I Don’T LoOK lIke a VegetARIAN

Recently- well,actually for quite a while now- I’ve been thinking of eating meat again. Vegetarianism has been a rather strange companion for ten years now. Sometimes I just want to bite into a juicy, succulent chicken leg. Sometimes, the persistent smell of fishy fry- that usually makes me want to stay in my room -overwhelms me to the extent that I feel like I’ve already had that brown,crispy,thin piece of fish. And that’s a satisfying feeling. I profess to have no religious reasons for having turned or remaining vegetarian, so I try staying at a distance from the Brahmin-vegetarian debate. All that talk of beef, makes me hungry too and I want a sweet porota wrapped around spicy,peppery beef. I also stay at a distance from the animal-rights debate, I look at a dog with such immense distrust, I can easily reconcile with one less hen clucking around. Then there’s that thing of man being naturally carnivorous- meh, my canines went missing for a year so I don’t know about that. None of this, of course bothered me before I turned vegetarian and now there’s a constant onslaught of these  ideas of being vegetarian.

 People are often surprised that I am a vegetarian, not many Malayali vegetarians out there. And even more so, when they hear the rest of my family eat meat. I give different reasons every time I’m asked. It really started from a rubbish conversation with my father this one time, and I was simply trying to prove I had the will to stay away from meat. That little ego clash got sown into my skin. Speaking about skin, the other reason people are surprised I’m vegetarian is because I ‘don’t look like one’. What does this mean? I remember this notion of vegetarian when I was a kid to be tied to the idea of someone who’s fair-skinned. No, really. Vegetarians were those Brahmins- fair,glasses perhaps,smartest kid in class. I was none of that. There’s a certain cliche, about this feminist- vegetarian-hippie, nature-loving junkie image that I absolutely detest. The more people know me, the more they connect it to this rhetoric of the fancy, politically correct lot. I see why it goes together, but I simply don’t want that weave to be my story. To top it all off, I hate egg and have low tolerance to milk- so close to being vegan.

Then why am I a vegetarian?

I sometimes think, I’m afraid of a new onslaught of identity marks that will be cast if I now decide to eat meat. And I already know what some of them will be,something-something-obsessed with caste…


The search for the veshakaran has been a strange endeavour. He appears as a mirage. I see him in the distance and he still slips away. Sometimes I think it’s because of the lack of form, he shape-shifts and I simply don’t recognise him the closer I get. Sometimes I think it’s because the form appears so overtly male, when it’s Poothana I’m searching for.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Raise one eyebrow. 
That’s easy enough, it’s genetic.
Now, the other.
Ah,now there’s a difficulty. How can I raise the other? I contort my face. I try again. Both go up. They furrow. I try again. Both go up, comically raised in atbutham.
I try again, press my palm down on one and force the other up. I try 100,000 times. I raise one. Now, the other. There you go, now?
Do you look like one?
I look into the mirror, long and hard. Long hair, kohl-lined eyes, earrings dangling from both eyes.I raise one eyebrow, then the other. I do it rhythmically, increasing my speed to the beat of the chenda. 
At most, a clown’s instruments to play the Fool. A veshakaran? No.
Then be that.
The Fool. The Harlequin.



FEast OF FooLS

Almost a year ago when I decided to study abroad for a year, it was a sort of escapism from the deep abyss I saw India slipping into, in the near future. I thought lives would change radically, things would slip into chaos in an unforgiving dictatorship. I lived in a bubble of dystopia in my head, even as everyone continued with their lives with the same degree of normalcy. Some may even say with a higher degree of optimism.

As Winston sat down to write in his diary the mundane realities of an implausible world, he created a schism between phantasm and reality. Either he was mad or the rest of the world was. What seemed more possible? I always thought that book would end up with him in a mental asylum. It didn’t.

As soon as I left the country though, it suddenly felt as if I had set off a pack of dominos in my wake. The only bits of news that pilfered across a continent and two worlds, was news about large scale protest movements and escalating atrocities against the Dalits. I expected a communal riot, but caste ran the first leg. What worried me endlessly was not just that it was happening, but that I was stuck a million miles away and no one around me knew. I sat in endless discussions about Brexit and Donald Trump, Modi who?  Whatsapp conversations, an Indian friend,skype chats with the family added to this nightmarish normalcy. They looked the same, they still spoke about their boyfriends,the menu for lunch and dinner, the cousins who were pregnant. Hadn’t Rohith Vemula just committed suicide? I turned to those friends still in university, they were all student protests, so at least they’d be agitated. They spoke of endless assignments, not having time to read the news, not having seen this particular news, Delhi was so far away, did the locked up students get Hyderabadi biryani? I was keen to come back to India.

