Naalukettu Memories – 9

Black Soil litanies and Latin American rosaries

Macondo is here. Brittle, sensitive. Catholic saints sprinkled on cupboard-tops and radio stands. Heat and sweating skin. Women struggling with mass and words. And then ants, resident geckos and mice.

C gave me the book. I slumbered through One Hundred Years in seven blurry months. Liam thought it was a cleverly disguised mystery novel. She finished it in seven days. Now, she cannot finish books.

V introduced the book in class. She would later get a tattoo of Gabo and his yellow butterflies and look at it with love. I absorbed most of this love for written words and their worlds from her. Her style is a tattoo on my heart, like many women who begin styles and change the lives of other girls on their way to womanhood. Now, I draw butterflies on my outer palm and wait for others to ask if it’s real. 

In Karimannoor, we have three families. The kaavils, the kaavens and the kolombians.  Like the many branches of the Arcadia family. Our repeating names are Annamma, Thommachen, Kuriachen/ Cheriachen, Thresiamma and Chackochen. The grandparents call and talk to each other. They visit when the children come by. The children maintain polite differences and the grandchildren fake an interest in the weather and the church. 

Fate is a big moustache in these parts. Like their starched cotton sarees, it gives meaning to their accidental marriages. Hail Marys are another antidote. This reminds me – it’s not all Macondo here. Not all Marquez. There’s a large bit of Allende. The Kaavils mimic Allende’s Tres Maria. Amma is a Ferula who married an Esteban Trueba. Amma is a Kaavil. The three Marys are the many Annammas that live to watch their children and grandchildren play in rain and sand. They leave prayer books and soft cotton tops in the wooden chests. They do not like daughter-in-laws because they are reminded of their ageing feminisms. The Thresias are better women, but they need to grow into it. And they like peace because their stomachs are always throwing things. The Annammas birth Thresias and they birth the Annammas. Sometimes husband’s mothers are also called Annamma and the names get in the way. In such cases, Annammas birth both. Their names continue to mimic spirits. And stomachs (in such cases).

In 1935, after her husband died of a posthumously diagnosed cancer, Annamma the first took to the fields. She finds the chaazi furiously attacking the paddy. The cow has no milk. There is no money for sugar. So the children drink bitter kattankaapi. And she remembers the money she owes Father Jose. In the fields, she bends to the earth and pick the beetles off the green fronds. They squirm in the matchbox as she climbs the mud road to the church. Father Jose is busy, not sane enough to notice she has no coins. Three hail marys and a sign of the cross are quickly whispered by the holy water held by cement angels. As she walks out, Father comes by. 

“Eesho mishihayikku sudhiarikkatte acho”

“Annamme! Eppozhum eppozhum sudhiarikkatte! Endhondu vishesham?”

This is the short version. Gives the faithful a sense of being heard. Gives the pious self a quick get away. 

Annamma thrusts the beetles at Father. Change their hearts, Father. 

He recites three hail marys, draws a cross over their sensitive heads. Tells them to have a change of mind. To leave Annamma’s paddy alone. 

It is all the nercha for the month. The chaazis search for other fields. With a little less feminism. 

Mummy laughs when I ask her for this story. D first narrated this. When I told him about Allende’s version with the ants and Pedro Garcia. His was short. Sweet. More like the Latin American version. Mummy tells me the original one. And tells me prayer is important. A Father came to visit the kaavil once. He observed the red fire ants that were on a morning walk and commented, “There is the disturbance of Neer here, I see.” The next day, Mummy tells me, the Neer had gone away. In the midst of Annamma the first’s story, Mummy tells me that Zacharia has written about this. The details about the Fathers being busy are probably his invention, passed down. I decide it’s going to be mine too. 

Gives me a faith I clearly lack. A fate in feminism. Aged by sun and kattankaapi. 

Have I mentioned, I’m Annamma the fourth?

WhatsApp Image 2021-03-28 at 12.38.17 PM

 

Transitus

/v. time of passage from death to life 
Ecclesiastical Latin. crossing 

Today we had a class with Prof. A and I made a fool of myself. I didn’t think it was possible after being an awkward teacher for a year and a half. 

In Masters, I remember Prof. A coming fifteen minutes late to our Latin American Literature classroom. In the beginning, I would go around asking if the class was cancelled. Later, I asked only after 9:15 am. Prof. A had a small hunch from the discomfort of being too tall and the comfort of easy humility. He would peer through his thick glasses, into the texts he was teaching and break every novel into points. The class was crowded and stuffy, because more than the thirty available seats had signed up for the course. I would attempt an early entry because I liked a corner away from the sun and the seniors. But as the days crept by, I found a friend in a batch-mate. H, flower child blooming from many nights of sadnesses became my familiar, and the class became a kind of normal. I didn’t sit next to her, but we did ask each other out for the presentation, and before our presentation dates, we sat together with the night and shared stories between Tita and Nacha and Esquival’s other people. But this is another story that doesn’t quite fit here (but had to be said to fill the gaps)

Anyway, I grew to like the classroom for its windows. On many mornings, the Hyderabad sun imprinted on the desks and skins of students as Latin America hid between the words. And although Prof. A called H and I interchangingly (and once told her to keep her phone away, while she was only reading the novel on the phone, but four seats away from her, in the diagonal corner, I was texting someone ) and liked our presentation and told us our papers were very good, I didn’t expect him to remember me. He was at my interview and he asked me a question on how I planned on seeing performance in the texts I’d chosen and my answer was rudely (and accurately) crushed by W, who said, performance for literary texts only lay in the act of reading. 

I didn’t feel too much about the way W crushed my answer. I only felt too much about getting in. Here, I didn’t even consider if Prof. A remembered me. I was more worried about other things. 

Like for instance, being stuck in tiny spaces. Worse, without a friend. 

Claustrophobia is real if you let it be real. The tiny box that controlled the lights and sounds at the new auditorium taught me that. For me, it was real. And it came from disabling. Even now, I don’t really know where I can point my finger and tell you, this, this is what made me sad. So I doubt my own sadness. I criticize my own weakness. For months, I wrote and wrote about every small thing that disturbed me and stored it in secret places in the cloud so no one would read them. So my alter ego would not be discovered. She couldn’t hide herself at home, though. She snapped at Amma and L and M and Appa. And she fought migraines and back pain and told herself, just one more month. 

When the sound and light box finally expanded, it turned out to be anti-climactic. And so there wasn’t much fanfare to the leaving, except for furiously written WhatsApp messages, and small reassurances that for everything, my students loved having me. Even the ones I thought didn’t care about my existence as a teacher. The mixed khichdi that was and still is my emotional state through the transition from teacher to student will be the focus of another story and perhaps will feature in a series of writings about that time – some excavated from the secret cloud, re-published here. So again, this had to be said, but I will now move to the more important reasons, poised midway between fingertip, mind and heart. 

