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.

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One Language Two Characters

Hong-Kong1

***********************************************************************

He and I both speak Cantonese. It’s our mother tongue.
I’m from Guangdong, China. We younger generations, compared to our parents and grandparents, speak Mandarin fluently.
He’s from Hong Kong. He can barely speak Mandarin.
Last year, a British band called the Libertines did a video promo for Hong Kong music festival Clockenflap on Facebook. In the video, they greeted in Mandarin.
The following are the two top comments on the video:
‘It’s irritating and even insulting to speak Mandarin to Hongkongers.’
‘Speaking Mandarin to Hongkongers is like speaking French to the British.’
I disagree on the second one. Wrong analogy.
***********************************************************************

My friend yells at me: she has to get out of the crowd. Her family called.
I can’t barely hear what exactly she said. I am in fanatic.
‘The fire is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ I jump with the band. I jump with the crowd. I don’t care the fact that I stand alone in the crowd, though I am aware of it. But I am not alone. I know I will know other people in the crowd and people going to festival will be very friendly.
The band pushes the atmosphere even higher. ‘Hong Kong is out of control! We gonna burn the city! Burn the city!’ And we the crowd goes even crazier. I can’t breathe. Maybe because I yell too much and too hard. And maybe just because the crowd keeps jostling and pushing.
After a while, I don’t know where I have been pushed through. I guess I will never meet my friend again. I’m a little bit sad. People are all around me, mostly western faces. I am here now without any company.
I keep on chanting, to overrun my feeling lost. I imagine I am the one on the stage, creating such a sensation at the seaside of a city whose language they don’t speak. And yet, we communicate through music.
‘This is such an amazing place! We hope we can come back very soon!’ The frontman said, ‘such an amazing stage!’ We scream even louder. I look up a bit. Layers and layers of skyscrapers surround along the whole West Kawloon Waterfront Promenade. Neon lights dazzle in the night. Music festival in this city is so metropolitan.
‘Burn the City!’
The chorus goes on again. Dancing with the music and the people, my body throws myself into the crowd. My body leaves my sentimentality behind.
Somebody’s arm on my shoulder. I turn my head. A Chinese man. He notices that I looking at him. He turns his head and smiles a bit. ‘Burn the city!’ he yells. ‘Burn the city!’ I follow. And then we jump and dance again with the music.
The song finishes. We clap.
He turns his head again, ‘you alone?’
‘Not really. My friend waits me outside.’
‘I’m Teddy. What’s your name?’
‘Hazel.’ I guess Chinese name is not that important. It’s too formal to bring it up for two strangers meeting at the first time, I guess. And no one will judge this. It is not a pretentious thing to use English name in Hong Kong.
Another song goes on. We scream and then look at each other with smiles. And then we throw our bodies into the music with the crowd again.
Finally the headline finishes. After two days of delirium, my body is exhausted but still hyperactive. Music goes out and the lights turns on. My sentimentality come back. I wish I can come here again tomorrow on Sunday. But I can’t. I need to travel back tomorrow in the morning. I can’t play too hard. I need to prepare for the next week’s work.
The crowd scatters around and heads toward the exits in different direction. Bottles are all on the ground that is soaked with lagers. I guess the aftermath of music festival is all the same around the world.
‘Hey, where do you live?’ It’s him again. I take a good look at Teddy. Dapper dress. Brown blazer and leather shoes. I like people wearing blazer and leather shoes. I am wearing blazer and leather boots.
Where do I live? I am wondering a bit. Sheung Wan? Guangzhou?
Somehow, my mouth mutters,‘Sheung Wan’. I guess it isn’t that necessary to tell a stranger where I really come from. And I don’t really know if I tell him I am a mailander will be ever a difference. For him, or for myself.
‘And you?’
‘Yuen Long. What do you do?’
‘I’m still a student. And you?’ We walk together with one of the divisions of the crowd toward the exit.
‘Er… It’s quite complicated. It’s something sort of related to advertisement.’
He must be a very tricky person. His word is so not serious.
‘Not much Chinese faces in this festival, right?’ I ask.
‘I know right. Last year even fewer. You know, Hong Kongers aren’t really into independent music and stuffs. You like Franz Ferdinand a lot?’
‘Yea, I basically own all their albums.’
‘Yea? I have their first album. Do you go to gigs or music festival often?’
‘Not really. The first time in Hong Kong. I am not really into Chinese bands, they are too melodic. Their lyrics are all too sentimental for my liking. And going for a western band gig is very expensive here. Also, only very few of them will go on tour in Asia.’
He nods. ‘Which film is your favourite?’
I start to think a bit. I never take this kind of ‘your-favourite’ question seriously. There is no such a thing as favourite. People keep changing. It’s just all about how much you have encountered so far and how do you feel at this very moment.
‘Well, I can’t say I have favourite. But I like Stephen Chow (周星馳) a lot.’ I do really like Stephen Chow. I like his senseless humour. Stephen Chow, all Cantonese knows and can fully appreciate his humour. You can read Stephen Chow’s films from a very artistic perspective, or in superficial way- just for a good laugh.
And I don’t want to give out some serious names or condescending answers for this question to a stranger.
He says he likes him too. I smile. He doesn’t explain further. I’m not going to take his reply seriously. But I guess neither does him.
But then he starts to recite loads and loads of Stephen Chow’s lines.
I laugh. I didn’t expect that. And then he continues to recite more. He is also amused by his reciting, laughing out loud. His laugh is so contagious. He laughs like a child who doesn’t care how others think of why he’s laughing so loud. ‘I have nearly all his DVDs.’
I nod.
My friend texts me. ‘I have to go. My friend calls. Nice to see you.’
‘Do you mind exchange our numbers?’
‘Sure.’ I suppose it won’t be much a trouble. If I don’t like him, his number and him will be just gone with my Hong Kong mobile number tomorrow.
We head home separately.
I am on my way to meet up my friend. Alone at the street, no accompany again. My mind is occupied with strange feeling. The contrast between the festival in Hong Kong and the reality in Guangzhou is too overwhelming. It’s only about 90-mins train between the two places though.
Back to my place. I mean, the place where I stay tonight. My grandpa owns a house in Hong Kong. So I guess technically it’s my place/home in Hong Kong?
My mobile buzzs. He texts me. I didn’t expected this, at least not so soon. He looks like some tricky person, like I said.
He asks if I will go to the festival tomorrow.
I replies him I can’t. I already bought the return ticket and I need to go back to university a little bit earlier to prepare for next week.
I should not talk to him too much, I tell myself. We are not in the same city. I won’t be in this place tomorrow. The festival is too good I know, but I need to go back to reality for work. I need to continue my life and do what I’m supposed to do.
I am a mainlander, which I still haven’t told him, yet.

