M E L O D R A M A


I have told you this in person but I don’t understand why it comes out broken. And on the phone, it’s not the same. And on text, well, you can’t read. Period. See, it is difficult to not be patronizing towards you. I find it infuriating that you don’t understand me. I could be standing with a placard with words in block letters that said, nay, screamed, I love you and you’d say, “yeah, I like you too.” Bitch please, is it the same thing? Are we on the same planet? Why is it difficult to get through you? Sigh. I know you don’t know any other way to be. Hmmm. So I heard that you are doing just fine without me. Earning respect and making money and becoming the life-coach/uncle that you are at 26. Now when I speak to you all your analogies and metaphors are work-related. Even when you talk of love and sex, you talk in finance. I am glad you found your purpose. But then I have to admit to you that that industry, I am going to bring it to dust. Friend, the worker’s revolution demands it! It is good to see you proud, purposeful and passionate. Of course, the world welcomes this, success to those with the emotional depth of a teaspoon. Yeah, yeah, I know I annoy you too. For the longest time, I thought it was my fault, and my burden to bear. Things changed ever so slightly, that it almost affected nothing. There is always somebody else who has to walk into your life to show you the mirror, that is, only if you have the courage to be vulnerable and reveal your madness. Of course, I unraveled. That’s my favourite thing to do! But as soon as I let go of that somebody, I again found myself in the middle of the ocean. My existential pain and me, floating in the void. And at first, it felt like a punishment I didn’t deserve. The sea was clear when he left. It felt like all the hardwork I had done, the hate mails I had written, the pain I had scrawled in diaries, all never left me to dry on the page. The nib just helped it burrow deeper. I had to confront you again. Ask you, what you were doing inside my head after all this time? Ask myself, why am I constantly bargaining with your ghost? I assure you that the ghost has nothing to do with you. But it does a little, doesn’t it? Think about it— I would have written better poems, if it was a bit happier, if you were a bit kinder; if I was a bit grateful. You would not be the face of that feeling of despair knocking me down, seasonally.  I thought that time and distance would erase all the memories. It did. But I am still stuck somewhere in the middle of that void, with nothing to my name. I am ashamed to be that fool with all this courage but no proof to show for all this bravado. It was a lie that I nurtured, wasn’t it? And now, you just want to shake yourself away from this. That may be the root of all this anger, other than the rejection. I rue the day you first looked at me and decided I was a friend. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck. You. If you thought I was so easy to quit. Hmpf. It is embarrassing how your nonchalance is driving me hysterical. I have given up. Now, I pray to your ghost for forgiveness. I pray for it to leave me.  By the way, you needn’t worry. I took all my things that make sounds echoing grief and let it dissipate with some medicines. So I watch the sounds instead of hear them, and it makes me feel free. I have been thinking about what do I want from you that would give me a closure that is acceptable to both of us. I don’t want you to say that you love me; of course, you don’t. I get that. I understand consent. I missed my turn and it is a reality that has shaped who I am at this moment. All I want is for you to say— yes, K, you loved me. The rest I can do without. This madness craves an applause before it can fuck off for good.

1975

I have been grooving to this performance for the past few days!

 

PS: I don’t subscribe to the love as property idea of the song, but it is groovy and full of feels. I was obsessing over the pause he takes in the first verse after each line, and I was like, I want to add my noise to it. because that’s the heaviness, right?! Also, title inspired by Lorde’s album because this is what it feels like. Requested by Rivulet*.

 

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Women, I love you forever


I am a panromantic, but I am damned to be a heterosexual.

I know that my love for women is romantic! Because I suffer heartbreaks even in female friendships. I also spend a lot of time maintaining female friendships. I love women.

I love women even if I am in the wrong side of the argument. I want to love and support women to the point of being irrational. To the point where men will say “K, bUt ThAT’s ReVeRsE sExIsM!”. I’ll shrug because this stand is completely emotional.

I love women because I feel gratitude. I have been a judgmental misogynist, trying to not be “girly”. I have been harsh in my judgments of housewives, and career women, of girlfriends and my mother! 😛 But all I have ever received is love and nourishment from women. I have learned to live in this body, thanks to women. I have become a better feminist, because of women. I have grown intellectually and emotionally because of women. I have been mentored by some super-cool women. I have been helped, nursed, guided, understood by women. I have worked, laughed, played, cried with women. If I am a little less uptight, and so much more kinder than I used to be because I was groomed by women. I am just forever indebted to womankind for being happy, colourful and powerful despite the banal, brutal patriarchal structures.