Una happened only a few weeks ago. I had a brief chat with Arnab Amuses Me, about the whole Kashmir issue being hyped, he also thinks Una was an isolated incident.GST is big at the dinner table. Meanwhile, I must find a way to pay off that student loan.


writingA few weeks ago, I was told I should change the way I write. Adopt a new style, write more academically, adapt to a new world. At the time I took what she said into consideration, her light eyes seemed sympathetic and wanted more than anything to help me. She told me her own story, where she came from, how she found it difficult to adapt to a new form of knowledge and writing- much in the same way, she explained, as I did. She gave me tips on how I could go about doing this. Read a published paper she said, maybe copy and paste a paragraph from that paper onto your document so you can copy the exact style. It reminded me of a little child tracing a drawing from a colouring book. She repeated again, “You just have to change your style of writing.” I was uncomfortable at the thought. Partly, because my pride was hurt. Of all the trouble I’d had with academics over the years, writing was definitely not one of them. Writing had become a crutch, to aid me through the many gaps and holes in knowledge, to compensate for my lack of understanding in the visual. Yet, here I was, failing a paper and being told I should change the way I write. If my discomfort started with a hurt ego, it soon grew into something else altogether. It wasn’t that I couldn’t write very well, it’s that I couldn’t write to match a certain standard. I couldn’t write to tick the boxes on a certain checklist that decided what was academic and what was not. They didn’t want to know if I had the capacity to deconstruct the politics of a certain issue, but if I could use existing theories to prove an already existing presumption. I decided to let my discomfort simmer for a while, so I could wait for the rest of my papers. I wanted to see if this would be an isolated incident. It wasn’t. I could see, however that different people approached my writing in different ways. Some made allowances for straying from standards of acceptance, some gave me credit for doing just that. The former interested me more. In one of those papers, the examiner conceded that I had analysed the issue very well. What was odd, was that the issue she quoted wasn’t what my paper was based on at all. She thought it was one problem, when I thought I had evocatively insisted that that was not what I was interested in. The rest of the feedback helped realise why she’d read my paper wrong. She said she wished I hadn’t spent as much time explaining the problem and devoted my words to explaining established theories to prove it existed. Yes, a repetition of the previous examiner’s feedback. What was this problem though? I took up a couple of long paragraphs explaining how Brahmanical patriarchy worked, to lay claims to its existing manifestation in the lives of migrant adivasis in India. What the examiner wished I’d done, was eliminate the entire problematic and instead find a theory that could explain it. How could I tell her that Marxist feminism cannot explain Brahmanical patriarchy, ecofeminism can’t explain it, postcolonial feminism can’t explain it, radical feminism can’t explain it, black feminism can’t explain it, Virginia Woolf had no idea about it, Simone de Beavoir devoted no books to it, Spivak had missed it, and bell Hooks was farther away from it than the examiner herself was. I certainly used post colonialism to talk about land rights, but I can only use brahmanical patriarchy to explain the lives of these migrant adivasi women. My first paper was on caste too. It’s distressing how there’s no space for caste within the academia today. It’s distressing how it isn’t seen as its own unique form of conceptualised theory. I cannot speak about any political issue in India without invoking the implications of the caste system and I cannot use any standardised form of theory to explain it. I feel like Hal in Infinite Jest sometimes, the sentences are constructed perfectly in my head and make absolute sense, yet, when I speak people only hear monstrous rumblings in an alien tongue.

