Watching For Goodbye

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How does one wait for death? What do you look for, what signs do you wait for when you watch for it?

we are dying, we are dying, we are all of us dying,

and nothing will stop the death-flood rising within us

How do you greet death when it’s not coming for you, but for one you love? With tears and pleas? With a wobbling smile? With brickbats and burning chillies and ash thrown in that inevitable face?

I ask and ask; it’s at times like this that you realise that adulthood doesn’t mean having the answers to everything. Most adults, it seems, put a wise expression on guesswork and shots in the dark embroidered with a little perceived truth and optimism or pessimism, depending on who you’re talking to.

She gave me her name, her face, a nose-pin. I used to sniff the powder from the soft folds of her neck like a baby-faced crack addict; she would sit on the floor as I inched my way through meals, tell me stories, put me to sleep.

‘She’ is my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

When death comes for an immortal, hope goes first. Grief is going, draining at a jerky rate. Tears become texturised, gritty with salt because the human body is only 70% water, after all. It runs out fast when death comes for your immortal.

I want her to slip away in peace, to a place beyond pain. I want to cover her wasted body with mine and scream until Death shields his ears and runs for cover. I want her to sit up and order her kidneys to do their duty.

I want my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

I love her beyond reason. I hate her for dying, for being un-immortal, for forcing me to say goodbye to her without a kiss, without a wave, without a balcony in sight. I hate myself for not coming back sooner, for not having magic under my skin or in my voice, for not making her well. I hate having been born because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have lived through losing her.

I love my grandmother, and my grandmother is dying.

What do I watch for, what do I listen for? A whisper of cloth against a wall, a shadow slanting wrong? How will I know when to sit up and hold her hand, when to say goodbye for the last time so that it matters? Adulthood is a shot in the dark; a perpetual game of Bluff and old music. I have no answers. I can only hum the sounds of my Paati’s time (or a section of), and hope I get the timing right.

We are all, all of us, dying. She’s just going first.

RE: Homosexuals And Their Private Business- An Open Letter To Subramanian Swamy

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BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said that homosexuals should conduct their business in private and not flaunt it.


Well, fuck that. (Please don’t pardon my French; I couldn’t care less)

The thing is, Mr Swamy, we are people. We are humans, we are people, and we will be treated as such. We are not second-class and we won’t be treated like we are.

Heterosexuals- people like yourself, Mr Swamy- can ‘flaunt’ their relationship in public (whether they can do so safely is a whole other conversation). They fit into your neat little boxes and therefore they have a place in your idea of India. People like me, and others I know and love, don’t.

I do not fit into any box, not even the one marked ‘homosexual’. My poetry handle describes me as Not interested in being polite or heterosexual. I’m not like you, Mr Swamy, and that’s one thing I will always be grateful for.

No, I’m not talking about your sexuality, because it’s not worth talking about. Although you seem to think that it (or the difference from it) is. I’m talking about your personality.

Mr Swamy, you have a great deal of personality. I wouldn’t dream of denying that. You have forceful views, which I’ve found I almost always disagree with; you are annoyingly articulate, which forces me to confront the fact that fundamentalists are not always uneducated people who don’t know any better. You are cantankerous, which would be deeply amusing if you were less of a bigot and more like the crotchety old grandfather that everyone loves. You know how to use social media, a rare feat in a man of your age, and I can respect that you’re (somewhat) willing to move with the times.

Now, read that again.

Your sexuality means nothing to me, Mr Swamy. It doesn’t factor into my views of you- were you gay, aromantic and/or genderqueer , I would still find your politics divisive, still disagree with you, and still admit your personality. Although, admittedly, I would have thought you traitorous as well, or perhaps pitied you.

But my point is, your heterosexuality doesn’t inform my opinion of you. And mine shouldn’t inform yours either. Because I’m more than my gender or sexuality. I’m a student. A history honours graduate from DU. Almost an English MA. A curly-haired woman. A poet, dancer, writer, dreamer, and many other interesting and uninteresting things. I’m a liberal, politically speaking. You can hate me for that. But what’s the point in hating me because of whom I might or might not sleep with? I wouldn’t dislike your sexual partner of choice because she chose to sleep with a man (also, I’m a #wokefeminist who doesn’t believe in judging a woman’s sexual choices, thankyouverymuch)

Frankly, Mr Swamy, you’re a disgusting old homophobe. Now, normally, I respect people’s phobias. But you’re not afraid; you’re just an asshole. Please, disapprove of me for saying that. However true, it’s very rude and I too would take offence.

One of the tools of poets is anaphora- repetition. I will employ it now:

I am human and I will be treated as such. I am an individual with rights, and I will be treated as such. I am an Indian citizen and I will be treated as such.

How dare you tell me to hide my love, my affection, because you think it’s wrong? How dare you, when the theatres are chock-full of of DDLJs and Humpty Sharmas and every sodding version of Romeo and Juliet that Bollywood has ever dreamt up? The state has no say in who its citizens love, Mr Swamy, and neither do you.

I don’t need your permission to love whom I choose, to hold his or her hand in public. Gay bars are safe spaces that we need because of people like you. And frankly, they’re just fun. AIDS can spread in ways that are not anal sex. Instead of policing people’s private lives, focus on funding the search for a cure. It’ll be a much better use of your time than flippantly reducing human beings to second-class citizens because they don’t happen to be straight OR male OR rabid religious fundamentalist dirtbags.

