Ishq and other things

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When I get back home at 11:00 in the night, my footsteps are measured, my body rigid and I plonk myself on the sofa which, much like my body, seems too soft out of a tiredness that will only go away after eight hours of sleep. I must be careful to not make noise; ma is awake, like always. If she is coming down with heavy steps, a noise that carries itself to the very core of my heart and makes me pout in fear, it means I am going to get an earful that night. I wait to hear the soft thud of the door of her bedroom which means that she’s finally going to sleep. But the thud is followed by a silence that is almost unbearable to ignore. It means she’s unhappy that I have come home late again.

When I get back home at 8:00, my brother is watching Kumkum Bhagya and having dinner. He sulks when I ask him to change the channel. Two years ago, if I had yanked the remote out of his hand and switched to Zee Cafe to watch The Big Bang Theory or Friends, he would have made a fuss. But he has learnt to like these shows now so he doesn’t mind that his sisters watch Zee Cafe. He laughs along with the laugh track and sometimes louder.

He annoys us repeatedly to know which episode it was that Raj, Leonard and Howard go to camp, get high and laugh like maniacs. In solidarity, I have begun to take an interest in Kumkum Bhagya. I am making guesses of all kinds — who is upset with whom in this episode and why? In last week’s episode the man got drunk, returned home with a doll that looked like his wife and came very close to making love to it.

Tonight my brother is watching Ishq, a Hindi movie from the 90’s. At the outset it’s the story of four people in love. Two boys and two girls. One for all and all for one. But only two of these people are rich, but they are not the couple in love and that’s why their parents must kill their poor lovers so the rich boy can marry the rich girl.

I watched it in Belgaum. My neighbours – J and P had watched it that afternoon and had come running to our house to tell us to go watch it. They told us what scenes to look out for – there was the pipe scene, they said, which made the whole theatre go berserk with madness. J said a little pee came out. P said it was not little.

They enacted a particularly macabre scene with such enthusiasm, my dad was convinced that we had to go watch the movie soon. This was the car scene. Juhi Chawla is pissed with Aamir Khan and wants him to die so she puts him in a car with no brakes. There is also a monkey in the car that drives at one point.

That night, we went to Nartaki. I kept looking at mom-dad’s faces in the darkness to make sure they were laughing. This is a sickness that I have even now. Every time I watch a movie that I have heard is great or really funny, I want to make sure that the people sitting next to me are laughing. If they aren’t, I get really worried. I wonder if they have understood the joke and so I sit prepared to explain the joke. If this doesn’t happen, I wonder if they are upset with me. Don’t watch movies with me, I am crazy like that.

But there, I didn’t have to worry. My parents were laughing. My mother’s cheeks were red, the color they become when she is also crying.

I liked Ishq for a whole lot of other reasons. There were two couples and I was curious to know how they functioned. My heart felt all kinds of full when I watched them dance around wearing clothes that matched in Mr Lova Lova. I decided that my favourite couple is Juhi-Aamir because their clothes were more color-coordinated. My sister picked Kajol-Ajay because she said theirs was true love.

The fact that the movie also explored the sexual tension between the couple not- in- love thrilled me to bits. In most other movies the couple not -in- love become brother-sister if they aren’t already brother- sister. This was one such movie. And to top it all, the rich kids had maniacal fathers who were interestingly, both widowers. One got laughed at a lot because he was dark, the other got laughed at a lot because he was bald.

God, I miss the 90’s. Things were simpler.

For once, nobody is fighting over what to watch. Tonight, my brother and I will sit and laugh at all the scenes I had laughed at all those years ago.

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For the Department

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In my second year of M.A English, V spoke of the department with a kind of intimacy I had never seen in him before. His eyes lit up with a delight I was beginning to grow both jealous and afraid of.

You should come to the department once and see’, he said.

I smiled. That afternoon, we were both walking towards the H-Block, making our way through a hundred odd heads all thronging in and out of classes. I was signing up for a certificate course called Contestations – A history of ideas. AM and CA were to teach it. I had heard enough about both of them to want to join without batting an eyelid. But mostly I had joined because I would then have an excuse to go see this famous department that welcomed you with towers of books that arched over everybody’s heads. ‘That’s what one sees first — the books’, said everybody.

