the end, even though it feels like I have learnt something, I won’t be able to explain it very well. I am still learning. But I know now that the reason Einstein is a genius is not only because he discovered/invented theories to understand the universe. But because he was able to explain these theories with working examples.
  2. What did Einstein and people like him have to work through their lifetime? He is passionately curious, is what he said. But how is one able to sustain this curiosity in the midst of all the other shit that life throws – love, money, power, jealousy, fame, career. Einstein had a lot of personal problems. He was married more than once, and these marriages were unhappy marriages, his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he was a physicist occupying a prestigious office in 1939 Germany. Clearly the world was collapsing and being born all around him. How did he work through it all?

I am fascinated by the way people remove themselves from people-emotions-feelings related problems and just set to work, like nothing else matters.

This documentary on Shakespeare reintroduced me to Shakespeare’s world and I remember reading Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor and wondering why I ever thought he was unreadable.

Good, good Friday today!

Relief

It’s the relief that conversations sometimes bring to us. It’s how your face curves into its own ends with big smiles, when clouds of grey are moved aside and you begin afresh. You hope it’s not long before something triggers you into going back to the dull ghetto that your mind becomes. Tracing finger with finger, exchanging stories of shame and insecurity you draw each other into a comfort that can only come from knowing that the other is fighting a similar, if not, harder battle. In your head, you are punishing yourself for all the things you got used to believing about the world and its meanness and how if you don’t equip yourself with a tough solitude, you are going to be broken. Solitude may be you friend, your savior but it is also what sometimes pushes you into believing that you don’t need conversations and maybe you don’t, but you do.

The women

Robin Scherbatsky came into my life like much needed bacon on mornings that eggs aren’t allowed to be eaten at home, like Saturdays. My bacon reference is because she was fresh from what I had been stalking until then. Lorelai Gilmore, Rachel Green blah blah blah… I like these women because they brought to me more than just whom they were dating. I don’t mean the strong, rounded characters and other such bull here, speaking of which what the fuck is a rounded character? What does it mean? That they are round? Heard too much of that. Anyhow, for a long time those were the women I wanted to be like.

I liked Rachel Green because she snapped out of her secure world of daddy’s yacht and credit cards and being rich orthodontist’s wife and became her own person much like Lorelai Gilmore. These women stepped out of a rich world to see if they could survive and they did. Naïve, I know. There are 100 different scenarios doing kathak in my head right now. Don’t get me wrong, I know that these are plastic women and white. But that doesn’t stop pampered spoilt girls like me from dreaming about breaking out of our own shells and becoming independent.

Robin I grew fond of,  because she had the courage to turn down what could have been the perfect love life for her because it got in the way of who she was and her work. No matter how deep the promise of romance was – stability, faithfulness, consistency and all that crap. She still said no. It takes not just courage but an immense understanding and respect for the self to do that. And that is the woman I want to be like. Why am I still appreciating women who are able to do that? Because I’m still not able to do that and I don’t know how long it is going to be before I can.

Finding self can be a pain in the ass. And I couldn’t be in a better position to tell you why. There are so many things to choose from, so many things that define you. It’s crazy. Do I want to be the girl who found true love at 16 and got married to him happily ever after? Do I want to be the girl who has an hour of brilliant love making session and then leaves immediately after? Am I strong enough to be in an open relationship? What the fuck does open mean anyway?  

I do know that I cannot get physically intimate with somebody without falling head over heels madly in love with them. That also means I do not want to marry them and have their kids. That also means I cannot casually date them. That also means I cannot see them once a week, make love and then go off. I value connections. I value relationships so what the fuck am I?

Right when I was in the middle of this horseshit, I met Jessica day. She didn’t change my life and all that but I stopped taking myself all too seriously. I think it had something to do with the fact that Jess is far different from any of the characters I usually look up to. She isn’t in the least bit independent, cannot do one night stands, wants love and care, gives people blankets and homemade cup cakes before starting a conversation with them; likes ribbons and adores pink, doesn’t think it’s necessary to stand up to herself at all, smiles her way out of difficult situations and is very touchy-feely.

For somebody who has been mesmerised with Robin’s non touchy feely diktat, Jessica may come off as blah… but that’s the great thing about New Girl. It acknowledges the need for creating strong and independent women characters but also gives you a taste of Jess who is real and independent in her own weird ways. She’s flesh and bones and believable. She reinstates certain girly things in ways that you will not want to question because, so what?

