F.R.O.G.S

This piece was written over a stretch of the first few rainy evenings in September. On the first evening, I sat at the department computer, earphones plugged in — listening to YouTube audios of croaking frogs, crickets and other night sounds.

Mangalore and Goa are two of my favourite cities because the frogs here know me well. What began as a tribute to frogs became an inward journey  into the home that I spent my childhood in.

TVs had a volume of their own here and this was the most liberating thing about the house. It was always blaring loud no matter who was around. Back home in Bangalore, every time I sensed my father’s mood swings, I wished all the TV volumes in the world would mute. But in Mangalore, rules bent themselves so neatly that we sat on them and made paper boats.

***

In the afternoons, Goa and Mangalore have the same slumberworthy capacities. The heat becomes duller, settling on the eyelids — making it heavy with sleep. And if there are trees around, the occasional rustle of the wind sends the birds into disarrayed flapping of wings, causing many hypnic jerks. The short dreams are always about birds – flapping eyelashes instead of wings. And, of aeroplanes that fly dangerously close to huts.

Read more here.

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Lalbagh

Lalbagh has been the cause for many embarrassments in my life. The first time I saw it, I saw it two times but it felt like four. I had no idea there were 4 gates and sitting next to my friend in the bus, I saw the west and east gates in fifteen minutes and asked her if the driver was taking us round and round. Supriya slapped her forehead even as she struggled to keep from laughing rudely in my face.

She explained and I said, ‘oh’. Then I moved on with my life.

Many years later, my then best friend began frequenting Lalbagh. She’d sit there for hours, sometimes the whole day. She’d order from Dominos, eat cheese garlic bread and watch the lake. I never understood what she sought there but she went there every day. Whatever she sought, she must have found abundantly. She tried to get me to enjoy the quiet there and I did enjoy it, but it wasn’t something I wanted too much of. Now that I think about it, Josephine is probably the only woman from my past who knew how to be alone and enjoy it.

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One day in Lalbagh, Josephine and I were sitting on the bench and preparing to leave when suddenly, she grabbed me by the arm and started to whisk me away. ‘Whaaaat’, I moaned. ‘Don’t look back. Whatever you do, do not look back’, she muttered. So I looked back. A man who had been sleeping all evening had woken up and was now pleasuring himself quite ferociously. Like there was no tomorrow. The phrase ‘going to town’ came to mind.

That man effectively ruined our hitherto chaste friendship. We had never talked about bodily things before and suddenly we found it difficult to return to Lalbagh together.

After that unfortunate incident, I forgot all about Lalbagh and it went back to being that part of the road that smells nice when I ride past it. Occasionally, I’d give it a cheerless nod and bookmark it for the future.

***

Today, it rained so I thought why not and swerved right on Siddapura Road to park suddenly in the middle of actual riding. I parked and wondered if I had to pay. There was no counter so I walked on, looking back every now and then and half expecting an old man to come running after me, yelling at me to pay. Nobody came.

When I began looking around, I realised how afraid I am of my own thoughts. Every time a long walk is in the cards, I pack my ipod before anything else and rely too much on music to keep me away from myself. But the only music here was the crunchy footwear sound that I have come to appreciate so much. The after rain footwear on part dry crunch-crunch mud sound, like the sound people in cartoons make when they eat anything.

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The traffic noise seemed to be coming from an approaching city. It was drizzling and it seemed like the trees were making their own noise. Men in smart colored tees were jogging past me with their hoo hoo breathlessness. Somewhere an urdu speaking aunty was instructing her daughter to forget the ball forever if she dropped it into the lake. ‘Gaya tho uthech, bhoolna so’

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The lake became more and more real as I saw the birds near it. The faint traffic noise now seemed to be coming from above. I walked to the Lotus pond and trained my ears to pick up coastal sounds of frogs croaking. One, maybe two and then suddenly nothing. But the trees were having fun and continued making their rustling noise. I was understanding Josephine and began missing her terribly and missed also that outrageous man who molested himself.

It was a good day.

Dilli

2015

Some cities share their stories with us so fiercely that when we leave, we don’t miss them anymore because their stories quietly replace them.