It’s on the third floor‘, V said.

I took out 3000/- from my wallet to keep the money ready to hand it over to CA for the course. I took the staircase that I hardly take these days. These days. Such a waste thing to say. But I must say it because it reminds me of a simpler time that is not these days. 

So I took one step at a time and walked the length of the straight, wide corridor and its many huge and empty classrooms. I didn’t count the number of steps I took that day, a strange habit I otherwise like to partake in. I was panting by the time I had reached the second floor landing. ‘One more level to go‘, V said. Two months later, sitting in the dusty PG library, I will ask V if he is dying. The previous night, he will have told me that he has costochondritis and I will wonder if he will have enough time to read all the books. He will burst into echoing peals of laughter and call me mad. No, he is not dying.

On the third floor landing, I noticed that the air was a lot cooler and the sun, a lot more cheerful. There were fewer people here and I liked that a lot. V led me to take a right and beyond that lay a long corridor. I didn’t see it very well because I was distracted by a blackboard that said ‘Department of English’.

I waited for V to enter so I would be less embarrassed to sneak in after him. True to everybody’s word, there were the most number of books I had ever seen. It seemed like a happy place to be in. And there stood C.A, his hands about his waist, chuckling over something in the same way he chuckles now. Someone would have said something. V introduces me to C.A. I am shy but I extend my hand to shake his hand. I must have muttered something because V reminds me what I am here for.

  • ‘She wants to join the course’
  • ‘Oh! Good!’ 

I extend my other hand now. The one that has the 3000/-

I have only just made the movement when V breaks into a nervous fit of howls.

  • ‘Ey, you are not supposed to give the money to him’
  • ‘Ya ya, I have nothing to do with the money. I am just the facilitator. You must pay the office guys. I don’t take any money. This is not for me’
  • ‘Oh, Ok. I am so sorry’
  • *Chuckles* No problem. 

And so it was that I first visited the department and made an ass of myself on the same day. Many months later, sitting in K and sipping ginger tea, AM will narrate this scene to me and have a hearty laugh. That day he was sitting behind the bookshelf, at the computer. He will say that he found the whole money thing very funny. Many more months later, many more things will have happened. I will have managed to get my dream job in the best English Department of the country. ‘It is all happening too soon’, I will tell myself and I will be right in doubting every ounce of it.

I am sitting at a little desk that has become my home sooner than new homes have. I have made it mine. I learn its history and become familiar with its scratches and markings. It used to be AM’s. There is a drawer full of his stationery. I will sit that evening and empty the drawer, steal some of his stationery, give him the remaining. I will leave a post-it along with the stationery on his table. ‘Nagmani – Here is some stationary– Have at it’, says the post-it.

Next morning, the post-it has been returned to my little table, along with some corrections. ‘Stationary Stationery’, he has written.

I click my tongue and curse spellings. He walks in and laughs at me.

A few weeks later, I am having trouble with a class. I don’t know anything about East-European literature. I ask CA for help and he digs out his mammoth PhD thesis. It’s a blue spiral -bound copy. I thank him and proceed to my table. That afternoon, I will find myself sitting alone in the department. Everybody has left for class. A resounding silence calms the corners of the department and I will tell myself repeatedly that I am living the dream. I look up from my red dell notebook and pinch my arm. It’s really happening. I am in the English Department, sitting at my table and reading — preparing for a class — crying because I still can’t believe it’s happening.

This is a moment I will always go back to when I think about all the ways in which the department has changed today, these days.

There are many things about this place that will always remain deeply special to me no matter what changes in the department.

When whispers grow louder and violent these days, I think about the evenings that the department was once comforted by. AM would be at the computer, typing. CA would be at his table, having just chanced upon a new -age discovery he will continue to be baffled by for the rest of the millennium. I would be sitting at my new table by the window, trying to catch up with the moment and its force.

