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Posted in City speaks, Creative writing, Stories, Went, saw, wrote

Unfamiliar places

Before I went near the ticket counter and pushed my ‘first day of school’ like words out of my mouth to ask for the ticket, there were fishes and other creatures humanity had not discovered flowing up and down the conveyor belt of my body.

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I take a deep breath, find a place to sit near Rangasthala which was not sunbathed, sit down to collect my thoughts and plan my next move. The play would start in 15 minutes and I calculated the distance between my sitting spot and the entrance of this place I’d never been to. If I read my book to spend the 15 minutes, that would cut down my walk time to the entrance, thus making me late and getting lesser time to survey the sitting area to find a good seat. So I sat next to the two ladies whispering words into the air expecting them to find their way into each other’s ears, making sure my walk to the entrance time is not missed like a bus stop.

The walk time is good enough and I enter yet another unfamiliar performance place. There was a curtain covering the entrance to the seats which made me wonder why were we being led into the backstage, because of course, I thought only backstages in theatres are supposed to be hidden, like mom’s struggles shrouded behind our clean house. I managed to find a good watching spot. As I sat down, I thought, why didn’t I ask Sagnik to take a picture of the place for me. It would have been so much easier to decide the walk time to entrance and good spot decisions could be made, hence saving my precious 15 minute reading time. But it hit me again that this thought had never hit me now or before. Somehow, it was like I craved the feeling of my lungs getting rationed breaths of air, waiting eagerly at the entrance because I did not know what new change of sitting designs awaited me inside, the millisecond long good-seat hunt. Till then, I’d forgotten the panic-joy of discovering art spaces.

Being a loner and obeying your body’s commands when it turns up the gravity knob of your bed is probably the worst combination evolution could give a mediocre person like me. So whenever my dad went to Rangashankara for plays, NLSIU for conferences, to Chowdaiah Memorial Hall for Sitar Concerts, I would pull my already pulled up bedsheet over my head. I found excuses, like I had not bathed yet, what good manners is it to go out like a galeej hudgi (dirty girl), mom would say. Dad would go on his own, disappointed that his only daughter was not interested in the same things he was. He felt the loss his father felt when he decided to drop his atheism bomb in the god heirloom house.

***

So when I was 19 and less stupid than before (much less stupid), I saw my first play at Atta Galata. It was probably not the rite passage my dad would have wished for me, but he did not complain. The play was Ladies Compartment. I entered the Atta Galata’s upstairs room that did not feel like a punch in the gut of disapproval by my head for not spending my Sunday in bed. Being the person I was, I sat down in the corner seat in the last but one row, sceptical about the warm, cosy place that it was. Welcoming spaces are so rare that, like Anjali who thinks that Rahul wanted to “dukaan hadap” (occupy her shop), I allowed the experience to seep in bit by bit, drops of white liquid falling from a pipette and turning happy pink in my test tube heart. The play was over and my sooraj hua maddham moment had arrived.

Atta Galata became the place I went to frequently because of the silence I enjoyed with the books there and because of their really nice chai options. Once I even performed there and although it is not something that will feature in my great novel as an important moment, the yellow warmth of its walls and having book audience along with human audience made the process less anxious than usual.

(End of Part 1)

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Posted in Creative writing, Poems, Went, saw, wrote

Mathematics and wilted flower petals

Gokarna

All I had to do was close my eyes and think of my happy places. The clearest one would be A in his over-sized gym jacket and red  t-shirt, hands unsure of where they should be when they’re not following his brain’s commands.

A hates parties. If the music reaches anywhere outside the designated party place, he would catch any available mode of transport, even a horse cart heading any direction away from there. “I hate this. So many people around”, he’d mutter, his fingers slightly raised from the dark brown table of the cafe as if they could tear out a new world for him when those people managed to reach him from the too-loud music places.

Some mornings, I open my eyes to A staring at me, like I’m words. A staring at me with a toothbrush dangling from his mouth. A closing his eyes and still seeing me when a smile on his lips slide in, like the smile decided to stay over before it went on its way. A and his smile breaking patterns in the very fast paced light, not stopping for us unlike the smiles, like a kaleidoscope’s glass pieces.  A never stopping time but stopping so many other emotions from going out of their muddle. A with his smile and it was already evening.