For the longest time, Delhi was lived quite precariously within the strong red walls of Karnataka Bhavan and its sombre neighbour, Ansal Plaza. This was where we headed to for a stroll, for pizza and to generally avoid the vacuum of living in a strange city and yet living outside of it.

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Early this year in Ansal Plaza, I found Hi Seoul, and I allowed myself to feel less tortured about not having the courage to explore Dilli. Finding Hi Seoul was the result of some form of exploration, I told myself. So as my parents and aunt trundled to Dominos’; the sister, the brother, and I walked to Hi Seoul.

The next day, we caught our early morning flight to Manali. Delhi safely went back to being the building we stopped at before resuming the actual journey.

***

2016

Chawri Bazaar

When I stepped out to go to Daryaganj, my phone was recovering from the heavy-duty Delhi Metro apps I’d just downloaded. Daryaganj, as my app pointed out, was squeezed between Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk. The Chandni Chowk of Kajol from K3G’s galli, of delicious jelebis and cheap clothes that cousins talked about always a little breathlessly, and of the way my mother’s eyes turned suddenly soft and then shy when she recounted her second trip with dad there.

I cursed all my well-wishers back home who told me that I’d die if I didn’t take warm clothes and wear two socks and two bras in Delhi. I was baking – bra, body warmer, a full sleeved cotton shirt with frills, my brown jacket, socks and warm crocs.

I climbed out of the Chawri Bazaar Metro station and saw a line of cycle-rickshaws. My Google maps said walk 20 minutes to reach Daryaganj. I said chalo, why not and as I walked towards the footpath, one of my legs stood firmly in front of the cycle-rickshaw and refused to move. It all had to happen fast so obviously I went to the nearest cycle-rickshaw and looked inside. The last time I had seen one was in Band Baaja Baraat where Bittu and Shruti do their Shaadi Mubarak business phone call in a cycle rickshaw. Daryaganj jaana hai, I told my man. He nodded and I hopped inside.

My rucksack and I hugged each other as we sat because we were happy and didn’t want anyone or anything else in life. Except maybe some jelebis. Jelebis, yes. And as I sat there, bobbing up and down, I dreamt about a magic camera that could show you what all your friends were doing in that moment and then I imagined all my friends staring into my moment and feeling very happy for me. My father’s disapproving face appeared and I felt happier.

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The cycle-rickshaw braked and I fell, face -first on my man’s back. My rucksack fell and along with it, all my camera fantasies and hopes. My father’s face erupted into raucous laughter and I sobered down. I had arrived in Dilli. I held on tightly to the sides of my cycle-rickshaw and felt a little afraid for my life. My man was humming and braking and screaming at bike/car walas and jumping in and out of potholes with very little effort.

The road suddenly sprung to life and all the vehicles jammed on the lane started screeching away. There was no trace of a footpath — all the cycle-rickshaws had pulled closed to one another and were honking in unison. We were now on a two way road with a serious monopoly issue. Our side had colonised half the road.

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When we hadn’t moved for a while, I paid up and squeezed myself out and stood on no man’s land. I was trapped. There was no room for my rucksack and me to stand, let alone move. My man took pity and offered to drop me to the end of the road. I looked around to see various no man’s land people offering 100 bucks to just sit in the cycle-rickshaw.

Metro

The metro quickly became something I looked forward to travelling in everyday with a mild jouissance. Imagining my body and the bodies of many other women in the metro, lolling freely in the comfort of the ladies compartment made me want to know them differently.

A woman was reading a text book by the door – her lips pouting in enviable concentration, her eyelashes barely visible and her posture so confident, I wondered if she did this every day. Another wriggled into the space between two large women and apologized for her huge Mega Mart bag even as the women dutifully ignored her and went back to sleep.

On my last day in Dilli, two women asked me for directions and one of them enquired if I took the metro regularly. I shamelessly said yes and smiled like a maniac for the rest of the journey.

***

Daryaganj

Monica James writes in Invisible Libraries that today, the library of Daryaganj contains the city. ‘A walk through the library of Daryaganj is also a walk through the city and in your wanderings books become your guides.’

