Podcasts Were Made For Women Hosts, and Other Insights from My Fresh, Selective Romance with Them

Look, I know that I’m probably late to the party. It shouldn’t be surprising, given that we live in an overwhelmingly visual world. TV, cinema, advertisements, newspapers, books and even massive billboards have clouded my headspace for years. FM radio was relegated to car rides after my parents’ generation, or maybe #only90skidswillknow to listen to radio jockeys’ hyper-modulating voices without acute second-hand embarrassment. *Cringe*. It took me three semesters of college to realise how saturated I was with visual stimuli. My music playlist was getting old, and had inescapable associations to past selves I was trying to forget. It took a lot to truly be invested in a new TV show. And that’s when I turned to podcasts.

Of course, I’d briefly listened to feminist podcasts like Behenchara Diaries, Backtalk and Chuski Pop before. I never dared to miss the weekly Facebook Live show called Feminist Snack Break (not technically a podcast but I’ll count it, thank you very much), and so had an inkling that something cool’s going on down there in the podcast world. Now, my transition was deliberate. A Facebook post and many Bitch Media listicles later, what I hit was nothing short of a goldmine.

I don’t mean to exaggerate despite my inner pop culture snob: it’s only been about three months and a handful of shows. I’m binge-listening to at least two shows at a given time-period. These shows are decidedly those hosted by women: white women, South Asian women, American Muslim women, Latinx women, Asian women.

“Look. Listen. Look and Listen.” It’s not easy to listen to these things. I can’t just pick up anything; I’m very picky. It doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, I haven’t come across anyone who’s said, “Oh yeah! I can pay attention to every word.” It seems to me that it runs against a culture that’s only talking, never listening.

But these women? I can’t get enough of them.

I’ve tried dude podcasts, podcasts with some dudes… the whole thing. Some of them are great: they’re sensitive, they’re about cats, super political, informative, and I love a good listen, once in a while. However, the specific type of podcasts that is loosely structured, full of banter, extremely funny and giggly, make me “nuts-o”. I’ve started picking up words and mannerisms. They make me think, laugh, learn and engage with problematic faves. My head has begun to sound like them. I’ve come to believe that this specific medium easily lends itself to the female perspective(s). Women and podcasts were made for each other, and here’s why:

The hosts talk to each other, over(lap) each other, slip into each other’s monologues, sometimes start to sound like the same person, add to each other’s points, play along with each other’s jokes, and at no point does this lively exchange become tedious to follow. There’s a certain exhaustion women try to escape, that comes from being trapped in conversations with men, or in extremely masculine spaces (which, let’s be honest, is… everywhere). Picture any standard conversation about feminism. There’s a massive pressure to be non-personal, to pander to the masculine/male, logical “default”. In order to even be heard, one must be expertly articulate, argumentative, crystal clear, dominating, either interrupting or resisting interruptions, an follow a perfect, linear premise-conclusion form.

I’ve often seen dudebros incorrectly deploy terms from philosophy and logic in order to tone police women, victimise themselves, minimise lived experience, and in a word, oppress. It’s also a larger structure we’re up against: a tradition that says women aren’t funny, that women’s voices are always “too” something, that sets up an unjustified distinction between emotion and reason, and that claims women need to hold their shit perfectly together while dealing with their oppressions. It makes us desperate: where is the room to push for and reimagine alternate paradigms to comfortably tell our stories? What are the narratives and logical structures that we can create? Where can our voices go to not be hijacked by the status quo?

If you’ve ever listened to My Favorite Murder or The Bechdel Cast, you’ll notice the possibilities.

Without the pressure to move causally from one statement to the next, hosts can make a point, have a next sentence be totally unrelated, can digress for a whole 10 minutes, transition into gibberish, and have mutual licenses for interruption and apologies without exercising any significant power or privilege over the other person.

Sure, part of this is standard improv and so many male hosts are hilarious, talented and ingenious at it. But it’s not so much about who’s talking as much as it is about how. If intellectual, media and other discourse spaces are embedded with misogyny, and have a long history of male domination and perpetuation of masculine/masculinist impulses, this form itself becomes subversive.

On one of the episodes of My Favorite Murder, a true crime comedy podcast usually with fun anecdotes in the first half and murder stories in the second, co-host Karen Kilgariff recounts a review by a dude who claimed to like the murder-stuff, but had a unique issue with what he called “female ramblings”. Karen replies on the show, “I could not stop laughing… what the fuck else if not female ramblings is on this fucking podcast?!” It reminds me of reading Hélène Cixous last semester, on the phallocentrism of expression. She urges women to write from within the system, and “to dislocate this “within,” to explode it, turn it around, and seize it; to make it hers, containing it, taking it in her own mouth, biting that tongue with her very own teeth to invent for herself a language to get.” Cixous’s claims are, of course, guided by the specific revolutionary potential of writing, but perhaps one could think about her characterisation of feminine “explosion” in relation to podcasts.  

