The Day I Became a Woman

But how will I know when it’s noon?

Take this stick. When its shadow is getting shorter, it means that it is almost noon. When there is no shadow, it means the sun is fully up and you must be back home.

Via czaradox.blogspot.com

Via czaradox.blogspot.com

All three stories in The Day I Became a Woman begin in the middle. It feels like being caught in a conversation between lovers.

In the first one, little Hava cannot play with her friend Hassan anymore because, on her ninth birthday, she is believed to have become a woman. Her mother and granny fret over her for a long time before finally permitting her to play with Hassan. She is told that she must be back by noon.

They stitch a chador for her, and she runs to meet Hassan. But his mother has locked him inside the house. He is told that he cannot come out until he finishes his homework.

Hava has to scream his name many times before he comes to the window and the more he delays, the more she worries that her stick’s shadow will be gone. And then through the window, Hava and the boy hang out.

She buys sweets and puts her tiny hands through the window to give him a lollipop. Behind her, the stick is buried in a small mound of mud. She keeps looking back to check on the shadow.

***

If you don’t stop right now, I will divorce you

Ahoo is running away from everyone. She is one among the cyclists in a marathon but there is something sharp about her eyes that never lose focus as she peddles fiercely. In the beginning, we can only see her back. She is in one corner of the never-ending road. It is not too long before we see who she is running away from. Her husband chases her in his horse, galloping away. For miles along, it seems like the only people in the world are the girls, their cycles, the horse and its man.

Toka toka toka.

She knows he is here and peddles faster. Kitchi kitchi kitchi kitchi

Ahooooooooo, stop!

She barely looks at him. Sometimes she covers her face, annoyed clearly by this rude intrusion. His screams continue– I will leave you, I will divorce you.

Ahoo keeps cycling.

She doesn’t stop, she never stops – not even to acknowledge her own anger. And this is the most surprising and the least surprising thing about the film. Most surprising because – of what use is anger if you can’t show it? Especially to the person you’re angry with? But Ahoo doesn’t care about him enough to show him anything; she cares about herself which is why all that energy is going into peddling – so she can run away from him. It is least surprising because it’s what we have all heard many times over – let them do what they want – you just do your work. And in that moment Ahoo showed me how to be.

Asia Society

Via Asia Society

For many more miles, the only people in the world are Ahoo, her cycle, and her focus.

Earlier this year Faye D’Souza shut Maulana Yasoob Abbas up on her show.

“He (Maulana) hopes that he will rile me up. He hopes that I will throw a fit, and I will lose control of my panel and forget how to do my job. Let me tell you Maulana ji, I have seen the likes of you. I am not afraid of you, I am not threatened by you, I am not rattled by you. All you men think that if you rattle Sana Fatima when she is doing her job, if you rattle Sania Mirza while she is doing her job, if you rattle women when they are doing their job, then they will run back into their kitchens and leave the world for you again to conquer, I have news for you, we are not going anywhere.”

I am reminded of this when I watch Ahoo cycle as if nothing else in the world matters.

They are both vastly different moments but filled with such similar, deep urgency.

Ahoo’s husband throws a tantrum and leaves, and along with her, we sigh.

The women cycle – Ahoo is going fast and slow and fast and slow. Often, she rides slowly.

In Persian, Ahoo means Deer. And she moves like the deer when he comes. He goes and comes and when he does, he returns with more people. The only thing you need to know about the intruders is that each time they come, there are more and more men.

First the father, then – hold your breath – the mullah who is so thin and weak – he might just fall from his horse and die – and then, finally, ultimately – a troop of her brothers on their horses.

When they surround her, the camera zooms out and we never find out if they carried her home or killed her or took away her cycle. She may even have borrowed a cycle from one of the women. We’ll never know.

***

I have a feeling I’ll never remember what this ribbon is for.