There were various kinds of libraries here: deodorants, clothes, sweaters, track pants, spiral-bound books, diaries, but mostly more books. They were pouring out of the pavements. Lines and lines of massive books in all sizes displayed on thick, plastic blue covers. I scored two Judy Moodys here for Rs 10 each and a moth-eaten copy of Austen’s Sanditon for Rs 30 which I bought only for the inscription I found inside:

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A mean sized auto pulled up at one of the pavements and a lean, short man wearing green chappals slowly started shutting down business for the day and arranging it in the back of the auto. Everywhere else, books were being returned to humongous plastic covers, rags and travel bags. One such pile was being stuffed in when I noticed a bent copy of Blankets. 200 Rs. I decided against it because by now my rucksack was threatening to burst. I still regret not buying it.

On the way back – the rush from before was gone and Meena Bazaar had fallen to a quiet mist. Shop after shop selling meat had their showcases filled to the brim with kebabs and sheeks. On the other side, boxes of sweet smelling fruits were piled on top of each other. At Jama Masjid, I cut into a galli full of weddingy shops: Invitation cards, tent works, plumbing, bride and groom clothes, and travel agents selling exclusive honeymoon deals.

In the corner, a thin man with a big scar on his forehead sat with his knees pressed to the chest – he was getting a shave from a large man dexterously waving his knife. All the top-half of the buildings in Chawri bazaar were blackened, dusty and closed. The lower half of the buildings flourished with activity. I walked on and on, realizing that in a parallel universe, I am sitting in one of the many balconies at Karnataka Bhavan gazing down at red brick walls.

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On & Off

After a devastating performance in class yesterday, I walked back to the department feeling unfamiliar pangs of guiltless-ness. A year ago, a bad class would have destroyed my inner peace and haunted the rest of my week. I’d find it very difficult to forgive myself. I am only now learning to let go. And this is very liberating because I know I will soon go back to the class and reclaim what I think I lost.

I am missing Delhi. I tell myself that I’d be restless there after three days. I tell myself that sometimes cities can show you their face only for two days and after that, they have nothing more to offer. Even so, when I was at the airport, boarding my flight back to Bangalore, there was a large Delhi-shaped emptiness that kept growing.

Delhi has always been scary. I still can’t bring myself to believe that on my first day there, I took myself out and plunged into the heart of the city with a rebellion I assumed only my parents could inspire in me. I took the metro and got lost, took the cycle-rickshaw and nearly died, walked from Daryaganj to Chawri Bazaar and didn’t have to punch anybody in the face.

On my last day there, a woman asked for my help with directions, and another woman asked me if I took the metro everyday. When I shamelessly said yes, she told me she was lost and I gave her the right directions. I can see myself living there and working there. This is enough imagination to sustain me for weeks.

Every time I explore a city alone, I find a piece of myself that I didn’t know was lost. This has been both gratifying and confusing to deal with.

In class today, we talked about Chaucer and writing. All the shattered selves from yesterday came back in silent prayer. With every passing day, my capacity to read is becoming increasingly demanding. One evening last week, I had a quiet affair with Habibi and got lost in its illustrations and story. We all had a lot to say about it at The Reading Room. Current read is Siddalingaiah’s ‘A Word With You, World’, which has been tempting me to return to my half-finished caste piece.

It is comforting to read Siddalingaiah. I wish I’d read the book last year, which may have been a time when I needed it the most. His stories remind me of my father’s childhood – they loom in the background and are told in a soothing voice. Never preachy nor patronizing, they reveal more than what I assume they can hold.

This has been my week – Habibi, Delhi, Metro, Chaucer, and Siddalingaiah.

Riding

When I’m riding to college, my posture changes 3 times. When I take the ‘sudden’ left immediately after home, my back is straight with caution, my arms relaxed on the handles, and my demeanour polite and undemanding, unlike my mother who watches me from the balcony every morning.

A little ahead and my body picks up speed and hurries past ambling cows who are immune to life and noise outside their bodies and ignore me to focus on the more important things in life- flies.

