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.

3:30 am

Woke up at an odd hour and couldn’t go back to sleep. A part of my late night/early morning reverie included cursing myself for all the things I shouldn’t have said this week, the things I should have, a tired desire to live better from today onwards, and the realisation that I couldn’t possibly begin living better without new clothes.

All the ones I wear now have stopped wearing me ten years ago. Why do I keep wearing them when they have outworn me, I don’t know. It’s like I have stopped buying clothes. And yet it seems like all I do these days is put my paws on instagram’s window and salivate endlessly, occasionally (lol) buying things I don’t need also. Another red color bag, some senselessly cute bottle with a dead flower in it that came with its own fucking stool, a ceramic blue shoe that is also an ashtray, books that I am buying and not reading.

And then I have the gall to ask where is my money going, darling? Food, drinks, fucking PETROL, bills, loans, mother fucking Instagram ads man.

I need clothes. Why am I not buying clothes? And then I went and read the lovely Aysegul Savas’s lovelier essay on similar pangs- CLOTHES!

Sometimes I get a glimpse of someone in the park, in a museum, at the bakery line, and I go out to assemble all their pieces. It’s a pang to see them like that—such strangers in their perfect nests of clothing, looking so much like themselves. All this makes me feel naked, laying it out piece by piece.

Today I want to be like Aysegul’s mother who “had sets of clothes like costumes. They hung side by side, each one on a hanger with its own set. That was the thing with my mother, she always knew who she was on a given day. All she had to do was pick from left to right, Monday to Friday.”

GAHHHHHHHH.

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.

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.

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.