Via firouzanfilms.com

Via firouzanfilms.com

In the third one – a very old woman has suddenly become very rich. She has ribbons in varied colors tied to her fingers – each ribbon reminding her of all the things she needs to buy – things that she could never buy before – a refrigerator, a bath tub, a dining table, teapot, crockery, AC, oven, gas, sofa. She finds a boy and pays him to cart her around the city. Every time she comes out of a building, a trail of carts with packaged goods follow her and so do little boys pushing these carts around.

All the goods are unpacked by the shore of a beach because she cannot remember what the last ribbon is for. She hopes that unpacking and organizing everything might remind her. The boys build the inside of a make-believe home for her as she lounges on the sofa and demands some tea.

All you need to know about the ending is that when the old woman sails off on a boat (all her things with her) – to catch a ship, so she can leave forever and find a home for herself; Hava, her mother and a couple of girls from the cycle marathon all step out of their stories to watch her leave.

***

All these stories, all these women – teaching me how to live, how to survive, how to breathe, how to ignore, and how to continue doing work as if nothing else in the world matters.

And again, I find that I’m grateful for stories like I’ve never been and always been.

***

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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.

Mouma

Mouma’s neck is wrinkly like her hands. If I put my hands around her neck, and give it a good squeeze, I imagine I can feel the soft wriggly mass of bloody veins inside. When Mouma uses fair and lovely, she rubs her palms over her face and the film never leaves her. Not even in the evening when she returns home from wherever it is she goes to. She likes body massages and facials so all us sisters have painfully sat through these sessions, rubbing her face with whatever cream we could find, sometimes even using toothpaste on her cheeks, having convinced her that it’s really an imported brand.

When I was small, I’d sneak into her room to look for hidden packets of vibhooti – ones she’d hide just for me – away from mom’s reach. These packets came in varied bright colors – orange, green, blue, pink – made of cheap papery material, but all tiny and folded eloquently. Opening these packets was never fussy in the way that opening packets usually is. The thin layer of vibhooti would sit in an even, rectangular film. I wanted to ravage it and also not because it looked strangely perfect. In no less than two seconds, I’d paste my tongue on the vibhooti and hold it there for a minute. After I was sure that enough of it had been taken in, I’d roll my tongue back and wait for the burnt carbony taste to take over.

After devouring the vibhooti, I’d stand in front of the mirror to adore the white traces left behind. And then my stomach would rumble and I’d feel sick from the ash taste in my mouth.

Mouma’s room always smelled different from the rest of the house. While the rest of the house baked in the warm afternoon sun, her room was never hot.

No matter what time in the day it is, in Mangalore, all houses smell of Dalithoy. When they put ghee into the pan to make Dalithoy, the smell is the strongest in the hall and the doorway. From here it escapes to the neighbours’ house just as their Dalithoy smells come to us. Like this, we all live in one giant Dalithoy pan.

Except in mouma’s room though – where it smelled a little of marie biscuits, vibhooti and mostly other temple smells. A TV and a big tape recorder sat in two different corners of the room. She only switched the TV on in the evenings to watch her serials. And the tape recorder was only used to keep other things on top of it. I was surprised to find out much later that it actually worked.

Mouma’s tirganos (underskirts) were, like the packets of vibhooti, varied bright colors – green, red, and orange. They were all faded and that’s the only item of her clothing that I saw everywhere in her room. Even though she may have owned only three, it always seems like she had more. Her sarees, on the other hand were plenty and yet I remember only the yellow one with the red dots that she wore. This is the saree that I don’t remember being folded at all. It was worn, washed and made to fall in the heap full of freshly washed clothes, where it was picked up from and worn again as if it never left her body.

While it was being washed, she wore a blouse that was too small for her and a tirgano, like a proper Malabar woman. She kept her hair open when she was at home. And when she went out, she wore a phanthi (wig) and coiled all of it into a dignified bun. She stole lipsticks and creams from her daughters and hid all of them somewhere in her room. She stole bras from her grand-daughters that no one knows where she hides. Let alone what she does with them.

My Mouma, my heroine.

In Arts & Culture Class One Saturday Morning

In Arts & Culture last Saturday, I tried something I haven’t had the courage to try as a teacher all these years. I let students run the class.

