black eyes black chappals

He must have responded to the thinning black skin around my eyes, the pimples on my face and the gap between my teeth that shined when I laughed. I must have seemed to him- ugly, scrawny, small. He threw the book on my face and I sunk back within the folds of my own embarrassment. Leaning against the wall, I looked away and cried secretly – punishing my forearm for being weak.

I carried my journal everywhere I went. It was a spiral bound notebook that I hid from many and showed a few. But I liked being seen with it. This is the same journal that I will go ahead and set fire to, a couple of months later because mother had found it.

When he picked it up that day, I had been writing about my affair with his friend. The three of us were sitting in the shade of an enclosure on the terrace. He was a big guy, easily intimidating and frightening to those who didn’t know him and charming to those who did. He snatched my journal away three seconds after he sat down and started reading really loudly.

My own tragedy is that I become a child when I am around bigger people. More than their bigness, my own smallness in their presence fascinates me. I whined a little, thumped his knee caps lightly and tugged at his shirt. He brushed me off first, pushed me a little and continued reading. I said no and tried to pull my journal away.

At this point, his face stiffened and he looked dismayed and surprised that I had a right over my journal. He flung it on my face and it fell with a thud onto my lap where it remained for the rest of the afternoon.

It must have hit my nose really hard because my eyes were welling up and my chest felt hot and stomach felt hotter.  When I could no longer continue weeping quietly, I started sniffling. He said nothing. The other he said nothing either. When we stood up to leave, he put his arms around me and it feels brutal now because I’m ashamed that everything became ok after that.

***

The chappals that I liked wearing were black and opened around the corners of my foot. It covered only the middle part of my foot. When I lost these chappals, I went again to the store and asked for the same pair.

This time, four of us were sitting in the enclosure – both the hes and a she who was my best friend. She loved me a lot but she didn’t like the chappals I wore. One by one, they each took turns to say that it was ugly and hardly suited my height and that I am insulting my father’s richness by wearing cheap chappals.

-I like it.

-That’s not the point. You look like a slum girl.

-It’s ok.

-Vj, please ya. I will give you the money tomorrow. Let’s buy you something else.

***

In a friend’s house, I came to be known as Mochi because I got my chappals from a brand called Mochi. Behind their open laughs, I wonder now if there was more. Maybe Mochi was the unwashed rat’s tail that I tied into a pony. It was my plump nose that was made more awkward by the fat in my cheeks and the misery in my walk.

***

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On Elena Ferrante

Finally, finally, finally. Sat down and wrote about reading Elena Ferrante. This is my first piece for The Open Dosa and I’m thrilled that it’s about Ferrante. My students and I were just dying to talk about her at Meta this year. The following picture is from the day of the panel.

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For Drishti, Ila, and Vismaya. With Louu.

This is my favourite picture from Meta. These girls and I have bonded over many other things – struggling with writing, reading, life, classes, clothes, and shoes. Now that we have Ferrante in common, these peeps will always be a part of me.

Read the piece here.

Salt and Pepper

In some worlds, I’m longing to start living.

In most others, I’m already living without meaning to.

There is nothing sadder than the tragedy of someone living in their past and getting others to live it with them.

It’s always hard to say goodbye — even to the most terrible version of ourselves.

After all, it’s the only reliable thing in the whole world:

The comfort of knowing that we will be just as menacing as our enemy and just as quiet as a sleeping friend.

An Ode to Drunk Women We Meet in Loos

Finally sat down and wrote that drunken women in loos piece. TLF ran it yesterday. This was saved in multiple draft folders before it sighed so loud, I felt bad for it and myself. You can read the piece here. Feedback is most welcome 🙂

Shri Pehelvan Sahaveer Main College

In my 10th std, everybody was convinced I was going to fail because I was the dullest child in Math that my family had ever produced. My English was declared just average because I didn’t know what the word ‘uxorious’ meant when we were watching Monsoon Wedding. My sister was the Harry Potter fan girl when this happened. So it was believed that she was the rock star and I needed help. My mother told me not to worry because they were going to set up a pharmacy in my name if I failed tenth and that I wouldn’t be jobless.

Whenever I think of this, I think of what all my high school over- achieving Brahmin friends would have said if they had seen me duck under the counter covered with Orbits and Kama sutra in Chintu Pharmacy. Or under the counter at Chintu Rajasthani cotton expo that had come mind numbingly close to Chintu’s café. Mouma seemed to be the only one who saw me with a degree in Humanities yet not in any of the Chintu buildings. She was the only woman to have faith in me. She said she would write letters to Puttaparthi Sai Baba and that he would pass me in all my exams.

I went to Shri Pehelvan Sahaveer Main College in Bangalore to do my B.A Journalism. It was quite a unique college. The Journalism course was run by the Psychology department and this was all kinds of hilarious. They kept finding saffronistas to teach us Journalism. My favourite cartoon was a Radio producer turned College lecturer named Radio Kantri. Radio Kantri taught us journalism by talking fondly of his childhood, The Hindu, Narendra Modi, and why A.R Rahman at the Oscars was the best thing to happen to India. Three years doing Journalism there and all I learnt was that The Hindu is a better newspaper than The Times of India.