tHE MidNIGHt ParASites-protest diaries

Yes, I went for the walk again. No compulsion,I simply love how the same sights form new meanings in the cover of the dark…and sometimes in the abandon of the rosiness of the sun. I find the dark comforting when most people find it frightening and discomforting. But then again, while walking in a dimly lit street, I feel more exposed than when in the light. Darkness has a wonderful duality that should never find resolution. So, I went to ESI again, now leaving a setting sun behind. I cannot see the drains today, I can really only smell it. The odour already turns the blackness into the green murkiness and charcoal grey slime in my mind. We walk silently, a lot more quiet than usual, the night sometimes forces the quiet upon you, sometimes even forces the orange of the streetlight upon you. We walk in longer shadows with tiny torches. Again the monstrosity of progress, even more terrifying with its glaring lights in the dark. Again, the worker’s schedules. Again the children’s park, now more crowded with the old exercising on what masqueraded as bright yellow toy gymnasium. Again, Gandhi and Ambedkar. Again the vacant protest at Town Hall. The garbage dump cleansed by the idol and the pot plants for company, now looked bored and abandoned, maybe by virtue of occupying a dump the idol and become an outcaste? Did the gods have a caste system? The water in the plants had turned murky grey and had a Good Day wrapper in it. We ended with Swachh Bharat outside Gandhi Park this time around. Hey, this nation can never get more of this guy can it?

The post walk discussion was less than lively and the Srinidhi coffees did only so much to cough up some comments. It was however becoming more apparent that every group needed its information. Who are these powrakarmikas? Who pays them? What do they do? Where does the garbage end up? How much do they get paid? Can they be replaced by machines? What can we do about lost employment? What are other organisations doing? Wet waste/dry waste, what waste is okay waste? There were no real ‘what do we do’ questions here, but a more generic ‘are there things that can be done?’ Maraa offers an overarching explanation of intent while still disengaging from the conversation of intent. They do say they designed the walk around consumption instead of directly looking at waste disposal. I however thought, the walk was around the powrakarmika, the people soaked neck-deep in our waste. Consumption really never comes up except for the Klee painting description on the skywalk(which is probably why I think that is the most momentous part of the walk) and when they mention it during discussions. And then there’s the bit about not really intending to come up with solutions and leaving every walk at the ‘I don’t know’ phase. After the first walk, yes it disturbed me through the night, it occupied a space in my mind and did what they intended for it to do. It left me unsettled. After the second and third one however, somehow the ‘I don’t know’ or the not finding solutions but creating questions in my mind actually diluted the issue at hand. While the form had developed and I could now see what they meant by having walks as a creative practise, I felt like the issue had divorced itself for the lack of resolution or maybe a failure of consummation(solid ground for divorce anywhere).

Two resounding epiphanies during the walk. I usually find at most maria events, the same faces, the same clothes, the same rum and cokes, the same Marlboros, the same reading lists, the same eccentricities. Same is unfair, I’d replace that with similar. The walks however produced different ones each time, the first in particular I quite enjoyed with a healthy mix of the old and the young at the very least. The energy kept changing, making every walk different, which is why I could always experience a sense of novelty with each one. I felt like a different person myself during each walk. This then, is definitely a form they should not let go off. It doesn’t fit well with the already created niche of walks in the city, so it still has room for all kinds of meanings and faces to fit within its slowly evolving definition.

The second, I really need to probe more into because I absolutely love it. Someone during the discussion after the last walks said something incredibly insightful, “ I don’t want to be a part of the garbage truck.” Why do I find that amazing? While talking about consumption taking precedence over the generation of waste itself, it seems to me that for my presence to be felt as an active/contributing member of the economy, I cannot just buy the bar of chocolate, I must also throw away the wrapper. I don’t know if this makes sense. The garbage truck has proof of my existence, the clogged drains, the open sewers all had a part of me, all part of my creation. It occurred to me that my throwing away the wrapper was more important than my having bought the wrapper. This must sound altogether confusing, which is why I need to read more and spend more time on this. But being part of the garbage truck has now taken new meaning.

protest diaries- 2

As Thoreau once said we must walk and walk again to make a deep physical path. My favourite books are the most tattered and torn, abused from overuse. My favourite films are those where I can parrot the lines from start to finish. People often ask me how I can read the same story again and watch the same scenes again, ‘Don’t you already know what happens?’

Well, i don’t believe a story can be simplistically defined as that which has a beginning,middle and the end. I like all the parts in between, a word which forces you to think of the before and those lines that let you imagine an after. A story is infinite. Even after reading a book a few hundred times, a well written book and seldom a good plot opens new doors of imagination to me.

When I write about my interactions and participations with maraa, I am often aware that I am not divorced from the people, the cause or the form and it often troubles me that I may not be writing ‘objectively’. That a clearer picture is that which is beheld from afar. But over time I have come to realise, that the fact that I am not divorced from the cause lends me better perspective. I am not reading the story for the beginning, middle and end, but looking at the writing of each sentence. That mysterious form that language takes when the most ordinary words can be arranged to construct a sentence that transforms the meanings of the words itself.

