Postcard from today VI

Yesterday I took a class on Ambedkar’s Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. Was in a partly sucky mood before beginning prep for class. Reading that essay always puts me in a more sensible, back to who I am kind of mood. I read it every year because I can’t teach this paper on memory. I remember a few things that I am thrilled to mention in class but nothing more. Having to learn the paper every year to be able to teach it well is on a goal list of sorts.

Thought of Ambedkar all the way to class in the PG Block. Thought about the hours he put in at the library to write in Columbia. In Waiting For Visa, I’d read that he was often tempted to join his room mates and floor mates for parties but the thought of what he’d left behind to be where he is made him stuff cotton in his ears and continue studying. Even if the romance of imagining somebody reading in the library seems unreachable, what makes the reality of it all closest to me is the temptation he resisted to stop reading and how well he resisted it. After all, reading is the strongest resistance. Most of all, it is a big resistance to oneself – especially that part of us that we don’t trust.

Watched Area Bois in the afternoon and died giggly deaths. After a long time, I am watching a film that is in equal parts both delightful and relieving for the simple joys it brings as also for the deliberate revisiting of the words area, bois, and area bois. I am going to watch it again today to write about it. It’s not everyday that we get to watch a film that teaches us how much of the city lives in us, how much we don’t notice, and how little we do with the things we notice everyday.

Spent the evening looking at old department videos and laughing till eyes were teary and small. A folder full of odd, mad students reading in the dept corridor since 2013, madder teachers playing kabbadi and badminton after work, launching paper missiles at each other from their tables, willingly accepting dares to put kinetic hondas on centre stands and spraining hands instead. Some of us were still giggling when we locked the department door behind us and headed home. I giggled all the way home.

Postcard from today V

I was reading old journal entries today and found these from 2015 and 2016.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015, 9:30 am, department

I am reading Hedda Gabler for my reading room meeting today. It’s nice. I’ve enjoyed reading it so far. I am back to being indifferent to nonsense at the workplace. Students are the only saving grace. I am not talking much. I am only reading and writing and when I talk, I only talk to students.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015, 9:15 am, Lab

I am wearing what Amma got me from Bombay. It’s a printed blue full sleeved shirt and black stretchy pants. I got my new blue watch from Flipkart. It was 5000 when I first saw it and 3500 when I finally purchased it. Yesterday was a good day. I finished reading Hedda Gabler and had my reading room session. Our next book is Rebecca by Daphne du. I also read a couple of travel pieces by Charukesi and Shahnaz Habib. Then I started reading Anu Aggarwal’s memoir. I like reading it so far. It is hilarious.

Today I have 2 lab hours and an Optional English hour. I want to get started with Rebecca but must finish reading Anu Aggarwal before that. It’s Gowri today. And holiday tomorrow. There is gossip and bitchita-ness all around. Loose talk about who is qualified to teach what and sub standard writing and reservation children and nonsense. It’s what people who have zero respect for work or for themselves do. It’s all they ever do. I am ignoring it. Pah. I sat in the lab for some time yesterday and finished reading the play. It’s a nice little place to get a whole lot of work done. Rubu Kaapa has left, and so has Chungrei.

End of another semester already. Waw.

I wish I had an archive button for old journal entries to show themselves every morning so I could be taken back to what I was thinking 7, 8, 9 years ago.

I woke at 5:45 today and didn’t go back to sleep. The sun was up and sketching itself mindfully on the floor and I thought fuck me this is so beautiful. I have moved into my newly renovated home, and deliberately renovated room which was purposefully and hopefully designed to make me write.

Reading these entries fill me with 2 things – relief and envy. Relief because I am now in a place where no one and nothing can take away what I have built for myself and my writing – not loose talk, not cow dung, not even apathy. Envy because I was probably a much fiercer writer back then who wrote everyday (despite everything else that was happening) with a fervour I don’t seem to have anymore. Even 5 years ago, I wrote as if I’d forget how to write if I didn’t write everyday.

Today it seems like I need the charm of beautifully decorated rooms and tables and the illusion of free time to bloody produce one good sentence. In other words, total spoilt brat I have become.

