The Prof. Barbra Naidu Prize for the Personal Essay 2020 – Making Do

***Disclaimer and announcement both attached***

My mother grew up in a house full of children. They were 7 but it always seemed like they were seventeen. And because there were so many of them, I imagined them all in a large and crumbling bungalow with squeaky, uneven staircases. I have neither lived in this house nor seen it. But years ago, I caught a passing glimpse when it was pointed out to me from a speeding auto. I stuck my neck out and saw what appeared to be a small house, heaving on its haunches surrounded by piles of bricks and cement. The house, as it turns out, had always been small – only its ghost in its own stories had been big like my mother’s laugh, which is loudest when she laughs with her two sisters.

It is louder when she laughs soundlessly- her eyes watering, face contorted, cheeks red, belly shaking, the rest of the body motionless on the floor – which is were they sat – her and her sisters – chattering endlessly, reminding each other of what they’d done as children.

All their stories are marked with a kind of poverty that they never learnt to forget. The one they often narrated involved a month-long wait to watch Amar Akbar Anthony in a theatre. The oldest earning member of the family, their brother (then 22) had to be convinced. Money had to be earned. So they took turns in selling more bags of tea powder than usual.

Finally, they made a small bag full of coins which couldn’t jingle because it was that heavy, and wound very tightly with a rubber band. Preparations began 3 days before the show. Clothes were washed and left to dry until they were warm and crunchy. They were then put under the beds and left to self- iron.

On the day they were supposed to go, the rain wouldn’t stop, the theatre was far away and they had to change two buses to get there so they decided to go the next day. At this point while narrating the story, my mother and her older sister took turns to imitate their middle sister who, when she was told they couldn’t watch the film that day – had rolled on the floor, beaten her chest and wept. She had made the most earnest preparations to watch the film that evening, so she spent a good few years after that being very angry with rain. Finally, they all got to watch Amar Akbar Anthony and it is perhaps one among the very few films that my mother didn’t mind us watching on repeat.

All the other houses my mother found after that could never become homes. How could they if she had to light a dozen agarbattis everytime she cooked fish? Or if she had to pretend we weren’t home when owners came to ask rent or complain about something?
***
Appa grew up in hostels more than in homes. He tells his stories like Siddalingaiah did – with a lot of heart and stomach. And because his laugh comes from somewhere deep inside his stomach- when his belly shakes violently, it is curious how the laugh comes out of his mouth in whispers, not sounds.

Pranks make him laugh, prank videos make him laugh more, Vadivelu makes him laugh, people who fall, fart, flee make him laugh. His favourite classroom story is about a boy whose bum was apparently pinched a lot, especially right after he gave attendance – so every time he said “Yes saar” – it was always followed by aiiiiieeee.

When my father imitates the boy’s aiiiiieeee, his face never betrays the expression of a properly pinched bum.

I eat these stories the same way I have eaten all their other stories – their humiliations in college, defending themselves against the gods of merit, not having money or food, being bullied for not being good enough, not knowing how to talk to people, and dealing with unkind, ugly, casteist institutions.

These stories live together, not because my parents wanted them to. They were made to. It was how they managed with what they had, it was the only way they knew how to make-do.

This is how I have come to know ‘Making-do’ – what about you? Write and send to barbranaiduprize@gmail.com

***DISCLAIMER: For the kind souls who walk around with a Savarna checklist of political correctness and might take offence at the bum-pinching or might feel that being able to watch Amar Akbar Anthony is not Dalit enough, not poor enough: Naale banni***

Bn 2020 Word A3_page-0001.jpgDownload the attachment here: BN 2020

 

Meta Diaries – Days One and Two

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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.

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