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: http://www.tarshi.net/blog/voices-casually-sexist-humour-and-the-reasonable-limits-of-feministing/

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"?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Rubik's cubing

It's a good time to be writing. That's pretty much what I have been doing for butter and varieties of bread for sometime now. To give a general update, the last thesis chapter is yet to be penned but I have received rare assurance that I will sail through. Also, I have been filling a thousand forms and learning about all kinds of exchange rates and money transferring as preparation for the near future. The next post will of course announce the big changes. For now some other thoughts.

On writing and being alone

Almost a year ago when I interviewed for a paid doctoral position at a university, after the academic questions, my interviewer gently asked, "L_ is a quaint town in a small country compared to yours. It will basically mean spending a lot of time alone and that can require a fair bit of adjustment since you come from a bustling city like D_ and are used to interacting with so many people. How do you feel about that?" In my head I was repeating my own Cartesian formulation - I never am, I can be everything. Basically, in order to get something or somewhere in life, I've accepted the accompanying painful periods of abrupt change and quick adjustment including shared apartments, rooms, beds, bathrooms, food and all that. I doubt it can get rougher than JNU. So, I promptly replied, "Oh, I am used to working on my own. In fact I prefer being left to my own devices." I wasn't entirely sure, even when I said it I felt a kind of sad, cold image of yet another still evening in my head. But, like I said, there's no option really. I didn't get the job. I was partly relieved.

A year later as I am figuratively and perhaps literally entering burnout stage again (in my head I've got bruises on my elbows and finger tips like little forest patches on fire) I have been asking myself to breathe deep. A year ago there were moments when I felt slow descent into madness. I wasn't going insane, I was just melting like I no longer knew if I was making sense to me or anyone else. That was a bad time but it's over. From there to this day, I've come a long way in being alone with myself - a given for academic life and travel. That is probably why even the recent breakup wasn't exactly painful. My sense of me although partially eroded and weathered over this writing period has remained. I've kept self preservation high on the list and it seems to have worked. Better (or worse), I diffuse matters before I start mulling over them and take them in my stride. The strides have gotten longer, so much has been taken in the strides. Not something I was used to doing. Even as I prepare for another move, the only thing keeping me afloat is the idea that being alone in a completely new place is a known feeling. Not alone as in wallowing in my room and crying under the covers but running to the bank alone, eating my food, paying my bills, watching a film, reading a book, maintaining discipline in writing. On the contrary, when I've been with someone special or friends, I often lose track of the schedule and that unnerves me now. (Note: This is also a preparatory post to the impending 24)

To justify the title, it has been today morning's realization that writing is more like Rubik's cubing than being pregnant. It can be as painful as a pregnancy but I've literally written six drafts of one article only to be able to open an argument from different angles. And, every time I wrote a new draft, the disappointment of the earlier first-paragraphs was fatal. Like playing a whole level of Candy Crush again because you couldn't get the last jelly.

On body and love

It hasn't exactly been a great season there. This isn't to criticize any single person but rather a general observation. For someone so terribly awkward and constantly at war with her body, being with another person who isn't completely accepting of who I am is a painful situation. It's probably a heterosexual predicament? I am always collaborating and having wonderful conversations with great women and sometimes men on how everyday sexism operates and how body shaming needs to stop. But, in practice, and love is in practice (that's the tragedy); things turn out quite differently. Attraction and ideology don't cohere. My problem isn't that though. Strangely I have always been with people thinner than me (horrifying realization because it made me suspect I was into thinner people or something) but where it gets problematic is that some of my friends and lovers have been obsessed with the idea of fitness. I think it's only their way of saying thin. Almost makes me want to make Foucault and Butler reading mandatory in high school. In any case, I've fought back when my love handles were poked at but then I've lost love and interest and respect. If the G_ds of OKCupid are listening, my potential partners are going to have to write a small essay on the notion of fitness.Worse, there are so many in the feminist-ish space leading the tirade against body shaming. But, guess what, they all look like size zero ramp walkers and their idea of activism is a photo album at the pride parade. Am I being snide and derisive? (Obviously yes) I don't know. This hasn't been resolved yet. It has not only affected me personally but I've seen many a sense of  self-worth being sacrificed at the altar of physical appearance. Even your educated, liberal men. What gives?

More later. Today has been a good day of writing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

On Morel and desire in writing

I recently read 'The Invention of Morel' by Alfredo Bioy Casares. I don't usually do responses. But, I also don't usually finish books. I think I should write this anyway because I am troubled by the book. As I write, four other friends are reading it.
To begin with (and a prologue one must go back to after finishing), Borges writes of the form of the adventure story and how many considered it "practically impossible" to derive any sort of pleasure from a formless, psychological novel, one that doesn't rely on plot and shows no overt objective. But, as Casares (and others) demonstrate (and as Borges states), the beauty and paradox in the adventure story is the very fact that things may happen the way we don't expect them to (at least in novels) - "a person may kill himself because he is so happy...lovers may separate forever as a consequence of love..."  The idea of unacceptable literary inventions is very comforting.
In most reviews I read, the book is described as a work of science fiction with a romantic plot at its core. Again, this is only my interpretation but I disagree. In fact, the novel is hardly about anyone else but the narrator/self. It's quite a treat for someone like me, who spends copious amounts of time with themselves. Why I don't take too seriously the label of romance is because the narrator very early in the story locates and describes, almost deifies an exotic buxom bodied gypsy woman with a red scarf. That's probably the first of the many "images" we begin to live with in this story. From then on and as we discover at the end, the narrator, for me, is already trapped in a loop of a moment-before-meeting. He hesitates, plots chance encounters, glances, reads gestures, gets disappointed and starts over (I almost beamed at his pattern, he is like me in love). What should one make of this tendency to locate an object of admiration and then circle it incessantly with the image in one's head? The distance between that, then making the leap beyond imaginary encounters and then disappointment of real people is for another day.
There is a lot to write about. For instance, it always struck me as odd that some ancient cultures thought photographs steal your soul. This story has to be, by far the most convincing explanation. But, I'll end with my favorite changing painting : Princes of the House of Timur, originally started by the gifted Safavid master-painter, Mir Sayyid Ali in 1549. (The link above gives a comprehensive history of the painting) The short story is that once commissioned by grandfather Humayun, this painting became symbolic of a legacy of Mughals as Timurids and subsequently, Jahangir got it altered to reflect his version of the family story. The painting is very interesting not only because it is a deliberate attempt to retell personal and royal history but it confirms (my) suspicion that stories are seldom about beginnings, ends or plots in themselves. On closer inspection, stories often betray an interwoven strand of desire. As Casares's hero meticulously placed himself just steps ahead of Faustine and Jahangir's sons looked upon him with reverence (or did they?), the buried hearts of those who made these stories peep out from within.