Animals ko dekho – Part two

After that year, not many animals came because we only became animals but that is another story. So I will tell you the next significant animal story which is the rat story that happened last month. So basically ever since this semester began, we have all been wondering why we are like this. Morning to evening everything is bish fish bish. In the skin of the evening, some relief begins to come in the form of chai and aloo bondas. Life was going on like this only. If one evening, we are swallowed by old videos, another evening by a new ajji who makes best vades.

Then came the rat.

Sometime in the beginning of October, Mini Ma’am said that a rat is eating all her food. Arul sah saw one big box behind her table and said there are rats. Etienne sir said that he hears them chewing things all day.

Then one day, there was proof. Someone gave Mini Ma’am 2 big bars of Amul chocolate. Next morning, one of them had been taken tabiyat se. Byavarsi rat had eaten the whole bar leaving only the cover for ma’am. The other bar had bite marks but looked like by the time it finished the first bar, the bootha of marx might have told the rat to saak maadu. It had no energy left to eat the second one so it gave up. Like this only, one one day, one one thing it was eating and going.

We wondered if the rat was coming in through the bathroom window so we began locking it up. Then for a few days, we forgot about the door and rat. 

One evening after polishing off whatever food and chai was there, Sah, Pranava, and I were sitting and wondering why Pranava couldn’t stop talking about Shweta Philip’s periods. At some point, Sah’s ears got signal that rat is chewing something in the big box so Pranava began to remove the books from the top of the box. Little by little, Mini Ma’am’s world was becoming smaller because rat had chewed through her badminton shoes, books, cards, and a packet of dates also.

Every time sah said it’s here it’s here, Pranava jumped one inch up in the air and came back. Every time Pranava removed one more thing from the box, he jumped two inches in the air and came back. Every time Pranava made noise, he got scared because of his own noise, jumped three inches in the air and came back. Like this he was doing and sah was just sitting and laughing and I was bravely standing by the box.

Sah was saying byavarsi rat would have drilled two holes in the box – one to enter and one to escape. So by the time we got to the box, it would’ve probably escaped and is now probably sitting somewhere and watching all of us. The minute he said this, Pranava’s heart began doing dab dab and little bit I also got scared because the image of a rat watching us go mad while we looked for it made it somewhat hitchcocky and bitchcocky also.

Pranava continued digging and after a long minute, he suddenly turned to sah and cried, “Why you had to say that sah? Now I can’t stop thinking about that rat watching us” – sah said “You worry about the rat’s feelings for you later.” Just after he said this, Pranava jumped fourteen inches up in the air because he sensed the rat scuttling between some books. I was bravely standing only but for safety reasons I stood on top of a chair. First of all, I was worried that Pranava was having a fit, second of all I was wearing an ankle-length dress so if the rat climbed up, I would be hacked to death by Pranava while sah would sit dreamily in the background stroking his beard saying hmmmm.

Pranava got tired of jumping so many times so we dragged the box towards the entrance. But because the box was almost empty, and we were so close to the mission, Pranava’s heart was doing full dub dub and I was bravely standing, so sah kept digging. We discovered more books, edges and all chewed properly by the rat. 

My copy of Ralph Waldo Ellison was found and just when I was giggling at the irony of looking for an eli and finding Eli’s son instead, Pranava screamed aieeeeeeee, launched himself outside the department, and ran around squealing it’s here it’s here. Apparently the rat had taken one look at him and gone back in.

Sah began digging aggressively, the rat jumped out and launched itself like pranava had only seconds ago. But because of Pranava’s incessant screaming, we couldn’t tell if it went inside the department or outside on the corridor. To be on the safer side, we dragged the box out. Sah hissed at Pranava to bring something to hit the rat with. He ran inside and I closed the door in case the rat wanted to follow its brother. 

