Gratitude is a sheepish smile before you sleep

On some days, I feel grateful to be a teacher. Today was one such day. Nothing special happened. It was a regular first day – there were some promises to the self: to wake up early, do yoga, read, make chai, leave home early enough to enjoy the 8:30 am traffic, and nod at motorists. But as real life would have it, I only had time to do yoga.

From 9:00 to 11:00, I was in lab – absorbed. working. in my world. doing my thing. We talked about writing, blogging, dealing with insecurities. Two days ago, at 9:00 I would have been basking in vacation mode – thinking only about having a full breakfast. But today, just like that- I went from being a wasteful and useless member of the human species to an active member who isn’t so aware of her wastefulness.

I headed back to the department and spent the noon writing, and reading Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. Amazed at how she took notes of what she was reading, I did the same.

Lunch was a homely chicken saaru, rice, and Genasu -which I ate while watching Black Swan. This is my second time watching the film and I am once again grateful for passion, for women, and their stories of madness.

In my next class, we talked about our first visits to a theatre. I remembered suddenly my mother’s story of how she watched Satte Pe Satta after waiting for three months. They had to sell a lot of tea powder to make enough money – my mother and her siblings. When they had enough -they put the notes in a bundle and wound it neatly with a rubber band. They put the coins separately in a plastic bag. Preparations began a day before they were to watch the film. Clothes were picked out and put under beds to iron out creases, hair was washed, talcum powder dabba was almost empty.

I told them this in exchange for their stories. A student from Assam remembered tent films being screened for plantation workers. ‘They couldn’t find a screen so the films were projected on a white cloth,’ he said. Another student remembered paying Rs 7 to watch a film in his hometown. Someone else remembered how the names of films were announced by a cycle-wallah who carried banners and went around the town.

I returned again to the department for chai and more stories. A student’s Gokarna story, someone’s train journeys, someone else’s adventures with the camera.

At Lalbagh, where my two-wheeler stopped at the signal, I looked up and sighed at the 140 arms and fingers of big trees. The sky was plain, home was close, and I was happy for a doing a job that doesn’t bring me existential pain on Mondays.

I could have been anywhere – stuck at a desk behind a computer, doing codes – stuck at a desk behind files, under noisy ceiling fans – doing nothing. But I am here – at a desk in front of people – listening to and telling stories.

And for this – I will always be grateful.

Update – I didn’t realise this when I was writing the post but the day was indeed special. I finish five years of teaching 🙂

 

Screenshot_20171120-200356_01 (1)

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Laugh like Sumitra

For as long as I can remember – I have always been a stalker, first, a writer second. Even when I am not writing, I am stalking. It isn’t worrisome because if stalking happens then can writing be far behind?

I have spent some spectacular nights on my phone jumping from website to blog to YouTube interviews of women writers I’m madly in love with. It’s usually the kind of night that spreads itself neatly on my bed till 4 in the morning – my body gently breaking from all the postures I have been trying, my eyes tired and watery, and my head brimming with inspiration.

So what am I trying to learn from them?

In the beginning it was mostly about learning how to say fuck off. Even now, I’m afraid, I’m still learning the same thing. But please understand that at various points in life, women need different degrees of being able to say fuck-off. The fuck-off that you imply at home for instance is a lot different from the fuck-off you want to scream outside. 

Beyond this is another freak show behaviour on my part. I’m obsessed with a strange desire to know everything about these women’s lives – who were their bullies in college? How did they fight back? How old were they when they first fell in love? When was the last time they cried? Do they use napkins or tampons or cups? Do they decide what to wear for work every day or do they just throw something on? How did they begin writing?

In the early 2000’s – the idea of a working woman in my family was radical. Her education, on the other hand was not radical because it was necessary to keep an engineer bride ready for a double-graduate groom. It was maybe more than necessary – it was meritorious.

Today, unmarried women in their late 20’s instinctively learn to show their middle-fingers at people who bug them about marriage and babies.

