Categories
Film

Why so much extra?

Chhapaak (2020) has an interesting moment that I want to remember.

Malti (Deepika Padukone) and her team are in the office, celebrating the new amendment in the IPC (326 A and 326 B – which ensures a separate section for acid attacks) There is a cake that says ‘Happy Birthday 326 A 326 B’ – there are chips, samosas, juice, and loud music (Radha from Student of the Year) At one point, the neighbours phone them up, and ask for the volume to be reduced. They scream noooo and keep the party going. There’s mauj in the air. The women (all acid attack survivors) look happy and continue dancing.

Amol (Vikrant Massey) – activist, and founder of the NGO walks in and turns off the music. He looks displeased. Malti tries to pacify him (“come, cut the cake”) and he patronizingly asks for an explanation of what 326 A and B mean. Malti answers him and he goes on to berate her and all of them. It has only been amended. That doesn’t mean acid attacks will stop. Even cold drinks are more expensive than acid. Acid hasn’t been banned. Your own petition to ban acid has gone nowhere in the last 7 years and you want to party?

I want to slap his face.

Everything I want to take away from the film rests unfairly on what Malti will say next. And as I inch closer towards Malti, she calmly says “Amol sir, you know what your problem is? You behave as if you’ve been attacked with acid. But the acid was thrown on me, not you. And I — want to party

The people standing tensely around them loosen up a little, and begin laughing. Amol doesn’t know where to look. He has just been served so he retreats. 

I was left amazed but more importantly, I was left with a stone to throw at every idiot who took my personal and made it their political. Every so often, I meet young people who want to change the world. I don’t have very many feelings about them but it’s beyond irritating when they begin to act like Amol. Everything is either black or white. They won’t notice love but they talk about change. Nothing is political if it isn’t spelled out or doesn’t come with the color of dissent. You can’t party or run fests in times of dissent. What kind of a Dalit are you if you are happily sitting and organizing fests when the country is crumbling around you?

They ask this so articulately and with so much passion that you will wonder if they are Dalit.

In the past, I have felt extremely inadequate next to these super articulate people, looking back at my childhood and parents with bitterness, accusing them of having taught me nothing. Growing up was bitterness, inadequate, insecure, always doubting if I was thinking correctly, and always on the lookout for approval from super articulate people.

I craved the clarity that the Amols of the world had – they knew when they were right and that was ok but they pakka for sure knew when you were wrong. How do you arrive at that confidence? The Amols of the world have convinced us that we need their stamp of approval even to confirm our victim hood, even if it means that we want to party, despite our victim hood. 

It began changing when I discovered being Dalit and then I didn’t want to be that kind of articulate anymore. That kind of articulate is rooted in privilege, in the safe knowledge that there are enough people under you over whom you will always be above and therefore ‘better’ and ‘correct.’ That it’s somebody’s great fortune that you are forsaking this privilege to share their miseries. That you must be right because you have impeccable English and speak so fiercely and articulately.

When I became more and more watchful of my parents as Dalits, I went back to my childhood, and their early parenthood with a force that was still very new to me. There was guilt and I didn’t know where to put it in the middle of seeing them in a completely different light. I discovered them as heroes who did more revolution than anybody else and they did this without patronizing other people or knowing anything about activism. What can be more articulate than that?

The clarity with which super articulate people speak comes with its own share of arrogance and that made me thankful for everything I didn’t have as an adolescent. I still wish I had the courage to speak my mind when I thought I was right but I am glad I didn’t take that chance because as I have come to discover – constantly wondering if I am wrong is a better way to learn. It’s perhaps why in my adulthood now, I have very little to undo, to unsay, to apologize for. And like Malti, I can tell you to fuck off if I want to party or organise litfests.

Categories
Teaching

Meta Diaries – 2020: Part one

Meta is 8-years-old❤️
Here are some thoughts after 2 days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of energy and education it takes to recognize when you are being humiliated. I don’t have very many feelings about Kumbalangi Nights but a scene I find myself returning to over and over again is the hair salon one in the film. It’s an eerily familiar scene – it shows you how without your knowledge or consent, you become trapped in a conversation with people who smile and ‘know’ things about you – things like your ability, qualification, merit, and caste.

