Ram ka kya hoga? Part III of the Dalit Women Speak Out Conference

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Premalata is a 23- year-old MBA graduate from Telangana. I met her on Day Two of the Dalit Women Speak Out conference in Pune, 20 Dec 2017.

When I first saw her, she was angrily untangling the beads from her dupatta. She had just ended a very upsetting phone conversation. She snapped the phone shut and jammed it inside her bag. On the other end of the phone, I had heard a man who was persistently asking her where she was.

Poooonaaa, pooonaaa. Pooongaa alla pa, thooo. Poooonaaaa, she’d screamed. After she noticed me, she smiled apologetically and began straightening the creases on her orange Anarkali salwar-kameez.

–          Appa? I asked, pointing to the phone now recovering in her bag. Father?

–          Illa. Mera Maama – Morning se phone karta. No, my uncle. Has been calling since morning.

This girl was my heroine. She’d refused to give the annoying uncle any bhaav, and now she didn’t want to waste her time talking about him.

She saw my open notebook and asked if I was writing about the conference.

Yes, I tell her but I want to write about her. Is that ok?

She giggled and said, “Main itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” But I’m not a big man.

“Main bhi itna bada aadmi nahi hoon.” I’m also not a big man.

She smiled and I was distracted by the calm in her eyes. I didn’t know Telugu and she didn’t know English so in our garbled Hindis we continued to talk.

She said she was fighting with her family because they didn’t want her to work. And that she was seeking an NGO’s help to negotiate with her parents.

When she thought she’d said enough she began interviewing me.

–          Tum kya karta? What do you do?

–          Main English teacher. I teach English.

I thought back to what I knew about Telugu and grudgingly arrived at fair-skinned heroes against shiny backdrops of big temples; and bubbly heroines with flowing hair. But I’m wondering what her version of the language is.

So I asked her the most personal, most important question in my life.

Tum picture dekhta? Do you watch films?

She nodded wildly and her eyes looked like they were swallowing me along with the entire room.

–          Tumko heros main kaun pasand? Who is your favourite hero?

–          Ram, she blinked.

–          Kaunsa Ram? Ram Charan Teja? Which Ram?

Cheeee! Her face tightened up with disgust and my eyes widened with surprise.

–          Toh phir kaunsa Ram? Then which Ram?

–          Ek hain Ram karke. Ready main bahut acha acting kiya woh. Ram has done super acting in the film Ready.

I felt slaughtered. I was desperate but equally dreading her answer to my next question.

–          Mahesh Babu pasand? Do you like Mahesh Babu?

 Cheeeee! She squirmed again.

–          Kyuu? Sabko pasand hai na Mahesh Babu? Why? Everyone loves Mahesh Babu no?

–          Agar sabhi log Mahesh Babu ko pasand karenge, toh Ram ka kya hoga? (I don’t want to translate this sentence. English doesn’t deserve it)

My shame shame -puppy shame evaporated because I had fallen in love with her. I was too unsettled to say anything but her eyes were calmer than ever as she stifled her guffaws behind the beady orange dupatta.

Even before I could ask her the next question, she had answered– “Genelia girls main pasand.” In girls, I like Genelia.

And then she blushed like red balloons.

–          Tum idar kaisa aaya, she asked me. How did you come here?

–          Plane.

–          Akela? Alone?

–          Haan.

–          Tum bahut daaare, she said, giving the English word the lift of a plane taking off. And with a thumbs up in my direction, her eyes drank all of us in again.

Premalata gave me more moments to live in than all the waste Telugu friends from college who gave me nothing more than dabba fair heroes to remember them by.

I think of her occasionally and every time I do, I wonder why I didn’t ask to take her picture. Then I tell myself that it doesn’t matter. You can’t trust cameras for moments like these.

As I left the room after saying bye to her that day, I fished my phone out and began looking for Telugu actor Ram. Google showed me pictures of Ram Charan Teja. I rolled my eyes.

Meta Diaries – Days Three, Four, Five and Six

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Day Three

The film review contest had 20 participants. Some lizards wanted to know the name of the film so they could watch it aaram se at home. Some Dengue mosquitoes decided to participate only if the name of the film sounded interesting.