Every conversation in a non-scripted podcast necessarily unfolds in multiple directions i.e. non-linearly. It’s a constellation of thought and engagement. There’s a very kitty party style liberation to it. Unlike listening to lectures, debating, or writing short academic papers — which are other things I do with my life a lot, podcasting doesn’t need to employ thesis statements that go on to accomplish one claim after another to build an argument. Instead, usually, they have a nucleus of intent, around which an hour unfolds. It requires the listener to listen between the lines. Correlations, causations, accusation, irony, sarcasm, familiarising– all become doubly playful. What’s actually said, the order it’s said in, and what seems to be implied can be quite misleading. It becomes possible– for instance, to simultaneously talk about women’s fear of being murdered and make jokes about serial-killer Ted Bundy (who raped and murdered many women in the 70s). It becomes possible to flirt with the borders of what’s appropriate, without being politically incorrect, violent or offensive. (Although women– especially white women fuck up quite a bit, and everyone needs to be called out.) It becomes possible to learn from mistakes without defending your privileged ego: “Every film has a blindspot, because every person has a blindspot,” one of the hosts on The Bechdel Cast once said. It becomes possible to be irreverent and still not minimise important issues. Simultaneous nuance and accountability– something men constantly assert that feminists cannot accomplish– is effortless.

This is at the heart of resisting masculine hegemonies in how we think, talk and listen. It’s also a great challenge to pop culture itself– here you find women lifting each other up, refusing each other’s unnecessary apologies, having empathy, and even being jarringly assertive, rude or badass when required. Here you find women snorting and grunting while laughing, which, I swear to God, I have never heard on any media. Never!

When The New York Times published a deplorable profile on a Nazi sympathiser, Dahlia Grossman-Heinze and Amy Lam made insanely relatable dying whale noises, and yell-talked throughout the episode without once faltering in their strong beliefs, arguments and oppositions. Caitlin and Jamie have soothing tones and soft laughter; they make me feel sleepy, entertained and mansplaining-free. Girls at Dhabas make me long for Pakistan and its feminist friendships. Stray episodes of other shows keep me humble and patient.

I live in a hostel at college. The academic pressure is high, and each semester is a greater test to one’s balance and well-being than the last. Bureaucratic processes, privilege and capitalism all blend into each other here. My roommate goes home almost every weekend, and I have the room to myself. Family is a fraught experience. Rifts in my friendships ripple out onto my self-esteem. They unsettle me, topple me over. There are moments of isolation, there are nights of crying. Growing up and running 20 needs so much shape-shifting. These women keep me company. They are my friends. We all fight the good fight together.  It reminds me of a meme that could not be more accurate:


It’s also the listeners. The Facebook groups that accompany these podcasts– one of which I co-created recently, make me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. Some would dismiss that as armchair activism, but it forges solidarities miles apart. A certainly more reliable way to find friends, given that anything else puts me at unfiltered risk of encountering an alt-right moron or a misogynist. Folks of all genders on these groups raise money for NGOs, push forth ways to take action, and share work experiences. They talk about their difficult lives/traumas/anxieties and how the podcasts help them cope, and at the simplest, come together every week. They post pictures and articles of their dearest obsessions. They find quotes, sayings and profound lessons from these episodes and turn them into gorgeous lettering, art, T-shirts and other merchandise. And they buy each other’s creations. They receive their fellow-listeners’ tragic stories in respect, silence and encouraging comments. They stand up and #resist, and call out shitty men (and women). They pay attention to how I feel in a conversation, and reach out politely to clarify, admit, or disagree. I crave these constructive environments.

These are the reasons why when I listen to a dude’s voice on a podcast, it’s a frazzled experience. Another podcast-savvy female friend has echoed this sentiment; in fact, originally made me locate my vague discomfort. Dudes exist on every other fucken’ stage anyway, what a pleasure to feel like a man is out-of-place somewhere. I’ve found fun podcasts hosted by asexual women, black women, and those with delicious Indian accents that I rarely hear represented. We should be giving more of our time and ears to them. It’s important to acknowledge the privilege that accompanies access to these podcasts — both to listen and to make them, but I also believe that they are only dawning upon us. Watch out. A violent takeover is coming, and I’m here for it. I’m gonna go get my ice cream, and hope I never run out.


Dear Devashree,

Written at Fearless Collective’s In My Name: Open Letters In the Park.


Devashree Somani


Someone who can sneak into your room at 3am, without prior notice or objection.

Dear Devashree,

When I hurriedly texted you an hour ago telling you that Shilo– Shilo escorted me at Cubbon Park, you replied, “shut up and tell her I love her”.

And since that’s what I love most about us, I decided to write this letter to you.

Sometimes I wish I could take what makes our friendship and sprinkle it out in the world. Like confetti, like pixie dust, like rose petals.

And then imagine how many exasperated nights of being under the blanket with green tea, discussing campus politics on the Delhi metro, and well, procrastination there would be. But above all, I think there would be more connection. This extremely precise way we tap into our mumbling, and our exhaustion with the madness of the world around us.

Above all, ours is a bond of solidarity.

