Simpal aagi ondu short story

First I thought you should be from my department, my college, my area at least. Then I thought people will be so jealous of our friendship that they will put kannu, kai, kaalu and all. So the new plan is that you also teach, like I do – but in another college, maybe you teach Physics or Kannada or English or Math. Or maybe you don’t teach- you are in advertising, maybe you are in the middle of a messy divorce. I don’t know. Anyway it’s not important because in the story of our friendship– where we work, who we are, and what we do doesn’t matter.

So let me begin from the beginning. 

At first, it will seem like I like you more than you like me. But then later you will tell me that you also felt like you liked me more than I liked you. After this we will giggle and eat shawarma in front of Chin Lung where there is a memorial in the name of someone who died in world war II. We are sitting down next to each other eating shawarma and reeling from perhaps the 2 beers we’ve just had, perhaps the bellyful feeling of finally having found someone to walk bangalore with, we won’t know but it is a good moment and we are looking quietly at the passersby hurrying to get on the bus which is leaning so much to its left that its edges are always threatening to scrape the road.

We are in no hurry to get home because today your parents are not in town and mine have given up on me and are fast asleep. We will walk towards Garuda mall just like that to see if we can get an auto from there. Should we take a bus? One of us will ask the other. We can but it’ll go somewhere and all before it reaches our stop so why chumma, the other will say.

This is why I keep saying we must get a bike. Tomorrow we will get one.

Let me tell you why I am telling you this story. Basically I woke up early today and didn’t want to go back to sleep so I jammed some loud music.

I listened to Karthi songs because I like that fellow’s face. Too much in love it is. Then as I was getting ready to jog, I started listening to Ada from Garam Masala. Then I thought how nicely john and akshay roam around in their bike while this song plays in the background. A song will never play in the background for me in real life but if I have a female friend then it is like a song is always playing in the background.

First of all, we must get a bike so that when one of us brakes hard, the person sitting behind will dash in and get fake angry so that the one riding can say, machi here’s why I braked – can you please check out the babe/dude/giraffe hanging out there? Then we will remove our sun glasses (first we will remove our helmets carefully) and stare for an appropriate amount of time before proceeding with our lives. 

Where are we going on our bike, you might ask. Let me tell you, we are going to watch a film- first day- second show at Poornima theatre. It is a Sunday. It is a Vijay Sethupathi film. We will whistle and take off our dupattas and swirl it over our heads while doing colourful dance moves. But obviously when the moment comes, we will both chicken out so we will keep in our bellies all the things we want to do but won’t be able to so we will look at each other with full feels and enjoy quietly while looking at others who are dancing guiltlessly.

But the throb of an unbegun dance will still be singing in our bodies so we will carry it to Cubbon park where we will jump and try to catch the highest branch. Then we will sit under that same tree and count all the couples. When we get bored of doing this we will start telling each other our love stories. Obviously I will ask the first question because I always do – I will ask ‘when was the last time you desired someone’? – don’t take it personally but this question is just the stepping stone to the many other straight to the heart direct questions I will be asking you. 

Also we should start somewhere, no? Half the time I will be asking these questions just so you can ask me the same question back and I can tell you the answer I’ve already rehearsed many many times. So then after we finish talking kashta sukha we will go to cottonpet because it’s my favourite part of bangalore and not just because my ex used to live there and his bike would snake us around all the gallis of cotton and akkipet but also because there are old shops and small factories there that I love looking at. All the while, there will also be a strong incense smell because there are so many agarbatti godowns.

Along with that there will also be a cow dung smell but that’s not a problem no? Because if there are cows all over Bangalore, then where will their dung go? Paris? Also what is Bangalore without the combined smells of agarbatti and cow dung mixing in the nostril like Gordon Ramanna’s cooking patre?

Then you will take me to that part of Bangalore where a lover had once broken your heart along with your will to love again. Say it’s Sreeraj Lassi bar where you were in the middle of mango lassi when he told you he didn’t think this was working out anymore and you couldn’t stop drinking the lassi because you thought that if you did, you might start crying so you kept sucking on the straw even if the lassi was over and all you were drinking was air that made your throat dry so you waited for him to leave and ordered another mango lassi and drank it all up in one go. 

We will go there together and drink as many mango lassis as it takes for the memory of the other one to exist more quietly and eventually to exit just as quietly. Then we will go to Nandi Hills to rescue all my college trip memories there made with people who aren’t in my life anymore. On our way there, we’ll sing halli meshtre songs.