The second Olfactory walk did just this. It wasn’t even the same book though, a sit often happens a writer understands that with time  a better understanding could add more insight to a work that looked finished once. And we have a new edition. Maraa did just that ( I use maraa, instead of names of the people as the space tends to define the direction of the peoples who work there). The walk included some new elements and some the same in a new light. The general form of the walk remained the same, with no real performative elements this time, but a more quiet and somehow more conscientious reflections instead. The evening was dull and grey, a weather that demands you retreat into yourself and the cloudy skies have an opposite reaction on your mind which can think clearer. I realised this time around that I had grossly underestimated a momentous part of the walk. Often you only realise much later that you feel a certain way about something and when that realisation strikes you also realise that you have actually felt that way all along. The first conjecture in the walk which breaks a long quiet spell and the directed stroll becomes more intentional is at the Domlur skywalk. In the previous walk, I mentioned the storm of progress that they described as a description of a Klee painting. This time we read the description from chits of paper, each locked in bubbles of solitude staggered along the skywalk, the noise, the noise of this progress. I stared at the oncoming traffic again. This moment I realised, coupled with the description of the painting has an intensely disquieting effect. I remembered my own reflections of life in large rumbling trucks and big blue buses and I saw these ugly contortions again. Humanity had transformed itself into wonder boxes of their own creation and had sped far ahead in its evolution, that ape to man is now man to whirring engines. If that enormous truck had stopped midway, the whirring in the engine died out, the whole of humanity in its plastic-metal glory would all come to an abrupt halt. As I watched from above, it felt like just that single piece of domino would mean the end of humanity and we would stand above them all, with little chits of paper.

Religion is the golden ticket today, you hold the cross out in front of you, covering your chest, gripped tight in your palm and ward of the evil. We make a huge hullabaloo about impurities and dirt in Hindu religion, a menstruating woman is not allowed anywhere near those colourful idols and burning incense, the lower castes who clean our dirt is not allowed on holy grounds. With the prevalence of these antiquated rituals even today, I found it rather amusing when i saw it twisted around with idols placed where a garbage dump once was so no one would throw more garbage there. This is serious business. If the ash fell from the ends of a cigarette butt and the beholder (god forbid) happens to be a muslim boy or a lower caste hindu, there would be a raging riot overnight. God himself will not rise from the garbage dump to prevent it.

The light drizzle was now threatening to let all hell loose, but thankfully we made it to the warm smells of coffee and masala dosa, the welcoming shelter of a darshini by the time we got to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan finale. I have still not seen this advertisement of the powrakarmika in the invisibility robe. It was one thing to publicly shun them a generation ago, now we simply refuse to accept their existence. Now that, is progress in the Modi sarkar!

This time there was an elaborate discussion that followed. It could be the fact that there was more young blood this time around, that we took a recourse from the normal means of action of welfare association and the BBMP to a more individualistic perspective, the journey of the garbage bag and the workings of the city through waste production and disposal. Again of course the space created was not that of a problem-solution platform but the necessary occupation of the phenomena of waste itself in our minds; perhaps rewritten through a lens that strays away from a ‘Do not litter’ signboard.

i SmeLL diSSenT- protest diaries

I find walking mostly functional. I have to get from point A to point B and there’s nothing else on my mind but reaching my destination as fast as I can. I walk fast. I wear sensible shoes, carry a large bottle of water and am not amused by sight or sound that could distract me when I am trying to reach my destination. I find it amusing then when people walk for recreation. I cannot even take a walk in a park and I simply abhor those guided tours that you take while sight-seeing(such an odd phrase). But walks are quite the trend today and I really do mean trend. Everyday for the past few weeks  I open the newspaper to see walks organised for different purposes. Heritage walks, cultural walks, fictional walks…where in this crowded city do these odd group of strangers meet to walk? When maraa, a media and arts collective in Bangalore that I work with on and off initially suggested a walk as a creative practice, I simply did not understand them. The first walk we took was an olfactory walk. An Olfactory Walk around garbage dumps and sewage lines and manholes for about a couple of hours, punctuated with some storytelling and informative bytes. The walk was as odd as it sounded and the first time around beside the all-pervasive odour that kept the small group of us company throughout the walk, i’d stick to unusual as the better adjective and informative if i were being technical. I still hadn’t wrapped my head around these walks with interruptions.

