today | bIts of PAPeR

santiago caruso, Jane Eyre

A screaming song is good to know, in case you have to scream

Are women ever really free? I have to hide my nipples with my hair when at home, a small price to pay when i don’t want to wear a bra- another pair of cuffs.

I have to walk with my hands by my side, so my hips don’t sway, breasts don’t weigh.

I have to look down and if I look up ,not meet another’s eyes, woman’s in disdain, man’s in a leer.

If I dare wear a short skirt, it’s not my scars I have to hide. Small price to pay for choosing not to wear pants- a man’s garment.

If I sneeze I’ve been too loud and will draw attention to collarbones jutting out, freckle on my upper arm, folds of flesh peeping from under my top, anything with skin and veins under the skin.

If I sneeze, I’ve made myself ugly and human like no other human and must be subject to one arm distances and backs turned in bed- as if another body in bed is God given grace.

I paint my nails like someone watching my frills and scoffing, like someone letting my red bleed into dirty fingernails in my vagina.

To tell a story is to say, this is the important story- in that case, choose your story wisely and don’t call your stories stories otherwise

I curl my lashes like someone watching my eyes flutter and not blink, gaps between my lashes unmanned territories.

I look quickly into the mirror as if someone will catch me look, my vanity may not go unpunished.

I eat in protest, eat a lot to resist slim waists, eat too little because protests are battered with varnish.

I can consume liquor/ I can’t. That but not this, this because of that and never that because this is what it is and not enough of that.

You may claim that of you, but won’t you ask different questions of freedom then?

There are purple people with crocodile skin and blue hair in Jupiter



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.



WeaRIng SenSIble Shoes

What are you wearing? It doesn’t matter.

Where are you going then? It doesn’t matter.

But what you’re wearing would depend on where you’re going.

It doesn’t matter!

But how are you going?

I’m going to walk it.

Then shouldn’t you wear something appropriate?

It doesn’t matter.

Your shoes might matter.

It doesn’t matter.

You might trip.

It doesn’t matter.

What if you fall, face first?


What if you fall on your butt and you have a patch of dirt on your behind the entire time?

Then I have a patch of dirt on my behind the whole time.

People will stare. People will laugh. What if a cute guy walks by?

Then we’ll laugh together.

You might fall.

It doesn’t matter. It’s not an obstacle race.

I walked down the road, earphones in ears, bag on back,shoes on feet. I fell. Dirt on butt. Cute guy walks past. No one laughed. Someone smirked. Everyone stared.

I changed into sensible shoes, I walked on the pavement, I turned the volume down for traffic on pavement. The first clump of men stood resolutely still. I walked toward them, hoping they’d move. They stood and watched me walk toward them. I got closer.  They kept looking. One look at my shoes. Others elsewhere on my person. I reached where they stood. They got a closer look. I stepped onto the pavement and navigated around them. They resumed chatting, stray eyes fixed on my back.

I took off the earphones and kept them in my bag as I crossed the road to avoid second clump of men. One man loitered around on this side of the road. I walked toward him. He walked a little closer and stood still. I kept walking. He stood and watched as if admiring the way my pants clung fittingly to my legs. He stood mesmerised as I walked closer. He stood in front of me and then stared after me, finding my eyes staring back. He stared unblinkingly as I walked past.

I lowered bag on back and continued walking. Shoes held on tight and firm. I got to my destination, did what I had to do and walked back home. Quick trip. Barely warranted a change of shoes. But they were on and they were pink along the sides. I walked back and got stuck behind a dusty group of men. I wondered what their original hair colour was, they all sported the dusty white of cement. One turned around, then the rest. They looked, sniggered and stopped. I tried navigating around them and they walked faster. This continued for a while, till I crossed the road again.

I walked faster, bag on back, bag in hand, dust in eyes. Man on bike slows down beside me, I walk faster, he rides faster. I slow down. He rides past me,head turned completely. I marvelled at his flexibility. I fall butt first. Man rides away. Cute guy walks past. Shoes get dirty, but stay on. I walk back and don’t see more or hear anything else.


hEad Held HIgh

I’ve started a new routine.

I usually pick out my clothes without thinking too much about it, an old t shirt, the same pair of jeans. The eyeliner glides on effortlessly, I’d been doing that since I was five. I tie my long hair in a ponytail usually, this is the only thing that takes time. More so, because I simply liked gliding my fingers through my hair, and trying elaborate hairdos even if it always just ends up in a ponytail. All of this takes me less than twenty minutes, I change out of my uniform only reluctantly but everything else goes on fast.

