It is 6:00 am on a Sunday morning. The thought of a long, free day is making me stretch my arms behind and smile. I don’t remember much of what happened last night. I remember watching Austenland on Romedy now. I remember the Mushroom soup and Hot Chocolate at Glen’s and the good Old Monk at K. I remember tissue papers on which N and I wrote down who is playing whom in the groupa version of Karan Arjun and Sairat and Game of Thrones.
M wanted to be the baby and Manjule in Sairat. He wants to be everything. N held my ear sweetly and congratulated me for my Selvaraghavan piece. After we recovered from the laughing fit and teasing her mercilessly, M decided he was Shea and the Night King and Ramsay Bolton. I tried burning him with my eyes but he kept laughing. I gave up when he started imitating a white walker. Namsies is Jamie Lannister and Archie. N is Mamta Kulkarni and the Scorpion chick. This ended with some Whitney Houston love even as people around our table started giving us bitch looks.
I woke at 3:00 this morning knowing that I had to write. It makes me happy to have this Sunday. The possibilities are endless. It’s nice to hear the day breaking before I can see it. The stupid birds and the stupid dogs are up. The sun is up, I can’t see it but the daylight has washed the whole sky. It is cold, the door is thrown open and I am cocooned in my blue rug.
I am yet to finish the women in pub piece. I am convinced that I’ll be unhappy for the rest of my life if I give up on that piece. I had to abandon Ferrante because leaping to her immediately after Atwood was a bad idea. I am now reading ‘The Illicit of Happiness of other People.’ I am through 120 pages in two days, which is more than what I have achieved since college began. I’m waiting to finish it today.
It’s drizzling now and I wish I could drink some of that smooth Hot Chocolate from yesterday. Everyone’s going gaga over that Pokemon go game. Students aimlessly walked around the department yesterday. I wanted to slipper them. Idiots. I can’t deal with another addiction now, at this point.
I have to watch a long documentary on civil war for class tomorrow. There are DVD’s that must be returned, restaurants that must be eaten at, and clothes to be given for alteration this week and all I can think of is the growing list of movies and plays I haven’t watched and Brahman Naman which is now on Netflix.
For now, I’m going to deep breathe the fuck out of this Sunday 🙂
I went to sleep over at N’s last night. The plan was ripe and had vaguely been discussed over the phone in the midst of all knowing giggles. ‘I’ll bring wine, we’ll write.’ I didn’t bring wine and we wrote a little. The place had changed a lot from the last time I was there. The tiles were cooler and the walls were whiter than I remember. The couch was soft and warm, she’d been sitting there. We sat at the table for a little while and I opened the many drafts I’d saved. I added a sentence to each of these drafts and closed them all. Later N and I showed each other what we’d been writing over the week.
Her new one is about a girl who has to stay home because of a fever and then when she goes back to school – the boy she had a crush on has fallen for her friend. Mine was about a boy who works in a college canteen. He is very curious about the order of nature and refuses to accept that it’s just chance that makes people get a leg piece from the big boulder of chicken biryani he scoops from.
We talked about college, swimming, and sarees. We decided that it’s time I wore one. I mentioned Heteroglossia. I didn’t even know that I remembered the word. When I’d learnt all about it in M.A, I thought it’d be one of those words that would escape me and then years later when I’m explaining it to somebody, I would remember the meaning but not the word. It would have to be googled. But last night, it just popped out of my mouth – as if it had been sitting there all evening, waiting to come out.
At 12:15, N gave me her copy of Electric Feather –a book of erotic stories. The cover is off-white and the spine is a dark purple. On the front, there is a picture of the same book hidden under a pillow – its purple spine shamelessly showing from the gap between pillow and the bed. My eyes are already heavy when I start reading it. I have to read a page over and over again because each time I read it, I realize that I haven’t read it at all. At 12:45 I give up and snuggle under the circle warmth of the rug.