A verdict is passed – if you disagree with them, they will look at you like you’re crazy. But of course, it is done with so much poise and dignity that you are bound to ask yourself if you imagined their bad behavior, if it’s even possible that someone who was kind enough to give you time and smile at you can have evil thoughts. For those of you who haven’t watched the film, you just need to revisit a scene from your everyday life where you’ve had to confront the hollow of powerlessness you feel in your stomach when someone with little to no authority seems to derive another kind of ‘more important’ authority from elsewhere. And indeed – it’s why they know they can get away with anything – they are safe in that authority, protected by a sense of knowing what to say when, knowing when they are being humiliated so they are always ready to give it back to you. What is this authority and where do they get it from? Caste.

I am most curious about how it meanders through at places of work. When you don’t know you are being humiliated, how do you defend yourself? Not that knowing you are being humiliated is any kind of a blessing. But how is it possible to work if you are defending it all the time? Where must one get the energy to do this everyday? These are some questions I have been obsessed with year after year.

February is perhaps the only month when I temporarily suspend these questions. It’s because February is the only month in the year when I work most with students. And because these are students who come to February and its synonym – Meta with the same kind of madness that I do, there isn’t much room for humiliation of that kind.

This year, Meta began for me when Alung Inpuihrwan, our student from Manipur sang Raghu Dixit’s ‘Munjane Manjalli’ at the inauguration. He owned the song in a way that I haven’t seen anybody own anything in a long time. When I think of how those with power in the country and elsewhere are swallowing every little space that belongs to students, I want to think of Alung who stood under the banyan tree, and sang in a language that he made his by putting into it every bit of music he could gather from his stomach. Even if this moment was later hijacked by organisational hiccups, Alung’s song is stamped in my memory.

At the end of Day one, it struck me that Meta’s tragedy is that it is so big in our imaginations that it doesn’t register simple realities like spaces suddenly becoming unavailable. It’s also somewhat of its silly charm that despite this, it will continue to produce moments, and give us invitations to look at students differently – which is what we need now more than ever.

This was written on 6 Feb 2020. Part two will be up soon.
Categories
In Between

Part One – Meta Diaries: What does Fire in the Tongue mean?

Meta is seven-years-old. I will keep coming back to this again and again, but let’s move on for now. The theme this year is Fire in the Tongue. It can mean anything you want it to mean.

IMG_2346

At the inauguration however, it came to mean something else and I can’t see it any other way now. The threat that people with power are going to take away our history, our story from us is always there. It’s even more vicious these days. Speaking against such a power is necessary in whatever way and form we can. Here is the speech by Prof. Arul Mani that can tell you a little more about what Fire in the Tongue means —

“Across India, young men and women from communities excluded from education are beginning to find the fire with which to contest years of exclusion – that is the spirit that we pay tribute to when we say tongues of fire – Fire in the tongue.

This year we will be inaugurating the Rohith Vemula Archive of Dalit, Tribal, Bahujan, and Minority experience  – one of the small things we have been working towards. Jesuit institutions were among the first to make inclusion and social justice a part of their vision. Our Department has enjoyed this partnership that we have been working on for several years. And The Vemula Archive is one way of making visible the principle of inclusion, social justice, and the Jesuit Principle of preferential option for the poor.

When we say Fire in the tongue, if you want to look for another embodiment, another physical realisation of that principle, you don’t have to look much further than the man they are paying tribute to when they say Jai Bhim. The Constitution of India continues to speak words of fire to years of exclusion – look there and you will find words of fire every time you need it.

These principles are relevant. In a country where the government of the day in a circular, tried to declare the word ‘Dalit’ illegal as if declaring the word ‘Dalit’ illegal would somehow change history and allow us to continue to live happy, uninterrupted lives.

