Zigzag

Al, Deepika Padukone in Gehraiyaan repeatedly wondering, dreading, living her mother’s fear of being stuck. It echoes in the smallest of frames – taking trash down and putting it near the gate of her apartment building – standing there and examining her life from afar, from her eyes, possibly even her mother’s – wondering – is this the beginning of what stuck feels like?

Same place, many scenes later – running home, having survived, watching a man she loves change into a monster, then losing him to his own accidental death, discovering that he had wanted to murder her – all in a span of one night. Then standing under the shower, losing the last few traces of this man, weeping, knowing – this is what stuck feels like.

Even more poignantly, a little earlier when she discovers that her fiancé is more gutless than she always suspected him to be – the different ways in which people make it possible to become infidel is visible. He launches a string of attacks on her incompetence (since she is an ordinary yoga instructor and “writing is real work – it’s not like saying breathe in breathe out in front of four south Bombay aunties”) – Al remembers her mother in bed with her, weeping to herself saying “I am so stuck beta”

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I was valuing General English papers last week, always fun, always making me return to the truth about why I teach. One answer made me cry, the next made me giggle and fall about.

To a question about whether the student had ever purchased something they didn’t need, someone wrote about going for a walk in the early days of the pandemic and passing by a small grocery store, visibly going out of business. The owner – an old man with sad eyes was sitting outside and smiling. The student went in to buy half a litre of milk that he didn’t need. After that, every time, the student passed by the store, he bought something or the other. A small, unspoken friendship built itself between them, and then after the pandemic, the student returned to his life, and the owner to his. Now, he says, when he passes by the store occasionally, the man remembers him and smiles. They wave at each other.

To a question about what gift they would like to give a classmate, the same student wrote about his friend’s useless mouse and how much he wants to throw it out and scream. He would like to gift him a new mouse, he says, because his friend’s old mouse is dabba and doesn’t work. If he won’t accept it, he’ll probably give him a classic Indian gift, i.e, a mug. I don’t know why this was funny. Probably because I was curious to understand how a question prompted a teenaged boy to think about his friend’s dabba computer mouse.

I thought back to all the allegations the most intelligent people from the sciences and commerce make about our questions papers. “No sense, anybody can answer your question papers, what is the point, just trying to be cool and stylish to impress students, chumma making it complicated for no reason” — I replayed each of these in my mind when I was reading this student’s answers. I was smiling, like some of my colleagues do when they correct papers. How many science/commerce teachers can afford to smile or laugh like this while reading an answer paper?

I’d like to know.

*****

One morning, walking around the park listening to David foster Wallace’s short story, Good People – I listened to the line It felt like a muscle he did not have with my eyes open, then closed, then opened quickly again. The boy David Wallace writes about in this story does not have the courage to tell the girl he’s made pregnant that he does not love her. I played with the word muscle in my head for a while. Didion mentions something about moral nerve in Self respect: its source its power. I walked faster.

*****

I was watching Freddy with my nephew one evening. I watched Freddy Ginwala when he was kicked and beaten around by his lover’s boyfriend. Lover and her boyfriend both trick him into killing her abusive husband. When Freddy finds out, he sits in the restaurant now owned by the woman and orders a falooda. It is brought to him and he calmly watches the woman and her boyfriend and drinks his falooda. They begin making out in front of him, hoping it will make him go away. It doesn’t. The waiter takes away the empty glass and Freddy says, “repeat” – woman and boyfriend are now irritated. They stop making out. Freddy cannot stop watching them. The waiter brings the falooda and the boyfriend grabs it, spits in it and bangs it on the table. Freddy drinks it, finishes it and calmly says – again – repeat.

My nephew and I burst out laughing.

My nephew’s pizza comes, he finishes eating it and asks me if the sachet packets need to be thrown away along with the empty box. I tell him to keep the sachets aside. What about the bill, he asks me. I say throw the bill away. Ayyo, why, he asks. What to do with it, I ask back. Okay, he tells me, then changes his mind and keeps the bill with the sachets. Why? Bill is paapa no? he tells me. I say okay must be.

We continue watching Freddy.

*****

Mumbai police called Freddy’s lover’s gym-going boyfriend “protein shake” and I couldn’t stop laughing.

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