Live And Let Live

When the news of the actress being kidnapped in Kerala first came out, the reactions from the older men in my immediate family was as expected.

One said, it must be staged. They (including the actress) must all be in on it.
The other said, why did she have to travel that late at night, all by herself? What was this “work” that could not wait till tomorrow?
Yet another said, this actress, she is known to be “that type”, no?

On Sunday, the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) held an event in solidarity with the assaulted actress. At this event, Mammootty administered the oath to protect our womenfolk and make Kerala safe for women. In his 1995 movie The King, the same Mammootty as Joseph Alex IAS famously delivered the ‘sense, sensibility, sensitivity’ dialogue. The same dialogue that ends with him pulling close his subordinate by her raised hand (Vani Vishwanath‘s character) and saying, I know how to make sure you never raise your hand at another man, but after all you happen to be just a woman. On most days, I would sweep the irony of this under the rug. But not today. In his speech he said, masculinity is not in making a woman surrender, a man’s job is to protect a woman. I would like to say to the world at large, I don’t need your protection. What I need from you is to respect me enough to let me be.

What if it had been me? Would my family have reacted the same way? Maybe not within my earshot. Beyond it they would have said, I told you so. They would blame my mother for how I was brought up. Because clearly they weren’t a part of that. They would have blamed the principal of my school for she showed us how to be independent. They would blame the hip, city college I attended though it was regressive enough to put Victorian morality to shame. They would blame everything. The books I read. The company I keep. The man I married.

Once when I refused to be dropped off to some place and wanted to drive myself there, I was told there is no need to be such a feminist. Every time I leave home to catch the train back to Bangalore I routinely get asked if I have forgotten my dupatta. And every time, I pretend not to have heard to avoid a scene as I leave. When extended family wants me to have a baby, it’s always a boy first and then a girl. I am also the one who needs to have a child “to be tamed”.

I stopped taking buses in Kerala when bus travel became nerve-wracking with abuse. When people breathed down their fake outward morality on me, I stopped interacting with them. When they began polluting the air I breathe with their obsession for perverse sexual violence and their abuse of little girls in icecream parlours and otherwise, I made myself a home far away in the trees. A place where I could think for myself. A place where I could filter the information I receive. In Malayalam we call it kannadachu iruttakkuka, meaning to close your eyes to make it dark. Recently I read something about sociological works arguing that women’s migration from Kerala is not only a strategy to escape patriarchy but to come back with a better means to fight it. From my safe space here I write, mostly to assert my sanity than to change the world.

Rainbow #atdrove15

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In 2015, T & I drove across India over 40 days. We took turns driving, though T drove more because he loves driving. To me, driving is just a chore, something I know to do like cooking dinner. I chose the most exciting terrain to drive like Zoji-La pass in Leh where it was snowing, the expanse of the Agra-Delhi expressway, the Nilgai-studded highway to Kutch and the beautiful Bombay-Pune highway.

We were entering Kargil and daylight was fast depleting. T was driving. From Pathankot, three of our friends had joined us for the trip up to Ladakh. So, in the car we were four women and one man. When we came up to one of the army barricades where we had to prove our identity and the identity of the vehicle we were driving, I, along with my cousin, stepped out. We headed to a tent by the side of the road where a couple of men stood huddled around two officials, all peering at a ledger. The army official, on seeing us, called us out of turn. Madam, are these your vehicles’ documents? Yes. Is there a man with you? Huh? He needs to come to complete this formality. We tried resisting. You mean, you want the man in the car to come and show you the same documents that I am showing you right now because he is a man? Yes madam, we don’t take documents from women especially if there is a man travelling with them. But I also drive this car. That doesn’t matter Madam. This is for your own safety.

End of story. We had reached a no-go situation. My cousin who is Hindi-speaking and more outspoken than me, went at them for while. We were both fuming but there was nothing more we could do if we wanted to enter that army-protected area. We gave in. Well, this is not an inspirational story. As I write this the frustration from that day returns with alarming force. On most days I like my situation in life where I choose how I want to live my life. And then there are days like these.

Everything good that you learn should start from families and in schools. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, teachers and students should know how to live their own life the way they want without dictating how another person should live theirs. Maybe that’s what we need to teach our kids. Respect. For self and others.

Smiling In The Winter Sun

Suddenly she smiled baring her five pink teeth,

Brilliant like stars against her bright blue face.

Her first since the uprooting,

Without warning in the winter sun.

 

Her tender limbs had fit my palm when

I plucked her off the streets;

a dull little thing, pale with dust

With her eyes on the ground.

 

Back home she was quiet

Barely breathing, lest I notice.

I kept her in sight,

Propped up on fresh air.