The idea of Fire in the tongue is also worth holding close to the heart when you remember that the septuagenarian politician in Karnataka who is trying hard to become chief minister before he dies will go down in history – not for how hard he tried – but for the fact that when he was in power, he passed a legislation which gave policemen the authority to open people’s tiffin boxes and check for whether they were carrying beef. That is the achievement that this politician will be remembered for.

In times like these, we all need to find fire in the tongue to speak for diversity, to speak for who we are, and to speak for the worlds we come from”

Let’s just say that fest and protest needn’t be the 2 horrifying opposites that we sometimes make them to be.

***

It has never been hard to locate a moment that signals the beginning of Meta for me.

Early in January, a young boy graduating this year came to the department feeling anxious. He was afraid of graduating. ‘I don’t know what will happen outside’ he said. It is normal for every graduating student to have this anxiety. But even though it was familiar, he was saying something else. I didn’t know what to say to him. His fear wasn’t very different from my own. One side of this fear is not knowing. The other side is knowing. In between, is a desperation to find kindness. He was afraid of leaving behind the kindness he had found inside, and terrified of not finding it outside.

And because I didn’t want to lie to him, we both sat outside the department looking at the sunset, crying.

Then we picked ourselves up, laughed because we were taking ourselves too seriously, and went in for chai.

How many people does it take to run Meta?

Later that evening, a colleague held up seven of his fingers at this boy and told him – “It takes seven people” The boy didn’t have to be told that he was among the seven. He only had to be reminded that he was capable of things he wasn’t giving himself credit for. When he was made to see that the kindness & humility he brings to his work were enough, he smiled. For me, this was when Meta began this year.

***

After the inauguration, the students of I MA English presented stage adaptations of Macbeth (At Midnight), Julius Caesar, Romeo & Juliet (Macha, where art thou), a shadow play on Hamlet (Ham-lit: The answers lie in the dark), exhibits of the Globe theatre and Queen Elizabeth herself, and a comic strip of Shakespeare.

The Found Books series is a great opportunity for teachers to explore their relationship with a book outside of classroom practices. Prof. Navya inaugurated the series yesterday with Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Hungry Tide’

At the Shadow play – lights were turned off, phones were on silent, and we proceeded into the Globe theatre – took our seats (some on chairs, some on the floor – deliberately executed by the presenters to show us what watching a play really was like back then) All this happened even as speakers played background noises from the 16th Century.

 

***

Day One began with a lot a admin annoyances and the regular tech-giving-haath situations. Watching students deal with all this in their own quirky, mad ways has always been a dirty, almost voyeuristic pleasure of mine.

There’s the girl who becomes Rudhramadevi when there are money/stall issues. The boy who never tires of running. The boy who puts in all his energy and love into delightful little works of art. The girl who can put many a techie boy to shame by making printers submit to her will. The girl who does magic when she designs posters. The little boss girl who walks in and everyone shuts up. The boy who smiles like an angel and works like a maniac. The boy who eats clean egg biryanis but doesn’t mind dirtying himself with mad meta work. The girl who is part lioness, part stand-up comedian.

They are a Justice League of their own kind. They could be fighting god knows how many inner-demons of their own, and still – they come here and become warriors of a different kind, with fire in their tongues.

51439665_2555845257764198_3316872491011407872_o.jpg

***

 

Categories
In Between

Meta Diaries: Days Nine, Ten, Eleven, and Twelve

So we are saying bye-bye to Meta 2018.

Every year, I have valued the things learnt at the end of Meta. Most of the time, it has been learning to let go, moving on from blunders, prepping for next year and such. This year it was a lesson in patience, keeping kaam se calm, etc,.

Here is what happened over the last couple of days.

We had Poetry Slam on Day Nine with participation from 30 students (our highest so far). The theme was purple. And I am not sure if it’s a coincidence that most of the poems were about women.