Coupled with extensive tagging in memes, and occupying a classroom and listening to music while it rained outside. Sometimes, I get scared of how much we agree with each other. Say the same things. Fail awkwardly to express / support. Maybe it’s not a good idea for the world to be like us.

But then I remember that we’re like the sun and the moon. We come from vastly different places, and we’re going different places, but we wouldn’t mind sharing some light.

What was even worth doubting, we are champion collaborators. The A team. Time never hinders our mission (only sleep does). Skype calls, Google docs, budgets and shopping lists.

We could run the world.

If we did, or if I could figure out how to do the confetti rose petal pixie dust thing, It would be a slightly better place.

Maybe it kind of already is.

Not All Men

Note: This was written for The Vagina Monologues, Sonipat. It is a spoken-word poem and is most effective when performed or read aloud. Go ahead, anger is knocking at the door.


“Do You Feel Safe In Your City”–
I see a content campaign
“Share your story with us!”, they say,
But I find the question absurd.
And unanswerable.

As I think, to myself, of course I don’t feel under direct threat all the time

And I manage to navigate,
More or less,
Get from here to there,
Without getting raped or killed or stalk—oh wait, the last one’s a lie

But apart from that,

It’s okay. It’s safe.
I feel distanced from the Brigade Road incident,
Like it happened to “them” and it happened “there” and “then”
And like that can’t be the same city I head to Blossoms by myself in
So yeah, safe,
I guess,
more or less.

A male friend I was having a conversation with
Had a revelation.
He just couldn’t wrap his head around
When I pointed out how the roads
Never felt like mine
And how I never belonged in public spaces
which were by default meant for men.

How women are just people in transit.

Leaving from somewhere “safe, more or less,”
To somewhere “safe, more or less,”
The loitering the waiting the leisure walk the chai sutta
Never come without a throbbing in the stomach
And 7pm meant the voices in my head taking over– time to head back,
As nice penis-people would promise me a cab, tell me it was okay,
that I could stay a little longer, and that they understand the danger,
ask me to text them when I reached
somewhere “safe, more or less”.

He realised he had never felt it in his skin,
never known what it was like to cross the road and feel like you don’t own the traffic.
And it was so alien, to me, to not shrink oh-so-slightly
Cringe about getting those groceries,

There’s something so goosebumps and smog and a thousand headlights eerie
How differently we occupy the city
that you’re so nostalgic about when you write that Indiatimes piece
And say women’s institutions are the problem
oh what a fuckwad you are,
And you don’t realise that ‘do you feel safe in your city’
makes no sense because
safe means different things to us.

And I’m fighting the patriarchy in my own head to look you in the face,
and the patriarchy in my mom to wear the clothes you see me in,
and the patriarchy in the mirror to nod me an approval,
and the patriarchy in my father’s narrow eyed looks to
get out of home.

And YES not all men will know how closely we hug our little freedoms
that are “offered” to us, like a separate bathroom and bed and a chair and pillow and a
plate to eat in
while menstruating.
At least i’m not walking to the well to bathe.
YES not all men will ever know why we’re always in a hurry–
maybe that’s why we take so much time dressing up– it’s the only place the only time we
can stretch for ourselves before we have to contemplate
how best to serve misogyny’s needs.
YES not all men will ever know how I sit in a corner and smile
at racist sexist homophobic casteist fascist mental-illness gossip–
the patriarchy in men and women and kitty parties and office cabins and tea cups

and YES not all men–
HELL, NO MAN will ever know how we gulp down stories like medicine.
Stories that tell us oh it’s so much better now
that me studying in a different city has meant resisting an army of fears with
that going from marrying at 18 to doing a BA Hons has taken decades,
and that in your imaginative laziness in saying “not all men”,
I’ve realised that my internal GPS of calm has
broken down.




Things I Am Not Allowed to Touch During My Period


my soft, cosy,
warm, absolutely out of this world,
comfort, and that is only
the beginning.


food and clothes,
unless dropped from a few inches up
into my hands.

i am careful not to spill
my impurity everywhere.


god, (i mean metaphorically, because
really only the men in the house can)
not that i want to.
but it’s fun watching them go
from breathing down my neck
forcing me to write hymns in Devanagari
30 times a day,
to refusing to request me
for silence.

my mother shuts the curtain in my face.

they all hope a metal idol hasn’t taken note of my existence.
or that my father hasn’t heard my voice.


once upon a time,
bleeding meant bawling
tears and snot down my face
hormones down my system
i’d try to “reason” with
testosterone, more like
and fail.

you see,
they could always touch their box of
pseudo-scientific explanations.

taboos always play
hide and seek with me.
courage and patience counting down,
7, 6, 5
i call tomato.


tomato-like red
nobody touches my head… obviously.
but don’t worry,
because they say i should be grateful.
that i don’t touch their stories as my
stories of walking to the well to bathe (source: grandmother),
washing their cloth pads and not bathing for days (source: aunt),
sleeping on thin mats (source: mother)
at least we’re okay with
giving you a mattress,
my mother says.
an attached bathroom, a pillow,
disposables so you have less to wash,
your period is a luxury! change takes time. it is not overnight.

