What I learnt from reading The Murder Room by PD James

It’s probably a bad idea to read a detective novel over three months. You forget who died, who had the most convenient alibi, and whose house was most unkempt. But if you’re reading PD James’ The Murder Room, it’s pardonable to stretch it for as long as you want.

The murder is just a background against which you discover characters whose lives and routines keep you more occupied and thrilled. This is what makes PD James incredible, that she is able to keep your interest in these things despite an equally compelling murder mystery.


I have learnt more things about teaching from Adam Dalgliesh than I have from my own experience in the classroom. Today I’m as unprepared as I was on the first day of class. But I have come to realise that in the profession of teaching, it’s sometimes an ordeal to talk to students like adults.

My response to their various hostilities range from giving hostility back; to ignoring them completely; to confronting them to talk it all out. But neither of these is a fitting response.

In a room full of Murder suspects, Dalgliesh interrogates everybody with the sternness of a businessman and the aloofness of a lover caught daydreaming. This is possibly the best response to unwarranted attacks and general hostility. When the suspects are tired of the cross examining and the hundred odd restrictions on their movements, they begin attacking Dalgliesh – sometimes even personally.

Dalgliesh has a clear sense of his job. He doesn’t care about settling ego matters with those who question it. He wants to solve the case – if that gets in the way of people’s fragile ego, he gives two and half fucks and moves on with his life.

A recent discovery that has made me very uncomfortable is that as a teacher, I have taken too many liberties to feel offended at the drop of a hat. While sometimes, I reserve the right to take offence, I should probably learn to be aloof.

I have bad days. Trapped in files and piles of admin work, I sometimes lose my cool and have very often lost my temper. I continue to envy AM for being able to reason with students in a consistently reasonable, annoyingly patient way. Rarely does one see him lose temper at students.

When I think back to all those times that I have lost my cool, I cringe. Because there is nothing not performative about anger. Both on the inside and outside – anger is performance. Regardless of what it’s about and where it’s coming from. This doesn’t make it less genuine – even if performance is a lie. It just makes me wonder if it’s really all that necessary after all – ashte.

Adam Dalgliesh is calm. During his worst moments – he’s still calm. He’s never severe on himself – like I have trained myself to be.

When Adam and Kate go to interview the mother of some murdered woman – Kate is taken aback by the generous make-up on the mother’s face. For a moment, I was also judgy bitchita. I was all ‘Why are you putting make-up on face when cops are coming to talk about your daughter’s murder?

The stepfather doesn’t figure here because it’s clear from his mannerisms that he’s happy step-daughter’s dead.

Adam Dalgliesh, calm as iceberg on ocean says – ‘It’s her wish to grieve the way she wants to. Clearly her daughter’s death made her vulnerable. So if she wants to brace the day by doing something that makes her feel powerful – why shouldn’t she do it?

I couldn’t applaud because book was heavy so I made my feet applaud.


Tally Clutton is my wonder woman. She craves solitude more than anyone else I have ever known. And she craves it not because she likes herself, but because she loves London. She knows she’ll never be able to enjoy the city if she doesn’t see it and live it alone, day after day. She walks the streets of London with the calm desperation of a woman in love willing to surrender.

She wants nothing more than to spend her last few days swallowing the city in slow, deliberate gulps. Sigh. I want to live and die like Tally Clutton. But before that I want to read all the PD James I can get my hands on.

You can watch the BBC adaptation here. But it’s a little blah because it ain’t the Tally Clutton from the book 😦

BQFF Diaries: Days Two & Three – 10/3/18 & 11/3/18

4:20 PM:

Missed Portrait of Jason. The auditorium is full of heads bobbing, nodding, and laughing so I hang out at the stairs for a bit. At 5:45 there’s some room, so I squeeze in next to two women who smile as they make place for me. My toe pokes the big man’s bum in front of me but he either doesn’t care or doesn’t mind but I hug my toe and protect his bum from it for the rest of the evening.

Ladies & Gentlewomen by Malini Jeevarathnam begins, and I am not prepared for the heart fail I’m going to have in the next hour. When Joshua Muyiwa introduces it, he says the director intended the documentary to be watched by Indian parents.