In the morning, we eat Idli and Vada. We make plans to go out. We don’t consider writing just then. When we talk about going to Glen’s, I can picture us there. I have already picked out the table we are going to sit at, and the soup I’m going to order. We stop at Health & Glow for a while and I gather the courage to pick up exotic shampoos in fruity colored bottles. At the counter, my courage skims and becomes a thin line of what ifs. I return the exotic shampoos and buy the more comforting Pantene.
On our way to Glen’s, we decide to be adventurous and go instead to Café Mezzuna.We’d heard enough about its dessert platter. The glorious Cheesecake – Crème brûlée – Chocolate Mousse – Pannacotta combo. Mezzuna is in a basement but looks a lot like a rooftop coffee shop. We order us some chicken and barely soup, bassa fish, coffee and creme brulee.
N and I can comfortably sit with each other in silence. Now and then, she will suddenly burst into a string of laughs and then nod as if in agreement with herself.
I had started reading the electric feather. This time, I picked a story by Paromita Vohra called Tourists. It’s about two people whose fondness for chocolates and their livid attractions for each other take them back in time to 1977 Andaman & Nicobar. And here they discover that in this strange house, nobody can see them or hear them. Like a Bollywood movie, the plot thickens and thickens, often only interrupted by gorgeous sex scenes. They fuck like bunnies all over the house. It’s a perfect sex getaway. And then I giggled joyously when I read that one morning they wake up to find Indira Gandhi in their bedroom. She of course, cannot hear them or see their naked, exhausted bodies. This was the best sex story I’d read in a long, long time.
My Sunday took off to a great start. On my way back home I had to buy a new helmet because somebody robbed my old one. It was only when I was nearing home that I realised that this new one was awfully tight and left me with a throbbing headache when I finally removed it.
Anyway, I had a sudden desire to watch old TV shows so I spent the rest of the evening downloading Bewitched and watching the movie adaptation. If all my Sundays this year can promise to be this fulfilling, I don’t mind dying next year.
Everything is post these days, as if we’re all just a footnote to something earlier that was real enough to have a name of its own.
~Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye
Cat’s Eye is my first Atwood novel. At Blossom’s long ago, I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale because the cover looked exciting but I never got around to reading it. It still sits on my shelf along with a line of other books I haven’t read. Meanwhile Atwood remained in my head, and I devoured her short-stories and inflicted them on all my students.
In my B.A Optional English class one day, when the teacher was doing Journeyto the interior, two boys made a fuss about Atwood’s ‘whining’ and how it killed them that she wasn’t making use of the Canadian literary landscape. And like most boys who make a fuss about women writers, they ended up mansplaining the teacher. I remember this painfully because over the past year, I have read a bit of Atwood and a lot of Munro. It hurts me that I cannot go back in time and laugh in those boys’ faces.
Based on a page I read of The Handmaid’s Tale I decided she wrote densely — of time, of people, and of a life that must be read at leisure or not at all. I kept consoling myself with her short-stories until I was ready.
I have sat quietly and watched many a failed friendship walk out on me to not have been hooked by Atwood and the ordinariness of her characters. At the outset, Cat’s Eye is a Künstlerroman that follows the life of narrator/protagonist Elaine Risley, a painter who comes back to her hometown for a retrospective. The story moves back and forth between Elaine’s present-day as a successful artist to when she was a little girl in post war Toronto.
Much of Elaine’s childhood is about her messy relationship with people who can only be described as friend-bullies. Even before the actual story has begun, Elaine mentions Cordelia – her bestie from high school and her bully from pre high school.
We all have a Cordelia in our lives. We have all been Cordelias in other people’s lives. Cordelia is your regular after school bully – part insecure, part brave and completely unhappy. Elaine quickly becomes a toy for Cordelia and her two other friends – Grace and Carol. They resent and at the same time like Elaine’s vulnerability. It gives them a primal pleasure to take advantage of her. Most of this is sexual. I think they all adore Cordelia but it is Elaine they really want to fuck. And they are either too shy or too ashamed of their own desires for her so what do they do? They torture her. They tell her she needs to be taught manners and how to walk. She cannot smirk without their permission, and she cannot say ‘I don’t know’ – something that she finds very safe to hide behind.