but my defeat is. i don’t know if she’s trying to make me feel better,
or exhibiting how lazy they have been.

i’m going to explode.


i grew tired of the conversations.
i needed to “calm down”

it’s like playing a game of lava,
except the lava is all over the house;
it has you cornered.
and the volcano is in your

the sofa has been separated, carefully, so
not a thread is left behind,
from its twin
so you can take it hostage.
a second class status,
simply normalised.


waters, liquids,

the crimson rule: what reaches the dark side,
stays in the dark side.
there are code words:
in – not bleeding
out – bleeding
rinse your clothes,
yourself, on the fourth day.
dry your lunchboxes,
your hair
for revival.

i hope someone tries to write a book on these rules; they’d be surprised at the inconsistency.
and how, like good girls, we remember them all.


without benevolence.
it topples over
a trail of relatives.
move, before they fall on you.
don’t taint their day, make them
take that bath, sprinkle
holy water on all that has your trace.

my house is three people,
and a hundred and twenty eyes.
no wonder adults past their mid-life crisis
can’t make decisions without dogma.


unlearning. at university,
my own autonomy
baffles me.
but i still feel undeserving, sometimes.


i watch my cousins go through
the same cycle,
almost congruent with the menstrual one.
we smear the blood on our faces,
and become sisters-in-crime
when no one is looking.

we have no option.

skip holidays, can’t getaway,
absorb complicity like a Whisper napkin.

i shut my eyes.
it really is a period
they are sleepy and painful


is a battle,
without an army.
my comrades are
busy, reinforcing,

only the stain lives on.


Why Hindi Medium Made Me Uncomfortable

“Gareebi mein jeena ek kalaa hai.”

When I stepped into the theatre hoping for a badass film that challenged the English hegemony, and put my internalised English-speaking snobbery and forgotten vernacular histories on fire– that dialogue is one thing I didn’t expect to hear. At least not from the character of a man living in poverty, trying to support his family and admit his son into a reputed school.

Now, before I discuss further, I want to acknowledge where I come from. I was born in an upper caste, middle class Hindu family, perfectly oblivious to the troubles my parents must have endured to give me a primary school kickstart in life. My lived experience has been studded with advantages and comfort; it is possible that some of my critique is an effect of my position in society. While you read this, feel free to point out parts of my analysis that you find problematic or hypocritical. Because when I watched the trailer, and decided to be invested in the film— what three hours, psychological-emotional trust and all—I wanted these things to be shaken.

Back to the film. It starts off with a long unnecessary backstory of this dude working at a tailor’s shop falling for a female customer who wants to get a specific design stitched for herself.  She gets thwarted (of course) by the supposedly respectable middle-aged male tailor for requesting a back cut that’s “too deep”, and her mother is quick to pour her anxieties over her (of course). So the dude, the younger Irrfan Khan, offers to secretly make it for her (of course) and then spends a song sequence trailing behind her (read: stalking). We leap to fifteen years after this incident, and they’re married (…of cou—you get the drift).

I was already visibly annoyed by the off-note, right at the beginning, when they decided it was cool to add another sequence in Irrfan’s now massive apparel venture, casually fatshaming two women customers. The ‘ridiculous, mildly delusional Punjabi Delhiite women’. (Irrfan Khan swoops in and fancies them with lies— of course.)

No plot development so far. We’re introduced to the dilemma, Saba Qamar makes one of the film’s rare smart, astonishing and genuine statements about how English is not just a language, but a class— and soon, things seem to be turning upward. They move to a richer colony wanting to fit in, and with convincing performances, hurl sharp critical jabs at the ‘sophisticated elite’. All this while dancing to classic “ohohoho” at a ‘high culture’ party. The film recognises how circular this process is— of belonging to a certain class, having access to a good English education, and sustaining themselves in that class— through their failure. At some places, it even highlights questions about what it means for Saba’s character Mita, to aspire to such ‘sophistication’, and what might inform her of these ideas. For instance, the scenes where she tries to socialise with other mothers, and gets put down for it, are telling, even in all their lack of subtlety. The subplot of hiring an admissions consultant, the heavy competition among toddlers, undertones of paternalism, and the madness— were all dealt with well.

However, somewhere around halfway through the film, it crashes down like a Jenga pile whose bottom block had slipped off. Royally.

The film’s writers decide to make the protagonists, in their struggle towards admission for their daughter at Delhi Grammar School, “pretend to be poor” after filing into the RTE quota. Uh…ok. Now, I understand that Bollywood films have this constant itch to be over the top, wacky and outrageous in their satire. That’s how we roll. And this development was all those things… well, everything except satire. While the RTE move highlights the system’s corrupt nature, and the predicament of those who lack power, the protagonists shifting to a smaller locality of limited means, with their Pizzas and Rs. 20 mineral water, made me lose them altogether.

The film’s dialogue seemed to periodically balance things out, with the Pizza discovery scene mentioned above, and the fleeting realisations that struck the misled couple. Other than that, there was a palpable lack of reflection/self-reflection in the making of that whole space. Full of sentimentalisation of poverty, the film coloured them as ultra-noble to comfort the arses and farces of the status quo beneficiaries.  

