Category Archives: Non-Fiction

A Movie Review by a Reformed Skeptic

I was a person who had only ever seen bits and pieces of “Mean Girls” on TV, and the parts I had seen gave me the impression that it was an overrated movie that people enjoyed merely for its brash, offensive one-liners and its clichéd portrayal of high-school hierarchy. So when I voted for it as the theme for this month’s issue of Jabberwock— I was prepared to roast it.

I decided to watch the entire movie once first to do justice to the article. By the time it was finished, I was very, very annoyed.

I was annoyed because I could no longer write a scathing review about it.

Yes, the movie can be watched on a superficial level, in which case all one takes away are the iconic one-liners and the Disney-esque life lesson at the end. Yes, it has its flaws since some characters are excessively caricatured, some of the acting is sub-par and some of the comedic one-liners are completely unnecessary (although extremely quotable, standalone lines, such as the woman who wanted to bake a cake of happiness).

But as a whole, the script of the movie shows a brilliantly technical circularity. The best example is the parallel between Cady and Regina, how they both become the same type of shallow and self-centred people, and how Regina goes from being the predator to the prey.

Another aspect that sets “Mean Girls” apart is its characterisation. There are many stereotyped, stock characters, but some manage to stay with the viewer. While Cady has her dark moments, overall she is an idealized and innocent character. However, Regina and Gretchen, two of the original “mean girls,” are more complex. Of course, we dislike them for their cruelty and narcissism, but their dark and petty traits are something all of us can somewhat relate to – they have human flaws. And despite these flaws, we cannot help but root for them at times. Regina is mean, no doubt, but we cannot help but feel for her when Cady exploits her body insecurities with the Kalteen bar scam. We also pity Gretchen and her strong need for approval from Regina, and validation from others.

Thus “Mean Girls” is a film which has parts that you can laugh at because it seems so exaggerated and far from reality, and parts that are almost unsettlingly realistic and almost guilt-provoking, reminding us of the ease with which we judge and slander the people around us. It is also realistic because it does not show a great deal of change in the existing hierarchy of the high school, or an ideal reform of everyone’s character. There is just a rearrangement of the “mean girls” into new, less damaging social roles and a greater understanding of existing problems – which is how change, actually begins.

Written by Madhuboni Bhattacharya

Image by Aanchal Juneja

 

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Mean Girls

“Fugly slut” was a phrase I picked up while watching the film Mean Girls on television with my sister. She was about twelve and I, nine. By default, books and television would never get censored in our household. It was not until much later that I really understood what it meant; but it wasn’t just a film to me even back then for playground politics has never been just a microcosm. It is what enables the performance of power and socialization into the roles that power dynamics demand from us at a very young age.

Being eight years old is one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. My family moved back to the city we had earlier lived in, which meant changing schools in the middle of the academic year. I spent a lot of hours learning how to spell because I was terrible at it, trying to live with the constant discord at home and waiting outside my paediatric nephrologist’s office. It was a painful and endless battle with my body and mind. I had no friends at school or otherwise and wasn’t able to do well academically either. The presence of mean girls wasn’t a welcome addition to this.

Playground politics at the “sexually latent” stage of childhood manifests itself in physical and superficial appearances, because abstract thinking isn’t supposed to have completely developed in a child’s cognition by this stage of development. When I look back, that’s exactly how it seems. The two girls in my class that everybody seemed to adore and worship, even the teacher, seemed to meet some arbitrary standard of attractiveness that pervades the world of childhood too.

Each day, I would struggle with how different I was, in the way I looked, in my quietness, in my academic and athletic incompetence. “You can’t sit with us” isn’t just a dialogue in a film to me; it has been an everyday reality for a significant part of my childhood. I remember not wanting to be associated with, being bullied and socially ostracized. I remember falling asleep each night wishing I would wake up somewhere else and not having to go back to school. I never felt like I could get any real help or talk to my parents about it and so I learnt to keep mum about way too much from quite early on. Nobody will really help us, my mother’s voice still echoes in my head from the time she used to say it when I was little.

I wanted to be like my sister. Look like her, talk like her, befriend her friends. The sheer impossibility of this consumed me with jealousy and immense rage at myself. Little did I know she was battling with the manifestation of the mean girls phenomenon within her own age group, it was only as we grew older that I learnt how to grapple with the magnitude of its presence. Unfortunately, I also happened to be one of the youngest children in the apartment where we lived, so anybody hardly ever took me seriously and nobody could really protect me. I was always a lemon/tamarind/tangerine; the rules of the game relaxed for me because I couldn’t run fast enough by virtue of being five years old. Once, an older girl who we played with didn’t slow down while she held my hand and ran with me, my feet could not keep up and I ended up skinning my knee on concrete. I remember crying and asking her to slow down; the bruise is still a shadow on my left knee; over the years, it has healed from looking like a chocolate chip cookie to a butterfly to just a faint scar of a memory. Somebody had to carry me home that day; “Ayyo, what happened?” said our neighbour’s sympathetic voice, as she leaned over her balcony ledge lined with potted cacti.

