Simpal aagi ondu short story

First I thought you should be from my department, my college, my area at least. Then I thought people will be so jealous of our friendship that they will put kannu, kai, kaalu and all. So the new plan is that you also teach, like I do – but in another college, maybe you teach Physics or Kannada or English or Math. Or maybe you don’t teach- you are in advertising, maybe you are in the middle of a messy divorce. I don’t know. Anyway it’s not important because in the story of our friendship– where we work, who we are, and what we do doesn’t matter.

So let me begin from the beginning. 

At first, it will seem like I like you more than you like me. But then later you will tell me that you also felt like you liked me more than I liked you. After this we will giggle and eat shawarma in front of Chin Lung where there is a memorial in the name of someone who died in world war II. We are sitting down next to each other eating shawarma and reeling from perhaps the 2 beers we’ve just had, perhaps the bellyful feeling of finally having found someone to walk bangalore with, we won’t know but it is a good moment and we are looking quietly at the passersby hurrying to get on the bus which is leaning so much to its left that its edges are always threatening to scrape the road.

We are in no hurry to get home because today your parents are not in town and mine have given up on me and are fast asleep. We will walk towards Garuda mall just like that to see if we can get an auto from there. Should we take a bus? One of us will ask the other. We can but it’ll go somewhere and all before it reaches our stop so why chumma, the other will say.

This is why I keep saying we must get a bike. Tomorrow we will get one.

Let me tell you why I am telling you this story. Basically I woke up early today and didn’t want to go back to sleep so I jammed some loud music.

I listened to Karthi songs because I like that fellow’s face. Too much in love it is. Then as I was getting ready to jog, I started listening to Ada from Garam Masala. Then I thought how nicely john and akshay roam around in their bike while this song plays in the background. A song will never play in the background for me in real life but if I have a female friend then it is like a song is always playing in the background.

First of all, we must get a bike so that when one of us brakes hard, the person sitting behind will dash in and get fake angry so that the one riding can say, machi here’s why I braked – can you please check out the babe/dude/giraffe hanging out there? Then we will remove our sun glasses (first we will remove our helmets carefully) and stare for an appropriate amount of time before proceeding with our lives. 

Where are we going on our bike, you might ask. Let me tell you, we are going to watch a film- first day- second show at Poornima theatre. It is a Sunday. It is a Vijay Sethupathi film. We will whistle and take off our dupattas and swirl it over our heads while doing colourful dance moves. But obviously when the moment comes, we will both chicken out so we will keep in our bellies all the things we want to do but won’t be able to so we will look at each other with full feels and enjoy quietly while looking at others who are dancing guiltlessly.

But the throb of an unbegun dance will still be singing in our bodies so we will carry it to Cubbon park where we will jump and try to catch the highest branch. Then we will sit under that same tree and count all the couples. When we get bored of doing this we will start telling each other our love stories. Obviously I will ask the first question because I always do – I will ask ‘when was the last time you desired someone’? – don’t take it personally but this question is just the stepping stone to the many other straight to the heart direct questions I will be asking you. 

Also we should start somewhere, no? Half the time I will be asking these questions just so you can ask me the same question back and I can tell you the answer I’ve already rehearsed many many times. So then after we finish talking kashta sukha we will go to cottonpet because it’s my favourite part of bangalore and not just because my ex used to live there and his bike would snake us around all the gallis of cotton and akkipet but also because there are old shops and small factories there that I love looking at. All the while, there will also be a strong incense smell because there are so many agarbatti godowns.

Along with that there will also be a cow dung smell but that’s not a problem no? Because if there are cows all over Bangalore, then where will their dung go? Paris? Also what is Bangalore without the combined smells of agarbatti and cow dung mixing in the nostril like Gordon Ramanna’s cooking patre?

Then you will take me to that part of Bangalore where a lover had once broken your heart along with your will to love again. Say it’s Sreeraj Lassi bar where you were in the middle of mango lassi when he told you he didn’t think this was working out anymore and you couldn’t stop drinking the lassi because you thought that if you did, you might start crying so you kept sucking on the straw even if the lassi was over and all you were drinking was air that made your throat dry so you waited for him to leave and ordered another mango lassi and drank it all up in one go. 