In his new dwelling, Irrfan Khan makes a friend in Deepak Dobriyal. He decides to “train” Irrfan Khan, who he understands as a newbie to the ‘poor way of life’, in how to live with less. He produces a train of punchlines about being a “khaandaani gareeb”. He risks his life by getting in front of a moving car, to draw money out of the driver to pay for Irrfan’s daughter’s admission. People might be stretched to take severe actions that I’m not aware of—but out of nowhere, in the middle of Irrfan drawing money out of his bank account—this whole scene looked, to me, like a patronising comforter. Like an instrument to make Irrfan realise what he’s doing to these virtuous, Good Samaritans. Like their dues hinged on their character, and so did the acknowledgment of their conditions. As I sat in an auditorium full of laughter. I cringed, not the kind I came looking for.

Well, this goes on. Parallelly, Irrfan and Deepak Dobriyal bond along with their families, and Saba Qamar keeps making that annoying “humaari beti depression mein jaake drugs lena shuru kar degi” comment, and they end up unintentionally stealing Deepak’s son’s seat for their daughter. Now that the mission is over, they pack their bags and sense of guilt, and head to their air-conditioned home. Well, of course everything else melts away but their massive conscience—and this is the part that confirmed my suspicions, even the ones I’d been offering the benefit of doubt for—what do they decide to do?

Charity. They go to the school Dobriyal’s son now attends, and decide to (first, sponsor one kid’s education, and then they see the kids do talented stuff—because of course, only then,) furnish the whole school and provide for all the kids with benches, stationery and… wait for it, English books. It is understandable why this would be a source of pride, and even the expected course of action for the school, kids, parents and the protagonists. Hindi Medium was always about getting into that “class” and how difficult that is, and not an impossible, heroic abandonment of these standards, that neither the middle class nor the underprivileged can afford. But it was a drastic tangent. What had this three hour rollercoaster become?

Wow let us steal a kid’s seat because of our predicament but then we’ll do this token thing, and spend our money on these kids because wow redemption totally. Is this a level of satire that I haven’t unlocked or are they freaking serious? I found myself asking this question a lot, because between the unthoughtful scripting and massive praise the film had garnered, my discomfort lay sandwiched. To those who I’m sure will call this fiction, I refuse to separate the story from its politics. To those who will call it realistic, I have tried to acknowledge the parts I consider the film had the right to feature. For me, a film has two jobs. To present what is, and to peddle what must be. That is, in seeing what is, I also want to be moved by the self-consciousness of the film (if not its characters. I know for a fact that a film can have sexist and racist characters, or be a period-drama and treat these ills delicately. It’s not easy, and I don’t confess I can ever make anything that balanced, but I definitely know when I see it, and when I don’t.) Hindi Medium, for me, slipped. Even the characters in the film that were supposed to portray a particular living condition, were so clearly written by people who knew nothing of it. And they decided to go with their “omg he said gareeb hahaha” humour.

The film felt confused, and it unsettled me. The applause for Hindi Medium is roaring, but I do not understand. At all. And as a friend pointed out, how was Hindi supposed to do the job anyway? Hashtag Hindi imposition.

Anyway, to complete the plot, there’s a climactic battle against the corrupt Principal, who herself was an underprivileged child (character motivation is A1). Irrfan Khan defies his wife, becomes the hero (because of course, her worries that we were all rooting for are suddenly irrational because penis), and gets the public school students to perform for the rich parents’ crowd (what…???). He then slips in one of those non-impactfully melodramatic speeches (and in the process, lifts his accountability significantly by going—Oh I didn’t care so much about this English school thing, I did all of this because my wife cared.” Typical penis.)

It is not like the film didn’t have potential. Rewind a few scenes, The Principal makes a wonderfully astute comment about how she felt discriminated as the only kid from a lower class in a school full of kids who had perfectly ironed uniforms and branded stationery. They seemed to be onto something for a moment there. Perhaps a realisation that it needs more than a benevolent seat to bridge gaps and open the doors to equality and prosperity, and that the onus is on everybody sans the saviour complex—but they literally do nothing with that insight. Nothing.

What was most disappointing about Hindi Medium for me is that lost potential. Of laughing at our English-speaking English-thinking egoes more fully. Of realising through a well-told story what we are part of. The film, however, ends with Irrfan and Saba’s daughter joining the reconstructed public school, and… well, a happily ever after. We, of course, go back to our houses, switch on the air-conditioner, and read our high-culture stuff without care or thought because we’ll always have charity, amirite?

we’ve come so far;

Prompt Credits: Nandini Varma.
First line is from Fink’s Sort of Revolution.
we’ve come so far; it feels so real.
but i have trouble convincing
sometimes i think of how all this
is an elaborate dream.
packed with colours, sounds, smells,
orangeish pink skies with low horizons,
and an eerie believability.
shipped back and forth.
my sanity hinges onto me by a single fact:
my imagination is not so good.
this delirium won’t listen to its own voices
for fear of losing ground.
and i am left hanging
on an airplane of long tears
that carry both loneliness
and anguish.
in transit.