In sum, Mr Swamy, you want us to not flaunt our ‘business’?

Well, fuck that.

Regards,
Malavika Subramanyan.


People who are not like you do not need your permission to live.


Love, and No Script

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“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see”
The Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene VI.

I never imagined that love would feel like this. It seemed like a high; a feverish, wild dream that would break fast and ugly. I’m a romantic in that I believe in love, but I don’t believe that love can last. How can it?

If this is love, I don’t understand it. It’s slow and gentle, and I am utterly terrified. What is this tight softness in my belly when I look at you? Where are the fast-beating heart and sweaty palms and the painfully shy glances from the corner of our eyes? Where is everything the books promised me?

I ask, not because I want those, but because they’re all I know. I had a script, a timeline of romance, an how-to love manual in every trashy romance I’ve ever read. But we followed no script and yet broke no rules, because there was really nothing to stop us.

I don’t feel blinded; this is no fever, there is no high; I’m not delirious. I see myself as clearly as I did the night before I met you, the hour before, the moment before you smiled and I heard your voice. I see you more clearly than I once did- your little mannerisms and your smile. The way you chew back words when we breathe between kisses. Your unceasing chatter. Your silences. I see you more clearly, and you are radiant, my darling, and I can’t even dream of being in your arms until I actually am.

My biggest fear is that you’ve blinded yourself with pretty glasses that paint me the colours of beautiful. That one day the wind will blow them off, and you’ll get your first good look at me since we met. That’ll be the day you take your heart back from me, but you won’t be able to return mine, because of ‘ownership issues’. I’ve signed it away, you see, and I’m terrified that yours is only on loan.

But until then, I suppose you can be mine completely. Till that day, I can breathe softly as we part from a kiss and smile at you before the next one. Our clock’s ticking down, but I can ignore it. Let’s celebrate, because we actually have a clock.

Break my heart gently, when you do, if only because I love you so much.

 

Pubic Hair Girl

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It was a nickname of mine in high school. Not one that was used to my face, of course. Maybe if it had, I’d have felt better about it.

I love my curls. It took me nearly ten years- not until I saw Kangana Ranaut on a newspaper cover and how she was lauded as ‘beautiful’, same as beautiful Aishwarya Rai- but I do.

The bastard had a nickname for you- he used to call you something.
What?
Pubic hair girl.

Don’t be his friend, people had told me. He’s really weird. Naïve little girl, you should have listened. But you always thought you could fix things, even fix people.

I got angry because he was calling you a really bad nickname.
Whoa, wait, you and the rest of the guys know about it?
Yeah. The seniors told us.
What the actual fu-

How many laughs and snide looks had I received from people who knew nothing about me but the supposed texture of my hair?

And how had it been told to my class boys; like a boys’ hostel joke, tossed out in the middle of a conversation as the seniors snickered and my classmates looked confused until someone enlightened them?

And why did they never tell me-

Because they used it, of course. How often had they talked about it, laughed about it? Called me by that name, a boys’ hostel open secret?

So… you know that nickname, right? Was it- was it used like, a lot?
Um… from what I can remember, it was used quite a bit, actually, Malu.

Did it cross their mind every time they saw me in class, every time I raised my hand to speak? Did they think: pubic hair girl wants to say something.

It’s not news to me, you know. I’ve known about it for a year, so don’t think you can use that shit against me. I don’t give a fuck.

I found out in my tenth grade, after it had been bandied about for about a year and a half among the seniors- of course, it got to the girls too, and one of my classmates, sharing a room with an older girl, told a friend of mine, who told me.

It came up a year later, after an argument between two guys, both friends of mine. They hadn’t known that I knew, that I’d known for a while, and though I rolled my eyes and scoffed at them, I burned inside.

Because, as I had always imagined, it was tossed into the argument like it was nothing.He threw it out, it wasn’t a big deal, and to him, it really wasn’t.

I should have slapped him, I realise. Should have slapped him and torn his hair and cried- but show no weakness, I thought at that time, and I laughed about it with him for the rest of high school.

I shouldn’t have laughed about it, no?
No, you really shouldn’t have.

People say, laugh at yourself, and no one can laugh at you. But I laughed at myself, laughed about the nickname, and I felt sick every time, and for a long time after. I feel sick now, every so often, when it pops into my mind. It’s not like the stupid things you say and do, which make you laugh in momentary embarrassment when you think about then later. It’s a burn of shame and anger and pain and angst that refuses to abate, and I remember how cowardly I was, not standing up to say that I didn’t like it, that it wasn’t funny. I hate myself, when I do.

It began with the boy I deluded myself into believing was misunderstood and nice underneath; with the seniors who passed it down to my classmates, my friends; with the people who didn’t come and tell me that it was happening, until one did a year later, a year too late. With everyone who thought it was okay to just throw a person’s name around, to give them cruel nicknames and laugh about them and spread them. And there I was, laughing, telling them all that it was okay to do so with every smile, every roll of my eyes.

Pubic hair girl.

I cried. I never told, but I cried.