In the urban space therefore, even if I know many, many working women – it gives me a kind of high when they have work problems. My sister Bubbly’s work involves numerous conference calls when she is at home. Sometimes she sits with her laptop, her eyes scrunching at all manner of squiggly codes. I derive an odd pleasure from watching her work. One such busy morning, she was on a conference call when she was interrupted by a brother trying to wave at her. She shot him one killer look before going back to her call.

I love this. It’s incredible to see women being busy in a world that is just theirs. Kind of like a Bechdel pass. Bechdel fails are almost heartbreaking to watch- where female friendships are compromised because playing out to male fantasies or impressing men becomes more important. This is where Ferrante wins. In her world, there is neither any place for male fantasies nor for women who make everything about men.

*******

I’m wondering also, if things in my past could have been handled better – meaning- without losing calm and foresight. I’m not going to get into the details here because I have already written about it in several other posts. But just what is a decent response to bullies?

My friend says that being unavailable to attacks or the attackers is one way to go about it. You don’t give them space – either in your life or in your head. It’s the only response that merits many degrees of coolness in my opinion. The unavailability isn’t physical. Although that’s a good beginning. It’s mostly emotional, intellectual even. When you don’t talk about them or about yourself in relation to them and their attacks – you outgrow them, you take away power from them. They become small when you focus on something else – your work for instance.

Being unavailable doesn’t mean not caring. It’s this rock- star ability to make attackers cringe by laughing at them. Which means that you care but just not enough to satisfy them – you care, but only enough to laugh at them.

Say a co-worker has an opinion about you and your competence, and has said shitty things about you to people who are directly related to your work – like students maybe, or clients, or people you are in a business partnership with – what do you do then?

Do you call them out for being unprofessional? Do you do major drama? Or do you just ignore it?

Here is a thing I wish I had done – I wish I had laughed at them. I wish my body had filled itself with an untamable Dalit energy and I’d laughed in their faces. Gogu Shyamala’s Saayamma has this energy. So does Devi’s Dopdi. 

A short-story I once wrote has a woman named Sumitra leaping wildly, beating her chest and laughing at a man she hates very much. I don’t know where the energy to write Sumitra came from. It was based on an incident narrated to me. I gave her mad things to do because by then, somewhat of a mad woman was living inside me. 

I’d like to believe that all Dalit women are naturally equipped with a capacity to laugh menacingly. How? I don’t know but they just do. Someone once said that a good, strong laugh is one that shrinks cocks down. It is true. Nothing shrivels a cock and savarna pride more than the loud and ‘vulgar’ laugh of a Dalit woman.

*******

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.

***

Some July Things.

On some days, my life fits in very well with a 90’s Hindi pop album song. I haven’t had time to review this semester. I blinked and June and July were merged and Meta Schools began and ended. Metonym begins next week and I’m yet to blink a second time. But here are a couple of things that I am thinking about now:

  • Construction is in full force outside and I feel tired all the time that I spend outside classes.
  • I’m unable to sleep for more than 5 hours. I feel old already. And when I do sleep, I dream the strangest dreams.
  • I covered three events for The Open Dosa and have enjoyed going to events since. I love reporting — more than writing personal essays and even short stories. This is something I thought I’d never say.
  • Adichie, Ambedkar, and Anne Lamott are keeping me sane.
  • Mansplainers are on the rise and I’m glad that this online dictionary thing that my WordPress has suddenly found recognizes the word.
  • I seem to have lost the taste for chai. Is there anything worth living for now? I don’t know.
  • Teaching is becoming more and more interesting.
  • I am becoming more and more unsocial.
  • Teeth problems are serious. Don’t get a root canal unless you are in too much pain.