What makes Elaine ordinary is that she is a little of everything she sees and learns from. And since the things that make us the most ordinary are the things we hate the most about ourselves, we are quick to see ourselves in Elaine.
The novel slows down when she doesn’t go through a life makeover to brave out these bullies, as one may hope. She claims what is rightfully hers in the most deliberate way and this does not at all seem artificial or sudden or even impossible for the reader. By this point the reader has also had enough. Cordelia, Grace and Carol nearly kill Elaine once by letting her drown.
After this incident, Elaine ignores them and at one point, walks away from them. For anybody who’s had trouble saying no to people, this a moment worth waiting for in the book. Walking away requires pain and a wound that must remain unhealed for the longest time. And when Elaine does it, a little bit of me felt free.
Cordelia reminded me of the girl from my 4thstd tuition who pinned me to a wall to enact a sex scene she’d seen in a Hollywood movie. Cordelia was also the neighbor who climbed over the tall compound dividing my house from hers – only to come running to me to announce that her school had declared holiday the next day before mine had. When I told her I had a holiday too, she threw a fit and ran away.
Through a freak course of nature Elaine becomes a bully too. But not the kind that she was bullied by. She forgets everything they did to her, especially what Cordelia did to her and a little later, Cordelia and Elaine become best friends. By now, Elaine has no memory of what happened. I paused here, wondering if this is Elaine’s act before she pulls something nastier on Cordelia. Turns out it’s not an act. Elaine really has no memory of being bullied.
When Elaine speaks about her childhood, I am compelled to listen because it’s an adult’s voice that’s not fully adulted, looking back at its childhood self with kindness. It’s not a voice that is telling Elaine she shouldn’t have done this this and this. It is perhaps a rare thing to find an adult voice that is far too kind to its younger self and this kept me surprised throughout the novel. Much like Humbert Humbert who gives a guilt-ridden yet hungry voice-over to his adult desires for the pre-pubescent Lolita, the adult Elaine does the same with the child Elaine. Her narrative is often guilty but never unforgiving.
When she hangs out with Cordelia, Grace and Carol on what she calls ‘one of those normal days’ — meaning when they are not being bullies, she takes a chance at being ordinary. The girls are rolling down the hill and laughing. Elaine who joins the fun says, my laughter is a performance, a grab at the ordinary. Seconds later she ends up paying a heavy price for making an attempt at the ‘ordinary’.
When I imagined Elaine in love, I imagined her to fall hard. But with both Josef and Jon, her two lovers in Art College, she’s a careful lover. She gives but is always aware of how much they give in return. When she is pregnant and marries Jon, she is aware that it’s not going to be a happy marriage. In the beginning she thinks she is supposed to feel lucky when Jon proposes marriage without making a fuss. It’s the way we feel when we aren’t exactly head-over-heels with somebody but because we know that they, by default are absentee lovers, we assume that whatever little care they nod in our direction, it needs to be grabbed and treasured.
We are repeatedly told that love isn’t the main thing in men’s lives, and when they so much as pay a little attention to it, we consider it our fortune.
When Jon and Elaine are falling out of love, fighting and avoiding each other, she says –
We fight over our right to remain children. At first I do not win these fights, because of love. Or so I say to myself. If I were to win them, the order of the world would be changed, and I am not ready for that. So instead I lose the fights, and master different arts. I shrug, tighten my mouth in silent rebuke, turn my back in bed, and leave questions unanswered. I say, “Do it however you like,” provoking sullen fury from Jon.
