On Our Feet

Yesterday was a meh day at Meta. It was meha. Only 3 participants showed up for our film review contest where the copy of the film being screened was glitching throughout. This was after the projector cable in the AV room the event was originally supposed to happen in, didn’t work –so we took the three and a half people and moved up to another room. It seemed pointless to keep lugging the light orange Meta canvas around in grim situations like these but it followed nevertheless and sat in room A314.

What do we do if more people show up to register at the AV Room?, someone ambitious asked. Let’s keep the registration desk down and keep the other pink meta canvas there only, someone more ambitious said. 

The film continued, glitchingly and I sat and ached for it from far away where other things had already started going wrong. 

Later, at the talk by Arvind Narrain, I looked around the hall, and at the faces of people who were there to listen to him, and a few others who were there to keep Meta’s face. At one point Arvind Narrain mentioned Varavara Rao’s poetry where it is observed that cynicism is rarely the sentiment held by those imprisoned. That it belonged mostly to those on the outside, the free ones. And that the only sentiment those imprisoned are able to afford is hope. 

I smiled when I heard this and longed to keep the little merry I’d begun to feel inside imprisoned.

Moments later, I was pinched back to my own dabba-self when I asked myself if we are running Meta on a bodily memory that we have begun to feel an annual urge for. And whether we are fulfilling this urge despite the changes that make it challenging to hold any kind of activities for students on campus these days. Then I thought, what makes students run meta? If I am helping run it and doing it for nostalgia, what do the five students who appear unfailingly return for? What’s in it for them? 

I’m unable to answer this question. But some form is beginning to take shape in my mind.

I am thinking now about the many times I have watched students break down at my table last week, and the many more times I have. The boy who feels alone in their classroom, the girl misunderstood by her classmates and teachers, the girl holding herself like she is drowning, the boy who is coming more and more close to quitting but holding on because quitting is expensive, the girl who keeps more things inside than she lets on.

Now I am thinking how quickly I am moved to be on my feet when they break down in front of me and I run to make chai for them. Now I am thinking about how much more quickly they are on their feet when they get up to go bring chai for us. And I think this is probably it. With chai, we reach out to them in small ways and they reach out to us in large ways and in this way, we are all sort of kind of maybe holding each other even when we can barely be on our feet.

I don’t know if there’s something in the air that is causing this weepiness, the desire to break things and watch them crumble, some post-covid offline onlineness, and the general fatigue and collective vitamin b12 deficiency we all seem to be experiencing in small or big ways but even when it comes in waves, it sometimes has the capacity to make everything feel pointless. 

Last night, as I locked up the department feeling somewhat like this, I walked past the AV room and saw the pink meta canvas all alone. It stood cutely only but it made me mad that someone had forgotten it there. I grabbed it and went back to the department muttering curses in the darkness. I wanted to half-fling it and half-disappear into it.

I went back home sullenly, appreciating only the mango melba riding in my stomach. In college this morning, still somewhat sullen, I saw the same pink meta canvas sitting cutely alone outside our quiz venue. I don’t know what it was about this cuteness or aloneness but when I imagined a student lugging it all the way from the department to the auditorium block, that same small window of merry opened again and I felt my feet.

Tomorrow, if we are lucky, we will get to watch students perform giggly english translations of regional songs at BollyGood. And then if it doesn’t rain, we will sit under the banyan tree and watch students pecking away and making cuckoo noises at JAM. Then we will have chai under the banyan tree and stand till our feet hurt, until it’s time to slowly make our way back to the department.

Today is an oyster

I am going to Madurai with a new me and can’t wait to meet the old me I had left there. When they see each other, I hope they whack my fuck all face and ask me- why are you like this?

If the world is dying to eat the oysters held only by pristine savarna women, then we should take our big bums out of the way, announce that we are our own oysters and walk away.

Criss cross

It’s a good thing I have classes to keep me grounded. I have been flying restlessly all morning. Yesterday, I read the first essay from Elena Ferrante’s latest, In the Margins and have been thinking about how I began to read and write. I am unable to go beyond the four line alphabet book we had to practice writing in, in school.

In math, I know I found the number 8 table particularly hard to remember until one evening my mother didn’t let me sit until I had by-hearted it. I was made to stand in front of her, hands folded across my chest, a wooden foot ruler in her hand. My nose was burning from rubbing off all the snot, my eyes wouldn’t stop crying but she was relentless in the way mothers sometimes are and now I’m glad that she didn’t let go until the 8 table was flying from my mouth. If only she could make me write everyday too. Foot ruler in hand, me crying, begging, weeping but writing.

Even so, I am not able to recall what difficulty I had with reading words because I am sure there were many. I was slow in class, teachers and classmates hated me. Even I hated me. But even that wasn’t enough for me to begin reading.

