What I learnt from reading The Murder Room by PD James

The Murder Room

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 power 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 exactly 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 have often lost my temper. I continue to envy colleagues who talk to students in a consistently reasonable, annoyingly patient way.

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.  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 – ashte.

Adam Dalgliesh is calm. During his worst moments – he’s still calm. He’s never severe on himself.

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 😦

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.

***
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 .

 

To Bombay from Bombay

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I must return to Bombay for several reasons. One because I tricked myself into believing that a poem is enough but it never is and two because I am reading Vivian Gornick.

Seven years between you and a city of your childhood is enough to make you want to give up everything in its honour. Even if a great deal of this childhood was spent stuck in an apartment on the 8th floor. Even if Bombay was a two- month long vacation in a house full of singing aunties, a toothpick of an uncle whose only connection to the house, and his solitude was the wheezing AC in the only bedroom of the apartment, and an OCD prone grandmother who washed the floor and the TV with equal amounts of Surf Excel and madness.

This is all that Bombay was. This and the shopping bags from Linking Road that amma lugged into big suitcases every evening. These bags had what my sister and I wore for the rest of the year – pants in the gaudiest of red, purple, and pink. Jackets in Amrutanjan yellows, and night dresses with cows and moons on them.

She really did shop for the whole town, as dad would often say. She got bags with 20 compartments for various sisters-in-law and their cousins. Back in Bangalore, during functions, ‘Attige Bombay inda tandiddu,’ (Aunt got from Bombay) was muttered approvingly.

The evenings were hot and sweaty only because we stepped out of the AC room then. As I remember Mahim – its street walls  were permanently blackened by building after building of factories. Blue carts stood idly on the footpath- and behind them – bearded old men in off-white shirts selling vad-pav. We’d hit Icy Spicy for Chinese and the good old Shobha for North Indian and Kulfi.

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When I found myself in this city seven years later, I asked the nearest taxi driver to show me the way out and he mumbled something from his swollen red mouth, pan juice overflowing.

In the taxi, I was glued to the window, inhaling the formless, moving shapes outside. Big billboards with Deepika Padukone’s face on them told me that it has indeed been seven years. I think back to the time when long ago, returning from a film at 8 in the night, my aunt suddenly announced that Rani Mukherji and Karan Johar were sitting in the car next to us at the signal. I poked my head out the window, in between our car and theirs- and gaped at the horrified couple who were not Karan Johar and Rani Mukherjee.

They were then visibly upset and my aunt proceeded with all shamelessness to make it clear to them that even she wasn’t all that happy with them for not being Karan Johar and Rani Mukherjee.

Bombay hadn’t changed or if it had, I was happy to note that I didn’t care. The air was hot and smelled like it always had – Like the fantasy I had of going to Juhu Beach or an open drainage and blinding myself with a pair of binoculars, having set upon myself the task of finding the sea smell. I say binoculars here because of Garcia Marquez.

In Living to Tell the Tale, he mentions a night he spent with some friends. His brother couldn’t sleep properly because the goat next door was giving birth and the persistent moans of labour disturbed him so he said that the goat’s noise ‘is as annoying as a lighthouse’

That Lighthouse is my Binoculars.

Marquez later says that he would never forget this moment. And as it turns out, neither have I.

Bombay smell is like petrol smell. Not everybody appreciates it. There are takers and then there are abusers. I take it whole-nosedly.

It’s what I imagine I’ll smell if I stand at the edge of a flyover and open my nose out to the sea –  and it’s the same smell that follows me, away from the flyover, past Kamathipura and Andheri and into Marine Drive.

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In my room at the hotel next to Bombay hospital, I sneak into the small, parched balcony that is barely holding itself along with its hundred pigeon-droppings and the blackened floor. I lean out and leaning out, I reached into the corners of the mind where Bombay was tangled like the numerous black wires on the clotheslines outside the Loreto building in Mahim.

***

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The next morning, I was walking up and down the Marine Drive beach assuming I’d get to see Shah Rukh Khan’s house somewhere. It was only after fishing out my phone and keying in my destination did I realise that that was in Bandra. You know how when you are young and if you are going to a city of film-land; you are positive that you will ‘run into’ a famous film star or at least catch a passing glance — à la Fan in Fan.