Hence, I have decided to be a benevolent sexist— I am always going to be on the side of the woman, no matter what. Even if there is a chance, that I am supporting someone trying to misuse my trust, I will take that bet. I will be disappointed far less compared to the statistically high trash behaviour that men display and are excused for. Entertain this hypothetical for a minute– suppose, if a man is called out for being a sexual harasser by a woman, when the matter is yet to be decided on, I would take the side of the woman because I really feel that women don’t get support and are not believed easily because there is a level of harm that you will trust, otherwise it is all hysterical imagination. And again, if she was simply trying to falsely frame the guy, I would be disappointed, accept my mistake and let that be. It is not going to hurt me as much as the inverse of this scenario would do.

The inverse being where the woman has been proven to be true, and I took the side of the guy—I have been in these situations— I would hate myself for not being on the woman’s side all along. I hate to imagine that I might still have some remnants of internal misogyny.

But I think men should not be benevolent sexists like I am because when men are benevolent sexists, women don’t exist in any other frame other than fairy-goddess-princess-mother.. So if a man is a sexist, even a benevolent one at that, it is more harmful. For such sexists, if they find a woman who has done something wrong, then that women is the witch-whore-bitch-vamp that deserves whatever ill happens to her! That’s not true, of course! Since men have the structural power where their dissing of a woman hurts woman more, they should just shut up and constantly reflect. I have seen benevolent sexists who are painful to talk to, their love is so conditional to a woman’s virtue, that it really is suffocating to just imagine those standards.

So maybe I am not a benevolent sexist, after all. But it is just easier to wrap up the argument, because it never happens that I can delve into nuance. So it is easier to say that my support for women is irrational, emotional and what about it? 😛 I am aware of the risks when I am taking this stand.

I want women also to make mistakes and then I want to be their left-hand woman. I want women to feel powerful and fight the system, and I want to be their comrade. I want women to punch a guy, and I will be video-shooting that mess! But I want more possibilities for women! And that needs a bit of unconditional support that men have gotten for no good reason for generations.

Womxn, I love you forever!

What is your personal credo?


This writing prompt made me laugh. But this personal credo makes me get stuff done!

A fool proof and mood proof personal credo

Seriously though, I just didn’t have it in me to write another free-association writing piece but here I am. I have to write regularly, that’s what I have decided! So, I tell myself —

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Having a bad day and daily chores sucking the life out of you? Move your ass..

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Your friend asks you why you’re being stupid and you don’t want to explain, mumble that

You gotta do what you gotta do!

The day beckons but you can’t get up, remember —

You gotta do what you gotta do!

A student tells you that they can’t complete the assignment, and you understand their pain but can’t budge because you are pretending to be firm and assertive, you say to them,

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Your mom is hesitating to block people but it will eventually help her to keep her sanity, you tell her —

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Your friend tells you about their kink, you embrace their nasty by saying,

You gotta do what you gotta do!

When you are know the sins of Amazon, but you order from it anyway because of discounts, you tell yourself that to stay afloat..

You gotta do what you gotta do!

A kid asks you for career advice ( and you know you have none to give bcz— kid, you be dreaming in this economy?) and you have to say something hopeful and realistic and open to interpretation, say —

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Somebody is being stupid on the internet, and you tell yourself that there is no point unless you want to entertain yourself by being an ant bully. Give in to the temptation, holler–

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Your friend is idealistic in his head but stuck in safe inertia at a dead-end job, the pep talk is–

You gotta do what you gotta do!

Reason no. 1 to dump that guy–

You gotta do what you gotta do!

I am comfortable with my body hair but why do I still wax. Because–

You gotta do what you gotta do!

When snack attack hits, and your sister gives you a shame-inducing stare, you stare back at the bitch, ‘cause.

You gotta do what you gotta do!

You’re reading me because you love me and well,

You gotta do what you gotta do!

..for love.

PS: Trying this block thing that WP is trying to swing at me.
Nope, it doesn’t save time. You’re welcome!

My first time away from home


I was actually pretty excited to leave Mumbai. It’s the year 2016. I remember friends and bf being sad about my departure because they were worried that I will find a new friend circle, grow without them and maybe the distance would break us. That didn’t happen, of course. But it was kind of annoying to think that my friends thought of me as a superficial social butterfly.

