Monday, September 28, 2009


Lovers of whores
Are happy - fit and satisfied;
As for me, my arms are broken
from having clasped the clouds.

- Ouevres

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Hail World History

As a child, I was always surrounded by books at home. Lots of books. Its one of many things we were taught to respect - no underlining, no earmarking, no folding, no keeping them on the dinner table, no spilling milk over them. No manhandling them period. I see now the value of that treatment, the books look as beautiful as they did when I was young, despite repeated readings. Of these, one of the books that I've always seen around and whose cover is almost ingrained in my head, is my grandfather's copy of the Glimpses of World History by Nehru. I've been meaning to read it for a while, and I finally did this summer. I couldnt finish it unfortunately, but what little I read I was fascinated. As an undergrad (and even as a grad student), I've been far too quick to criticize the nationalist account of textbook history, and embrace instead the subaltern accounts, without really giving the former a chance or without really trying to understand where it came from.

This book, written by Nehru between 1930 and 1933 is a collection of about 200 letters written from jail to his daughter, then a teenager. It is an extensive account of world history and world politics, dating from 6000 BC to his present, and perhaps constitutes the formative years of his perspective on the nation-state, and the premise of his foreign policies eventually. In a gigantic chart laid out at the very beginning he summarizes world history and puts it in a beautifully organized table with dates, numbers and important events. The main underlying idea in the letters is that there is no such thing as a nation's history - we must adopt a more integrated approach and think about the history and politics of the world. That given the vast spread of ideas, people and capital since times immemorial, it makes no sense to continue evoking the nation-state as the only legitimate container of history. It in fact resonates beautifully with post-colonial literature written almost a century later, that calls into question that very same notion of national borders, sovereignty and citizenship. Aside from being a fantastic narrative of history, it is also a narrative / diary of his struggle in jail (as an individual, family man and freedom fighter) and an account of the Independence struggle as witnessed from the confines of imprisonment in those three years.

Beautiful. Imagine reading these letters as a 13 year old. Imagine the kind of ideas you could be exposed to in your formative years. Imagine their power. It made me wonder why we never read this book in high school? Rather than having to search for history on my own as an adult, I would've learned to love history a lot more as a child. Rather than loving to hate my history lectures, I might have learnt to love and grasp world history at a time when learning was easier, and the ability to remember (not memorize) was sharper. Its still undoubtedly an elite account of history but not in the fashion taught to us by f***-all NCERT. As a well known post-colonial historical-anthropologist, Partha Chatterjee, writes:

"Those who had the misfortune to study the diplomatic history of Europe will remember the sleepless nights spent trying to memorize the unpronounceable names of remote provinces that were transferred on who knows which dates from one European power to another. This is how we were taught to relish the sublime beauties of sovereignty." (Politics of the Governed)

But why were we taught to relish it when we had access to something as beautiful as this book that questions the exact same? It makes no sense to me, but what does make sense is going back to the book again and again, and professing it to all that come my way, especially those of my generation.

P.S.: Speaking of my generation, whoever made this man GenX's mouthpiece?? (Thank you S, for pointing this one out):

"Really, whether Mr Jinnah did wonderful things or he did horrible things and whatever point of view your party likes to take — who gives a damn? How is this relevant to the India we have to build today? Are we electing leaders for the future or selecting a history teacher? ...let’s let Mr Jinnah rest in peace... And let’s not worry too much about this subject called History; let’s create a new subject called The Future."
- Chetan Bhagat, Dont Fix History, Look at the Future, TOI, 30 August 2009

Wait, what????

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crazy Little Thang Called Love

Yes. I have the balls to write about it. And why not? Its probably not a lot different from any other emotion - anger, humour, sadness, sympathy etc. If anything, at one point or another it evokes at least one, if not all of them. Then why do we worry writing about it? Why do we deliberately keep ourselves blind from how love works?

I was chatting with M today. She said its the one thing she prefers not to blog about. She (succintly) put it this way "...I feel crystallizing it might take away the strength of it, the instictive power or complexity. And i'd hate to lose the mysterious often dark magic as it is undefined in my head." And I hold M in very high regard, especially for her ability to articulate her own thoughts as well as everyone else's. If she stays away from it, I should undoubtedly stay away from it. But like I told her, and like I strongly believe, the further we push it, the more it will continue to elude us.