When she falls out of love with Josef, she says –
I was unfair to him, of course, but where would I have been without unfairness? In thrall, in harness young women needed unfairness, it’s one of their few defenses. They need callousness, they need their ignorance. They walk in the dark, along the edges of high cliffs, humming to themselves, thinking themselves invulnerable.
So much of Elaine is a mountain of indecisiveness. But in moments – unaware that she’s doing this, she produces bursts of feminist wisdom. Something her art is often ‘accused’ of in her later years. Elaine the artist is just as unsure and hesitant as Elaine the mother, Elaine the lover and even Elaine the friend. As a sister however, Elaine seemed more like a version of herself she cherished.
Elaine – broken and recovering from a bad bout of love, says –
Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, and bones. This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future. The ruin you’ve made.
When you have finished reading Cat’s Eye, you will look back and find odd shapes from your own childhood sitting in little ruins. This will make you happy. If anything, Cat’s Eye has the power to make you believe in ghosts. All of my former Cordelia-ghosts are sitting next to me and staring even as I type this. They have come back alive and though I will never know what to say to them, I am not afraid of them anymore.
7:00 am today, I leapt out of bed, sat at my desktop and deleted plants vs zombies 2. It felt evilly liberating. This happened partly because of a writing workshop that I attended in the last two days and partly because there was one psycho level that I just couldn’t cross. Bleddy Zombies.
Writing workshops don’t really make me write any better than I usually do. But it’s reassuring to listen to other writers and their struggles and stories. And when I listen to a really good one, I don’t feel like tearing my hair out. What I do feel like tearing is what I’ve written. I am full of decent admiration for these peeps and there’s a quiet desire to write like them.
This is my fifth writing workshop. I am a lot less anxious than I used to be. At my first, I was anxious to be good, to sound good and to make people believe that I was a writer and that they should take me seriously. At my second, third, and fourth, I was less anxious and more demanding of myself. Time was always a constraint and I told myself I will never be good if I don’t produce good writing, here, now.
I wasn’t anxious or demanding this time. It felt like I was on tranquilizers. I was smiling most of the time. And I paid attention when everybody read their stories, which is something I am not too good at. But lately, I have been very pro artists. For a long time, I had this very bad habit of putting people I admire on pedestals, convinced as I was, that they could do no wrong. While it is severely unfair to do that to them because we are unwittingly ignoring their struggles, we are also putting undue pressure on ourselves to be like them. Anything less, and we tell ourselves that we lack talent.
But they are people, who like everybody else aren’t really good all the time. When I think of myself as a writer, I feel like cringing a little bit for various reasons. But mostly because I still lack the good sense of saving drafts and reworking them into more or less something I am less ashamed of. As writer Paromita Vohra explains in this essay,
Sure, everything artistes do doesn’t work out. The really self-aware artist has distance on this and junks the dud draft. Some don’t. Moreover, in this particular Internet video universe, significance is superficially at least drawn from the numerical logic of likes, shares and engagements. When numbers become the sole indicator and defence of significance, a person may easily lose the very judgment artistes guard zealously, over what’s worth putting out and what’s not.
In the department the other day, A asked me if I ever write for myself and don’t put it on my blog. Her question left me wide-eyed and panicky.I realised that I haven’t written for myself in a year. I don’t anymore. And I don’t even know why.
I remembered what Namsies told me last week about changing the audience in my head to be able to find a new voice. I obsessed about this for the rest of the day and then the panic carried itself well into the evening where it split and became about many other things. At this point, I don’t know what I am looking for. I am sure I can’t find a hole big enough to bury my bighead and wail there until I have adulted enough to resurface.
All I want to do now is microwave yesterday’s potato wedges and stuff my face with it while I watch Premam again. Sigh.
Every once in a while, I must pause to look around, breathe deep breaths, sigh a long sigh, fart a longer fart and smile. Even though I say so myself, I have come a long way. And because this journey has not been easy, because I have been lazy and busy and because there were always noisemakers I had to hush and ignore, I forgot to look back and congratulate myself.
