Sunday, December 31, 2017

Visions of Gideon

A lot of this year, my 2017, was in the company of people who played spoilsports and killjoys. To use Sara Ahmed's terms and words, it takes a lot of effort and courage to be a killjoy, to have a problem and to not take it lying down. Especially when those you have to oppose are your loved ones, colleagues, friends and people who are apparent allies, meaning that they come from and want to be in a position of consensus with you. They want to and have built bridges, they form very important parts of your memories and personhood. I am extrapolating from Ahmed but I think for a lot of us it was a year of being torn and learning to dissent. And, dissenting can be tiring, it feels bitter and violent. I mean who doesn't tire of someone who always has a problem, right? Why does she always have a problem? Why can't she let this go? Why do you have to overthink everything? I am still not sure if constant killjoying will change the world or whether there are more pleasant ways of being a killjoy or what might happen if those leading the way will change their minds. Several things happened that I think all coalesce at this fundamental tug.
My personal year started with such troubles when my parents visited and I have/had strong views on how I want labor to be divided, what I expect of my parents on vacation, how I am not okay with everyone being on auto pilot. It led to a fair amount of bitterness and my conclusion was that I should not forget that parents as people change too, what we otherwise call age but is a combination of patience, interest, wanting space etc. I also realized to some extent that bitterness can be fatal, chronic unhappiness, even if it is maintained as one's refusal to budge against the obstinate unfair world, is enacted in real time upon individuals or groups. Meaning that even if you are raging against the world's toxic masculinity, your first dialog is going to be with your father who in his own right is a complex person, way more than a patriarch. It is tough to gently rally then, without inducing fatal bitterness. So I stepped back and mended some bridges because after all, I am learning too.

I think everything suffers from such 'awkward scales'. You vs the world's macho men, returning to a home full of loved ones shaped by the same world. Not to mention, you, as a fickle, fallible bungler in the world. Reconciling with awkward scales of the university and academia and department and colleagues and family and friends and individual units, no theory could prepare us for what might be an appropriate response when things don't match. What to do?

As the year progressed, there were more strange moments, again a little bit of both, the context and the event. Both change each other. Overall, I realized that I am willing to let go of friends and lovers, with less drama but there are certain things that I just can't stomach. And, I kept holding on to them. My discomfort with ultimatums, my refusal to fall in line so that we could imagine a future. I am not even saying it is radical, I think one has to listen to the gut and then bear the consequences. I also briefly experienced strong feelings again and it was wonderful. Really hard to get over but also a part of me I had forgotten.

Keeping with the title of the post, my favorite film of the year was 'Call me by your name'. And this song by Sufijan Stevens, the way it is filmed, the father's speech in the film, it's all beautiful. It made me appreciate actors a bit more. I still don't understand how films as organizational work produce such brilliant emotive experiences. I guess as I write, I also have more respect for organizational work that makes events happen, anything organizational in the service of sensorial experiences is quite the feat. The film also felt nice because it aligned with my own bittersweet encounter.

I read more than I usually do, this year. I am very proud of it. I am patiently waiting for the reading to filter through me and make home in my words. I am personally grateful to the works of Sara Ahmed, Anna Tsing, Lauren Berlant, Kathi Weeks for their fantastic charged prose. Like it was written from the heart, written in conversation and it felt like I was in dialog too. :)

Meanwhile the later part of the year with its sexual harassment revelations, again in the industry, in the university, elsewhere. I hope we will look back at this year as the year when things crumbled. And for those who took them to heart, like me, for those who felt these stories personally, were reminded of their own stories, very little trust remains in people (but mostly men) and their ability to hold back and nor harm when they can (power). I let all those associations crumble too. Like I said, it was my year of killjoy, dissensus, just refusing to play along. And I can tell you that it shocked many good boys, the ones who said their anger came out of their own hurt, the ones who wanted me to tolerate a bad mood, also those who thought they could be careless with their words and take them back. I just let them go and things went. So much went away, there is so much space.