In 2009, the infamous Mangalore Pub attack happened and I decided to send a pink Chaddi, thanks to The Pink Chaddi Campaign. Later that week, my father told me that he was friends with Pramod Muthalik, the bald head behind Sri Ram Sene, and that he had given him 10,000 Rs the previous year. I sent Muthalik another pink chaddi.

Versions

I don’t know how many different versions there are of me. I don’t know which one to trust. But there is a fake one, a moody one, an overthinking one, a frequent one, and a dishonest one. I have become increasingly suspicious of what I am saying to people in moments of intimacy. I think that whatever I say will be lodged somewhere in the air or in my own head, and that it will be said and used by the people they were told to. Or it will be said repeatedly in my own head until I have extracted all possible meaning out of it, tested it and vowed to never open my mouth again. This does not mean that I cannot trust people, this simply means that I am losing what I was once capable of: the ability to keep quiet and not offer comment.

I am growing more and more desperate because I am not able to decide who I want to be. On any given day, I am the over-thinker. I watch myself cautiously, pausing now and then to test the waters, exercise free speech – withdrawing every once in a while and eventually reserving all my comments for people I am comfortable saying anything to.

Lately, I have been asking myself – Should there be people in my life I can say anything to? Why? Why risk it especially since I know for a fact that I have never been able to continue friendships? That the bottom line of all failed friendships has been never to grow too attached to people?

Then there are other days when I manage myself pretty well. I listen and say nothing. But then there are also days when I blurt things out to people in moments of excitement and wonder why I am alive. Although with a lot of practice now, I know when I am saying things that I will later regret — my brain sends me green signals but my tongue ignores it and goes at it. This is followed by five minutes of recalling what I have just said and ten minutes of considering becoming Buddhist.

At one level, I am losing respect for myself because I think I have become information hungry. Like some fucking news channel. My only option now is Buddhism.

All my energy today is going into not explaining why I have so much free time.

Mirrors and Lights

My sister and I were watching Home Alone this morning and she turned to me and said that every time she heard that some older man’s name was Kevin, she would look at him weirdly and wonder what the hell was wrong with him. I laughed at this for four and a half minutes. And then I drank my tea quietly and came up to write.

I am scared now. I am worried that my biggest nightmare may come true. I like to think that people see me the way I see myself in my head. But then something happens and I wonder what if they don’t, what if they never have?

My dressing room has a yellow light. I got it installed deliberately because the yellow dims the blemishes on my face and the bags under my eyes. I like to look at myself with yellow lights. The white is harsh and too real. It scares me. There is a mirror in my bathroom. A broken yellow bulb hangs over it. This is removed from both yellow and white. A dusty, transparent light shoots across from the window. This is what I come to when I am bored with the yellow and too afraid of the white. It is soothing only and only because it’s in between 2 things I cannot fully trust.

I stand before the mirror in my dressing room every morning and look pleased. That’s the image I am carrying when I am riding to college. That is the image I will remember shrinking before my eyes when somebody says something that interferes with and destroys what I have carefully picked. I will read something they have written in a language that doesn’t speak the language of our intimacies and wonder if they’ve ever looked at me the way I look at myself. I will overhear what they whisper into corners and the people in it and wonder if I’ll ever be whispered at or whispered about.

I find myself thinking about simpler times, I am squinting at a hazy memory that will return with the only time I traveled by myself. I will think about Goa and its muddy little houses, that one big church I went looking for in the mirror- glaze of the sun on the highway. I will think about the insides of these houses that I have not seen and wonder if the corners will have cobwebs that I will want to touch.

I should go back to Goa. I should have when I had the time and the money.

I should write more because I feel unprotected when I don’t.

I flipped through his photos yesterday and missed him. And then I remembered how vulnerable I am when in love and hated myself.

I have my corner back but I don’t like it anymore. I need a ‘me-place’. They took away Parisian Cafe from me. And my corner is not a corner anymore. It’s a bustling mall that I am beginning to grow afraid of.

I worry about my writing. I think about what they have said behind my back and finish saying what they haven’t. I am too easy a target for them. I am vulnerable because they know where to find me. I have nothing to put in between them and me. Their laughter grows louder, their voices rise to hushed gossip.

I talked to a student about his writing yesterday and it left me very afraid. He didn’t understand me and I was too eager to help him. It scared him and he became impatient. I wondered if I was doing a good job at anything at all.

Over waffles and Irish coffee last evening, P said that he worries he isn’t good at anything. I laughed in his face. He has the rare ability to take off, to cut off from people so he can have time to read. He looks for crevices in the department, in the media lab and everywhere else he can find one and disappears into it to read. He emerges after everybody’s had their share of laugh, after everybody’s become hero and made everybody else laugh and roll on the floor. That is brave no? To be ok with not being a part of the fun everybody is having.

It’s only when I looked at the mirror in my bathroom that I understood what he meant. That sometimes you will do everything and feel happy but what do you say to the nagging poke that wants to know what you are good at?

I am now beginning to wonder. Maybe I am a terrible teacher. But that’s ok. What if I am a worse writer and nobody is telling me?