 

Albert Einstein

After class today, I sat and watched a documentary on Albert Einstein. To begin with, I still mumble when I pronounce his last name. I have never been much of a learner of physics matlab, I have never shown interest in understanding the workings of matter, mind or body. Whatever little I remember of the man is because of the English text book from my 9th std where we learnt about the genius and the eccentricity of Einstein. I remember the jokes he made, his smile and his hair. Basically I remember one picture. This picture:

Image Credits: googglet.com

Image Credits: googglet.com

In college last year, there was a one man play on the life and work of Albert Einstein. The stage was set with a black board, a table and a chair. I was a little curious here and enjoyed the performance a lot. Also, in many ways, the play broke down the many theories of Albert Einstein in simple English.

Ever since women beat the shit out of themselves in Olympics last year, I have grown to become very fascinated by what and how people dedicate their lives to and how they sustain this dedication through practice and discipline.

The BBC documentaries are always fun to watch. They humanize their subjects by taking us into their very lives – their rooms, work tables, documents. This makes them come alive and away from solid and unfeeling textbooks. So I watched today, an Albert Einstein poring over equations in his notebook and then another conducting his many thought experiments. For the first time, it feels like I have missed out on something valuable for not having paid attention in science classes. For two reasons:

  1. This Theory of Relativity thing is damn cool. I kept rewinding and forwarding at various points today to make sure I got it right. And at the end, even though it feels like I have learnt something, I won’t be able to explain it very well. I am still learning. But I know now that the reason Einstein is a genius is not only because he discovered/invented theories to understand the universe. But because he was able to explain these theories with working examples.
  2. What did Einstein and people like him have to work through their lifetime? He is passionately curious, is what he said. But how is one able to sustain this curiosity in the midst of all the other shit that life throws – love, money, power, jealousy, fame, career. Einstein had a lot of personal problems. He was married more than once, and these marriages were unhappy marriages, his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he was a physicist occupying a prestigious office in 1939 Germany. Clearly the world was collapsing and being born all around him. How did he work through it all?

I am fascinated by the way people remove themselves from people-emotions-feelings related problems and just set to work, like nothing else matters.

This documentary on Shakespeare reintroduced me to Shakespeare’s world and I remember reading Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor and wondering why I ever thought he was unreadable.

Good, good Friday today!

Out of Body

Today I noticed that I have been forgetting to hang my keys on the key stand. Last morning, I panicked. I was getting ready for college when I realized that my keys weren’t on their usual hook. I retraced my steps, double checked my bag and ran around the house like a mad woman. Ma then told me that the keys were on the table in her room. I was baffled.

Things like this never happen to me. I am cursing myself even as I type this, I am muttering many touch-wood kind of things under my breath, but I really never lose things – keys, mobile, wallet. Never. Ever. Even if I lose them for maybe a minute or two, I always find them. There. I have said it. I know now that tomorrow morning when I wake up, my world would have turned upside down. I will find myself key-less, wallet-less and mobile-less.

In the department today, I read after a long time. I read a story about a Bengali woman who was consumed by the desire to write every day. Her husband hated it — he hid everything she wrote. But she’d write the same story over and over again. The story about a blind girl who could tell you the names of colors by just touching them.

She sat with a pen and a new sheet of paper every evening and wrote. She challenged her husband to a bet. He said she wasn’t talented enough to get published. Later he hid in his drawer, the letters that various editors wrote to his wife, telling her to send more stories.

In stories, either as writers or as characters, women are mad in a way that they cannot be in real life. I will disagree with this in the morning but this needs to be said.

When she writes every day, a little bit of her husband dies, until he cannot take it anymore and runs away. When I read this, I feel full and begin to smile endlessly.

I was just going to leave the department when it started to rain. So I sat and looked around. When I sit and look around, especially in the department, I have an out of body experience. I begin to think about all the things that have happened ever since we moved here. Things that happened last year and the year before that.

Outside, the construction workers were on full swing. There was drilling and what not. I sat on the steps and waited for the rain to stop. Every time the drone of machines paused for a minute, I thought the rain had gone and stood up to leave.

When I finally left, I thought about all the ways in which the place would be different tomorrow. Tomorrow of the bright day time. Of the endless work and its slicing hurry.

 

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.