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.

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My Happy Family

After a long time, I watched a film in a language that made me pay attention to the silences between words, scenes, and walls. My Happy Family was on Rheaa’s recco list and I immediately bookmarked it because the synopsis said that it was about a woman who leaves her family to live on her own.

What I didn’t know was that the woman is a teacher, married, has two adult children, parents, one brother, one husband, and husband’s relatives. She leaves them all and decides to live in an apartment far away.

Manana has been wanting to leave and live on her own for sometime now. When we first see her, she is already looking for houses. But the urge to finally do it comes from one of her students who is newly married and even more newly separated from her husband. Apparently when the girl told him that she was leaving him, the husband told her that if you say no, you must say it without hesitating, otherwise there is no point.

The next day, Manana packs her bags, moves out and begins living in her new home. All we need to know about where she lives now is that her apartment is on a floor closest to tree tops and their leaves and rustling. Her family goes berserk and there are various meetings held at home and in coffee shops to persuade her back to her life (“mark my words, you will come back to us in one week”– to which she says “ok”)

After one such noisy family intervention where everyone yells at everyone, she leaves them and returns home where she cuts herself a piece of cake, listens to Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca on full volume, sits on a sofa right in front of the tree and eats.

If it is at all possible that an image from a film, a sentence from a book or a conversation with a student can make you alter your life completely, then I wish it is this scene for me. It is something I want to personally and professionally work towards: the silence to have your cake and eat it in front of a tree. While listening to Mozart.

Every day after work, she stops by a vendor downstairs and buys fruits. She is very deliberate in doing this, making sure she only picks the fruits that she wants to eat, and in the exact quantity.

One day, she tries to play her old guitar and learns that its seventh string is broken. The next day, she is at the market looking for the seventh string. She finds it, goes home, reads student’s assignments, smiles at one, drinks wine, and plays the guitar.

Manana found her seventh string and then she couldn’t stop playing.

She makes it look like it is possible to dust off the many parts of you that you have allowed to rust because life just kept happening and you didn’t notice when you stopped doing the things you loved to do. That even at 50, if you find the josh to go looking for some fucking seventh string, then you have nothing to be afraid of.

At the beginning of the film, we are shown Manana with her family. She is just sitting down at the table with cake and her mother asks her to eat it after dinner. People have called this a feminist film because she leaves her family and lives alone. I like to believe that the film is simpler. It is about a woman who dumps her family to eat cake in peace. If that makes it feminist, then we should all have our cake and eat it too.

The film is available on Netflix.

Ammonite

Neck

Mary (Kate Winslet) is looking at Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan) who is sitting with someone else in the first row. They came there together and it doesn’t make sense for them to be sitting away from each other. A little before she leaves, Mary looks at Charlotte’s neck. It is quiet, the kind you want to touch and disturb. It is also inviting, the kind you can never be sure of. Nothing is as bitter in your mouth as the taste of watching their naked neck teased away from you.

Hands

Women’s hands when they are at work, and in love are the most easiest, most forgotten pleasures. In the picture is an ammonite that Mary and Charlotte heave onto a plank and carry home.

Toes

What does it mean to steal a glimpse of her toes while the rest of her body has already surrendered itself to you?

Face

We must learn to be grateful for art that can lead us into love, pleasure, and desire so ruthlessly. Ask for nothing less. It must be exactly like this.

Letting go

When does body become bodies? Is it still not one body when they are bodies throbbing together?

Fin

Water Lilies

Crushing on Adèle Haenel today. Read that she walked out of the César Film Awards in 2020 when Polanski was announced best director. She yelled “Bravo, pedophilia”

Floriane and Marie

Watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire, again. It was my first time on Prime Party. Smiled more, bawled less this time. But everything was loaded with more meaning. The looking and being looked at and especially the looking back in return. Adèle Haenel and Director Céline Sciamma met while filming Water Lilies and were lovers till they filmed Portrait of a Lady. So I died a little and went and watched Water Lilies. Looked again at Adèle Haenel (Floriane) as she changed her top in the metro, put lipstick on while looking at her reflection in the window, and looked at her for Marie as well who was just as drawn as I was.

Became very fida after learning that Adèle Haenel came out and admitted full love for Céline at another award show. Gahhhh. There’s one lovely scene in the film where we are shown the under water side of synchronised swimming. I would never have been able to tell by the way their upper bodies danced that under water- their legs were constantly fighting.

Anne and Loafer boy

Ultimate hearthrob is Anne who spits in loafer boy’s mouth just when she is about to kiss him.

Nice day. Downloaded a whole bunch of women only films to watch for the next couple of days. As I lie in bed typing this, I’m smiling and wondering if it’s possible to go to bed with a secret every night.

HUNTERRR

I watched Hunterrr today and it made me howl and giggle and laugh and oof. It was refreshing to be drawn into the world of young male cousins bathing together, of them seeking a chest to lean against and cry at funerals, of them speaking of nothing but love and marriage and sex and shit, of men who don’t forget to carry left over pieces of chicken kebabs while running after their Devdas friends who drunkenly leave tanni on the table to go settle matters of the heart.

It is a rare film. Because usually male narration of itself is exhausting. Hunterrr isn’t. Because usually male narration of itself tends to have a Ranbir Kapoor- type aura around it even if there’s no Ranbir Kapoor around. But Mandar Ponkshe is delightfully anything but Ranbir Kapoor. And that’s not the only lovely thing about him. The man is full dil. Gulshan Devaiah who plays Mandar is apparently a Bengloor huduga who went to Cluny’s and then to Joseph’s Indian.