Lately though, I take longer. The t shirt I wear outlines my body too well, the old jeans seem snug,too snug. The eyeliner seems too much. My hair is too long and makes me look older than I am. I haven’t started wearing a bra yet, I should really tell my mum it’s time I wear one. But it’s an uncomfortable topic. I’m not altogether sure why I should be wearing one. I didn’t want to be old enough and yet it would feel like an added protective layer.

I take off my clothes. I can’t seem to find bigger, looser clothes. Maybe I should borrow my sister’s? But I’d never be allowed out of the house wearing baggy clothes. I put my clothes back on and throw a jacket on top of it, this will have to do. I tie my hair in a tight bun, even as a few stray strands threatened to fall loose around the nape of my neck. I wipe off the eyeliner. I rarely see my eyes bare. I look plain.objectification

The walk to the tuition centre was becoming more painful by the day. When had I started noticing them? Everything seemed to happen all at once. The first time someone touched me I was much too young. Even now, I almost refuse to remember it the way it happened. The second time there was no escape from what was happening. The second time I learnt a new word:molestation. It didn’t come from the incident itself, I don’t think I understood what was happening even then. It was much later, in an old Reader’s Digest article that I read a story and learnt a new word. It’s the stupid word that caused trouble. It could have remained nothing if I didn’t know what it was. But then I did. And everything changed. Months after it happened, I continued having recurring nightmares. Every time I looked at pictures from that day, unsmiling pictures of me in front of famous monuments,beside my parents, I’d feel the desperate urge to erase myself from the pictures. As if that might mean that I was never there at all. I also wanted to get rid of the clothes, like from a scene of crime. They were new. They fit me well. I would keep staring at just how well. That morning I must have taken time in front of the mirror, admiring the new clothes on myself. I looked slim, I liked how I looked that day. That was the problem. I must have stood out.

I must look plain. I wouldn’t be noticed then.

I adopted this new way of life after I joined these tuitions too. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t inside school grounds, not inside a school van, not with my parents, not inside a car. I had to walk alone. It was a 15 minute walk. I walked ridiculously fast. It didn’t help. Even that makes me stand out.

They stand in groups by the street. They whistle and make low hissing noises. Everyone can see them. Everyone can see me. They ask me what my name is. Why am I walking so fast? Why wouldn’t I look at them? I would just walk faster, turning my head away from the questions hurled at me.

An auto whizzes past. The driver yells out something obscene at me. Everyone heard him. Everyone saw me. I sleepwalk my way home.

A scruffy young boy from the bicycle repair shop won’t keeps blocking my way. I can’t hear what he’s saying, the voices are becoming muffled now. He’s a hair’s breadth away. I keep my gaze lowered. My mum says my eyes are too wide, I look like a helpless child and people will take advantage of me. Why won’t you look at me? I look up at him and he grins and reaches a hand out. I swerve left and break into a run. Everyone saw him. Their eyes followed me.

When I reach home at night, my neck hurts. For more than four hours, my neck’s bent. I keep my nails short, very short. I clench my fist so hard, I’d still leave little indented marks on the inside of my palm. My parents remark on my naked eyes,my severe look. I look older and plainer. I don’t look feminine enough. I go back upstairs and put on some eyeliner and smile at my reflection. I breathe.

[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!

the girl in white pants

Frida Kahlo
frida kahlo, without hope

She was young, very young. 10 maybe? A little older perhaps. She was dressed in pink and white. Her spotless white pants and her dark eyes as she stared out of the window seemed lost and out of place in that crowded train. I moved a little closer, and a little more till my toes felt her bare ankles. They felt cool in the sweltering humidity of the crowded train. I kept moving, inching closer to her. Stepping on toes and pushing the old man standing beside her. As my toes found her skin again, I saw in her face the first sign of disturbance, just the slightest; but she merely moved her feet and retreated unto herself. But I refused to let her go, as the jolt of the engine came to my rescue and my body pressed against hers momentarily. She sat up almost violently, her terrified eyes looked up at mine. She had felt me growing against her.

Her mother had noticed her discomfort and offered to shift places. But she refused, she wouldn’t leave. She wanted to be right here, with me. Why does she keep moving away from me though? Can’t she see that her mother would bother us again? And she did, she kept offering to shift places even. But I knew her, she wouldn’t leave me. She simply shook her head. Each time I pushed myself against her, her face would contort in pain. She’d look up at me, her eyes pleading. She looked so innocent, so vulnerable…but I couldn’t help it. The more she looked at me, the more I pushed myself against her. I couldn’t get my eyes off her, the bare hands right against me…And then it happened.

A tunnel ahead; a few seconds of darkness. I gritted my teeth, the excitement building. She looked at me again, she had realized what was going to happen. The moment the darkness hit, I almost fell forward, my hands reaching out just as her hands reached up to cover her chest. The light was beginning to filter in as I moved back, a nail scraping against her neck. She was almost in tears. Would she cry? Would she finally say something? She looked up at me almost pleading and I stared back at her. The train screeched to a halt, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t even remember where I was heading anymore. My head was heavy and all I knew was that I needed to be there, to touch her, to keep looking into those fearful eyes.

