Sometimes I wish

Sometimes I wish I had no ambition

So that when I get back home at 8 one evening

and my mom asks me why I’m not married yet

I can tell her –

Tomorrow I will marry.

 

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t someone who likes spending time alone

so that when my dad pulls me out of solitude and

demands to know when I will marry

I can tell him

Tomorrow I will marry

 

Sometimes I wish I was already married

So when I come home at 4 in the noon

my husband sighs and says

I love you

and I can say I love you too

and when he says where is my chai

I can say —

Fuck you bro

 

Sometimes I wish I didn’t like reading and writing

because somewhere I feel

it’s costing my mom a lot

to see me alone

having no idea that this is the happiest I have been

and the happiest that I will ever be.

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Kottuncheri

When something is lost at home, Mouma says that we can find it by praying to Goddess Kottuncheri and that when we do find it; we must please her by celebrating our joy.

Kottuncheri, like all rituals has a coconut, a vessel to keep it in, some beetle leaves, and five women. The coconut is made to fit inside the vessel, along with three adjoining beetle leaves. This is then put on a stool. The five women, of any age and size assemble around the stool. And when the eldest woman says start, they start running around the stool, like fire in the mountain, run, run, run. They run and while they run, they must chant loudly, ha – ha – ha – ha and clap their hands.

They do this for five rounds and stop. Mouma says that not all ghosts are evil and that some are even friendly and naughty, like children. These children -type ghosts like hiding objects that we are fond of. But they don’t like being laughed at and so, when we laugh loudly, it embarrasses them and they give up and return what they took from us.

I was 9 when I first saw a Kottuncheri. I didn’t mind not being part of it. I just wanted to watch these women clap their hands and say ha-ha-ha. Watching my mother do this was delightful. I’d never seen her body move around so much and she laughed so animatedly that I was sad when they stopped after the fifth round. I’d often lie and say I’ve lost my report card or my most important tie to be able to watch Kottuncheri. Mouma would sincerely conduct Kottuncheri sessions regardless of how well she knew my lies.

Mouma’s small, old body that I’m too afraid to watch even climb down the stairs hops from one side to another when she does Kottuncheri. Her shoulders sway when she jumps and claps on either side of her body.

Not all things that were lost have been found. But that’s not why they do Kottuncheri, I think. They just do it to clap their hands after a long time and laugh ha-ha-ha.

useless

in my mother’s cupboard

there is the smell of naphthalene

that’s only a little stronger than

all the smells of all the houses we have lived in


my former best friend loved me very much

but sometimes she didn’t like the chappals i wore

and this she told me clearly

her long eyelashes now falling, now staying


sometimes i think you don’t like me

but that’s ok because today

i have found the courage to tell myself

that i don’t like you more


today she dropped her brand new i pad

and withdrew into a corner, shaken and dismayed

i picked it up and hugged her warmly in my mind

it’s ok, i told her — suddenly wanting to cry.

Must Must Must

Bubbly and the troop left for Mangalore at 5:00 this morning. Can’t believe she’s getting married already. Can’t believe the pressure that’s going to mount on me now to get married. Must must must think of abandoning the peeps and running off to a little place of my own. I have been dreaming of moving out since I was 16. I’ve been saying that longer than I have been saying I want to move out. FML.

Holiday today and yesterday 🙂 I cannot stop smiling! Yesterday I watched two horror movies back to back on Netflix and read a bit of Kundera. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is the new Reading Room book. I’m slowly acquiring a taste for reading books at leisure and for watching horror movies obsessively. On Saturday, T and I watched Lights Out. Bastard is always fun to watch horror with. He’s just as jumpy as I am and starts panicking after returning home, which is always fun to make fun of. He called me an hour after we left to say that the lights at his home suddenly went out and that he’s freaking out to bits.

Kabali fever is getting to me. Must must must watch it soon. And with the right peeps in the right place. Only Lavanya or Poornima, that is.

In other news, I’m rediscovering the hots for Shah Rukh Khan. Have been listening only to Shah Rukh songs on YouTube since morning. Boli si surat is playing now and I’m remembering fondly how 19 years ago, mom and dad sneaked out of the house to watch Dil To Pagal Hai. Of course, I caught them red-handed and rolled on the floor and wailed until they decided to take me with them. They were like that then. They were convinced that if we watched Shah Rukh’s movies, we’d fall in love with boys and run away from home. Which is what my cousin M did.