The second walk was last Sunday. The theme of the walk remained the same and our best guide was still odour. This time around both form and effect created a complete picture of how a guided walk can be creative, so I will spend time explaining it in entirety. The collective itself works to explore different issues within the city of Bangalore primarily and with that in mind, the theme of waste disposal, management and the worker was rooted in the practises of the city. The obsession with this issue began with a series of deaths ;of workers dying due to asphyxiation in manholes. Subsequently someone from the collective joined a protest that took place at Town Hall regarding the issue of the garbage workers in the city and found to her surprise and disappointment that the protest was little more than a handful of people with placards sitting in the blazing sun for a few hours to disperse just as hopelessly a while later. A lot of projects that Maraa takes up and makes their own, rise from similar dead spaces. The stillness in the air at protests in Bangalore and slogans that never seem to reach a crescendo before it falls, is one of this spaces they have tried shaking awake with music,theatre,storytelling and now walks.

A motley group gathered on a Sunday evening, reserved by most Bangaloreans for blissful nothings and filter coffee to voluntarily breathe in the putrid air of remains. We walked in pairs, along a long drain pipe, white hosues, a small open garbage dump,a children’s park, littered sidewalks, white houses, children playing on the road and more parks, white houses and trees that seemed to want to touch the grounds instead of towering above. We walked through quiet residential lanes and sparse traffic, past a bakery with glistening chocolate treats and past organic gift shops. We walked till the roads grew wider, the houses became retail stores and the monopoly of the bikes on quiet lanes gave way to an incoming storm of roaring,whirring,huffing and puffing vehicles. We went up to a skyway that I always thought the city had forgotten about and stared for a while at this storm. “The storm of progress,” they said in orchestrated harmony behind us. The creative was now seeping into what was simply a walk until that point. The performative element seemed like an initiation into something we had willingly entered a while ago but had just then become reality. I wondered what a bird must feel like watching the city from above. Did the bird find it odd that the creatures on two legs thought it was life that the whizzing vehicles and the bustling stores represented; colour was the colour of denims,the leather, the canvas, plumped lips and widened eyes. We stopped and watched what we called life, standing above it and looking down at it now in its form of metal,plastic,tar and concrete.

The walk continued. It felt like for once, the life was not outside of me. We were leaving the noise behind once more. I don’t remember where we stopped next and for what, but the pauses were more close together and the punctuations were more varied. We stopped at an open drain line beside another children’s park, as our guides for the day-odour and human- put up pieces of paper that overlooked the drain. We read about an old man, a drunk, his life neck-deep in the murk we flush down everyday. We read about a woman, she fed her family with hands that sorted through what we clamped tightly shut and covered in opaque black bags thrown out of sight every morning.

There’s a children’s story about elves that came at night to cobble shoes for a shoemaker. He never saw them, but the work would be done every morning. Patches of material turned into beautifully designed footwear. The smelly garbage dump or the overflow of a sewer line forces you to acknowledge it in all its ugliness, its presence activates all senses and pervades all thoughts. I wonder why a garbage dump cleared out, or the roads cleaned every morning or the black bag outside my gate that goes missing every morning doesn’t occupy any space in my mind then. The shoes were made, did it matter if it was magic or little elves that toiled all night long? And I am not talking about any kind of labour, it’s hours,days,years of ones life spent in toxic remains of creatures with an intellectual faculty. It should be inconceivable that human hands touch these remains, yet we seem to have designed and perpetuated a system where an entire community does nothing else by virtue of birth alone.

We stopped by another garbage dump near in a narrow lane that couldn’t make sense of a sudden group of people. We listened to a masterful ideology given license to by someone we still regard as the greatest Indian. “The Bhangi’s service is like that of our mothers, but we never

call them untouchables. Far from it, the mother is revered as a Goddess worth remembering during

our morning prayers. The Bhangi therefore is a true servant of society—with the only difference that he works for earning his bread, while the mother does it in a beneficent spirit. The mother serves the child with love and she gets love in return. But salary is the return the sweeper gets for his service. Just as we cannot live without mothers, so can we not live without sweepers.

