Categories
In Between

K for Konkani – K for Kannada

Children born of bilingual marriages occupy a strange position in schools, especially as subjects of raised-eyebrow discussions between teachers. But we are gifted in a way that the xeroxed products of Brahmanical endogamy can never understand. Our bodies are Ambedkar’s dream realised – it’s here that we have mixed & also carry a mixture of everything, language especially. I was born out of Konkani’s hip & Kannada’s belly. It is my tragicomedy that I am sitting here now with my mouth open like a piranha trying to capture English.

Years ago on a group tour, a family we were traveling with made an astounding observation about us that continues to make Amma & Appa howl with laughter. They’d taken one look at me, my sister & brother & declared very tragically ‘father’s nose & mother’s complexion not one of them has inherited’

Indeed. The tip of Appa’s nose glistens like the eye of the needle. My nose is a potato that no one wants to buy. For Amma’s people, Appa’s nose is his most remarkable feature, almost absolving him for being dark. Amma’s vanilla-drops complexion induced everlasting jealousy in Appa’s people. It is believed that it absolved her of dowry. I once heard the expression “My mother is milk & father, decoction” in a Tamizh film & felt beautifully represented. Appa said thoo nim ajji pinda & walked off.

When I was young, I woefully noticed that the only part of my body to match Amma’s complexion was the thigh so, naturally, it became the most Konkani part of my body. And only my elbow is as sharp as Appa’s nose so, naturally, I speak Kannada from my elbows. But in his own body, Appa made more than enough room to hug Konkani. He learnt it out of love for his wife & for us. But Amma says that even after 32 years of marriage, he hasn’t learnt to speak it well. 

When we travel to North India, which his body firmly cancels, we get unlimited entertainment from watching him attempt a cocktail of Hindi, Kannada, and konkani. In a restaurant where they served us sweet sambar(!), he hollered at the manager “Yey thoo, sambar main bella dala hai kya?” (Have you drowned jaggery in this sambar?)

He is as right wing as your next-door uncle, but Appa’s love for people has the capacity to translate into a tolerance for languages that he doesn’t speak. And this is also what saves him from being extravagantly right wing. In a way, being Dalit has saved him from being intolerant. His love for Vadivelu is an example. Somehow his anger with Tamizh has never interfered with his daily Vadivelu comedy time on YouTube. He doesn’t watch half as many films as he watches in Tamizh. As for me, Konkani is where I’m most naked & Kannada is where I’m most vulgar. I get my thoos from Appa, & I get my capacity for sex from Non-GSB Konkani.

 

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.

Untitled

Categories
Writing

Punugu Bekku

At Meta this year, we inaugurated a series called the ‘Double Action.’ Members of the Department picked a story/essay in a regional language, translated it and read it in the original — the translation being projected on a screen. I couldn’t find things online that I could translate so I wrote a personal essay in Konkani. This is the first time I have come to associate Konkani with a world outside of my home and it was strangely liberating to note that more possibilities with writing seemed to open up when I began to think and write in Konkani. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to consider Konkani as a language I can tell a story in. I can’t say I’m too happy with what I’ve written but then again, that is never the point!

I don’t remember my mother’s smell. Sometimes I think that she never had a smell. And sometimes I think that I have deliberately forgotten her smell. I think I knew her smell better when I was small.

Her smell would hug her clothes and wouldn’t leave. After her clothes were washed and dried, they would fall into a heap on the sofa and I’d leap into them and sleep. In them, I could smell more of her than surf. And hers was always ponds, fair and lovely and a bit of her. I don’t know what that is. Her bindi would sit angrily like a red dot on her forehead. Sometimes the bindi would fall off and her face would look empty and if anyone so much as pointed that out to her, she’d jump around until she wore another one. My sister once told her that if the bindi falls, Ekta Kapoor believes that your husband has died. Amma yelled at her and then laughed.

She’d always feed us when we were small. Once, she put hot hot upma into my mouth and when I started howling in pain, she blew air into my mouth to soothe it. I laughed out loudly and the upma flew onto her face and just sat there.

No matter how sick she is, she always has the energy to show us that she is sick. We know she isn’t well by the way she asks for water. She sleeps like a corpse on the bed and moans. If in case we don’t bring her water on time, she will pretend to get up and say, ‘leave, I’ll only bring it.’ She will not have moved even an inch.

Screenshot_20170312-103759_01_01.png
Amma ani aav

When she sings, she sings with devotion. Just the other day she was singing Aamir Khan’s Delhi Belly song – I hate you like I love you with so much devotion, it sounded like she was praying to him.

When she was small, her grandmother would sing to her. She loved her grandmother. It seems she would only wear white and sit smelling nice and warm all day. My grandmother never wears white and she smells only of Marie biscuits and vibhooti. When I was small, I would sit on her lap and only drink Horlicks after she showed me both her breasts.

Amma calls me Punugu *bekku because I smell nice after having slathered volumes of lotion and deodorant. It seems the Punugu bekku’s shit smells really nice so people make perfumes out of it. I have always dreamt of smelling nice.

I’d sometimes hide in my mother’s cupboard and smell everything I could find there. Her saris smelled differently than her salwar kameez and nighties because she didn’t wear saris often, she never opened that side of the cupboard. It had a nice musty smell to it. And I taught myself to hug her saris and get the most out of it.

Amma’s other grandmother lives in Cochin. During summer, she takes off all her clothes and sits by the door wearing just a skirt and bra. If she still feels sweaty and hot, she takes off the bra also and sits naked with just a towel on. Her name is Narmadamma. When amma mentions her, pa gets a little angry but he also laughs a lot.

All of Amma’s relatives are reddish fair. And all the relatives on pa’s side are reddish dark. Pa doesn’t like this at all. He tried a lot to become fair like amma by using fair and lovely every day but it didn’t work. Once he almost emptied an entire tube and put it on his face. He woke up the next morning with his face burnt. We all call amma and pa – milk and decoction. Pa finds this also amusing.

Growing up is like a curse. I grew distant from amma. I remember how my sister and I’d force our way into amma and pa’s bed when they’d watch TV. Now there’s distance between us — there’s pause and a kind of shyness that I don’t understand when I step into their bedroom. When I was small, the smell of my house was empty – there was too much space and nothing to smell. Now there is too much to smell but no one to smell. Amma’s smell is going away and I’m trying to catch it.

*Bekku means cat in Kannada.