oncejadedtwicesnarked: An exploding dog comic. The text reads "look it's ok you are dead inside, we don't expect too much from you". (Dead Inside)

I’ve written about my classroom, here and elsewhere often times. It’s a diverse space that comes with its own boundaries and problems — as does virtually everything — however, sometimes some things just tease out the power dynamics much better than other moments. When you imagine the following dialogue, please bear in mind, this is happening across English, Hindi, Marathi, Hindustani, French and Tulu. I don’t necessarily believe that the nation-state can or *should* be a point of reference for people’s characters — but I do know one thing, Mohanty was right when she said, “A place on the map is a place in history”. There are moments, when we carry our nations, some half-tongues within us, and in even rarer moments — they come out to visit. So I’ve used [nationality] and for Indian students, the [region] where we come from to mark the geopolitics we embody. All the Canadians in this particular class are white.

[Prof]: “What do we think of the Hindu Right gaining increasing momentum in Mumbai and Gujurat?”

[UPite]: “Oh even in UP! But I don’t think it’ll come to much. I am not so scared of the Hindu Right — they talk a big game but do almost nothing.”

[Mumbaiite]: “What?! Have you forgotten the Gujurat 2002 carnage? The Kargil war and the wave of intense hate-Pakistan-nationalism that followed soon after? How can you say the Hindu Right doesn’t *do* anything?!!? I LITERALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS!”.

[Asamese]: Before S* can reply, can I just say I agree with her? I agree the Hindu Right is ideologically wrong, but from where I come from — it’s the State (and the Nation increasingly collapsed into each other) that poses a threat for us. Let’s keep that in mind, the Hindu Right may not be a lot of things, but it’s never imposed a military rule on us”.

[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “UM. What. Right, so who instated the AFSPA? We’re forgetting that even the ‘Glorious Nehruvian Socialism FOR ALL ERA!!!111 was deeply gendered and casteist, it celebrated the forming of the military state. I mean, just look at how democracy was defined then (shit, it’s still the same today!), to attack Mumbai, or the Center is ‘anti-democratic’ and to attack Manipur, Kashmir, Arunachal is to make sure democracy is preserved”.

[UPiite]: “I think we’re sort of forgetting that UP has seen a range of Left governments, however, we still have had waves of Naxalbari. I’m starting to feel like we glorify Left governments and just assume that they are a viable solution for our increasingly-capitalist-totalitarian State”.

[Prof]: “A couple of things. Yes, about glorification about Left governments — how come we forget Bose’s fascist tendencies? His connection to Burma and Hitler? Yes, the Left could propose a real threat in this country, but going back to the Nehru point — I think it’ll be good if we just for this moment forget that Nehruvian Era was supposed to be socialist. Look at what happened to the Hindu Code Bill debates, the deeply casteist remarks it spurred, that only a Dalit could propose the “sacred” Hindu marriage is a contract and so on. Remember, talking about caste (outside of census and sociological debates) was to be casteist itself. We’re talking about generations bred up to think that to mention their caste, is as if, to admit that there’s something ‘wrong’ or ‘missing’.

[Canadian]: “This is so interesting. Because back home, the Christian Right have real as well as theoretical power. Here the Right seems to be a symbolic signifier more than anything”.

[Bangalorian]: “Repeating P* on the Gujurat carnage of 2002, the current (forced) indoctrination of religious minorities to Hinduism, the riots of the early 90’s. I think people let’s settle on one basic thing, far Right or far Left are both seriously problematic. What we should be talking about is, what happens to Mumbai and Gujurat, two seats of burgeoning cultural capital if Hindu Right forces are now overtly part and parcel of the market”.

[Salvadorian]: “To just step out of India for a moment, I don’t think I can ever think the Right can ever be ‘harmless’ as S* seems to be suggesting. Like, harmless, sure, but to whom? I’m pretty sure, this wouldn’t be a part of the discussion if S* wasn’t an upper-caste Hindu woman who grew up in an urban city like Delhi. This isn’t to play oppression olympics — but geopolitics and socialisation play a big part in what you see, and the privilege that allows you to unsee, so to speak”.

[Another Canadian]: “Till I came to India, I had no idea how bad the caste question really was. No amount of books can teach you such sort of lived discrimination”.

[Bengali]: “It’s true, we’ve grown up thinking that we upper caste liberals are so progressive that we don’t mention caste at all. Truth is, caste is unfolding always. Even when we say we don’t “talk about caste”, we do say, “I hope so and so doesn’t marry inter-caste”. I won’t even broach what inter-religious unions can do in a upper caste Bengali bourgeoisie”.