Our judge Mr Timothy Paulson said he had a tough time picking the winners. In some classes that morning, students & I did a short poetry-writing exercise. The prompts given went from the first sip of coffee, to snake in the commode, to an ode to lendi (that stubborn piece of shit hanging by no man’s/woman’s land- refusing to let go – I now have a newfound respect for the proverb – Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka – na ghaat ka)

A thing that has blossomed this year, thanks to Meta, is my interest in Quizzes. The questions are intimidating and the answers are mind-boggling – not because you couldn’t have guessed but because you could have — giving rise to what is known as the AJM moment or the Akkan Just Missu moment.

At Magister this year which was conducted on the 18th Feb, I was amused to watch participants produce an assortment of sounds to celebrate both winning and losing. I am now a big fan of what I call the Quiz Boy Wolf Whistle – it’s when the answer is so stunning that you whistle to appreciate its beauty. It’s also partly a tribute to the question, even if the answer is way out of your league.

I also discovered what is called the slow clap or the clap of shame – of which Bhargav Bsr received plenty. It’s when the question-setter finds the question so interesting that he doesn’t care about the answer.

***

The Meta Valedictory was held in the newly inaugurated Atrium of the Arupe Block. The results for The Prof Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay were announced. We had 75 entries (our highest so far.) Archita Raghuof II EJP won the Overall category while Amulya B and Malavika Selvaraj won the Open and Schools category respectively.

You can read the Prize-winning essays on The Open Dosa soon.

When I look back, I wonder where February went. Sometimes even pictures, FB statuses,and tweets don’t do justice to preserving moments – there are bits that make themselves rebelliously un-preservable. But as always, no matter how tiring it is, I look forward to the next edition with a renewed spirit.

 28423326_2022844877730908_7497364376473607194_o
Categories
Writing

Small joys for Rum Lola Rum

 

Screenshot_20180221-221618_01

Hello,

So this is my website (haw — never thought I’d say this) but you are now at rumlolarum.com. Bought a damn domain to celebrate 300 posts. It’s a Valentine gift to myself.

I believe I have withdrawal symptoms and worry that I will never be able to write again without the soft pinkish comfort of my older Adelle theme. It must be why I struggled for two days looking for a theme before landing on this one. It’s not as good as my old one but it reminds me of home.

This month has been weirdly good. Meta 2018 will officially be over in a day and I’m already looking forward to the next edition. I am not half as tired as I usually am during Feb but maybe that’s a lesson. If all Metas are like each other, how will I remember the years?

There are more reasons for why this month has been weirdly good. Ever since I interviewed writers Praveen Kumar and Manjunayak, I have been itching to write. Praveen Kumar put my laziness, self-pity, insecurity and everything else to shame when I asked him how he sustains writing. He simply said – Bitkodbaardu. Don’t surrender.

M said that’s how people ride in Bangalore Traffic and I laughed like 600 flower pots breaking on terracotta tiles.

Something changed after that interview. I have been able to wake up at 5:30 since then, to write. And I am surprised by how much I like it. I look forward to it with a delicious anxiety every night before going to sleep —  like I’m getting dressed to meet a new love.

 

 

 

 

I don’t always write though. I go out – watch the sky go from dark blue to light blue to vanilla white. I sneak into the kitchen to make Elaichi chai and then sneak out to crush said Elaichi pods softly because house is still asleep. The Brahmin house next door is up obviously. Their steps and garden already smelling like rain.

Discovering mornings has been the best thing to have happened to me. As David Bowie says it here

Posting an excerpt here from that gorg interview:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Reading.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Discovering morning.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Talent.

What is your greatest regret?
That I never wore bellbottoms.

What is your current state of mind?
Pregnant.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Living in fear.

Current mood – A little happy and very yawn.

Current music – Juno

It’s all I am leaving you with today. And, this. Read, smile, love, sleep. Repeat. G’night.

 

Categories
In Between Teaching

Meta Diaries: Days Seven and Eight

27654530_2000943483254381_1101671805833631710_n

A new contest we’ve added this year (for other fests to grab, and announce it as the first time anyone in college has ever conducted it) is Pretext.

