Early morning Madurai Calling

I woke up at 3:55 with a strong feeling that I was in Madurai, in my hotel room with its three huge windows, twin beds, and one Kiruba Devi. Kiruba Devi who laughs like water following the rhythm of an old Tamizh song my father used to hum while fiddling with the remote control to put udaya news.

On stage, in front of Pa Ranjith, we were like little children – giggling, nervous, stomach churning but held despite this all by the affection he was throwing at us with his smile from the first row. When we felt like we were going to combust and die, we took turns to steal glances at each other, and then at him.

I was talking in English to an audience that understood it in Tamizh and only she could’ve taken my words and translated them with more love than I’d put in. The previous night, we were all squeezed into a tiny room where a lot of orange juice was consumed and many more tamizh songs were sung.

When I woke early that morning and looked outside, I felt a stab. Madurai was still there, looking like a dream. It’s probably why it’s called Thoonga nagaram – it doesn’t need sleep to dream. If I ever get a chance at life again, I want to be Madurai.

Postcard from today II

Woke up late and groggy. Last night’s short story energy was a ball of memory already. 2 hrs of invigilation duty. Spent the day running around and feeling better about no yoga. Spoke to a student today who asked me what it meant when I say in class ‘250 words’ — what is words? how does one calculate it? Was pinched back to the time not so long ago when I too didn’t know how to quantify words, letters, and alphabets. I am thinking of how much of what I do everyday is on auto-pilot, especially teaching, and how unaware I am of this. Write 250 words, 500 words, 1000 words is something I say everyday and yet I am also the same person who, once upon a time, couldn’t tell if jack opens a box of potatoes had 6 words in it or 23. How and why do we forget ourselves so easily?

When I’d joined the department 10 years ago, I’d asked A.M when I will begin to feel like a teacher. He told me I will feel like a teacher the day a student will tear my ass.

Today, after a long time, I felt it tear.

Student said he wanted to join the army, and spends 4 hours a day working out before beginning his job as a Swiggy Delivery Executive between 10 and 12 in the night.

I thought how immune our jobs sometimes make us to the very people we are in the job for. Ate grumpily at my desk later and wasn’t able to write.

Two mofo deadlines hang over my head as I type this.

P.S: Autopilot riding is ok, autopilot living too, why can’t autopilot writing happen?

Postcard from today

Today,

lunch with 2 students in the canteen. unexpected. wise. a hearty break from my usual grumpy self at the desk who always wants to watch something as she stuffs face with food. lunch with students, in the canteen – good idea. listened to them, told them stuff.

back at my desk, i spoke to a student, a champion, a winner through and through – a kutti little Marquez breaking history one kickass story at a time. i wish she never stops writing. later, another girl whose smile invites me to smile back, regardless of what i am thinking, and another girl – who is translating a tamil short story whose sentences land on each other like the pleasant oomph of cement upon cement. i felt like writing after a long time.

later, still at my desk, i read a line by gabito that made me ride back with the most agonising desire to spend each night working on a short story.

“i have always believed that good writing is the only happiness that is enough in and of itself” – Gabito

i am now realising that there is a reason why i am setting questions papers with so much enthu. i am writing them like short stories.

now, i am reading the fragrance of guava by  Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza – a long series of conversations between him and Gabito. now i am dying, i am new, i feel reborn with a greater desire to write and keep writing.

here’s gabito again – quoting hemingway from whom he learnt a great deal about writing short stories. “a short story, like an iceberg must be supported by the part you don’t see – all the thought, the study and the material collected but not used directly in the story”

i’m here again, to say how grateful i am to learn from students, from this profession, my darlingest gabito, and my riding self that is more rewarding to me than my writing self or even my fuckall living self.

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.