 

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

business”.

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 1:41 AM] You: I read that Kafila piece by Shuddhabrata
[13/02 1:41 AM] You: Man, so many issues with it. Life is complicated when you both agree and disagree with what one person says.
[13/02 1:42 AM] me: Exactly what *_*was saying! And from what I’ve seen in mcph a very different kind of rebellion or radicalism is endorsed and even encourages. I’ve never been good at following guidelines when it comes to writing and have flouted it more often than not, but mcph seems more welcoming to gimmicks than any serious thought.
[13/02 1:42 AM] me: Oh oh what do you disagree with?
[13/02 1:44 AM] You: His whole fatherly disapproval about sloganeering like ‘barbaadi’ and destruction. And equating the students (who are OBC, if I’m right) to RSS sloganeers
[13/02 1:44 AM] You: I mean when JNU jholawallahs shout Inquilab zindabad, what revolution are they shouting about? A bloodless non-violent coup?
[13/02 1:45 AM] You: The barbaadi slogans are rhetoric just as much as inquilab is
[13/02 1:45 AM] You: But these Marxist types have such ephemeral ideas about revolution, and that word revolution is allowed to be all sorts of things except a violent seizing of rights and privileges
[13/02 1:46 AM] You: While a Dalit or Kashmiri student screaming about India’s barbaadi is an unacceptable sentiment
[13/02 1:48 AM] me: Thank you! I was just talking to my friend about this! That nothing I’ve read so far, even in the alternative media seemed to look at it feom the point of virw of the students. They all seem to be making a case for distancing Kanhaiya from the event. In fact some reports abiut what this guy was saying in court, say he claims he believes in the indian constitution, does not support the anti-national event, believes kashmir is an integral part of india and is helping the police identify the students who were at the event
[13/02 1:49 AM] me: Oh thank god. Sometimes i think I’m paranoid, when I read things differently
[13/02 1:49 AM] You: Hahaha, sometimes I think I’m beyond all hope because I can only see these things so despondently
[13/02 1:50 AM] me: Haha might be good to be able to just agree and feel outraged with the masses every once in a while
[13/02 1:51 AM] You: I felt like that with Rohith Vemula’s suicide
[13/02 1:51 AM] You: The outrage felt right, felt human, no matter who was doing the outraging
[13/02 1:52 AM] You: But then all these foreign desi intellectual types began hogging up the media and I got irritated once again
[13/02 1:53 AM] me: I did too. For a good while that too. I hate suicide notes being published and commented on, but in this case it felt important and necessary. But then I started to cringe when it passed from a trending topic to something just being capitalised by the mainstream and alternative media alike. And then i just stopped reading the different eulogies
[13/02 1:55 AM] me: Well i think i got pretty irritated with even the Indian mainstream, even if they were dalit journalists
[13/02 1:55 AM] You: *_*’s piece really disturbed me
[13/02 1:56 AM] You: At one point Rohith’s brother asks ‘How did you find out about all this? Rohith never wanted anyone to know’ and I was wondering how he went ahead and published it
[13/02 1:56 AM] You: *_* I mean
[13/02 1:56 AM] me: Haha i was trying not to name him
[13/02 1:56 AM] You: Such private details of shame and embarrassment
[13/02 1:56 AM] You: Laid out as a victim story
[13/02 1:57 AM] You: Haha I’m all about the naming these days
[13/02 1:57 AM] You: It’s not gossip when it’s a legitimate critique
[13/02 1:57 AM] me: Yeah, they just went on to make the whole thing very reductive. Made me cringe