The first couple of scenes show a woman with a mic asking random strangers in Chennai if they know what a lesbian is. ‘Ayaaayoo venda pa, no comments’, says a woman who giggles and walks away. ‘Yenna ma, dustbin ah?’ says an uncle on his scooter. The audience erupts in a little volcanoes of laugh. Next to me the woman says what’s wrong with these people why are they laughing?

As the documentary takes us through activists, lesbian couples, and bisexual men – there’s a parallel story of a mythological couple – an upper caste woman and a lower caste woman both in love with each other. They are found out, separated, and ostracised. When they can no longer bear it, they run away and meet each other. They spend some time together before setting themselves on fire and jumping into the well.

I am saddened by their suicide but I cannot stop thinking about how these women held each other – eyes full of love, hands full of trust.

silverscree in
Image Credits: silverscreen.in

Lesbian relationships are just meant to be. That’s all. It’s the only way that women’s bodies can learn to trust again. But that’s not all. It’s fulfilling in a way that nothing is. Maybe this is my fascination with Ferrante. There’s so much secrecy and violence but there’s also so much love between Lenu-Lila.

I long to walk the streets of Bangalore with a woman in my arms, or I in hers. How will I do it in Basavanagudi? I can. The cows don’t mind as long as there are enough roads for them to plod on. And my suspicion is that all the ajjis here are closeted lesbians anyway. So we are basically full of lesbians and cows – just like the rest of the world.

A woman in a yellow kurta smiles into the camera as she says that there’s no space for a man in a lesbian relationship and that’s the best thing about it.

Smiles. Hearts. Giggles. A lot of women nod loudly.

The other couples in the documentary inspire similar feelings and by the end of the documentary – I am full of joy but am unable to understand why I’m also a little sad.

A middle-aged bisexual man says – ‘Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I’ll say yes to sex to whoever asks me. See, this is the misconception. Queer people aren’t with each other only for sex. Like heterosexual relationships, they are also about eating, sleeping, walking, and doing other things together.’

The first thing that Malini Jeevarathnam says when she takes stage amidst the roar of cheers and applause – is ‘I don’t know English’


The applause grows louder and some people from behind me scream ‘It’s okayyy’

“I am happy and full of tears”, she says. And the audience says – ‘us too’

It’s the only way to feel after you’ve watched this documentary. So much so that my stomach craved love so I went up to the café, drank wine and stuffed my face with potatoes.


Sounds – On screen – the crackling of fire as the many couples jump to their deaths, the sound of waves as lovers walk hand-in-hand by the sea.

Off Screen – applause, hoots, cheers from the audience. The sound of my heart breaking into millions of pieces. The tch tches I imagine my father would produce if he were in the auditorium.


Ein Weg (Paths) – German, Directed by Chris Miera

The mattresses are mostly empty so I plonk my bum right in between – head is dizzy with wine.

I begin watching and am surprised by my focus on the faces of the two men on screen – Andreas and Martin. I watch as they scratch their noses, and hold their chins when they skype with each other. I am soon obsessed with the closed windows of the house. I see that it opens just the one time in the film – when they both fight and one of them leaves and the other puts his head out the window and begs him to come back. I am familiar with the sounds of the house now. The sounds it makes when they fight and stomp feet, when they make love and their bedsheets ruffle, and when they make tea, and when they clean.

So strange no? That when you watch a film, you too begin to live in the same house as them.

Sounds – House, Baltic Sea, crickets, and trees.


Day Three

Today, I see the festival itself, not the films. I am sitting in the projector room with the organisers. I watch as the tension, and the anxiety of running festivals unfolds before me. Delays, Subtitles not working heart attacks, people queuing up to watch films – line growing and growing.

Irattajeevitham – Malayalam, Suresh Narayanan

Favourite scene in the film is when Sainu and Amina take off someone’s boat out into the sea. Sainu is shit scared and tells Amina let’s go back. Amina is thrilled because she can’t believe they are floating in the middle of the sea and can’t stop squealing. As they row back to the shore, a crowd has gathered to wait to see if they’ll return alive. Because not one of the boys in the town has had the balls to take a boat out like that with no experience.

Sounds – Sea, Kerala, Trees, Birds, waves, crickets.

The Ice-cream killer – Ukraine, Anna Wasswerwoman

The second half of the day, I sit demurely, in the back. It’s noisier here. Because I understand that people are full of opinions here.