My body is at its rigid best when we pass by the loud and bellowing temple and its irritating, loyal devotees seated in their vehicles, their palms joined together outside the window. Arms that I’d like my super fast activa to chop in half. These are the only people I honk at mercilessly. I don’t like this excuse they have awarded themselves – that they shan’t be disturbed when they are praying to god in the middle of the road regardless of how many vehicles line up behind.

Near Jain College and its acutely chatty pupils, my grip on the accelerator thickens. They stand in the middle of the road to hi-five, to chat, to greet each other. They should be wiped off the earth.  When I begin honking, girls jump back in fright and roll their eyes, boys point their elongated arms at me in disgust while I flutter off happily.

***

At signals, my body is light and I try to balance the vehicle’s weight, alternating from one foot to the other. My eyes fall on fellow riders, wondering where they’re headed, where they’ve come from, whether they’ve bathed?

Now and then, my face becomes rounder and falls when it sees men who ogle from inside their vehicles. It falls, and then it stares back at them, gaze fixed, challenge accepted. Let’s see who withdraws first. Sometimes they withdraw first and when they don’t, and if I find the courage that morning, I flash my middle finger at them before scuttling off. This is the advantage of a two-wheeler. One cannot scuttle off in a car.

When I cross a busy road, my body is hesitant but my palms are stubborn. They have a tighter grip on the bike than I have on my life and in seconds, without so much as a passing register to the honking truck nearby, I speed to the other side.

***

On route to getting some alone time, my body is warm and I am happy. I smile at trees and the skyline; I appreciate the color in the evening, humming old and forgotten Bollywood songs and tunes of languages that I don’t know. When I am headed to G’s, I’m secretly a little anxious. The writing may or may not happen but there’s always plenty of hot chocolate to fall back on. And it’s always a nice thing to know that there are several plug points at G’s even though I may not need one.

Riding to K is mostly a set of decisions. Is it a rum kind of evening or a ginger chai kind? Cops never make it to this list. (Never been caught *fingers crossed*) Is it August already? Are my Mango Melbas gone? Mixed fried rice or pork noodles? When I’m picky, I flirt with other options but the heart wants what it wants and what it wants every night is mixed fried rice without liver. Because Anand approves.

***

Homewards, I’m goose bumping all over because the night is always chilly and mother is not sleeping until I get home.  When I first stole this bike from my brother, he’d park it inside for me every night. And then one day, just like that he refused. I learnt how to park decently but I don’t feel satisfied until I bang the bike’s bum to the noisy gate at least once before retiring.

Dose. Overdose.

May began in the last week of April, when my vacations did. I am now in a bit of a rewind mode because I watched a whole lot of shit before I left to holiday happily in other lands and now that I am back, I have no memory of which play/ movie happened when. And I need to have chronology more than anything in my life right now. I find that I am aging, and aging quite badly.

So the string of doing things started on the last day of valuation when I hopped into TBC with the girls and discovered that beer can do the same thing that rum can. Possibly worse. A week before this, I wrote a longish piece on my experience with caste for a journal. While it is always easier to write personal essays than academic ones, this one took quite a lot from me. When I reread it now, I don’t understand what it took from me.

The next day, I watched Yashogathe which left me in love with the house it was shot in. Later N and I met to write. She wrote her first piece of memoir, which I drooled all over, and I tried writing and rewriting the review for Yashogathe. In the evening, I was at Rangashankara watching Avaru bittu ivaru bittu ivaru yaaru and Sanchayana. I remembered Kalagangotri Kitti from Beechi House and throughout Sanchayana, I looked only at him and waited for him to speak.

Watching Kannada plays has come to mean something more lately. It reminds me of the time I was first brought to the city. I go back to all the mosaic floored houses in Bangalore that we rented when we first arrived. The one in Kathriguppe with its cement terrace and the backyard washing stone. The packet of yummies and sticks of tamarind paste that we ate while walking back home from school everyday.

The language brings back faint memories of watching Parvati, Mayamruga and Muktha with my grandmother. In effect, Rangashankara and Kala Soudha have become spaces where I am forced to focus – on watching and on writing.

The next couple of days were insane — It occurred to me on the eighth day of NSD’s Dakshina Bharatha Rangotsava that I had missed 8 days. So I went to Gurunanak Bhavan to catch the 500th show of Mukhyamantri Chandru. I had to leave in the middle because my head was all fuzzy and I started to hyperventilate.