Anupam_Sud___Persona_27_x_195_in_etching_on_paper_1988_limited_edition_of_15_category___printmakingThis blog is stupidly named scoldsbridle. When we were still in the process of creating it, we thought it made a lot of sense. It came from a string of discussions and thoughts that were said within closed walls and select settings, thoughts that we knew would offend and declared radical by most people. I look through the posts from the last few months now and realise none of us are saying what we say in our texts to each other, phone conversations and long mails that we spend hours mulling over. What is it? The fact that this is now read by people outside our safe setting? That our chosen anonymity has become a more enforced one?

I sent a text a while ago to a fellow writer on the blog,” The JNU arrests.’…’, I am so restless here. What on earth is happening in the country.” I went through several news articles and scrolled down to see the comments, most ask for the students to be hanged, be given life imprisonment; “Do the students ever study or just protest..?” . There are articles that suggest outrage at the arrests, but the comments veer in the opposite direction. The lot of them seem to think there is terror spreading through the country, but they believe it comes from these dissenters. I am terrified too. I am terrified of how just how many people believe that dissent goes against the principles of a democracy. There is a strange vein of nationalism spreading through India and it refuses to be punctured by resistance, however strong it might be. When I sent that text to my friend, I had no intention of writing this post. Then I took a couple of minutes to register just how many times I’ve stopped myself from writing. The self-censorship evident through all the posts in this blog is appalling. I stick to the anonymity, but I do not want to continue writing cryptic messages and veiled thoughts.

I cannot rely on the newspapers for the truth, so in time I might come back to correct-not retract- some of what I am about to say. So far, I have gleaned that there were ‘anti-national’ slogans raised at a JNU meeting that discussed the hanging of Afzal Guru. Following an FIR filed on sedition charges against the students who attended the meeting, the JNUSU leader was arrested and several others named were absconding. Some other students have also been suspended from the university. The ABVP are protesting the meeting and ask for the students to be expelled. Meanwhile another protest is taking place that asks for the JNUSU leader to be released. What did the JNUSU leader say about this? This meeting was not organised by the JNUSU. He believes in the Indian constitution and that Kashmir is an integral part of India. He does not support such events. He only went to break up the fight that ensued between the ABVP and the students at the meeting(supposedly a group headed by Hurriyat leader, Geelani).

Now, I am absolutely appalled that sedition charges were filed, that arrests took place, that the police are swarming the University and that so many people feel the students must be dealt with harshly- And Smriti Irani…for heaven’s sake, stop saying ‘Mother India!’ -But I am also pretty unsettled by what the JNUSU leader is saying, if this person is indeed making these statements. Kashmir is an integral part of India *shakes head*.  I do not support such anti-national activities *shakes head*. Cooperating to identify the university students who attended the event *shakes head*. If you cannot say the constitution is flawed, if you cannot claim a lack of belief in the State, if you cannot feel safe to criticise, condemn or even express absolute disdain for the state of affairs in your own country, then that’s one hell of a scary place to live and democracy is a dystopian ideal. And really the AISF then is starting to sound remarkably like the ABVP. Distancing from the students who were actually at the meeting doesn’t make strong claims for righteous anger against intolerance.

After a considerably long time, I am writing in a fit of anger and might in a while rethink some or most of this. But before I am fitted with a scolds bridle, this slew of statements needs to be out there and needs to stay out there.