In moments of fear of death by claustrophobia, I turned aggressively to reading and writing. It was always a coping mechanism. But here, was a deference. Time for reading would not be given or appreciated. Spaces of writing would subtly be policed, and your anxiety would fashion monsters of good christian seniors. I will always ask myself if that anxiety was my own creation or many others. Whether I was to be solely responsible for my claustrophobia. I don’t expect clear answers because a good khichdi will not have separate grains of dal and rice. And so I’ll dissect the reading and writing, my self and other readers and writers and find meaning in my hiding, my uncomfortable anxieties and the fears of embarrassment. 

Around the time of my interview, I couldn’t read much fiction. As part of my proposal reading, I came across this feeling called “the anxiety of authorship” that the author says, women who write will inherit. So many conversations with other girlfriends about writing made sense. At the time, I wanted to write about this discovery, but again, there was anxiety – what will people who read this think and know about me? what judgements are they going to make? So I wrote about how much this resonated with me and the anxiety I felt at a workshop when I wrote about my mother’s sadness and anger when I was asked to write about “madness”. How I hid it, because it wasn’t funny. Because I was mostly venting anxieties. 

After the interview, I picked up Gogu Shyamala’s stories. She painted a world of lamenting tank bunds and fierce women performers, of keepers of stories and the hypocrisies of people from upper caste agraharas. The inhumanity. The cruelty. But she was teaching you how you could laugh and be fierce and kind instead. Listen to sunlight and the call of water. I am still unsure of how to write the review of these stories. Can I write? Who am I to write this review? I should just listen. And learn that fierce kindness. When I read this article on Cynthia Ozick, something she said came and perched in my heart. “I have no literary interests, I am made of literature” she says. She wonders about this form of being – “to live for nothing else besides literature.” I didn’t know until I read it that, that’s what I am. That’s what the boy behind the corner cabin desk, with books all around his head, is. That’s what perhaps, my girlfriends and our conversations are. And it never stops. So I will consume Gogu Shyamala’s words, and I know that, that’s what she is trying to say – that that’s the way she is. In Story, was story, is story, will be story. And it is the only way to be. 

The sound and light box suffocated all of us in the corner of the first floor. We sat on the shoulder joint of its suffocation. Some of us were good at using it to climb out and find our corners of reading, some of us spoke about it with warm mugs of tea, some of us sang about it in the quiet moments that were our own, and here I am, trying to write about it, without conviction. It is when I read The Vanishing Half that I began to make sense of my own need to escape. Every book I read was in some way formed by my present experience and past memory. The twin sister’s reasons for planning escape, formed my own thoughts at the time. I wrote in my cloudy place – 

“Now, for me it is the desperate need to escape a space that constricts my self far more than I’m willing to see. My need to escape a cream-coloured sound and light box full of people who speak loudly (and not-so-loudly) about seniority and juniority has become my need to survive. For Desiree and Stella, it is a similar situation.”

It is only now that I can see what they were constricting. Or rather, why it bothered me so much. Stories – stories that we were all made up of. Stories that they erased and burnt and laughed at and dismissed. With a shake of the head. With a short sudden laugh. With a shrill “firing”. 

I don’t know if it was the right decision to run. And I don’t know what it means to choose to start another important journey because you just wanted to run away. And I also know that I’ll have to go back one day, just like Desiree had to. But I hope I find the strength to leave when my duties are over. 

For now, I’m grateful to be in a place that is a little more aware of kindness. Of valuing people for their stories, and letting them be within them. So it turned out, that Prof. A did remember me. By name. And in today’s class, I unnecessarily told him how we could outsmart the system by logging into two different meetings at the same time with different email-ID’s. He laughed a little. He said, “Anna, you shouldn’t be telling me this.” And then I swallowed my stupidity and apologised. And he said. “Although it’s up to you, you may do however you wish. You don’t need to tell me.” 

And afterwards, three girls I haven’t met outside my laptop screen said it was okay. My embarrassment died a little. And I remembered that it was Prof. A who said that he was the happiest man for being able to teach stories. To read stories for a living. It soothes my anxiety a little and it helps me forget my stupidity.  

For now, I am thankful to be here, among souls who know this fiction to be fact.

 

 

Teaching Journal – 1

The Beginning

I’ve always wanted to teach. In school, I remember teaching the walls to learn for tests and exams. Sometimes, it would get to Amma and she would scold me. 

“Can you stop playing and sit and learn?”

“But you only said that the more we teach, the more you learn” 

“Ah! but what you’re doing is playing, not teaching anyone.” 

I would ignore her. And quieten my voice, like listless days in between seasons. 

 When anyone asked, “What do you want to be, when you become big?” I went around saying, “I want to be a sister teacher”.

In sixth standard, I decided I had too many sinful thoughts to become a nun. I decided that the pressure of sistering and “being a good roll modal” to two younger ones, “who are looking and learning from you” was “sister” enough.

As the years passed, I found that the question of being someone became very gajja-bujji like. I also discovered sisterhood in girl friends – who would take a piece of my heart to Germany, Kannur and Delhi. Some of them stayed and kept them home in Bangalore, when I went to study in Hyderabad. (But later, about sisterhood and feminism)

Now, I will write for the emptiness in my heart. Like the scribbled mess of the “gajja-bujji”, (a metaphor I’ve borrowed from this piece on the Open Dosa) this young teacher is lost among classes and reading, corridors and Covid, screens and writing. This is hopefully going to be a series of collected thoughts and moments – hidden in the chaos of the gajja bujji. 

I never thought I would be worthy of  this job. A job I always wanted. A job I dreamily walked the past year. Not believing that I was really working – as a teacher. A job that is more who I am, than who I wanted to be.

I think I shall start at the very beginning of this journey. 

In school, every year, I would sit at the edge of the wooden bench when they called out the names of the teachers who would teach the subjects. Every name broke my heart. Some were happy heartbreaks, some sad. When they walked in,  I would take mental notes. How they spoke to students – friendly, or strict, or the right balance like rice and dal in kichdi. How they conducted classes – reading from books, or creating worlds you could jump into. How they gave tests – did it help, or did it sadden school going faces?

And how they loved.

“Students – you are like my children!”

“Students – you may think of me as a friend. But know your limits.”

Sometimes, these were complimented by sharp knocks on the palm or knuckle. Afterwards they became a slow humiliation as everyone turned their heads and watched you from the first benches. As I overgrew my black Bata shoes, I learnt how to avoid confrontation. I became the teacher’s pet (it helped that Amma was close to the nuns who ran the school). I learnt to teach myself more, to be humble and put my head down. To guard my crush from everyone except Sathu and Neha. To never speak up, to never offer suggestions, to be a good catholic child. Until I totally missed teenage rebellion and jumping hormones. 

bougainvilleIn Joseph’s I realised I could not talk to most of my peers without being bullied. For the weird ways in which I retorted. For the way I pointed to my throat when I said “Stomach”. For not being able to hold my opinion. For not knowing when people “were just messing with me.” For being too sensitive. Vj Ma’am was the first person to smile at me. The first moment that college, felt like home. Then there was the chapel – the morning light creeping through the cream curtains. The bougainvilleas quietly swaying outside.