I’ll just say the word interpret and give you a picture of Hitler’s jingling anatomy and a Nazi symbol for heart. Do what you can in 5 minutes. So this happened on Day Seven and we saw some ten contestants staring at fellow team mates hungrily and blinking rarely.

Our first Panel at Meta was to commemorate 50 years of JAM (Just a Minute) Our panelists were alumni Darius Sunawala, Prof Cheriyan Alexander and students Izrael and Zahed.

Coming as I do with only a degree in Bollywood, I had for the longest time assumed that JAM is what little Anjali did in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai – where she picked the word Maa and stumbled and stuttered until Paa came and rescued her.

I was wrong. JAM has been adapted and made raita-khichdi of by many. It was a delight to watch Darius speak of the good ol days. Prof Arul Mani had told us at JAM the other day that Nicholas Parsons based the rules of JAM on an incident from school. His professor caught him daydreaming and asked him to explain to the class what was being discussed without hesitation, repetition and deviation (!)
***
CK Meena’s Lec Dem on women in journalism was proof that we need sessions like these every other week. Some five bois were rolling eyes at the mere mention of women.The eyes came out of sockets when she hadn’t even reached the fem of feminism.

Nevertheless, she told us about how women reporters back then were rare and if they did join, were given dog shows and cake shows and flower shows to cover. Maybe the bois should have rolled eyes at this.
***
Day Eight began with a change in venues. But that has never bothered Meta.

Our event Nose Cut (are the creative peeps listening?) was quite the hit. After slight mind acrobatics, it was decided that Alok Nath, Rakhi Sawant, Tiger Shroff and Lola Kutty would be put together. Most of the participants chose Alok Nath and the one team that chose Lola Kutty won the audience over with his rendition of confused malluness and ever-falling pallu. At one point he said ‘female chetas’ and people howled.

Anchor What made me Dil-Khush yesterday because two BCA students came first.

The gulabi moment of the Young Adult Fiction panel was one Miss Sarah Rodriguez announcing quite coolly that “no writer writes for the entire world” and Prof Rincy Thomas declaring that “there should be an event at Meta where boys should be given a copy of The Princess Diaries” – that was our all-women – all -kickass – panel at Meta this year.

The highlight of the day was writer SR Ramakrishna talking about translating the late UR Ananthamurthy’s autobiography – Suragi. When he read out some excerpts, I couldn’t help but notice how much the voice was like the one in Siddalingaiah’s Ooru Keri (A word with you, world – also translated by SR Ramakrishna)

It was amusing to note that in three of the five excerpts he read, three people died — and all very casually. ‘He played cards and then he died’

Managed to get a signed copy. Cannot wait to read it.

Categories
In Between

Meta Diaries – Days Three, Four, Five and Six

27907712_2003842452964484_4645794089977758789_o

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.

***
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 .

 

Categories
Teaching

Meta Diaries – Days One and Two

27336687_1749410665123926_1653989745293585162_n

Day One

Like every year, we wondered if we have the energy to run Meta. And like every year we decided we don’t have the energy – that we need to shrink Meta down to a manageable size, and like every year, we did it anyway.

Today was the inaugural of the sixth edition of Meta. We began with the Fan-fiction contest which saw 11 participants. Not too great, but some of the students were from other colleges so not too bad as well.

The inaugural was ceremoniously marked by the absentee lamp- happily replaced by letting 90 yellow balloons in the air.

JAM has always been a highlight and this year we had a solid participation by 20 students. Let’s just say that interesting things happen on stage when students from different states contest with one another.

The rains teased us for a bit and then decided to just break down and it poured and poured. Ever noticed how the Banyan tree silently rebels? Especially when it rains.

Volunteers were seen performing risky acrobatics to get the art back drop down safely. JAM was shifted to the Staff Seminar Hall which proved to be a better venue. The participants began objecting very intimately – as if they were pillow fighting with cousins. By the final round, they knew each other well enough to imitate each other.