Sah doubled down laughing maniacally when Pranava started screaming from inside saying don’t lock me in with the rat and started banging the door. Boy loses his shit before shit loses him. Sah opened the door and laughed in his face and then laughed more when he saw what Pranava had found to beat the rat – 2 copper water bottles. Sah took the plastic sword students had made for Upstage and said go man this is better.

In this manner, one mental boy with 2 bottles, one mad man with a sword, and one elegant, graceful, and brave lady carrying herself with profound dignity ran around the corridor chasing after the rat which, as we discovered had leapt behind the dustbin. From there, it scurried towards the labs where it disappeared behind the cupboard. Pranava ran to see if it had escaped from the window.

We were prepared to give up at this point but then he started laughing. Pranava, not the rat. Apparently the rat had heaved itself onto the skirting of the wall and was now standing there, one leg on each side of the wall, one paw on each side of the wall – like that lady from Tom & Jerry who climbs random things when she sees Jerry (this irony fest is a marvel film, I say)

At this point Sah hissed at Pranava to go bring the stick next to my table to thwack it on the rat. Sah was giving fotherly smile to byavarsi rat. Stick came, pranava fought bravely against the darkness, rat showed its bum and escaped towards the dustbin. Sah ran like Milkha Singh, somewhat dignified only but like jogging on a treadmill so it looked like he was standing in the same place running.

Pranava saw sah running and went dancing behind him like coyote from that road runner show. His chappals were getting in the way so he threw them and ran. He caught up with the rat and landed one tappak then threw the stick in one corner, screamed like tweety and ran away.

Sah took the stick and landed many tappaks. Rat there only spottu. In the middle of all this, tweety pranava suddenly turns up from nowhere and tries to cover my eyes saying madam I am here to protect you. Many bad words came to mouth but because I am a dignified, graceful, elegant, and brave lady – I kept them to myself.

Then Calvin came and we told him everything that had happened. Running after the byavarsi rat, killing it, and achieving all of this with tweety screaming every now then had made us hungry so we discarded the rat some 3 kms away and went to Khazana to belt biryani, veal kebabs, and phal.

Three people will tell you three versions of the story but please remember gentle reader that the most sincere, honest, truthful, and accurate account is the one you read here from Lady Whistledown herself.

On some winter evenings, I wonder what it would be like to see an audio-less CCTV footage of this whole thing.

Bhayankara.

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Animals ko dekho – Part one

First of all, animals are not new to the department. Second of all, one afternoon in 2014, during one of those nice June days when college had just reopened, I was paapa sitting at my table and minding my own business. There was a GE meeting going on in the little corner that was CA, ER, MMB, and AM’s tables. Everybody except one other colleague and I, was in the meeting. 

I was paapa listening to Amelie and typing so I couldn’t hear what was happening but then I saw a hand waving in the distance. It was waving at me and kept moving rapidly and then it waved at several other things. That hand was my colleague’s hand and I removed my earphones to ask her why she was handing me. She pointed to 2 squirrels – one on my shoulder, the other on my lap. I didn’t know where to look first but I screamed and those creatures whisked themselves away before I could show them how violated they made me feel. It was humiliating because first of all squirrels are scared of everything in life, second of all despite this fear, they treated me like furniture and decided to climb on top of me. No maryadhe only.

When the colleague and I jumped up and down screaming squirrel squirrel, the meeting was interrupted but no one looked interrupted. Arul sah snorted and Cheriyan sir brushed his hand casually, didn’t even uncross his legs and declared, “squirrels don’t do anything.” Then like that only, he went back to discuss PSA General English. Colleague and I grimly walked out and began jumping up and down in the corridor.

****

Then many weeks later, one monkey came. In life there are many monkeys but the monkey that came was a real monkey – it was big and its tail was oranger than the rest of its body. First of all it walked into the department aaram se as if it was coming to get feedback for writing. Second of all, it stood and growled at all of us. Mini Ma’am said “Arool Arool, there is a monkey here Arool”. Arool Sah started giggling as if the monkey was proposing to him. Etienne sir looked puzzled and came to investigate. Then he put both his hands in both his pockets, leaned against the bookshelf and looked at it. I have seen him do this when he is getting ready to talk about postcolonialism. Cheriyan sir, legs crossed, declared, “monkeys don’t do anything” and went back to drinking tea. 