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

Radical Ideas of idle rAmbliNgs

A long time ago, in a Psychology class I remember learning how a memory is created. I imagined it as squiggly lines forming ridges in my brain, some in bold lead, some a lighter grey. Every time I try recalling a memory, one would light up, the ridges glowing as each detail is recollected, the squiggly line becoming sharper and clearer. I wonder about those grey lines, those lines that keep fading away as other become bolder, cobwebbed into obscurity. After a while would it completely die out? Like a squiggly line on a heartbeat monitor that after a while finds an abrupt halt. Reading Jumpa Lahiri’s Lowland, I think about Naxalbari. It reminded me of a debate competition back in Pre-University when I had to make a case for the Naxal insurgencies. In a way that had triggered the beginnings of a romantic’s imaginations of a revolution. It coincided with my first trysts with Marx; the first conjuring of violent uprisings that would transform lives of peoples completely unconnected to me. I continued reading about the Red Corridor, I even remember that Outlook cover of Arundhati Roy’s interview with the insurgents. I read that long narrative like a thriller novel with more grit in reality than fiction had ever produced.

It took a while for those stories to become a bigger part of my newly politicised thoughts and ideas. In 2011/12 Manmohan Singh had declared the naxal situation the biggest internal security threat in India. For a few years, Naxal insurgency played as serious a role in seeping terror through the country as post 9/11 America. Random arrests and shootings took place on a routine basis; any sign of dissent or even slightly distasteful thinking about just about everything being quelled immediately citing Naxal affiliations. Every radical was a Naxalite, any Leftist thought was radical and any questioning of normalities was Leftist. Looking back now, just a a few years later I wonder what happened to this biggest security threat. You read lesser about the Red Corridor in newspapers, no more headlines about Naxal leaders caught splashed across the country as exemplary signs of security, in fact there are barely any reporters in high-intensity conflict areas like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. Has there been some spontaneous retreat of Naxal insurgency groups? Whatever happened to overthrowing the Govt by 2050? I don’t know and I don’t know enough to hazard a guess. And that’s what I find frightening.

That memory trace that I thought was ingrained in bold lead was successfully smudged and coaxed into nonexistence. I’d forgotten about it or atlas hadn’t thought too much about the lack of information until now. If it disappears from newspapers,does it disappear from our collective consciousness? Does the lack of concentration on the situation make it less important by default? After 2012,rape and sexual violence became an obsessive topic. Sometimes it’s as relatively inane as garbage disposal and sometimes ludicrously political like the beef ban. In the past five years the focus of fear and threat has moved steadily right along the political number line, from Maoist insurgent groups to right wing Hindu fundamentalists and an intolerant government. I’d imagine that the in-between might serve as a negotiation space, but in this case we see both as being completely disjointed from one another. Is that true though?

Reading a book by Saskia Sassen on Brutality and Expulsions in the Global Economy. Sassen suggests that there is a sort of power nexus constructed globally to aid and abet the global finance market. She sees everything from those who lost their homes in the mortgage crisis in the US to forced migrations in Europe and the displacements in the Global South through mass land grabs as being part of the same agenda. A universal principled agenda to actively make invisible peoples around the world as they become irrelevant and redundant in the market. What doe that mean? It means that neither the Naxals or the people caught between security forces and the insurgent groups matter, because they don’t matter to the economy. The rapists don’t matter and the people they rape don’t matter. One gets sent to prison and become invisible anyway and the other is removed through societal norms and conditions. Of course the limited time rape received in the spotlight, tried undoing the second one making the woman free to provide cheap labour in a minor role. What I am trying to get at is the creation of a second class citizenry, a sort of reserve army of labour in Marx’s terms. Pushing people into the margins, in ghettoised refugee camps, in prisons, through a caste system and even through reinforcing gender norms: to remove these peoples from plain sight,out of economic equations and census,but still keeping them there through a veil of inconsistent dialogue so that at some point some might be of use to the market.

These are still vague thoughts, running parallel sometimes because of two books I am reading and running into each other and merging in my mind at others.I feel like I am talking about a conspiracy theory; this creation of a second class citizenry through different means all for a common end. Sassen would see it as a creation of systems,governments,international organisations,corporations and individuals all connecting the dots to form a picture of the predatory face of global finance: not a group of individuals sitting around a table deciding this should happen, but everyone talking about the same thing because of the creation of a common grammar. Now I see those memory traces in my brain all interconnected as well, one squiggly line joining with another to form a web of memories. Everything forced into inconsequence becoming consequential because of its link with another. To jog collective memory you need a trigger, one strong enough to make a collage of newspaper headlines that begin with A and end with Z.

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?