[Another Canadian]: “This is something that is only half-thought out, so… I take a couple of classes over at the politics department, we never talk of caste. It seems, that this class goes out of its way to make sure it’s a part of our conversation almost every day. I wonder, why don’t other departments don’t want to address it”.

[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “Same reason, let’s say the feminist academia doesn’t talk about its Eur-Am bias, India doesn’t talk about its ‘big brother-y’ role in SAARC, some people in this class don’t see a particular type of politics as dangerous — their life chances don’t depend on it. I HAVE to talk of race, my geopolitical location every time I step into feminist academia, this is a promise I’ve made to myself. Because too much goes unsaid, it’s too traumatic to ever fully acknowledge that you were a part of a process that just re-affirmed the current world order and you didn’t say anything”.

[Delhiite]: “Right, but then do you talk about caste? Or that’s just the responsibility of those damned lower and backward castes huh?”

[Me/Mumbaiite]: “I don’t see what I can do talking about caste. Like sure, I could tell you about the slurs I grew up with, that are a part of my linguistic training in Gujarati (my supposed mother tongue) that speak of the Kolis, the Warkaris and the Adivasis in specific racialised, derogatory words. I’m sure they’re important to see how caste, race, sexuality, stereotypes unfold in our everyday. But, I firmly believe I can’t be the one to merely speak about caste, I have to do at the same time. I usually don’t think theory and practice have such clear distinctions — but things like, giving the Valmiki caste woman who my landlady employs to clean the house the same cup I use to drink coffee in. Or to understand that to a large section of the society, notions of space, health and access are very different — and such an analysis has to leave the pages. It has to happen before I can say, I’m okay with theorising about caste”.

[Prof]: “Okay, let me try something here. Tell me, how many of you have ever faced any sort of racial and caste discrimination? Number and name the instances. [After a long pause] See, I’m quite certain that most of you have firsthand experiences of both forms of prejudice, but you cannot label such experiences so clinically. I think caste has to be done too, but not necessarily done and then spoken about — I do get why you said do and speak, in this instance, but let me put this a bit further. How come talking about caste is relatively easy for say, the Canadians? And why is talking about race something we have to bring ourselves to say? At the same time, if you ask our friends from the rural area, who are sitting besides us because of certain reservations, affirmative action so to speak, why can they talk to caste to me in only Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, whatever. They speak and I translate — what does it mean that I have to be that bridge between their conversations and yours? Why do they think, me, an upper caste woman (who is strongly influenced by Ambedkar and Periyar) is safer, than other people who may be around them in the caste hierarchy?”

“I am not particularly interested to see what the class thinks of the Hindu Right, but to see how can we talk to each other, if our tongues, broken and full (but this can be contested heavily too), have to mediate our embodied regions, races, castes? Why and how does race become a global phenomenon, but caste something particular to India? Why do we need constant translation in class, even though we’ve almost never ever fully agreed with each other? There’s something to think about this — how our languages in this classroom mediate everything we’ve said and want to say, where we come from and what kind of history we carry with our bodies”.


Still parsing what she said. But, can I just say, during such times, I really do love my class?

oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
The following is an edited and translated version of a paper I presented at a conference at the French Embassy in this city last week. This paper is around the interwebes in different forms, link back please if you’re quoting it.


I’ve been invited here to speak to you of representations today. I’m told this group is interested in culture and translation – in the realm of feminism and praxis – and I’ll be talking specifically about a few images that linger on, even when exercises that seem as benign as translation occur. I am not sure how many people in the audience are familiar with Mumbai of the Globalisation, Privatisation and Liberalisation era, and I am not entirely certain that any summary I could provide would come close to even scratching the surface of all that Bombay and later Mumbai experienced in the past two decades. So you will have to translate the circumstances I speak of.

Introductions have always been my weak spot — I never know how to quite answer the “where are you from” question. Not that I have a history of origins so complicated that I don’t know where I come from, it’s just that the moment I say I am from “Mumbai, India”, the conversation usually dies out. For people who’ve grown up in different parts of India dreaming of going to Mumbai (for some Bombay) and making their dreams come true — I don’t know how to talk of the Mumbai I know, of intense competition that you learn to lovingly call “survival”, of the brusque lifestyles, of the city where private spaces are now becoming extinct — to the effect that we’ve started creating the “private” everywhere we can — where you find spas and slum dwellings in the same street, where such clichés actually hold true, for the city they dream of has no room for such cracks. To people who don’t know India, much less Mumbai, all and everything Mumbai has come to symbolise is Slumdog Millionaire and any suggestion that Mumbai is more than someone’s Orientalist-wet-dream is met with condescension. This is usually the point in the conversation when I stop talking altogether or just walk away.