I clutched my heart and went to class. When I came back, I saw that a line of colleagues was standing a little away from my table, smiling at it as if Shah Rukh Khan was sitting there. I looked and it was the bastard monkey sitting on my chair, drinking my leftover tea from my tea mug. After everything in life, it also had the bloody gall to spit out my tea and walk away, as if it didn’t approve. Cheriyan sir told us that he once saw on Discovery Channel that monkeys are afraid of male aggression so Mini Ma’am, and him ran after the monkey, stomping their feet. Monkey walked aaram se to the fourth floor.

Arul sah was sitting at his table seeing all of this and enjoying like anything. When I went to him with my mouth open, he said “don’t feel bad vj, it’s probably because your tea didn’t have sugar”. I closed my mouth and went back to my table.

****

In the Staff Seminar Hall later that same year, there was a meeting happening. I was sitting in the last row because it is closest to the exit. The squirrel-colleague was sitting next to me and Cheriyan sir was sitting in the first row. We were discussing some HRD syllabus and right when someone said this is the only way to do it, a pigeon flew into the staff seminar hall, startling me and my squirrel-colleague. It flew over our heads, bloody wings flapping near our ears. We screamed. The speaker said damn these pigeons and Cheriyan sir, without even turning back, without even uncrossing his legs, looked sideways and declared, “pigeons don’t do anything”

My heart was clutched once again.

****

Six years later, a couple of girls and I went to investigate the newly renovated department. The girls were excited to see the new department. I was seeing old wine in new bottle so I was in some different mood only. We were sitting in the Dean’s chambers and I wanted to demonstrate my full appreciation of the chambers. Nice vyoo was there outside Dean sir’s window also – sky and skyline, garden and clothesline and all.

See outside means one pigeon is hanging there. It was a dead pigeon hanging by a kite thread and oscillating to and fro in its life-like stillness. I said aa aa aa, and pointed at the window. Akanksha leapt across the aisle, ran away from all of us and started weeping for the dead pigeon. Naziti couldn’t stop laughing and called it Lalit from House of Secrets. I had just watched that documentary so although I could appreciate her mad wit and charming presence of mind, the pigeon looked more and more life-like the more we looked at it – freaking all of us out. Shireen made some dead baby type jokes, Chrisitini wanted to slap everybody. I said Karma and sent them all home.

Next morning, Dean sir is calling snakes, the manager to inform him of this most urgent matter. Snakes comes in, sees it, nods at all of us, says “100% suicide case”, and walks off like CID.

Exactly a year after that, I came here to tell you that all this happened.

Teaching in Dangerlok

Couldn’t sleep one night so spent it all by reading Eunice De Souza. I wish I could have more reading nights like these even if they make me groggy and teary the next day.

Eunice De Souza’s Dangerlok is what I needed to combat fucking NEP. Rina Ferreira, the single, double-parrot-keeping teacher in Bombay has the life, the guts, the buddhi that I want for me. She teaches English at a college, smokes, talks to her parrots, writes letters to her lovers, chills with her friend Vera with whom she goes oor-suthooing, comes back home, smokes, drinks chai, reads, and sleeps.

Every now and then, I need to be gently whisked and battered into remembering that I am a teacher. I spent all my childhood wanting to grow up and make my own money and now that I am doing it – I am barely even acknowledging it. I act as if I’m so used to it. But I need to, now and then behave as if it still surprises me that I teach for a living, for thrills, for fun, for play. That I get paid to do what I love.