So what did we screen? Let’s just say that when I closed the door before leaving the AV Room, I was mercilessly giggling to myself.

We are screening this film again at 12:00 PM on Monday in case you want to swing by.

Today my Meta began when I walked into a class, determined to inflict on students – stories from the wasteland that was my youth. I do this often because I am repairing something I lost as a young adult – time. On AM’s blog long ago, I’d read his tribute to Mulky – where he says that the most important thing he learnt from Mulky was to never be a passive receiver of information, that to be invested in your own learning is the most reliable way of rescuing yourself from inner demons. I was 24 when I read that and needless to say, my life changed.

If I were a student, I wouldn’t be a volunteer at Meta, I’d be a lizard sitting in on all the sessions and watching them aaram se, with the head space to live in the moment and not worry about organising.

I craved for that head space at Venkat Srinivasan’s brilliant session on Archiving. I’d never thought science capable of having memory. I was convinced that any archiving to do with science must be boring. On the contrary – Srinivasan told us about a bunch of physicists who celebrated the success of experiments conducted by buying a bottle of wine. This collection grew until a point where they didn’t need to refer to any documents to find out about experiments. They just had to look at the bottle and all details would naturally come to them.

This is also archiving because it tells a story. I liked the session because it gave professional validity to my sentimental need to collect things. We are all archivists without meaning to be.

Archives could be playful — sometimes a more reliable way of remembering history. And what’s history without stories. We need archives because they are a definite way of releasing stories from the boredom of textbooks. As Naveen Tejaswi’s Rohingya session showed us. The story of a Bangla man’s love for Mallu films is a moment worth remembering and going back to.

Editor Deepika S’s session ‘A Story I Chased’ brought to light the many dilemmas a young journalist has to deal with. Her story was about uncovering the custodial torture of Bam Bahadur, a Nepali watchman whose case is still unsolved. As she narrated his story and the challenges of getting details from policemen, especially if you are a female reporter, three girls in the audience shook their heads involuntarily, their eyes widening with shock.

KN Balraj’s Cartooning workshop was a hit. It is fascinating to watch a cartoonist at work. As Shalom Sanjay observed, ‘It was a fast process, his nimble fingers barely paused’

At the quiz today, I discovered another joy. It is watching teammates cussing and abusing each other for getting an answer wrong, or worse – coming very close to the correct answer. Many noticed with glee as Bhargav Bsr’s amusing reactions went from furiously throwing pens down to standing up, walking in circles and sitting back again.

Philip Victor and Miracline Kiruba’s rendition of regional romantic songs pulled students from outside to inside where Coconut naans and chai were consumed deliriously even as Bibith Joy was seen walking out in a huff muttering things under his breath. (‘I am going to kill her’) – who? Apparently someone on the hospitality committee who refused him naan because they wanted to wait until after the performance. But then Bibith Joy saw an entire posse walk in with naans in their hands. In the end, he got his naan.

 

Days Four, Five, and Six

Had the pleasure of sitting in on quizzes conducted by four incredible young women. Donna Eva and Archita Raghu conducted part of Guesstalt, the general quiz on Day three. Sandra Jiju and Nikhita Thomas conducted part of Bookends, the book quiz on Day Five.

I think about the energy and time these students have invested in setting questions, editing, and doing research. I think about whether they were nervous before taking stage. I think about the many distractions and the number of things they could be doing on a weekend but they decide to come do this. And for this – I am grateful.

Often times, people too full of privilege wonder why we make a big deal out of Meta, because they ‘feel’ it is too overrated. First of all who told you to feel? If you have too many feelings then go act in Bhansali’s next film. Second of all, feelings are overrated. Third of all, you are overrated.

I like Meta because I get the opportunity to watch women claim spaces. Also because it’s always more desirable to learn from students invested in themselves than sit and have too many feelings about the world.

As Vasu from Pushpavalli says, if you have any more ratings/suggestions/feelings please put it in your BumSandra.

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Day Six was exciting only and only because Praveen Kumar G and Manjunayak T Chellur read from their work. In both their stories there are memorable women. One pokes her sleeping husband, and thrusts a weeping baby in his arms and another spits rainbows from her mouth.