We had just finished watching Zizek’s The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. While some of them were taken by surprise, some others were purely disgusted by him. One found his accent revolting, another found his energy irritating. What made the discussion livelier was that people were willing to admit these things and just as willing to listen to me when I admitted to liking the man. There was conversation after that about real and unreal in the world of cinema. We decided to take home our conversation and ponder over it.

In class the next day, D who was made to talk about his interest in films, set a mad story-telling vibe which later, the rest of the class followed. His stories were crazy. I would’ve never guessed how much of a fillum-crazy streak the boy had. From watching films in secret, to egging on friends to bunk class and go with him to watch movies and then getting caught – he’s done it all. We were thrilled to hear him narrate his escapades into the normal world – one we all thought was forbidden to him.

L told us that her destiny was to be a nun apparently. She was sent for training but she kept stuffing her face with food and this made her very unpopular with all the other nuns. When she went home for vacation, she decided never to go back because she liked to eat more than she wanted to become a nun.

Sometimes, I wasn’t able to decide who was more crazy – they or their families.

Like V for instance, whose dad took her to watch The Lion King when she was 4. He waited for the scene where Mufasa picks up Simba in his arms and shows him to the world. And then when the scene came, he took her in his arms and showed her around to all the people in the theatre.

A confessed deep and pure love for Dhanush because he looks just like her boyfriend. L went a step ahead and declared that Dhanush is the realest man because in her life so far, she has never met anybody who looks like Hrithik Roshan or Surya or Vijay but she has seen many a Dhanush. If it weren’t for the fact that I was holding my stomach and howling with laughter, I would’ve hugged her at this point.

S.M, who looked like I’d asked her to give me her kidney when I told her to take off her bag, said that she believes that the Bermuda triangle is a getaway to other worlds and we all agreed. She is also very attached to her bag. Maybe she sleeps with that thing around her neck.

K confessed to crying twice in his life. Once when his school made them all watch Taare Zameen Par and all the boys sniffed through the second-half of the movie and refused to show each other that they were crying. Another time was when the Late Paul Walker was paid tribute to in that recent Fast and Furious movie. L cracked up at this. She burst out laughing, her face turning shades of red, eyes all watery, saying over and over again, ‘you cried for fast and furious’

A.N said that S.S has ruined movies for her because he’s so much into film making, he’s always telling her to pay attention to the camera angle and such. S.S said he hates it when people aren’t paying attention to the movie and keep shifting around or checking their phones. Like me, even S.S believed for a long time that the hero and the heroine of any movie are married to each other and it freaked him out when he saw the same hero romance other heroines in other films.

They all told us something that none of us knew about them. From stories that surprised us to stories that made us see them differently to stories that had us giggling and howling. Enjoying films appeared to be the common most thing in all our lives. I’m beginning to think that we aren’t all that different from each other. And I am taking an odd comfort in knowing this. I’m happy 🙂

Mere Nas Nas Mein

After watching Titanic for the first time, I told my sister that the locket that Rose threw into the Atlantic goes down and lodges itself very neatly around Jack’s skeleton-neck. The truth of their incomplete love was too much for me to deal with. Or maybe I just couldn’t stand the thought of the locket being thrown away like that. I had to make up a story that would make me feel better. I was 12, Mintu was 10. She believed me. Two years between us wasn’t big enough for her to think of me as wise and not small enough for her to completely ignore me.

As a child, I had a bed-wetting problem that continued well into my teens. I was embarrassed and this made me a very insecure and bitter child. I could never freely sleep in other people’s homes, much less mine. Rubber sheets were thrown under my mattresses. And it always seemed like these rubber sheets were sticky and dirty, no matter how many times they had been washed. Things like these never stay within the family. Relatives are always over –eager to let you know that they are not embarrassed by your bed-wetting problem and the only moment they choose to tell you how cool they are with it is in front of other relatives.