Next morning, I rode to Forum where I watched Mother’s day and then after a serious round of Old Monk in the evening, I floated to Gurunanak Bhavan again to catch the last of the NSD festival – a Malayalam play called Charithra pusthakathil ekkuoredu (The Abandoned)

Chakravyuha happened the next morning. And as surprised as I was by how much I liked Puneet Rajkumar, I was swayed by how much I missed watching Kannada films. Writing the review for Chakravyuha was more learning and less writing. I was so taken with my own response to the film that I didn’t quite think of anybody’s interest in it.

After bouts of eating, sleeping and daydreaming, I watched two Malayalam films-Leela and Kali. While I didn’t quite care for Kali, Leela made me think of Marquez and the thin copy of No One Writes to the Colonel that I haven’t gone back to. A prime BIFFES catch this year was Gabo – the documentary by Justin Webster. Marquez says here that more than One Hundred Years of Solitude, it was No One Writes to the Colonel that was difficult to write and one he considers his best work. Although there was nothing particularly Marquez-like in Leela, I giggled when the hero says Sulquer Dalman and Marcia Garquez.

Vikram Kumar’s 24 was refreshing. Not only was I seeing a Suriya film after ages, I was also watching a Tamizh sci-fi after a really long time. I should have quietly gone back home and written about the film, instead I went to Rangashankara to catch Shylock. Anish Victor playing Shylock gave me goosebumps. So many adaptations of The Merchant of Venice but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with an OCD prone Shylock. 

Anish Victor takes Shylock’s language and puts it in every little thing he does on stage. It’s in the way he shuffles papers until they are kept in the perfect square position, in the way he handles objects with attention – pen, knife, paper, phone, and in the way he says ‘moneys’ instead of ‘money’

That should have been all. Shylock would have been the best way to end my theatre spree before I took off to Manali. But I had to go watch 1920 London. I don’t know why. Ask my brother.

Thankfully after I returned, Sairat was waiting. Last evening, I waded through the rain from Chinlung’s to Garuda and sat in Inox’ plush red seat, fully drenched.

I forgot the rain, I forgot the wet undergarments, I forgot how cold I was. Because in its first 15 minutes, Sairat had me by my freezing cold balls. If there’s anything that has made me want to write in a long time – especially after spending a week with my madcap family, it is Sairat.

Here is a song from Sairat that has been giving me a 16 year old girl’s hormones –

London

Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet took me around a London that was a lot more fierce than the London in The Paying Guests or even in Fingersmith. When Kitty and Nan see London from the window of their carriage, I saw a London that was distant and hungry. It suddenly felt like I was reading a lot more Dickens and less Waters. I cared more for Whitstable than London. By the end of it all, I wanted the damn oysters back.

Even so, the London in Tipping the Velvet left a lot to be desired. Which is why I spent all of last Sunday riding quite high on London mania. I finally watched Four Weddings and a Funeral. After recovering from drooling all over Andie MacDowell, I watched Peter Ackroyd’s documentary on London. For an hour and a half, I was zapped by London and its history. I took particular interest in all of London’s great fires.I kept wanting to begin writing about my trip to London but it still seems like I am not ready.

Over a cup of mushroom soup and a mug of tea, I watched London in its finest black and white form. In his deep fascination with London, Peter Ackroyd acknowledges how cities become strangers and then people. But they become people who will always remain that little bit strange, that little bit mysterious. They will lure you into their stories, seduce you with their history but they will never be able to tell you exactly what happened on those streets.

I remember getting off a mini-bus in Kurukshetra ten years ago and wondering if the mud was really red because of the war. It is the same fascination I saw when Ackroyd stands on the oldest street in London and calls it so. Virginia Woolf too, writes maddeningly about a London that she grew up in — that she is not satisfied by, because she is convinced she will never fully learn its streets or its scars.

In Arts & Culture one day, a student asked me which my favourite area in the city was. I didn’t have to think much because before I knew it, the long, snake and laddery streets of Cottonpet came zooming back to me.