Sunday evenings, we will make plans to befriend girls like us from Hanumanthnagar. Girls like us means broken hearted girls looking to make themselves open hearted. Especially girls who have terraces even if they don’t have rooms of their own. This is because Bengloor sunsets are best seen from Hanumanthnagar. The homes are all dotted next to each other on slopes that have right angles and other maths expressions. Terraces are not secrets here unlike everywhere else. Here they are shared unwillingly with other terraces where conversations from all over meet and spillover like oggarane smells from neighbouring houses. On the terrace, we will sit in between lines of clothing separating chaddi baadi from their respectable outer-wears. Then we will have masala chai in steel lotas like we used to when we were children stupidly yearning to be adults, better adults (nan thale) who drink tea from big ceramic mugs in earthy colors.

Mondays after work, I will call you and say come on. Then we will go play cricket with boys from Basavanagudi. This is because they cry easily. After we have made enough of them cry we will go eat Bangarpet pani puri till we only become pani.

Every time I listen to old Bengloor stories, I’m taken in by the urge to rewind either Bengloor or myself back to a time in history where we could be fiercely together. I’ve been told that the most intimate way of knowing a city is alone, and the second most intimate way – through friendship, and then finally, through a woman. If you haven’t already noticed it yet, this is a sci-fi story. Because I can’t rewind, I am forwarding. I am writing to ask if you will be my personal female friend. It will be nice.

Fill this form if you are interested.

3:30 am

Woke up at an odd hour and couldn’t go back to sleep. A part of my late night/early morning reverie included cursing myself for all the things I shouldn’t have said this week, the things I should have, a tired desire to live better from today onwards, and the realisation that I couldn’t possibly begin living better without new clothes.

All the ones I wear now have stopped wearing me ten years ago. Why do I keep wearing them when they have outworn me, I don’t know. It’s like I have stopped buying clothes. And yet it seems like all I do these days is put my paws on instagram’s window and salivate endlessly, occasionally (lol) buying things I don’t need also. Another red color bag, some senselessly cute bottle with a dead flower in it that came with its own fucking stool, a ceramic blue shoe that is also an ashtray, books that I am buying and not reading.

And then I have the gall to ask where is my money going, darling? Food, drinks, fucking PETROL, bills, loans, mother fucking Instagram ads man.

I need clothes. Why am I not buying clothes? And then I went and read the lovely Aysegul Savas’s lovelier essay on similar pangs- CLOTHES!

Sometimes I get a glimpse of someone in the park, in a museum, at the bakery line, and I go out to assemble all their pieces. It’s a pang to see them like that—such strangers in their perfect nests of clothing, looking so much like themselves. All this makes me feel naked, laying it out piece by piece.

Today I want to be like Aysegul’s mother who “had sets of clothes like costumes. They hung side by side, each one on a hanger with its own set. That was the thing with my mother, she always knew who she was on a given day. All she had to do was pick from left to right, Monday to Friday.”


March mornings

At the JC. Road signal, a pillion rider, a small girl clung to her father on an activa.

Her feet dangled in half-worn running shoes, and her pony tail bounced as her father cut left at Poornima theatre. It was then that I realised why I was watching them both.

It was the way he was slowly riding. There was a comma of pause he took before every hump, so that it was almost a full stop. Even the frenzy crossing of Bishop Cotton ladies wouldn’t disturb the pause.

Then he made a right and I saw with glee, a masked toddler-rider standing upright and small, between his father and the activa’s front.

Like this, one child in front, one in back, a man slowly rode his two-wheeler on a bright march Bangalore morning.

Throwing Chalk!

I have a new column at The Third Eye called Throwing Chalk (courtesy thechasingiamb, saadanam kayil)

I wrote the first essay in April, right about the time when second wave hit Bangalore. The first draft came apart like the jockey underwear I got 7- years ago. Only I knew about the holes but my editors are so smart that they also saw it and said ey this is nice but show that other one. So I wrote the second one, much tighter but also with holes that were easily darnable. I enjoyed writing this very much.

It feels like everything I need to say is inside me and I just have to sit long enough to perform some inner digging to get them all out. Writing has become very bodily these days. And I am learning to pay attention to how literal it is, how much of the body is in it. Grateful for this.

The essay is illustrated by the supremely talented Priyanka Paul whose amazing hand I want to kiss and do long dances with. Here is her glorious work:

You can read my column here.

Teaching in Dangerlok

Couldn’t sleep one night so spent it all by reading Eunice De Souza. I wish I could have more reading nights like these even if they make me groggy and teary the next day.

Eunice De Souza’s Dangerlok is what I needed to combat fucking NEP. Rina Ferreira, the single, double-parrot-keeping teacher in Bombay has the life, the guts, the buddhi that I want for me. She teaches English at a college, smokes, talks to her parrots, writes letters to her lovers, chills with her friend Vera with whom she goes oor-suthooing, comes back home, smokes, drinks chai, reads, and sleeps.

