Many many years ago, I decided that it was time for me to move out of Calcutta. Coolest choice in option was Pune. So I traipsed along, across the country, to this gorgeous city I later went on to adopt as one of my many 'homes'. After getting lost several times over, I finally found the Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women's Studies Centre, (the department of Gender Studies). I fell in love with the name to begin with. Still in my throes of utopian dreams of changing this nation, I quivered with thrills that I would perhaps be at a Centre which began with the name 'Kranti'. (I later found out it was named after someone and not for the purpose of fueling rebellion but more on that later!)
At the Centre, I found the orientation room, and was doing a quick dekko across the room, when this vision strode in.. sylph-like, clad in black..all black..the short shorn hair had a sheen of henna…and the eyes…the eyes were deeply shadowed, sunken, and looked at you like she could look through you. (Years later, I would liken her to Lisbeth Salander )
Riveted by the black combat boots, I barely registered her welcoming us to the Women's Studies Centre. It was my welcome to University. To a world about to go topsy-turvy with an onslaught of theories, friends, trips, dogs, people, adventures, life. The game had begun. My world was about to change.
The combat boots lady came to class the first day. Wearing a t-shirt with a slogan in Marathi emblazoned across the front. Yeah baby! This University was gonna rock my world. And boy! How it did!
The first person to question my stolid silences was this woman. She was no longer just fascinating. She had become my nemesis! What followed was torture of a different kind. This woman woke me with phone calls every morning - 'you have to be in class in an hour'. She questioned my aversion to religion. She ripped apart my term paper and made me re-think my dissertation. She called me a 'rebel without a cause'. She poked & prodded & yelled & nudged & hinted & commented & cried & hugged & screamed at me on a daily basis. We agreed, our Libran horoscopes were the reason for this love-hate relationship we had. We disagreed on theories of psychedelic trance.
I'm sitting on my verandah today, staring into the lush green forest covering the hill opposite my beautiful house…(yes, I can't stop showing off sorry!) I'm lost in nostalgia, re-thinking my theories of culture, re-planning my rebellion. I finally have a cause. I finally have my guiding theories. She gifted me a book documenting rebellion in the heartlands of my cause. I finally have my guiding religion. She introduced me to the Dalai Lama's writings. I no longer indulge in stoic silences. I write. She used to religiously read my blogs. And wrote me e-mails about how my 'Uni-pet' missed me & followed all who 'smelt like me' (Yes Sharmila, I got that lil dig there ok!). I remember how she described Goa to me once. And years later, when I moved here, I agreed wholeheartedly on her description on how monsoon made these forests look like Pan went on some herbal hallucinations. She held me as I wept over how shooting stars were a sign from this universe that my long-deceased friend knew I was thinking of him. And patiently listened to my rants about 'bewafaa dosts' I'd acquired.
This woman was a celebrated author. And a theoretician. On feminism. The Ambedkar movement. I loved how she listened with fascination when I attempted to juxtapose Baul music with psychedelic Trance. She laughed helplessly when my friend sailed into University one morning singing "I'm in love". She didn’t laugh so much when this friend sung the same as an excuse for not having handed in her term paper. She hugged her when the new-founded love faced its first dent. And rejoiced when it survived the usual battering college deadlines & schedules tend to hammer on to new romances. She sniggered with us when she heard we'd named our favourite dog after a much-acclaimed writer. Sorry Mr. Writer, it was just our way of taking revenge for having to study your theories dude. She talked about her smoking habits, and how it had ravaged her. And argued about whether or not theories about smoking pot could be allowed in dissertations. And agreed to let me study those theories. She introduced me to the alternate world of caste, culture, nationhood and feminism. She introduced me to the fact that a student can question a professor in a classroom. And that it's ok for the professor to say 'I don't know'. She taught me that I have a voice and that I should speak up. And not just blabber, but support my theories with conviction. This Centre did fuel rebellion. It made me who I am today. She taught me that regardless of how old you are, someone as awe-inspiring as her will be 'Ma'am' forever. Even when blurted out by mistake in a professional, we-are-adults-here situation. She taught me it's alright to aspire to be alternate.
Ma'am, I know you're chilling right there, in the star-studded sky of souls who've moved far from mankind's grasping reach. I know you're exploring right there in those neon-green forests of your beloved Goa. Your theories of multiple layers of oppression blew my mind. You were behind the pleasure of being able to say ever after that I SAW Angela Davis. You proof-read my first ever attempt at critical writing. You critiqued my ideas of neo-hippies hoping to eke an alternate existence in this consumer driven world. You even wrote my mom an email about how you love how I've 'grown up'. I think the email signature floored you huh?!
Today, as I stand on the brink of jumping into yet another skirmish with sinister-exploiters-of-all-people-&-animals-oppressed, I think of you. You were the one who provoked me into becoming this "Rebel with a large Cause". And whenever I feel like I cannot carry on, I will think of words you would use to keep me going. To talk. Discuss. Disseminate. Be rational. Be kind. Have faith. Question. Debate. And if need be, Fight the Fight Alone.
I know there's gonna be a shooting star out there tonight :)