Rubber sheet togondenamma? – became a question that every well-meaning aunt asked before I left with them for a sleepover with cousins.

Mintu was a chubby, dark-haired, second-rank student. She had no bed-wetting problem and was always very respectful of elders.

Over one summer, I don’t know how but to make matters worse, she got taller than me. It was at this point that I invented ‘Kamoon’ – a flying spirit that was my close, personal friend. Kamoon was green, visible only to me and shy. He didn’t like my sister very much because he thought she was too proud and first and foremost – she didn’t wet her bed. I showed Mintu the green in my veins to convince her of his existence. It didn’t take much time. After she believed Kamoon – giving him a story wasn’t difficult. He lived in my veins when I summoned him and left only after I had wet the bed.

I found her one day, sitting near the washing machine and weeping quietly because she didn’t have a spirit-friend she could share her feelings with. She begged me to make Kamoon her friend. She bawled when I said that it was simply not possible. That she couldn’t just start bed-wetting to become friends with Kamoon.

The next morning, mother was furious because there were two maps of urine on the bed sheet. One Sri Lanka and one Africa.

Fine, I said. But I cannot give you Kamoon. I can give you Kummi, his brother.

And so it was that I gave Kummi to my sister. Every now and then, she would look at her wrist happily and whisper to it. Kamoon and I watched with great delight, sighing a great big pity for her. Soon, Mintu stopped bed-wetting but I continued to. It took her a while to figure out that Kummi wasn’t really living in her veins—that I had never really passed the order of transfer – that Kamoon was a lie – that a large part of her childhood was a lie.

Over the years, Mintu and I will grow apart and come close and grow apart again. Kamoon has never visited me after that but I think of him very often.

Bombay Diaries

Pachi* found my diary once. It was a white spiral bound notebook that said ‘My Diary’. She said she wanted to read it. When I gave her a dirty look, she promised she wouldn’t tell ma about it. After I handed it over, she scratched the ‘Diary’ out and wrote in bold, confident letters ‘Dairy’.

She wakes up at 5:00 every morning to do Pranayama and Yoga. It all began with Baba Ramdev 10 years ago. That evening after he demonstrated how to grow hair—ma, aunty and everybody else at home sat and rubbed their finger nails. They have been doing it since. They do it while watching TV, in the theatre while watching a movie and in restaurants while we wait for food. Dad joined in when he realised that all the ‘grow hair in one week’ medicines were failing him.

Pachi lives in Andheri, Mumbai. She has lived there since Mumbai was Bombay. A man who lived in her building used to be secretary to Juhi Chawla and then later to Hrithik Roshan. When they got Juhi Chawla to come to aunty’s home one day, my cousin L – Aunty’s son, picked a strand of Juhi Chawla’s hair and put it in a plastic cover. He hid it in his cupboard and never showed it to us.

Because of the secretary connection, she claims that her gossip about Bollywood movie stars is 100% pakka. She is convinced that Rani Mukherjee drinks and smokes; that Aishwarya doesn’t; and that there really is something between Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan. Her maid who has connections too, tells her some of these things. When my sister and I were 13, 14, and 15 – we listened to all these stories with envious interests. We had to know if L had really hugged Hrithik Roshan or if Shah Rukh’s son was really promised to Madhuri’s daughter or if Salman really stood outside Aishwarya’s door every night, threatening to break it down, miles apart from how Amitabh stood outside Rekha’s apartment (My mother and pachi swear by this. They say that in all the award functions, they have seen nothing but true love for Rekha in Amitabh’s eyes)

When we became 21, 22, and 23 – we resisted these stories like we resisted everything else at that age. We were rude to pachi and back-answered her at every chance we saw fit. Somehow we were more vulnerable then than we were at 13, 14 and 15. We refused to believe that she even saw these stars close-up—let alone knew them in person. We were mad at ourselves for having believed the stories in the first place. At 25, 26 and 27 – we forgave her because we had learnt a lot about her life by then.

She is a mindless exaggerator of details, almost to the point where she knows nobody is going to believe her but she continues anyway – I have never been able to find out why.