The prayer group circles visited only during lunch. Mornings were silent. Except for the occasional student who came in to play his violin. And some who came in and completed assignments. Sometimes, teachers hurried in, smeared holy water on their foreheads, and bowed down, watched the excess water drip from the watered cross to the tiles, and left. I sat there and collected my thoughts. Fell in love with light and shadow. 

2

As the English classes passed from one year to another, I had my portrait-of-the-artist-as-a-young-woman moments in this light and brown chapel, and the BMTC bus. Slowly, the dream to become a physics teacher drowned in the rain. I wanted to read, to write, to teach English. When C’chacha kept prodding me to join EJP, instead of PEM, I said,

“But Physics is about matter, and English is about the mind. And I choose matter over mind.” 

He might have laughed. But he didn’t show it. 

I had borrowed this from some “mind over matter” quote in the paper. And fancy-fied it. 

My English teachers never said “Students, you are like my friends” or “Students, you are like my children.” They were just kind. Vj Ma’am would smile. She would speak about Shakespeare disdainfully. J Ma’am, my English teacher from school would be shocked, if she knew. 

Vj Ma’am, was steady in her classes on feminism. She was curious when she taught personal writing. She was funny when boys said stupid things. She used Freud and that shut them up. In the department, she would move her wild hair around and be lost in reading, or speaking to students – teasing them, laughing with them, drinking tea with them, smelling coffee or stroking her wildlife poster. She just was. And when she said something, you wanted to write it down and remember it always, because you never heard it said like that before. 

Vj, CA, AM and AB had these ways of being. Their love and acceptance came by doing, not by saying. 

Early this year, it was Meta season again. This February I was in Bangalore. By day, I would silently suffer the sari, enjoy my classes, gather all the lessons and smiles, bitterness and boredom, change into a kurti at 2pm and go off to SJC. On one of those days, I was part of a panel on Surviving Academic Writing. The idea came about at twilight, a few weeks earlier, at Champaca Bookstore. I’d gone there to listen to AM on Bangalore. I said something about using various versions of “thus” and “also”( therefore, additionally, moreover, however, hence, nevertheless) in academic papers in order to sound polished and fill the word limits. Vj Ma’am had laughed and said, let’s have a Panel on this at Meta. 

The tingling sensation of cold after rains – a happiness and anxiety forming a gajja bujji, filled my heart. At the panel, I was now a teacher. It felt weird to sit in Loyola Hall at a panel and be called, “Prof. Anna”. The last time, I was a student whose voice wavered and hand shivered as she held the mic. While speaking to Malsawmi Jacob on Zorami. This time, my hands were somewhat steady. My voice sailed by. My heart beat like a bird wet in a storm. But I knew the women in the panel. I knew we would reassure each other. And so it turned out okay. 

Later, AM Sir read from a fat copy of one of Perumal Murugan’s novel. He would read the Tamil writing and then translate it into English. He was describing a teacher’s interaction with a student. Now, the names have faded in my memory. But this Instagram story reminds me of the most important thing, I took away that day. 

arulsir

“The avarna work ethic simply seeks a locus of sharing a moment that is human. It does not care about where you came from or who you are. It is a space of love, where people are accepted.”  

This was my teachers. This was everything I wanted to be as a teacher. The words formed a ball of hot food and traveled down my throat. It lodged itself somewhere between heart and gut. Locked in experienced memories.  

“Perumal Murugan is telling you that teaching is an act of love. And if universities and institutions don’t understand this, they should just shut down and sell Coca-Cola.”

I was full of a bursting pimply joy for all the teachers I’ve loved. Weirdly enough, far beyond my love for  the boy with the sad eyes. Maybe, this was agape. 

Now, I seek kindness. It is not easily found. Not in compulsory dress codes, not in ratings and scrutiny and mails that pile up like joint pains in winter. Not in rules and regulations. It is in messages that ask after your health. In tiffin boxes shared in between classes. In conversations in classes – tears over grandparents’ deaths, coming out as queer, telling one side of the class that “you’ll see only merit, you’ll not see how the child cannot afford tuition, how he does not have the money to pay for the electricity bill, how his mother has studied only till Fourth Standard, how he doesn’t have any “english speaking” friends or family.” In students who send you thank you notes. In the mad rush during fests, when the students work with you – excited, nervous, hopeful of success. In the dreamy fog as you walk from one classroom to another, one screen to another, hoping, wanting, to just be in that moment of learning, of conversation. 

There is a lot of love in me. But I am afraid of what will come to be. How like the seasons, you change from warm to cold. How suddenly, things become a race to be the best, or to run the fastest. It’s scary because love is  never about being the best. 

I don’t know what it is. I only know how it looks and feels like, for the lessons my teachers have left me. And this is me trying to understand this love, my gajja bujji heart and my journey as a teacher. 

Before Camus and the Books

They met a few months after she had left the city of hills and old forts. He still lived there. He was only visiting her hometown. She didn’t know he was nursing heartbreak. He would call it his “dark times”. She was passing through her own. Although that had been going on and off for a few years, then. She happened to find him reading the blurb of the book she had left on the table, when she’d returned from the ladies room. She was annoyed.

“Excuse me”, she said coldly.

“Oh! Oh! I’m really sorry.” he said. He looked like a child caught stealing sugar from the kitchen.

She immediately softened. This was a problem of hers. She easily gave anyone who expressed some form of basic courtesy the immediate benefit of doubt.

“It’s okay.” She said and settled back into her seat.

He pulled out his phone and began texting away at the next table. She couldn’t seem to get back to her book. The Stranger, by Camus. Mersault’s inability to see beyond the real was pecking at her. Sometimes she wished she could help him see. But she knew that you could not insert a heart and expect it to beat. People didn’t work that way. But here, perhaps Mersault was the only one with a heart. And others could not see. Because societies worked that way.

She turned to him, “I’m sorry for intruding, but may I know what made you look into my book?”

He turned away from the phone. The creases on his forehead eased to form a forced smile.

“Uh….I’m actually doing a Master’s in Philosophy from IGNOU and I was reading up on existentialism recently and happened to come across Albert Camus. I wanted to look it up, but never got around to doing it, but then I just saw the book on the table and I couldn’t help it. I’m really sorry for invading your space like that.”

“Oh no, it’s okay. Master’s in Philosophy, nice! So what do you do generally, are you a teacher or something?”