Couple of days ago I met a childhood friend, my mother was there too. The friend and I were molested together as children for the first time. As soon as she said "do you remember", I said "the man in the sand?" but then she went on to narrate the episode differently from what I remember. For a weird reason in my story, I was the one who rescued us. I trust her story but it was this personal, minor history moment where we proceeded to excavate and re-inscribe everyone we knew in our childhood. We collectively built new memories of these people, so many of them were abusers. We spoke of how the roads of our "safe city" had maps of harassers, going on which road at what time could make people follow you. Lastly, she said how her parents refused to give her a scooter till she was an adult. My parents took the same stand and they are so proud of it, till today. I guess it is a good thing. But then she told her parents how they don't know anything, how riding a cycle means inviting teasing and if they were okay with that, she would bear it. I think she got a scooter finally. My mum just listened in silence. I don't really know what she has to say about this.

So, that was my year. My 27. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Third Year Ending

I don't have words of my own but only some words that I keep coming back to.

Atoms for Peace - The Eraser

Massive Attack - Paradise Circus

Portishead - Wandering Star

On my plate currently: writing to people who won't give me money, there's only so many ways in which I can beg and grovel, I've run out of them, two sets of revisions, one set of structuring editing revisions, a bunch of polite groveling for support letters and finally deep deep resentment that it's summer and I don't have an extra week to go to Ladakh, Burma, Arunachal or Kutch and I have to be back in time for some more politeness.

Onward to the fourth year.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

So much good music around

Just for the fear that I will lose so much good music I've been skimming through, archiving some links and lists here.

Tumblr Adwait made
Never knew how splendid radio could be
I have come to love the Gentle Giants. Late much? I suppose, yes.
Just a quite fantastic mix recorded at the Bar Rumba club in London
A jazz sampling of Radiohead's Everything in its right place
Aline Morena's Canturia (Brazilian folk? instrumental)
Ananda Shankar (again so late to the party)
I think some more from the club

Will I finish writing the grant? Stay tuned.

I also write/wrote elsewhere:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On woman and authority

It's heartbreaking to know that there are at least three people/places/groups in the world who, if approached by me right now, will launch a barrage of hate speech. Not like the serious legal hate speech with rape and murder threats but the kind that can definitely ruin a whole day. I had a panic attack again today, after months of not having one. I couldn't breathe, things inside me were sinking fast. I tend to feel pressure more than other people do. Sometimes it is even a strength, it keeps me going twenty four hours a day. Stress is my coffee. Sometimes stressful circumstances overlap with PMS. But, even despite being aware of my relatively fragile mental health (I actually do think I fare better than others in terms of absorbing negative stuff and hitting back even), this time I just can't take it. Warm tears are rolling down as I write.
I can't deal or understand or change people who irresponsibly say mean things, abusive things, flippant and callous things in general or to me specifically. When I signed up to lead a student organization on campus, the worst I anticipated was fundraising ( I am terrified of raising funds) and maybe people not turning up for our events. I also knew it would mean a lot of visibility among the desi crowd on campus. I guess I just wasn't prepared for a random batch mate commenting on my dress and appearance to a group of fellow drunk engineering students (probably this is my price for leaving Humanities?). I wasn't going to let it go. I gave it back, good. He seemed to realize he had fucked up. He kept quiet, basically he knew this could be more trouble. The good or bad thing about dealing with non-American passport holding assholes (especially engineers aspiring to go to Silicon Valley) is that the threat of deportation keeps them polite, civil, tame. It just does. All our interactions are marked by the passport we constantly carry in our pockets. Fast forward to another drunk guy batch mate requesting to use my bathroom and locking himself in. I actually dialled 911 for the first time and it wasn't scary. I couldn't sleep that night obviously. Not just these, other micro-aggressions are daily business. Some guy likes you but if you don't reciprocate, all his friends won't stop speculating. He won't even talk to you anymore. Some other colleague whom I have seen being careless and irresponsible for a long time, has a very different response to me and some others.
I guess I reached my breaking point today (at least serious enough to write this) because of some guy screaming "I am not your servant" through a facebook window. I don't care if he reads this. I've blocked him everywhere. I am physically and mentally scared of him only because his stance in every conversation is "I am not about to be walked all over by a girl". He once actually said "Don't anger me". Imagine me saying that to someone :)
A few days ago (a friend and) I got amply abused and chastised on a group we run. We contemplated shutting the group down except one would manually have to remove 90,000 people to shut it. People called me an NRI (as if it should be an insult), told me I had no clue what this group (that I thought of and built 4 years ago) meant and stood for. I could have totally donned the researcher hat and been like, oh how interesting, users don't even know who started this but look at their ownership. I am rambling. Look at the last blog post I wrote and the comments on it. I didn't aspire to be publicly visible through what I do. I do what I do because I like it. Another friend (who I thought was an ally) sobered me last week. He said "all men actually do talk shit about women, some just disguise it well". He seemed to imply it's a biological or systemic thing. "It's just the way we are" I was so shocked someone could hold that as a worldview I didn't know what to say because I know men who categorically walk away from such stuff.
The point is, every time I tell myself that being a leader, initiating something and being the face of it is going to invite negative attention, hate, criticism but also immense satisfaction of having done things; I feel more drained than happy. And, I am not even doing this on a scale that many other women and men do. What of course hurts is that as a woman, a lot of that stuff also becomes about how I look, where I live, my public photos, emails etc. I hope this post doesn't get read by many people because the comment section is open to all.
Probably I just meet a lot of shitty people. How do you cope with them? All suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