Mostly, I was an indoors-y child who hid under the large dining table with my dolls and our private tea party. Occasionally I would peep from the windows at children skating outside on Saturday mornings, only to retreat back to my hiding place. I wore pink not just on Wednesdays, but almost all the time, I gravitated towards this colour almost instinctively but it didn’t allow me any access or an entry point into an exclusive clique of girls. My sister seemed to be doing much better by having tastes completely opposite to mine. I talked so little, most people assumed I knew just as much and had little to contribute to any conversation. ”Your daughter is too quiet, she needs to talk” was a phrase my mother grew quite familiar with as everybody who ever taught me reinforced this idea.

It was only once I was a teenager that I started talking, really talking about how I feel and what I think. It took me about fourteen years of my life to feel brave enough to do that as I’d silently fought my battles until I learnt I could make friends.

A friendship I developed as an adult has grown rife with animosity but in a moment of tenderness, she calls out to me and in memory of better times, we sit together in a circle in the hostel’s inner quad, under the canopy of fairy lights at midnight. It’s fesitive, warm, fuzzy and bittersweet. There’s mellow and sentimental music drifting along with the smoke from sugary coffee in paper cups as multiple conversations encircle me. It isn’t really a circle, that’s impossible and it’s real that smaller sets of people are talking even in this arrangement. A couple of people beside me talk about how nobody really stays, how nobody can really ever stay. On the other side of the circle, there’s talk of a movie that makes you feel through and through. This moment could possibly be a scene from a film like that, I think.

Some of these people sitting along with me were the mean girls who would have bullied me in school. I often wonder if those girls ever stop and realise, if they even had a sense of the magnitude of damage they were doing or if they have grown to realise it at all. Probably not. I thought I had transcended that, that I had made peace and learned how to befriend people despite their meanness but it’s still very personal and difficult for me. It brings back a flood of unpleasant memories and I try to see these people sitting here just as people. Make allowances for all of us, even myself. Think of who messed up so bad that we feel the need to do this, in turn.

I’m no Cady Heron, and thankfully, “fugly slut” never became a part of the vocabulary I used to describe someone. I’m still learning how to live with the anxiety I learned to internalize at home and school and on some days, it gets really difficult but at least, I didn’t turn into a Plastic.

Being eight will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but even then, I knew I wouldn’t always be that small and helpless. That year, I discovered I could write poems when we lost our dog to an accident one morning; the going got tough and I had nobody to confide in. The year after, I picked up reading and books couldn’t always be replacements for friends I didn’t have but it made feel less alone and powerless, at least. It taught me how to be less and less apologetic for being me and being incapable of being mean.

Written by Priya Tripathy

Image by Radhika Aneja

The Story of An Emotion

-words in context-

The English language (perhaps much like the imperial sovereigns who spoke it) has a tendency to colonise, taking certain words from other languages and making them its own. Many of these words, such as “juggernaut” from Sanskrit “jagannatha” and “foyer” from the homographic French word, were introduced to English through the historical processes of colonisation and trading.

But now, we have the internet. And the latest crop of non-English words that is taking the English-speaking internet by storm consists of words that seem to have no direct translation in English. There are innumerable lists online extolling the beauty of these subtle emotions and situations that are almost inexplicable in English. They feature words like “litost” (Czech; a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery) and “mamihlapinatapai” (Yaghan; a special look shared between two people when both wish that they would do something they both want but are reluctant to do it). And of course, words like hiraeth.

Hiraeth” is a Welsh word that can very crudely be translated to “homesickness”. It can also be used to express missing a person. However, one look at Welsh history ( people colonised by the Britishers and seen as foreigners in their own land) will tell you that “hiraeth”, as author Pamela Petro puts it, is “an unattainable longing for a place, a person, a figure, even a national history that may have never actually existed. To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep incompleteness and recognize it as familiar.”

There are certain other words found in these lists that are a product of the culture they come from, and perhaps this is why they are difficult to translate. “Yuanfen” is a Chinese word which refers to the binding force of predestination that brings people, objects or events together. In English, it is roughly translated to fate or serendipity, and is understood in a romantic context. However, in China, it can be brought up in business and work interactions, and even refer to recurring events. It reflects the importance of fate and what is “meant to be” in Chinese culture, especially among the elderly.