He laughs uncomfortably at this. She’s a little embarrassed now.

“No. I actually studied engineering, and then took a few years off to do the UPSC exam, finally passed it last year and now I work in the Department of Health and Family Welfare.”

“Oh wow!” she says. She is at that age when the government job is marketed as the ultimate goal of a settled life.

“Yeah! It’s not so wow, anymore, though!”

“You mean, all those years made you confront the existential, so now you’re turning to philosophy?” She is teasing. She knows this can go badly. And that she will be disgusted by herself, if this makes him close up. But she still finds herself saying it. Goading someone can be second nature if you enjoyed the discomfort and power.

He smiles again. “Maybe, yeah, something like that.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry”, she says, ready to go back to her book.

“No, it’s alright. Um…”, He looks into his phone and then back at her, “Uh…my friends are going to be late…if you don’t mind me asking, are there any good bookstores around here that I can check out in the meantime?”

“Yes! Oh yes, In fact there are two on either sides of this cafe – Blossoms on the third floor of the next building, and Bookworm after Wolfish – in the opposite direction .”

“Oh! okay. Thank you, I can be a little bit of an absent-minded klutz sometimes, I should have been more aware and looked out. Anyway, thanks.” And he proceeds to get up.

She’s surprised by the sudden wave of disappointment.

Almost as if in an afterthought, he turns back to her.

“I’m sorry, I’m Arjun. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” she responds, “I’m Leila, by the way… Um… are you on Instagram… it would be nice to keep in touch…”

“Oh! Um… okay, okay, yeah” and he gives her the name of his handle. It has something to do with the sky.

She writes it down on the open page of her book and looks up. He has a faraway look on his face. “Hmm, okay then, I’ll be off” A tight smile, and he walks away.

She stalks his profile after he leaves. Most of them are photographs – with friends, by himself. One of them is an underlined page of a book on Man’s Freedom. Another has a caption of rain, and another one of clouds.

Camus lay abandoned that afternoon.

***

A few months later, they would get tired of replying to memes on Instagram and share phone numbers. And in the first moments of careful comfort, she decides to indulge in the conversations. Until that day, she is reserved, afraid to scare him away.

One day, they talk about the rain. He mentions it casually, “it’s raining here.” She says, send me piece of Hyderabad sky. He cannot see the sky from his apartment, so he goes to the terrace. The gulmohar clash  with the grey aftermath of the monsoon storm. He sends it to her “Um, it sort of stopped raining now.” She misses that city, suddenly and cannot understand this man who goes to the terrace to take a good photograph for her. She has remained in Bangalore and will, for a while.

When he’s in her city a few weeks later, she tells him she wants to take him down Church Street again. Because it’s a thing she always wanted to do. Hold another’s hand and speak about the books she’s found in Blossom’s. The little hexagonal shaped store that was the earlier Bookworm and how every time she took that little passage way from the Handicraft emporium to the road with the stores full of graffiti shutters, her heart would skip a beat. Because once, in college some guys at a seminar told the audience full of pre-adults that Church street was a center of child trafficking. She also wanted to tell him, how those roads made her feel somewhat less of a Bangalorean than others who walked down the road. For instance, dressed in a kurta, she would feel out of place there. Dressed in jeans or a dress, not so much. And how, as she browsed the dusty shelves of Blossoms, she always overheard men and women with pro-nounce-t English accents that made her feel less of a reader. Although she had by then written down the title of the 300th novel she’d read in her blue spiral bound notebook. He would smile, a little more easily, than the first time she saw it and she would know that he was adding the moments to the Before – the years preceding that day in Matteo.

(part 1, to be continued)

 

Forane Roads and Patron Saints

The road curved a little in the middle. Like a sleeping woman clutching a belly in which she expected to hold life. The family loved some selected (“selected” like the duties they assigned to body parts) saints they had borrowed from a strange culture. They believed that the saint’s souls had power over the weather, the birth of children, engineering and even lost objects. As a result, the babies were all given the names of these saints. Sometimes Malayalam curled around their English and European origins. Little Anthonys, Cherians, Johns’, Annammas, Mariammas and Thresias held their grandmothers’ hands and walked up and down the road to the Forane Church. On some days the nuns stopped to talk to them – two different kind of nuns, from two different convents. On other days, full bellied uncles grinned with rotten teeth. On all the days, bikes and buses competed with each other rudely. There was one bus stop by the palam over the little river that flowed just before the house with the white gates. The next stop was by the pale orange trapezoid box watching over orphaned coins on the road, just before the church. The little path from the back of the kitchen to the road was far away from the palam bus stop. It was farther away from the “pallithazhe” bus stop. So they always walked. Over the road’s almost-pregnant belly.

The church was a sickly pink when she was little. The pasty pink filled all the mossy crevices of the bricks that held the church together. A few years later they painted it white. She waited a whole set of Dussehra holidays for it to change to a sickly blue. But it remained white.

Amma told her that they would get up at five in the morning and put on a kalam full of soggy rice to boil and rush up and down the road to church.

“Every child who went to church for everyday of advent got a little prize”

“What was it, Amma?”

“Oh maybe a muttai. I don’t remember. The thrill was in getting the prize.”

She wondered how they slept and woke up without blankets. A deathly fog rasped tightly against the morning, during the Christmas holidays. The rebber and thenga trees shed their hair like tall, dark ghosts. The mangoes stay hidden in their nooks between their flower leaved homes. There was a wet air watching, prodding the skin, always.

Maybe the lack of blankets helped them wake up, she reasoned. And go to church.

The girls had to wear nets. It was compulsory. They were triangular pieces of cloth with a sewed in hem or a laced end. An aunt called Emily (because the year she was born, St. John Paul, the Pope visited Kerala. All the girls were named Emily after the Pope’s mother, All the boys were obviously named after the Pope himself) kept them sewn and ready for when the girls came down for the holidays.

The sisters fought with each other for the nice nets every morning. They shouted, because all of them forgot where they left it after church. One of them would find one hanging by the wooden door. But you couldn’t go to church unless all of them wore the net. So they would argue again, until an old spare was found – Aunt Em’s childhood nets. She wished she was a boy so she wouldn’t have to wear them. She liked the black ones better because they were less popular. Sinner in black clothing. Felt more Christian when she held the end of the net in one fist and scrunched up the other to strike her breast. Over the years the names of Issac and Jacob in Malayalam and the song they sung of their God wrote itself in her brain. When she stared at the golden altar where they said He resided, it became easier to pretend to be holy and pious and bow down to the lilts and tears of the song. Afterwards she would imagine telling the townspeople that they were A’s and B’s children. They always asked. Because the five of them made too much noise walking back to the house, up the pregnant woman’s belly.

Evidunna nigallu?”

Or

ee pillaaru edha?”

