I like to retell the one in which my friend and I locked our English teacher in the Staff Toilet back when we were in Class 12. Harmless for the most part (if you forget the angry teacher). Teenagers fancying a spot of rebellion, giggling the rest of the day, savouring this delicious secret (for years!) as though it were butterscotch icecream.
One gets to hear any number of interesting stories at work. Since the masses come in deciding to be chained to their desks for at least ten hours, they like to spend a couple of hours trading stories.
So what is in vogue?
Without doubt, stories that can be filed under the “women-cannot-be-trusted” category. The girl who had two boyfriends at the same time, the girl who broke up with her boyfriend when a wealthier one came along, the girl who tricked the boy into thinking she’d marry him and later married someone her parents found for her, the city girl who is incapable of compromise, the arrogant girl who won’t learn to cook. While popular culture advises men to not fall in love, men seem to advise each other along the same lines too (taking cues from songs like Venaam Macha Venaam, I suspect).
What else is in vogue?
Horror stories of inter-caste marriages, with details of atrocities committed in the name of honour. Couple runs away to Chennai and gets married, girl’s family invites them home after three months of silence (allegedly to make up), girl and boy are both murdered (their lunch is poisoned). Or this one: Girl’s brothers and father hack her to death because.. Sometimes it feels like I am teleported to Selvaraghavan’s Irandam Ulagam, a world in which fantastic beasts coexist with misogyny (and casteism, in this case), a world where social reform is probably an evil.
I fall into conversation with a boy younger than me, and he goes on to tell me how he would never commit the grave mistake of marrying a girl outside his caste. “My father would kill himself. Or me.” I can’t tell if he is joking. “Why would I do something like that knowing how wrong it is?” I start to lecture him on how accepting this status quo is a terrible thing to do, until he looks at me in a way not much different from the way the Dowager Countess looked at her maid Miss. Denker. “You’ve read too many novels [Denker]. You’ve watched too many moving pictures.”
I am aware of these occurrences – of the youth found dead, of the violence that erupts following such an event, more newspaper headlines that we skim over, feeling too disturbed to go into sordid details, click bait on websites until the eye rests on a link to panda videos, thinking we are in a cocoon above and beyond this filth, impenetrable in our urban bubbles that we imagine to be alternate universes.
But we live in this muck too.