Another 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.

Oh free Sunday

It’s 5:00 in the evening. I’m sitting at my desktop with both the terrace doors wide open. It’s windy outside. I had an epiphany when I was finishing my chai and so I decided to make a blog post out of it. Today’s possibly the freest Sunday I’m going to have in a long time –  until far, far November.

College has reopened and much as I am still hungover from the month long vacation, I am really excited about this semester. I have always had a school-girl fascination with new beginnings no matter how much I hated the endings. When college closed for vacation this April, I thought I’d roll on the floor and cry when it reopened in June. Turns out, I am a romantic like that. Nothing can make me hate my job. Nothing can make me hate my desk at work. And one month is enough to make me miss having a job and waking up to it every single day.

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Image Credits – http://www.relatably.com

I remember having an epiphany at Meta this year. Something about spaces having more meaning than people and how Meta has gone beyond people. Similar feelings are happening off for my job also. It is coming around to mean a lot more than it did a couple of months ago. It has gone beyond people and maybe even beyond me.

In other news, I’ve discovered a great way to blackmail myself into writing. I’d already bought The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma on Kindle when I was just finishing Cat’s Eye. And I told myself not to start reading it unless I finished writing about Cat’s EyeThis was especially hard because I was dying to read TPLOMS. I read an extract and it made me giggle and fall about everywhere. I felt threatened in those four long days it took me to finish writing about Cat’s Eye. 

It’s a sick thing to do but I am not complaining. I’m bearing the sweet fruits now, aren’t I? Spent the whole afternoon giggling under my bed sheet, reading TPLOMS. 

I’m also back to watching New Girl. Ransacked Seasons 4 and 5 in three days – also got suspiciously teary-eyed at Schmidt and Cece’s wedding. Damn you, Jessica Day. I love you more and more with each passing episode.

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Image Credits – pinterest.com

I don’t really care about the epiphany I had when I began writing this post anymore. What was it anyway? That today’s probably the freest Sunday I’m going to have? That’s alright. I am going to bed with Mrs. Sharma and Jessica Day tonight so it’s totes worth it 🙂

Cat’s Eye

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

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Image credits –  litreactor.com

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 Journey to 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.

***

Bighead wants hole

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.