And that’s how we know we had a good day. As someone famous once said, ‘Imitation breeds good feels’

 

***

Day Two

When I was in the 8th std, I stared at windows a little too much. One afternoon, simply gazing outside, I found the courage to take part in an essay contest. A girl I really admired had been winning debate competitions and I felt like I should do something too.

The topic of the essay was Swami Vivekananda and I had no idea what to write,how to write. So I spent one afternoon in the library looking for a book about him and mugged up a couple of things. I then proceeded with full gusto to repeat whatever I could remember. I assumed the more I could remember, the more my chances of winning were. The rest of the class was out on a field trip to planetarium. I told myself I was doing the right thing by not going.

By the fourth sentence in the essay contest, I had emptied whatever little I was able to gather about the damn man. I had nothing to say about him. I handed over my entry and walked out feeling disgusted with myself. There were some 15 people still writing ferociously.

I should have just gone to the planetarium – I continued to tell myself. But I’m glad I stayed back and tasted disgust that day because today it has taught me to appreciate imagination whenever and wherever I see it.

The Children’s fiction contest today saw ten participants. This was the starter –

“The short girl just stood there with her hair falling over her eyes. Her mother shifted from foot to foot as the teacher told story after story—late-coming, homework not done, and failed test papers. In the middle of all this thunder and lightning, she saw something that made her smile. She fought it valiantly, and because she fought it, it grew into a determined little cloud and it burst forth from her lips in little giggly bursts. Things went from bad to worse, but what could she do?”

When I see the possibility of what a student is able to do when you challenge her with the gift of her own imagination, I want to say screw Vivekananda.
***
The Spelling Bee had 30 participants today. I sat in for one round and felt victorious when I realized that I had spelled Mulligatawny correct. Out of 6 questions, this was the only word I was able to guess, so – bonus. Even if I was only able to guess because of the hint provided (you will get this in Koshy’s) – it’s still a win.

But what blew my mind away was learning that Kedgeree comes from Khichdi (!)
***
Our homemade event BollyGood has always received maximum voyeurism. This is nice but also sorrowful. If everyone comes to watch, who will do?

***
Naveen Tejaswi‘s Interactive Photo Essay session on the Rohingya refugee camps began with the usual tech-related glitches but he won it over with his stories. He brought us tales of chain-smoking men he was too afraid to say anything to. And of Bangladeshi people who were crazy about Malayalam films.
***
The excellent Janet Orlene conducted a Poetry Slam workshop. Participants were taken through solid metaphor exercises and stage-fright relieving techniques.

I am producing here the poem of one Miss Aishwarya Bhaskar who returned from the workshop saying, ‘I didn’t know I could write poems’

I am a banana peel
I am yellow in color
I am not judging cows for eating me
I am liked by flies and other insects
I am friends with plastic covers
Because we go into the trash together.
***
When I see all this, I remember dabba Vivekananda and my heart sighs. Then I wonder if students today prefer Avivekananda and my heart sighs louder.

Categories
Writing

The Prof. Barbra Naidu Prize for the Personal Essay 2018

Department of English, St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous)  is announcing the sixth edition of The Prof. Barbra Naidu Prize for the Personal Essay 2018.

If I could, I would write for this Prize. Because Friending/Unfriending seems like my full life only.

There was Rashmi who I sat next to in first standard. We never spoke but once when she wasn’t there, I peeked into her bag. And in that peek, I set into motion — my lifelong career of being fascinated with women. But I am stalker shakeela, I admit. Must stop.

There was Tanaaz who I pushed into the gutter because I didn’t like the way she was distant from me and seemed to be enjoying her private moments.

Then there was another girl who said she would put me in a mixie and grind me. You get the idea – I haven’t had the brightest of luck with friendships. And I must have done more violence on them than they have on me. So take your chance and write. About your Lilas and Lenus. About your Rashmis and Rohits.

In the previous years, we have had themes such as Finding Culture, Living Online, Finding Family etc. You can read the prize-winning essays here.

