On good hair days, there are springs in bum also

I want to remember today because I am grateful for it and want to be just as grateful when it ends at 11:59 PM. I woke up at 5:45 in the morning and knew I had slept well because I hadn’t heard the cats crying at 3 am, like I had heard them the night before. I snuggled back into my bed after giving a good shite. I dreamt restlessly and woke up an hour later, having missed the first show of sunlight in my room.

At 7, I went down to clean the kitchen. An hour later, father was getting ready to leave for the railway station. I was afraid. I am afraid when they leave home. They are now in the age where I must feel afraid. But then it’s also that I am in the age where I must feel afraid.

Mother wants sachets of Equal sugar free which are on the top shelf. I haul the green stool and stand on top of it. My father is in the kitchen, telling us that years ago, before leaving for a Delhi trip every other month, he’d give 2000 Rs to the office staff and now, post retirement, he barely has any for himself. He is laughing but his eyes are singing the song of how times have changed. I feel a parental urge to hug him and tell him that whatever he wants in the world is his.

We have never hugged.

I go back to my room carrying a wound which I am worried will become smaller through the day, In fact by 1 pm, it’d have become so small that I might not have any recollection of the morning, and the railway station and the 2000 Rs, and all that would remain is only the faint memory of thinking it would be nice to message father and ask if he’s reached.

I come to my table at work and feel arrested by the sudden sunlight the day has found at 9:30. I attended a zoom meeting calmly while putting on pinkish purple nail polish. I have an hour to prep for my horror fiction class. Read Cortazar and want to keep reading him. I think of my long ago love for Keret and feel renewed.

Read another story by Cortazar where a girl vomits rabbits. Felt surprised and then happy that I still have it in me to feel surprised.

Then I see my hair on top in the dept bathroom mirror and love how it is standing? sitting? being? — am taken over by the sense and the truth and the fact that I will never be as young or old as I am today. Feel a great urge to appreciate today.

My only black pair of jeans goes well with the olive green canvas shoes which goes well with my loose white shirt. Feel richly alive and there is spring in my bum when I totter off to class.

In class, I don’t have a sense of how time runs. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the rules of time don’t matter when a good class happens. I leave class feeling new and more alive than I was when I’d entered.

I want to spend all day reading Cortazar.

At 1:30, I messaged father to ask him if he’d reached. He said he will reach in 20 mins.

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Keliri Makkale

I cleaned out my table for the 18th time this week. I am purged.

In other news, I was on two podcast shows run by two interesting men. One is with the very excellent Anurag Minus Verma. The other is with the also very excellent Aditya Sondhi.

Keli heli. okthanxbye.

This week, I ate one persimmon and many tangerines. I’m loving this fruit love I have developed. It is not sudden. It was always there. I am only noticing it more and more now.

Words to live and work by, brought to you by a friend – don’t tell anybody what you are thinking fully. Drop truth bombs every now and then.

FFF

There is a young girl who lives inside me. She is hungry for something that I don’t want to give her anymore. Bitch wants female friends. Where will I go looking for them at this age? She wants it when she sees it in others, in films, in books, in songs. She isn’t happy just seeing them, she wants them for herself and then eats my head all day all night asking me why I can’t give her that. It’s not that I haven’t tried. But there’s this whole caste thing. I can’t say for sure that it’s why all of my female friendships have flopped in the past but I do know it’s why they leave, it’s why I leave.

She doesn’t believe me. She gets the caste bit but doesn’t think it’s a reason – she thinks I do something wrong, that I mess things up somehow.

I am going to be a year older soon and am already tired. I don’t have the energy to sit and wonder whether things happen to me because of who I am or whether I let them happen to me because of who I am not. Also, no energy for so much self-pity. All the worst things in the world don’t happen to me because I am Dalit. They might have happened to my father, my mother, their parents. But not to me. Especially because they didn’t work their butts off to give me this life only for me to sit here and cry about not having female friendships. Fuck Female Friendships.

Having said that, because of how much they’ve had to lose to give me this, because I wan’t born into the life that they left behind, I am often stupid and ungrateful. I have a very warped understanding of what untouchability is and am sometimes too spoilt, too blind to admit that it is happening when it is happening. Kindness returned with a stamp that screams no thanks, behaviour that automatically corrects its posture to stand and bow down to savarna/male presence, gifts that are returned without explanation, intimacies that are withdrawn and rejected again, again, again.

Sample this – it’s also a kind of caste chutyagiri at display when people make it a point to perform their loyalties to specific people in front of other people. A memory comes biting from years ago – a student, of all people, stood tall at my table one evening and thought it necessary to tell me that his loyalty is to his friends and that he would be very upset if his friends were troubled in any way. This was after they had all been called out for being casteist gobi manchurians along with a few older gobis. I now giggle at his hulk moment. But over the years, various people have demonstrated similar ways of loyalty performance through speech-giving and other pointlessly, painfully cute gestures.

In school, I tried desperately to become a part of a girl group. I invited five of them home for lunch one weekend, they all agreed. The next morning, one of them disinvited herself saying periods. By evening, two other girls said they couldn’t come because that girl was not coming. Eventually they all pulled out saying she’s not coming so I also won’t come.

