21 Nov

Coffee makes me garrulous and feeds the tendency in myself to make epic plans. Like, epic. For example-

Caffeinated brain-

Did you know that you could go to Sarajevo (and come back) for under Rs.50,000? I could totally do that. If I finish my PhD without exhausting all my savings. As a grand gesture and all to celebrate becoming a ‘Doctor’.

De-caffeinated brain-

Then again, Rs.1,00,000 could be put to much better use. It might even fund a writers retreat for one in a picturesque mountain cottage.

Why Sarajevo? Because I’m reading Bruce’s memoir, and came across the chapter where he speaks of going to war-torn Sarajevo to play a gig during his solo, non-Iron Maiden career. He describes the incredible beauty of the mountain roads leading to the ravaged city and I was struck again by how some of the most beautiful places in the world suffer from extraordinary violence.

Except, Sarajevo is now free of war. And I could go there. Except I won’t, because travel for the sake of travel died for me in Berlin, 2014 (R.I.P.). I was spending a week there as a tourist, after presenting a paper in a workshop. Why? Many factors came together that led to that natural death.

For one, I got serious about meditation and my relationship with spirituality became all-encompassing. I realised that I would seek only that which would be in sync with my spiritual goals. Chasing travel was not, but travel itself could be. I became even more interested in exploring from where I was, rather than going away to explore where I was not. If the source of joy lay within the self, why waste time chasing what could never be found externally? A long local bus ride on a new route can give me as much pleasure as going to NYC, or Sri Lanka, or Goa.

For another, I have become more conscious of consumerism, and travel is often about consuming experiences that one can buy with money (including that airplane ticket). Spending money just to travel feels meaningless now, I prefer to club some other purpose with it. Like work, or visiting family.

And also, I’m a person who likes to absorb slowly and how long can ‘trips’ be, after all?

And also also, reaching the end of my twenties made me come to terms with the whole FOMO thing. On the whole, I do not anymore, if I ever did, suffer from the Fear of Missing Out. I’m at peace with knowing that yes, the potential exists to do a million wonderful things, and I have displayed a potential to be a jack of all trades, but a time comes when one makes choices and sticks to them, at the cost of ignoring other possibilities. You choose what you want to focus your energy on, because it is not possible for most of us to focus with intensity on several things at once.

As the last traces of the morning cup of Bru Gold leaves my system, and the November sun retreats from my balcony, I come back to more pragmatic matters. Time to work on the draft of the book review due next week.

 

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Further remunimunations

2 Nov

I had a brief moment today when I considered applying for a job as a librarian at a community library project in Delhi.

My PhD isn’t writing itself despite having no obligations, work or otherwise, to anybody other than myself at the moment. I’m living alone in Calcutta and it’s no longer the adventure it was back in 2012. Not an adventure, but still, at some level, the space is welcome enough that I don’t want to move back to Delhi without reason. Being stretched by work has, I have seen in the past, been good for my mind and mental abilities even though a part of me resists busy-ness.

So, went my rationale, it might actually be good for my PhD to hold down a 5-day a week job that also paid me for my time. It might leave me with more enthusiasm and motivation to write my thesis than I currently have with a surfeit of leisure. And, money. It’s always reassuring to have a steady influx of funds that comes by dint of one’s own work rather than kind parents who don’t want you to run through your savings.

Even as I wrote asking for more information, I wondered if it was the caffeine from my morning cup of coffee that was fueling my enthusiasm or something more lasting. Was it like the time I contemplated applying for Teach for India? Even before I received the reply to my email detailing the profile of the job, I knew I was probably hankering after it for the wrong reason. After receiving the reply, I knew I wasn’t a good fit. The job required one to be librarian and community organizer. And, reading aloud to kids, which doubtless involves doing voices *shudder*. I’m good for manning libraries, organising activities within, procuring, maintaining and cataloguing books, but am far too much of an introvert to take calmly to the level of human interactions involved in community organising. Not my cup of tea.

Was it escapism-laced with caffeine-that prompted this flight of desire? Very likely. I need to take the bit between my teeth right here right now, and remember again, what a blessing this obligation-free time is. Besides, if I don’t conquer, or attempt to conquer, my demons-academic, mental, psychological-right here, right now, it’s not as if they will go away if I switch streams. I’ve always held there is merit in struggle.

In other matters, I got impatient with the wait for my copy of Bruce Dickinson’s memoir to arrive, and sampled the preview on amazon. I expected it to be good, but it seemed to be more than merely that. There was some serious literary merit in the extract I read.

26 Oct

I’m only as good as my ability to love God when I can’t.

 

Additional thoughts

23 Oct

*I feel I was a bit hasty in forming my opinion on #metoo. It seems to have provided an outlet that wasn’t seen to exist before. I withdraw my reservations about it.