However, there is a certain universality of human sentiment in most of these words. In fact, Portuguese “saudade” (a feeling of longing, melancholy or nostalgia, especially in songs or poetry) comes quite close to “hiraeth”. “Hiraeth” can apply even to the Indians who are aware that the very idea of India is a construct, who still try to trace their origins to an India whose nature no one can truly remember. “Hiraeth” can apply to anyone who is struggling to find their identity and their place in this world, away from their actual past, or conversely anyone who misses a long-lost past.

So we find that words and languages are yet another example of how different we all are by nurture, and yet how similar in nature.

SOURCES:

 

Written by Madhuboni Bhattacharya

Image by Chetanya Godara

 

To Nanu, from Rooh

Dear Nanu/Comrade BD,

It has been a while since you left, and I suppose the silver lining is that it rained the day you left. You were birthed into the world amidst torrential thunders, with your superstitious mother wailing about all the bad omens surrounding you. The designated midwife was out cold from all the bhaang, the emergency midwife wouldn’t stop singing some obscure Bhojpuri songs, the bats entered the room and provided audience while your father accidentally set the curtains on fire. You were born an anarchist, and your conservative mother, God bless her soul, was massively unprepared.  I can hear you chuckle like you did when you narrated this story. You have always taught me that life is circular and that we end where we begin. On that account, I’m glad you left the way you came. A part of me feels you just wanted theatrical end credits with thunder, lightning and rain and you got them. Well, if you must know, I didn’t cry too much because the last time we spoke, you told me you wanted to be celebrated, not mourned.

That a wealthy zamindar with farmers under his thumb would have a son who spent his life fighting for peasants’ property rights from an unknown village in Haryana is a beautiful miracle that I’m proud of. You gave me my name, the borderline-obnoxious and ridiculous spelling of it, and most importantly, my nickname – Rooh. Rooh, for your belief in the resilience of the human soul. I sometimes wonder if you called me Rooh to assure me that I would always recover. I can safely say that you gave me my first sense of identity; a small blip on the cartesian map of this world that I could stake a claim to. I want you to know that I carry it on my skin every day, like one of those personalized badges of honour you would make me. I won’t lie, some days I take a ride to the Supreme Court – only to feel closer to you. You told me that this was your home and I visit to trace your origins. Maybe someday I will manage to sneak past the guards and see your chamber for myself. Maybe I will walk to the canteen and dip my simple Marie biscuits in overpriced English teas, if only to remember the winter of 2012 when we celebrated one of your cases.

I am not sure as to how I would break down these feelings stemming from your ceremonious exit. My anger was like a confused 10-year-old who carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. It was alive, and it begged for attention. But now the lividity has moved on to a better understanding of grief, loss and reconciliation. Truth be told, no self-help book will teach us to become more than our traumas. No amount of kind words from relatives we come upon only for weddings/funerals/other catastrophes will help us cope better. Grief is personal to the point where we can hardly share it and hope that the fundamental law of division would apply.

As I ponder over it, I realize that I don’t have the concept of a home in strictly physical terms. All of us are ejected violently in this world with a cord sometimes choking us. Then we decide to construct a sense of familiarity and comfort by staying rooted. I have changed enough homes up to this point to know that all of us are like the suspended plastic bag from American Beauty, caught in the winds of time. Now I think of myself as just an airport somebody, or possibly a disoriented hitchhiker – forever in transit. I can imagine you smiling at my romanticised rhetoric, but I hope you understand that although I don’t know a home, I know familiarity. You, with your quirky cufflinks and ancient khadaus, hobbling to draw water from the neighbourhood well were familiarity. You, with your booming laughter frightening my Nani into spilling her tea were familiarity. Above all, watching you climb trees to get me kaccha aam was familiarity. Now my mother smiles instead of wincing when it’s time for the annual custom of making achaar and panna from it. That’s progress.

I have lost and reconciled, in equal measures. I wish I had more time to be your unpaid legal intern, incompetent sous chef and “chanchal-mann” granddaughter, but I’m glad I had the honour of knowing and loving you, if only for a limited time.

Until next time.

Yours,

Rooh

 

Written by Aarooshi Garg

Image by Sheena Kasana

 

 

 

 

Home

On nights when the moon has forsaken me, I dream like a child while you read to me – apologies addressed to stars you’ve held captive in a bottle. One for each sentence I’ve lost. All to you. Do not misunderstand, I do not love you when I write. You are the wall I drew on as a child, painted over once I was old enough to be reprimanded. You are the heartbreak felt when I visited an unfamiliar home, the traces of a childhood gone in all but four years.

Your own home is a sad one, in the middle of this melancholy city, this ashtray of a city, this city which evokes nostalgia in all but you. You who do not see the beauty in pain. You, who do not think on account of strong medication. You who do not collect memories, anymore. Memories of a first kiss, of a father, of something less barren than a pretty house.