My mom was definitely worried that I am going to leave home forever. She didn’t say it and I tried to not mention how I was looking forward to be away and discover myself. She however made sure that I carried enough baggage from home, literal and metaphorical. She came to drop me the first time and the taxi was  stuck in traffic. We decided to race to the next station, instead of our scheduled station. We were running with so many bags in a accessibility-challenged railway stations! Like, we were literally carrying heavy bags on flights of staircases, over and over again. And at that point, I was really cursing my mom and her overbearing love, because I like to think of myself as a minimalist person. I reached that other station on time to catch the train. Boarded the train with rushed goodbyes, and breathed a sigh of relief.

Hyderabad, here I come!

I had to visit my local guardian first, so I got down somewhere near Secunderabad, which was far from the university. Elle aunty* was my mom’s best friend in college, and volunteered to help me out in this new city if I needed anything. I was confident that I didn’t need anything, as I had booked my flat, that I was going to share with four girls from Mumbai itself. But, mom. Plus, it is not really bad to accept help even if you don’t need it. Uncle, husband of Elle aunty, picked me up from the station. I remember that he was uncomfortable interacting with me initially and he served me cold food. I, otherwise a person who doesn’t want to touch things at other people’s household, just decided to warm the food for myself. It was a weird, awkward interaction but I don’t expect much from men anyway. He eventually helped me travel to my actual flat which was closer to the university. He was more than glad to drop me off the next day.

Anyway, that night, I spoke to Elle aunt for the first time about my gender and I think we even discussed god. It was difficult to convince her that I can survive without a god, but she kinda was more accepting of my struggles with gender. I had told her how, for me, wearing femme Indian dresses felt like wearing a costume. And I really detest it. And to think of it now, it is true for anything super feminine. I remember her saying– that’s an interesting way to look at it! And I knew that’s how far this conversation could go.

I moved into my new flat and the female flatmates there were annoying.. They were two office best friends, and one used to literally mother the other. The other was a b*tch. They had strict rules about no guy friends, they’d lock their cupboards with chain-locks for fuck sake, and I kind of lost my favourite windsheeter there. The larger story here is that I had three needs for a house. They were the 3 Ws- Wifi, Washing Machine and Western toilet. Clearly, the common bathroom was Indian- styled and I said that was a deal-breaker for me. They negotiated with me and said that I would have access to the Western bathroom in their room, and I was like– okay. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I finally left the house with stupid dynamics because the dependent other had brought her boyfriend disguised as “cousin”, and kind of locked me out of the bathroom I needed to use. I don’t care about boys coming into flats, because we all need a safe space to fuck, but I was annoyed at the hypocrisy. I told the Mother friend who had gone back to her hometown, and she messaged the dependent other and the boyfriend/cousin left. I enjoyed that. But I decided I must leave because this animosity is not sustainable. And did I tell you, dependent other would not even flush! It was literally akin to using a public bathroom. And the whole fucking point of not accepting a hostel room was to not have to use common bathrooms.

I quickly searched for another flat. Here too I asked for the same 3 Ws, I had it too for a decent price. The woman said that she was going to move to another flat in the same building. I went to see the flat, it was chill! Cool. I had my own room and bathroom. It was a little further from the other flat and my university, but there was a share rickshaw available, and the woman had all her furniture that she was willing to share! I was thrilled, happy! Good riddance to mother-dependent liar, even!

But guess what, the day I moved– this woman’s phone got stolen. So I couldn’t coordinate with her. I reached the building and the lift was not working. So I carried the same baggage again on another flight of stairs. This time, however, few children playing downstairs in the building, volunteered to help me! It was so cute! Maybe they saw me struggling and thought making a game out of it would be more fun. I even ended up day-dreaming about taking tuitions with such cool kids! Anyhow, I waited at the corridor for two hours and she finally arrived. She gave me a long story,and it turns out that the new flat is not ready to be shifted, and I am going to be staying with her in the current flat in the same building. Let’s call this flat, the lizard house.