Needless to say, every time DTPH played on Sony Max after that, dad would turn the TV off in a rage and yell at us to go study. Mother would purse her lips together if we ever talked dreamily about hero – heroines. Once she found my secret stash of pictures of all film stars – ones that I had painstakingly cut out from Star Dust and Film Fare. Shah Rukh, Madhuri, Kajol, Rani, Preity, Saif, Akshay, Urmila, Tabu, Sush, and Ash all had to be burnt in the choola because mother refused to speak to me until I got rid of all of them.

I wept and wept like only a girl who has been denied a secret life could weep. My cousins, N and R stood behind me and offered moral support while I threw all the pictures into the fire. I watched morosely even as Urmila’s red lipstick turned into a miserable, ugly grey and then ash.

N and R clicked their tongues every time I fished out a new picture. Didn’t matter who I was throwing , they all had glistening bodies and lovely hair. They each deserved the severest of tongue-clicking. Today, I have unlimited access to pictures from filmistan and whatnot. Still, there is neither the urge nor inspiration. Pah.

BRA & GSB

If I were to tell you the story of the women in my family, I would probably begin with Mouma and my aunts. My aunts are crazy in much the same way that aunts in most families are; and normal in a way that is still crazy. All the women in my family are various forms of the Metaphysical conceit.
When I was 4, I would sit on mouma’s lap with a glass of milk and refuse to drink it unless she showed me both her breasts. Soon, all my sisters started to demand this from her. We would sit around her smiling into our glasses of milk and wait for her to pull her breasts out. She must have been special because none of the other grandmothers did this. I think this is because she had lost her husband when she was rather young and not having a husband around makes old women very cool.

That’s the grandmother I remember. The other version of her is who she became when she was around her children. She had six; two boys and four girls. If I ever live to grow that old, I wish I inherit her madness. One morning she woke up having dreamt that the gods in Banaras were calling out to her. She demanded to be taken there right away. My mother laughed in her face and refused. It gave me an oddly primal pleasure to watch my mother being blackmailed first and bullied later by her mother to sponsor the Banaras trip.

Her extortion attempts are always successful because she threatens to go live with her children for ‘a few weeks’, if they don’t give her money. She knows her coming home means threatening them but it doesn’t make her sad because she makes a fortune out of it. When news of her arrival rocks the first floor of my house, the ground floor shakes with disapproval. Guestrooms are reorganised, undergarments are hidden inside lockers, bags are folded and kept away, and all the riches– shopped for carefully in various exhibitions, are stripped away until nothing but the gloomy exteriors of concrete remain.

 My Mouma, the bra thief snoops around the house for bras and chaddis regardless of how much they are torn or where, to give them away to other poorer relatives. I don’t know what she tells them when she hands it to them. I wonder if she’d collected empty Jockey boxes to fill them later with my bras and chaddis.

It’s more surprising to say this to myself but she’s also a fiercely independent woman. She prefers travelling alone and when she does, she travels in style. Hotels are booked months in advance, flight tickets are negotiated across two states – Karnataka (my mother) and Maharashtra (my Bombay aunt) and cars are arranged. Failing this, she goes AWOL for a long time and resurfaces at random points with new handbags from wherever she went but always smelling like Vibhooti. Wherever she came back from, she always smelled of Vibhooti, Marie biscuits and tea powder.

 When I ask for stories about my grandfather, I am only given one– like all those times I asked for too many things as a child and was given just the one bar of chocolate. My mother says he knew when he was going to die and that he scribbled the date on a wall in the house. He had a hole in his heart and died on the date he said he would. Nobody had time to be amazed by either this or his death because he had left behind a mountain of debt. It fell to the eldest son at home to take care of that and his siblings’ education.

My mother says she owned only two salwaar-kameezes when she went to Canara College. She would wear it every alternate day and her friends were kind enough never to ask her why. My aunts have always told my sister and I that we are lucky to be born rich because we don’t have to struggle with who’s wearing what. My Bombay aunt talks fondly about a time when the eldest sister would fold her favourite white salwaar-kameez neatly and put it under the bed to iron it and how one day, she- my Bombay aunt, sneaked into the room, wore it quickly and ran for her life for a family function that the elder one couldn’t attend because she had nothing to wear.

Growing up, my aunts navigated our desires with feel-bad stories of poverty from their childhood. Every time we made a fuss about not being able to watch a Salman Khan first day first show, my Bombay aunt would tell us the story of how she rolled on the floor and wept until dawn because it had rained and flooded and they couldn’t catch ‘Satte pe Satta’s last show in a broken theatre far away from home – so far, they had to change three buses to get there.