There is also Radhika Apte in the film before she became the Radhika Apte. She is Trupti who is stunning in her clarity of what she doesn’t know she wants in life. There is a small shopping scene at a market where important conversations around love and marriage happen simultaneously with alteration directions to a tailor ( also featuring in the scene is Satrapi’s Persepolis) 

Mandar lost in shops is a whole museum of comedy.

*Scene One: Women are bra- shopping and Apte tells Mandar to go talk to (read: put line for) one of the women. Hero goes there in his most sex energy on legs kind of way and is asked by the woman to give her a 36 D bra. He is staring, Apte is laughing. He puts his hand inside a tub full of bras. Sales boy comes and tells him ey don’t put kai man, you are dabaoing everything. Mandar says eh fuckoff man what is there to dabao here anyway? (In my head my mangloor sisters and I are rolling & laughing)

**Scene Two: Mandar in a supermarket following Apte. But the store manager is following him and asking him questions like ‘Sir what you eat in morning sir? Corn flakes, muesli, bran, tell me sir tell me”. Mandar says I eat poha and walks off. Hengappa kannada huduga ishtu sexy aada Marathi alli? I am asking. 

The scene that took my heart away has young Mandar, his father, another young cousin walking to his village. Random paapa smol kid doing open tatti stands up almost militarily to greet them and say ‘Haiiiii’. Tatti-doing boy’s father yells in the background ‘ey gadhava bas khali’ 

Man organising bloo fillum in seedy theatre instructs men not to do dirty things or he will rub tiger balm there and all. The other thing he rubs is one burn for young Mandar whom he calls ‘Baby Mushroom’. In the middle of the screening, cops come off. “I came to watch chota chetan”, mandar says. “Came to watch chota chetan or to make chota chetan bada?” cop asks. 

_________

Getting to know a city through a film set in it is becoming rare. I am not complaining. I am grateful that it happens only now and then because when it does, it teaches me to look where I am not used to looking, and to pay attention when it’s so easy not to. Hunterrr has Pune in the way that Mumbai is never allowed to overshadow it. In the way that Mysore used to be until everything became Bangalore.

Hunterrr has the same energy of old Bengloor love stories that I keep demanding from friends to narrate and re-narrate until I can see them instead of Anil Kapoor in Naguva Nayana, and see Premier bookshop every time I walk past Church street. It makes room for a rare pause in that song where you can walk to a cart selling guavas and buy some for your lover and yourself. Fruits man, fucking fruits.

***Scene Three

Mandar and cousin sleep on the footpath after the chicken kebab- scene. Context is that Mandar is waiting to go and tell Apte everything about his raunchy past. Cousin says fuck you bastard tell after you get married otherwise she will leave you ra. Mandar doesn’t listen. Cousin convinces him to sober down a little so they decide to sleep on the footpath. Early next morning Mandar goes into Apte’s apartment leaving sleeping cousin behind. Camera doesn’t begin and die with heroes only. At one paapa moment, it returns to find sleeping cousin being rudely woken by a walking passerby thatha. 

Haven’t watched a film like this in soooo long. It returns with grace to the moments other films have trained us to forget and move on from. Pah.

Mr M discovered this byooty on Prime. But I sincerely believe he is lucky to have me give him all these lovely film reccos man.

G for Gumption

sssss

The first syllable of this word comes from nowhere in particular. Your tongue hangs about without really touching anything in the mouth, making room for its own stomach to gather the ‘guh’. Indeed, it’s a word that requires more than your mouth to say it. It needs the tightness of your fists & the firmness of your stomach. I first heard it in the film, ‘The Holiday’ & understood its meaning entirely from the way Kate Winslet had banged the door on a man- an asshole, turned around with infectious energy, punched the air with her fists & celebrated having fallen out of love with him. When he asks her what had gotten into her, she says ‘Gumption’

I don’t have gumption. My mother has it, my aunts have it, & mouma who passed it on to her daughters will always have it. It’s what caused amma to hold a broom over her head one day & chase away an old Brahmin man who had stopped at our gate to teach her manners. She was cleaning the front yard & he stopped to tell her that in America, people didn’t do things like that(!) She screamed, ‘saakappa hogu, naavu nodidive jagattu’ (enough man, keep walking, even we have seen the world) 

My aunt showed gumption by pushing an abusive brother-in-law into a chair, her foot firm on his chest, her eyes dancing with fire, while her index finger launched a threat at his face to never ever lay a finger on her sister. 

As a child, I believed that mouma’s gumption was hidden in her blouse and perhaps it is. It’s why she never wore a bra. She barged into temples, ate their food, prayed to their gods because she never believed that anybody should have the right to stop her, even if it’s all they did. She grabbed her paysa & ate it too. And ate it how – standing tall against all the poojaris united.

Savitrimai’s gumption was in the extra saree she carried in her bag because she didn’t have time to fight Savarna losers whose only job was to stand with cow dung to throw at her. She had work to do – her work was her gumption.

Sujatha Gidla’s mother had gumption when she ran after a train that was leaving the platform with all her belongings – marks cards, certificates. She ran with the speed of an athlete, still carrying the water bottle for which she had deboarded in the first place.

It’s the English-language’s poverty that even a word that needs you to thrust your fists in the air like a martyr, like a woman newly out of love, will never fully lend its energy to understanding Dalit survival in this country. And this is why, G for me, is Gumption & I am claiming that word to tell our stories.