Notes from Semester Two

For many reasons, this was a strange semester. I know what you’re going to ask, but if I knew why, I’d have a more accurate adjective. I think it gets that way now that you’re actually in the muddy waters. The academic mess begins, you don’t have the luxury of starry-eyed “I don’t need to think about grades”, thinking about your writing makes you icky, positioning people around you gets unnecessarily weird, and you feel all your mess-ups intensely. It was also a long semester; “The Curse of the Even Semester”, apparently. (I’m writing on a Google Doc right now, and every minute I find myself reaching for the double-space option.) But I think this semester just happened to me in moments. I was busy oscillating between cringe-worthily hopeful and intellectually exhausted and pessimistic, and I couldn’t fully spot them. Unlike the tiny ladybug in the lawns.

I have so much to be grateful for: the performances (Alok-Vaid Menon, Sarah and Phil Kaye, Khusrau Ke Rang (again), Tajdar Junaid, Shubha Mudgal, Terra Guitar Quartet, Dhruv Viswanath, Soulmate, Indus Creed…whowouldathunk!), The Vagina Monologues (what a thing we pulled off!), the people I have held close for a year now (listen I need to see your faces, thanks), the growth (or so I hope). And a lot to look forward to: TEDxAshokaUniversity, more courses, juniors whoa (be good, kids). But here are some notes from/for Semester two:

Quoting is a Tradition Now

Back when we were still fresh and excited in the semester, I’d scribble down all the Professor-humour, the sass and the profundity during classes. So I just thought I’d document them. They were funny in the moment, promise. I have added context and my deeply personal reactions judiciously as and when required no extra. No filter, and I’m sure this is underestimation because I was so done by the end thanks.

Prof. Gilles Verniers, Social and Political Formations:

  1. On Phrenology. “Religiosity is at the top of the skull… Obviously, it had to be closest to the sky.”
  2. On The Suicide: “Cheerful topic!”
  3. On Mauss, gifts. “I got a fake crystal wine bottle in the shape of a bull (as a wedding gift)… it’s the most bizarre ugly thing… I still keep it because it makes me laugh.”
  4. Okay there was a story about him looking for a house. Contact Vishesh for expert impersonation (Jk he sux).
  5. “A dictator always talks to the nation as a whole, never individuals.”
  6. “Marrying within the gotra is basically to preserve the sanctity and sanity of the collective.” (looking around the house rn, don’t see no sanity m8.)
  7. On nationalism: “It also relies on the sentiment of belonging to something greater than a collective of individuals… when actually, they have just agreed not to kill each other!”
  8. “The Indian State is a strange animal… both strong and weak at the same time. Strong at policing and control, weak at welfare.”

Prof. Sandipto Dasgupta, Political Ideologies:

  1. “When I say the world, I mean Europe (at least for the first half of this course).” #DealingWithEurocentrism 101
  2. “*tries the mic* I feel like Bappi Lahiri. it’s absurd I can’t”
  3. “I mean, you can write a liberal Op-ed in Indian Express, you know… like everybody in Indian Express”
  4. *someone refers to something a female student said*: “Yeah, that’s what she said” Prof: …That’s what she said?? whAT??? What is happening in this class!
  5. “It is a travesty of Rousseau, but we’re going to do him in a half an hour capsule”
  6. “Kind of a Mickey Mouse definition of capitalism is…”

Prof. Jean Marc Deshouillers, Mathematical Thinking:

  1. Class 01: scribbles “Day-zoo-yay” on the board for pronunciation reference.
  2. “In mathematics, we want to be as less ambiguous as possible.”
  3. “Being in Uni means being more autonomous than in high school. You spot an interesting point and write it down. Of course, it is possible that there is no interesting point in this course!”
  4. “Of course, it helps to have some imagination while trying to prove something. But sometimes, you may get the wrong ideas.”
  5. “I don’t erase that because it is my theorem!”
  6. *trying to explain something* “Uh.. what I am saying.”
  7. “Let us take a statement: All cheap chinese watches are unreliable. Don’t say this to the Chinese Embassy, because I’d like to have my VISA renewed.”
  8. “Notation is very recent. That didn’t prevent them (in the 16th century) from doing mathematics… it was a mess!” Later in the same class: “It’s very easy to be a mess in mathematics.”
  9. “Statistics will help you make a decision, but it will not prove anything on its own.” YES TELL EM.
  10. “If you go to France– I hope you go to France– I hope you get a good baguette.”  
  11. On quantifiers and predicates: “It’s not to make abstract bullshit!… If you’re taking notes of this, just say abstract nonsense.”