For a long time, I didn’t know what my mother’s caste was. I knew we were low-caste but whenever I asked for the name, I was told it was GSB. I knew that couldn’t have been right because Mouma said it all too hurriedly, like she wanted to say it fast and get it over with, like she had rehearsed it so often and so well that it had seemed a waste to throw it at a family member, instead of a stranger.

My mother, on the other hand said it with a half-smile, half- embarrassed look on her face. Once, I walked in on a conversation that my mother was having with Bubbly, my cousin.

-You should’ve told them no? That we are GSB.
-I told them but they didn’t look convinced
-Next time just remember to say GSB before anybody asks.

When I asked Bubbly about this conversation years later, she imitated my mother’s half-smile and told me that our ancestors were, for lack of a better word, ‘Nachnewaalis’ (dancers) and that’s why, collectively, they had all agreed on calling themselves GSB to avoid unpleasantness. Confused, I asked her why we had to hide it.

She said that that was because some of the Nachnewaalis were also prostitutes. I was 23 when I found out about this and I remember how much this information cheered me up. I imagined myself stumbling into old account books of clients or some such in one of the rooms in our Mangalore house.

We watched Shobhana in Manichitrathaazhu one evening. All of us sisters huddled in the last bedroom where there was no sunlight and the air was thick with the smell of Kannan Devan tea. For days I was convinced that I had in me, the spirit of my prostitute-ancestress. I explored all the rooms in a mad fervour to find old antiques/ jewellery/anything that looked like they didn’t belong in the house.

Sadly, all those rooms only had Kannan Devan tea powder rag-bags and one big, red old-school weighing machine. My cousins Avanti and Bubbly knew their way around the weighing machine. I looked, wide-eyed and thrilled at how they were able to use the correct weighing stones to weigh various things. I took a fancy to those weighing stones more than the weighing machine. My uncle kept that tea business for over five decades and continues to run it successfully. Even to this day, mother says she cannot stand to drink tea – green or black, the smell makes her nauseous.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma cannot stand each other because they are like each other. My Bombay aunt is the happiest woman I know because she tries. She is also one among the few people I know who have all the reason to be sad. She realised that her husband was an obnoxious person two hours after she married him. He was loud and uncouth.

Theirs was an arranged marriage. Their kundli had predicted a blissful union. In real life, she pondered over why their kundli lied so blatantly when she had to spend many nights outside the house after he had hit her and kicked her out. She didn’t leave him because she had watched and learnt what good wives do from far too many unhappy families and Bollywood movies.

Scooby was a stray dog that my Bombay aunt had taken in. He was a happy dog but ever so often he would get lonely so he would lie on the sofa and look woeful. My Bombay aunt would feel physically violated if she ever saw that dog unhappy so she would give him pep talks.

All the other colony dogs are jealous of you because you live luxuriously here with us. Don’t talk to them because they are all trying to usurp your position’.

My Bombay aunt and Mouma fight all the time. She knows that Mouma likes the other daughters more than her but what pisses her off is that Mouma does nothing to hide this. More than once I have heard my Mouma say ‘kauna gottu?’ Who knows? — when her other daughters said, ‘kasala amma teshi karta, tee ve tugeli dhuv nave?’ (Why do you act like that mother, she is also your daughter no?)

My Beef, Your Beef

I remember how his eyes became really small and seemed to disappear into their sockets when he was going to hit me. This was in 2009. We were at a hotel in Mussoorie eating the breakfast buffet. I had on my plate, a full English breakfast. When he asked me what the lump of red meat on my plate was, I said ‘Bacon’.

Is that pig?’
‘Yes’
‘OK. But sometimes they serve beef also so be careful’
‘It’s OK, I like beef’
-Silence-
‘You eat beef?’
‘Yes’

He looks at my mother who is sitting the way she always does when she knows something terrible is going to happen: her eyes boring into mine, fierce but saying nothing, pleading to stop. He says I have become like Arundhati Roy. I smirk. Two weeks ago, I had found out that Roy and I share the same birth day and I was still celebrating it.

I am just going to say ‘It’s ok, I like Arundhati Roy’, but my Bombay aunt can sense danger from a mile, so she pinches my arm. Now I am mad.

-I don’t want you in my house, he says. Two children are enough for me, I don’t want you.
-Ok. I’ll leave when we get back to Bangalore.

He has stood up, the table has moved back. The waiters have stopped whispering and are looking at us with devotion. I am wondering if they are taking sides. Whose side would they be on if they knew the whole story? I thought. He is leaving the table but before he does, he leans over all the plates and cutlery and my English breakfast to slap me. Mother has stopped him and has begun to pull him away.