This was an every day sight back in the old department. I don’t get to see it these days. I can’t even listen to the faint trace of silence leaving its trails behind when it dissolves into god knows what. So much has changed since then. But the department will always be the place where I started to read and write. It still is the place I turn to, for comfort, among other things.

The history that I have with the department and the memories I have of some spectacular evenings far outweigh all the other nonsense that turns up now and then. I just need to look for the space and those evenings reappear as if they never left. I just need to look at P loitering around some corner with a book in his hand or S who comes bouncing to the department because she can’t live without it and I am convinced that the department continues to do for other people what it did for me. And that it is always open to people, even to those who attack it.

LOL

In the beginning, it was just me. I would sit huddled under my blanket with nothing but the light from my new Moto G striking my face in a thousand shades of Diwali. I was reading my teacher’s blog. Who the hell does she think she is? She writes like a 4 year old who has just learnt to draw. She knows nothing about writing. Her commas appear like pile after pile of turd coming out of constipation.I don’t understand how she is qualified to teach. She must have faked her degree. How can someone with that kind of English teach me?

A fortnight later when she had written enough, I decided to have a drinking game. I called a couple of my soup boys home and we all read her blog together and laughed. Every time we read something that was stupid or she had made a grammatical error, we took a shot of rum. That’s what she calls her blog btw, rumlolarum it seems. Once upon a time, when my penis wasn’t shriveled by the size of my head, I would sit like this with my school friends and watch porn. I can’t do that anymore because the doctors say that there is no semen left in my body anymore so if I shag now, it may confuse the fluids in my body and the residual semen may come out of my mouth. Doctors are so stupid. They also can’t even write properly.

I called the soup boys home last night and we all read her latest post. It was about how much she is enjoying teaching. Balls. I’m sure she can’t even spell teaching. When I become a teacher, I will make sure all my students love me. I will grow a beard and teach them poetry. Since I know how to write better than all my teachers, I can show my students how not to write. I can show them this woman’s blog. When I told this to my soup boys, they all appreciated my rocket sharp intellect and my mighty balls. Sometimes I think that I should become an intellectual man. But the only problem is, I think I am already an intellectual man. God, the world is so stupid. There aren’t enough things I want to be.

Today we are having the biggest soup boy party. My gang and I are going to display her dabba article on my big screen. We are all going to drink to rumlolarum and celebrate her stupidity. God. That website is so stupid. Why would they want to publish her article? Even that website doesn’t know how to write. Do I have to teach everybody how to write?

Today my friend asked me why I can’t just go to her and tell her on her face how stupid she is and how unreadable her writing is. I hadn’t thought of this. I think I get really angry when I see her — so angry that I become hulk that’s why I don’t want to tell her. But I will try to tell her tomorrow. You see, nobody knows this but centuries ago, the Greek Gods had cursed me. Because I am brave and an intellectual and I do real work and I am good looking and my grammar is perfect; the Gods had decided that I am in charge of other people’s writing and their blogs and their lives also.

So it is practically a violation — an assault on my person to read her writing. I must save the blogosphere. It’s okay if I can’t jerk off and have no semen, it’s okay if my soup boys are all bored with the same old drinking and laughing game on her blog, it’s okay if a hundred people hate her, it’s okay if nobody likes to read her — wait, it’s 80 years later, why the fuck is she still writing?

Mirrors and Lights

My sister and I were watching Home Alone this morning and she turned to me and said that every time she heard that some older man’s name was Kevin, she would look at him weirdly and wonder what the hell was wrong with him. I laughed at this for four and a half minutes. And then I drank my tea quietly and came up to write.

I am scared now. I am worried that my biggest nightmare may come true. I like to think that people see me the way I see myself in my head. But then something happens and I wonder what if they don’t, what if they never have?

My dressing room has a yellow light. I got it installed deliberately because the yellow dims the blemishes on my face and the bags under my eyes. I like to look at myself with yellow lights. The white is harsh and too real. It scares me. There is a mirror in my bathroom. A broken yellow bulb hangs over it. This is removed from both yellow and white. A dusty, transparent light shoots across from the window. This is what I come to when I am bored with the yellow and too afraid of the white. It is soothing only and only because it’s in between 2 things I cannot fully trust.