Another bit of treasure from the Prime Minister and whose brain child the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is,

I do not believe that they (Valmiki’s) have been doing this job (cleaning) just to sustain their

livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after

gene-ration…. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their

duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job

bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is

impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or


It is terrifying to know we still draw inspiration from a man dead and long gone and another who is to lead our country to a better and brighter future. In Stalin K’s documentary on manual scavengers he juxtaposes scenes of dry latrines in villages being cleaned up by Bhangis to officials claiming that the ban on manual scavenging has ensured that there are no more manual scavengers. The documentary film, Lesser Humans- an apt title, considering we have no records of humans still continuing this practise, so they must be lesser humans- along with several other films, reports and documents compiled by private organisations show extensive proof of this practise in existence, while there is still supposedly no governmental records of this. Who then are those men who died in manholes, who is that man you see lowering himself into one to unclog your faeces and excrements from last morning?

I found my mind running from mundane things like finding a rhythm to the sound my shoes made on gravel to the colour of my red nails against my skin to the brown of hot sweet tea swirling in a red cup. When I caught my mind running haywire, I wondered again if it was possible to keep the mind wandering when the walk should be keeping my mind on garbage and those green uniformed bodies that incidentally I still did not spot once during the walk. Perhaps they were to remain invisible. Punctuations then are those pauses that keep the words from becoming a ramble. We stopped and sat under a tree. We were told that it was the site of the main garbage dump of the city. A tourist guide often triumphantly proclaims the main attraction of a place, this large open garbage dump was the equivalent then.

Chimamanda Adichie says that when she’s writing fiction,she feels free. You are still bound to truth when you are writing telling a story, but you aren’t bound to facts. And the truth often becomes a telling tale when it captures the imagination. We couldn’t sit under a tree and not listen to a story. So we listened to one, and this for me was the most momentous part of the walk. There was an alarming quiet in the story that was unsettling in its telling, with imagery that compelled colours and shapes and in this case, odour, to take form in the mind. A story about a land that seemed so far far away and yet within the realms of this city, where a glass of water not contaminated or a breath of air that didn’t breathe in every toffee wrapper,banana peel,gnawed chicken bones,rotting vegetable,used syringes,diapers, sanitary napkins,used condoms from every household in this city, were heard to come by. There’s a quote by Zizek that maraa shared at some point of time that comes to mind, “In our most elementary experience, when we flush the toilet, excrements simply disappear out of our reality into another space, which we phenomenon logically perceive as a kind of a netherworld, another reality, a chaotic, primordial reality. And the ultimate horror, of course, is if the flush doesn’t work, if objects return, if remainders, excremental remainders, return from that dimension.”

This story then, was a horror story of a netherworld that wasn’t in this world or my lifetime, let alone this city;this then was a story of a ghost village with ghosts, not humans. A land where everything that dies and is discarded by the living world ends up. How could I comprehend it as real when my reality was an empty dustbin and water that filtered through layers of corporate sanctified safety? I didn’t leave that land for the rest of the walk. We probed further into ideology that had licensed human existence to an unredeemable fate. We laughed about the mammoth campaign that took birth on Gandhi Jayanti, the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan that had spent millions into promotional advertisement before Neetu Ambani found a broom of the right colour.

The sun had long set, an enforced silence had become more clouded with deep unsettlement. Someone asked what we were all thinking,”What are we to do about it?” Do we call the local Councillor, call both residents and the powrakarmikas, the contract workers and BBMP officials? A large assembly, a small localised one? Do we ask for more safety measures, gloves, boots? But they don’t want the material that slips off their hands and only makes their job more time consuming. Then what? Better wages? Can we start by reducing our consumption and being more conscious of our waste produce and then about disposal from the household itself?

The walk is a provocation, their memo said. As a practise, it had developed well with its performative bits, the silence, the ideological debates, the stories all weaved into the odour. They took an element from the issue they sought to tackle and imaginatively found a way to let it seep into our conscience even with thoughts of brown tea in red cups. Given a sense of both the issue and sensibility to the practise of walking itself. It had most certainly provoked questions, that didn’t reach resolutions but had burned a deeper sense of being in my mind atleast.

Could it have been the same if my mum had gone for the walk instead of me? What if  Lalana, the soft skills trainer, Partha a research student in law, Prerana a journalism student were replaced by my uncle,the Homeopath from Kerala, my maid Lakshmi who faces most of the burden of the amount we consume at home or even my dad, who for all his politics is still an old Nair who goes back to Kerala to all the kneeling and cowering by the lower caste helpers at home? What would the walk have provoked in them?