When I was in Mangalore for summer vacations some years ago, she thought it was a good idea to drag me the Government College that she had studied in- to pull out some really old records. I tagged along hoping it would be an interesting expedition. We took a bus and at the college I witnessed what my aunt is really famous for – her negotiations. All the women in my family from my mother’s side bargain beautifully. Neither my dad nor anybody from his side of the family knows how to bargain. I think I have his genes. I sat at a long, oval brown table and watched as my aunt had them pull out record after record from the 70’s.

Innu swalpa nodi, tumba problem aagtade illa andre. Nanna maganige interview untu americadalli. Nanna doucuments sikkilla andre avanige visa illa.

In the train, on their way back to Bombay – my aunt sat in somebody else’s seat the first half of the journey. Neither of the four of my family members that were on that train had a ticket. They just got on the train and left. My aunt- her son; my other aunt and her son. When the man whose seat it was boarded the train and asked politely to see their tickets, she fought with him.When the poor thing kept showing his ticket to her, saying that he had paid for it, my aunt only said – Toh hum kya phokat main aaye hain?

*Pachi in Konkani means aunt.

For the 200th blog post :)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you hit 200 posts on your blog, people will *nudge nudge wink wink* and say ‘Blogging is not actual writing no?’. It is also a truth partly acknowledged that it will not be said directly. Here’s a clue. This is what they want to say: but she’s not a real writer ya!

Maybe. Maybe not. But this is how many fucks I gave about it today. One. And that’s why I am writing blogging about it. And then I’m all out. I feel strangely at peace with things today. First day of the academic year and I almost called in sick because I didn’t want to leave home, didn’t want to leave mommy. I’m not even kidding. The only reason I wanted to get out bed was because I spent my holidays doing absolutely nothing and was hoping the first day would yank me out of this sick – gestation period. This is the worst I have been at holidays. Worst. All my days were chewed up by meaningless binge-watching of HIMYM. My nights were long, warm and useless. I didn’t even wake up feeling refreshed.

The only good day I had was the 31st of December. I woke up, kicked myself, didn’t make my bed, had a bath, watched Romedy Now (Reruns of HIMYM, obvi), took my scooty and went to college. In the department, I made chai, cleaned up and settled down. I found futureme.org. A website that allows one to write letters for the future self. I wrote one. It will be delivered to my inbox on the 31st of Dec, 2016. I can’t wait to read it. I am wondering if it will make sense at all. The letter is 2000 words. It tired me so I ordered food from Khazana and watched HIMYM while eating it. The Ghee Rice, Dal, and Phal all agreed with me. Except when I dropped half a packet of Dal on my white palazzo pants. Best 31st Dec, ever.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to end my 200th blog post. I’ll just say today was a very interesting day. I am glad that holidays are over and that it’s a new bloody year and everything. The good ol’ Ladies Finger ran an essay I wrote about the women in my family. It’s a great boost – To begin New Year’s with the finger. Hee Hee.

Back home, I got fried for writing about this because apparently the man of the house has to be protected. If I’m not too careful, I may end up falling in love with all the women in my family. They are too busy protecting the men from getting hurt. This gave me the giggles. Mean ones.

Bubbly and I sat for hours this evening, talking about out great-grandmother. At one point, I had to whip open a tissue paper to map a family-tree, which began with one woman and ended with plenty of sons. I discovered many things about my family today. Some surprising, some disturbing, and some crazy- funny stories about a great-grandmother I never knew. I feel strangely inspired. Strange because it’s the same feeling I get after watching movies with a superb female cast.

I feel stronger because of the stories I heard today. Some days, maybe it’s enough to want to know more about the strong great-grandmother, and being told that she was strong. That’s all. It’s like watching Arundhati – scary, inspiring and deadly.

It was a pretty spectacular 200th blog post day. The high point of the evening was when Bubbly and I started talking about our Mangalore house. We began looking for a lost childhood that was short enough to fit into the house and long enough to follow us here, today.