3 Idlis, sambar and chutney

“I went to San Francisco because I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder”



In the space that is sometimes as large as my heart, often just as tiny – I see myself alone – with all the books I am not reading – sitting on the impulse- on the dot -on the any moment now of waiting – for the beginning of a story that may or may not arrive.


“I dealt with it the same way I deal with everything — I just tended my own garden, didn’t pay much attention, behaved deviously, didn’t let anyone know what I was doing”


My garden is overflowing with the sincerity to protect my laziness.


Read a story by Colette today about a woman who almost runs into her husband’s ex-wife (husband spots the ex-wife and rushes his new wife to another table). Wife is curious, husband bitches about his ex endlessly, says they weren’t able to make each other happy because she was difficult to please. New wife grows curiouser. Husband praises new wife’s ease to be around. New wife is happy. But even as they are leaving, she cannot stop herself from looking back at the woman, the other woman, the ex-wife who got away. She envies how the ex is smoking deliriously, her head resting on the back of the chair, eyes closed, smiling to a secret only she seems to know, unbothered by her ex-husband, and his new wife who both exit the restaurant in a kind of tearing hurry that she has neither the need nor the desire for.

Made me happy to read this short story.

My body is craving a routine I am not able to give it.

There is something that terrifies me more than not being able to write and that is not being able to read. I will stagnate and die if I can’t. I want to so badly read. I want to get lost in a novel. Surrender to it and feel torn every time I must leave it and go, like for class or for a shower or something. I want to feel murderous rage when I come back to find it lost, and then I want to carry that empty feeling, like I just lost a part of myself, and with that I want to sleep angrily, hungrily.

I am now thinking of what I do when I don’t know my own mind. I am soon to be a 35-year-old woman and can’t believe the fullness with which the numbers 3 & 5 throw themselves against the walls of my mouth. What does it mean to be 35? I don’t know. I don’t even know what it means to be 34, like I still don’t know what it meant to be 30, 29, 28 even.

I am worried that if I don’t write now, I will never write. I want to give myself away to 35 and seal myself there. I also want to grow older like all the woman who wear flowers in their hair do – with so much laugh and wine and long and lazy lunches with friends, and many photos of bright, sunlit windows on InstantGram. I can’t wait to grow old like that. Not like this where I can’t tell if I am crying because I am 35 or still 25. That’s something no one tells you. As you grow older, you don’t cry lesser. You cry fewer maybe but not lesser.

But I did read this lovely post by Aparna Vinod who just celebrated her 40th. Here is an excerpt:

For everyone who is asking me what being 40 feels like, it has been rupture. Attachment and disengagement are easy decisions, I value the senses and intuition much more. The Self is mostly unapologetic for being imperfect, both in body and opinion. There is a sense of calm, for I know who and what matter. There is unsettling desire to do more, learn more, be more … I have so much to give! There has not been a more trying decade than the 30s, but life creeped in slowly, opening windows, carrying light and promise, urging me to look at that awaits.

~Aparna Vinod, from FaceBook

This was reassuring to read.

Tomorrow is a new day. I will build myself a little more strongly tomorrow. For today, there is a glass of wine and a film.

Postcard from today V

I was reading old journal entries today and found these from 2015 and 2016.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015, 9:30 am, department

I am reading Hedda Gabler for my reading room meeting today. It’s nice. I’ve enjoyed reading it so far. I am back to being indifferent to nonsense at the workplace. Students are the only saving grace. I am not talking much. I am only reading and writing and when I talk, I only talk to students.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015, 9:15 am, Lab

I am wearing what Amma got me from Bombay. It’s a printed blue full sleeved shirt and black stretchy pants. I got my new blue watch from Flipkart. It was 5000 when I first saw it and 3500 when I finally purchased it. Yesterday was a good day. I finished reading Hedda Gabler and had my reading room session. Our next book is Rebecca by Daphne du. I also read a couple of travel pieces by Charukesi and Shahnaz Habib. Then I started reading Anu Aggarwal’s memoir. I like reading it so far. It is hilarious.

Today I have 2 lab hours and an Optional English hour. I want to get started with Rebecca but must finish reading Anu Aggarwal before that. It’s Gowri today. And holiday tomorrow. There is gossip and bitchita-ness all around. Loose talk about who is qualified to teach what and sub standard writing and reservation children and nonsense. It’s what people who have zero respect for work or for themselves do. It’s all they ever do. I am ignoring it. Pah. I sat in the lab for some time yesterday and finished reading the play. It’s a nice little place to get a whole lot of work done. Rubu Kaapa has left, and so has Chungrei.

End of another semester already. Waw.

I wish I had an archive button for old journal entries to show themselves every morning so I could be taken back to what I was thinking 7, 8, 9 years ago.

I woke at 5:45 today and didn’t go back to sleep. The sun was up and sketching itself mindfully on the floor and I thought fuck me this is so beautiful. I have moved into my newly renovated home, and deliberately renovated room which was purposefully and hopefully designed to make me write.

Reading these entries fill me with 2 things – relief and envy. Relief because I am now in a place where no one and nothing can take away what I have built for myself and my writing – not loose talk, not cow dung, not even apathy. Envy because I was probably a much fiercer writer back then who wrote everyday (despite everything else that was happening) with a fervour I don’t seem to have anymore. Even 5 years ago, I wrote as if I’d forget how to write if I didn’t write everyday.

Today it seems like I need the charm of beautifully decorated rooms and tables and the illusion of free time to bloody produce one good sentence. In other words, total spoilt brat I have become.

