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.

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.

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.

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.

March mornings

At the JC. Road signal, a pillion rider, a small girl clung to her father on an activa.

Her feet dangled in half-worn running shoes, and her pony tail bounced as her father cut left at Poornima theatre. It was then that I realised why I was watching them both.

It was the way he was slowly riding. There was a comma of pause he took before every hump, so that it was almost a full stop. Even the frenzy crossing of Bishop Cotton ladies wouldn’t disturb the pause.

Then he made a right and I saw with glee, a masked toddler-rider standing upright and small, between his father and the activa’s front.

Like this, one child in front, one in back, a man slowly rode his two-wheeler on a bright march Bangalore morning.

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.