As if they were strange children dropped by the coconut ghosts, in the middle of the village.

How to pronounce Bangalore, she would think.

Bengull-ooru?

Baanga-lore?

Bang-loor? Like Amma said it?

The second one sounded like she came from there. So when they asked, she said —

“Boys are B’s, Girls are A’s.”

“Oh, from the Round-Templed house?”

“Yes, Sister, B is in Tri-vaan-Drum” (because Thiruvananthapuram was too tough for the Baanga-lor-eans to pronounce)

“A is in Bang-loor.” (Ayyo, mispronounced!)

“Aaaanhh”, they would say and squint. Sometimes, they asked “eppazha vanne?”, “eppa pogum?” and suddenly she would miss Bengull-ooru.

She noticed that some of their words came out of their noses.

Maybe the people of the road were unaware of bodies and its tendency to misbehave. Perhaps because of the pregnant belly. So, they carefully assigned jobs to each part and used them only there. Hands, for holding umbrellas upright. Legs to jump over rain puddles. Bodies, to walk over the woman’s belly – carefully pretending she wasn’t pregnant. (And never claimed more.) Mouths, to make nasal voices or sing songs of a God of other people. Palms, to be folded in the church. If you were a young girl, you used the palm to hold the net down. Necks, for gold chains you wore only in ammaveedu. No-one would steal them on the pregnant road. When each rule was flouted, they brought out stories. If you put one leg on another, you’ll get a knot on your knee. It is disrespectful. Disrespect followed from stories and corrected the behaviours of body parts. Your body behaviours were dictated secretly by the pretend pregnant road to the church. Full bellied uncles, nuns from different congregations and once-in-a-vacation neighbours whispered them to Aunt Em in particular.

Once a “John” asked his mother for a gold chain. His uncle told him —

“Ayye, no no, boys don’t wear gold chains.”

He cried. The girls found it funny.

“Ayye, karayathe,” the aunties told him.

His mother did the wise thing. She brought him a chain anyway. When his sisters wore a chain, he did too and he was happy. Nobody asked anything. After ten sweaty summers full of the dangle-special chain, he told his mother —

“Enough, I don’t want to wear them anymore.”

They sighed with their noses. Then the girls said they didn’t like gold. They sighed again. With their mouths. Happy sad. Sad happy. Whattudu? Fingers formed why-flowers.

Over many vacations, she learnt a technik to hold the net. You created a knot with both its ends. It hurt less than the “correction knots” Aunt Em gave to the edge of her pink knee. The “net knot” held the material down. And kept it intact like a chain after mass was over – when they let the fabric slip down from the head. It stayed obedient when she said, we are from Baanga-lore to the two congregation nuns. One was the hospital nun who had a little crown at the top of her hood. The other nun was from the convent where they wore sickly blue-grey gowns and had no crowns (but the road’s belly swelled by the side of their convents so maybe that was compensation).

She also learnt to sit with both her legs to one side in the church. The trick was to stack your legs to the left and balance the curving arch of your back against your right palm splayed out on the floor.  If your legs stacked towards the right, you had to splay the left palm on the floor. You also had to remember to alternate between them if you felt the pins and needles climbing in between the Issahac and Yakob songs. This method of body-use saved space on the floor. It also looked more girly and respectable than the crossed leg. She would enter the second brown door by the side in the row of five doors. And sit by the edge of the blue line. People were scarce there, and you could stare at the other girls nets, how they held their hands, and how their feet held to the churidars scrunched at the ankle. The heads were carefully covered.  The palms joined. The men on the other hand folded their palms in defiance and sat crossed legged.  She learnt to care less about that. She would learn the price of that, soon. Very soon.

One day they laughed and screamed and decided they would create zig zag patterns as they walked the roads. A bike almost slapped her in the face. A man yelled —

Edi koche! Do you have any wish in you to live or not?”

Afterwards she thought, No, Not really.

In Bang-loor, she dreamt that Jesus walked with her from the grocery store to the end of the bend in the footpath (near the vegetable seller’s cart) . So there, she was safe. Not so much on the pretend pregnant road. She heard of the woman’s needs, but she never saw them with her own eyes.

Then finally, it happened.

The chechymaar who came to milk the cow, make dosha and fill the time with round-temple sounds said —

Pallithazhe (downside the church), madathinte aduthaarunnu (near the convent, it was)” Sad sad.

She saw the sickly pink mass pasted by the streaks of red beetle juice. The only part of his body that the pretend pregnant road held onto, after the fight. I like this belly, the dead body part said to her. I didn’t break any body-part rules. Boys were rude on bikes. But buses were ruder.

The bus dragged his body, they said. The body went into the road’s belly. Nicely covered. Wombed. Some chetan pulled a palm branch over the little dead parts that proclaimed their refusal to disobey. After that vacation, she refused to walk down the pregnant road. He cousin (many times removed) lay inert by the side of the church. Boy who obeyed all the body rules. The church was still white. The boy called Anthony could see the rooftop cross and the palms and the banana shrubs. She cried for the brain. St. Antony was the patron saint of lost things, not lost lives. 

Who is the patron saint of brains?

 

Kaatile aathmaakkal

Naalukettu Memories – #8 (when the emotions turn to stories)

When it is like this, I will put pen to paper. Copy these thoughts down. What are they, you will ask me, silently. I will say, remnants. Wet kissed mid mornings. Unbearable lightness inside – where the ticklish giggles will arise. They escalate. When you will ask. I will say, when Woolf compares her thoughts into fish in the stream. We have a stream here, and some fish. They visit us during the monsoons. They also invite me over. I say no. Or my legs do. Because they prefer being tucked up. In quiet corners that fill the gaps in a bulbous body. One that is curves and niches. No straight angular lines – like the lines on a notebook. Or the raindrops that fall off the odu.

Odu aren’t common in Bangalore. Although there are some ghostly remnants of the odu here and there. Like an overlooked painting. Where you will ask me again, I will say – forgotten corners – a cow-dung filled street in SJP road. Somebody forgot to remove it. It is orange and blue and green – the way only old colours of a lost time can be. Pleasing. Dark but friendly. Smiling in the sun and the rain. Glowing sometimes – pregnant with time and forgetfulness.

We have a red here like that. red oxide, terracotta. It coats the feet and silently slips away back in time. Nobody notices. Not unless you await conversations by a cool bedroom door as you play with the elephantine bolt. And put your hand into another niche – anachronistically placed by the doorway to hold oil and wicks. To spread liquid orange – like the sun, but tiny – like the moon. If you’re lucky, you will find an old rosary saved from the cottony fungus that coats other tiny things here. When it rains, of course. Especially when it rains.