What is the point, I felt like asking after Google told me how far Mannat was from Marine Drive. I was sad for a moment and then I realised that I was in Paro Devi’s city and immediately felt like I do when I’m in love. I felt hopeful and alive from the pit of my stomach. It was 7:30 in the morning. I was a little drowsy, mildly hung-over, and no Shah Rukh Khan anywhere. But I realised that just being in the same city as your favourite writer can save you in ways even Shah Rukh Khan can’t.

Did Paro Devi come here often, I wondered. And through the rest of my stay there – it’s all I asked myself.

I was in the same city as another Shah-Rukh lover and that seemed enough. I was in the same city as a writer whose work I’d stalked for years. And there – standing in Marine Drive smiling sheepishly at all the joggers, I was able to rescue Bombay from Bombay.

I returned home with Two Bombays. One is the Bombay of my childhood and there it will remain happily for the rest of my life. The other is a borrowed Bombay – one that you know through someone else, one that comes alive in someone else’s writing. And because of some one else’s love for the city, you consume it and learn to love it.

Elena Ferrante said “When there is no love, not only the life of the people becomes sterile but the life of cities.”

When I first read this, I shook my head. I didn’t agree. For a long time I believed that  cities come out alive when one is not in love. But maybe I should have just read it more carefully. She is not saying anything about being in love, she is saying when there is no love. Very different things. And back in Marine Drive that day, if I hadn’t thought about Paro Devi who had taught me so much about love through her writing and her documentaries — Bombay would have become sterile.

Feminism is about Love and kindness, she says in so many of her interviews. And as I have come to realise, it really is the closest definition of Feminism.

But what does Shah Rukh Khan have to do with love or feminism?

Now only I will start writing next post.

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Mangalore, Dec 2017

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Some cities are like Bollywood songs. You might forget the lyrics but you’ll still remember the tune, one or two specific words, the hero’s jataks, and the heroine’s mataks. Mangalore is that ooru. I’ll only know it through its sounds.

The frogs are alive and croaking, the trucks on the Kottara Chowki highway drone on so familiarly that they become happy background scores to the long whistles of pressure cookers that fill the house with Dalithoy smells. It’s the only city that makes me appreciate music.

 

Perhaps also because my uncle who never gets lyrics right is still convinced that Shah Rukh is not calling Preity Zinta ‘Pretty Woman’ in Kal Ho Na Ho, he is calling her ‘Hari Rumaal.’ Or my aunt who thinks that Kareena & Vivek are not singing ‘Begaana Begaana Begaani’ in Yuva. They are singing ‘Madonna Madonna, Madonni’

F.R.O.G.S

This piece was written over a stretch of the first few rainy evenings in September. On the first evening, I sat at the department computer, earphones plugged in — listening to YouTube audios of croaking frogs, crickets and other night sounds.

Mangalore and Goa are two of my favourite cities because the frogs here know me well. What began as a tribute to frogs became an inward journey  into the home that I spent my childhood in.

TVs had a volume of their own here and this was the most liberating thing about the house. It was always blaring loud no matter who was around. Back home in Bangalore, every time I sensed my father’s mood swings, I wished all the TV volumes in the world would mute. But in Mangalore, rules bent themselves so neatly that we sat on them and made paper boats.

***

In the afternoons, Goa and Mangalore have the same slumberworthy capacities. The heat becomes duller, settling on the eyelids — making it heavy with sleep. And if there are trees around, the occasional rustle of the wind sends the birds into disarrayed flapping of wings, causing many hypnic jerks. The short dreams are always about birds – flapping eyelashes instead of wings. And, of aeroplanes that fly dangerously close to huts.

Read more here.

Lalbagh

Lalbagh has been the cause for many embarrassments in my life. The first time I saw it, I saw it two times but it felt like four. I had no idea there were 4 gates and sitting next to my friend in the bus, I saw the west and east gates in fifteen minutes and asked her if the driver was taking us round and round. Supriya slapped her forehead even as she struggled to keep from laughing rudely in my face.

She explained and I said, ‘oh’. Then I moved on with my life.

