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.

What is a Savarna Karen called?

I saw this on twitter today and wolf-whistled. Let’s not even begin to consider the audacity of telling someone ‘hey, your joy is triggering for me’ but to say ‘I’m white but I still feel…’ and in the same breath to also add ‘now that you are no longer an unhappy black woman, I don’t relate to you anymore.’ – how do you even address entitlement like this?

Bomb Stephanie Yeboah said this like the queen she is: “There does need to be an unpacking of why black joy seems to make some white women uncomfortable and the issue of entitlement. I don’t expect everyone to be happy for me, absolutely not! But being made to feel almost guilty for being happy is a weird flex.”

YES YES and YES!

If half our energies go away in addressing these entitlements, when do we do what we truly want to do? And please, no, this entitled behaviour isn’t our problem, it shouldn’t have to be but when someone goes out of their way to disrupt your joy, your work when you weren’t at all interested in their lives to begin with, understand that they do it out of entitlement yes, but also because your work makes them uncomfortable so we gots to keep kickin asses, sistahs.