Maybe its them. Who you will ask. Isn’t it obvious yet? Those spirits. Sometimes, when the rain strolls over to the next village, they appear. Make their presence felt. Palpable pauses. Always in the breeze. kaatu. Like a tiny little kitten, purring softly. Well fed. Again, they’ll curve around your corners. Rub the breeze against your calves. Stay there for a while. Then go away to talk to the pregnant cow.

When are you due?

Oh, August? That’s a nice month.

You won’t be dry or too wet.

Is that true?

Yes yes, we’re here. Don’t worry.

Suddenly, the soft curves that hold your mind will be stroked. You will be kissed – the temple of the neck. Them again. They know the art of loving and letting go. And loving again. Quietly. That’s why they were born. From the crevices of a mountain home, old, brown, worn. Belly full of all the souls who lived and died before you.

Women I like

I like how there are pastel bits all over that house that is a sad, old brown. A yellow lamp, some off-white poster, the turquoise cigarette case and the mandala shirts that Dorothea wears. I don’t remember who I was talking to when I said, I love talk movies. I know it was a boy. And I know he said, he doesn’t like “talk talk talk movies”. He would be the kind of guy who beat up Jamie for telling him about clitoral stimulation and fake orgasms. I remember that I was kind of disappointed in him when the guy told me that.

20th Century Women is full of moments that are funny when you least expect it to be. Dorothea lets you in on things even as she keeps them away from her son and I get a little annoyed with her when she tells Abbie (a Greta Gerwig that I want to so badly run away with to an island and photograph all day) that she cannot say “menstruation” out loud at a party. I’m disappointed that Jamie and Julie don’t end up together and I almost don’t want to write this because I want to nurse my empty heart, but what the hell. I might as well write.

20cent1

Today’s Summer knows that Rain is going to tease and prod until he gives in. Appa has been worried about his mangoes. He stole them away from the squirrel and asked for Eastern Pickle Powder for his birthday so he could make the pickles tomorrow. Today the sun is socially distancing himself and Appa got afraid that that the squirrel would find the mangoes on the terrace instead of on the tree, so he asked me to steal them away again, but I didn’t.

I sat and read a lot of Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair and I was thinking of how to tell him about “details”. The “details” is something that Akhila takes away from Hari, before she decides to put a stop to everything between them. Something she knows she needs to be able to move on. And then, I forget what else I wanted to say, because I see that Prabha Devi’s son is named after him. The third son, unlike him serves little purpose in the story. The tale of the women would go on, even if the boy’s name wasn’t mentioned. And I think of how maybe that’s the truth and I’m running after something that is never going to be.

Abbie tells Jamie, “your life is never going to be anything like you ever imagined it to be” when he asks her if she’s as happy as she thought she would be when she was his age. That’s freeing somehow. Terribly freeing.

It’s raining now. I think it’s the first rain of the year that I’m properly feeling. Every time it rains in the new year, or in the summer I want to sink myself in that smell, that coldness that seeps and draws out the hair to stand on its end. When I was little, and it rained, I talked like a big aunty and said to myself, “yeah, my husband is still at work and I’m waiting for him” and looked out the window and thought, this is what it means to be big, this is what it means to be real. And there was that slow coldness again, and I could feel all the hair on my arms, and I thought I was slowly dying of a sad happiness. But then I grew up a little and found out that it was called “goosebumps”.

I wish Amma was a little like Dorothea. Jamie brushes away everything she (Dorothea) says and does to “she grew up in the time of the Great Depression”. I would have to brush it away under “Conservative Malayalee Catholic family”, but it’s too big and ugly. I like how the colours follow the cars every time Jamie is running away. I like how the women talk through the cigarettes and cancer is a pestering “ex-” or “to-come-” lover that you just know will bother you, so it’s never given the centre of attention. Or maybe I’m reading it wrong.

I was thinking the same thing, when Dorothea asks Abbie and Jamie why music cannot just be pretty, and Jamie says, “because pretty music hides how unfair and corrupt society is”. And I like that answer but I also like pretty music. Maybe that’s my problem. It’s never a problem with N though. She’s tried to get me to like the shouting to sound kind of stuff. And I’ve never been able to. But we’re still thick. She’d never call me an Art Fag. Even though I might just be one.

I think it doesn’t really matter anyway. We’re only fumbling through the books, and the running away, the rain, the burning summer and the people. I like the sound of words being spoken out loud, lifted from printed paper, though. And the mindless dancing. Like mistakes (Gerwig will show you this, again, in Frances Ha). The questions, Why? What is the point? Why do it anyway?

The blah blah blah noises to the metal sounds, the conversations that melt into the big old house, the darkened eyes after a party, the polaroids of a life spent, the bodies of lovers, the colours that trail behind, the love that’s like an eagle floating through the summer rains.

The details.

 

A Broken Tree of Shards

It’s a listless morning. Amma has started cleaning the house. Her sisters are off to choir practice. She sits on a bed that is washed by a water coloured shade. An orange off the old curtains. She stares into the empty noises of a daily day. The overhead water tank is overflowing. It patters on the floor of the terrace. Her father flips through some of his papers – on which he has made drawings of buildings. With no takers. In a while his heavy legs will fall on the mosaic stairs and he will go to the terrace. To take care of his children – the plants. Amma has started folding plastic covers full of clothes and other little things – cotton rolls, jewellery, pads, underwear – for the journey on Christmas.

Everybody has been saying it’s been a listless year. Like a new Cadbury chocolate that didn’t taste as good as you anticipated it to be. But perhaps, we’ve suddenly grown old. And the tastes of all our souls have settled on our pink overused tongues. Sometimes she thinks Julie Delphy couldn’t have been more right when she said that we’ve been living many lives.

Amma wouldn’t agree with that though. She’d say, we don’t believe in such things. We are Catholics. Our next life is in Christ. And she’d envy how Amma was so ignorant about some things – so much that it was easy to let them be. For instance, Amma did not believe it was possible to be sad. So sad that all you could do was stare at those orange washed windows and wonder where your life was going. Why this life was given to you, when you didn’t ask for it. Or simply, why this time, Christmas did not feel like Christmas.

Her sister’s friend, Rishabh told her sister that Christmas was just an excuse for the markets to make money. Clothes, plastic Christmas trees, lights and little statutes. Not to forget – the wine.

I was very hurt, Akka, I mean Christmas is Christmas. How can you not see that? The spirit of giving and the joy that pervades every corner of this city at this time…

Her sister stood with her, in front of a Van Heusen store at Commercial Street, staring at thermocol snowflakes and red and gold baubles, and didn’t feel one bit of joy or giving. There was just a store pretending to be happy for Christmas’s sake. Or for the sake of their ringing cash registers.

She told her it could be the state of awareness perhaps, of knowing that it’s just a pagan festival that has managed to drag a lot of emotions over the years. Many souls. Many tears. Many smiles. Many Home Alones.

