Last Thursday, as I entered my home after the Johannesburg event, “An Evening with Arundhati Roy”, there was a fair amount of sulking and foot dragging as I placed my unhappily unsigned copies of “The God of Small Things” and “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” on my kitchen counter. The thicker of the two books, the older sibling to me, sighed before tipping over and as I reached beneath it to set it straight my fingers found something far more insidious and shattering than my unsigned books. I found something designed to supress the voice of the Brown people, I found something overflowing with supremacist, white colonial power. I found Post-Its.
Personally, I’m fond of the Post-It (I know, it’s abhorrent). They punctuate many of my books, their bright, prickly colours reaching out like eager hands ready to embrace me. But of course, that was before I had experienced the shock and horror of the Post-It. And I had Green Lipstick to thank for my introduction into the unsavoury world of Post-Its. You see, I arrived at the Arundhati Roy event, two of her books in hand, nervous, excited and impatient. To say that I found Arundhati’s writing fluid, lyrical and moving would be a cold comparison to the truth of my feelings but I think you get the point (you’re clever like that). The first, not unwelcome, surprise came from Arundhati Roy herself, the smallness of this powerful author was as captivating as was the spring tenacity of her curly hair. The second, far less captivating, surprise was that the moderator seemed genuinely out of her depth. If I didn’t have a strict policy on wasting alcohol, I would have probably choked on my wine when I heard this strange woman emit words that seemed to shape the idea that India was nothing but a land of colours, the home of curry, Bollywood movies and The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel Movie. I swear there was a collective sigh of relief when Arundhati Roy had to do another reading, at least that gave the moderator some shot at being exposed to Roy’s writing. If, by now, you’re thinking that the surprises are getting more and more unpleasant, good job, you earn a Scooby badge. The last surprise came in the form of Green Lipstick who introduced herself to me and everyone waiting in the line to get our books signed by being rude, obnoxious and loud. I suspect that Green Lipstick needed to raise her voice because her lipstick was too loud, and she was concerned that the rest of us wouldn’t hear her above it and let’s face it, there could be no worse punishment than not being heard for Green Lipstick.
Now before you get ahead of yourself (not you, but that other guy who is impatient and judgemental), I was not surprised Green Lipstick’s choice in lipstick. Okay, I was a little (it was so green) but what really surprised me was how she chose to use her voice. She chose to use her voice to agitate and when she realised that she wasn’t getting the desired attention she sought out ways to make herself louder. When her initial shouts of outrage about the crowd control temporary fencing “Don’t you know what fences mean to Brown people?” did not get the appropriate response she turned to a blond woman handing out Post-Its. Okay, so I am a Brown person and if you ask me, I quite like the fence around my property as I am sure Green Lipstick likes hers and it was not as if the event organisers were separating us by something as stupid as race, class, gender, caste or sexual preference. They were simply trying to maintain order at an event where there was an overwhelming number of people and were no doubt trying to make the book signing as stress free for the author as possible. Did Green Lipstick see that? You bet not, because that is the far less dramatic and anger inspiring version. So Green Lipstick turned her fury towards Blond Post-It Lady and for some reason she thought to punctuate her sentences when a swerve of her head and the words “Exactly”. The conversation would have been funny if I wasn’t so scared of Green Lipstick. It went something like this:
Blonde Post-It Lady: “Please take a Post-It and write your name on it and pass it on”
Green Lipstick: “Can you explain why there are fences here? Don’t you know what fences mean to Brown people?”
Blonde Post-It Lady: “I really don’t know, I’m just here to hand out Post-Its”
Green Lipstick (with a swerve of her head): “Exactly. Well I won’t take one, why should I take this oppression?”
The conversation deteriorated rapidly thereafter, and I decided to stop paying attention especially after Green Lipstick started to insult a woman, also standing in line who tried to keep the peace. She seemed to favour sticking out her hand with her books in them and using her free hand to smack the top of the pile and say “Have you read this? Read this Boo Boo, then we’ll talk”. To be frank, I felt like I had not read the books as I barely understood her commentary or their relationship to either of Arundhati’s books that I had read. The one thing I did understand was that Green Lipstick had done something worse than be rude or ruin my night. Green Lipstick had cheapened the very real discourse that needs to take place in our country. Brown people, Brown women, in our country should not just be heard because they shout or because they cause a scene, they should be heard because they, we, have very relevant and valuable contributions to make. I do not shy away from difficult conversations and I am unafraid of step in when I feel that someone is being wronged.
But in truth, Green Lipstick had wronged us all that day and I chose to leave her be. I chose to leave her be because that would be a greater insult than me asking her to get over herself and her delusions of inferiority. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many chains, there are still conversations to be had, fights to be fought and tempers to rise but while we’re busy fighting for freedom from Post-Its and crowd control, the anniversary of the day that the ground bled with the blood of 34 miners goes about unspoken.