Watching young women at work learning to find themselves despite noise, disruptions and the temptation to give in to loose talk is what I am crazy about these days. Moments where they choose themselves over everybody and everything else. Hours that they devote to learning — to making their craft better, sharper, louder. The permission they give themselves to be absorbed by things that move them. These are all a privilege to witness. I steal time from my own days to sit and watch them do this.

Louisa’s Fall

I watched Persuasion today and was taken with Dakota Johnson’s Anne, like I knew I would be but even more by Louisa (Nia Towle). She surprised me like no other woman in love has. I have seen and heard women not only do stupid things in love but also believe that because they do it out of love, it somehow makes them noble. When I say them, I obviously mean moi.

But watching Louisa in love is as terrible as it is reaffirming. I have not read Persuasion but now want to after watching Louisa leap from a wall to revisit the sensation of being caught by the man she loves. It is disgustingly close to how I experienced love as a young woman.

He is leading her down the steps. When he reaches the landing she jumps, and he catches her and her giggles. Austen says “the sensation was delightful to her” – and to reproduce this she runs backs up again, declares to him that he must catch her again and leaps. It wasn’t sufficient warning and the fool falls down. He wouldn’t have been able to catch her safely from that height, even with sufficient warning.

I called her stupid 5 times even before I was fully done watching the scene. I watched it again and again, then went and watched the same scene from the 2007 and 1995 adaptations of the novel. And in each of these scenes, I was watching the same thing – a foolish woman leaping stupidly in love.

Even without meaning to, this need to leap, this desire to reproduce a sensation just because it seems delightful — even at the cost of knowing the pain it might bring — makes villains out of the ones who aren’t able to catch. It is unfair and more than that, it is unnecessary.

Why must we leap? Why must we expect to be caught? It’s perhaps why we do it. We don’t it because we are sure. We do it because we are unsure and want to be sure. It’s a gamble. A stupid, miserable one. It’s a lot like love. Stupid, stupid, love.

There is an interesting humiliation at play here. His is that she falls and hers is that he lets her. That there is an audience for this doesn’t help either case.

An old love and I would go to Kempegowda airport on his bike for kicks in 2008. This was before it was the resort it is today. Back then, it was just one long stretch of road to ride and play on. Once we were there, we’d sit and look at the sparrows, laugh, talk, watch the planes take off and head back.

One day, we began playing. We played lock & key, hide & seek and then running race. He obviously ran very fast. I couldn’t catch up so I began running the other way. He laughed, turned around and began chasing me. I don’t know how the game had changed but I was delighted to find it in my hands. Even so, I couldn’t continue running because I had started laughing so much. He caught up with me and we both buckled down with guffaws.

I went home feeling happy and childlike but mostly with a full stomach. He let the game go and chased me and this made me feel love. A month or something later we found ourselves in a large group of friends he liked because they were his friends and I hated because they were all chuths. We finished lunch at a dhaaba and were getting into our vehicles when the largeness of the parking area became a playground and again, somehow, we began playing running race. This time too, he was very fast and I began running in the opposite direction. I turned back and felt a mild stab of betrayal to watch him standing tall and proud, announcing in front of his friends “Go wherever you want”

We had an audience and he didn’t want to chase me. We had an audience and it’s why I wanted him to chase me. It’d have solidified our love in front of those chuths. In my late 30s, it kills me to say this but I haven’t gotten over this stupid way of leaping and feeling betrayed.

I never brought this up with him, we never found ourselves in large parking areas to lose ourselves in ever again. But I remember feeling empty in my stomach when he dropped me home that evening.

I feel stupid and foolish and small and petty as I type this but I wish there was a way of ensuring that our stomachs never feel that sudden vacuum. It shouldn’t have to fall on other people to catch us whenever we feel like leaping. It’s here that I recall Didion’s words on being in love and remaining indifferent at the same time. Self-respect makes it possible to achieve both she says.

I am thinking of how much self-respect Louisa had or didn’t moments before she took that leap. Why do we allow ourselves to give in to these random moments of leap? What are we hoping to find there? Something as strong and nurturing as the self-respect we seem to lack?