OF thOse In mOURnIng

A deep disenchantment with academics seems to have set in. The last time I was sitting in a classroom, the entire world seemed to present itself to my abstract picking and blurred gaze. Countries and their internal conflicts were art forms I sought to master; theories and theorists I wore like branded clothes;film movements and television series dissected and analysed, each with a sticky note of political context. But I am tired of the various affectations of academia. Sitting in class with a globe in the middle,countries picked blindly and politics torn away from cultures by the blind,deaf and dumb has bored me thoroughly.

I am beginning to feel like I walk into class in a slow strut, brown skin and Indian accent, with a sash across my body that says ‘India’. China and Indonesia have their own too. Anytime we get mentioned, we sit up straight and smile and nod. We represent whole countries. I become a farmer with a family to feed on the verge of suicide thanks to Monsanto, I become Modi’s personal PR machinery, I become the nation languishing with an antiquated caste system, I have also supposedly suffered the terrible effects of inequality in income distribution. Everyday is a different role and a different representation. I am dreading the Swimsuit competition.

***

If you have just read a news article on Paris, do you have to write an angry article in rage about terrorism? Do you have to go for that candlelight vigil because a friend sent you a Fb invite?Do you have to claim you mourn every death in the world and casually throw in everything from Black slavery to Afghanistan? How can we possibly claim to understand the particulars of every conflict in the world, wax eloquent as experts on each of these “issues” when you might struggle to point out where it is on a well-marked map?

I have done a terrible injustice when I have written or spoken about these “issues” in the past. How can I write anything about an Afghani woman’s life, when I can’t even give her a name?

I don’t know what the coloured woman’s perspective is either. I have brown skin, but I haven’t ever experienced racism. I only have brown skin when I am in a sea of Whites.

***

Studying politics in the First World has reduced experiences to just this: slotting and categorisation of experiences in text book chapters, an ‘ism’ in each title. These theories that serve as rule books to explain the functioning of a world-system does little to situate humanity within it. Terrorism slips into critiques of neo-liberalism,occupations in postcolonialism, various trajectories of being a woman into feminism. Where are the people here?Where the lives? Where their different realities?

Meanwhile I sit in a class where Triumphs Of Brit Army says all of colonisation was not bad.

***

We’ve been raging about who we mourn, but who do you think gets to mourn? The blog does not support Youtube videos anymore, but here’s a little something:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVodbIi798w

OF meetIng IndIans OUtSIDe OF IndIa

Consider being in your first week in University in an alien country, where everything is pale and cold, strange and new, would you run away or toward a trace of anything familiar?

Rice and dal feel like a treat,long conversations with your parents become the highlight of your day and you have nightmares where you frantically calculate currency conversions. Walking around the city with a Greek and Italian for a week, who ran to speak with anyone who looked like they might be from their home country, it was always amusing to see how I turned my head whenever I saw brown skin. It is pretty much the same routine i followed back home when I saw someone I knew on the street; I’d turn my head around, fall ten steps behind them or make a quick escape through the nearest exit. Here, making eye contact with any Indian meant potential conversation,exchange of numbers and being added to WhatsApp groups called ‘Thani naadan’ and ‘Desi dopeheads’. you make me feel this small

You’d think that missing all things Indian would make me want to be with fellow ‘desi dopeheads’, but what really happens is that it serves as depressing reminders of how painfully different one Indian is from another. Like my Greek friend, my face does not light up when someone speaks in my language, when I meet an Indian , I speak in english and not ‘Indian’, unless of course, I choose to speak in Hindi.

Let me give you an example of what speaking ‘Indian’ here, really sounds like. Over two smokes and 5 minutes of ‘where are you from’ and ‘what course are you doing’ the conversation effortlessly slides into ‘what is your surname’ and ‘what caste are you’. This is a relatively smooth transition,believe me. It goes from casually mentioning and mutually agreeing on our food woes and suggestively asking if you happen to eat meat. This unquestionably warrants some prodding into religion, which finally leads to where the talk really begins, the caste question. My open jawed amazement at her pointed question about my surname, didn’t get any better when I flatly refused to tell her what it is. This simply prompted her to ask me if I was a ‘baniya’ (she sort of looked hopeful), it’s okay, I could tell her if it was any worse. Now, in all my life I do not remember where 5 minutes into introducing myself to someone they asked me what my caste is or everyone in the group exchanged caste and religious identities before asking for each other’s names.

At a debate on the topic, ‘What nationalism really means and why it is important for India’, I remember a professor talking about feeling a sense of home when in a new country, you see underwear hanging on a clothesline in broad daylight and you know it’s an Indian. Well, when I left India’s fiercely growing nationalist spirit behind with a sense of relief, I think I might have carried a whiff of it on me, because it sure did stink when I spent 10 minutes speaking ‘Indian’ with fellow Indians here.