See, maybe the true Christmas is in just that – the fact that most of the time, in an adult life, you’re simply irredeemably alone. And all you have is listlessness, unless a couple of thieves come over and then you have to get out of the couch and make the plan to defend yourself. That in life, you’re mostly just alone. In the many places you call home.

She writes this down in her diary. She also adds another line. Sometimes I think, most of the world is like Amma, they just refuse to see that you are mostly home alone. And there’s no real joy in fighting off the Christmas robbers. And that your family isn’t going to save your ass all the time. Why don’t people write this about Christmas, dear Diary?

“Maybe it’s also the fact that this time, we know that it’s about the money. Or maybe because we know we don’t have the money.” She chuckles.

“That’s like life”, her sister says. “A lot of maybe’s.”

She nods. And then, she smiles. Like a maybe that has come true. She knows another who plays the game of the maybe. He supposes and disposes the million little probabilities of their relationship. Just like her. Maybe I’ll change. Maybe not. Maybe you’ll get used to it.

She thought of him at Sunday mass. Like she did about the golden sachristy, the old mats on which she was made to sit on as a child, and the way she ran away from it one day to sit next to her small aunt. And the way it was the same small aunt who helped her call her first love. And her first love, of course – him of the sad eyes and dark smile like a candle in the dark of power-cuts.

“You know, yesterday, I discovered that I love Postmodernism so much, not for its philosophy of life and people and systems, it’s for its Literature.” She told him. “The way in which it doesn’t ascribe anything concrete to writing and to experiences. The way in which it lets personal be personal. Without any restrictions of any kind. I hate limitations. Of any kind.” She is thinking about that Batman article he wrote through a period of hysteria and existential crisis.

“Okay. Why are you defending it so much,” he asks. Like he knows.

“No, not like that. I just believe very strongly about the beauty of the fact that Literature is never this world that you can define or confirm as some thing. It’s always going to be chaotically brilliant in its uncertainty and growth through those million possibilities of being.” She hated it when his friends critiqued the piece for not being strong in its conceptualisation. What the fuck was certainty anyway. How could you be certain about anything? Especially in writing? Personal, painful writing.

Beauty was in chaos. And the colours that pain threw into the painting of chaos.

“But do you see that, in stating that everything has to be uncertain, you are ascertaining a fixed way of being, and so defeating the purpose.”

That was the fatal mistake of Derrida, was it not? But she had the desperate need to make him see he wasn’t wrong. Wasn’t un-beautiful in the Batman piece’s uncertainties of form. Wasn’t bad in writing something personal that didn’t ascribe to the critics’ point of view. The need to show doesn’tgo away.

“Well, yeah that’s true, but –”

“Yeah, so there is some danger in ascertaining uncertainty and personal importance to writing. It cannot be separately personal. It is part of a larger structure.” He is a Marxist through and through.

“Ughhhhhhhhh. Stoopppp. You’re so boring. Rationalising everything. Go away.”

“Well philosophical differences will always be there.”

*****

Amma believes all problems will go away as long as we obsessively pray. In the Ola cab, on the way back from a party, and especially at Sunday Mass.

She goes to the long Kannada mass and stares at the red and green lanterns hung with white and green tinsel. It’s only for Amma, really. The priest says, “The birth of Christ was a very important event. It was so impactful that ithihasm was separated. Into BC and AD. Before Christ and After – the Year of the Lord.”

A common misconception really. There are many ways of chronicling time. Sometimes, it’s the hegemonical ones that become popular.

Ithihasm stays with her, though. She translates the word to English. History. It’s a beautiful word. And so uncertain. Like a soap bubble full of reflected lights, blown by a child at a park.

Like today.

Maybe she’ll survive, maybe not.

The Prayer and The Song – Deconstructing the Case of Arundhati Roy’s new novel

Arundhati Roy in her interview with Zac O’Yeah for The Hindu says that writing a story, “is a prayer, a song.” If you have read the prose that she has woven together in The God Of Small Things, you’d utter that prayer, you’d hear the song. Roy’s writing is like her description of Estha’s memories “Like old roses on a breeze.” You see the smell, you hear the colours, you taste the age, and you feel the stories. The first time I came across The God Of Small Things, I was too young to understand the social significance of such a novel and too hung over her descriptions, “You could row Jam if you wanted – India is a free country.” Yes it is.

However, the country and its people have not taken very kindly to Roy’s views on various issues. She has supported the separation of Kashmir from India; she has opposed the war in Afghanistan; she has spoken against the oppression of Adivasis– in the case of Narmada Bachao Andolan and The Muthanga incident; and has criticized the actions of the Indian government against the Maoists. Many of her ideas were furiously penned down in political essays and collected works that question the ideas of polarized words – war and peace for instance.

Now, twenty years from her first and only novel, she has released her second narrative work – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. It is only natural that a work of this magnitude, coming from Arundhati Roy is being talked about with a great hype. The mystery behind these reactions could lie within her own narrative. Remember The God Of Small Things and how little I understood it the first time? Well, every re-reading opened my eyes to those layers woven together in a tapestry of language. It was the story of a family; and of a family – inhabiting a time. A time that segregated human souls on the basis of labels called caste and gender. Roy describes this segregation in few fragmented sentences – “That it really began when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved and how. And How much.”

It has been twenty years since God Of Small Things won the Booker Prize in 1997. But in the case of the Love Laws, has time really passed?

In decoding the mystery of the author, we discover the Love Laws that she fights against. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness promises a tale that weaves together all of the issues that Roy has rallied against and stood for – the sad songs of Kashmir, the wounds of the Maoist guerillas in Central Indian forests, the perils of fundamentalist thoughts. Roy in her various interviews admit to being apprehensive of the response of the audience and the danger to her own life, because of the magic she seeks to free – by breaking down the Love Laws that constrict her own country. But in her own words, this time Fiction has chosen her as the medium of narrating this story. It is not in a political essay or a protest speech. It is in the magic of a literary narrative. It seeks to be a whole in itself – regardless of impact or consequences.

Let me give you an example of the fragmented wholesomeness she seeks in her novel: What would you think when in a new city? It contains within itself a history and lives even as parts of it die. Emotions that speak their languages are the soul of the city. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness thus strives to bring these characters alive. It is Delhi and Kashmir that becomes ​the people. In an Interview with Penguin Random House, Roy admits to wanting to write a book in which the story is like the streets of a great city. So we know now, that there is the mystery of recounted characters and the magic of poetic language.

But what creates this narrative in our Author’s mind? In the Zach O’Yeah interview, Roy describes a night at Jantar Mantar with many protesters. One time, she says – a baby appeared and nobody knew what to do. This incident inspired certain scenes in the book. The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness also depicts the strength of love. But unlike her previous book, this one she says, is not about a family.