I could have gotten here sooner. This place where writing still frightens the crap out of me, where the first sentence is always the hardest but at the end of four hours when I realize I didn’t notice how time went by, I feel a little well opening up in my chest and warmth gushing out. Even though I want to disown everything I’ve written, I still feel like Lara Craft on mission every morning. This place, where I am comfortable with silence and I let it decide what it wants of me, in the moment.
It’s like tugging at a small hole in time and locking myself in it for hours. I float, I writhe in embarrassment of myself, my words humiliate me but they also teach me and then there is the light plop of a water balloon and when I look around, I’m home like I never left.
Sometime in the middle of last year, I hit rock bottom from which I haven’t fully emerged yet. My writing was and still is tinged by anxiety, by revenge, and in search of a closure that isn’t there- that was never there, to begin with. But writing is all I have. Regardless of how much it hates me, I must tolerate it. It makes me vulnerable like nothing can, which is why it was attacked with such precision.
I thought I had to protect it – protecting it was a way of protecting myself. But I’ve learnt now that from the moment I began to write, there was no hiding. I feel stronger now. It feels like everything that they could say and do, they have said and done. What more, what now, what next? I don’t feel the need to protect it like I did before. It’s on its own now. We exist, as if on different planes. I own it until I finish it, and then it is not mine. It is theirs – whoever they are. They can do what they want with it. They can hold it up against the sky and mock it, hold it between the folds of their palms and crush it, hold it close to them and see their own reflections in it or they can completely ignore it. It is all I have but it is not mine anymore.
The girl I left behind is rooting for me quite strongly. I know this, I know her very well. She creeps up in my writing now and then, surprising me with a line that suddenly just appears, with a memory I didn’t know I had. If she knew I am here today, nowhere in particular but a place that she and I dreamed of, having stood through time and people, their smiles and hisses, she’d be happy for me and I, for her.
She turns up in various forms and sizes. A student who smiles from a corner and feels that she can relate to me, a student whose twinkling eyes from the first bench — her face, never leaving mine, holds my gaze steady, and tells me to ignore the bullies and just continue my work, a student whose emails tell me that I have helped her see a version of herself, a student whose voice is shaky and shivering but tries to reach out to me, and a student who never makes eye contact in class but is bursting with questions and comments. I see myself in all these people. In a world that thrives on destroying other people’s small joys, these students make it worth living in.
This doesn’t make me invincible. This just makes me see that my writing and I will always be vulnerable and this doesn’t scare me anymore. It is liberating in a very strange way, like I am letting go after holding on too tight. It has left wounds that will heal, but won’t be forgotten. I want to carry them proudly, like scars from a battle I didn’t know I was in.
Every morning is a struggle to write a new story, every evening is a sigh while I erase this story and write new ones and everything in between is a big yellow wall that I must paint a new color every day.
My summer vacation has officially begun and this is a list of things I am going to make myself look forward to with mind numbing enthusiasm.
Finally got hold of a desktop. It’s a Dell something something. It is taking care of my movie/music/TV show catching up. Also got a printer/copier/scanner thingy. It’s a relief to know that I don’t have to go looking for a printout shop. Ever.
My room. I don’t know if it is the madness of last year or that I finally have a place to wear shorts and just chill in life, but when I get back home every night, I feel happy knowing that I am going to crash in my bed soon even though all it has is a table fan.
I feel stupid saying this but I am beginning to see how busy the city can keep me if I just give it the chance. Even if it means going to Lalbagh on a Saturday evening and looking at the bloody birds. And the bloody trees.
I feel stupider saying this but in this whole process of growing up, I have forgotten what it’s like to watch movies and plays in theatres. I have only myself to blame for this. Bangalore is thriving with plays, cinema, talks, art and the whole thing. It has always thrived and I don’t know why I was dead for so long but I feel great now just being in the city and knowing that Kala Soudha and Rangashankara are so close to Basavangudi and that Alliance and Guru Nanak Bhavan are so close to K.
