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Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?

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29 Oct

It is 1.24 AM and I am jotting down points related to fieldwork that I want to clarify/air out with my Supervisor tomorrow. Every few minutes I am also distractedly clicking on one of the many tabs that I have simultaneously kept open or keying in a new search term. I am distracted and I know it.

In my belly rest the remains of really well-made chicken malai tikka and a flavourful, herb-y lemon chicken ordered in from a neighbouring restaurant. Rich food is a nice opiate.

Scattered on the bed next to me are a sheaf of loose sheets that I have made notes on from three texts relevant to my immediate research. One of those is only available on google books, incompletely. I say ‘only’ because a hard copy costs a laughable Rs.10,000 from Routledge.

I want to add here some positive statements about how lucky I am to be doing a PhD, and to be earning a fellowship, but that will spoil my grumble. I AM very grateful to be doing a PhD but right now, at 1.32 AM I just want a grumble. Grumble grumble.

FOCUS!

19 Dec

That thing that I do not have! Argh!

It is not that I have not been reading. I have. This is what I have read through the year:

  • Essays on the Anthropology of Reason– Paul Rabinow
  • A booklet on the forest workers movement
  • Rohini Hensman’s Workers, Unions and Global Capitalism: Lessons from India
  • Aman Sethi’s A Free Man
  • Amitav Ghosh’s Circle of Reason
  • Paul Stoller’s The Power of the Between: An Anthropological Odyssey
  • Rory Stewart’s The Places in Between
  • Kirin Narayan’s My Family and Other Saints
  • Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh

(And presently issued from the library:

  • Rabinow’s French Modern and Anthropos Today
  • David L. Gosling’s Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein Met Tagore
  • A Difficult Friendship: Letters of Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore 1913-1940)

This is most of what I remember, there were probably more. Pretty much NONE of this relates to Delhi (except A Free Man). And that is what I should have been reading given that my field work was in Delhi.!. Most of my academic reading has been focused on method, and I find myself drifting towards the anthropological method. This, after spending a good part of my MPhil deriding anthropology as a discipline for its propensity to actively hunt out the ‘other’ to ‘study’. It had seemed rather arrogant and orientalist. White man goes to study primitive tribe. Rabinow and Stoller have made me rethink how anthropology can be conceptualised and conducted. No…that’s not it. It’s more that while reading their work, I realised that my way of doing was more anthropological than anything else.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve basically ‘strayed’ in my reading. I should have interspersed it with more readings on the political and economic history of Delhi to contextualise my study. The time to correct that error is short: by the end of the first week of January I will have to present my work and defend my title.

(Ofcourse, I could have read more. But then this was a tough year, mentally and psychologically and emotionally. Inner turbulence reduced what I could have achieved.)

Lesson for year two of PhD: Do. Not. Stray!

Light

23 Oct

In nursery, they taught us to sing ‘Diwali, Diwali, festival of lights’. Candles burn, crackers burst…and after that I cannot remember. Never mind, it’s the light I’m interested in.

There is something so cleansing about fire. Cleansing, energizing, life-giving. Or perhaps, I’m just a closet pyromaniac! 😛

It is Diwali today, and I realise that I suck at secular festivity. As a kid- it was the crackers which made Diwali an occasion for me (we’d burst them as a family, mostly low-power stuff except that one time when my mom got us those string crackers that look like crayons in a box and OHBOYWHATFUN our hearts thudded with the noise after my mom the brave one lit it and that is one memory I will always cherish-that one daring Diwali-but we stopped bursting crackers when I was in Class V because my brother, who is four years younger, was brainwashed at school into giving them up child labour, pollution and Diwali, Diwali is a festival of lights I was pissed at first, I remember standing at one end of the primary school corridor at Carmel overlooking the basketball court? complaining to friends about the injustice of it they’re just crackers) but after that I’d only get mildy interested in putting up the diyas with my mother (who has always been the most enthusiastic about it) who eventually found a kindred spirit in the neighbour kid and they would do rangolis together. Once or twice, I’d summon up interest because Kali Puja, which falls on the same day for us Bengalis (although some apparently do Lakshmi Puja on this day), provides mutton curry as prasad.