As for the magic in her prose, Roy has shared a special relationship with language – far before her architectural studies. Her books therefore contain a play with words and linguistic structures to reflect the settings of her stories. In The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, she interweaves Kashmiri English – “a language of war, occupation and pain.”

With ​such layers packed into a much awaited book, the expectations are bound to be high. There are​many who look forward to Roy’s metaphorical prose and others who want to see what furor she may stir with a book that brings her controversial viewpoints into stories, and still others who want to read the narrative through the well-known activist and political essayist. Although​ she promises a human story, many others may not see it that way. The Guardian, The Washington Post and First Post have written reviews that speak in favor of the novel, with reservations against the author. Dailyo, Huffington Post and The New York Times do not find it as appealing as her earlier work. But the magic and mystery surrounding her Great Story is undeniable.

In The God Of Small Things, Roy narrates the secret of the Great Stories – that they have none. They are the ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. The ones you have heard and want to hear again. My prayer and song for The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is just that – a great story I want to know again.

In the words of its creator – that must be its mystery and its magic.

This​ article was first published for The Indian Economist.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: Arundhati Roy weaves magic with her latest novel

 

The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story – Book Review

I watched her move across the stage with a terrifying stillness inside. As though, if you dared to breathe a little loudly, you would lose out on something precious. She performed Nanna Dhvani in Kannada and Tamil, at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival. When we met her, later – I discovered that preciousness she conceals on the surface – it’s an efficacy for life and the warmth of compassion.

How do you talk about rape? How do you emphasise that wound and its pain when you haven’t undergone that suffering but live with its fear the moment you reach a certain realisation of your girlhood? Do you distance yourself to talk about its politics? Or do you immerse yourself and feel the pain and weep as you try to explain the fundamental violation it entails? In my own way, I chose to read out the last hours of Dopdi’s ordeal in class in my voice. I don’t ask students to do it, because I want them to feel pain. To be as torn as I was when V Ma’am read it out to us in class, years ago. To continue to feel torn and helpless, every time I read it, and then to suddenly laugh. Maniacally.

D will tell me, that’s because the story is too close to you.
D will tell me, I like how you called yourself whimsical in class.

Can we afford not to be whimsical?

Revathi, is close to me. Now more than ever. That day, she balanced pain and terror on her face as she re-enacted the rape and assault by St. Marks Road policemen. There was also distance – a silent space across the hall which held me tight and wound. I am still lost.

All I can say is, read this book. Her kind, old-soul eyes that spoke to me after the play, stays with me as I read. The distance and the pain will become yours – you see clearly, that world of Hijra women that society told you, may not be woman enough. Before you know it, her Truth will speak from within your heart. You drink the suleimani, your heart will go rhim jhim through her laugher, her pain and anger. And suddenly, your eyes are burnt by tears. It is compassion. An unending compassion, with which she tells us her story. Like the sweet familiar pain of a long-distance love story.

Letters and Love

Today was a Christmas that came too fast, but left with the pace of a slow book well read. I’ve wanted to watch The Jane Austen Book Club ever since I chanced upon the trailer once upon a long time ago; when I’d have my fill of movies watching YouTube recommendations. Today, when the high of sugar from chocolates, cookies and hot cocoa sunk quietly, I made myself a jar of coffee (unsweetened, black) and sat down to watch the movie that took a whole half month to download.

Reading, and images of reading have a silent intimacy to it. We probably conceive of it as an act that tags us along, but really, it watches over. Good times, bad, sad ones and weird, happy ones. The nights I’d read out the Song of Solomon to him over the phone, the words I by-hearted (no, memorise is not a better word) from The God of Small Things, and the day we first met and I shared some words about some books. These came and left. I wanted to write a story to my stories the way Corraine does. Only, these are my own many stories.

Yesterday, during Midnight Mass, Fr. S quoted “The God of Small Things.” Only, when he said Jesus could be The God of Small Things, something slippery-sloped in me. Velutha, the dalit carpenter who makes the monsoons come on time, cannot be Jesus. (however similar their Life and Death situations are). GOST returned to me again at night. I stood by the cusp of a proposal that promises to be comfortable and my sister is getting invasive again. She changes the topic, asks me – what are your favourite quotes from the book? So many, I say. “The Love Laws laid down. And How. And How Much” “In the twelve nights that followed, Ammu and Velutha knew that for them, only the little things mattered. The big things only lurked, like history’s shadows. But that would be Later. Lay. Ter.” “ Velutha looked up and saw that Rahel’s mother had grown. That her eyes were elsewhere and her shoulders shone.” L tells me then, I asked for quotes, not paragraphs.

I’m terrified of letting the comfortable ride itself out, like limbs that stretch out when you’re getting over a lazy spell. I love the words – ‘terribly‘ and ‘terrified‘. I think they’re the only adjectives that matter. Should I tell you about the women that I’ve come to love in different ways, this winter, or about the terribly scary invitation to fall into the arms of comfort?

I’ll tell you instead, that today, I walked to the park with a student, let my feet sink in grass, speckled with fallen drops of yellow leaves and walked back home for hot cocoa. Amma made Biriyani and yesterday night, after Appam and pork, they opened all the gifts I brought them. I spoke to someone who knows the language of thought, blew many wishes away with the love that dandelion fluffs carry with them and watched the movie I finally downloaded.

Now, I’m left with the aftertaste of reading and all it means to me. I will pay homage to the Instagram feeds tagged readingnook and bookstagrammer that saved many a teary-eyed cold night. I will promise to be hyper aware to love and its letting in, and I swear never to let you, dear words on paper, screens or palms, be betrayed. Never, in all your vagaries of narration. No, not even for love.

For it was you that comforted. Your image hunched, fetal-like in corners of comfort like old and new love (lost and found again), that’s seen me through my spirit years. In and out of families (especially women) I’ve come to call home. So, here’s to you – the pouring and the swallowing, the warmth of phrases, and the icy cold of auxiliaries, the coffee-sweet of clauses all bound in the music of a letter and its words, in Story-ed Narration.

For this Christmas, gave me back to you.

Strangled Stories – #8

When tears rest on skin,

in cold dry December,

you cannot distinguish between,

sadness and emptiness.

There’s a gap :

you’re making ginger tea,

but all you smell

is bloodied chicken cooking in the next stove,

placed there by purse-lipped Amma.

When she moves, she sighs, tells you an onion has fallen into the tea.

You say, that’s okay. Because you don’t want the pursed lips to quiver and break open.

Breakdowns are Appa slamming the light brown, worn front door and abusing Amma’s four siblings, one mother, one dead father.

and you think of Him who is loved (?) by another.

Abuses and sadness are a strange combination,

Like the sick coloured dread at the sight,

of a woman’s mail in your inbox

(The woman who thinks girls should carry pads in their bags, and not expect the stationery store in college to sell it)

on the day you decide

to choose yourself

and take leave from work.