 

Exploring, she grew friendly and–

soon a climber growing taller, 

But not a smile broke

A riot of colours on that face.

 

Her smile washed over me,

Like a warm bath on a cold day

Singing from every surface

Today is the day she smiled! 

I know she may not smile tomorrow

But live on we must–

And sometimes when the winter sun smiles,

All we know is to smile back.

Permission and Purpose

A sudden breeze brushes my cheek
Without permission.
I look out the window searching for the culprit.
Only mellow streaks of sun lean against a building.
Without purpose.

The chill of the day creeps up my legs.
The floor seems to be in the know.
The window is active in its offensive.
At me, waylaid by my inaction.

But I am a daughter of the sun
Fierce in my loving, stinging in my hate
The heat I know is scorching.
I have nothing cold in me.

As I go out to chase the sun
Go ahead, cover me
In the warmth of your arms
Where I belong.

Bangalore Monsoon

In the time it took me 
to set the table 
and sit down to lunch-
They tell me it rained on Bangalore.
 
All morning sky matched swatches
to the exact shade of a thunderstorm.
Wind scared the trees
and leaves made a production 
of chasing flowers down the road.
 
And then it’s said to have poured 
straight out of a bottle!
While I set the table- 
plates, glasses, rice and curry-
 
Ghost droplets are said to have fallen
On a tree, on a building, 
on a flying bird, on a speeding car
though none made it to the ground.
 
With the first mouthful I looked around 
eager to enjoy the rains, 
but the road was dry and
the sky was clear
And they told me it had rained on Bangalore.

My Raintree

She’s like a crowded Indian city-road up!
A million alleys crawling to the skies
and decks of leaves like those houses,
where you window-watch neighbour’s TV shows
while caressing the baby in their arms.

There are flowers too one here, one
there – temporary pools of sanity.

Here,
the barbets don’t sing and the owls wake at night,
the eagles eat meat and the parrots love colour
the crows work hard and the pigeons need an asylum.

On my raintree of uncountable houses,
they live wing to wing like brothers –
shaming the road they live on.

That Feeling

That feeling is back
The one I purged
By loving and letting him in.

Sharing, caring and daring
Not in the Primetime sense.
No needles shared, no hospital care and
definitely no sky diving to a new life.
But in my sterile Bell Jar world
He was that infectious spring
A breathtaking change to grim.

This flux made me forget-
Scorching summers follow sprightly springs.
And in me rose again
that feeling of dread,
Of weight, of disquiet
like a dust storm from hell.

Like a cannibal butterfly
Born in your chest,
In little mouthfuls, eat it will
Till tickling wings your skin feels

I have everything I want in life
Still no respite the butterfly gives
In birthdays and movies
And road trips and shopping sprees
My stomach becomes a butterfly park.

I wish it would come out
That feeling-deep and endless
Through my mouth and hands
Bleeding in brilliant colours
What my words fail to express.

Fiction Numbers 4

Before the flash fiction bug grew tired of my antics, I managed to squeeze in a couple more.

Destiny
TheOne, there by the jackfruit tree, is eloping. HisBeloved waits at the next stop. Squirrel gnaws through a jackfruit, loses a chunk to a wrong bite. TheOne haemorrhages to death. HisBeloved returns home, marries SomeoneElse.
Horizon
She flew over mountains and rivers. He was mesmerised by the sky. They met when she gave up flying and became his new horizon.
Karma
At 90, he ate a pillow just like his father had. His son would too. But Realisation lost patience with that mocking idiot and left him in the dark; called it a cosmic joke.
She
“Obedience was my middle name”, she reminisced. Through marriage and motherhood, I was nicknamed Docile. “Perfect woman”, everyone said. Now Life, passing by, calls out,”Spineless” and I answer!

Life

Butterflies flit

Leaving shivering leaves in their wake

Water drips tense like sweat

And air holds its breath

Willing all noise to quiet down

 

I did notice earlier

And I am wondering now

Did they pre-empt my condition?

 

Contrary to popular belief

Pointlessness is a calm feeling

Only negative.

The loneliness, solid in its intensity

Weighs me down, its lead boots to my head

 

White noise funnels into me

Hollowing out instead of filling

The certainty, the singleness

Of that settling sadness

Like drying concrete.

 

My world zooms into my loneliness

It is fade out for everything else.

It is nothing more than a feeling

My feeling, because outside I see

I see the world go on around me

 

Go on like nothing changed

And my life, the entirety of my years

Compresses into a lead ball, the size of a pill

Heady with side effects.

 

It makes my tongue thick

And my voice echo

It twists my legs and hurts my throat.

I feel everything and then suddenly

Nothing.

 

I look around and I recognise afterlife

But sadly for you its

“Authorised Personnel Only” from here on.