Tell me now, do you look around, often? Do you wonder at things, like the stray wind, a stray string and all other manner of stray things? I wonder how you manage distraction without thought? Or are you, to put it simply –  lost?

Then it seems I have found home. I have found home in a lost boy and together we’ve run away.

For it is a moonless night.

 

Written by Ishani Pant

Image by Radhika Aneja

Specialis Revelio

During winters, the thing that I miss the most is Hogwarts.

The nostalgia to return to the magical world begins as early as September, when the school is supposed to start. It goes on and on until Christmas is upon us, and that’s when I crave to be a part of the Wizarding world. It’s something to do with the lighting and the air, I think – it’s wonderfully tentative, quite how I imagine autumn in Scotland. And the leaves flutter – ever so slightly. It’s not hot, so you know it’s a chilled wind blowing. The fog forms another part of the nostalgia: it makes me dream of snow. I can see the castle, decked up in dozens of trees, brought in by Hagrid and decorated by Professor Flitwick. The sky in the dining hall will be huge, and endless – and vast! It would reach into the very heavens – literally.

When I was growing up, I used to read Harry Potter. Harry Potter got me into the business of reading, providing an outlet for my imagination, for my almost violent need to escape, be a part of some sort of magic.

And nothing can ever replicate those early adventures into Harry’s world. I didn’t have a lot of friends in school – dreadfully tragic, isn’t it? The very beginning of a philosophical movie that delves deep into the escapism of a young girl. I didn’t have friends, in any case – I had a few, but they were sort of – bullies. I’m not quite certain how to characterize our relationship, but it certainly wasn’t healthy.

So, when I was growing up – I had Harry.

It’s funny how books can save your lives, or change them. I don’t remember a time before Harry Potter. I remember, vaguely, watching the movies and not caring to read the books. I remember my Dad buying me the first one for one of my birthdays. And I have done the mathematical calculations as to when I should have read it – based on solid memories. I have a very distinct memory of showing my second grade teacher that I was reading Chamber of Secrets. I must have been seven then, so I have deduced that I ought to have read it sometime then.

I don’t remember when I met Harry for the first time. I don’t remember what, exactly transpired between him and me in his small cupboard under the stairs. I don’t remember what happened that got me so hooked. Mamma had to convince me to get through the first ten pages, and that is something I definitely remember. Sometime around the snake escaping the zoo – I think – I became part of Harry’s world.

I remember meeting Ron for the first time, I remember meeting Hermione. I remember thinking that Ron and Hermione would be perfect – they fought entirely too much to be anything else. I remember when it rained in the castle, the Quidditch pitch would become muddy and Oliver wouldn’t be happy at all. I remember Peeves, and I remember crying with laughter at some of Harry’s more sarcastic comments.

I think I remember the castle in a way that I don’t think is quite possible. In a world of small spaces, tiny areas designated for thoughts – Hogwarts expanded before me like a huge and inviting mess. Nothing about it made sense, even lesser was palpable and understandable. It was huge and complex, and in between the spaces that Hogwarts provided, I’m fairly certain I found me.

But it wasn’t mine. Hogwarts was gigantic, and enormous, and part of it was mine – and it was the most satisfying way to deal with my problems. But at some point, I think I wanted to create my own space. Hogwarts gave me the encouragement I needed – the breathing space to imagine a new space. And that, I think is when I started writing.

Fifth grade was when the seventh book was released. It was all over, and Hogwarts wasn’t there – as a growing thing. I hadn’t discovered fanfiction then, and I think I wanted more. So – I wrote.

I wrote because I found – in brief instances, that the sky could be so beautiful, and I wondered whether it was the same at Hogwarts. I wrote because Harry and I stared at the same moon – across dimensions, across realities – and I wrote because everything was so terribly beautiful. I wrote as a scream into the void – in hopes that someone else was listening – or – or someone would answer back.

My initial forays into these worlds I created were difficult. They didn’t transition well, the worlds were stacked together and odd. I began imagining them from fifth and fourth grade itself. And in sixth, I was writing. I was writing – and I was writing with an intensity that neither of my parents had thought possible. My father was surprised that my initial story writing endeavour had entered nearly fifty pages.

I got the grasp of the idea, eventually, obviously. I understood how it functioned, and I started to make sense of it. I wrote more, and more, and more. I didn’t stop for so long that I didn’t quite know how not to. I was writing horribly and chunkily and with no skill, but with the determination that I had to recreate Hogwarts. I had to find it again – I had to go back to the castle, and yes, maybe it wasn’t Harry that I found again – but god help me if I didn’t find me.

This intense foray into the world of my imagination – where murder was recreated alongside magic is fantastically interesting. But the thing that prompted this, as usual, is Hogwarts.