The theme this year is Friending/Unfriending. Deadline: 11 Feb 2018.

The contest is open to Students (School & college) and the general public. Mail your entries (MS-Word) to barbranaiduprize@gmail.com26167215_1960814583933938_3122900853717476084_n

Categories
Teaching

February Itch

As a shy, dull, and almost non-existent student in school, I spent a lot of time imagining a parallel universe where I could never be left behind. I owned this universe and so it was filled with the few people I liked and a few others, who, like me, were also left behind. And here too, there were people with power, of course. No imagination or fantasy is ever complete without a structural change in power. But the powerful people in my universe were teachers who could look beyond the rank students.

In my final year at school, I wrote a poem for our magazine and showed it to my teacher who took one long look at it and gave it back to me. It wasn’t good of course and I was a painfully clingy person so I didn’t really mind that she’d just walked off. I sent it to the editorial committee and waited. On the last day, when we got our school magazines, I kept turning over the pages to see if my poem was published. It wasn’t and I felt a tinge of shame. Although now I am glad they didn’t publish it because otherwise I’d have to bury myself alive.

Even so, I longed for an approval that I never got in school perhaps because I didn’t try enough or perhaps because academic excellence was the one thing where everything else was measured. And some of us didn’t always manage to make that cut.

When I became a teacher, I was very afraid. Somewhere I was still a very scared student and I had no way of knowing exactly when I’d feel like a teacher. “That moment will come”, someone said, “when a student will tear your ass.”

And that moment did come. It keeps coming again and again but I was surprised that it came from students who were too afraid to talk, let alone tear body parts. It is a challenge to look for these students beyond the limited space of the classroom. And it’s strange that when I began to look for them, I found pieces of myself.

At a panel on Rohith Vemula last year, I saw two girls arrive at a confidence I had never seen in them before. Coming as they did from a college where they’d been ignored for the most part, they said that they were surprised to have even been asked to be on the panel.

All of last year was spent waging a listless sort of war against whiny adults who felt betrayed for not being given opportunities that they felt they were more deserving of. At times like these, watching students come out of similar battles was the saving grace. At the end of that panel, the two girls were surrounded by classmates — some crying, some shocked — but all cheering them on for the good job they did.

It is now somewhat of a tradition that Meta’s biggest fans have been science students. Anna and Sahana, two students from the science stream have been the most diligent audience at Meta. They turn up for all the writing contests with one suave attitude that even my fingernail didn’t have when I was 20. Anna says she is taking up literature after this and presently has her nose buried in some history of English Literature book that she is reading for her entrance.

Vidya Bal, another science student is a little time bomb that is forever ticking. She does ten things at once and in 2014, when the prizes were being given away, we had to ask her to stay on the stage and collect them all at once because she had won that many.

I met Parinitha and Priya, two more science champs and enthu nutellas at a certificate course we offered last year and since then, they have shown an energy for writing and reading that I am both terrified and jealous of.

Meta has taught me things that no one else could have. It has taught me to see what isn’t visible – very often it’s the fear of not being “good enough” that so many of us hide behind. That and also perhaps that other people are truly more deserving in life because of whatever reason (fair skin, good English, better contacts, cool company) and in more ways than one, it has taught me to disregard these reasons.

16426075_1597137993634934_3997200045828007265_n
Image Credits: Abhishek Anil & Canva

Today, Meta is the space where the Banyan tree grows bigger and bigger and I feel smaller than I ever have. And that’s alright because true to its meaning, Meta has quite aptly taught me to look beyond myself. From watching these students organize and participate to watching the space itself morph into various shapes to accommodate panels, lec-dems, contests and various other conversations – the demands on the classroom as the only enabler of learning and experience have diminished – both for the student and the teacher. In more ways than one, Meta has become the parallel universe that I sought so desperately in school.

The energy that February finds in me comes from the wasteland that was my adolescence. This Friday, Meta will be 5 years old. And in the next 20 days, Meta will have come and gone, and only a February-sized itch will remain.