This woman was eccentric, bubbly, kind of an exhibitionist. To my initial embarrassment, she used to clean the house only in a towel. I got used to her crazy and she would vent about her love story, or almost-love story and I would give her pretty good advice. She had her mom living with her too, but for the time I was there, the mom had gone back to Kolkata. I was having a good stay at Lizard house, until the damn dumb lizards. Literally, three lizards in my room! Dumb because they’d not even be chased away to safety outside the window. They’d just freeze behind a photo-frame or some fucking furniture. The house, in hindsight, had too much furniture. The woman refused to help me because she saw lizards as good omen, and I stopped giving her good advice in return. I stayed perenially in fear of stamping on a lizard, because yes, the lizards were so dumb (or close to death) that they had lost their ability to crawl on the wall. I kept following up on when we will shift to the new flat, and I realized that it is not going to happen and she has no plan. I came back to Mumbai for Diwali vacations, and searched for a new house online.

I did find one! This one was closer to the college! I booked it immediately. I came back and transferred my stuff with the help of a friend, who was excited that my house was so close to the college. Three Ws- check. Happy roommates- check. No lizards- Check.

Of course, lot of weird things happened to me in this flat too– police involvement, right wing idiot, angry moms, happy moms, sneaky neighbour, awesome terrace, lift noise, friends’ sleepover, and just piling dirt… Anyway, I ended up living here for almost a year. I got myself a cycle! (A nice friend from university stole an abandoned cycle for me, I got it repaired and used it till I passed it on to someone else at the end of the year for free! I am the socialist the world needs!) I cycled back and forth from university. That was it’s own side adventure.

Point being, I changed three flats in my first six month of Hyderabad. My diary reads that I was depressed during that time, but it was not because of these external factors, just general rumination I susceptible too. I did become a lot confident because of these misadventures. But the first year, I felt I didn’t make any exciting friends, was living my introvert life, and chilling alone. Which was a necessary healing period for me, because I was healing from the past and was bracing myself for Round 2389 of Hyderabad– living in a hostel.

I wrote this for a friend I met in Hyderabad, Incomparable*, who was curious about my initial stay. For the rest of it, he was present and mixed in the drama! 🙂

PS: A curious thing about Hyderabad is that you have to pay for drinking water. I spend Rs. 30 on drinking water every week. It used to annoy me a lot. People just accept bad governance and find a way to overcome it. Of course, I have more infrastructure and sociological observations on Hyderabad. But I’ll write about it as I get my writing groove back. Fingers crossed.

*names changed for fun

Not a teen!


I am so thankful I am not a teenager anymore.

I am always suspicious that I am still stuck in my teens. I was worried I can’t point out if adulthood has arrived or not. I have the same rage as a teenager. I carry the sadness that begun then even now.

But I am relieved to realize I am not a teen anymore thanks to the opportunity to teach teenagers.

And I realize I don’t relate to the shit they put themselves through.

In my imagination, teenage years are so wise, so rebellious, revolving around the community of your friends. But then, when I see my students go through the horrible torture that is puberty, I pay my gratitude to the universe. Thank you universe that I am not pandering to the male gaze like that anymore. Thank you universe that I don’t beckon for drama “that much“ anymore. Thank you universe that I don’t get wildly upset about things anymore. Thank you universe that I am not as conscious of my body anymore. Thank you, time.

Thank you, Me. We made it through!

Damn.

I tend to fight with my students as if they are my equals. To my disappointment, I’ve come to realize that they are developing their egos and self-worth and I have the power in the situation. So, I have no option but to calm down and remember that they’re in that weird space between childhood and adulthood, but basically still children. Bah! So, in no way, we are equals. It’s so annoying, because like I said, I fondly remembered my teenage-self as intelligent, rebellious and argumentative that arguing with an adult would’ve been the thrill of my life. Now, I watch my students feel anger or humiliation in an argument, and I have to back off. Maybe the relationship is not there yet, or maybe I am misremembering those times.

I try to relate to where they’re coming from, and sometimes when I witness their group dynamics with all the sexual tension and self-consciousness, I am like- I don’t relate to this shit, thank god! I do remember being all kinds of everything they are. So now, I am just a frank friend who communicates and clarifies all the time. So much of teaching is parenting. It’s emotional labour I didn’t think I was capable of or wanted to do, but I must do. There is no option.

Watching this hilarious show Big Mouth is cathartic. For every viciousness that teenagers tend to throw, in my mind, I imagine all the pathetic that is in store for them in the coming years (all the firsts accompanied with all the traumas), that I have no need for a comeback. Bas, I am not the teen in this situation. Thank you, time! 😛

~

I watched another cool show called “Patrick Melrose” recently with Benedict Cumberbatch playing an addict with ironic humour (again). I don’t like watching sad shows but I decided I need his accent in my life. It was a well-written, well-made show. What stood out for me was how much the character Patrick was stuck in his childhood because of trauma. Even as an adult, his inner child would lay bare in situations that triggered those same emotions.