Watching young women at work learning to find themselves despite noise, disruptions and the temptation to give in to loose talk is what I am crazy about these days. Moments where they choose themselves over everybody and everything else. Hours that they devote to learning — to making their craft better, sharper, louder. The permission they give themselves to be absorbed by things that move them. These are all a privilege to witness. I steal time from my own days to sit and watch them do this.

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.

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.

Reading Qabar

Everyone laughed. But I couldn’t laugh. Something was lodged in my eye. A shard of that rainbow. Everywhere I looked, I saw its muted colours. That unworldly violet especially.

I loved reading Qabar. I loved it more because I read it like I was 20, 21, 22 waiting for love from someone who didn’t know how to, learning to live without it, letting go, and allowing myself permission to be slowly built back. I wish I’d read it when I was 20, 21, 22. I could’ve learnt how to live then.

Qabar is the story of two women who build themselves back. Its charm is that it isn’t too charmed by this. It doesn’t keep drawing us back to these women in any extraordinary, thrilling way. It does the one thing we must all learn to do – it leaves women alone. They are there, that is all. The book is just an invitation to see them.

Bhavana is a judge whose mind I find deeply enviable. She allows love and magic to distract her in the most sensual way at work, and also disallows them when she wants to just work. She drinks her tea, gnashes her teeth and gets back to her seat, “trudging through the rest of her cases”

No one can barge into your mind unless you want them to.

To pick oneself up and be available for love again can be exhausting. When we first meet her, she is still picking the pieces up. And her ex husband is getting married again. What does Bhavana do?

It was an act of cruelty towards my ex-husband to have gone to his wedding. But it would have been an act of cruelty towards me to not have gone. I looked him in the eye and congratulated him. He looked deflated. And thus I drew my last drop of water from that particular well, drank it and turned the vessel upside down. Duty done, I departed.

Bhavana walks the same path her mother did, a woman who decided to leave her husband and get a room of her own because he wouldn’t let her bring a wounded dog to their house. That’s the short version we are given. What isn’t given is what we already know and what K.R. Meera will not waste time on.

In an interview with Meghan O’Rourke, Vivian Gornick says,

” A 1980s cartoon from The New Yorker showed a husband sitting in a chair with a newspaper in his hands and in the doorway is a wife walking out with a suitcase in her hand. The caption read, “But I’ve always been impossible. Why are you leaving now?” Who goes and who stays, and after how long or short a time, is entirely a matter of the individual psyche. You go when the grievance is making you ill. You stay when you’ve become inured. I think it by far worse to become inured to feeling ill than to face down the fear and insecurity that accompany a domestic break.”

K.R Meera’s women refuse being inured. Even if a large part of this argument is based on the fact that they refuse because they can, and are able to — just the sheer pleasure of reading a story about women who refuse is reassuring. The fact that I may never be able to refuse; because of who I am or where I come from isn’t reason enough to not want to read the stories of women who can. This is bigger than me because I am smaller than the stories I read and want to write. If I am not, I must and will make myself smaller.

Two hours to the office. Two hours back home. Sitting when I had a seat. Standing when I didn’t have one. That’s how I read all that I read.

Nisha Susan’s translation is the most intimate gift for women learning to write, and reading to live. At the heart of any kind of translation is an act of love which really is the essence of ‘OMG this woman is so cool, you must read her’. The world will be a sad, sad place the day we stop doing this.

Something else that I learnt quite unexpectedly from Qabar is a way of developing a life for the mind. That you could feel the similar surge you were trained to feel for a man, that you could find it in you to say no to this surge because you have suddenly realised that a woman you don’t know has the similar capacity to lift you from whatever dump he’s thrown you in by the sheer power of her words is a lesson worth learning every day, for the rest of your life.

In an interview with Nisha Susan, K.R Meera says that before she wrote Aarachar she was able to work on her scriptwriting in the morning, book chapters in the noon, and reporting/feature stories in the night. I was at work, listening to this, cleaning my table when I half smiled, half whooped in joy. This lovely Marquez type division of the day was heartening to hear.

A small tap of warmth opened in my chest when I imagined spending my day here at work as a teacher in the morning, sleeper in the noon, and a short-story writer in the night. In the late evenings, this place quiets down, the wind is cool and the city noise dims into the larger background of silence that I am not always able to conjure.

I am alone and nothing returns me more to myself than this moment does.

The snake wrote better than a pen.

For Square Haunting

There’s something about the way Barathi reads that makes the writers she reads feel deeply and fiercely read. I envy her capacity to slide under the skin of your words, find the heart within them and give it more life than you ever could. This is how she writes as well.

To think that even my most ordinary thoughts and sentences find a home in her body/mind is to know that when she sends them back to me, I am going to catch them and when I do, I am going to fall hard. Sample this sentence: “when a space is sought to create art, such a space too, in turn, bears the complexities embedded in the artist’s method and being. Simply put, artists often have to create the space they want to be in because such a place did not exist until then” — this is all her. And that’s why, to get to know her as a writer, a reader, a person is a gift.

Sometimes Dalit women writing makes men’s dicks fall. I’ve seen this happen. I can give you proof but I don’t want to put dicks on my blog, there are enough of them in the world. I used to think that their dicks are falling because they want us to return our SC certificates but they are falling because we are writing and we won’t stop writing no matter how much they cry.

To have on the one hand, this fear of women writing, and on the other, women who celebrate women’s writing makes me happy.

I wish I spend all of this year reading more of Barathi and people like Barathi who make it possible to imagine a world where we are read in the way we want to write.