For 500

WordPress tells me that this is my 500th published post. It also tells me that there are 98 other saved as drafts posts that conceal my embarrassment well enough so I don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of the 499 published posts.

Blogging was fun. To all the amul babies who used to say blogging is not real writing, I hope your view of the world is just as pristine and that the King of England is treating you well.

I started writing in this small place with a name that I was very kicked by and because I wanted to get better at writing. Rumlolarum became a sweet home for every fleeting thought I had, ever humiliation – real or imagined, and every other journey I often took to conquer worries around self-respect, love, and desire.

I learnt how to be here. And I’m glad that despite all the comic drama of the last decade where I was failing and learning how to teach, read, and live – rumlolarum has always taken me home to write. I’ve heard mad things about this place – apparently students came here to play drinking games every time they located a grammar error (how can you people drink with Wren & Martin’s balls in your mouth pa?); apparently I am not the real author of rumlolarum (lol)- but to be here and smile, on what seems like the other side is a lesson in forgiveness. Forgiveness for me.

So much of writing is guilt-ridden. How can I think I can write? Who am I to think I can write as well as her? What guts I have to think I can call myself a writer — some periya shakespeare ah? Slowly slowly, without telling me, blogging became a way of forgiving myself for dreaming that I could be a writer someday. And then one day, it just happened that I wasn’t guilty about calling myself a writer anymore. I was one. I am one.

Two people I used to obsessively read in my postgrad years led me to blogging and the desire to keep writing. They each chronicled the city in such enticing ways that I longed to be in the city at the same time that they were writing about. Even though they both said that they read and wrote because there was nothing much to do when they were growing up – they both demonstrate the one thing that their generation had that ours just does not – grit and a sense of fun.

Reading their old blog posts in the late 2000s was for me a way of learning how to be in the city. When I read them now, I am glad to be here, and to know that I’ll be okay. It’ll all be okay.

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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.

New Yorker Mornings

Today, this moving essay by Peter Schjeldahl. It is attentive and demands that you read it with the same, if not similar attention it was written with. Here are some bits that made me giggle.

1) When I started writing criticism, in 1965, in almost pristine ignorance, I discovered that I was the world’s leading expert in one thing: my experience. Most of what I know in a scholarly way about art I learned on deadlines, to sound as if I knew what I was talking about—as, little by little, I did. Educating yourself in public is painful, but the lessons stick.

2) One drunken night, a superb painter let me take a brush to a canvas that she said she was abandoning. I tried to continue a simple black stroke that she had started. The contrast between the controlled pressure of her touch and my flaccid smear shocked me, physically. It was like shaking hands with a small person who flips you across a room.

3) My problem was not a lack of connection with the collective unconscious. I was a fucking poet. My problem was getting out of bed in the morning.

4) Writing consumes writers. No end of ones better than I am have said as much. The passion hurts relationships. I think off and on about people I love, but I think about writing all the time.

5) Writing is hard, or everyone would do it.

6) I met Susan Sontag once, at a party. She came up and praised something that I had written. Thrilled, I began chattering about I don’t remember what. Sontag froze. She retreated, taking backward steps before turning away. It dawned on me that receiving her blessing was supposed to have been enough: a solemn initiation. I had presumed on it.

7) I had a rage of ambition and an acrid dissatisfaction that, along with a love of the world, were bound to come out somehow. The self-centered motives have waned. It’s harder to pitch into writing with less to prove or avenge. To start a critical essay, I must prod myself until the old mesmerized flow resumes.

8) When I finish something and it seems good, I’m dazed. It must have been fun to write. I wish I’d been there. If you can’t put a mental frame around, and relish, the accidental aspect of a street or a person, or really of anything, you will respond to art only sluggishly.

9) Family and friends are being wonderful to me in my sickness. I’ve toiled all my life, in vain, to like myself. Now the task has been outsourced. I can’t go around telling everybody they’re idiots.

10) “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully,” per Samuel Johnson.

11) Life doesn’t go on. It goes nowhere except away. Death goes on. Going on is what death does for a living. The secret to surviving in the universe is to be dead.