A travels without reaching anywhere. The streets are his destination and he drives on. He loves the sea. He drives along the streets of his hometown till he finds a deserted beach and he stands there. A’s face loses creases. Then A smiles again. This time, it quietly seeps into his mind and everything about him lights up. A stares at the waves of the sea and I search for my oxygen. I stand a little far away and I cannot picture home as something made of walls and roofs and other inanimate objects. A stands still and it’s evening already.

There’s something so unquiet about A when he doesn’t talk. He bends over his book and his jagged edges manifest in the air around him. I reach out to him and touch it. It sings with my own edges and we disrupt each other’s unquiet. A doesn’t look up. We continue being unquiet and mismatched, while his battered differential calculus notebook stares at us. A closes his eyes and lies back and it’s morning already.

I close my eyes and everything moves. A holds my hands and the day stops following its usual format. The words move and there’s not enough of them to piece together A into my impossibly organised world of  fluent sentences and filter coffee. A looks at my face as I screamed and laughed and stopped talking. He decided to stay. A in the rain with his chaos in my world. With my books and over-thinking. I felt the final traces of the stained picture frame marks fade away in my world. The ghost town came alive.

Posted in books, Review

Thank you, Angela 

Pink. The edition is a pleasant pink. This was the first thought that ran in my head when I saw this book show up on my Twitter feed. My mother calls it baby pink. As soon as the pleasant response registered itself, the stereotype followed, reminding me how pink was ‘girly’. I felt my guard strengthen slightly but I went on and read about the book. I ordered it right away. That is how my devour session of Inferior – How science got women wrong and the new research that is re-writing the story began.

I was 7 years old. I had a frock that had three frills on the sleeves and three frills on the cloth below the waist. The second best part about this was that it was made of cotton, thus brushed and consoled my skin that never saw the light of Vaseline. I wore it to school every Wednesday. After puberty hit like a bullet train, my teen wardrobe rarely had pink. It had every other mismatched colour that never looked good enough on me, but not pink. Because I believed that pink was too girly for me. Which cool and hip-happening girl in her right mind would wear pink? I would scoff at pink shirts and tops in stores. This resulted in some sort of strangled wardrobe that was filled with junk clothes because I never felt like wearing any of them. I was never happy in them.

Girly and pink were among the many words that I hid under the folds of my kurti. I was ashamed of the fact that my eyes went straight to barbies in a toy store, various shades and hues of pink that I could discern when my mother could not decide which pink a particular clothing was. 

It’s only in the recent past that I have been able to fish out the pieces of the self I had lost and began remaking myself, one piece at a time. I let myself like and dislike something after giving it enough thought, as much as it requires. But it is my own thoughts and ideas and I feel better with every single such decision I take. What surprises me is how deeply ingrained the kind of person I once was, poking its nose into giving me easier and comfortable options. Inferior explains this concept better than my ancient pink frock.

*

I flipped through the sources and references of the book and I was shocked to see the insane amount of research Angela had done to write this book. All this research is presented in a chronological order of events and many of the sources are cross-referenced. This might seem to confuse the reader but Angela’s writing makes sure that that does not happen. She manages to keep the book as much objective as possible. Her bias, the direction in which the book goes, can be seen as a thin sheet of plastic that wraps up a new writing pad, without letting any part of the book be completely influenced by it. 

In the chapter, “The missing five ounces of the female brain”, she talks about Helen Hamilton Gardner who had to fight to explain how women and men were equal when a man’s brain was five ounces heavier than a woman’s. Their theory which said, bigger brain, brighter man, was accepted by many people. Gardener had to fight, not only to prove that she was right, but also to prove that she was eligible to be right. She left her own brain for research after she died. It was then that the missing five ounces were accounted for, as Angela writes. This makes me think as to how narrow-minded one can be to not even want to examine something a woman wants to say, just because she is a woman. Two male scientists have not even read the papers published by female scientists countering their theories.