Every now and then, I need to be gently whisked and battered into remembering that I am a teacher. I spent all my childhood wanting to grow up and make my own money and now that I am doing it – I am barely even acknowledging it. I act as if I’m so used to it. But I need to, now and then behave as if it still surprises me that I teach for a living, for thrills, for fun, for play. That I get paid to do what I love.

Some moments from last week that I want to remember:

  1. At an NEP meeting, someone said, “When you run into students years after you’ve taught them, they are not going to recognize you and thank you for teaching them passive voice. They will remember that you taught them Julius Caesar”
  2. I returned to a science class to teach them general english after very long and had more fun than I’ve had teaching anything else in years. I became again, the girl I was nine years ago who wasn’t sure of anything except knowing that some thank yous are more genuine than others. And that when a student stays back after class to say it, words that once echoed sharply in hollow classrooms now make me smile. With this gratitude, I move from one meeting to another on MS Teams.
  3. After I said bye to them last week, I was very nearly crying. We had been talking about English- its miseries and joys. And how it’s nothing to be afraid of, how there was once a man who sometimes wielded English like a weapon, sometimes like a suit, and sometimes as so much a part of him that it’s hard to imagine he once didn’t know English.
  4. I am not very easily moved to tears when I talk about English. But to talk about English amidst students much like me was reassuring, like finding your own people after a long day of being lost. The English here is the kind we learn to speak despite school, despite teachers in school, despite not speaking it at home, and despite education itself.
  5. Sometimes students can be so fiercely themselves, so delightfully hungry to learn that I wonder who is the teacher here. There is so much to learn from students about how to stand up against governments that are so anti-students and anti-learning. Those who come from such far away places to learn and make a stable future for themselves remind you of the anger you feel in your teeth for this fuckall government in whose imagination, the student is a young NRI- return Modi.
  6. Later that same day, I broke down in class, again. Turned camera off this time. And cried harder when they reached out to console me. I was telling them about what it was like to be a young teacher. Did students take young women teachers seriously back then? I was telling them about not being able to stand in front of a class to teach Romeo and Juliet after I’d allowed myself to be belittled by opinions and that if I could go back in time, I’d own Shakespeare’s ass the way I know I can, the way this department has taught me to.
  7. Any department that can teach its young Dalit women teachers to not be afraid of Shakespeare or of students who think they know Shakespeare just because they know English is an enemy of the Savarna state which makes the NEP – a beacon of Savarna rashtra and every teacher fighting it across the state, an Ambedkarite.
  8. After classes these days, I am watching young people take care of other young people. Metonym, our inter-class literary championship is an excuse for us to make fraandship with students. It’s the last thing we’ll be able to do before NEP hits us so all my enthu is going there and I’m hoping they remember us for this, if not anything else.
  9. I am exhausted from asking myself what would Ambedkar do if he was here so I’ve been watching Saarpatta every morning to begin the day.
  10. Yesterday, in a Theatre Studies class when a student was just getting ready to perform, his mother walked in, banged a kitten on his lap and went away. He grabbed it in both his hands and threw the paapa kitten somewhere. She’s called Mia it seems. I died laughing.

Eunice De Souza would write her way out of NEP. It’s what I think I should also do. Why aren’t there any biographies of Miss De Souza? If there are, please tell me. I want to read.

On Self-respect or how to unpark a car in Basavanagudi

This Insta series was originally published on the Scrolls & Leaves Podcast.

Ever since I first read Joan Didion’s essay on self-respect a couple of years ago, I have taken it to every class I teach. My wish, that it gives young girls whatever sense of self I didn’t have when I was growing up is only slightly overshadowed by something selfish. I take it to class every year because I need to read it every year.

My self-respect tank runs on reserve through the year & for that one week when we do the essay in class, I feel like I have my self-respect firm in my palm. I try to understand how and why a white woman sitting so far away can know and have anything useful to say to a not- white teacher. But I’ve given up trying to reason with it. Those better equipped to deal with the ‘problematics’ of the situation may deal with it. I am more interested in taking the gift and running away with it.

A very Basavanagudi thing happened in Basavanagudi last week. We recently moved into a rented house and our neighbors already hate us. One doesn’t like that we park our car in front of our gate because he wants to park his car there. His caste, kula, gotra I don’t want to get  into, we live in Basavanagudi; you figure. 

One afternoon, my father was rushing to the bank and requested him to move his vehicle because it was blocking ours. The neighbor shrugged and didn’t come out of his house. My father went walking. 