Prof. Maya Saran, Mathematical Thinking: (She said so many wonderful things, don’t go by this gross version)

  1. On measurement: “There is no precise, but there is a precise idea.”
  2. “It just works.”
  3. On drawing graph-trees: “We want lots of action.” *class of 12-year olds laughs* *Queen Maya laughs* guys pls.
  4. “What we’re doing in our minds is… somewhat made up.” (How can someone be so gentle and wise pls how tell me.)
  5. “Okay, it looks like I got it quickly, but that’s because I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

Prof. Ravindran Sriramachandran, Introduction to Sociology-Anthropology (aka the course with the fantastic readings):

  1. covering Enlightenment* “Europe had ‘arrived’, if you want”
  2. “Participant Observation. In some ways, the term is an oxymoron.”
  3. “Just imagine, this idea of a national culture is the most bogus term one can come up with!”
  4. “We don’t do anything because it means something.”
  5. On Geertz’s Balinese Cockfight: “This essay is like hopscotch.”
  6. On Nuclear Rites: “nuclear weaponry for peace is the ultimate deep play.” WOAH META AF.

Prof. Kranti Saran, Introduction to Philosophy (creating Kranti in da house alwayz)

  1. *writes an ontological scheme, with people and God towards the end* “I saved the false ones for the last.”
  2. “…and God! Everybody’s favourite non-existent object.”
  3. “Oh well, here’s an intention– I intend to levitate to the ceiling. *waits for a second* But it doesn’t happen.”
  4. “NO! There’s something missing in that explanation…*gasp*  God made it happen.”
  5. “Oh well, some people took the shuttle to the campus… I came here on a broom.”
  6. “Are you hot–uh, I’m sorry– are you feeling hot?”
  7. “*does a little dance* …I can’t believe I actually did that.”
  8. *goes on a five minute tangent about an epiphany on Hello Kitty* make it stop I can’t.
  9. “The mark of a conspiracy theory is that there are no accidents, no goofups.”
  10. On retreat to POV and probabilities: “This is the first brick.. The wall is going to come up, and you’re going to pay for it, but..” OHMYGOD.
  11. *Insert dead baby joke* (if someone remembers this, pls jog my memory pls.)
  12. “The fallibilist lives in the gap between truth and certainty.”
  13. “Writing well is one of the easiest ways of standing out.”
  14. “Never be overly impressed about surface similarities.”
  15. Hazelnut… god forbid.”
  16. “I don’t like the word “intersectionality”, but for aesthetic reasons.” All da kidz for whom this week was emotionally unpleasant puTCHYO HANDS UP.

Prof. Hariharan Krishnan, Film Appreciation:

  1. “swalpa adjist maadi.”
  2. “Chumma!”
  3. *a story of Edison’s lawyers being shot dead over film perforations* “Arrey, why are WE being perforated!”
  4. “Film distributors packed with inertia… they want to stay in the status quo as much as possible.”
  5. “1/48th of a second matters! It’s alive!” WHOOOOOSHHHH FRANKENSTEIN THROWBACK.
  6. “Comedy is serious business!”

TA-lking Through It All

I don’t know about you, but I think TAs are massively underrated. We sign up for the Professors– (I think 2019 kids know by now not to fall for course descriptions that much), hoping that they’re engaging, mind-blowing, funny, and charming and all the things you’ve been told about them. But often, TAs are the ones with the magic potion that fills in gaps between your classes and paper writing guidance and questions and ideas you’re stuck on and how curious you’re going to stay through the semester… and basically the whole darn course experience. I’ve been fascinated with their position since I got to Ashoka. How they orient themselves, how they sync with the Professor, what they see themselves as doing, how some of them can be so encouraging… the whole deal. But the TA experience of this semester was just off the roof. All the cool adjectives on this one.

Do you remember your fascination with the supermarket cashier as a kid? Yeah. That was me. The whole time. They were curious, they were sassy, they were kind, they were messier than we were, they were responsible, they were simple and patient, they procrastinated– again, like we did, they had foolish grins and held onto every strand of that naive hope, they were rooted in reality, most importantly they were still learning… they were just. Stunning. All of them. I don’t understand. I could never deal with them without breaking into a wide grin or squealing indecipherably at the next person.

So much would be happening in our lives– submissions, stumbling, having to carry on without direct incentive, friend troubles, campus issues, political ughs. But I’d just look at them and know exactly why I’m there. Why I decided to do this in the first place. Why they’re doing what they are. At the risk of this turning into a repetitive string of thank yous–

For Kunal Joshi and Ahona Palchoudhuri, thank you for making us feel like a family. You do not realise how much you’ve impacted us. Thank you for the goofy moments, for teaching us to pull the European old white dudes from the pedestal by their pants, the courage, the awareness, and the support. Just watching you function was a lesson in autonomy. Thank you for passing on the most exciting stories and the most memorable insights. Thank you for including us in the larger project of our world. And thank you for the glimpses of Belgium (I think Prof. Gilles won the bet!). If I’m not wrong, you’re off to do your Ph.D. We will all miss you terribly. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)

For Ananya Sharma, thank you for listening. Thank you for considering me one of your own (technically I was a second-class citizen geddit), and for modeling for me the kind of patience and persistence I ought to have in matters I care about. Thank you for telling me we need to do this; I now know that even my unwarranted exhaustion is a choice. Thank you for those mails, the exhilarating class on feminism, and the expert balance. It has been great.