*I am deeply fond of soft, creamy cheeses but they are hard to find in India. Brie and Camembert are still found in fancy shops, but what I really give my heart to is frishkaese, which was wonderfully cheap in Germany, especially if you bought an in-house brand. For around Rs.35 I’d have a 200gm tub of herbed frishkaese, which is a fraction of the price of Amul cheese.

The Germans also make a variety of soft cheeses that taste similar to Brie and Camembert, all for under Euros 2. I love Germany, have I mentioned? 😉

Cheese is not a viable thing to ingest in the hot climates of either Delhi or Calcutta, the two cities that are home to me. So most of the time the lack of availability or expensive imports don’t bother me. Besides, Philadelphia cream cheese isn’t, in my opinion, half as tasty as your average frishkaese.

Sometimes though, the craving hits, and in winters it is permissible to indulge. It was with great delight that I discovered this year that a home-made substitute exists that is very close to the taste I am seeking. And that is a hung-curd dip that my mother makes. When you hang curd long enough it assumes a texture and taste quite like frishkaese, and when you add in whatever additions appeal to you, like garlic, chopped coriander etc etc, it becomes suitably elevated to divine! A bonus: this is actually healthy and good for all weather consumption.

*Salt and vinegar chips are rather yummy. INOX makes a brand of kettle-cooked chips which delivers this flavour at Rs.40 for 50 gms. It’s quite good, though the chips aren’t as tongue-curlingly sour as I’d like. I am, however, not paying ridiculous prices to try the other brands that offer this in India. When I’m not PhDing, (which seems to be always these days!) I begin to fantasize about making these at home, without the maltodextrin.

*I discovered English Breakfast tea in December 2011, in the panic of MPhil coursework exams. I’ve loved it ever since, but haven’t ever had it with milk, because I prefer my tea without milk and sugar. Today I was craving a milky drink and found it tastes as good, maybe even better, with milk.

*The fridge went kaput yesterday and I will be fridgeless for a week until we buy a new one. I’ve never lived without a fridge, ever. I’m very dependent on it, a reflection of my extreme privilege ofcourse, given how monstrously expensive those things are!, and I’m driven to near panic at the thought of existing without one. (I’m almost as dependent on washing machines.) My neighbours are very, very nice and they will keep my cooked food for me whilst I woman up to the challenge of planning my meals without the cushion of storageability.

*This post is almost entirely about food.

Year Four

18 Oct

Stocktaking:

  • Came out of PhD paralysis by going through and making notes from all audio recordings. Some of that shit’s really interesting.
  • With one last round in Calcutta and Delhi, brought the fieldwork part to a close.
  • Prepared and presented a poster in a conference in Hannover.
  • Trying to read the book I have been asked to review for a peer-reviewed journal.

I need to begin the writing part, and for that I need to wade through historical literature. Dipesh Chakravarty was fun, illuminating, and done. Raj Chadavarkar? Making me doubt my abilities severely. Should have had a tentative chapterisation down by September. I dumped the scientific process and chalked out three chapter possibilities-the historical lit, writing down of fieldwork#1 and fieldwork#2. I’m hoping that from there will emerge chapters four and five.

At this point I feel like an outside observer watching my own self with disinterested interest. Will she? Won’t she? Finish the damn thing, I mean. I wonder what the picture will be one year down the line.

There isn’t a whole lot of work that I’ve got down since July. I thought I would find the work frenzy motivated by desperation that happened during the MPhil. But nwope. I’m even getting a tad worried about the book review I said yes to. Sure, book reviews don’t count for anything in an academic’s CV. But a)I don’t do things for the CV (except summer jobs in undergrad-that I definitely did for the CV), b) it’s a new experience, and for a journal I intend to try publishing in, and c) it might get me started on the publication journey.

I’ve been spending almost all my time indoors, and I’m sure that’s not very healthy. Been doing a lot of bad eating-and thought my cooking days were over. Well, I’m still indoors a lot (with a few coffee shop binges thrown in) but as of this month, I’m happy to cook and bake again. Though brownies for breakfast don’t do much for the waistline. Oh, that’s another thing. I can’t seem to abide any exercise. The thought of getting out for a morning walk just makes me roll over and go to sleep. Yoga? What yoga? Consequently, my clothes are getting a bit tight around the middle. But I’ll knock it off post-PhD, won’t I?

Have decided to cancel festivals this year. Post October is always delightful in the Indian calendar. But I decided to skip Durga Puja, Diwali, Bhai dooj. The mother isn’t happy at all. But I feel I need to do this in a bid to force myself to get a sense of urgency and in routine, and sort of like a deny-self-till-achievement-visible.