After that, my father made it a point to park our car right at the gate before the neighbor could. Even though he shouldn’t have to, let’s proceed.

The neighbor called the traffic police & complained bitterly to the confused young officer who responded. If the officer was entertained, he couldn’t hide it well:  ‘So you have a problem if they park their car in front of their gate?’ Still, the neighbor persisted. My father lost it and ran screaming at the neighbor. The anger in my father’s voice does the same thing to me today that it has always done: irritate me, get me to think about how unnecessary it is, and bring me to automatic tears. In the past, I’ve seen my father scream so loudly, the red in his eyes don’t leave until the next morning, his face is concretely unmoving, and his temples throb as if struggling to come out. But when he was shouting at the neighbor, I realized it was the only thing he could’ve done. I understood the source of all his anger.

By then, the neighbor had gathered supporters on the strength of his and their births. Some stood on balconies, threads visible, saying to my father: ‘Just because you have a big car doesn’t mean…’ And that’s when I saw it – the source of their anger. The problem may not have been the car after all, it was the size of the car, which was perhaps as big as their bruised pride.

This morning, returning from a walk I saw a couple of policemen pacifying someone very much like the neighbor. He kept pointing at a few discarded flowers on the footpath. An hour ago when I’d walked the same way, I’d seen flower vendors sitting on the footpath under the shade of a large tree. The flower vendors were nowhere to be seen now. A man came running to them and said, “Saar, look at all this dirt, that too in front of a Brahmin house.”

What I’ve learnt from this tragicomical angst towards outsiders/’polluters’ in Basavanagudi is that the centre is not holding.

I am thinking of Gogu Shyamala’s ‘But Why Shouldn’t the Baindla Woman Ask for Her Land?’, where Saayamma bangs her fists, makes a fuss, and pushes the village heads with an iron grit and won’t leave until she takes back what belongs to her. I am thinking how much indignity there is in asking for things that you shouldn’t have to ask for (because they are yours to begin with).

I am thinking how those who make you ask for these things not only get to keep their dignity but yours as well. I am thinking of how the consequence of not making a fuss is different for different people. I am thinking of how every other passerby who heard my father roaring on the street would’ve called him an uncouth wild man. I am thinking of a Bahujan writer on a zoom panel I once attended. She was accused of not having got the question right and wouldn’t let go until both the moderator and the other speaker had apologized.  These people who took back what was theirs, took it despite the consequences – they were not wild; they weren’t even angry; they were just holding on to their self-respect.

I am led back to the quietness of Didion’s words and wonder whether it is enough to sneak my self-respect out from wherever it is hiding, and- whether it’ll do. It will do. Didion says, “​​To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves—there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect” — which to me means that some of our routes to self-respect aren’t going to be dignified and are certainly not going to be quiet. The route is what often gets us called mad and difficult. But it’s what will eventually free us from the Savarna expectation that we will keep eating kadlepuri while they hack at our self-respect.

Under the Trumpet tree

This story was written for Dhruv Sehgal’s Table for One series. I wrote it one early morning in September last year after I’d spent weeks editing, vomiting, and pulling hair out with several other drafts. It’s a story that is very old — I’ve repeated it to anyone who’ll listen so part of the challenge was to write as if I was hearing it for the first time myself. As much as I hate to admit how hairless this made me, I like that the story flowed out as if it knew what it had to do. It was smoother than the flow of my vagina monologues. No story has left my body with this much ease since. Thank you, Dhruv.

It was 4:45 am. The houses in Basavanagudi were all asleep. Some had only just gone to sleep. The call center returnees walked into their homes, sleepily closing gates. In their half-dream-half awake state, the gates were often left unlatched, and lights on. Some other houses, like mine, were dreaming. The house next to mine was wide awake though. Yellow light had filled its windows to the brim and the front yard was already wet and smelling of earth. The old woman woke before the sun every morning, had a cold water bath with her saree on, fought the cold using just her fists (clasped tightly), walked to the gate like a soldier, and drew rangoli. Today it was 4 dots on 4 lines. Each dot made a hula hoop around itself and ran over other dots.

She lived with an angry son who howled like a wolf and wept like a baby if his mother was too ill to wake early and have a cold water bath on some days. Her wrinkly old feet could barely carry her but she did this every morning without fail. In the beginning, it was because her son demanded, and now it was because her body did.

She waited patiently by the gate for the milk man to arrive. He came at 5 every morning in a squeaky cycle that nevertheless sailed on the streets. He left milk packets inside the gate of each house on the street, except the old woman’s. One morning, after reading a forward on his WhatsApp group ‘B’gudi B’mins’, the son called the milkman and told him they won’t need milk anymore. The old woman froze. He told her because she was a Madi, she should now also refrain from luxuries like coffee.