For Suneet Singh Puri, thank you for sticking with a clueless bunch. Thank you for the mails and the links and dealing with my naive suggestions with “yup, already seen that one”. (We’ve all been that person at some point, we know how it feels) Thank you for random talk and all the great work! Most importantly, thank you for skipping that weirdass intro to Rajeev Masand every single time. Stick around, maybe. (Also, where is that Construkt T-shirt.) For Ishanika Sharma, from FilmSoc to Placebo to peer-tutoring class to the Kashmir response piece, I’ve always wondered how you keep it all together and still stay warm to my e-mail tantrums and in-person awkwardness. Thank you.

For Ritika Singh, you made math so comfortable. Thank you for always, always being there. For loving us when we signed our attendance sheets, and for cherry-picking the good stuff when we didn’t know what was happening. Thank you for admitting gracefully the stuff on the board that didn’t add up; thank you for making math human. Thank you for making it so interesting, and for the much-needed illusion of mathematical thinking being everyone’s cup of tea. You sedimented what Prof. Saran would shake up in our minds, and I am thankful we had you along the way for answering our flustered e-mails and last-minute scares.

For Alishya Almeida, I know this was last semester, but you TA-made my first semester at college. There’s no way I’d forget that. Thank you for being so encouraging, and for seeing something in me even if I didn’t see it. Thank you for cutting me off when I had to be; it’s the most important thing you’ve taught me. Thank you for getting my ass to work when I was being stubborn. Thank you for all the MCC-talk, and the time and effort and conversation. Great Books was truly great.

This is not to overshadow my gratitude and love for the Professors– I’ve never enjoyed being in a classroom so much, friends and acquaintances– you guys are just too many to name, and I’m terrified of missing people from the list. You know who you are, thank you. I love you. Okay bye.

Anthro-Phil Need Some Chill

This semester was a lesson in being in the process. It was a grand reality check about just how un-cute interdisciplinarity can be. (Not the Symposium… for the most part.) It can be thrilling to find signs of one course in another, but it can also be lots of “oh god, not again” and consecutive classes of “uhhh, but” and disconcerting talks from a backseat in the audience. I think these are kinds of paradoxes and contradictions I’m not used to yet. But I’m sure one day I will realise that interdisciplinarity isn’t so much a venn diagram with smooth overlap. I think they’re more of a 3D spectacle with red and blue sheets I can slot disciplines in, and see a blurry world Inside Out. One day I’ll learn to wear them. For now, I’m just letting them Netflix in The Middle together. (Too many references? Too many references.)

My First Course Audit

I don’t think the OAA ever realised that I (and many others) took 6 courses despite the forbidding instruction. Pls don’t tell them. Pls.

I mean, I’d been to one-off classes last semester, but POL 101 was my first full-course audit. And it held me this semester like a boon. They’re right– Prof. Dasgupta is the most generous, unassuming, knows-his-shit-too-well-for-you-to-fathom, fun and judicious Professors to have. I still remember being confused between the SPF and POL readings syllabus, but we all came so far. Thank you for an extremely rewarding experience. “Do it if you want to!” are the most liberating words a student can hear. Thank you for that perfect balance of concession and responsibility. (I think I will get around to doing the work). I think saying more will just make it more inadequate, but I will keep this close for a long, long time.

Rooming Together

Bhairvi and I mastered space. Sure, we had little tiffs and miscommunications, but that’s mostly because I sucked. She knew exactly when we needed or had to be company, and exactly when we were supposed to space. 416 was a room that could expand and contract, and where the AC never determined how warm it could get. Thank you for dealing with my late-night tiptoeing and the exasperating farrago I was this year.

I think we can sum our motto in a line: sleep during the day, angry rant at night. I look forward to next year, roomie.

For the Seventh Floor 

You were my second home, especially during the last couple of weeks. Thank you for the shelter, the gossip, the food and the love. I rediscovered bonds and pasts, and made new friends in the cozy blankets, soft fairylights, instant coffee, buttloads of work, and collective coping. Thank you for not even being surprised at finding me in a random room (well, mostly either Devashree’s or Swetha/Chandana’s). And I’m glad a lot of us ended the Semester the way we started it. I send love.

Looking Ahead

My sense of time is messed up. But I’m trying to let the fact that it’s been a year sink in. I don’t even know what a year means. I was looking at all the sneaky pictures from this year, all the ones that made it into my “hugger pupper” folder (yes, that’s a thing), and beyond a point, Semester one and Semester two are all jammed together.

It’s cute how they think they can drown us with work and activity, and then send us off with absolutely nothing to do for three months. Don’t they realise we’re millenials? Anyway, I guess I will go back to books and poetry and the home-ness and non-homeness of Bangalore, and (if all goes well), Bhindi. See you next year, after I fall for the trap that is the Monsoon 2017 courselist again. Maybe learning is also about not learning. Not learning better. Not learning to distance. Not learning to flush out drama and bad jokes and puns and memes. Not learning to be tired of cereal. Not learning to be done with the 18 years of embarrassing enthu-cutlet-ness already.
And I can’t wait.