I refused to move as the crowd jostled, abused and pushed me to get out of the train. Even as I moved closer to her, almost towering over that body that seemed even smaller, I felt the first blow and I realized the man was yelling, asking me to stop what I was doing. He had been watching me he said, watching this private moment I shared with her. Why was he intruding! Look at her, he was scaring her. I fought back, feigning innocence. I told everyone he was delusional and I was simply minding my own business. Her parents now knew what happened, but I knew her, she wouldn’t give me away. That was our moment and she wouldn’t let anyone else in. They made her sit elsewhere and she did.

She didn’t look back at me, but I knew she would never forget me. Never forget we had looked into each other’s eyes. I would remember her pink shirt and spotless white pants and she would remember me and all of me against her body for the rest of her life.

thick thighs and chubby ankles

collarbones sticking out with a double chin for company
my flabby arms dance wildly as i flail them about to punk rock
chunky muffin tops pop up brown and toasted in my little crop top
fleshy folds of sweat line my small tummy like a double decker bus
i haven’t heard from my cheekbones, so i’m guessing i’ve been stood up for life
but this birthday,i’m celebrating the layers of fat that have kept me company for 23 years
you’ve been kneaded and moulded and have still stayed resiliently by my side
and maybe it’s the tough skin with the flabby fat that’s kept me going all these years
so this birthday, the two of us have a date

 italian and a large ice cream sundae

ThE MAd woMan In the attIC

I never quite understood how fairy tales helped put little children to sleep. I read a lot as a kid and we had many a bulky book of Cinderella stories. I read and reread them, their tired pages always firing up my wild imaginations. My books were my sanctuary, but for everything that it did for me it never quite helped putting me to sleep. On the contrary, it blew the lid off my mind to introduce colours I’d never seen with my own eyes before; tingled my taste buds to bread and sweets that were beyond the realm of my mamma’s kitchen. I reimagined myself in blue eyes that I had never looked into and golden locks that no amount of Indian sun could coax my black hair into. These dreams kept me up for hours at night.They were not always rainbows and sunshine either. The fairytales were a constant trigger for nightmares.

The little girls were subject to cruel realities, snakes and toads came out of their mouths, they were often orphaned and were haunted by evil stepmothers,wolves and witches. The happy endings never made up for these terrifying realities. I grew beyond the fairytales to read little novels, most of them English- so you know they were morose. I was terrified of the hellish plague-ridden London streets, the gloom and despair of the English weather forever casting cloudy shadows even in warm, balmy summers of my childhood. One particularly morose novel was Jane Eyre. A stark contrast from the boarding school amusements of my Enid Blyton novels, Jane Eyre always managed to upset me.

It wasn’t merely her poverty that got to me, but that her character was so remarkably familiar that her fate read like a prophecy to me. The quiet child, buried in corners of a room with a book, often chided for her lack of cheer and amiability and when she spoke, she got a rap on her wrist for her sharp tongue. While the wife in the attic was the monster of the story to me, it was Jane who I always thought was the mad woman. Her many delusions, conscious meanderings from what was normal and acceptable, even her love for an old, scary man were abnormalities. She could only pretend to be the chaste Christian and everytime she grew tired of her mask, she ran away to don a new one. Even as I lived Jane’s life through the novel, I felt it becoming the narrative of my life.

Years later, I read Jane Eyre again .And two weeks after, I read Wide Sargasso Sea- that brilliant story, dragged out from Bronte’s attic and given a life of its own. With every few pages, I would find similarities between Jane and Antoinette. England’s gloom and the Caribbean heat has both eked out the wild bearings of these women. Both as similar as they were dissimilar. It made me wonder who the mad woman in the attic was again. Why are these fiercely independent women such a threat to the world?

Recently I read Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, where she traces the very genesis of the capitalist order through the ordering of the witch-hunts in 16th c Europe. The pragmatics of inequality that capitalism needed, could not afford hysteria, superstition and the ethereal- those qualities associated with the feminine need to be erased out of the square box of a normalised world order.In the present globalised world, she says the same is happening with women in the Global South being expelled from their livelihoods.  Witches and ghouls, women of loose morality and unchristian behaviour are not just unwelcome, they are brutally expelled.

Who is the mad woman today? The card carrying feminist? The lesbian? The widowed and the unmarried? The raped? The sexually active? Moulded and shaped into pretty ceramic figurines, the times we don’t cross our legs, smile and acquiesce, we risk setting loose the mad woman in our attic. Or is it setting free?