Stomach felt warm at various points yesterday. It’s delightful that young men are imagining women and writing women’s stories. Had the opportunity to interview both these men for Open Dosa. A piece coming up soon.

The only disappointing thing was students feeling too cool to listen to Kannada. But as Praveen Kumar G said – abuse them in Kannada, then they’ll learn the language to find out what you said. So – ನಾಯಿ ನನ್ ಮಕ್ಳು ನೆಗ್ಗಿದ್ ಬಿದ್ದು ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ ಆಗಿ .

 

W for Words

I was very impressed with a girl in my 8th std once for knowing dictionary-heavy words. She not only knew how to use these words, but also seemed to know the right moments in which to use them.

“What should we do to make studying more interesting?”asked my History teacher one day. While I was trying to figure out if it was a trick question because how can studying ever be interesting, the girl sitting behind me had an answer that stunned everybody into an acute, shameful silence.

“Break the monotony”, she said. The class held its breath, as if in anticipation of a bigger, stranger word that was just waiting to dive off her lips. My ears suddenly became sharp. I was sure I’d never be able to get over the genius of it all — her unassuming, calm face, the halo of silence after she said monotony, and how shaken I was for hours after that. I’d never heard of the word ‘monotony’ before. I’d perhaps heard someone older use it in an elderly boring way. But I was prompted to sit up and take notice when she said it. I went back home that evening and mugged up the meaning of monotony along with several other words.

Months later, I found a brand new copy of the Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary at home. This soon became my toilet book.

The dictionary had a block of pages in the middle that only had pictures.One whole page on stationery items, another one on food, another one on classroom objects, and one more on fruits & vegetables. I’d gloss over the pictures for a long time. This was perhaps my first premature graphic novel reading experience. After I finished with the pictures, I’d read the words beneath it and focus on the US-UK variations, trying to see if the sound of the word matched the picture. Now that I recollect, my most significant learning moment happened on the commode.

This is the dictionary that taught me that aubergines and eggplants are the same, that chips in UK are actually french fries in US, that plaits and braids are the same, that stubble is the shorter, pokier version of the beard, that ‘blob’ is used for toothpaste and paint alike. Also that ‘blob’is probably the only word in the English language that actually does justice to its meaning. Blob is even to this day, my favourite word. When I hear blob, I see a small cloud of cream sitting in a neat drop with an apostrophe in the end.

I don’t know how but I learnt somewhere that tintinnabulation is the longest word in the English language. It is of course, untrue. But I couldn’t help smiling every time I heard the word. I imagined a string of yellow bells tied together with an invisible thread, ringing continuously.

I chanced upon ‘laissez faire’ in the same dictionary and waited impatiently to use the word in a sentence. When I couldn’t find my moment, I decided to randomly use it when I was talking to a friend about letting things go because another friend had stopped talking to us. My friend was puzzled, and looked at me – her face showing no sign of being impressed. I explained the word to her and she shrugged.

Another time, I learnt that the word ‘invincible’meant indestructible and so after waiting for ages, I finally used the word to describe a boy I’d had a long-standing crush on. The monotony girl asked me why I’d chosen that word for him. Clearly, she knew the meaning. I wanted to die. I’d had a longer- standing crush on her and when she wanted to know how in the world the boy was invincible, I had no answer. I’d expected her to ask me for the meaning because, like Thoma Chacko, I’d not only rehearsed my answer but also predicted how terribly impressed she was going to be.

I happened on ‘Deja Vu’ by chance. I used it in a poem that I wrote (keeping the Cambridge Dictionary close to me). It was a poem on Teenage that I’d very wittily decided to title, ‘Teen-ache’ – a term stolen from a section in the Women’s Era magazine. In it, I narrate at length, the various dilemmas of a teenager. I now have no memory of why, how and where I used ‘Deja Vu’. But when my English teacher asked me what it meant, I felt for the first time in my school life, a little accomplished. I sent it to the school magazine. Needless to say, they didn’t publish it and to this day, I’m deeply indebted to them for that.