Some moments from last week that I want to remember:

  1. At an NEP meeting, someone said, “When you run into students years after you’ve taught them, they are not going to recognize you and thank you for teaching them passive voice. They will remember that you taught them Julius Caesar”
  2. I returned to a science class to teach them general english after very long and had more fun than I’ve had teaching anything else in years. I became again, the girl I was nine years ago who wasn’t sure of anything except knowing that some thank yous are more genuine than others. And that when a student stays back after class to say it, words that once echoed sharply in hollow classrooms now make me smile. With this gratitude, I move from one meeting to another on MS Teams.
  3. After I said bye to them last week, I was very nearly crying. We had been talking about English- its miseries and joys. And how it’s nothing to be afraid of, how there was once a man who sometimes wielded English like a weapon, sometimes like a suit, and sometimes as so much a part of him that it’s hard to imagine he once didn’t know English.
  4. I am not very easily moved to tears when I talk about English. But to talk about English amidst students much like me was reassuring, like finding your own people after a long day of being lost. The English here is the kind we learn to speak despite school, despite teachers in school, despite not speaking it at home, and despite education itself.
  5. Sometimes students can be so fiercely themselves, so delightfully hungry to learn that I wonder who is the teacher here. There is so much to learn from students about how to stand up against governments that are so anti-students and anti-learning. Those who come from such far away places to learn and make a stable future for themselves remind you of the anger you feel in your teeth for this fuckall government in whose imagination, the student is a young NRI- return Modi.
  6. Later that same day, I broke down in class, again. Turned camera off this time. And cried harder when they reached out to console me. I was telling them about what it was like to be a young teacher. Did students take young women teachers seriously back then? I was telling them about not being able to stand in front of a class to teach Romeo and Juliet after I’d allowed myself to be belittled by opinions and that if I could go back in time, I’d own Shakespeare’s ass the way I know I can, the way this department has taught me to.
  7. Any department that can teach its young Dalit women teachers to not be afraid of Shakespeare or of students who think they know Shakespeare just because they know English is an enemy of the Savarna state which makes the NEP – a beacon of Savarna rashtra and every teacher fighting it across the state, an Ambedkarite.
  8. After classes these days, I am watching young people take care of other young people. Metonym, our inter-class literary championship is an excuse for us to make fraandship with students. It’s the last thing we’ll be able to do before NEP hits us so all my enthu is going there and I’m hoping they remember us for this, if not anything else.
  9. I am exhausted from asking myself what would Ambedkar do if he was here so I’ve been watching Saarpatta every morning to begin the day.
  10. Yesterday, in a Theatre Studies class when a student was just getting ready to perform, his mother walked in, banged a kitten on his lap and went away. He grabbed it in both his hands and threw the paapa kitten somewhere. She’s called Mia it seems. I died laughing.

Eunice De Souza would write her way out of NEP. It’s what I think I should also do. Why aren’t there any biographies of Miss De Souza? If there are, please tell me. I want to read.

I was attacked by squirrels today

I am sitting at my desk minding my own sweet business like a good person and the next thing I know, Sherin starts screaming like a madwoman. She had her finger pointed at me and was jumping in her chair. I looked down and found one squirrel trying to work its way up my thigh and felt another one move past my neck and head and in no time it had hopped onto the table and was looking for its next target. I jumped and made tortured noises and then ran out with such force, I must have scared the bloody squirrels which were skittering all around the floor. One ran past all the legs and sought refuge behind one of the many shelves. I lost track of the other one because I was busy cursing the world and muttering nonsense under my breath.

To top it all, one colleague smiles away to glory and gives me a much needed historical tour on how back home she used to feed nuts to squirrels and how apparently they don’t bite. Another said that they bite. Another said that if they bite, you could get rabies at which point I left the room with Sherin. Soon as we left the damn zoo, 2 more squirrels leaped out at us from under a table. We ran across the corridor like mad things and decided to leave the planet for good.

Even now as I have bravely made my way back to the department and have reclaimed my chair, checked – double checked for all furry creatures, I have only one thing to say – Squirrels are NOT cute. They are vicious creatures who think that every person, sitting or standing and minding their own business, is a tree so they will climb on top of you and try to kill you.

Bah!