*

Instead of making this book having all resolved and all sorted conclusions, her bias makes sure that she provides enough evidence to her findings, including the debates going about the particular issue. She does this when she is talking about the grandmother hypothesis, where she lets the reader know that the idea of a grandmother existing even after evolution has no use of her was because a grandmother helps in nurturing the next generation of young ones was not completely proved even when a handful of proofs pointed that way. This she does by giving counter-arguments which disprove this hypothesis by making a rational and valid point.

The piece is intricate yet smooth. Angela constructs the book by becoming the invisible observer, almost fading into the wall of the scenario that surrounds her. She juggles through different research material and makes sure they all fall into place as the reader goes on with the book. There is a certain uniformity that Angela maintains not only in her method of writing, but also in how she builds the first part of the evidence, lego brick by lego brick, she produces the building and in the same way, piece by piece, she demolishes the incorrect findings.

When Angela warned me in the beginning of the book that not all of this is pleasant, I did not expect to read what I read in the section, “Why men dominate”. Here, you learn about female genital mutation, stunting the growth of women’s feet in China, breast ironing in Africa – to name a few. This is where I felt my temper rise. I closed the book for a while and I tried to think the last time an injustice against women made me this angry. It hit me that a huge chunk of such blatantly unjust and cruel practices were passed off as being something that happened every day and people decided that their morning coffee and breakfast was not worthy enough to be ruined by this. People’s apathy, at times my own, shocked me. How was I remaining silent despite everything? One voice should make a difference, right? Then I remembered that behind the lectures in school that one voice can make all the difference, we always heard the ‘realist’ view that one voice can make no difference. So we stuck to it and stayed silent. The world went on with its day.

*

This book makes you think. It makes you go on with your life and wonder about every myth you were told as a little girl/boy. It makes you think, it makes you question. It shows the danger of blindly following anything without sufficient research, just because ‘science says so’. She highlights the importance of looking at all facets of a situation instead of just picking something just because it satisfies your theory. She shows the dangers of picking the easy way out.

Thank you, Angela, for giving my voice the strength it lacked. Thank you for giving me back pink. And many other shades of violet and blue and all the other colours which are slowly filling my being.

Posted in City speaks, Creative writing, Poems

On wet streets and memories

Dear poet, pen and pun pal,
These days the rain hits the ground a little harder. It is almost violent enough to make me go back into the house even when I’m decked in night pants and shirt. Rain clothes, we called them. Amma will not start enlisting the troubles she has to go through if I got wet in the rain; as if it was a grocery list she was writing when the rice, dal and sugar in her South Indian household had gone empty. She will not have to follow me till the gate without an umbrella because why should she stay safe when her Mythu is inviting a cold from the rain. She will sit on the black and grey couch with her size five feet under her plump legs in a red nightie and look at me as I gaze at the rain which is too rough today. Her daughter seems to have been getting her size 8 feet back on the ground and she is happy. The sky however is not.

The rain these days seems to be angry. It has broken through faulty tar roads that looked strong enough for a lorry to ride on. It makes bike and scooty riders to enter a muddy pothole in the middle of Bangalore’s streets. It does not apologise for being too strong for a city to bear in a single day. It does not make any promises. It fell down on the barren ground that did not know how to soak up the water. Thus, the rain flows. In streams and stands in puddles. The winds that were supposed to blow away the rain clouds join the rain and create a storm. Amma was wrong again when she said that if it becomes windy, there won’t be any rain. The city has cut down a set of trees for an advertisement board which would be just another imprint on a bored person’s mind. 27 to be exact. The rains these days don’t sing of the soft magic it carries in its drops. There are no rainbows.

The rains in this city don’t push people together anymore. They have tried and failed to stop the people who run in their fixed routes which end in a place they cannot call home. The anywhere but here kind have seemed to convert everyone into their own. I feel I’m crossing the line into being them. Sometimes, I need a morning breakdown to realise that the afternoon was not meant for a day in college. The rain does not tell me what it means to stand and wait for the next drop to surprise a different part of your body. It is nearing the point where one day it will fall all at once and there will be no trace of our race left. Nothing that would tell the world of the incredible spirit of a human being along with the fundamental evil that all of us possess. Today the rains want Bangalore to stay Bangalore and not Bengaluru. It wants to stop the tailor shop from converting into a dosa place. It is changing to stop change.