Her last cup of coffee was two weeks ago. She had dreamt of it for nights after that, mouth barren, throat itchy, and hands balled up into two angry fists for two weeks, she had walked around the house, spitting acid fire at walls. The son had his extra strong coffee at a Darshini before and after office so he was set. That first cup of morning coffee was the only time in the day where time was hers, she was hers. An unspoken rule in these houses was that no matter how urgent it is, you don’t disturb someone when they have their coffee. Her nose tortured her for two weeks, it collected decoction smells from surrounding houses and brought them to her. She tried to take deep breaths to ingest as much smell as possible so that for days she smelled like coffee and the son sniffed around her like a Rottweiler before leaving for office. She sat by the front door and imagined a cup of filter coffee in her hands. She missed its warmth on her fingertips and the warmth it sent down her throat. She missed the little bubbles that popped on her tongue with every sip.

And so today, she stood by the gate with swollen fists, waiting for the milkman because, today, she had a plan.

The milkman left our packet inside the black letterbox where letters never came. My parents had built this house from the memory of hunger in their empty childhood. The letterbox was something they had seen outside big houses so they got one made too. But it soon became clear to us that letterboxes are for everything but letters. To begin with, only bills fell there. Father kept grains for the birds there, Mother kept used plastic covers there, and the milk man left milk packets there.

The old woman waited for the milkman like a cat does before leaping. In the dimness of the still young sky, the pink trumpet tree above her grew bigger and darker. It stood mutely as the milkman came, left the packets inside our letter box and left. When he had done the same at the last house on the street, she moved quickly. She opened her gate, then ours, thrust her hand inside the letterbox, grabbed one milk packet and hurried out, latching the gate carefully and soundlessly.

Now she had work to do. She had to get the milk to boil soon, make coffee, hold the smell in her fists, stop it from leaking into her own house, and stop it from entering her son’s nose. In between all the hurry and the quickness, she also had to find a moment and pause it so the rest of the world could stop for just one second while she enjoyed her coffee. No matter what she did, the smell was going to leak. The least she could do was hide it, so she waited for all the houses on the street to wake up and make coffee. When smells from other houses reached hers, her secret could hide in them.

The son usually woke at this hour and spent an hour in the bathroom so she got the milk to boil in 4 minutes and carried it in a small cup to the terrace. Behind a pot of Tulsi, she had left the coffee filter to stand alone and percolate. A thick ring of coffee smell had gathered around the pot and she couldn’t help but smile.

She poured a little decoction into the cup and emptied the mixture back into the filter, increasing the distance with every transfer so that the smell settled in her head. The cup was now floating under a film of bubbles. This, finally, was her moment. It became a pause when her fists released themselves into palms, and she carried them to the edge of the terrace where she took her first sip and watched the sun come up. Someone was trying to kick start his Honda Activa, the garbage truck was slowing down over a hump, and the pink trumpet tree was now its pinkest.

Something had been won. The following couple of sips sent roots of warmth across her body so that her still wet sari wasn’t cold anymore. She smiled.

She did this again the next day, and the next. Her son didn’t notice. But my father did. He saw her running out of our gate with a milk packet one morning, and he told my mother that it wasn’t the milkman who was cheating us, it had been the old woman all along. The next morning, he woke early and stood by the front window, waiting. When she took the milk packet, he was quick to open the door. The old woman turned behind and saw him. My father, thinking he had delivered his ‘Aha’ moment was satisfied that she had been caught red-handed. But as it turned out, pause was more important to her than dignity, palms more than fists, so she hitched her wet sari in one hand, held the milk packet fiercely with the other and bolted out amidst my father’s screams of kalli kalli kalli.

My father was in a fix. He went back inside empty-handed, scratching his head. My mother told him later that day to just tell the milkman to bring us an extra packet. ‘Let it go. Why would that Ajji steal if it wasn’t important? Maybe she really needs it.’ But my father couldn’t let go. He had to get to the bottom of this. He didn’t have to wait long though.

One morning, the old woman stood at the compound under the trumpet tree and watched as my brother washed his two-wheeler. She had seen something that made her pause. His shirt was crumpled into a ball by the gate and he was only wearing pajama bottoms, bobbing his head to the music in his earphones. She stood there for a long time looking for something on his shoulder to appear, like thunder after lightning. When he turned around, she asked him why he wasn’t wearing this thread. He removed his earphones and apologized. ‘What thread?’ he asked.

The next morning onwards, our milk packets were left alone. In a language that people don’t speak anymore, there is an old saying. Milk has no caste, but milk packets do.