This is my favourite film of the day. The film is five minutes long and shows a woman devouring an entire ice cream for five minutes. It’s a thick cone with Vanilla ice cream. The melted bits fall on the street and the camera zooms in on that for a while.

How often do you see this?

I love watching women eat. Die if you don’t.


Behind me two men loudly bemoan the choice of films. They haven’t liked a single film since morning, they want to talk to the selection committee, and they leave in a huff. I want to scream after them –you forgot your male privilege here boys, you’ll need it – take your opinions with you please, they are stinking up the whole place here.

Behind me, a woman tells her friend in Kannada to sit chakkla mukkla to ease her cramps. I think back to when the last time I listened to that phrase was. Very long.

All my love to the organisers of #BQFF2018. Keep doing what you guys are doing. Because it makes men leave in a huff.


black eyes black chappals

He must have responded to the thinning black skin around my eyes, the pimples on my face and the gap between my teeth that shined when I laughed. I must have seemed to him- ugly, scrawny, small. He threw the book on my face and I sunk back within the folds of my own embarrassment. Leaning against the wall, I looked away and cried secretly – punishing my forearm for being weak.

I carried my journal everywhere I went. It was a spiral bound notebook that I hid from many and showed a few. But I liked being seen with it. This is the same journal that I will go ahead and set fire to, a couple of months later because mother had found it.

When he picked it up that day, I had been writing about my affair with his friend. The three of us were sitting in the shade of an enclosure on the terrace. He was a big guy, easily intimidating and frightening to those who didn’t know him and charming to those who did. He snatched my journal away three seconds after he sat down and started reading really loudly.

My own tragedy is that I become a child when I am around bigger people. More than their bigness, my own smallness in their presence fascinates me. I whined a little, thumped his knee caps lightly and tugged at his shirt. He brushed me off first, pushed me a little and continued reading. I said no and tried to pull my journal away.

At this point, his face stiffened and he looked dismayed and surprised that I had a right over my journal. He flung it on my face and it fell with a thud onto my lap where it remained for the rest of the afternoon.

It must have hit my nose really hard because my eyes were welling up and my chest felt hot and stomach felt hotter.  When I could no longer continue weeping quietly, I started sniffling. He said nothing. The other he said nothing either. When we stood up to leave, he put his arms around me and it feels brutal now because I’m ashamed that everything became ok after that.


The chappals that I liked wearing were black and opened around the corners of my foot. It covered only the middle part of my foot. When I lost these chappals, I went again to the store and asked for the same pair.

This time, four of us were sitting in the enclosure – both the hes and a she who was my best friend. She loved me a lot but she didn’t like the chappals I wore. One by one, they each took turns to say that it was ugly and hardly suited my height and that I am insulting my father’s richness by wearing cheap chappals.

-I like it.

-That’s not the point. You look like a slum girl.

-It’s ok.

-Vj, please ya. I will give you the money tomorrow. Let’s buy you something else.


In a friend’s house, I came to be known as Mochi because I got my chappals from a brand called Mochi. Behind their open laughs, I wonder now if there was more. Maybe Mochi was the unwashed rat’s tail that I tied into a pony. It was my plump nose that was made more awkward by the fat in my cheeks and the misery in my walk.


Tipping the Velvet

Picture via AfterEllen

It begins slowly

at first.

And then, there is a slithering pause

after which

only an explosion

up the thighs,

and then behind the ears.

Nobody dares to leave the neck behind –

that’s why it was made in the first place–

to feel goosebumps of velvet,

tipping the eyelids into a well-

now closing,

now opening.



in my mother’s cupboard

there is the smell of naphthalene

that’s only a little stronger than

all the smells of all the houses we have lived in

my former best friend loved me very much

but sometimes she didn’t like the chappals i wore

and this she told me clearly

her long eyelashes now falling, now staying

sometimes i think you don’t like me

but that’s ok because today

i have found the courage to tell myself

that i don’t like you more

today she dropped her brand new i pad

and withdrew into a corner, shaken and dismayed

i picked it up and hugged her warmly in my mind

it’s ok, i told her — suddenly wanting to cry.