I start weeping, my aunt starts patting my back rather rudely. I don’t know if she is trying to console me or taking revenge. My sister looks at me understandingly but there’s so much pity in her eyes that I must look away.

They say family fights make holidays special. I don’t want to slap the person who said this because later I will discover Lorelai Gilmore who said ‘there’s nothing like a family to screw up a family’.

I have a functional/guilt- induced relationship with my father, the same that most women seem to have with theirs. Have I mentioned that I love Freud? I refer to him in all my classes, especially when my students are being smartasses. While we were discussing a movie that I had just shown them, they said that the ending was kind of clichéd because it
rained and everybody was happy.

I said ‘Sigmund Freud said that if it rains at the end of a movie, then it’s a good movie’. They called my bluff but shut up. Since then I use Uncle Freud in all my classes when I have to invent something famous someone once said.

Every year on the 14th of April, my father sits us down to tell us we are what we are because of Ambedkar. It doesn’t matter that he was going to hit me for admitting to having eaten beef. It doesn’t matter that he insists on inviting Brahmins for lunch on all festivals. Because on the 14th of April, my father becomes the lanky Dalit boy that he was in his youth.

My mother recounts his childhood with a pain that I think he has chosen to remember only very rarely. When he studied engineering in Davanagere, he had no money. His father would send him 10 Rs every month. When he ran out of toothpaste, his friends lent him theirs in exchange for labour. He had to complete their record books. This arrangement ran like ration. For every assignment he wrote, he got a blob of toothpaste.

I know very little about his life back then. This was the first story about him I ever heard and the last I ever asked for. When I look at him in sepia photographs, I see him standing tall and thin, smiling widely. The corners around his eyes are always marked with a happiness that is too easy to believe and too far to imagine. My father looks happy in all the photographs. I don’t know how he does it, standing erect like a shirt on hanger, his hands joined behind his back, his eyes focused on the camera, his mouth breaking into a laugh that I remember as his laugh when we watch Tom and Jerry together.

When I ask them how they got married, my mother picks her answer carefully. She is always preparing her daughters for their lives in her answers to us. She came from a poor family, just like dad. One day when she was lighting choola to heat water in the bathroom, she found a photo ad in the newspaper matrimonial section. She had just picked up this bit of the paper to throw into the fire when she stopped. It was his photo. It said fair brides wanted. My mother was a fair bride. She boldly took the photo to her mother who only saw the words Government job next to a black and white photo of my dad and got her daughter ready. And like that they were married.

They were married in a hurry. My father was afraid of losing his fair bride to his mother’s dowry demands, something that my mother’s family couldn’t afford and something that my father wasn’t interested in.
And because he refused the dowry and became a good Indian man, he was cursed well. His mother-in-law visits us every now and then, more now than then and his mother stopped talking to him because of how nice he was to his in-laws and also because the dowry never came.

My mother says that two days into the marriage, she had begun to get very scared. My father would sit looking at ants early in the morning. He would trap one or two ants in a tumbler, look at them like a wild animal on hunt and smile. He would be fascinated by animals and my mother, by him.
I find their marriage very entertaining. Twenty seven years he’s been my father and he still struggles with Konkani much like he struggles with most other languages.

When we went to Munnar once, he was upset because the Tamil driver didn’t know the route and didn’t know Kannada. It always irritates my dad when people don’t know Kannada, especially Tamil people. My mother has tried to reason with him on this but he doesn’t listen. We think it’s because he adores Vadivel and loves watching Tamil movies so much that he hates to admit that he doesn’t even remember which the last good Kannada movie he watched was.

He thrust the phone into the driver’s hands and told him to call the hotel and tell them that we were on our way. The driver looked confused at which point my father barked, “K.S Anand anta sangu” which is a murder of two languages in an attempt to produce one.

His standard reaction to everything is swearing at people regardless of whether they have made him happy or sad. When we first moved into our new house, everything was messed up. Some walls weren’t painted, some switches weren’t working, and so he called the contractor and agonizingly said ‘Spitting spitting on your face, the saliva in my mouth also got over’, which made me wonder what he was more annoyed with – the unfinished work or the dearth of saliva in his mouth.

