State of Affairs

15 Feb

It’s only Tuesday, but already the dumping chair in the (spare) master bedroom is piled high with clothes and the dining table contains the (plastic) detritus from dinners ordered in two nights in a row.

This only bears mention because for the past few weeks I have taken to doing a quick but thorough tidying up of the house on Sunday evenings. Clothes that are strewn about the house are returned to cupboards, the washing machine runs its weekly cycle, dishes (piled high in the sink from the week before) are washed and surfaces are washed and wiped down. It gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction to see clean, shiny counter space in the kitchen and a valuable sense of achievement at having got something done. The process of getting shit everywhere begins right from the next morning, but I will coast on that sense of having-done well into the week. So, yes, it’s Tuesday with the clothes pile up, but I can still see clean black marble-top in the kitchen from where I sit. (And the dishes in the sink which I postponed, but shh!)

In the fourth year of PhD I feel a greater sense of purpose and can-do than in the third. Last year I was hit, repeatedly, with a debilitating sense of drifting with nothing to show for all the work of the previous two years. I encountered the Imposter Syndrome many times and was nearly flattened by a tough reception to only the second paper I have ever presented during my PhD, at an international workshop in Bombay. And I came perilously close to deciding to quit.

In my spiritual life I was struggling to meditate. It was less a problem of ‘dry’ meditations, and more a problem of being able to bring myself to sit down to it, and of being unable to nurture the frame of mind all day long necessary to sit down to meditation. It was not helped by, in fact, it probably was even caused by the changes wrought in my spiritual life when my option to go to the ashrams and centres to meditate (of the organisation that gave me my meditation techniques)  was taken away. An unpleasant, unhappy incident (for me) on the very first day of 2016 at the ashram I began going to in 2012 was used as a means of inner prompting to develop the ashram atmosphere at home.

So far this year, things have eased. I have, I think, learnt some important lessons about my spiritual practice. I am now content to aim to sit before God and Guru twice a day, even if very briefly and even if I’m only averaging at 30 minutes per session, without worrying too much about following all the techniques, in the order one is supposed to do them. After all, my end goal hasn’t ever been to evolve spiritually or ‘see’ God. I may have thought along those lines, but actually, what I really, really wanted and want is to love God and give love to God. I am content to stay right where I am, spiritual evolution-wise, as long as I can learn to give more and more of myself and my love unconditionally to God. This realisation frees me to just sit wordlessly in front of my Guru, sometimes insistently saying ‘teach me!’. ‘Just you! No one else!’

And with the PhD I have a definite plan and I’m moving along it. Two months to wrap up Calcutta’s fieldwork, reviewing audio recordings from the Delhi fieldwork, keeping a month aside for a potential follow-up field trip in Delhi, and a conference mid-year in a city in a country I have grown so fond of- Hannover, Germany. I won’t be presenting a paper, a source initially for disappointment. Instead, I will be a ‘young scholar’ on a ‘travel grant’ presenting an academic poster, paid for (the grant, not the poster) by the car company that the Nazis loved.

There are also two papers that I find myself wanting to write, from my field material and general remunimunations* since, in a way, 2009. I find that I am giving myself permission to say thoo! to trying to fit myself and my work into the labour studies body of work and also to trying to proceed with a sense of ‘should’ with the writing. Should have a theoretical framework, should have a complete lit review first and foremost, should address the big kind of questions that my research is automatically engaging with.

I mean, yes yes yes, to all that, yes, I will eventually have to. And had my paper proposal been picked up for the conference, I would have had to hustle and get on with it, producing more chaos on the work front. But writing is an organic process, even academic writing. Your body of work has to take shape, you can’t hurry it up all that much. And one way for it to take shape is for you to have fun with it, and write the kind of papers and chapters that appeal to you right now. The shoulds will fall into place. My second supervisor (who has been an unofficial supervisor and mentor since my MPhil days) has been instrumental in making me see that.

I’m unlikely to finish this year. But, I will make the kind of progress that has not been possible till now, simply because I haven’t finished my fieldwork. Some would like to see me finish and be done already, but really, is there any shame in taking things slow, as long as you are not a financial burden on anyone? I’m open to being convinced as to why the answer to that one is ‘yes’.

 

*I know. But I like it.

 

 

 

 

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Really, lady, I feel bad for asking, but please try to not bleed on my carpet

17 Jan

A girl of twelve

In

Piiiiig (pigggg) tails!

Bouncing up and down and

Flouuuuuncing!

Round and round

And round and round,

In a long white dress,

Blowing fat and thin and fat and thin,

On she goes;

So delight! So giggle!

Playing a game

With earth and sky,

(On #1 she stood, under #2 she moved)

In waking, in dreaming,

Playmates enough

Playmates unparalleled.

 

Wilst thou not watch with me from afar

Smile on lips, smiling heart,

As a bit of ourselves fly down to her?

 

I am a writer.

19 Dec

That is all.

I needed to recognise it. I’m a writer doing a PhD. Not an academic doing a PhD.

Time to see if I can write something.