At Sixteen

On my 16th birthday, I made myself very happy. I decided it had to be a big deal, regardless of who wanted to make it big and who didn’t. I procured some money from my mother and took myself to Gandhi Bazaar to shop. I knew what I wanted. At 16, I always knew what I wanted with a clarity that was almost aggressive. I have neither the gumption nor the energy to love myself like that or know with clarity, what I want anymore. Somewhere between learning to love other people between 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, and 26, I didn’t love myself enough. Or maybe I thought it wasn’t that important.

At 16, the joy of sitting alone in a coffee shop, reading something was just about enough to make me happy. Between the ages of 17 to 26, I waited for other people to love me like I loved myself. When that didn’t happen, I hated myself and later, them.

So at 15, hours shy of turning 16, I stood outside Perfumer – a fragrance shop and waited, smiling. This was the first gift I would be buying for myself. And for a long time after that, the last. I took a small vial and decided that I liked it. It was a lovely shade of green-blue, colors that appeared on my palette when I mixed the darkest green with the lightest blue in my art class at school. At the counter, I asked for the perfume to be gift-wrapped. I picked the shiniest, the most expensive wrapping paper. It was pink, a color that still reminds me of unexplored freedoms I have chosen not to take because I am too busy doing god knows what.

At home, I lit all the candles I owned on the balcony I rarely used. The walls in my bedroom were a light lavender, the furniture, dark brown. I had chosen these colors from magazines that I had read. Tall, grown up women always seemed to sit comfortably alone on oval-shaped beds, light colored walls and the darkest brown furniture. I was painting, as it were, my independent life with my father’s money.

I waited for the clock to strike at 12:00. Ash was made to look excited because I had whined and whined about this day for months now. I suspect she was glad that in minutes, all the drama would be over and she could go to sleep.

At 12:00, I blew out all the candles on my balcony, picked up my journal and began to write. I drew the number 16 sixteen times on a page before making a list of things I had to accomplish by the next birthday. I picked out my outfit for the next day. A new shirt, a new pair of jeans. I was convinced I would fall in love when I turned 16. And I did. Now that I look back, it is almost mysterious how by the time I had turned 17, I had a boyfriend and at 12:00 am on my 17th birthday, I didn’t do any of the things I did on my 16th. I waited a different kind of wait. A Nokia in my hands, blushing under the covers, I waited for him to call and since that night, I have always celebrated birthdays with regard to who remembers.

I sense now that I’m about to say things like it’s time I go back to being 16 again. While it’s true that some reflection should go that way, I am happy that my birthdays now aren’t all that self-indulgent. It’s the other days I am worried about. Those should probably be more self-indulgent.



One should avoid either being a bride, or being in a story. After all, stories can sense happiness and snuff it out like a candle. ~ Carmen Maria Machado

Old stories grin like wicked grandmothers who have come to usher you into your wedding bed. They stand behind you, holding you at their arms’ length and fuss over your hair. Their palms grabbing your slightly sweaty ones, they hiss mean little things in your ear with their bad breaths.

You don’t wonder what you were like when you read these stories now. You wonder instead, if any of these stories have come true, here, in the now. And because the way you write now stands in between you and them, the older, discarded stories; you crave to be better.

Here’s one you aren’t entirely ashamed of, here’s another that makes you smile. Like trees and old lamp posts passing us by on journeys that we make every day, our stories stand so –still yet blurring. Now and then, you may cast shy glances at them and wonder why you continued to tell stories knowing you were so bad, knowing there would always be somebody else who could tell that story better.

Did you know that jealousy can speak in two languages and write in none? That’s why they are so darn good. They are bilingual little bastards. They don’t know how to write because they can’t, also because they know that they don’t have to. They can get to you simply by lying there in the Snow Mountains and the mustard fields and the stone chapels. They are telling you it’s pointless to see all this and more when all you are going to do is scramble back into your bed with your laptop, open the new word document because you are so ambitious, blink three times and then watch Game of Thrones.

They know that you will keep the new word document open until the last moment, until all that needs to be watched has been watched, until you sigh into the dying whispers of your closing laptop and go into deep, guilt – free sleep.

New stories are like new lovers. You seek them out by tracing the lines on the palm of their hands, the wet corners of their eyes and lips, and the thickness in their backs. In moments, when time slows down in their eyes, you see the beginning of a tragedy. One that you know is going to leave you battered and poisoned.

