Story > History

I like stories more than histories. Sometimes I can’t be too sure of the difference between the two but I imagine story as the wrinkled old face of a grandmother with a soothing afternoon voice narrating, gesturing, singing, touching, and laughing. And I imagine history in the sturdy shape of a wooden foot ruler in the hands of a tall man in an opaque white, full sleeved shirt.

14th April is branded in my memory because in school, we studied Ambedkar in Hindi, Kannada, Sanskrit and English, sometimes all in the same year. We were taught details, dates, amendments but today I remember Ambedkar only through the anecdotes. There was that recurring story of Ambedkar’s great love for books – how when he travelled, his bags had more books than clothes; how he studied under the streetlamps; how his father wouldn’t sleep until 3 in the morning so he could wake his son up in time. And then when I read Siddalingiah’s Ooru Keri, I found more such stories.

My favourite is the one where Ambedkar learnt to climb trees so he could have a decent place to read but the problem was that he didn’t know how to climb down and on more than one occasion, he’d fall tumbling down – all his books collapsing over him. Once there was an ash pit into which he fell. His friends teased him and called him Boodi (ash) Saheba. And Ambedkar is supposed to have told them, ‘I maybe Boodi Saheba now but I will be Baba Saheba in the future’. I smiled when I read this. I don’t know why this story cheered me up no end. I don’t care if it isn’t true, anymore than I care if he wasn’t really born on 14th April. But Ambedkar became someone outside a history textbook for me in these stories, and in these moments.

And then when I heard my father speak about Ambedkar and his past in much the same way that Siddalingiah did, I sat up and listened.

You should know that he did a lot for our people. We would have been nowhere without Ambedkar. The college which I’d joined was purely for merit students. I was only able to get a seat because I’m SC. When I joined, I found that everyone else had 80% and I only had 40%. I limped towards inferiority complex and after some days, I was engulfed in it. To come out of that complex, it took a lot of time and hard work but even then I was unable to reach their level and I finally came out as the last man in the race.

My father did his engineering in Davangere where, he tells us, he had some unforgettable experiences. He never had any money. And when he’d run out of toothpaste, he’d have to borrow some from his roommates. And so they bullied him into a deal. They gave him a blob of toothpaste every morning if he agreed to do their record work. So he sat up late every night doing record work for his friends along with his own. And then there were teachers who decidedly favoured the ‘merit’ students and were extremely hostile to him.

I couldn’t do anything. I just had to accept the situation. If I resisted, it’d hurt more. I myself didn’t want any unnecessary advantage on the pretext of discrimination. I felt if I wrote proper answers, certainly it should fetch more marks. So I worked harder.

***

When I joined the Department of English, I didn’t feel the need to be aware of my caste, in a way that I would have had to be if I were working elsewhere. My professors were here and I felt that I could continue my learning, now as a teacher.

I find it difficult to write what I want to, mainly because there are only so many words I can use to say that the Department is the place where I found myself and that I will always be grateful to it for showing me my own potential that years of schooling had destroyed.

My father has never come here, but I’m afraid that if he will, he’s not going to like what he sees – the desk at my workplace is my home. He’s going to know why I’m always dying here. But then maybe he will also be relieved. He has always made sure that his children don’t have to go through what he had to. And on some days, my biggest worry here is that I’m going to show up to work in pyjamas. So far it has almost happened only once. And that is only because I feel perfectly at home here. Really, what a fascist place this should be.

I have discovered that there are as many ways of living as there are of whining. And this liberal fascist department has taught me to always pick the former. And it has also taught me to not bother about those who pick the latter. ‘Let them be’, I have heard CA say very often. Not that I don’t whine now at all. For some of you this may very well be whining but I have also found joy in saying ‘evs’ to your miserable faces.

I have learnt to value conversation with students here. And the rotting Dalit students are the ones I enjoy talking to the most. Our convenor for ‘The Literary Society’ this year is one such rotting Dalit student that nobody cares about. He hangs out in the Department and we take great pleasure in watching him rot. So much so that we have taken considerable effort to move him to the hostel just so we can watch him rot a little more closely.

I find it interesting that attackers are now viewing the department as a place where people only preach, not practice. If that is true, then the legacy of the great liberal department would not have taken this long to ‘crumble’, if that’s what you think you are doing. People are not stupid and you cannot make them. Take a closer look at your lives. You stop talking to Dalit students because they disagree with you; you start campaigning against the department for not taking ‘your side’ after a tragic break up; you want only a certificate of ‘queerdom’ from the ‘right’ people so you pull out the many victim cards to supply sudden solidarity. Do yourself a favour and stop pretending that your concerns are political.

Let’s clear the air — there are people here and everywhere else who are convinced that I got my NET only because of reservation and have therefore decided that it is not valid. There are also people who believe that I shouldn’t be teaching certain classes because I am more qualified to polish shoes. But the four liberal fascists who, given their most absurd nature, should have been siding with them, chose instead to stand up for me and shut the wretched people up.

The twisted fascist who unofficially runs the department makes a lot of people uncomfortable because they are not used to seeing a non – Savarna with a little power. Who is preaching and not practicing now? Why fake so much concern for rotting Dalit students when you can’t handle a Shudra in power?