That was when he was bitterly angry. Most other times when he is cursing, he is also amused. Like this one time when he was driving and lost, we stopped to ask for directions from a man who gave us a clear map of where not to go. After 5 minutes of listening to that man’s elaborate ‘don’t take right, go straight, don’t take left, go straight’, my father put his head out of the window and said ‘Thoo, may someone pour masala dosa on your face’. Or like this other time when our maid Nagamma put his home slippers into the shoe cabinet for the 10th time that week, he ground his teeth and said ‘may cobras bite cobra-woman’s hands’

It made my mother chuckle with disbelief that he would dole out the most unconventional curses even when he was the happiest. Whenever our cook Shobhamma made what according to him was the best chicken saaru, he would say ‘what curry she’s made may her home fall into ruins’

When we went to Europe for 15 days, I was dreading Amsterdam and true to my horror; he hovered behind my sister and I throughout the shopping spree. He let us enter the first -half sections of all the shops where there were weed chewing gums, the second section was tricky – he had raised his eyebrows at the various novelty t-shirts and mannequins that wore things just to show off parts that weren’t covered.

At the third section where there were all manner of Dildos and Vibrators in fascinating colours and sizes that may have confused him about where to put them, he told us to about-turn and we did because we couldn’t keep the giggles inside any longer.

Ishq and other things

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When I get back home at 11:00 in the night, my footsteps are measured, my body rigid and I plonk myself on the sofa which, much like my body, seems too soft out of a tiredness that will only go away after eight hours of sleep. I must be careful to not make noise; ma is awake, like always. If she is coming down with heavy steps, a noise that carries itself to the very core of my heart and makes me pout in fear, it means I am going to get an earful that night. I wait to hear the soft thud of the door of her bedroom which means that she’s finally going to sleep. But the thud is followed by a silence that is almost unbearable to ignore. It means she’s unhappy that I have come home late again.

When I get back home at 8:00, my brother is watching Kumkum Bhagya and having dinner. He sulks when I ask him to change the channel. Two years ago, if I had yanked the remote out of his hand and switched to Zee Cafe to watch The Big Bang Theory or Friends, he would have made a fuss. But he has learnt to like these shows now so he doesn’t mind that his sisters watch Zee Cafe. He laughs along with the laugh track and sometimes louder.

He annoys us repeatedly to know which episode it was that Raj, Leonard and Howard go to camp, get high and laugh like maniacs. In solidarity, I have begun to take an interest in Kumkum Bhagya. I am making guesses of all kinds — who is upset with whom in this episode and why? In last week’s episode the man got drunk, returned home with a doll that looked like his wife and came very close to making love to it.

Tonight my brother is watching Ishq, a Hindi movie from the 90’s. At the outset it’s the story of four people in love. Two boys and two girls. One for all and all for one. But only two of these people are rich, but they are not the couple in love and that’s why their parents must kill their poor lovers so the rich boy can marry the rich girl.

I watched it in Belgaum. My neighbours – J and P had watched it that afternoon and had come running to our house to tell us to go watch it. They told us what scenes to look out for – there was the pipe scene, they said, which made the whole theatre go berserk with madness. J said a little pee came out. P said it was not little.

They enacted a particularly macabre scene with such enthusiasm, my dad was convinced that we had to go watch the movie soon. This was the car scene. Juhi Chawla is pissed with Aamir Khan and wants him to die so she puts him in a car with no brakes. There is also a monkey in the car that drives at one point.

That night, we went to Nartaki. I kept looking at mom-dad’s faces in the darkness to make sure they were laughing. This is a sickness that I have even now. Every time I watch a movie that I have heard is great or really funny, I want to make sure that the people sitting next to me are laughing. If they aren’t, I get really worried. I wonder if they have understood the joke and so I sit prepared to explain the joke. If this doesn’t happen, I wonder if they are upset with me. Don’t watch movies with me, I am crazy like that.

But there, I didn’t have to worry. My parents were laughing. My mother’s cheeks were red, the color they become when she is also crying.

I liked Ishq for a whole lot of other reasons. There were two couples and I was curious to know how they functioned. My heart felt all kinds of full when I watched them dance around wearing clothes that matched in Mr Lova Lova. I decided that my favourite couple is Juhi-Aamir because their clothes were more color-coordinated. My sister picked Kajol-Ajay because she said theirs was true love.

The fact that the movie also explored the sexual tension between the couple not- in- love thrilled me to bits. In most other movies the couple not -in- love become brother-sister if they aren’t already brother- sister. This was one such movie. And to top it all, the rich kids had maniacal fathers who were interestingly, both widowers. One got laughed at a lot because he was dark, the other got laughed at a lot because he was bald.

God, I miss the 90’s. Things were simpler.

For once, nobody is fighting over what to watch. Tonight, my brother and I will sit and laugh at all the scenes I had laughed at all those years ago.