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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.