And yes, it’s more fun to create your own. It’s enjoyable to write constantly until your keyboard burns (I’m not kidding, my last laptop has a barely functioning keyboard), and it’s amazing to find yourself in these huge swathes of imagination – but sometimes – it’s nice to go back home again. It’s like returning to your home town: you know that there’s so many things that are problematic, so many issues that you’re not entirely comfortable with, and hell, you have grown too much for you to live there anymore, but damn it all if it’s not a comfort to be back from time to time.

 

Written by Tanvi Chowdhary

Image by Aanchal Juneja

 

Suitcase Floating Over the Railing

There’s that feeling that returns every time I’m on my way to or away from the airport in Delhi and the wheels of the cab swallow miles of the same tar road. I see the same houses with the same latticed windows and tall bamboo fences neatly painted green, boasting of frangipani trees; a “good” neighbourhood. I wish I had a word that could encompass this feeling, of leaving and arriving constantly, a feeling of something really familiar yet with the foresight that I would be a drastically different person the next time I travelled this road. It’s why I wave good bye to air planes in the sky because I know someone is either leaving from or reaching their sense of home or they’re suspended mid-air, searching for their sense of it.

Lying on my back on cold concrete, with my tote bag as a makeshift pillow, I watch dragonflies flit across each other’s paths like a pattern on the wallpaper of sky. None of us sitting here in the Aung Sang Su Kyi peace centre (what a weird name for a place) in the middle of the day really know what we mean when we say home or if it can ever exist outside fiction and American sitcoms. Did Aung Sang Su Kyi feel at home here, in the sixties? Does her sense of permanent displacement dictate her genocidal tendencies?

“There’s only One Tree Hill, Nathan and it’s your home.” A show that had a cult-like viewership among the niche audience of teenage girls when I was in school used this dialogue to conclude on a note of suburban bliss but can it ever exist, in reality? Can we even attempt to create it for ourselves?

I tried to befriend a cat by feeding her biscuits; sometimes she would eat half and walk away to stare out into the enormity and darkness of the world, at night. Sorry for anthropomorphizing you to embody my feelings, cat, you’re probably just looking for pigeons to eat. I waved hello to her one night in the corridor when I saw her sleeping alone in front of the water cooler, she purred back at me, followed me into my room and walked around in circles, cozying up to my ankles (approval from cat, I must be special! I’m a little scared of cats but I’m trying to overcome that). I told her she could stay but she preferred to venture back into the cold yellowness of the familiar corridor. With time, I discovered it was not food or comradeship she’s been looking for, but for a space to give birth in, she looks in the same spots under the bed and inside the cup-board each time. It reminds me of the cultural belief my mother harbours about the auspiciousness of cats and how one isn’t supposed to turn away a cat and her litter from the house. There are a couple of first year students who smiled at me when I was dragging my suitcase into the hostel for the first time this year, they always smile at me now when we pass each other in college corridors or run into each other. Sometimes I can see the inexhaustible supply of bad days that have settled into the circles under their eyes, I wonder if they can see the same under mine. One night at dinner, I shift one of the rotis from my plate on to one of theirs because we’ve all been waiting in line for just as long and it makes more sense that we both have food to eat. I remember being in the first year, looking down at my plate with hardly any food on it and tearing up. My friend split half her roti with me one such time and I’ve wanted to share that feeling with someone else since then. I remember the third years not letting us sit on some of “their” tables, “people grow that territorial with time” was the justification someone I knew came up with. Were these really the smartest students of history, political science, sociology and so-on and so-forth in this is so-called ultra-liberal space? Even naive, first year me couldn’t believe or buy that education had really made a difference to their lives. What use is it to know theories of communal ownership and the idea of property as theft inside-out when they can’t make you humanize individuals in your immediate surroundings and treat them with some sense of dignity? Are structures and hierarchies really this deeply ingrained in each of us?

The youngest are always fed first at home, I think, but women always eat last and the left-overs in my father’s family, retorts a sub-conscious voice inside my head. My thoughts soon shift to my mother’s Sunday breakfast French toast and my insatiable demand for idlis as a child. I think of the desecrated sweetened coconut stuffed inside monda pitha; a sweet my maternal grandmother often made for me in her house, in Odisha. I also think of my parents’ sense of constant disappointment at my early rejection of rice and fish as the idea of the ultimate delicacy. Only Susheela, who looked after me, could get me to eat any fish, at all, with her stories of how they married dolls in the village where she grew up and about Christmas narrated in Telugu, supplemented by the rose cookies she got me from home after Christmas every year. At night, my mother and I would sit on our first-floor flat’s balcony and count airplanes while she fed me dinner. Even today, my parents have two ground rules set for us; nobody goes to bed having skipped dinner and not having changed out of their jeans. When I fall asleep with the light left on some nights, I think of them the most.