How do we preserve our sense of self despite love? This morning, I woke up uneasily in a rabbit hole I had been digging for sometime now- pinning down my self-respect to weak amulets. I could feel my Sunday slipping away from my hands even before it had begun. I hated it. I didn’t feel like myself. I felt betrayed, possessed, obsessed, in need of a severe makeover. Then I forced myself to watch a film, picked Persuasion, watched that scene, began writing this and somewhere in between the last two moments, I returned to myself.

I felt myself literally picking myself up at one point and I loved the sensation of feeling calm in my stomach again. I don’t know whom to thank for this. Dead white women writers?

A random dude once texted me on twitter to say that he finds it ironical when Dalit women feel inspired by white women. I told him I’d much rather feel inspired by dead white women than alive and thriving savarna women. His only response was “why not black women????????????”

Baba, on days when it feels like everything is slowly dying inside you and you want nothing more but to be held and feel sane and happy again, shouldn’t we do whatever it takes to persuade ourselves to feel whole again? So what if it’s some dead white woman from England speaking to me in Basavanagudi?

Maybe that was what Didion meant when she said not having self-respect was like returning home to oneself and finding it empty. That if we take the risk of leaping, we must also be prepared to take the risk of falling or worse, suffer the humiliation of not being caught.

Postcard from today IV

I’ve been catching all the young teachers I know and pestering them to begin an online teaching journal of sorts. I think I am doing this out of a desire to take stock and watch them take stock of how far they’ve come and how much farther we must all go.

Sometimes I return to old posts written here on my blog from a time when not knowing how to take classes was my biggest weakness and strength. I don’t know how much of what I carry each day into the classroom now is a betrayal of what I haven’t been able to reconcile on my own, with myself, inside of myself. I am 34 and I still feel most lost when I have lied to other people, smallest when I watch in amazement when people I admire refuse to lie and are just silent and smiling when lying would’ve been so much easier.

Their refusal to lie sticks to me like pink bubble gum on chappals. Everywhere I walk is heavy with a personal stickiness that no one else knows or cares about.

In class yesterday, we talked about best revenges. I was carried away by own fondness for Lady Di and couldn’t stop gushing about her black off shoulder dress. Nothing tops that- I told them, until a student who disappears into himself every time he speaks (like Salvador) said something that made me laugh and also tore me a little. It’s a self-help mantra, yes but the words “kill them with your success, bury them with your smile” made me think about the gratifying sound of silence and the power there is in not having to do anything when something threatens to eat you from inside and outside.

When I enter a classroom, I am no longer the lying, small, distrustful, jealous, threatened, threatening woman in perpetual love. I am a teacher willing to be moved by students, and their willingness to smile. I am grateful for the reassuring presence of classrooms in my life. It’s here that it doesn’t seem to matter how broken I am.

Late last evening a student who has been carrying water filters in his neighbourhood to make money messaged to ask if I knew any doctors for severe arm pain. This is also another huge part about being a teacher – not having answers but wanting to help.

Throwing Chalk: English nimappan mane aasthi alla

Transl = English/Theatre/Journalism isn’t your father’s property.

…is at the crux of what I actually wanted to say here – Hiding Behind Language, my second column for The Third Eye.

And this glorious illustration by Priyanka Paul.

Art by Priyanka Paul (https://www.instagram.com/artwhoring/)

Hi

“I have come to realize that excellence is achieved through devotion. My devotion does not mean retiring to a forest & meditating there. My idea of devotion implies extreme power of enduring suffering, and extreme power of working” – Dr. B.R Ambedkar

It’s somewhat of a relief that you aren’t around to see what these people would have done with this quote. They would have called your work ethic toxic and you, elite Dalit. There’s no limit to how many words we can use everyday. Not that that would have made us more careful. But a girl can hope no? It is rare to find people who have discipline with words and work, like you did.

Tomorrow is independence day it seems. I have a few wishes – I want to learn how to work, like you did. I want to learn how not to tolerate fools, like you did. I want to sustain a discipline with words, work, people, and myself, like you did. Please teach me how.

Stay well.

Love & hugses

Vj