We will go there together and drink as many mango lassis as it takes for the memory of the other one to exist more quietly and eventually to exit just as quietly. Then we will go to Nandi Hills to rescue all my college trip memories there made with people who aren’t in my life anymore. On our way there, we’ll sing halli meshtre songs.

Sunday evenings, we will make plans to befriend girls like us from Hanumanthnagar. Girls like us means broken hearted girls looking to make themselves open hearted. Especially girls who have terraces even if they don’t have rooms of their own. This is because Bengloor sunsets are best seen from Hanumanthnagar. The homes are all dotted next to each other on slopes that have right angles and other maths expressions. Terraces are not secrets here unlike everywhere else. Here they are shared unwillingly with other terraces where conversations from all over meet and spillover like oggarane smells from neighbouring houses. On the terrace, we will sit in between lines of clothing separating chaddi baadi from their respectable outer-wears. Then we will have masala chai in steel lotas like we used to when we were children stupidly yearning to be adults, better adults (nan thale) who drink tea from big ceramic mugs in earthy colors.

Mondays after work, I will call you and say come on. Then we will go play cricket with boys from Basavanagudi. This is because they cry easily. After we have made enough of them cry we will go eat Bangarpet pani puri till we only become pani.

Every time I listen to old Bengloor stories, I’m taken in by the urge to rewind either Bengloor or myself back to a time in history where we could be fiercely together. I’ve been told that the most intimate way of knowing a city is alone, and the second most intimate way – through friendship, and then finally, through a woman. If you haven’t already noticed it yet, this is a sci-fi story. Because I can’t rewind, I am forwarding. I am writing to ask if you will be my personal female friend. It will be nice.

Fill this form if you are interested.

Early morning Madurai Calling

I woke up at 3:55 with a strong feeling that I was in Madurai, in my hotel room with its three huge windows, twin beds, and one Kiruba Devi. Kiruba Devi who laughs like water following the rhythm of an old Tamizh song my father used to hum while fiddling with the remote control to put udaya news.

On stage, in front of Pa Ranjith, we were like little children – giggling, nervous, stomach churning but held despite this all by the affection he was throwing at us with his smile from the first row. When we felt like we were going to combust and die, we took turns to steal glances at each other, and then at him.

I was talking in English to an audience that understood it in Tamizh and only she could’ve taken my words and translated them with more love than I’d put in. The previous night, we were all squeezed into a tiny room where a lot of orange juice was consumed and many more tamizh songs were sung.

When I woke early that morning and looked outside, I felt a stab. Madurai was still there, looking like a dream. It’s probably why it’s called Thoonga nagaram – it doesn’t need sleep to dream. If I ever get a chance at life again, I want to be Madurai.

Postcard from today II

Woke up late and groggy. Last night’s short story energy was a ball of memory already. 2 hrs of invigilation duty. Spent the day running around and feeling better about no yoga. Spoke to a student today who asked me what it meant when I say in class ‘250 words’ — what is words? how does one calculate it? Was pinched back to the time not so long ago when I too didn’t know how to quantify words, letters, and alphabets. I am thinking of how much of what I do everyday is on auto-pilot, especially teaching, and how unaware I am of this. Write 250 words, 500 words, 1000 words is something I say everyday and yet I am also the same person who, once upon a time, couldn’t tell if jack opens a box of potatoes had 6 words in it or 23. How and why do we forget ourselves so easily?

When I’d joined the department 10 years ago, I’d asked A.M when I will begin to feel like a teacher. He told me I will feel like a teacher the day a student will tear my ass.

Today, after a long time, I felt it tear.

Student said he wanted to join the army, and spends 4 hours a day working out before beginning his job as a Swiggy Delivery Executive between 10 and 12 in the night.

I thought how immune our jobs sometimes make us to the very people we are in the job for. Ate grumpily at my desk later and wasn’t able to write.

Two mofo deadlines hang over my head as I type this.

