Sitting and Stalking

The first few weeks after my post-graduation were spent sitting in an arm-chair, looking for jobs and streaming How I Met Your Mother. Two tabs for teaching vacancies, two for writing and two other tabs for stalking women’s blogs. I didn’t know this then but I think stalking women’s blogs made me want to have a writing life and made me see how independent the women who wrote were.

Two of my favourite women bloggers were on blogspot then and they had written extensively about their work and living alone. I gobbled up their archives in a day and was thirsty for more. I went looking for them online. I stalked friends of friends on facebook, googled their names and arrived at a set of conclusions. These women were employed, lived alone, liked to read, and wanted to become writers. They were part of writing and reading workshops, were in touch with each other and wrote motherfucking every day.

I was more envious than thrilled. I was only just coming to terms with my own desire to write and these women– some even younger than me, were a lot more accomplished. It was around this time that I got a job at an NGO in Mysore. After a lot of persuading, my parents agreed and I started to pack my life of 22 years into medium-sized suitcases. I packed tea mugs, all of my journals which needn’t be hidden anymore, my books that were waiting to be read after I had become an independent woman, and family albums, just in case I missed them (so many giggles)

When we got to Mysore, I realised that I hadn’t really given much thought to where I would be living my independent woman life. I hadn’t thought of accommodation. I assumed that a PG would come flying by to my rescue and I wouldn’t have to worry. Long story short- I didn’t find any accommodation that my parents approved of so I lived in a government guest house for three days before giving in to their emotional drama and eventually quitting. I cried and kicked all the way back to Bangalore. My theory is that all of my dad’s government car drivers know me better than my parents do. So many of my life’s tragedies have happened in these cars. They would look straight ahead and drive on sombrely, ignoring the hysterical and weepy woman sitting next to them. I wonder what they knew. I wonder if they judged my father.

Months later– sitting in Uttarahalli where I got my second job, I took my first step and started to blog. I had reached a dead-end. I was stalking all these women and becoming nervous and ambitious all at once. These bursts of energy only made me more jealous so I would end up binge-watching Gilmore Girls and calling it a day. Here I discovered PeeVee- a student who lived in Bangalore and pursued a degree in Mass Communication by day and wrote madly by night. I became obsessed with her. I followed her writing very closely and fashioned my old blog after hers. I wrote about watching Julie & Julia that day and went to bed a happy woman that night.

I continue to stalk women now. I turn to their writing for comfort when my own writing hits all levels of shit and my personal life hits all levels of madness. These women taught me how to write but they didn’t know that I was learning from them. Three years later I find that I have a writing life. It’s not the greatest but I’m sure that if the girl sitting in Uttarahalli knew this, she would be happy for herself.

It’s not easy to write. Especially not when I am sad but it’s the only thing that I can call mine and I trust it to make me feel better.

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To Alice Munro, Sandra Cisneros, and other women with elbows

And the story goes she never forgave him. She looked out the window her whole life, the way so many women sit their sadness on an elbow.

~Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street

Early 2008 – Jain College.

We were doing Margaret Atwood in an Optional English class one day. We were reading Journey to the interior when a boy said that the Canadian landscape had never been utilised by its authors and that Margaret Atwood should do something with Canada instead of whining all the time. I remember being pissed off by this accusation. I liked Atwood. Why should it fall upon her to do things with the landscape, was my initial response. The teacher sided with me, and when the boy’s retort was the usual, ‘how much of Canadian literature are you even familiar with?’, she told him to bugger off.

We moved on to African Literature after that and the boy and I reconciled so I didn’t go back to reading or fighting. It was a strange time to be a student. Love was around, friendships were disappearing, and parents were sworn enemies. My biggest worry then was figuring out a lie to tell my mother for why I was going to be home late that evening. Time was endless and college really only came to picture a day before the exams. Evenings were spent with a dysfunctional group at the back of a car, watching a movie, eating or planning our next outing.

It’s only as I am writing this that I’m wondering if I should forgive myself for the things I didn’t do when I was 18.