In all this, my spiritual life has both suffered and not. I’m more mentally fragile, as can be expected from a 30 year old struggling with a PhD and not sure about whether she’ll be able to handle adulthood on her own. I’m trying very hard to develop a routine of twice daily meditations, short though they may be. I kept it up for a month, but am yet to start again for month#2. The only part that hasn’t suffered has been the urgency of my need-that has grown.

Make no mistake-the scary moments are enough to send me into a panic and they do. The level of uncertainty about things grows a lot towards the end of the twenties, I see that now. And my coping habits leave a lot to be desired. I’m reading a LOT of fiction and non-fiction again this year (just not maintaining a log to feel good like last year), doing some writing, doodling. Have in fact joined an online art exploration course that my very talented friend is conducting.   I’ve also, as mentioned in the previous post, been discovering the Russian Army.

What is to be done though? Nothing but keeping on. Keep on keeping on. Even through an excess of detective novels and junk food. And un-scrubbed toilets, and overflowing laundry baskets, and clothes strewn everywhere. And Chandavarkar staring threateningly at me along with the book I have to review but can’t seem to be able to read.

Cheers!

 

My Opinion on Some Things

17 Oct
  • I read Shreya Sen-Handley’s Memoirs of My Body last night.

First thing that came to mind: very Caitlin Moran. Caitlin Moran a la How to be a Woman.

Second thing that came to mind: Read Rosalyn D’Mello’s A Handbook for my Lover instead.

(The two books don’t belong to the same genre, but as long as memoirisation of female bodies and sexualities go, D’Mello’s is better. Vertical hierarchization, so shoot me!)

Third thing that came to mind: it bugs me that she’s so terribly smug and superior about how she and her husband have child rearing nailed down. Her kids aren’t even adolescents yet; does she think they won’t be writing their memoirs and blogs when they realise the specific ways they feel their childhood messed them up?

I happily grant, however, that she seems to be doing a great job of I-will-not-fuck-up-my-kids-in-the-specific-manner-my-parents-fucked-me-up. There are, after all, lots of parents who do precisely that. Her personal journey seems to have been a remarkable testimony to her spirit. I wish she would have allowed her narrative to be more complex and nuanced.

  • Another book that caught my attention was Shreevatsa Nevatia’s soon to be released How to Travel Light: My Memoirs of Madness and Melancholia. The question is: kindle edition or paperback? It releases six days before:

 

  • Bruce Dickinson’s What Does This Button Do? An Auobiography.

I may no longer be an obsessive fan of Iron Maiden, but this man’s story? I will always want to read. And Iron Maiden still makes great music.

  • The #MeToo thing. I haven’t read the actual thread (there’s a thread or something, right?), just references to it on my facebook feed (I reactivate now and then, shhh!).

I could be wrong, but I get the sense, again, that the mainstream conversation on sexual harassment makes things very simple: women the victims and men the perpetrators.

There IS a huge problem where women are the victims who are assaulted in big and little ways with unwelcome sexual attention, advances, mind games, and physical aggression and violation by men. And there IS a huge problem of not knowing how to frame the experience in thoughts and words, and in being believed.

But it is not so neat as that, no? People placed at all points on the gender spectrum must have experienced the same no? Can you imagine what it must be like to process sexual harassment, assault, and even rape for a stereotypical man? I don’t think people believe it is possible for a man to feel violated sexually. And I wish people did not make those neat demarcations in their heads-woman/victim, man/perpetrator- when thinking about the matter of sexual assault.

  • And also, also: I have discovered and become a devoted fan of the Russian Army because, oh my! Have you heard the music they make? And it’s not just the Alexandrov Ensemble-formerly Red Army Choir-but several divisions of the army that makes gorgeous music. It also breaks my heart that over 60 members of the Ensemble died last December. Such music lost! 😦

Presently earwormed by:

Russian Army doing Gangnam Style to Bad Romance

Alexandrov Ensemble, 2017, including Cossack dance and viewer comment#1

Older Red Army Choir singing Battle Hymn of the Republic/ Glorie Aleluia

There is so much more, but let Youtube suggestions guide you if you’re searching.

4 Oct

It is a good question, that. ‘Choose something utterly repulsive to you’, and I find I don’t know the answer very quickly. What repulses me?

Something that is repulsive is not merely distasteful, nor is it something that angers one, or hurts, or makes one feel unloved. Repulsion has claws that dig deeper inside, and induces the stomach to churn. As far as I am concerned, anything else falls on the spectrum of dislike or detest.

The question comes from an online creative course that my friend is leading and I am participating in. I’m a little late, and today is my day one. Maybe thinking about this will keep me away from those seductive daytime naps.