In a post that he wrote on his blog, Prof. Mani explains how Wingco Mulky gave him a life outside of himself and saved him from inner demons. Prof. Mani has been doing for other students what Mulky did for him. I don’t need to supply evidence for this but you need to know that this outweighs all your collective cowardice and your uninteresting complaints.

I am posting here an excerpt from Prof. Mani’s blog post –

There was so much that I needed to say to him. That over the years, it was he who had taught me how to live. That the lesson he taught all of us, never to be passive receivers of information, had been our salvation in the other paths we chose to tread. That when he asked me to join Appu and Och in taking over from him, six years ago, he gave me a focus outside myself-—freeing me thus from self-absorption, from a terrible downward spiral, from numerous personal demons.
That his life confirmed for me the value of staying put, that they truly live who choose to stay, that life is to be found here, not elsewhere nor in dollars.My sturdiest human relationship was with this man, fifty years older and a far better human being than I can ever hope to be. It was not one built of too many words and that is passing strange—I am, after all, a word-child and nothing else.
My debts to him will take the longest time to sort out. How do you best thank a man who gave you a world to be in, one who lifted you out of gawky, sharp-edged unloveliness into a sort of life, into community with other people? I never did, and those words are now an unresolved lump in the throat.
From building a syllabus that is more in favour of the student than the institution, to making sure that learning is never mechanical and the student participates actively in her own learning — the department under the leadership of the four liberal fascists and especially under the leadership of the twisted Prof. Mani has made possible what no noisemaker can ever hope to achieve.

Having tutored Dalit students for over three years now, I doubt a system like the ‘Tutorials’ will work very much with people who threaten to stop guiding students over petty disagreements. Prof. Mani designed tutorials to enable conversations with students who need it the most. And I am glad that these conversations will continue despite slanderous efforts by many to thwart them.

Do what you can, you cannot take away the fact that the Department has done more for me and people like me than your political, radical, intellectual, and liberal positions can ever do for anybody.

As Sigmund Freud would say, ‘the only rotten things in the state of Denmark either left or have been kicked out.’

Advertisements

Dementors, boggarts and other cold things

What can you call somebody, who, when they walk into a room, any room manage to suck out all the warmth there ever was? Your memories ebb away from you like little bubbles, floating away from you. All the happiness that you were ever capable of seems like a vast expanse of wasteland after wasteland. All the anger that you thought you had potential for is frozen. You can see it but it is cold, so you cannot touch it or use it.

Dementors were probably based on real life people. That J.K Rowling, vixen of the writing world. I’m sure all those Dementors in Harry potter were based on people she knew.  Dementors are these cold, unhappy lurking figures in grey waiting to suck life out of you, bit by bit at first and then all at once. That’s what they do in Harry Potter, that’s what they do in real life.  They walk into a room and everything freezes; happy thoughts, memories, and life.

I’ve known plenty many Dementors in my life.  On some I’ve managed to use the patronus charm. It is what keeps the Dementors away in Harry potter. Some I haven’t been able to use the patronus on, either because they are so cold, no charm works on them or because they are family so you have to see them every day of your life.

Dementors come in all shapes and sizes. They are like Boggarts actually. For Muggles (Non- Harry potter language speaking people), Boggarts are shape shifting figures. They assume the nature and shape of things that the seer of the Boggart is really scared of. So no one really knows how the Boggart actually looks because they sense your fears and assume the shape of your fear even before you realise it. So, that. I know two such Boggarts. One is married and packed off to the U.S now. The other is blah and very much not in the U.S. These are people who will say things just to see you react. They prowl on your weaknesses and insecurities. They become stronger by feeding on these.

They are warm to most other people. They single you out because you are easy prey. They know they affect you, or you allow them to affect you. So just to see if the affect still survives, they keep playing mental tricks on you, day after day. Nothing you say to them will affect them. If you are cold, they are colder. If you are dumb like me then eventually their coldness will overpower yours simply because they are better actors. They will walk out of the room looking absolutely unhurt after a verbal match and act like nothing ever happened after 5 minutes. Like you didn’t say mean things to each other, like nothing you said bothers them. They survive on your smallness.

Some are natural tricksters. They may be your staunchest supporters when you aren’t looking or listening. But the fact that they become Switzerland suddenly in conversations with you is what makes it difficult to trust them or trust yourself around them. They speak all languages of all people. Somewhere, you will find them talking in the same language your mother does when she gossips with her sisters. Somewhere else, you will find them talking like characters from an Ekta Kapoor serial. Somewhere else, you will find them speaking the language of superstition, of caste, of violence.

They will mock you and laugh at you if you so much as try to explain the connection between caste and violence, between religion and violence, between gender and violence. They will disarm you with cold arguments and colder expressions. They don’t care if the violence that they deny is a reality outside their fossilized and rosy view of the world.

The fact that they are cold to violence will stop bothering you because soon their new weapon of mockery is sniggering; continued fits of giggles to make you smaller than you actually feel every day. They will laugh quietly and look questioningly at your face, looking for that sign of weakness, of fear, of failing. This leaves you hopeless and desperate. So the next time when you look for something to say in Gender Studies class, for an argument, a thought, a voice, a quiver- you find nothing. Because you are sitting there defenceless, listening to the sound of their laughter echoing in your anger. You prod deeper and find nothing. That’s when you realize the power you have given them over your life, your voice and your mind.