Tag Archives: public

The Venus Flytrap: The #BossBitch With Sweaty Palms

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I spent the weekend at a literary festival where I found myself skirting away from a certain famous author every time I encountered her. We smiled at each other courteously, she probably acknowledging that I was also wearing a Speaker tag, and me because I had no idea what to say to her. But I wasn’t starstruck. In fact, the situation was quite odd: since the age of 14, I had read nearly all her books. Except I’d never quite liked them. To go up to her for a selfie and a handshake felt hypocritical to me, and I reflected on these mixed feelings. Surely her books had taught or given me something? The problem: there was no way I could say what that was without seeming trite, artificial or downright rude.

So I smiled and kept walking each time I saw her, unable to acknowledge the many hours I had spent on her work. She must have found me haughty. The truth was more nuanced, and I had spared her the explanation.

n inverse of sorts also happened. I was among the audience at one session when a male author said something so offensively sexist that before my mind could react, my body did. I stood up and walked out without a thought – but not without a tweet (which didn’t name him) immediately after. Imagine the awkwardness the following day when a case of mistaken identity put me face to face with that author. I introduced myself, and he responded with, “I’m X, the one you don’t like.” Politeness kicked in, and “Sorry” was the first word that flew out of my mouth. And then I regained clarity. “Actually,” I said frankly. “Not sorry at all.”

Back in the authors’ lounge, I regaled my friends with the incident. “Looks like they put you on the right panel!” said someone, good-humouredly. She was referring to an all-woman session called Bitch Please.

These encounters and thoughts on open statements, private musings and the nuances in between all culminated for me at that panel, which was about being a woman in the public sphere. I balked a little, because it’s my words that I see in the world, not myself.  But later, looking at photos from all my sessions, I was surprised by my body language: straight back, crossed legs, direct gaze. Hashtag #bossbitch. If I didn’t know myself, I would have thought I was radiating power. My tension is invisible, even at the session where bright lights, noise and a migraine were making me so uncomfortable that my palms were literally sweating. I suspect many authors guzzle water onstage thanks to hangovers, but I do it as a nervous reflex. I wasn’t lying when I said in one panel that I am deeply shy and anxious. But I have to concede: to an observer, it probably looks like I am. Lying, that is.

Our interior selves react to other people’s public appearances. But it’s our public selves that respond openly to one another. Much falls between the cracks. Which has more integrity: getting the two to align more consistently, or admitting that they just don’t?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on February 16th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

What It Feels Like For A Girl

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I’m glad Meena Kandasamy wrote this piece, and said as much — although I realise there are some difficulties in the manner in which she expressed it — because I do understand what she’s trying to get at at the bottom of it all.

The same issues — of privacy, persona, being a public target — have come up repeatedly in my conversations with other women writers. Some have stopped blogging, restricting their truly meaningful insights and anecdotes to mass emails and Facebook notes. Some turn off commenting on their blogs altogether (the fact that the vast majority of hateful comments come anonymously or under pseudonyms is extremely telling). I moved to WordPress last year because of the flood of  virtually entirely anonymous hateful comments, death threats and frightening gestures I received in the aftermath of having spoken out about the Malaysian apartheid. I became painfully aware that there are people who in the non-virtual world would have tea with me, and then proceed to log on anonymously and try to tear me to shreds.

No one sums up more eloquently what it feels like to be a woman writing under her real name , putting herself out there as she really is and not as some Internet construct of self-portrayal, than my dear friend Petra Gimbad; I post an excerpt from her private note here with permission

“”But we make this choice because having our say is more important than all the fear in the world that assholes out there can create in us. Until you have experienced the fear of being stalked (which has happened), sexually harassed (yep), raped, criticised for being attention-seeking or being attacked personally for your political ideas, you have no fucking clue how scary it is to be a woman and to put yourself out there.”

So I think it’s about gender? Yes. I do.

Pirated Poetry Anthology

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A few days ago, I was walking through Pondy Bazaar and as I passed a few pirated book stalls, a thought popped into my head: imagine if my book was in there. Would I be pissed (well, yes)? But would I also feel a little validated, since piracy equals popularity?

And today I find myself in this pirated poetry anthology.

I took the trouble of downloading the pdf — and umm, that’s not my poem, folks. And apparently, the other 3163 poets in there have poems misattributed to them too. Maybe it’s a matching game?

Some people with alot of time and pot must have decided that poets were an interesting subspecies to conduct reaction research on. Real names, fake poems — in the thousands. I wouldn’t have been particularly miffed if a poem I really did write made it in there, given that in the absence of a credit card or decent poetry sections in my local bookstores, I do read quite a bit of poetry online myself. But neither am I miffed about the identity theft, truth be told. Above all else, I’m curious what the point of this experiment actually is. Own up, folks.