GLEN’S. I have found the Yin to my Yang, the Ki to my Ka. Good food, better than Parisian, and best iced tea. One of those places where they’ll leave you alone. Last week, I settled down there with my netbook and watched Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara for 3 straight hours. And then a couple more writing about the movie. And they just kept bringing me cold water.
My reading and writing didn’t die as I suspected it would over April. Tipping the Velvet brought with it my lost London mania, The story of a Widow taught me how to just let go and write, Where there’s smoke is teaching me what I ignored in my childhood.
My traveling plans in May are giving me the happies. I am looking at 4 possible trips, which means that if I am alive by the end of May, I have something to write about.
People saying mean things about my blog makes me want to write more. So I am sending you much love from here. Keep it going.
Grey’s Anatomy. Two episodes down. I should listen to Mintu more often and just watch shit when she tells me to watch.
GILMORE GIRLS REVIVAL.
I have a renewed interest in shopping for clothes. Bless you, summer. And skirts.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you hit 200 posts on your blog, people will *nudge nudge wink wink* and say ‘Blogging is not actual writing no?’. It is also a truth partly acknowledged that it will not be said directly. Here’s a clue. This is what they want to say: but she’s not a real writer ya!
Maybe. Maybe not. But this is how many fucks I gave about it today. One. And that’s why I am writingblogging about it. And then I’m all out. I feel strangely at peace with things today. First day of the academic year and I almost called in sick because I didn’t want to leave home, didn’t want to leave mommy. I’m not even kidding. The only reason I wanted to get out bed was because I spent my holidays doing absolutely nothing and was hoping the first day would yank me out of this sick – gestation period. This is the worst I have been at holidays. Worst. All my days were chewed up by meaningless binge-watching of HIMYM. My nights were long, warm and useless. I didn’t even wake up feeling refreshed.
The only good day I had was the 31st of December. I woke up, kicked myself, didn’t make my bed, had a bath, watched Romedy Now (Reruns of HIMYM, obvi), took my scooty and went to college. In the department, I made chai, cleaned up and settled down. I found futureme.org. A website that allows one to write letters for the future self. I wrote one. It will be delivered to my inbox on the 31st of Dec, 2016. I can’t wait to read it. I am wondering if it will make sense at all. The letter is 2000 words. It tired me so I ordered food from Khazana and watched HIMYM while eating it. The Ghee Rice, Dal, and Phal all agreed with me. Except when I dropped half a packet of Dal on my white palazzo pants. Best 31st Dec, ever.
I can’t think of a more perfect way to end my 200th blog post. I’ll just say today was a very interesting day. I am glad that holidays are over and that it’s a new bloody year and everything. The good ol’ Ladies Finger ran an essay I wrote about the women in my family. It’s a great boost – To begin New Year’s with the finger. Hee Hee.
Back home, I got fried for writing about this because apparently the man of the house has to be protected. If I’m not too careful, I may end up falling in love with all the women in my family. They are too busy protecting the men from getting hurt. This gave me the giggles. Mean ones.
Bubbly and I sat for hours this evening, talking about out great-grandmother. At one point, I had to whip open a tissue paper to map a family-tree, which began with one woman and ended with plenty of sons. I discovered many things about my family today. Some surprising, some disturbing, and some crazy- funny stories about a great-grandmother I never knew. I feel strangely inspired. Strange because it’s the same feeling I get after watching movies with a superb female cast.
I feel stronger because of the stories I heard today. Some days, maybe it’s enough to want to know more about the strong great-grandmother, and being told that she was strong. That’s all. It’s like watching Arundhati – scary, inspiring and deadly.
It was a pretty spectacular 200th blog post day. The high point of the evening was when Bubbly and I started talking about our Mangalore house. We began looking for a lost childhood that was short enough to fit into the house and long enough to follow us here, today.