My stride changed as I walked back home after the walk, my pace was rhythmic and fast and I didn’t stop till I reached my destination. My walk was merely functional again. My mind however was still stuck in that netherworld where the bottle I now crushed would end up. I cannot believe any human system can exist and exist thus for centuries before me and possibly still for generations after me

[13/02 2:44 AM] me: Aargh Rohith Vemula’s name is starting to sound an awful lot like Nirbhaya
[13/02 2:44 AM] You: Well at least it is his name
[13/02 2:44 AM] You: I wonder also how much the savarna-ness of a name like Rohith has to do with it
[13/02 2:45 AM] You: Other Dalit victims had unusual names. North Indians wouldn’t be so celebratory of a Senthil.
[13/02 2:47 AM] me: Hmm that’s interesting. I would have thought that if he had a more Dalit sounding name, his case might have been stronger for claiming victimhood. If you gain the upper hand with a Menon/Rao tag, shouldn’t it work with a Dalit name too?
[13/02 2:48 AM] You: It does need a nicer ring to it, for protests and the like.
[13/02 2:49 AM] You: Even a Sheetal Sathe, Sachin Mali, more ‘mainstream’ names. We all know a Sheetal, Sachin, Rohit, Jyoti.
[13/02 2:49 AM] You: I’m part Tamil and I simply dont know any Senthil, not even as a friend of a friend of a friend type acquaintance
[13/02 2:50 AM] You: It’s a distinctly working class name in TN, I think
[13/02 2:50 AM] You: So I wonder, I could be wrong. But then who are the unusually named victims in Indian memory? Everyone seems to have savarna names
[13/02 2:51 AM] me: Perhaps. I would have thought the name might have actually lent more validity to that whole thing of him not being Dalit at all
[13/02 2:51 AM] You: I thought so too but I think BJPwallahs want to tread carefully
[13/02 2:52 AM] You: They want to muddy the issue but not disfigure it altogether
[13/02 2:52 AM] You: They do have a Dalit voter base after all
[13/02 2:53 AM] me: Actually that’s true. if there are any, they are nameless or we remember it by another name. Like a place. Khairlanji, Badaun
[13/02 2:53 AM] You: Yes, these geographies of sexual violence as a memory
[13/02 2:53 AM] You: I posted a status a few days back, don’t know if you saw
[13/02 2:54 AM] You: Went to an Indian restaurant and the Delhi uncle owner asks me where I’m from and I said he probably hadn’t heard of it but this town called Manipal
[13/02 2:54 AM] You: And he said of course he had, he’d seen it on Crime Patrol when they’d reconstructed the gang rape
[13/02 2:55 AM] You: so I asked him where he was from and when he said Delhi he must have seen something on my face coz he immediately said ‘Yes this rape culture these days is so bad’
[13/02 2:55 AM] me: You might have struck gold with this. There’s always been a refusal to name or identify the lower castes/certain racial profiles by their original names. Reminds me of Jane Eyre’s Bertha. Also, this malayalam film i watched recently, where this guy fron the Paniyar caste refers to how he is simply called Paniyan and  not even afforded the dignity of a name
[13/02 2:55 AM] You: It struck me how in his mind Delhi and Manipal were synonymous with gang rape. How awful.
[13/02 2:56 AM] You: Ohhh yes.
[13/02 2:56 AM] You: To be fair though victims still alive should be allowed full anonymity
[13/02 2:57 AM] me: Oh yeah, i see that here as well. Especially when they talk about Islamic countries, or just the Third World.  Their minds map these spaces in large chunks that could be anywhere. Anywhere far away from where they are. But all grouped together
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: But these locations of rape seem to say more than castes
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: Yesssss
[13/02 2:57 AM] You: There’s an othering of sexual assault so conveniently associated with distance
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: Oops sorry
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: Was scrolling up to see how long we chatted
[13/02 2:58 AM] You: And dialled by mistake
[13/02 2:59 AM] You: Three hours!
[13/02 2:59 AM] You: Three and a half actually
[13/02 2:59 AM] me: Haha jesus!!