P.S: Autopilot riding is ok, autopilot living too, why can’t autopilot writing happen?

Postcard from today


lunch with 2 students in the canteen. unexpected. wise. a hearty break from my usual grumpy self at the desk who always wants to watch something as she stuffs face with food. lunch with students, in the canteen – good idea. listened to them, told them stuff.

back at my desk, i spoke to a student, a champion, a winner through and through – a kutti little Marquez breaking history one kickass story at a time. i wish she never stops writing. later, another girl whose smile invites me to smile back, regardless of what i am thinking, and another girl – who is translating a tamil short story whose sentences land on each other like the pleasant oomph of cement upon cement. i felt like writing after a long time.

later, still at my desk, i read a line by gabito that made me ride back with the most agonising desire to spend each night working on a short story.

“i have always believed that good writing is the only happiness that is enough in and of itself” – Gabito

i am now realising that there is a reason why i am setting questions papers with so much enthu. i am writing them like short stories.

now, i am reading the fragrance of guava by  Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza – a long series of conversations between him and Gabito. now i am dying, i am new, i feel reborn with a greater desire to write and keep writing.

here’s gabito again – quoting hemingway from whom he learnt a great deal about writing short stories. “a short story, like an iceberg must be supported by the part you don’t see – all the thought, the study and the material collected but not used directly in the story”

i’m here again, to say how grateful i am to learn from students, from this profession, my darlingest gabito, and my riding self that is more rewarding to me than my writing self or even my fuckall living self.

On Our Feet

Yesterday was a meh day at Meta. It was meha. Only 3 participants showed up for our film review contest where the copy of the film being screened was glitching throughout. This was after the projector cable in the AV room the event was originally supposed to happen in, didn’t work –so we took the three and a half people and moved up to another room. It seemed pointless to keep lugging the light orange Meta canvas around in grim situations like these but it followed nevertheless and sat in room A314.

What do we do if more people show up to register at the AV Room?, someone ambitious asked. Let’s keep the registration desk down and keep the other pink meta canvas there only, someone more ambitious said. 

The film continued, glitchingly and I sat and ached for it from far away where other things had already started going wrong. 

Later, at the talk by Arvind Narrain, I looked around the hall, and at the faces of people who were there to listen to him, and a few others who were there to keep Meta’s face. At one point Arvind Narrain mentioned Varavara Rao’s poetry where it is observed that cynicism is rarely the sentiment held by those imprisoned. That it belonged mostly to those on the outside, the free ones. And that the only sentiment those imprisoned are able to afford is hope. 

I smiled when I heard this and longed to keep the little merry I’d begun to feel inside imprisoned.

Moments later, I was pinched back to my own dabba-self when I asked myself if we are running Meta on a bodily memory that we have begun to feel an annual urge for. And whether we are fulfilling this urge despite the changes that make it challenging to hold any kind of activities for students on campus these days. Then I thought, what makes students run meta? If I am helping run it and doing it for nostalgia, what do the five students who appear unfailingly return for? What’s in it for them? 

I’m unable to answer this question. But some form is beginning to take shape in my mind.

I am thinking now about the many times I have watched students break down at my table last week, and the many more times I have. The boy who feels alone in their classroom, the girl misunderstood by her classmates and teachers, the girl holding herself like she is drowning, the boy who is coming more and more close to quitting but holding on because quitting is expensive, the girl who keeps more things inside than she lets on.

Now I am thinking how quickly I am moved to be on my feet when they break down in front of me and I run to make chai for them. Now I am thinking about how much more quickly they are on their feet when they get up to go bring chai for us. And I think this is probably it. With chai, we reach out to them in small ways and they reach out to us in large ways and in this way, we are all sort of kind of maybe holding each other even when we can barely be on our feet.

I don’t know if there’s something in the air that is causing this weepiness, the desire to break things and watch them crumble, some post-covid offline onlineness, and the general fatigue and collective vitamin b12 deficiency we all seem to be experiencing in small or big ways but even when it comes in waves, it sometimes has the capacity to make everything feel pointless. 