The end is nigh

18 Dec

Watercolours have never been my thing; I’ve always been more attracted to bold oils. When I would occasionally dig out my drawing books (that’s what I’ve always called them) I’d scoff at the delicate, washed out look produced by poster paints and choose to dip my brush directly into the bottles of paint and put bold layers on to the page. And paint over and over like multiple coats of nailpolish.

Until now, that is. I feel more drawn to the delicacy and the subtle shades that spread over a page when you use ‘em like you’re meant to.

I’ve been too lazy to drag myself out to the nearest mall to find Christmas cards this year, and based on past experience, I know that there is no guarantee I’d have found ones I liked even if I had exerted myself. I think I’ll just sit down with some drawing sheets and make myself some santa-hatted flowers as season’s greetings to friends.

Edited to add: I did end up making an excursion outside the batcave the next day and found a happy alternative.

January Blues

31 Jan

Jan has been a rather crap month. It began comically badly, with an incident on the very first day of the brand new year, and never really picked up from there. It was a different kind of bad this time, a not in-your-face bad, which is why it took me a while to catch up to the fact.

I have spent the month caught in an inertia of non-motion. The fantastic pace of work and meditation of November and December was nowhere to be seen and I struggled to, and continue to struggle to, wake up in the mornings, meditate or work on my PhD. I’ve succumbed to late nights reading endless random shit on the internet, sometimes staying up till 4 in the morning. And naturally, that means I’m waking up not before one or two in the afternoon. The backlog of work accumulates- I have 24 newspapers to read as a part of my research, and several essays and soft copies of stuff related to my research. This is stuff I should have finished last month. It isn’t a whole lot- I read a lot more during my MPhil coursework-but it builds, and begins to look scary, and I avoid.

Waking up this late not only destroys the possibilities of the day in my head, it also builds a kind of lethargy that seeps into my weeks. There have been three events that I have missed in this past month because I could not/did not want to wake up in the morning.

The worst part is that I have not been able to aggressively grab the situation by its throat and say enough! I’m not doing anything to snap out of it. As long as I am actively doing something to resist these slides I feel good and able, even though I might be struggling.

Being stuck in this kind of mental space produces a very different kind of stock-taking. I feel like my PhD is drifting, reminded anew of how I’m not presenting any papers at conferences or publishing anything related to my area of work. I feel terribly insecure about my productivity at this point.

I’m not quite as worried about having meditated only about thrice this month; I am quietly confident that I will return to it sooner than later. That part of me, my identity as a child of and lover of God is the only thing that I have till date been unshakeably sure of.

I need to flip that switch.

Bookshelves, Bowie and Alan Rickman

18 Jan

Last night I gave our shared bookshelf at home a makeover. For some years now the books had been piling up in double rows, therefore obscuring the books that lay in the back row of every shelf. That seemed like a bit of a tragedy, for a bookshelf is more than just a place to stash your books; it is a place that holds memories and stories. I like to look at a book, remember when we/I bought it, when I read it, and I like to re-wallow in the thoughts and emotions experienced when I had first read it. Or, I like to look at its well-worn cover and remember why I re-read it so much over the years. I like to look at our multi-generational collection of books (or the section of it that remains and is housed here) and just feel happy and warm. It is an easily accessible repository of family and personal history.

It feels a bit strange to realise that I now have multiple unread books within my reach. When I was a child, such a thing could never have occurred. I consumed everything, age-appropriate or not. Adulthood, even graduate student adulthood, (and, let’s be honest, the internet…) comes in the way of single-minded consumption of the written word.

So there I was, duster in hand, re-positioning many books to the top shelf hitherto left untouched because of the dust factor. (Books catch dust anyway, but the unprotected top shelf is the worst dust magnet imaginable). In the past I’ve stacked books by differing logic. Sometimes by author, sometimes by size and shape, sometimes by ‘light’ and ‘serious’, sometimes by genre. This time I didn’t even think in terms of rules- I just let the books pick which ones they wanted to sit next to. Okay, I admit that is slightly woo-woo. However, I did indeed go by ‘feel’. So the Bartimaeus Trilogy sits with Sherlock Holmes and Samit Basu. Salman Rushdie chose Enid Blyton, and cricket chose Shakespeare. A couple of times I broke up a serial arrangement of books in the same series to insert a lone but much loved book, so it could get a hug and not feel alone. Not every book is loved deeply, but every shelf has a deeply loved book.

***

They have named a constellation after Bowie. One of the best descriptions I read of his music was ‘heavy yet light’. That is exactly what it was. And the tributes continue to pour in for Alan Rickman bearing witness to a unique life. Everybody is unique; but few people possess the tenacity and courage to single-mindedly be themselves over an entire lifetime. The lives of Bowie and Alan Rickman forever remain behind as an inspiration towards the fact that being authentic is enough. There is no guarantee that being authentic will gain you external or social validation, much less the success and fame that these two artists gained. That is not the point of their examples, for me. One doesn’t pursue authenticity for recognition, but it is reassuring to know that being authentic does not foreclose worldly greatness.

The blows fall thick and fast

15 Jan

And just like that, it is time to say Goodbye, Alan Rickman.

This man meant more to me than just his acting prowess and incredible voice. He was a good man, an unusual man, and it showed in his bearing, and his work.

R.I.P.