Many years later, my then best friend began frequenting Lalbagh. She’d sit there for hours, sometimes the whole day. She’d order from Dominos, eat cheese garlic bread and watch the lake. I never understood what she sought there but she went there every day. Whatever she sought, she must have found abundantly. She tried to get me to enjoy the quiet there and I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t something I wanted too much of. Now that I think about it, Josephine is probably the only woman from my past who knew how to be alone and enjoy it.

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One day in Lalbagh, Josephine and I were sitting on the bench and preparing to leave when suddenly, she grabbed me by the arm and started to whisk me away. ‘Whaaaat’, I moaned. ‘Don’t look back. Whatever you do, do not look back’, she muttered. So I looked back. A man who had been sleeping all evening had woken up and was now pleasuring himself quite ferociously. Like there was no tomorrow. The phrase ‘going to town’ came to mind.

That man effectively ruined our hitherto chaste friendship. We had never talked about bodily things before and suddenly we found it difficult to return to Lalbagh together.

After that unfortunate incident, I forgot all about Lalbagh and it went back to being that part of the road that smells nice when I ride past it. Occasionally, I’d give it a cheerless nod and bookmark it for the future.

 

***

Today, it rained so I thought why not and swerved right on Siddapura Road to park suddenly in the middle of actual riding. I parked and wondered if I had to pay. There was no counter so I walked on, looking back every now and then and half expecting an old man to come running after me, yelling at me to pay. Nobody came.

When I began looking around, I realised how afraid I am of my own thoughts. Every time a long walk is in the cards, I pack my ipod before anything else and rely too much on music to keep me away from myself. But the only music here was the crunchy footwear sound that I have come to appreciate so much. The after rain footwear on part dry crunch-crunch mud sound, like the sound people in cartoons make when they eat anything.

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The traffic noise seemed to be coming from an approaching city. It was drizzling and it seemed like the trees were making their own noise. Men in smart colored tees were jogging past me with their hoo hoo breathlessness. Somewhere an urdu speaking aunty was instructing her daughter to forget the ball forever if she dropped it into the lake. ‘Gaya tho uthech, bhoolna so’

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The lake became more and more real as I saw the birds near it. The faint traffic noise now seemed to be coming from above. I walked to the Lotus pond and trained my ears to pick up coastal sounds of frogs croaking. One, maybe two and then suddenly nothing. But the trees were having fun and continued making their rustling noise. I was understanding Josephine and began missing her terribly and missed also that outrageous man who molested himself.

It was a good day.

Dilli

2015

Some cities share their stories with us so fiercely that when we leave, we don’t miss them anymore because their stories quietly replace them.

For the longest time, Delhi was lived quite precariously within the strong red walls of Karnataka Bhavan and its sombre neighbour, Ansal Plaza. This was where we headed to for a stroll, for pizza and to generally avoid the vacuum of living in a strange city and yet living outside of it.

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Early this year in Ansal Plaza, I found Hi Seoul, and I allowed myself to feel less tortured about not having the courage to explore Dilli. Finding Hi Seoul was the result of some form of exploration, I told myself. So as my parents and aunt trundled to Dominos’; the sister, the brother, and I walked to Hi Seoul.

The next day, we caught our early morning flight to Manali. Delhi safely went back to being the building we stopped at before resuming the actual journey.

***

2016

Chawri Bazaar

When I stepped out to go to Daryaganj, my phone was recovering from the heavy-duty Delhi Metro apps I’d just downloaded. Daryaganj, as my app pointed out, was squeezed between Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk. The Chandni Chowk of Kajol from K3G’s galli, of delicious jelebis and cheap clothes that cousins talked about always a little breathlessly, and of the way my mother’s eyes turned suddenly soft and then shy when she recounted her second trip with dad there.

I cursed all my well-wishers back home who told me that I’d die if I didn’t take warm clothes and wear two socks and two bras in Delhi. I was baking – bra, body warmer, a full sleeved cotton shirt with frills, my brown jacket, socks and warm crocs.