My mother was relieved. I couldn’t understand why.

It took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t their menstrual cycle which was in sync. It was their untouchability radar. When I encounter versions of this today, I am merely amused. I applaud their massive self-worth and move on with my life.

Everything I should have said to them continues to die inside me in volcanic sighs. I am now writing with borrowed rage, and in echoes that are comical to say the least.

Maybe it’s a good thing to not have friends at this age- you don’t have to worry about performing loyalty to anybody.

As I write this I am wondering why this girl who lives inside me is hungry for FFs. But then isn’t that the story I’ve always told? The one about Kottuncheri Devi, that little imp who tricks people into becoming friends with her so they will play with her? She hides their valuables and returns them only after they play with her. Can’t believe I am having this revelation now, when I am bloody 35 – that I have been kottuncheri devi all this while.

It’s raining

Next to my table at work, there is a window which opens to a wall. On that wall there are two windows to classrooms on two different floors. In one of the classrooms, students are practicing dance to rangilo maaro dholna, a song I believe I only know as a song that girl groups in college and school continue to dance to. (Why do only songs and ads and chocolates take us back to the 90s?)

I have just finished a two-hour class on Ambedkar’s Castes in India. It is rewarding to teach this every year because every year, I discover one more thing about him, and the paper. This time around, it was unsettling to discover that he isn’t lazy in the paper. He is working hard at not taking the easy, most visible route to arrive at a conclusion. Even if I knew this last year, it is still nice to reknow it again this year.

I walked back to the department, spent 8 minutes trying to open the steel dabba of sambar. After lunch, I put my head down for a minute and an applause surrounded my window. I thought it’s from the dance group practising in the classroom only to properly wake up and see that it’s the rain.

Today, rains fell like applause. Today, it applauded rain. Today, it rained like applause.

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.

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?

The Prof. Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize for the Personal Essay 2022 – Finding a Self

In November last year, while shifting things in our new department, I found a lot of hand written notes by the late Prof Naidu. It was easy to match the firm handwriting with the assured face of the woman I see in the picture everyday. The notes were all deliberate, never written in a hurry or to kill time. They had purpose and seemed to know that if the author of those words didn’t want them there, they wouldn’t be there.

It seems a little odd to be writing so boldly about a woman I have never known but then it’s a name I recite and write about annually. And if I have found the stability to feel returned to the work I do because of someone’s handwriting, perhaps it doesn’t matter that I don’t know her well. After all, how well do we know ourselves to begin with?

It’s the tenth edition of The Prof Barbra Naidu Memorial Prize and I feel stupid for not having made the effort to learn more about the woman before. I now know her through what she’s left behind in the department. Small notes, smaller anecdotes, old post-its barely surviving.

For a general staff meeting dated 16.6.2003 at 10:30 am, she says ‘new orientation in the thinking of the college’ and on the next page – a list of agenda to be discussed at the monthly department meetings (depts must become autonomous bodies, avoid giving personal work to attenders) and then, in a corner of the page, with grit:

“We must do well what we are expected to be doing”

I read that sentence several times that day, each time returning with newly formed guilt, and each time marvelling at a different word. I paused at the word ‘expected’ – expected by whom? why are they expecting? Because they pay us? Or is the expectation from students?– which changes the whole meaning.

I don’t know what worry, decision, personal conclusion she was moved by enough to put that line down here, in the middle of minutes-taking but it had the razor sharpness of someone wounded from the knowledge/fear of not wanting to remain comfortable with doing just the bare minimum.

At Meta 2020, AM had pointed to what he called the Savarna work ethic – the refusal to go beyond what’s comfortable, easy, and the belief that you are superior to the work you do. I’ve thought of that often and in the age where people talk about self-care as justification for doing a bad job or no job – it’s interesting to find a note like that.

I felt more assured than I have felt in months. It made me think about my father who lectured me one morning for doing a half-hearted job with folding a bed sheet. I was riding high on western feminist theory back then so my only grouse was why someone who doesn’t make his own bed get to lecture me about a bed sheet. I believe now that what he was intending to teach me then was something he’s always taught us – do whatever you do with your full self or don’t do it at all. It’s comical to allow our self-importance to precede our work, and us. Prof. Naidu’s note and my father’s way of work helped me rescue a part of myself that occasionally needs rescuing.

I find that most of what I believe about myself isn’t mine. A lot is borrowed, a lot more is stolen. I learn the ways of being from students. I can ride out the most horrible day after an uplifting conversation with a student who tells me that she reads herself to sleep every night or the girl who always seems to know when it’s time to leave a relationship or the boy who is so aware of what his parents had to give up to put him in college that that gratitude never leaves his face, or the girl whose sense of self is so severe that no teacher, boyfriend, man, god can take it away.

It is quite possible that all the cool things about me are derived/borrowed/stolen from my students and I am in equal parts both miserable and grateful for a self that continues to learn from them more than anybody else.

If you feel inclined to write about the various selves you too have borrowed, tolerated, lived with – write us an essay and submit it by May 20th. More details here.