Last night, as I locked up the department feeling somewhat like this, I walked past the AV room and saw the pink meta canvas all alone. It stood cutely only but it made me mad that someone had forgotten it there. I grabbed it and went back to the department muttering curses in the darkness. I wanted to half-fling it and half-disappear into it.

I went back home sullenly, appreciating only the mango melba riding in my stomach. In college this morning, still somewhat sullen, I saw the same pink meta canvas sitting cutely alone outside our quiz venue. I don’t know what it was about this cuteness or aloneness but when I imagined a student lugging it all the way from the department to the auditorium block, that same small window of merry opened again and I felt my feet.

Tomorrow, if we are lucky, we will get to watch students perform giggly english translations of regional songs at BollyGood. And then if it doesn’t rain, we will sit under the banyan tree and watch students pecking away and making cuckoo noises at JAM. Then we will have chai under the banyan tree and stand till our feet hurt, until it’s time to slowly make our way back to the department.

The Prof. Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay 2022 – Finding a Self

In November last year, while shifting things in our new department, I found a lot of hand written notes by the late Prof Naidu. It was easy to match the firm handwriting with the assured face of the woman I see in the picture everyday. The notes were all deliberate, never written in a hurry or to kill time. They had purpose and seemed to know that if the author of those words didn’t want them there, they wouldn’t be there.

It seems a little odd to be writing so boldly about a woman I have never known but then it’s a name I recite and write about annually. And if I have found the stability to feel returned to the work I do because of someone’s handwriting, perhaps it doesn’t matter that I don’t know her well. After all, how well do we know ourselves to begin with?

It’s the tenth edition of The Prof Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize and I feel stupid for not having made the effort to learn more about the woman before. I now know her through what she’s left behind in the department. Small notes, smaller anecdotes, old post-its barely surviving.

For a general staff meeting dated 16.6.2003 at 10:30 am, she says ‘new orientation in the thinking of the college’ and on the next page – a list of agenda to be discussed at the monthly department meetings (depts must become autonomous bodies, avoid giving personal work to attenders) and then, in a corner of the page, with grit:

“We must do well what we are expected to be doing”

I read that sentence several times that day, each time returning with newly formed guilt, and each time marvelling at a different word. I paused at the word ‘expected’ – expected by whom? why are they expecting? Because they pay us? Or is the expectation from students?– which changes the whole meaning.

I don’t know what worry, decision, personal conclusion she was moved by enough to put that line down here, in the middle of minutes-taking but it had the razor sharpness of someone wounded from the knowledge/fear of not wanting to remain comfortable with doing just the bare minimum.

At Meta 2020, AM had pointed to what he called the Savarna work ethic – the refusal to go beyond what’s comfortable, easy, and the belief that you are superior to the work you do. I’ve thought of that often and in the age where people talk about self-care as justification for doing a bad job or no job – it’s interesting to find a note like that.

I felt more assured than I have felt in months. It made me think about my father who lectured me one morning for doing a half-hearted job with folding a bed sheet. I was riding high on western feminist theory back then so my only grouse was why someone who doesn’t make his own bed get to lecture me about a bed sheet. I believe now that what he was intending to teach me then was something he’s always taught us – do whatever you do with your full self or don’t do it at all. It’s comical to allow our self-importance to precede our work, and us. Prof. Naidu’s note and my father’s way of work helped me rescue a part of myself that occasionally needs rescuing.

I find that most of what I believe about myself isn’t mine. A lot is borrowed, a lot more is stolen. I learn the ways of being from students. I can ride out the most horrible day after an uplifting conversation with a student who tells me that she reads herself to sleep every night or the girl who always seems to know when it’s time to leave a relationship or the boy who is so aware of what his parents had to give up to put him in college that that gratitude never leaves his face, or the girl whose sense of self is so severe that no teacher, boyfriend, man, god can take it away.

It is quite possible that all the cool things about me are derived/borrowed/stolen from my students and I am in equal parts both miserable and grateful for a self that continues to learn from them more than anybody else.

If you feel inclined to write about the various selves you too have borrowed, tolerated, lived with – write us an essay and submit it by May 20th. More details here.