****

A part of my mind is still with Violette and I’m tempted to put my life on hold till I finish reading her. I have a class in 20 minutes and I want nothing more to keep this crisscross of reading alive. But it’s a good thing I have to go because I have been jumping from ferrante to violette to david hayden to llosa to wodehosue to zadie smith and now I must stop. When I return, I will continue reading David Hayden’s story and then proceed to Wodehouse.

Violette in the evening.

inventory 2

viva day, hot. deadlines everywhere. i am wearing a sleeveless blue top with little white flowers. i keep wishing this top was a dress, meaning, a little longer, and just above my knees. same soft texture. yesterday morning, still in bed and scrolling through twitter, i found a quote by Denzel Washington that made me stop scrolling (always grateful when that happens)

“You’ll never be criticized by someone who is doing more than you. You’ll always be criticized by someone doing less.”

Amidst all the oscar galata, this line bit me and I wanted to remain with it and do something with it. so this is me – doing something with it.

This morning at viva, a student had written that at a certain point in her life her superpower was that she had the amazing ability to ignore others. “My ears had a sheet which dodged every bullet, in turn shielding me from all the negative things said about me. I  believed that there is so much more to me rather than just having a big nose. I couldn’t see what they find bad about me instead, I found more pretty things to look at. A big nose could never stop me from loving myself back then” — I wanted to retire and spend the rest of my day smiling at this sentence.

And so here I am, back at my table, writing down things in a hurry, things I want to remember – before tomorrow comes, and today becomes yesterday.

Seasonal allergies

Heaviness in the body, lightness around, stillness in the mind.

I am thinking how much I love this city in the mornings it hands over to us, as if it’s something we deserve after the heinous way in which we treat it after.

The summer smell is fresh, and so are the seasonal allergies. Cough gets stuck in the throat and comes out coughing. Hot water is both a luxury and punishment, hotter french press in the morning is bliss until it makes the head heavier like winter blankets.

I am reminded of the girl I was 10 years ago who knew nothing but loved to work, and dreamt of someday being able to look back and say it was all worth it. I see young women around me walk and run around for work like that and it makes me smile.

I love that they have work in their bodies.

For this and everything else, I am grateful. For work, and for life.

I say grateful for work even though I’ve been avoiding it. I will see you tomorrow, please don’t be mad at me.

Some things Pa Ranjith said that I want to remember

The University of Oxford held a two-day conference on caste census on 5th and 6th February. Day one had a very special panel called ‘Whose culture is it? Decoding caste within popular culture’ which had some very very special people – Pa Ranjith, Nrithya Pillai, Meena Kotwal, and Sylvia Karpagam. You can watch the recording here. This is me, weeks later, looking back at what was the most rewarding way to begin this year.

If you are moderating a panel where the panelists each speak a different language, then you have failed even before you have begun. But 30 minutes before the panel, I was watching Sarpatta – again – and drawing from the film everything that was to carry me through the night.

When Pa Ranjith switched his camera on, I was terrified. It meant that it was actually happening. But then he smiled and I wasn’t so scared anymore. I was looking at his teeth and how they came together to greet me. Watching him smile calmed me and the entire evening after that went past me like I was missing a train that I wasn’t supposed to get on anyway.

Because it was Pa Ranjith, and because ever since I watched Sarpatta, I’ve been feeling closer to the work I do, and because I celebrated Kabilan’s entry into the ring and eventual victory more personally and intimately than I’ve celebrated my own joys, and also partly because and despite the fact that I don’t understand Tamizh very well, I was catching every word he uttered like they were falling only for me, like some rains sometimes do.

Here are some things he said that I want to carry with me this year, and the next, and the next.

Dalit artists cannot afford to be mediocre:

Simply because we have no choice except to work hard. It is rare that hard work and a commitment to minding your own business produces mediocrity. As much as anyone likes to believe that we got here on someone’s favour or quota or luck – we are here because we worked hard and now must continue to work hard. Notice how even the worst and laziest of Savarna mediocrity remains both unpunished and left alone? It’s a luxury not all have so we find relief in the thought that if our work is itching some people’s bums, they should buy itch guard.

So what do you do when the cow dung won’t stop coming?

IGNORE.

It is hard to forget the shine in Pa Ranjith’s teeth and the way his laugh took over his face when he said IGNORE and waved his hand. It dissolved every worry and fear I had gathered so far. Here was a man whose smile and words were undoing the curse of every other fragile male ego I’ve had to deal with in the last two years. He urged me to think about the time when Ambedkar was surrounded by people with sticks threatening to beat him at the Parsi inn and what it must have been like. What did Ambedkar do? He walked away and went about his work. If I wasn’t so much in love and salivating all over zoom, I might have cried. I think I did.

Keep doing what you are doing

enuf said.

I am beginning the year with his words and the rain of his laugh. I am going put them both into my everyday and my work, life, love, food, and sleep.

My WhatsApp had been going berserk and my berserker students were sending me love shaped pictures of Pa Ranjith and me. Some said to close my mouth because a mosquito could go in, some saw mosquitoes going in and coming out also it seems.

When I woke up the next morning, I was still drooling smiling.