But seven years later, I discovered Alice Munro and I am not thinking of the time I could have read her in. I don’t know what I am thinking when I am reading Munro. I look at the page numbers printed at the top of the pages –One number above the other, wondering if she put them there too, because they seem assured. I am looking at the page numbers only because I have read a line that has made me wonder how many notes the woman must have made in her life. I am convinced that if I pull an investigation and get to the root of it all, I’ll find stack upon stack of dusty notes scribbled in black ink. Or maybe blue, I don’t know.

I cannot read Munro for a long time. Now and then – Now more than then, I must look up from my book and blink, adjust my posture, tie my hair into a bun, and get up to make tea. I must make these readjustments so when I reread that same line; I am more prepared for its candour. Looking at the page numbers came after I had exhausted all of the above.

I am drawn into her stories so easily, moved by her characters so strangely that I feel isolated. That’s a measure of reading I’m growing to be quite comfortable with. If I am pushed into believing that the people around me are as strange as I want the characters in books to be, then I needn’t be afraid of them. I am doing just that. I am taking away all the people I meet and putting them in books that I want to write.

If I could go back to that class again, I would tell the boy there’s a lot of Canada in Munro’s stories. People are always going to Walley to sell things. People are always writing letters to people in Quebec, people are always talking about their children who are in Ontario. The roads are not crowded; they are wide and angled perfectly so there are trees growing at right angles, the sunlight passes through these trees in brilliant bright colors that aren’t just your orange or red. The houses are tall and yellow.

The train journeys are long like in real life, the conversations are short, like I wish they were in real life, and sometimes punctured by longer silences. Munro fills these silences by telling us what these people’s hands looked like or what they were like in a past that is not theirs anymore. Maybe she’s not even telling you what their past was like but you are thinking about it anyway because she’s told you so much about it and moved so quickly from it that you almost want to know what she’s not telling you.

Sandra Cisneros says women in her family sat their sadness on their elbows, always waiting at the window. I remember feeling very happy and sad when I read this line. Happy because who writes like that and sad because I thought of all the women in movies I had grown up watching and how most of them did sit their sadness on an elbow. I am so sure that if my mother’s room had a convenient window like that, she would sit her sadness on an elbow too. Actually she would sit her sadness on an elbow at my window so I could see it feel guilty.

This is an image that hasn’t turned up yet in my reading of Munro so far. The women are doing lots of things at windows but they are never sitting their sadness on their elbows. They are figuring out ways to get rid of strange men trying to talk to them in trains, they are searching for the daughter that left home and never came back, they are counting the number of walnuts that fall off from trees every year, they are cutting  parts of their faces off to deal with guilt, they are falling in and out of love, they are surviving wars and losses, and they are writing and reading letters. But they aren’t sitting their sadness on elbows.

Sometimes they seem just the right amount of sad for a rainy afternoon and you can’t help but sit by a window, your elbow sticking out, your eyes soft with sleep — watching the rain and dreaming sepia dreams.

Rudhramadevi

cine_gallery_41442299526I like the end -semester time when nothing happens as planned. Last semester was the coolest. I spent three days of my pre-invigilation week sitting at my desk and reading. Sadly, this has left me with an odd sense of competition with myself. Every time the end-semester time is around the corner, I roll up my sleeves in anticipation of what I’m about to do next. Which these days, is to wave at the passing time from a distance and complain about not having any free time. In compensation for this, my bruised ego mooed twice when I decided to go watch Rudhramadevi at Vision yesterday.

So when I stood in the queue to collect my 3D glasses, a fight broke out between two men who were standing in front of me. One refused to pay ten bucks for the glasses so the other man told him to go rip his own pubic hair off. The man who refused to pay was being dragged into the theatre by his friends but he sprinted back and asked him if he really should rip his own pubic hair off (Yenande? Naanu shaata terkobeka?) I giggled and stood watching this for sometime.

Hoping that my seat would be nowhere near the pubic hair man’s, I walked in and found that sitting next to me was a middle-aged woman who sighed when I took the seat next to hers. Her husband who was sitting on her other side sighed louder. Behind me, a bunch of Telugu speaking college boys sat and proclaimed deep lou for Allu Arjun.