I reflected about how I am not stuck in my childhood, but haunted by my teenage years. I was discussing one of my students with the school counselor, and she was sharing the background of the kid, and I told her how there are many students who can split their sad home life and school life, and use the happy space of school to succeed and find their self-worth. The counselor agreed but added that in the long run, it’s not a good strategy. I have been thinking about how this was my own strategy as a child, and it worked perfectly fine for me, till when I became a teen and as a growing adult, I had to confront this split because decisions awaited. So, like Patrick Melrose, if there is a time that I remember that left me really vulnerable was my teenage years, and luckily not my childhood. (Lucky because ghanta, your parents will ever give you closure!)

But despite the trauma points in my teenage life, that I have to now and then untangle, I miss it. I miss not having this inner police inside my head. I miss the intensity of every opinion and emotion. Truly, it was the best of times, and the worst of times. I learned so much. I grew so much. I also started writing as a teen, which is now messily part of my ego. I also had a lot of time in my hands to reflect and heal, fortunately.

I miss it sometimes. A little bit. Then I look at my students, and I am like- No, #kthanksbye! 🙂

PS: throwback to my embarassing teenage writing style.

Happenstance


You asked me whether I remembered? I laughed apologetically.

.
I don’t remember any of it, but I am stuck in it.

Being stuck essentially is having all of your time warped.

What is time to an obsessive person? I want to indulge myself and think

of you. How does it matter if a minute of musing could cascade

into years? Let me have it for a minute longer.

.
All my time is yours, but you don’t ever arrive to accept it.

And that’s okay,

because you are happenstance.

The nature of obsession is such that it requires no audience,

no reciprocity, no memory.

It’s an island of pain, content in itself.

.
No, I don’t remember what you want me to remember.

But if you had the patience, I would gladly show off

what I have built on my part of this distorted dimension.

Shaking off inertia


What a long time it has been!

I still can’t write though. It is taking a herculean effort to continue typing through this crappy attempt. My emotional energy has sapped before it is even noon. I have to muster a self-discipline I don’t have when I have to do something just for myself.

I have been thinking about why I have had such a stubborn writer’s block. I can’t make good paragraphs, so here is the stream of consciousness style of saying nothing while still overthinking:

I feel like — (this is how we’re starting sentences today)— in my head, there is a word limit or a length that is “publishable” content. I generally don’t post just one paragraph of good writing here. I would like to do that more often. Write even if it is just one paragraph. But then again, I want to set up context, and that leads to a longer essay  which is then feel like unnecessary and loud and not crisp. So I delete.

Plus, I am bored of the quote – text – quote format. I am distrustful of picking the perfect quote for my piece from the internet because quotes are removed from the context. There is a high chance that the man saying it was a douchebag and I don’t want to relate to a trash men known for quotable quotes like the genocidal maniac Churchill or the racist, casteist Gandhi.

I have also been thinking about my voice. My writing voice is angry, preachy and egoistic enough. I don’t know how to write in any other way. I am bored of myself.

If I do have “this” microphone in my hand, then what am I really saying here? What do I want people to know about me? Why?

I don’t intend this blog to have only good content. I want to allow myself to write about mundane things too. But I find it egoistic to be so loudly pointless.

I still talk to myself a lot. I try out my “humourous” anecdotes on friends. (Aside: The apostrophe only because my humour falls flat with people who don’t adore me, which only means I have to work on my set-up more, and not get too excited about the punchline).  I end up venting or discussing issues or even sometimes write it in my diary. So the urge to write it all for the blog dies out.

I like this blog. I don’t want to let go. So much of my clarity I built here. It is so embarrassingly emotional but I love it. It’s nostalgia with mixed emotions. I love that complicated realm. I am now a bit embarrassed of being vulnerable like that.

I also won’t delete this blog because I don’t want to curate my online life to make it seem perfect or presentable. If I opened that door, I would be constantly deleting because I get embarrassed easily. It is a good reminder of what kind of an idiot I have been, or how chirpy oblivious I was.. And it grounds me. When I see other people grow, it’s good to have proof to remember that I have been that kind of wrong, that kind of pathetic, that kind of loud.