There are some fragments of home diffused in my sensory memory like dreamy afternoon light through a window. The smell of dog fur and wet paws, chlorine, nimbu paani and Dettol. Salt water too, I’ve never been scared of swimming in seas and rivers and swimming pools. I came up to the surface when my coach pushed me into the deeper end of the pool when I was four but that’s also because I’ve always taken to water naturally and not that pushing someone in is always the best or only way to learn or teach. Warm bath water and warmer, freshly pressed clothes. The reassurance of hearing Azan in the distance every evening replaced by the reassurance of swift whir of the metro late at night. The sound of my mother’s red and gold bangles announcing her presence in the next room, intermingled with the glass bangles jingling as Shantamma, who works at our house, washes utensils ; always more pleasant than the mechanical heaviness of my father’s car rolling into the driveway like an exasperated sigh. Power cuts and petromax laltins, rainy months and magura fish the children in the household decided to save from being cooked and put into the bottom of a court-yard well. The unpleasantly chewy texture of curried wild-mushrooms, succulent potatoes cooked with meat and the refreshing stringiness of pickled bamboo shoot. Handkerchiefs and saris with the quintessential Sambalpuri Saptapar checks printed on them. Spare string cots stashed under beds. My widowed, paternal grandmother who smells of tobacco (gudaku), stories and oppression. My parents’ attempt to make me address my sister as akka, a respectable suffix that didn’t stick just like all the others. The omnipresent shadow of the big maroon bindi on my mother’s forehead, even when she takes it off at night. Her starched cotton dupattas that became a shelter for me to shy away from people when I was little, they smelled like sunlight, sweat and talcum powder mixed together. Home also smells of cigarettes smoked on that first floor balcony at night and my father’s aftershave from the time my mother wasn’t home and we couldn’t find the dettol for a wound. Sitting cross legged on a green couch and choking on my own voice while a young, sensitive therapist sits crossed legged in her blue chair in a lamp-lit room, drinking tea. “You’re very self-aware”, she says, “but where do we go from there?” I’m glad to come back here week after week in the search for hope even if it doesn’t really exist, I want to say to her. Instead, she tells me she’s feeling the same existential lack of connection and meaning that I’m trying to describe to her. Freud would have called this counter-transference of the client’s emotions on to the psychotherapist, but come on, some aspects of psychoanalysis have been a long-outdated mode of trying to completely understand the human psyche even if they still make sense in most cases.

(Does being unaware of one’s own post-modern thoughts and words make them any less post-modern? Conversations with my parents at the dinner table often echo the same existential tone and concerns professors often take on in class, just guised in simpler language and vocabulary. A sociology professor said in class that we must work with the belief that anybody is capable of making a profound philosophical statement, it’s mostly their power in society that enables them to be canonized; turned into theories to ascribe to, which is why it’s important to contextualize where these statements come from.)

I’ve always been a little out of place in every place I’ve lived in and revisited frequently, no matter how cosmopolitan or exactly because of the cosmopolitan quality of having lived in these in-between places. My accent always slightly misplaced for the particular language I’m speaking; Telugu, Odia, Hindi, even when I know I’m not exactly inarticulate; the expressions, vocabulary and syntax are decent and in place. I spend hours looking outside my criss-cross window in a room of my own, wondering if I really have somewhere left to go back to or if I would ever want to, again. This room of my own is a halfway home that can contain my dreams and words and fears better than the homes I’ve tried to inhabit before. Trying to belong isn’t lost amongst staircases where I used to hide away from raised voices and doors banged shut.

I spent most of my childhood in a room with grainy, pista green walls and a window framed by a neem tree outside, that sometimes cast monstrous shadows at night, a different world than this hostel room, cool, ‘promise pink’ walls and a window framed by a mosabmi tree that’s almost never scary. I still feel very flustered when I fall asleep having left the door slightly ajar or unlocked. Does the coming of age necessarily make allowance for overcoming all your fears?

On one particular cab ride to the airport from college, it’s almost reassuring to hear lyrics about the strangeness of coming of age; we kind of want the journey to never end. The closed, air-conditioned car just makes us car-sick after a while and our shared silence becomes a sign of being consumed by a collective nausea and a sea of traffic. The man driving it asks us if we have five minutes to spare for him to refill fuel and we agree. He asks us to vacate the car to get fuel filled, and we are greeted by the pleasant sight of a man ogling at us and our nausea just gets worse. We hurry back into the car and let the exhaustion of it all wash over us.

