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Books Dalit History Month

Y for Yearning

Chimamanda Adichie was once complimented for not using difficult words in her stories — for writing in ‘simple’ English. She laughed her watermelon laugh and said ‘Thank you very much but that’s probably because I don’t know difficult words.’ I like to imagine that the interviewer bit their tongue and did not recover.

Reading Americanah was patting that low grumble in my stomach that is hungry to have written, never to write. It was feeling grateful for Adichie and her ‘simple’ words that brought me Ifemelu, the writer who came into being because she started blogging. It was regarding Ifemelu with a sense of wonder and being in awe of her pauses that allowed her quiet, ceaseless moments of self-respect. And then it was feeling happy for seven years of rumlolarum.com.

Race and Caste are so much the same and so much not. Reading about race is reading about caste and yet there seem to be so many Indians who are more comfortable talking about racism than caste. They don’t know caste, they don’t see caste, they say.
Ifemelu after she returns from America, says that she stopped being Black when the plane touched down in Lagos. Babasaheb said he’d forgotten he was an untouchable in America and that he became one again when he landed in India. I thought of Rajini Krish who wrote about his first time on a plane, and how he described the view from the window as ‘full white, full silence, full powerful, full myth.’ I thought of his struggle, and what he was thinking moments before he took his life.

I thought about Isidore from Togo whom I met last year at an internship program in Seattle. I thought of his hands as he beat his chest with them one day, demonstrating how wildly his heart leaps everytime he tries to speak in class. How I wanted to grab his hands, slow them down and say me too. I thought of Sandra Cisneros’ Salvador whose name the teacher cannot remember. I thought of how dense must someone be to not see the loneliness of others.

In these stories, and in others, I have always yearned to find the perfect sentences to begin writing. But I’m afraid my words aren’t perfect and I’m hungry to make them perfect. What an odd demand it is no? To write perfect about things that aren’t.

l

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In Between

To Alice Munro, Sandra Cisneros, and other women with elbows

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.

~Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

Early 2008 – Jain College.

We were doing Margaret Atwood in an Optional English class one day. We were reading Journey to the interior when a boy said that the Canadian landscape had never been utilised by its authors and that Margaret Atwood should do something with Canada instead of whining all the time. I remember being pissed off by this accusation. I liked Atwood. Why should it fall upon her to do things with the landscape, was my initial response. The teacher sided with me, and when the boy’s retort was the usual, ‘how much of Canadian literature are you even familiar with?’, she told him to bugger off.

We moved on to African Literature after that and the boy and I reconciled so I didn’t go back to reading or fighting. It was a strange time to be a student. Love was around, friendships were disappearing, and parents were sworn enemies. My biggest worry then was figuring out a lie to tell my mother for why I was going to be home late that evening. Time was endless and college really only came to picture a day before the exams. Evenings were spent with a dysfunctional group at the back of a car, watching a movie, eating or planning our next outing.

It’s only as I am writing this that I’m wondering if I should forgive myself for the things I didn’t do when I was 18.

But seven years later, I discovered Alice Munro and I am not thinking of the time I could have read her in. I don’t know what I am thinking when I am reading Munro. I look at the page numbers printed at the top of the pages –One number above the other, wondering if she put them there too, because they seem assured. I am looking at the page numbers only because I have read a line that has made me wonder how many notes the woman must have made in her life. I am convinced that if I pull an investigation and get to the root of it all, I’ll find stack upon stack of dusty notes scribbled in black ink. Or maybe blue, I don’t know.

I cannot read Munro for a long time. Now and then – Now more than then, I must look up from my book and blink, adjust my posture, tie my hair into a bun, and get up to make tea. I must make these readjustments so when I reread that same line; I am more prepared for its candour. Looking at the page numbers came after I had exhausted all of the above.

I am drawn into her stories so easily, moved by her characters so strangely that I feel isolated. That’s a measure of reading I’m growing to be quite comfortable with. If I am pushed into believing that the people around me are as strange as I want the characters in books to be, then I needn’t be afraid of them. I am doing just that. I am taking away all the people I meet and putting them in books that I want to write.

If I could go back to that class again, I would tell the boy there’s a lot of Canada in Munro’s stories. People are always going to Walley to sell things. People are always writing letters to people in Quebec, people are always talking about their children who are in Ontario. The roads are not crowded; they are wide and angled perfectly so there are trees growing at right angles, the sunlight passes through these trees in brilliant bright colors that aren’t just your orange or red. The houses are tall and yellow.

The train journeys are long like in real life, the conversations are short, like I wish they were in real life, and sometimes punctured by longer silences. Munro fills these silences by telling us what these people’s hands looked like or what they were like in a past that is not theirs anymore. Maybe she’s not even telling you what their past was like but you are thinking about it anyway because she’s told you so much about it and moved so quickly from it that you almost want to know what she’s not telling you.