Since I moved to this city six months ago, introductions have become my least favourite exercise. Another conversation nightmare is, “What was your childhood like?” as people think I’m being creative with details when I say I grew up reading and re-reading works of Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Enid Blyton and Wordsworth on one hand and am equally well versed with the worlds of Rabindranath Tagore, Ruskin Bond and Anant Pai. Another horrid question is, “What is your mother tongue”, for English doesn’t seem like a true enough answer, least of all to me. But it’s the only answer that fits the traditional definitions of a “mother tongue” – I have never really understood what mothers have to do with languages – it’s the language I think and dream in, can articulate myself but it still breathes foreign to me. Lately French has joined the rank too. Popular images that came through via texts and visuals are of the “Indian global citizen”, of the new middle class, upper-caste child that speaks impeccable English as well as knows the “traditional texts and scriptures” (translated in English will also do), a person who manages tradition – of a certain kind, accessible only to some people in the caste and class hierarchy – with modernity. Most of our middle class households imbibe the idea, consciously and otherwise, that our dream is the American dream. Of studying and working in the US, of internalising meritocracy – this is also why so many people study English and Spanish, with specific American pronunciations; you find the various “Learn Perfect American English” institutes littered all across India.

I am not suggesting that growing up anywhere in India in the 90’s was an uniform experience, rather that it meant something to be growing up in Mumbai, a city so many people think of as the cultural capital of India and being able to more-or-less set the norms for most other youngsters in other small towns and cities – I didn’t think it was true till many years ago a friend from Bengal pointed out the favourable change in people’s attitude towards me when I’d mention I am a Mumbaiite. There was a moment, somewhere in 2002 or 2003 where suddenly my friends and I discovered the power we wielded as residents of Mumbai, and we’d loudly make fun of participants of other cities whenever we went for Science fairs and competitions. We called them “vernacular trash”, forgetting that English too was a vernacular language to someone else in a different spot on the globe, or the way English had reached us, drunk on the status our city afforded us. We grew up soon after, learnt that it was politically incorrect to make such statements and started fraternising with the “under classes” in a wave of bourgeois guilt. Luckily for us, we met reality soon enough, figured out there was no “under class” and that the people we wanted to save so badly had more to give us than the other way around – in terms of practical advice and even as producers of theory and knowledge.

Read more... )
oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)
Earlier today I was talking to [personal profile] jhameia and the following conversation just blew on it's own. Enjoy. 

Jha: Aw DAMMIT. The way my post is going, now I kinda want to talk about something else.
Me: What?
Jha: That's only tangentially related. About the construction of identity. How it's not a linear process, but a multidimensional process. That is very often unconscious.
Me: [nods]
Jha: The only time I've ever seen it critiqued obviously has been through Jameson's thing about simulacra, about how identity can be bought. We buy the clothing we wear that communicates something about us. And thus so much of our identity is mediated that way, through an economic process. In North American society anyway.