I sit here wearing my happy sweater. The rains have just stopped. It’s night again and it has chosen to stay silent for now. I hope Ithaca is everything that you dreamed of and so much more. There will be more to tell you, but for now, I’ll let the rains do the talking.

Loads of love and sunshine your way

Yours,

The awkward girl who has not tripped and fallen. Yet.

Posted in Creative writing

A house of one’s own

There will be paintings on the wall, filled with my palms and fingers in all colours bright and dark. There will be photographs of appa with his perfect nose and teeth grin, amma’s tight lipped smile because she does not like it when her teeth show. Ajji will stand along with them, looking at the camera like it was unacceptable that it pulled her away while she was preparing the best poha in the world. There will be friends in the photographs, because they chose to be more than their fundamental annoying selves. The number of pictures will grow as times pass but the wall will stay purple. Faded purple like someone thought the night sky would look better with a shade of white all over it. It will be filled with dream catchers because my dreams bring in their own set of luggage and start spinning cobwebs with them.

There will be mosquito nets around the beds, white ones with barely enough holes for air to pass through. I would sit inside and imagine all the stories amma told about her grandpa. He was an architect who designed a school in Mysore. He also wore a black muffler with invisible stripes on it when he was 88. He would drape it around amma when she was cold. The light bulb rays would struggle to lighten up the sentences on my books and I would walk out to the balcony and read under the purple sky and the white moon.

There will be two chairs and lots of blankets made from bits of old, red and white t-shirts. The kitchen, the living room and its tiles would tell me stories of how they were unfortunate than most other tiles to have ended up here. The house will come alive as I walk out into the streets and carry a piece of it with me. A piece of home wherever I go.

The street lights will be musky silk saree yellow. I will walk on the streets towards and away from my house. I will walk with a house in my sleeves and old jeans. With a home. A home of my own.

Posted in City speaks, Went, saw, wrote

Book launch “Wall”owing in chaos

The microphone at Bookworm, Church street, produced half the sound it was supposed to produce (yet again) at the launch of The Wall by Sowmya Aji that happened on a Saturday afternoon.

The previous confusion became more apparent as the author, Ms. Aji, ran back and forth along the podium as she made sure the event was not as bumpy as it was showing itself to be. Three cameras stared on and Ramya, politician and actor, arrived at the event almost on time and kick-started it by reading out a few paragraphs from the book.

As soon as the talking stopped and the organisers decided what to do next that would not be chaotic, there was a constant voice coming from the speakers around, reading out verses that nobody could understand as they had not read the book. Everyone was looking around, wondering where the voices were coming from. The chaos on the stage, however did not stop.

Chiranjiv Singh,a retired civil officer and an “earth sciences not literature” expert as he calls himself, performed an analysis which seemed more like a critical review of the book. The book was a page turner, but as far as magic realism is concerned, it has magic and no realism, was his opinion on the book.

The audience were puzzled as to how this could be an analysis of the book. Instead of stopping there, he also added that the he would not have read the book if Ms. Aji had not made him do so. He looked like he wanted to say some more but Ms. Aji took the pause and thanked him for his valuable input which was basically him “throwing shade”, as one of the members in the audience pointed out.

Then enters Prakash Rai. He gives the usual reason of being “caught up” and the book is launched after it has been “analysed”

After a few words from the panellists, people shuffled out and a conversation began between Amandeep Sandhu and Malavika Avinash, a BJP spokesperson. “The book wrote itself”, was one of the many sentences in the discussion that made people look at each other with wide eyes. They were probably thinking how easy it would be if all their books wrote themselves.

As if that was not enough, Ms Avinash started talking about the different rasas of Bharatanatyam and connected that to the reception of the book; Ms Aji replied with an even more vague answer. The event ended with an “I think we should end it?” from the author.

The kids’ bored faces were tinted with a shade of happiness as everyone started to walk out of the room, confused still, some bewildered, most bored.

As soon as we thought that this was over, the director of Tipu Sultan Ke Khwaab takes the stage and asks people to come to his play. Book launches have changed indeed.