‘Screw you’, I said. I was here for Anushka Shetty. Actually Jejamma. But I forgot about Jejamma sooner than I want to admit because there was more Bahubali in the movie than Jejamma.

The movie opens with Marco Polo (I swear) addressing a board meeting that quickly ends when he expresses respect for Rudhramadevi. Rudhramadevi is the princess of Kakatiya dynasty, who upon birth was declared a boy because the enemies would have usurped the throne if they found out that the queen had failed to produce a male heir.  So Rudhramadevi becomes Rudradeva and is oblivious to her sex throughout her childhood.

It’s when she sees boobs on a sculpture for the first time that she becomes suspicious.

In a startling throwback to Bahubali, Rudradeva looks at his reflection in a pool of water and sees Rudhramadevi – a girl. Next thing she knows, her pants are wet with her menstrual blood. And so it is that she becomes a woman. Taking a slight detour away from Bahubali, the woman here becomes a woman by her own accord; though this is something that will eventually get punctured more than twice in the movie.

So she is Rudradeva by day – riding eloquent white horses, sword-fighting the crap out of her male cousins, taming a wild elephant with her bare hands, escaping death loads of times, apparently doing everything men do. By night, however, she escapes through a trapdoor, goes underground and embraces her womanhood with all her might — which means that she becomes fairer, more charming, dances and sings with other women, apparently doing everything women do.

Actress Anushka in Rudramadevi Movie Stills

This goes on for a while and then Allu Arjun comes and everybody in the movie and in the theatre salivated. See, I like the man, he’s gorgeous and something about the way he delivers his dialogues is like watching Telugu slam poetry.  But post his entry, the movie seemed to slow down and I started missing Bahubali. It seemed almost deliberate how the narration suffered at this point. As if everybody in the movie literally stepped out and made space for him so he could emerge triumphant.

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I wondered if this happened because the movie was trying too hard to cast him as an equal to Rudhramadevi. It became very visible because this is something he didn’t have to struggle for in Arya 1 & 2 or any of his other movies for that matter.

Chalukya Veerabhadra (played by Rana Daggubati) seemed to make up for this slack in direction. In another tribute to Bahubali, while sword-fighting with Rudradeva, Veerabhadra accidentally disrobes Rudradeva and finds Rudhramadevi, the woman he’s been in love with. This quickly became one among the very few moments when the movie surprised me. And this is because I expected something to happen after this earth-shattering revelation but as I came to learn, nothing happened.

Nothing ever happens. This is probably why I liked the movie a little bit because there is this one big secret that you know and you hold on to, like you would an ice- cream. You expect it to melt but it doesn’t.

I sat up straight when Rudhramadevi’s marriage to Muktamba (Nithya Menen) was fixed. I was convinced that they would not get married. When they got engaged, I told myself that I would be the happiest woman in the world if they get married. And they do get married. The woman sitting next to me quietly giggled into her husband’s shoulder when they did. And that’s the proof that they did get married.

I waited for the ice-cream to melt because now I was sure that it would. But on their first night, Rudradeva uses the poor state of his kingdom as an excuse to avoid sex. Later in the movie however, it is revealed that Muktamba knew long before anybody else did that Rudradeva is Rudhramadevi. When their fingers touched to exchange rings during their engagement, Muktamba knew but decided to go ahead with the marriage anyway.

Much as I enjoyed this conversation and the fact that they remain married, I couldn’t find what I abundantly found in Arundhati or even Bahubali; which was an easy relationship that I had with the characters. Everytime Rudhramadevi picked up a sword, I was praying no man would come and help her. This was something I didn’t have to worry about when Jejamma picked up a sword.

In Bahubali, I was able to prod my way into the story. I was aware of how captivated I was for a full three hours and fifteen minutes. Right from Bahubali climbing the enormous mountain to Ramya Krishna killing a man with one arm while she held an infant in the other — to the epic war scenes.

This is something that Rudhramadevi doesn’t give its audience. However, I do take consolation in the fact that my favourite scene in the movie has Muktamba and her friends drunk as hell and teasing each other.

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