[13/02 1:59 AM] me: Yeah, he sort of changed stance so radically that it worried me. I didn’t know if his outrage initially was real at all, or he was saying it because it sounded good
[13/02 2:01 AM] me: We were talking about representation in news media in terms of caste. The first interview i took, he launched into this diatribe about caste invisibility and his own encounters with it. It was provocative and obviously sounded great. There was a problem with the audio however and i had to redo it. This time around, i took 40 minutes trying to get this guy to talk about caste and he gives me nothing. He says there’s enough space for it.
[13/02 2:10 AM] You: Hmmm, interesting
[13/02 2:11 AM] You: He’s usually one of the few outspoken Dalits in mainstream media
[13/02 2:11 AM] You: Which is what makes it a shamr
[13/02 2:11 AM] You: But I really feel all these media institutions have naturalized these perspectives so much
[13/02 2:12 AM] You: It seems natural to talk of the Tejpal rape case as a high-profile case but not as a Brahmin rape case
[13/02 2:12 AM] You: Whereas Badaun or Bhagana are ‘Dalit rapes’
[13/02 2:12 AM] me: Yeah, he was the only one we could get for the interview. *_* didn’t work out. So this was disappointing. And the journalist in him just kicked in i suppose. A few of the people we spoke to were very concerned about getting into trouble
[13/02 2:12 AM] You: Vemula is a ‘Dalit suicide’ while all those kids in Kota killing themselves for IIT-JEE are student suicides
[13/02 2:13 AM] You: *_* is with HT now, which is not too restrictive but who can say with individual editors
[13/02 2:14 AM] me: So you’re saying unless you explicitly claim you’re dalit you won’t be recognised as one? Why were those cases different?
[13/02 2:14 AM] You: But I guess my larger concern is whether a Dalit journalist can even articulate a resistant frame of news within these institutions
[13/02 2:15 AM] You: No no, I meant we are okay with linking rapes of Dalit girls to a caste structure where their oppressors are OBCs or castes slightly higher on the scale than them.
[13/02 2:15 AM] me: Yeah. *_* says you can. But with the Rohith news he had more freedom to do so since everyone was, but unless it’s  a trending topic I’m sure it’ll be swept aside
[13/02 2:15 AM] You: But when it comes to looking at upper-caste homes, patriarchy and rape seem to have nothing to do with caste
[13/02 2:15 AM] me: Ah, in that sense
[13/02 2:16 AM]You: I’m saying caste is always involved in sexual violence
[13/02 2:16 AM]You: Even Brahmin women are victims of caste violence
[13/02 2:16 AM] You: Tje ‘purity’ of Brahminism rests on their shoulders, as much as the duty of ‘satisfying’ Brahmin desire
[13/02 2:16 AM] me: True. If caste is based on endogamy,it has to be centred on women’s sexual mobility
[13/02 2:17 AM] You: Yes the moment the woman transgresses she is a threat to the caste system as a whole
[13/02 2:17 AM] You: And the moment a Brahmin woman is ‘unavailable’ the Brahmin male turns to the Dalit-Bahujan sex worker
[13/02 2:18 AM] me: It’s stunning, how everything about the way a Hindu woman leads her life is really based on maintaining caste structures. I didn’t ever see it that way
[13/02 2:18 AM] You: Either way the woman is expedient, as long as the Brahmin male’s desires are met
[13/02 2:18 AM] You: I know right
[13/02 2:20 AM] me: It works so much better than race. It’s the most ingenious form of hegemony
[13/02 2:24 AM] You: It is. Ambedkar observed that graded inequality is what makes caste insidious and so pernicious. Each grade serves to protect the one above
[13/02 2:24 AM] You: And the Brahmin of course is the most cushioned of all
[13/02 2:26 AM]You: So now if Kanhaiya is a self-identified OBC, the BJP folk have successfully converted the issue of institutional casteism – which Kanhaiya had been initially protesting – into an issue of antinational behavior, because of his support for an Afzal Guru documentary
[13/02 2:26 AM] You: An issue which had united Dalit and OBCs has now been split up into antinational Dalit and antinational OBC
[13/02 2:27 AM] You: Caste is all over this scenario and no news media will ever dig beyond the surface
[13/02 2:29 AM] me: Such brilliant mechanics. I’m sure there will be people who see through it, but those people usually think it’s discriminatory to bring caste into the picture in the first place.
[13/02 2:30 AM] me: You should consider writing a response to that article in Kafila
[13/02 2:31 AM] me: Actually,  i want to put up this whole conversation on the blog!