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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.

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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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?