So yes, I suck at secular festivity. This time, the secular beat a retreat on its own, and in the days leading up to Diwali, I transitioned in my head to thinking of it as Kali Puja. I love Kali. So I did some enthusiastic cleaning around the house (and discovered the joys of wipe-downs with lemongrass oil-don’t get any on your hands though it’s an essential oil and it will burn undiluted) and went out today to replenish the stock of tea-lights that were to go into diyas today because yesterday we used up fourteen-the day before Diwali ‘we’ (meaning what? Bengalis? Our kind of Bengalis? Or just our family line? Who knows? We’re autonomous migratory Bongs with limited time for rituals) and along the way I saw this young man setting up with the largest, brightest genda phools I’ve seen, on two tables, by the little road leading to the market I was walking to. I saw him, thought about buying some, but because I never do, I walked on. Genda phool also goes by marigold and when I was a child, when we had flower pots in our balcony, we had two of marigold, one used to be on the left-most corner and I would stand by that one oftenest as I would look between the railings and get my view of the world outside my building. I kind of remember it being in perpetual bloom, but I’m sure that is just my memory kidding me.

On my way back, though, I bought it. They were the biggest, brightest, yellow and orangest and fragrantest of the lot I’d seen while walking-and there were many marigold sellers out and about on occassion of Diwali. The young man selling it called me Madam and the lady beside me Madam. We both examined the length of the string, and both asked the price and he used the same tone of voice, the same language for both replies. He treated us the same. He gave us the same soft, polite respect. What a nice guy!  What a beautiful soul! That is what happens when the secular transitions to non (I notice things).

The strand of all that is good and God wove its way from his big, lovely flowers to a new urge to place a blossom each before our Guru in every room.When I go back to Calcutta end of this month I’m getting myself a pot of marigold so I can take a daily flower or two and with my hands place them before Lahiri Mahasaya and Gyanamata and Babaji and God and Guru in every room. The genda phool found its way home and took me along for the ride.

The thing about marigolds? Apparently they bloom best in poor soil.

Scraps

12 Mar

The rickshaw that took me from the metro station to the library today morning had its seat upholstered with a map of the world. So, I kindofsortof sat on the world, and I didn’t even have to threaten any nations for it 😛

Even before that, there was an old woman on the bus, all wrinkly and balding, who had painted her finger nails in the happiest and brightest of pinks. That made my morning and I had to share it with a friend via sms.

                                                                                            —

“What was it you said your mother had instead of a memory, which helped her put up with your father?”

“A forgettery.”

“I need one of those as well”

-from Joseph Anton

That was clever. But I think what we really need is a forgiverry. Much more effective, no?

                                                                                             —

I’ve grown up reading about people, kids usually, sliding down banisters. For the first time today, I actually saw someone do that 🙂 A fully grown adult man, happily sliding down three flights of stairs at a metro station. It was hard to hold my smile in.

On a sunny, windy February Sunday

9 Feb

I took a walk. From the YSS Centre in Delhi to Gole Market, where I saw shops that were possibly as old as the Partition, housed within the white pillars of colonial architecture.

With no agenda in mind, I allowed the quiet, sunny roads and the moderate murmur of Sunday life to lead my way. I found my way to a small sweet shop, advertising coffee as an added attraction. It had three small tables, an aged proprietor and three employees. On the menu (for me, i,e.): aloo tikki, coffee out of a Nescafe machine and a book. Around me, a very Punjabi family, two open doorways and the sun. Sublime!

Write a hundred times…

6 Nov

‘I will not be a feverish fool’

Or,

Some simple rules that are incredibly hard to follow…even though they are simple, because they are hard, because they are simple…

And round and round the merry-go-round we go! For that’s what it is.

Tomorrow will be a week from last Thursday, a week that was incredibly hard to deal with to begin with. Because, I panicked. I had a report to write, I was unable to make any headway on the report and started entertaining an impressive variety of doomsday thoughts. I’m becoming quite the pro at hosting these acid-laced zip zip rollercoaster gravity plunging thought-parties in my head. It was a theme party to begin with and the theme was ‘Oh You Fool’. Because, you know, going ahead and volunteering with this organisation and then not being able to give them anything and all that…

I must say though they’ve been awesome to me. I’ve been chastised for getting so worked up about it and been ordered to chill. And, the panic was clarifying in a sense because by taking away sanity, it brought me back to basics. Helped remind me that I’ve made the decision to rest and act in God, and in God I must rest and act at all times (like I said…simple rule, hard to follow…). Somehow these not-so-pleasant moments are really, really good for my spiritual journey.

The report is flowing now. Long way to go yet, but I’m writing (and patting myself on the back for being 6000 words deep), and have hit the ‘zone’ where I’m content to write without worrying about the ‘end’.

Dear self,

Kindly remember you enjoy using your brain.

Regards,

The self.