I climbed out of the Chawri Bazaar Metro station and saw a line of cycle-rickshaws. My Google maps said walk 20 minutes to reach Daryaganj. I said chalo, why not and as I walked towards the footpath, one of my legs stood firmly in front of the cycle-rickshaw and refused to move. It all had to happen fast so obviously I went to the nearest cycle-rickshaw and looked inside. The last time I had seen one was in Band Baaja Baraat where Bittu and Shruti do their Shaadi Mubarak business phone call in a cycle rickshaw. Daryaganj jaana hai, I told my man. He nodded and I hopped inside.

My rucksack and I hugged each other as we sat because we were happy and didn’t want anyone or anything else in life. Except maybe some jelebis. Jelebis, yes. And as I sat there, bobbing up and down, I dreamt about a magic camera that could show you what all your friends were doing in that moment and then I imagined all my friends staring into my moment and feeling very happy for me. My father’s disapproving face appeared and I felt happier.

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The cycle-rickshaw braked and I fell, face -first on my man’s back. My rucksack fell and along with it, all my camera fantasies and hopes. My father’s face erupted into raucous laughter and I sobered down. I had arrived in Dilli. I held on tightly to the sides of my cycle-rickshaw and felt a little afraid for my life. My man was humming and braking and screaming at bike/car walas and jumping in and out of potholes with very little effort.

The road suddenly sprung to life and all the vehicles jammed on the lane started screeching away. There was no trace of a footpath — all the cycle-rickshaws had pulled closed to one another and were honking in unison. We were now on a two way road with a serious monopoly issue. Our side had colonised half the road.

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When we hadn’t moved for a while, I paid up and squeezed myself out and stood on no man’s land. I was trapped. There was no room for my rucksack and me to stand, let alone move. My man took pity and offered to drop me to the end of the road. I looked around to see various no man’s land people offering 100 bucks to just sit in the cycle-rickshaw.

Metro

The metro quickly became something I looked forward to travelling in everyday with a mild jouissance. Imagining my body and the bodies of many other women in the metro, lolling freely in the comfort of the ladies compartment made me want to know them differently.

A woman was reading a text book by the door – her lips pouting in enviable concentration, her eyelashes barely visible and her posture so confident, I wondered if she did this every day. Another wriggled into the space between two large women and apologized for her huge Mega Mart bag even as the women dutifully ignored her and went back to sleep.

On my last day in Dilli, two women asked me for directions and one of them enquired if I took the metro regularly. I shamelessly said yes and smiled like a maniac for the rest of the journey.

***

Daryaganj

Monica James writes in Invisible Libraries that today, the library of Daryaganj contains the city. ‘A walk through the library of Daryaganj is also a walk through the city and in your wanderings books become your guides.’

There were various kinds of libraries here: deodorants, clothes, sweaters, track pants, spiral-bound books, diaries, but mostly more books. They were pouring out of the pavements. Lines and lines of massive books in all sizes displayed on thick, plastic blue covers. I scored two Judy Moodys here for Rs 10 each and a moth-eaten copy of Austen’s Sanditon for Rs 30 which I bought only for the inscription I found inside:

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A mean sized auto pulled up at one of the pavements and a lean, short man wearing green chappals slowly started shutting down business for the day and arranging it in the back of the auto. Everywhere else, books were being returned to humongous plastic covers, rags and travel bags. One such pile was being stuffed in when I noticed a bent copy of Blankets. 200 Rs. I decided against it because by now my rucksack was threatening to burst. I still regret not buying it.

On the way back – the rush from before was gone and Meena Bazaar had fallen to a quiet mist. Shop after shop selling meat had their showcases filled to the brim with kebabs and sheeks. On the other side, boxes of sweet smelling fruits were piled on top of each other. At Jama Masjid, I cut into a galli full of weddingy shops: Invitation cards, tent works, plumbing, bride and groom clothes, and travel agents selling exclusive honeymoon deals.

In the corner, a thin man with a big scar on his forehead sat with his knees pressed to the chest – he was getting a shave from a large man dexterously waving his knife. All the top-half of the buildings in Chawri bazaar were blackened, dusty and closed. The lower half of the buildings flourished with activity. I walked on and on, realizing that in a parallel universe, I am sitting in one of the many balconies at Karnataka Bhavan gazing down at red brick walls.

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