She likes pink, she likes blanket-cupcake during conversations, she likes passing around what is called a ‘feel-stick’ to allow people to share their feelings (remember she is a teacher) and she’s not ashamed. In some ways, she seems to be asking you the question ‘does revolution have to come only by hating pink’? She can be touchy feely and still be the most amazingly in touch with herself.

This is what I have picked up from watching 14 episodes of New Girl. That it’s ok to not have everything figured out yet, that I don’t have to be like just one of these characters. I can choose to be who I want to be each day. There are so many to pick from. I owe this person a huge thank you for making me see that I don’t have to take myself so seriously. I can just chill for now.

 

Lorelai Gilmore

I don’t know if there is any sense to watching same old episodes from Gilmore Girls over and over again, every day in fact. I do it when I have pressing deadlines to meet, when I am sick, when I am low, when I need inspiration, when I feel that I want to leave the planet and interestingly, even when I am really happy. Lorelai Gilmore takes me back to the show again and again. And this has very little to do with the color of her eyes and her cute tops.

I want to be this woman. This incredibly independent, sensitive yet gutsy, committed not to fall back into the comfortable life that her parents promise and striving hard to make the most of wherever it is that life has got her to -kind of woman.

I didn’t like watching her when she was miserable. Like when Luke kept her away from a part of his life and she went nuts. But that’s only because she reminded me that she is human after all. She may have the bluest eyes, a humongous capacity to consume coffee, the ability to come up with a dozen comebacks even when you are trying to figure out the first one, the strength to give her daughter the space and the right to make her own mistakes, the courage to stand up to her parents even when they are at their most vulnerable point. She can be all of these and still be believable to me.

I was 16 when I first watched it. I don’t remember much of what I watched back then but when I finally learned how to download stuff off the internet, which was when I was 20, Gilmore Girls was the first thing I downloaded. Watching Lorelai Gilmore on screen after 4 years brought me a sense of direction. I have always taken dumb things like these seriously; movies, characters, their relationships, their desires and tragedies.

What Gilmore Girls provides me with apart from direction is some kind of choice to be either like Lorelai or Rory (Lorelai’s daughter) or both. Rory’s relationship with academia always appealed to me. Lorelai’s relationship with herself and how she always knows what she wants thrilled me to bits. So there are days when I choose to be Rory and days when I whine about why I am not like Lorelai Gilmore.

It’s the crazy things that the woman does that crack me up and also get me to seriously think. Like when Rory was frantically looking for her bracelet and Lorelai is helping her. She finds her grandmother’s pen under the sofa. But Lorelai insists on letting the pen lie there simply because it ‘makes life interesting’.

Lorelai’s now there- now gone relationship with her mother is also something that I relate to, at a very beautiful level. She tries half heartedly to repair this ugliness but as she puts it, when she talks, all her mother hears is ‘blah blah blah, ginger’.

I have fallen awfully behind sometimes with the show’s pace and have felt miserable when I couldn’t catch the pop culture references that both Lorelai and Rory throw at each other. Much of my watching this show therefore was constantly interrupted by pausing and then googling to find out who some singer is or what the word ‘schnickelfritz’ means and other weird things like that.

Needless to say I did learn a great deal from the show. Things I’ve obviously forgotten now but after a point the whole pausing and googling thing became really interesting and has only made me more curious.

The show also has characters that will become your mortal enemies simply because they are that irritating. Taylor, the town mayor for instance is a conventional man whose interests in developing the town don’t just stop at its infrastructure. He is also bothered by the people and their lifestyles and the kinds of songs that the town troubadour sings and the shapes and sizes of fruits that grow in the town.

Along with him there are other characters who have challenged my abilities as a watcher. There was a time when I had no patience to deal with Taylor and the Town Troubadour’s songs so I would just forward them. It took me 5 years of watching and watching again to appreciate the carnivalesque setting that is ‘Star’s hollow’ (fictional town near Connecticut, U.S where the show is based)

I’m not sure if I like this show a lot because it has helped me discover myself. Not because I discover myself every evening and then forget it in 2 hours. But because everytime something changes in my life and I get all nervous, ‘Gilmore girls’ does not soothe me. It makes me look at the characters differently, which brings me to look at things in a whole new perspective. There was a time when I simply could not understand Rory’s feelings for Jess but now I do.

The only complaint I have about this show is that it makes a very vague attempt at bringing Lorelai’s past to the audience. There has only been one episode and that too in bits of 2 min footage on Lorelai’s life before she got pregnant and right after she does. It left me with more questions than anything else. How did Lorelai finally leave her parents’ for instance?

Maybe it’s good that some part of this woman’s adolescence still remains a mystery. Maybe that’s also why I keep going back to the show. To learn more about Lorelai Gilmore.