Sandra Cisneros says women in her family sat their sadness on their elbows, always waiting at the window. I remember feeling very happy and sad when I read this line. Happy because who writes like that and sad because I thought of all the women in movies I had grown up watching and how most of them did sit their sadness on an elbow. I am so sure that if my mother’s room had a convenient window like that, she would sit her sadness on an elbow too. Actually she would sit her sadness on an elbow at my window so I could see it feel guilty.

This is an image that hasn’t turned up yet in my reading of Munro so far. The women are doing lots of things at windows but they are never sitting their sadness on their elbows. They are figuring out ways to get rid of strange men trying to talk to them in trains, they are searching for the daughter that left home and never came back, they are counting the number of walnuts that fall off from trees every year, they are cutting  parts of their faces off to deal with guilt, they are falling in and out of love, they are surviving wars and losses, and they are writing and reading letters. But they aren’t sitting their sadness on elbows.

Sometimes they seem just the right amount of sad for a rainy afternoon and you can’t help but sit by a window, your elbow sticking out, your eyes soft with sleep — watching the rain and dreaming sepia dreams.

Categories
In Between

O – Onion

Today I feel like the onion that Sandra Cisneros writes so poignantly about in ‘Eleven’. I feel superbly peeled today. But the peeling didn’t happen today, it’s been happening for as long as I can remember. I would just like to commemorate it today. All these layers of age on me are wearing me down. And not because these layers are tarnished by regret and guilt but because too many of these layers were allowed to be occupied by too many people, all of whom are strangers to me today. How I wish all these ages that I am today: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25 are all mine and mine alone. But I share it with too many people or one person who appears to be like too many people.

I recognize my 16 year old self today with shame and hostility. Does that mean that I can peel off my 16th year and flung it away? If I was 16 and 25 today I would have not done many things. But maybe why I am 25 today is because I did those things. 5 years down the line, I may look back at this post and wonder if there was any difference between my 16 year old self and my 25 year old self. That’s what is so crazy about the age and the onion thing. That it makes invisible, the borders between layers and it becomes hard to separate the two.

That’s all there is, I feel as pointless as this post. I seem destined to make the same mistakes but just at different ages.

Categories
In Between

W – Wicked

Too many things on my mind today.

This post was originally going to be on W – Wanderlust, which was what was on my mind yesterday but too much of life has happened in a day. I have to write about the books that I found and bought yesterday. Also how it was the last day of the book fair and for some strange reason I found myself interested in all the cook books that there were this time, and there were many. I found Book One and Two of Delia’s ‘How to cook’ series, Zadie Smith’s ‘White Teeth’ and some travel books. I am excited about these cook books and I find that almost unnerving because I’ve never felt mad urges like these to see pictures of food and then reproduce it in real life, like step by step, like how that Nigella does it so effortlessly in her shows.

I like eating and watching things being cooked but have never shown actual interest in cooking. I don’t so much as lift a finger at home to do cooking stuff, unless I want to eat potatoes which is when I become a domestic goddess and do all the cleaning and peeling and boiling and butter frying. I do all this because  potatoes are special and I love them! It’s the best PMS food. Also, when you deep fry it with butter, your day just changes.

That. And then something strange happened this afternoon. Around 12:45 pm, just when I was deciding that it’s been a good day so far and that I should shut up and prepare for my next hour which was Additional English, I ‘stumbled’ on an article. Is there a better website than stumble.com? I doubt. That shit is just great. You literally stumble on some great stuff. The article was called, ’14 brilliant pieces of literature you can read in the time it takes to eat lunch’. I read Sandra Cisneros’ ‘Eleven’ and wept. It was beautiful and I took this beauty very seriously because the narration is slow but didn’t take time to open. The story was about an eleven year old girl and a red sweater that she was forced to wear. I haven’t ever read about birthdays being described like that. You know, like even if it is your birthday, you will cry. Sandra Cisneros is a genius. And to narrate a story that beautiful in less than 500 words? So things like these don’t happen that often with me. Usually when I start reading something online, I become a lazy, judgmental bitch so if I am not hooked to it in the first 2 lines, I stop reading. I’m useless like that. But Eleven just took me in. I was child and grown up at once, I saw myself, naked and embarrassed and crying. It’s just 2 pages so when I was done reading, I almost felt helpless. And then I took the worst decision of my life. I wanted my Add. Eng students to read it so I took it to class like some big hero only to watch their boring faces fall on every inch of my body and along with it died my enthusiasm for them and humanity.

I told them to go to hell. I also told them to just watch Pokemon and be stupid. I entered the damn class feeling inspired and happy and left feeling hopeless and spiteful. Bah. So that is W for Wicked because those kids are mean and wicked. Shattering life altering literature like that with their boring faces and all. Pah.