One lockdown morning, after a fight with a friend whose mobile ran out of charge before either of us could, I took a long shower and assembled my hair. I imagined I was reassembling my life with every difficult strand I was able to bring to my palms. Thinking we were over, I went and played Ludo with my family. And thinking we were over, I continued to do various other things I didn’t know I’d have the strength to do.
The memory of playing lockdown Ludo with my family reminds me of love shamefully. I can only scare the shame away when I choose courage. Without courage, I am afraid that it’s too absurd a memory, playing as it does against the backdrop of Covid 19. Father, Mother, Sister, Brother were in bed. I was sitting in my father’s chair, head wrapped in a towel, my underpants wet from laughing at my father. In his lifelong half-kannada, half-konkani way, he said ‘marakagalla’ when I told my sister to ‘maar! maar! maar!’ (konkani for ‘hit him! hit him! hit him!’)
I played with the same sense of fun I always tend to have with family. I don’t know what that calm was but I was surprised by my own ability to muster it when I needed to.
In my 20s, I struggled with letting go. I didn’t know when to give up, whom to trust, and couldn’t resist giving in to the promise of company even against my best instincts. Today, my instincts have better control over my actions. I listen to the songs my intuitions sing for me just to see how much I can rely on them. Sometimes I worry that this whole instinct business makes me uptight but it’s the only thing I know to rely on in a world that is seeking supreme comfort from remaining Savarna.
There was a certain work ethic that the generation before mine had. They were able to give themselves to work so willingly and uncomplicatedly that it didn’t leave much room for caste to be a participant. They had/have a general all purpose collegiality, a niceness that showed itself simply by smiling and simply by asking how are you? A kind of steel resistance to gossip, bitterness, and the ever ambitious arm that reaches for you at work, grabs you out into the corridor where Brahminness can converse without interruption.
I think of MMB’s smiling face and her many bags – how despite tough times and tiredness – there is respect for work, food, conversation; and always a spirit of fight in her body. It’s her Happy Birthday today. Then I think of the bearded bro who gets zero in return for all that he gives.
Then I think of students. Mad ones like these. And other madder ones as well. Two days ago, a girl brought her fears of graduating to my table and we talked about why it’s exciting to be a student, what waits for her on the other side and just how much fun there is in imagining your days as if they are carry-bags from shopping with mother — filled with all the fun things that you cannot wait to get home for. My student smiled her toothy little student smile and I fell, picked myself up and remembered why I’m here.