I really wish there was a word that could encompass that feeling of driving to the airport every time or falling asleep with your bags all packed or in an empty room packed into cartons, a sinking feeling that characterizes the sense of an ending. To describe how the laburnums return every summer in Delhi just like the gulmohars return in full bloom before every monsoon in Hyderabad. All I can do is cling on to shadows of the fact that I had lived there, lighter portions where posters were sello-taped on to walls and ribbons with fraying edges tied on a cane book-shelf. I don’t have enough words to make this sense of belonging last, as I always outgrow it eventually, it never outlasts my attempts and yet, I keep trying to hold on to it.

Written by Priya Tripathy

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

The Art of Getting By

The Magic Lace Shop

Before this, I’d been thinking, for a long while, of buying lace. But in the sprawling tangle of shops and lanes that Amar Colony is, I couldn’t find a single shop that sold lace. The day itself wasn’t a particularly bad one. Just a long day, with small disappointments. Exhaust and exhaustion making me feel more jammed than I admitted then, I stopped in the middle of the market, right next to a shop that sold lace. I don’t think this shop had been there the day before. Alonso Lace Shop. Alonso Lace Shop, which had probably picked its square frame up and scuttled to that particular dusty corner of that very market, spools of lace flying, unwinding and winding themselves right back.  It was a rather rickety and fussy shop, but all that moving around had only disturbed the letters that spelt out the name of the shop; the ‘s’ and the ‘o’, curious about their neighbouring letters, plopped their way to the right. An old frame jutted down, obscuring part of the sign. It now read: soLace Shop. It has, of course, moved on since, taking its wares where they’re needed, catching sad people unaware. I know this because I haven’t found it since, and I wouldn’t even have found it if I hadn’t looked.

The Sweet Shopper

The building in front of Nescafe has seen so many birthday celebrations, I think it must be the happiest building that ever was, because it gets invited to birthdays, celebrations, and birthday celebrations every day. Now of course, if we were to ask it which party was its favourite, it would be rather confused. But then it would think of one, and smile. Two girls sat, waiting for a birthday-friend. One was rather annoyed: ‘Why couldn’t you just get a cake? You’d said you would.’

‘I know,’ said the other. ‘But it got too late last night, and only a sweet shop was open. But don’t worry, I know it didn’t turn out the way you planned, but it’ll still be great.’

When birthday-friend opened the box of sweets, with the plastic knife poised over it, all four of them smiled, knowing the day had been saved. After all, milk cake does have cake in it.

 

The Kite Collector

When I walked into college that day, I had something I loved. It was small, half-formed. A children’s kite. It could get easily caught in the trees before it ever reached the sky, because in Delhi, one always sees the sky through trees. And then it sprouted, grew, hobnobbed with other kites. Soon it became a hundred things I thought I loved. Soon, I wanted to fill the whole sky with kites, put bulbs on the sky, until it became a blue dupatta with silver sequins that I could wrap around myself.  And my hands could only hold so many kite strings before they all got tangled, before the glass in the string started cutting into me, and the sun sliced into my eyes.  All the kite-knots became a bundle of tangles and I couldn’t hold them, they were too heavy, I wasn’t strong enough to hold them, and they started flying off, slugs leaving inky-slimy trails across the blue and green and red. I just about managed to hold on to the one kite I’d loved first, when I walked in, and it waved around gently, a small handkerchief of a thing I loved, that looked like a ‘hello’ to someone in the passing metro.

 

Written by Anushmita Mohanty

Image by Sanna Jain

 

Open Letter to the New Kid on the Block

Dear Friend,

 

I’ll refrain from calling you my junior, and you shall refrain from calling me a senior. Consider me your future consciousness, your quiet empathiser, your fellow wallflower or/and your newest friend. If you feel lost, disoriented and alone; know that I felt the same. I remember telling my sister, on the very first day of college, that I felt my heart trying to escape my chest every time I looked at the red brick walls. I knew no one, and this was the first time I had ventured out of my home without company. My sheltered existence had not prepared me for this journey, and I felt utterly alone like any other teenager.

Being a school topper, I had assumed I’d continue my winning streak in college. Soon enough I realised that I was sitting with 60 toppers with exemplary academic records. I was an awkward science kid in a batch of humanities students who could prattle for hours about Greek Mythology. I swear to Athena I was mortified beyond belief. Everyone seemed to know everything, and I, your resident potato, found herself stumbling. I’m sure you might have experienced that sinking feeling after The Realization that someone will always be a little better. LSR was scary, and I didn’t know who to turn to.

And Lo and Behold! A chance encounter over coffee and Iliad, and I made my first friend in the English Department. That friend sat with me for hours to guide me over the river Styx, onto the Elysium and beyond. I realized that I had been resisting LSR far too much. I was afraid of having my value systems shattered and rebuilt, and that I only had to begin accepting it to become a part of it. I had spent 18 years of life internalising some very toxic prejudices that stemmed from an orthodox upbringing. I unlearnt, only to become a better version of myself. I learnt to let go, and care about things that truly matter. I learnt to understand and acknowledge my privilege, and accept the lived experiences of everyone I encountered. I learnt to appreciate the accomplishments of my classmates, instead of seething in hot envy and constant self-deprecation. I have had the honour of making friends so different from me, and learning to accommodate their worldviews. I let LSR in, and in turn, it let me in.