India 2015 Summer: Swalpa adjust maadi

** Warning: This is a rant. It does not contextualize or essentialize India as one entity. It also does not seek to improve anyone. Also, this is the sixth draft that might see the light of the day.

So, I've returned to India after almost a year of being in the United States. Turns out living by yourself, making your own food, washing your clothes and doing research are good ways to keep away from blogging. I am back to where it all began in that sense. Even this blog. Bangalore. Interning at a corporate research lab with bright people, most of them about three years younger. Before we go further, apologies to my brother whose every act of growing up I have so critically called out. Turns out people older than him and younger than me can both be immensely stupid and exceptionally mature. Whowouldathunk I'd have to make business conversations with people born in 1993? Well, the year 25 is two months away. Who could have imagined what the 25 year old me would resemble? Not me for sure.
So yeah, turns out I've finally reached Marathahalli, the proverbial tech park district where tiny little worker ants scurry in and out of with heavy black laptop bags and access cards strung around their necks. Most of them have unshapely behinds (not making this up) because of sedentary debugging jobs. I can already feel mine grow bigger as I type. There are no roads. Most roads turn to dust on a daily basis as cars and trucks ply on them. It's an odd place to say the least. On which our little tempo traveller runs morning and evening.
It's also my first close encounter to people on the other side of JNU (IIT Delhi is actually light years away if you get the political, cultural and philosophical differences). But, yes, engineers. Also, most North Indians. And, local people in the area. Mostly South Indians. What puzzled me is that Bangalore has become so much more North Indianized than I had seen in 2010. Now you don't even have to try to make Hindi sound like KannaD (as many Amit friends call it). To some Amit friends, rather seriously, all of South India is one region and has one language. The one that Shahrukh invented in Chennai Express. Again, very different from my Bangalore of yonder that made me learn a little bit of all the four big languages and even some dialect words. As I spoke functional Kannada, one Amit squealed. "Aap toh genius ho." I asked if he wanted to learn some. But kyun? Bakwaas hoti hai. He said.
He is not a bad person and I know nothing of NLP (natural language processing or a cooler thing than big data analysis). But I'd imagine that knowing a little bit of Kannada would go farther than going abroad and defending India's cultural diversity in terms of keeping us together and making our collective lives as Indians better. Again now, as an aspirant to NRI category I can justifiably be accused of Solutionism. So, with due apologies to Morozov, I shrugged and started walking towards the hotel wondering what all these bright Amits would do in their lives. It's hard to justify two degrees in cinema studies, I thought to myself. Which is true, sort of. At least the social science and humanities circles (read JNU self indulgence) I indulged in, people barely explained or asked "so what". But on the whole, I realized, the cultural studies education and a journey through comparative literature and grappling with issues of translation made me (no claims for my classmates) a less classist, less casteist and a less intolerable person. You would be amazed, or at least I am, as to how in India being a blue collar worker really casts you into some feudal relationship with the people you serve. Why aren't we nicer to those who serve us? Or, just a smile? Or try and speak the other's language?
This isn't versus America. As someone rightly said, the exhilarating thrill and frustration of life's pace and movement brought her back home. I came this summer for that same pulsating, elbowing through the crowd feeling. Of course I've gotten a lot rustier at hustling. But, especially for those of us who have resources and the privilege to be nicer, you'd wonder why we can't "swalpa adjust"?