I stand before the mirror in my dressing room every morning and look pleased. That’s the image I am carrying when I am riding to college. That is the image I will remember shrinking before my eyes when somebody says something that interferes with and destroys what I have carefully picked. I will read something they have written in a language that doesn’t speak the language of our intimacies and wonder if they’ve ever looked at me the way I look at myself. I will overhear what they whisper into corners and the people in it and wonder if I’ll ever be whispered at or whispered about.

I find myself thinking about simpler times, I am squinting at a hazy memory that will return with the only time I traveled by myself. I will think about Goa and its muddy little houses, that one big church I went looking for in the mirror- glaze of the sun on the highway. I will think about the insides of these houses that I have not seen and wonder if the corners will have cobwebs that I will want to touch.

I should go back to Goa. I should have when I had the time and the money.

I should write more because I feel unprotected when I don’t.

I flipped through his photos yesterday and missed him. And then I remembered how vulnerable I am when in love and hated myself.

I have my corner back but I don’t like it anymore. I need a ‘me-place’. They took away Parisian Cafe from me. And my corner is not a corner anymore. It’s a bustling mall that I am beginning to grow afraid of.

I worry about my writing. I think about what they have said behind my back and finish saying what they haven’t. I am too easy a target for them. I am vulnerable because they know where to find me. I have nothing to put in between them and me. Their laughter grows louder, their voices rise to hushed gossip.

I talked to a student about his writing yesterday and it left me very afraid. He didn’t understand me and I was too eager to help him. It scared him and he became impatient. I wondered if I was doing a good job at anything at all.

Over waffles and Irish coffee last evening, P said that he worries he isn’t good at anything. I laughed in his face. He has the rare ability to take off, to cut off from people so he can have time to read. He looks for crevices in the department, in the media lab and everywhere else he can find one and disappears into it to read. He emerges after everybody’s had their share of laugh, after everybody’s become hero and made everybody else laugh and roll on the floor. That is brave no? To be ok with not being a part of the fun everybody is having.

It’s only when I looked at the mirror in my bathroom that I understood what he meant. That sometimes you will do everything and feel happy but what do you say to the nagging poke that wants to know what you are good at?

I am now beginning to wonder. Maybe I am a terrible teacher. But that’s ok. What if I am a worse writer and nobody is telling me?

Corners

I miss the simple pleasure of corners and the luxury they can afford. I want to undo all of last year and unknow what I have come to know and everybody that has come with it. I am doing One Hundred Years of Solitude for a class. I picked up the book just now to see what I remember from having read it all those years ago. I have no memory of anything, as it turns out.

There’s only the memory of an echo coming from the pit of my stomach. It’s like reading a part of me that has died and become something else. I don’t remember One Hundred Years of Solitude. I remember what I was like when I read it 2 years ago. I was stupider and I don’t want to go back into being that. I do however want to go back to the evenings spent reading this book in a corner of the old department.

I miss how the evenings would stretch themselves out for me and the corners would hug me to its walls. Everywhere else there would be voices, and water in plenty– gushing at my ankles and hurting my ears so I would put my feet up. The only discomfort I ever felt would be from a position I was sitting for too long in. This is hardly romantic because knowing me, I can say there would have been a hundred odd things pecking at me from the inside and the outside. Things people said, things people did, things I should have said, things I should have done. But it’s ok I suppose. As long as I was far from being noticed.

I miss the corner for what it did best. Allowed a certain kind of space in which I could devote time to things that actually mattered, like plucking skin and corns off of my toe, undoing knots in my hair, contemplating over the colour yellow and wondering why my right boob is smaller than my left. The corner does what a sharp tongue also does very well – ward off people.

Two’s company, three’s crowd. Well, they are both my ass. Corners are dangerous to nourish conversations in. They become snake-like hisses that will come back and bite one in the arse. I am through with this. I want my corner back. I think a woman must have good earplugs and a corner if she is to write or read fiction.