Right now, you might feel overwhelmed by these corridors buzzing with excited conversations and existential debates; but I promise you that you will come to feel at home soon enough. You will come to navigate the obstacle course from the tut block to the new building without losing yourself. You will come to meet people who will change you, one conversation at a time. You will come to stare wide-eyed at the sunset from the amphitheatre steps, as the world winds down shop. You will come to make peace with your solitariness in a society that antagonizes individualism. But at the same time, you will forge strong bonds with stronger people in the inanest of locations. I, your humble potato-hooman, found friends outside the psychology corridor, shady corners and washrooms. You will come to realize that a cup of coffee can practically fix any problem in the world. You will come to appreciate the mild-mannered pigeons nestling in the windows, on the lookout for new competitors to see who can maintain eye contact for the most time. I have spent a good amount of time with them, and I can assure you they make for admirable companions. And if nothing else works, you will come to love the dogs who will occasionally walk into lectures; absorbing all the knowledge with the patience of an esteemed scholar.

Friend, you will be alright. If you feel yourself disintegrating, know that all the pieces will eventually come together. I hope that you conquer your fears and insecurities, and find people who challenge you to improve every day. Bukowski says that people are not good to each other. I sincerely hope that you’ll be good to people, and they’ll be good to you. I do hope that you never drown out your bluebird. And if you ever need a steady supply of memes, science trivia and wry humour, you know how to find me.

 

Love,

Your slightly older friend

 

Written by Aarooshi Garg

Image by Megha Chakrabarti

“Hungry, Are You?”

“Hungry, are you?”

“Starving,” said Harry, taking a large bite out of a pumpkin pasty.

Ron had taken out a lumpy package and unwrapped it. There were four sandwiches inside. He pulled one of them apart and said, “She always forgets I don’t like corned beef.” …

… “Go on, have a pasty,” said Harry, who had never had anything to share before or, indeed, anyone to share it with. It was a nice feeling, sitting there with Ron, eating their way through all Harry’s pasties, cakes, and candies (the sandwiches lay forgotten).

 

This happens to be one of my favourite parts of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It’s the true beginning of Harry and Ron’s friendship as they first “break bread together.” Food has a way of doing this to people – it brings them together as a community despite their differences. And this, is why I consider food as one of the essentials of college life – not just because those cheesy fries taste god damn delicious in my mouth or that chocolate cake melts on my tongue like a cloud but because food became my ultimate guide through college.

 

One of the first friends I made in college was over food. I was a scary, disgruntled first year student. Moving from a city where I had spent twelve years of my life, where everyone knew me and where I knew everyone to an indifferent Delhi where I was a non-entity was not the best feeling. Sitting on that creaky Nescafé bench in July of ’15, shivering and cursing my fate because the Gods (the Greek ones, because you know, first year) had gone out of their way to make me feel miserable (it was raining, I had lost my umbrella, I knew no one and I had slipped in the mud and muddied my ‘first day of college dress’), I decided to ask the stranger sitting next to me what they were drinking. “Caramel Macchiato,” she smiled and this sparked a conversation about her crappy choices in beverages. We’ve been close friends for two years now. I learnt to make conversation about coffee or how many spoons of sugar people take. (If you don’t like food, you is a monster. I know I am being judgmental, but thou art a prude.)

 

Food also breaks the awkward wall between people. Once you have seen a person spit out their drink while controlling their laughter or stuff four pieces of Gulab Jamuns in their mouth at one go (true story), there is no going back, a line has been crossed. That’s why I believe, that if you want to get to know a person, you must ‘break bread with them.’  Food always helped me with solving differences of opinion – I might be arguing about Marxism, Feminism and the other countless ‘isms’ that are now a part of my life with someone in class, but as soon as we sit down together at that precarious Nescafé table, there is an unmistakable, warm sense of camaraderie and friendship in the way my classmate turns to me and asks “Coffee or Iced Tea?” For me, it’s a symbol of her willingness to continue the discussion so she can make me understand her views while giving me time to make her understand mine, even if at the end of the day we do not end up agreeing with each other. You might want to keep this in mind the next time you have an ideological war with someone in college, for trust me, in an institution like ours, it will happen a lot. There is no debate, fight or argument the war that cannot be solved with food, over food. The point is to let it happen and respect the other person’s choice of liking their cup of black espresso or a sugary cream latte with extra caramel. And that’s all you need to know really.

 

Written by Devika

Image by Devika