So then how do we know what love is? How do I know true love from the not-so-true love? Have I felt it, or am I likely to feel it in this lifetime? Where can I find the answer? Google? Of course! (slapping forehead in obviousness). And so I put the word 'love' on google. And who does google promptly direct me to? Wikipedia stupid! So then, according to wikipedia:

The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure ("I loved that meat") to intense interpersonal attraction ("I love my boyfriend").

Really??? Everything from meat to my boyfriend?? Ahem. Moving on.

As an abstract concept, love usually refers to a deep, ineffable feeling of tenderly caring for another person.

Ah! Now we're talking. But wait, what does ineffable mean?

Ineffability is concerned with ideas that cannot or should not be expressed in spoken words often being in the form of a taboo or incomprehensible term.

Damn it! M was right then.

I wonder though, is it really that incomprehensible and complex? I think about it a lot, and maybe just the fact that I think about it a lot is an indication of the fact that I havent 'really' felt it or I dont know what its meant to feel like or somewhere deep down inside I'm convinced that its a cultural delusion. Another good friend, P once wrote in her blog, that love is separate from lust, infatuation, vanity, codependency or guilt. If it isnt one or more of those five things, then no, I dont think I've ever really fallen in love. My familial, platonic, religious or romantic love, can all be classified as a combination of those five things.

Shites!! Did I just use the words 'love' and 'classify' in the same sentence?? How very scientific and oh-so-not-me of me! But wait, have other, more openly scientific people tried to quantify love? Apparently not a whole lot. According to another frequently cited, very academic source, the TIME magazine:

Love is mushy; science is hard. Anger and fear, feelings that have been considerably researched in the field and the lab, can be quantified through measurements: pulse and breathing rates, muscle contractions, a whole spider web of involuntary responses. Love does not register as definitively on the instruments; it leaves a blurred fingerprint that could be mistaken for anything from indigestion to a manic attack. Since it is possible (a cynic would say commonplace) for humans to mate and reproduce without love, all the attendant sighing and swooning and sonnet writing have struck many pragmatic investigators as beside the evolutionary point.

But during the past decade, scientists across a broad range of disciplines have had a change of heart about love... Whatever the reasons, science seems to have come around to a view that nearly everyone else has always taken for granted: romance is real. It is not merely a conceit; it is bred into our biology.

Fantastic. I can live with that. It is bred into our biology and we're preprogrammed to love. So come meat, come boyfriend, I too shall love!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I never ask for it

Sometimes facebook can do wonderful things. I came across today a volunteer-run participatory project called Blank Noise, that takes a fairly sophisticated stand against eve teasing in Indian cities. They organize events and explore street dynamics and recognize eve teasing as street sexual harassment or violence. Fantastic. Of course the cause I support. But what made it appealing was the sense that the project is ongoing and fairly open. They question everything - from the very definition of eve teasing, to its source, its legitimate response, and they even question the use of violence (also pepper spray) against it. What makes it more interesting is an underlying academic interest in understanding street dynamics and people's perception of public spaces.

When I was going through their website, I noticed on the side a little blurb that asked ' we accept it, because we expect it?' I didnt think about it for more than a second, but when it sunk in, it really sunk in. I dont think as a Delhi-ite, I've questioned it, ever. I remember spending hours hating myself for having chosen to wear a particularly bright colour, or a moderately fitted jeans, or even hating my body type, but I dont remember questioning it. I remember having felt proud for being able to stare back, or being able to abuse someone on a bus, or even hit back an old man, but I cant remember not blaming myself for it. I cant remember not feeling ashamed and scarred for it. And all of this combined with a subtle acceptance of that feeling. Yikes! So much so that I remember having felt borderline unattractive when I walked down the streets of New York or Boston or Paris, just because no one stared at me. And despite all that I feel more at home and more at ease walking down the streets of Delhi than New York?? That makes no sense to me. But reading about this project made me feel a lot better, and I'm glad they gave a public forum to what I thought all along to be a personal and private reaction.

This week they urge women to unapologetically believe, (and I quote):

No matter what I’m wearing, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter what my body type or size is, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter where I am, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter when I am out, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter the fact that I was alone, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter what language I’m using or my skin colour, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.