At a certain point, I became really invested in being theoretically sound, and make arguments only rationally “with facts and evidences”, not getting emotional about it. But I’ve realised that’s not my writing style. I can’t talk as if this doesn’t matter to me or that the stakes are not high for me when I am writing it. It’s sexist, this demand to not be “irrational”, or equating lack of emotion to rationality.

A bit embarrassed to be emotional. Not really perfectly rational. So what to be?

This blog was also based so much on the identity of a “teenager”. It’s almost become like a character I play when I am writing for this blog. I am wondering what I am at this age. What does this new voice sound like? Have I developed a new voice? I don’t want to sound like a teenager, and the fear is, I still do. That is also what makes me delete my drafts now.

But I have to write if I have to develop a new voice.

Anyway, I have to treat this blog as a status update and not see it as a creative outlet anymore. I am too cautious to be creative at this point of time. Fingers crossed, a regular writing schedule will rekindle… something.

I can’t bring myself to proof-read this for typos, okay?

.

.

.

Is signing off as Tame SheWolf also necessary? I have always been so pleased with myself about that.. Uff!

Pop music consumer


“When I drive to work, I listen to thuggish rap at a very loud volume, even though the lyrics are degrading to women and offend me to my core. I am mortified by my music choices.”

~Roxane Gay

I have a problem: I devour pop-culture- TV, songs, movies, whatnot. In this post, I shall specifically talk confess about my twisted consumption of pop music.

I have been embarrassed about it. It is okay if you feel cheated. I have been masquerading as a pseudo-intellectual when my one true love has been pop culture. I used to feel super-conscious of it (until recently). I was mortified at the prospect of somebody discovering my playlist. I remember when I used to sit in my friend’s car who plays pop music brazenly, I used to act all detached to the music while I am secretly really enjoying it. Clearly, it has been a really unhealthy journey.

Now, I realize my own fallibility and am more humble about liking stupid things. I have reflected about this and I think that pop culture helps me fan-girl unabashedly. Fan-girling helps me continue to be idealistic about things and people, despite evidence to the contrary.

Sell me sex, Justin Timberlake. Sell me super-rich lifestyle anytime, Bruno Mars; even if I really don’t understand what ‘uptown funk’ really means, and knowing full well that there can be no ethical consumption under capitalism. See, I am also critical of pop music while I enjoy it! I see Nicki Minaj and Beyonce as feminists who kick ass and make anthems for me to sing. I know for a fact* that John Mayer is a douchebag, and I will not even entertain such an idiot in real life, but I do enjoy his music. I can give you lyric by lyric decoding of the kind of douchebaggery it is, but I shall still sing it. Also, because pop music is easier to sing, and they make it intentionally catchy.

The newest earworm for me is this song.

At this point, this video is reparations for all the times women have been objectified in music videos; and I want a million more videos like this one to calm me down.  I don’t relate to the lyrics of ‘trashing a hotel lobby’, but I still sing it. Despite this video “objectifying” men, it is still so diverse and body positive and happy and queer and not even toxically masculine. Womankind is too kind to men, I tell you.

Despicable Me (Not!),
Signing off,
Tame SheWolf

“I’m a great pop culture lover, and I’m not a snob.”

~David Furnish

*don’t challenge me on this, I am the pop culture consumer, remember?

PS: I have deactivated my social media so I read and write instead of scrolling through timelines for ∞ hours.

Exposing Savarna benevolence


Dalit activists and Ambedkarites had faced a lot of backlash from the Savarna media for their criticisms against the reprinting of Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste with an introduction by Arundhati Roy. The media went as far as to misrepresent them by equating them to right-wing goons. This book, Hatred in the Belly, is a collection of essays, speeches and status updates on social media that arose spontaneously in March after excerpts of Roy’s introduction were published in magazines such as Outlook, Caravan and the newspaper The Hindu. Decoding the response of Arundhati Roy to these criticisms (including an open letter by Dalit Camera) exposes her public image of a casteless, secular activist. Though these events may superficially be seen as dealing with only criticisms against Roy, S Anand, and their politics, it is really symbolic of the larger issue of appropriation of Dalit voices. This book represents a diverse group of people, from students, researchers, Dalit activists, writers, to entrepreneurs, etc. who have chosen to speak up from their social location, expertise, and activism. These writings were initially published in Round Table India, a digital media platform that caters to the Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi majority of India.  Now, as a published book, it has become an affirmation of resistance.