Me: Speaking of Jameson, let's not forget how he makes and fixes political allegories of Third World Writers.
Jha: Which kind of confused me when I first encountered it because in Malaysia, cultural identity is also mediated through community rituals.
Me: Yes, here also.
Jha: I have only read that one essay of his which I am still grappling with.
Me: He's good.
Jha: But SWM.
Me: But don't put race or culture. Things fall apart before Achebe can say
Jha: Maybe that's why he can think of identity in terms of economic processes.
Me: Ha. Definitely.
Jha: Because he's so SWM, we know those SWM, it's all about claaaaaaaaaaaaaassssssss.
Me: Absolutely, that's just it. JESUS ><''
Jha: That's the thing about steampunk though, it's an interesting thing to me because I
 STILL see those identities produced through economic processes. BUT. And especially with people who are looking to communicate a more culturally specific identity, there's ALSO an attempt to assert identity in ways that don't rely on economic modes. 
Me: Yes. 
Jha: Like, if I want to do Chinese steampunk, I already know the forms and function. It's a matter of putting it out there. But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity. 
But sometimes it also means I have to pay to communicate Chinese specificity.  I've been thinking about this for a while now. What gets lost/ what new meanings are made when we attempt to translate our cultures and contexts, the toll it takes on us, the space it puts on us. And our cultural memory -- or whatever remains of it anyway. 
Jha: That's where it ties in to the post I am writing right now. It's exactly about how to communicate our culture and how to recover it. How to reclaim the legacy. 
Me: Who can reclaim it, when? In which subject position?
Jha: I got a quote from Derrida's Specters of Marx
Me: Oh?
Jha: You've read that one? It's the one where he talks about ghosts, ghosts from the pasts, which are present, which need to be addressed, the ghosts are a result of a violence that has happened in the past. 
Me: Yes, I remember. 
Jha: Ignoring them only produces more ghosts, because ignoring them is a kind of violence? That one? 
Me: Making the present bear witness to the ghosts of the past?
 Implicating and complicating them? That one?
Jha: And there's this passage about inheritance. Yes, apprehending ghosts. That one. 
Me: Got it, go on. 
Jha: What POC
 do in steampunk is, APPREHEND the ghosts of our past, our cultural memories to address them. Not necessarily to exorcise them, mind, but to acknowledge their presence. 
Me: Yes. Sometimes talking about presence is to apprehend it. Apprehension comes before understanding, Butler says that, in Frames of War. 
Jha: Because ghosts are a part of us, part of our culture and it's our duty to translate them. And we translate them differently, according to whose ghosts, and according to our relationship to the ghost. 
Me: Duty? I don't know. But it's a voluntary conflict we take on. Because that's the only way we can apprehend our lived realities, make them translatebale so to speak -- to the larger political realities we navigate. 
Jha: I
 think, for some of us. it has to be a duty, because to ignore the spectre is to do violence, not only to the specter but to the present, so if we want to not do violence, then we do have to take up the task.
Me: Maybe. 
Jha: But that's part of why colonialism tramples on, right, because Whiteness refuses to apprehend and translate. 
Me: Yes, but I can't see it as a duty. 
Jha: If white people want to do right by POC and the violent shared history, then yes, I'd say it's their duty to take it up. Hmmmm maybe duty is the wrong word for it? 
Me: Because of where and how I live -- I am not in the (direct) presence of Whiteness as you are, for instance, I do have a legacy of (on going) colonialism, definitely. So when you say "duty", the times when I don't want to reckon with colonialism, it implies that *I* am falling short in some way -- which I have to do sometimes, just to deal with the "colonial legacy". 
Jha: Yeah and there's nothing wrong with that. We will always fall short and that's the other thing about ghosts.
 If things could be neatly settled with them, it wouldn't be that important to apprehend them. 
Me: Which is why I said "voluntary conflict" -- it's hard to navigate, but it's a journey we have to undertake knowing full well what the ghosts could bring in their wake. 
Jha: Some of us have no choice, though, but to undergo that conflict and the things the ghosts bring with them. 
Me: Oh definitely, but we have to decide to apprehend it, and the attempts to parse what goes on, once ghosts come back alive. Voluntary, because even when we say "no choice", there is agency, I'd think. It's not a choice, sometimes mediated by coercive contexts. But the apprehension *has* to be voluntary -- for history to bear witness to the present. 
Jha: Hmmm. But taking up duty is often a choice, no?
 Ha, not where I come from. National duty, familial duty, filial duty.
Jha: Right. I'm thinking in the sense of, if you don't take up this duty horrible things happen. 
Me: Expected choices -- that's a sad pun for you.
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Duty as a word and meaning means something specific to many POC, which is why I wouldn't use it though I see where you're getting at. 
Jha: Mmmm. Yes, I can see now. 
Me: I know, what you're getting at is the "POC who has chosen to apprehend chooses to put it out there for other POC", because many have similar questions/issues and they may build a system of solidarity/resistance, etc. 
Jha: Yes, but I am ALSO
 thinking through the duty of white people to apprehend because of their privilege. 
Me: Again, different white people have different duties, no?
 Duty becomes in many instances, a favour or an act of benevolence. I am extremely skeptical of duty and all that it implies, as you can see. 
Jha: That's the other thing to square with...how do white people enact a duty towards victims of their inheritance without turning it into an act of benevolence? (You know, besides shutting up and sitting down)
Me: By understanding there is no benevolence to be doled out. We are not subjects of their duty
Jha: Yes. They are. 
Me: We are active participants of their choice. We decide if their choice is something we want to apprehend -- which is different every time it takes place across various contexts and people. 
Jha: *nods
Me: We are agents of choice, of articulation and at some point we can be active together to talk of our duty to each other. But today we need to have full control whether we want to apprehend their choice to talk of a shared violent legacy. I can see how easily this can become a supremacist dialogue (from any end) -- which is why
 I said it depends on context, every single time it changes. 
Jha: Yes. 
Me: Love this dialogue, thank you for making me think in this direction 
Jha: Well, now I am farther away from where I originally wanted to be and don't know how to go back to write what I meant to say!   
Me: Ha. 
Me: But, I LOVE such deviations! 
Jha: Me too! But it makes writing harder. 
Jha: Especially since I am trying to do this publick intellekchual thing and make sure it's easy enough for someone off the street to understand it.  
Me: Ha, yes   


oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

March 2012



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