12) One night in the early seventies, I perched on a tenement-roof edge despite my fear of heights, legs dangling, and ordered myself to let go. It was amid a love disaster. I truly thought I’d jump. But something inside me laughed derisively. Who was I kidding? Humiliated, I went downstairs. Some, in a crisis, must lack the laugh or muffle it for long enough.

13) Memory is a liar. It’s a heap of dog-eared, smudged, incessantly revised fictions. The stories make cumulative lies—or, give us a break, conjectures—of our lives. This is O.K. because it had darn well better be.

14) Reality was droning on as usual, with impartial sunlight streaming through a nearby window and picking out swirls of dust motes. A thing about dying is that you can’t consult anyone who has done it. No rehearsals. No mulligans.

15) Brooke has Texas grit: respecting everyone and taking no shit from anybody, least of all her spouse. When she’s mad, it’s scary, tapping a rage that once fuelled her escape from an awful family. There’s no recourse but to duck and wait for it to pass, which it does. The sun began to shine on my life when I gave up arguing with Brooke. She is also very funny and brings out the fun in others, her spouse not excluded.

French press with a Russian twist

“…and in the violence of her feeling she did not notice how they both walked into the house and sat down to tea”

The Darling by Anton Chekhov

Read this short story and felt betrayed. I should’ve read this when I was 19. 23. 27. It’s a good thing I read it now or I would’ve had to add 34 & 35 to this miserable list.

The story is about a woman who is either perpetually in love or waiting to be. She allows herself to be consumed by the men she falls in love with and thinks it neither wise nor necessary to keep some of her to herself. She begins to speak like the men she loves, borrows their speech, colours her world with them and makes their moods hers. In their absence, she refuses to see herself as a person, and feels challenged by the meaningless of feelings and objects around her.

She survives heart break after heart break and is driven to the edge of loneliness until accidental motherhood comes calling. Here, Chekhov stops.

I was moved by this woman who gives herself so foolishly. I was moved when she went from one heartbreak to another because she saw it as moving from love to love, never quite knowing that what she was perhaps looking for was the chance to feel like a person again. It made me see how differently I love now.

Reading this then would’ve meant insurance against believing that the only way to be a person was to be somebody’s something.

But then reading Annie Enraux’s Dairy, 1988 was a reassurance of sorts for all the time and energy lost. That the best and worst of us love being loved. What to do? It was a pinching reminder of our ability (read: stubbornness) to remain fixed on the fleetingness of love despite the tickingness of time and the general busyness of life.

She is writing and waiting. She is attending events but also waiting. She is caring for her two children and she’s waiting. Seems to me that we go about performing the non-love activities in life (regardless of how central they are in our lives or we in their lives) as if it’s playing in an autopilot way in the background. And the heroine in us, despite being the fucking heroine is only waiting – not even performing.

Was reminded also of Dorothy Parker and Roland Barthes.

Finally began Wolf Hall. Found myself, quite unwillingly, back on a hospital bed in Payannur where I first started reading it and couldn’t read a word after page 4, having just come out of surgery for an ankle fracture. The rod and screw sitting tightly in my post-surgery foot protested every time there was Cromwell’s bone, rib, eye socket being crushed.

Now, I am not only enjoying the blood bone-crushing but also feeling most wonderfully taken by Mantel.

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.

Invigilation

Was very kicked to learn that to invigilate literally means to stay awake. It comes from the Latin Vigilare, meaning “to stay awake”. Made me think about all the other words I use everyday unconsciously and the many more I use annually without any idea about why they mean what they mean.

I’ve been thinking about old posts I wrote back when I was more earnest. Earnest is a word I tend to use when I am doing admission duty and I’m interviewing a student who is paapa and eager to learn. Apparently the word earnest comes from the early 15th century (“a pledge or promise;” often “a foretaste of what is to follow”)

Perhaps I’d pledged a kind of discipline, hunger, desire that is no longer easy to manifest anymore. I read this and felt a dull pain somewhere in the chestage area.

I need some invigilation in life.