On naked afternoons, as the sun empties the room for you two and sends shadow after shadow of windows carpeting up and down your sultry bodies, you wrap each other in stories of shame and embarrassment, of loss and fear. The curtains raise and fall, imitating your breaths and hair as you fling each other from far to close, from close to closer.

You hold them in your arms until you can, until they let you, in much the same way you toy with stories until they need to be written. Because before you know it, they have rescued their arms from your crushing weight; steadied their tired bodies while gathering their clothes, and left you alone with your awake and throbbing nakedness. As you lie listening to the small echo of their footsteps, you hug your cold body and make promises.

Stories are better lovers because they don’t make promises to you. It’s when they begin to, that you need to snuff them out like a candle.


It’s like peeling wet jeans off your legs. You can’t do it standing anymore so you lie down on the floor and heave your thighs up and pull your pants down. It’s scraping off your butt and you can feel your panties sliding down with them. You aren’t in the mood to see your genitals so keep your panties back. The jeans now knot themselves up and about your ankles and you manage to extricate your legs back to your body. Dump the wet jeans in the bucket and get into the shower. Hot hot shower. Sigh and let your body soak its coldness in the steam. Put your face under the patter of scalding hot water and think of everything you want out of your life. All those disgusting little moments you made an ass of yourself in front of people you dress up for in the morning. Turn around slowly and watch clouds of steam rising up. Open your eyes to new promises and newer anxieties. The speech you made in your head about telling people to screw themselves and die isn’t worth it anymore. Nothing is. At the end of any bad day, you know you can always count on a hot shower to unhook yourself from yourself.  And like the wet pair of jeans you dumped in the bucket, the bad days go there.


If stranger had a name, it would be the awkwardness that hung over our heads at lunch yesterday, the hope of seeing a familiar face, the desire to add an extra chair at our table. It would be the skillful way I avoid his eyes and hands. Every movement your feet makes in that hour is a calculation, every word; measured and uttered in thoughts before anywhere else. Three years ago, the table we sat at and the food we ate was enough to make me sigh in content all day. It’s a different sigh now. One that comes only after you drop me home. Letting go is a lot easier, now that the stranger between us has a name, a face and seems more sombre than us.

‘Fine, Fine!’

This is a story I love telling. I have fought with people just so I can tell this story my way simply because it is that funny. When I meet new people, I tell them this story and wait to see if they laugh. If they do, we become best friends. If they don’t, I sit quietly and judge them.

Many years ago, maybe not so many, because it is in color and not black & white in my head, a man and a woman were deeply in love. It was a happy love, undisturbed even by an ex wife who one day called our hero for a favour. The ex was a writer and needed help with selecting readings for her book launch. Our hero being the kind man he is agreed to meet her for coffee scheduled an hour before he was to meet our heroine, the girlfriend.

They met at famous coffee shop which we will call K. The ex who came with a couple of girls who are important to the story only because they are girls, decided to go somewhere quieter because K was noisy.

It is at this point, I must introduce a man who is responsible for all the giggles this story gave me. Outside K, a man named Abu helped park cars. He knew our hero quite well so when he went over to say hello to him, he witnessed the hero being ambushed by the ex and the girls. Hero couldn’t say hello to Abu because he was being hauled by the women half way across the road. An hour later, after the favor had been done, hero returns to K to meet girlfriend who has only just arrived. They were only just exchanging hellos when Abu steals the moment and appears on the scene and utters these words

“Maydam, aap nahi thi, maine saab ko hi bola lekin who kuch ladkiyon ke saath bhaga jaa raha hain, bhaga jaa raha hai”

(Madam, you weren’t here. When I tried to say hello to him, I saw him running off with some girls)

It is at this point that the hero’s face falls flat to the ground like meteors to earth. In a hurry he tries to explain what just happened before the face in front of him was going to balloon up into an even bigger balloon. After the last full stop to his story had been put, the heroine gathers all her face into her two eyebrows, raises them and heaves them down to her breasts and hisses “Fine, Fine!” jumps into an auto and leaves.

Our hero’s face by now is just a hole. It is difficult to say if the hole was because of the open mouth or it was how his face was going to look for the rest of his life. Nobody really cares what Abu did after this. I don’t know if he left soon after he had dropped the bomb or left after the hero’s monologue. All I know is the hero went inside, had chai and left.