Roy is popularly quoted as saying “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” It is amusingly unfortunate to now have the same words ring ironically over the elite writer. The event in question that sparked the debate is S Anand’s publication house ‘Navayana’ reprinting Ambedkar’s undelivered, ground-breaking speech titled Annihilation of Caste [AOC] with annotations and an introduction by Arundhati Roy. The introduction spans 180 pages, more than the actual text itself. The first obvious question raised was- Is this intervention to “re-introduce” Ambedkar even necessary? Ambedkar had first published this speech at his personal cost. Today, Dalit publishing houses and Dalits themselves have kept the book alive in their intellectual culture. The book was already available online for free. It is also cheaply available for around Rs. 45 as a hard copy. In contrast, this annotated version had cost Rs. 525 in its initial release. To add to the mockery, a closer look at the bibliography added to Roy’s introduction reveals that out of the 120 references, half of them are by Savarna authors and less than 15 are by Dalits. A similar pattern can be seen for the references and annotations to the text of AOC itself. In one of the essays in the book, writers James Michael and Akshay Pathak rightly call out S Anand and Roy over this issue as “they do not just appropriate a text, they Brahminise it.” (p. 159) Dalit scholarship is, therefore “deliberately silenced”.

A peculiar but interesting point is raised by Telugu poet and activist Joopaka Subhadra, who is also one of the contributors in this book. The most frequently seen pictures of Ambedkar evoke the aura of a calm, highly-educated man, dressed in western suits and adorning black-rimmed spectacles. Subhadra directs our attention to the picture chosen for Anand’s reprinted AOC’s book cover. She notes how this image of Ambedkar evokes helplessness, and she exclaims “You’ll understand what kind of hatred they nurse in their bellies when you look at this picture.” (p. 108)

AAOC cover

Cover of Annotated version of AOC

 

Gail Ambedkar Cover

Cover of Gail Omvedt’s biography of Ambedkar

Not only does the introduction do injustice to the history of the text and fail miserably to engage with the arguments of the text, it also shifts the reading of the text into a false Ambedkar versus Gandhi debate. There is so much to say about the context of the book, and also its contents. The Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Society for the Abolition of Caste system), an anti-caste organisation based in Lahore, had invited Ambedkar to deliver a presidential address at its annual conference in 1936. After reading his speech beforehand, the organizers had insisted on deleting and diluting the contents of the text. Ambedkar had refused to even “change a comma”, which resulted in the withdrawal of his invitation. In AOC, Ambedkar speaks against not just the Hindu caste system, but he argues that to break the caste system, it was imperative to destroy the religious notions that it was built upon.  Roy does not delve into these matters too deeply. Instead, there are many instances of misquoting and misrepresenting Ambedkar to frame her own arguments. She cherry-picks his quotes to portray him as pro-eugenics, concerned with the ‘civilising of Adivasis’ and equates his pro-modernity stance to his support for the current neoliberal state. Her focus shifts towards Gandhi and his legacy, and she projects herself as a sole thinker to have caught Gandhi’s bluff. Again, Roy is riding on the arguments that Dalit activists now, and Ambedkar then, have constantly been making in order to expose Gandhi’s hypocrisy. In one of the essays, PhD student Murali Shanmugavelan breaks down these unsubstantiated claims against Ambedkar, and articulately spots what Roy misses, that Gandhi, unlike Ambedkar, posed “no threat to western hegemony”. (p. 180)

Another presumption that Roy makes is that Gandhi’s shadow loomed over Ambedkar. Gee Imaan Semmalar, transman and self-professed Ambedkarite, shows how the inverse was true, where “Dr. Ambedkar thwarted Gandhi at every step, exposed him for the fraudulent reformer he was, led the biggest religious conversion in the history of the world, and gave even his enemies their constitutional and fundamental rights and much more.” (p. 151) Dalit Camera, a media organization that reports on Dalit and Adivasi issues through articles and videos on YouTube, wrote an open letter to Roy amidst the controversy. It had critiqued her minimal level of engagement with AOC, and clarified the stand of the many activists whose viewpoints had been distorted in the mainstream media which was jumping to her defence. It also enlisted 12 questions from various Dalit activists, asking her about the aim for writing this essay, enquiring about the scope for misreading Ambedkar in her introduction and questioning the ethicality in using Ambedkar as a platform to talk about Gandhi. In his essay, Semmalar also analyses Roy’s response to the questions of Dalit Camera. He points out that the self-proclaimed anti-imperialist crusader very consciously writes for a white audience. As part of her justification, she dilutes arguments against her act of appropriation with an arrogant suggestion that “more knowledgeable people should go ahead and write more introductions and that hers is just one among many” (p. 149). She wilfully overlooks how her cultural capital and social location helped her publish the introduction with so much pomp in the first place. While Roy reduces the valid arguments of Dalits over representation to an oversimplified matter of whether only Banias can write about Gandhi; Semmalar turns the tables on her as he asks why she didn’t make a comparative analysis that demystified Gandhi in an introduction to, say, Gandhi’s own book ‘Hind Swaraj’? (p. 146). Roy’s response to these criticisms are weak, haughty and reek of wilful ignorance. If there is one thing an “ally” is expected to do, it is to listen.

There are real consequences to the intellectual and cultural appropriation. It “others” the marginalized community. It trivializes not only the struggle of the oppressed but also the violence of the oppressor. The same things that Roy has spoken for the first time, and that too half-heartedly has been said many times over and in much better ways by Dalit thinkers. Her appropriation of Ambedkar does nothing to bring to light the Dalit struggle. Contributing editor of the Round Table India platform, Kuffir demonstrates how in central universities dominated by the Savarna faculty, Roy’s introduction will be used as a link to Ambedkar, as “they will segregate the original AOC from that book” (p. 73), which basically challenges nothing and reaffirms the Savarna world-view, even as it projects itself as ‘anti-Gandhi’. This real ramification of appropriation only helps prejudices persist. Joby Mathew, an ICSSR Doctoral fellow, brings to the fore Roy’s previous tryst with appropriation and her obsession with Gandhi. In her keynote address for the 150th birth anniversary of the social reformer Ayyankali, Roy had ‘preferably ignored’ the Dalit icon too. Roy’s agenda to pit Dalit revolutionaries with Gandhi limits the discourse over their legacies, and keeps bringing Gandhi forcefully, unnaturally into focus. Mathew also sees this strategy for its unoriginality, as he adds, “a person like Arundhati criticizes Gandhi by using the foundation created by Ambedkarite movements” (p. 201). Roy has been recycling the same arguments over and over again.

Another contributor in ‘Hatred in the Belly’ is the teacher and founder-editor of Insight Young Voices, Anoop Kumar who recognizes the marketing logic of Navayana for what it is- a messiah complex. With no hesitation, S Anand and Roy both proclaimed that their over-priced repackaging of AOC was not directed towards Dalits, but for the upper castes that are yet to read Ambedkar and the western academia “for whom caste is just some exotic Hindu thing” (p. 88). Kumar expresses his pain and contempt over the hypocrisy of this “generosity” that one is supposed to be grateful for, and silently, uncritically swallow. The messiah status that is also reinforced by her fans and the media nexus as it “…provide(s) you (Roy) so much space on issues they care two hoots about” (p. 114), the same space that “is so cruelly denied to us, is shut forever” (p. 113). It is no surprise that appropriation is often seen as unproblematic and harmless. However, in such instances, one can clearly see how a privileged person can be lauded for saying and doing the same thing that the community has been persecuted for. Roy profits from sensationalizing arguments that Dalit thinkers have been ostracised and silenced for. To accept the republication of AOC as a benevolence granted by the Savarna publishers as a means to give Western exposure to Dalit struggle belittles the very struggle.

This book, Hatred in the belly, delves deeply into the politics of appropriation. It deconstructs the title of Roy’s introduction with its symbolism of the doctor and the saint, beginning the text itself on a comparative note. It argues for readers to engage with the pain of the Dalit experience before talking about caste discrimination. It may very well be an instruction on what not to do if you call yourself an ally. In summary, the book successfully manages to connect various angles to the issue- the history of the Brahminisation of subaltern art and culture, the current realities of Dalit publishing and reading spaces, the critical analysis of Roy’s texts and S Anand’s unthoughtful anti-caste farce, and the very real implications on the lived reality of Dalits due to such appropriation. The diversity of the authors in this compilation is symbolic of the diversity within the struggle. The publication of the book is a victory in itself, and a fitting response to the active silencing that the Dalit activists have had to face by the Savarna elites in the media.