oncejadedtwicesnarked: An angry looking brown person, the text above reads "POC MEANIE". (Poc Meanie)


Last week, my friend and I drunkenly tried to count the number of billboards, shops, advertisements used the term “
modern” and we stopped at 36 as something shinier came by. For a country that wants to proclaim ‘modernity’ on every turn that it possibly can -- read “enter the ranks of the first worldregardless of who pays the price -- ‘modern’ is our buzzword. There are ‘modern’ supermarkets, ‘modern’ shopping malls, ‘modern’ hairdressers, ‘modern’ tailors and this list goes on ad nauseam.  It’s really funny that we don’t mind seeming this “modern” nation out on its way to progress -- without pausing to ask whose notion of progress anyway -- but the moment gender becomes a part of the equation, suddenly the rules change.  Anyone who’s been a feminist or an advocate of women’s rights in India, has heard at least once, that they are “spoiling the cultural fabric of the nation” because of feminism.  Even the Left considers feminism an “imperial curse”¹ and the "western/modern demon"; often feminists have to explain why we're not being seditious by believing and advocating for gender justice.


Selectively labeling something as "western" is to make it taboo in one of the quickest ways possible here -- and anything can be labeled "western" if it leads to policing feminine sexual autonomy and agency.  Speaking English is western, wearing jeans is western, dressing in anything but "traditional" clothes denotes one's corruption by western forces and this contempt is reserved mostly for anyone who is read as 'female' -- outright sexism that most of us encounter daily.  Marxism isn't "western", using avant garde technology isn't "western", when gender enters any equation it immediately becomes "western".  My grandmum complained about similar layperson sexism and I frankly don't see much change in our reception and understanding of feminism -- we usually hear the dismissal of the movement as "western" once we've pointed out some yet another misogynist attitude, a rebuttal that comes when there is nothing else to say. I'm quite used to right-wing-leaning acquaintances denounce how I single-handedly will shame everyone I know (and their ancestors) by talking and writing about gender all the time.  Less frequent are the rants from the people who call themselves "comrade" and (unalarmingly) they come to the same conclusion.  Imagine my surprise when I read the following quote:


Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine [...]


I imagine Mehreen's position comes from facing racism within the feminist movement, being the token nonwhite feminist in and outside academic feminism. I cannot imagine what an added layer of islamophobia feels to such routine tokenism. At many feminist meetings here too, there are the same few Muslim voices, the same women who are pigeonholed into being the Non Threatening Muslim voices who talk (yet again) of the Hudood ordinances, veils and polygamy, who do not question too hard the discrepance between what feminists say and do. I can completely sympathise about wanting to disengage with such a movement and will probably be the last person to ever disagree with any such claim given my relationship with the movement

(and to her credit, she doesn't dismiss feminism but instead calls for white feminists to look at flaws in their methods of working and engaging with women of colour). However, seeing feminism attributed to solely western ideologies raises all kinds of red flags, if we are to take India’s history of women’s movements as an example.  Unlike the popular belief that India doesn't have feminism because there were no "waves" here² the Indian women's movement has a long-sustained conversation vis-a-vis feminism being "western”.


 

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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)

This week I'm flitting between three cities, attending conferences in two, making my way back in the third one -- moving in my old room again, while half of my boxes and things are stuck in another house eight hours away from where I grew up. Thinking about memories, what each place, room holds and means to me has become quite the routine for this time of the year. Memories of my family intertwine with national history -- partly because of my grandmum's participation in the freedom struggle and in part my great-grandfather's connections with Nehruvians -- so much so that writing anything about the nation would be futile without mentioning my family and the place I occupy and negotiate in both spaces. My sister and I usually clean grandmum's cupboard, pack up her photographs, clean her saris while her ghazals play on the tape -- it's something we do without discussion or planning, it's an annual chore of sorts. This year, mum invited two of our aunts along, all of us began with the cleaning and boxing. Somehow, they started talking about her little quirks, her way of cooking this sabzi or the other, quickly praising her poise ("Right to her last days, she has never been inconvenient to anyone") that dissolved to silence as my sister asked my aunts what was she like when they were growing up, if she was as radical as the stories assure us. These are not memories you want to remember her by, auntie huffed, think how great a grandmother she was to the two of you, the Swadeshi¹ thing is very old, what's the point of thinking of all that now? I find this extremely disorienting -- to specifically remember her as a defanged version of her older self, as a wife and grandmother but not as a woman in her own right who wanted to be more than just a housewife.


----


A friend asked this question a few days ago and I am still grappling with what it implies, what it can unfold. She asked me to write one day about South Asian feminisms² and its legacy of violence, to the extent that to speak of South Asian feminisms is to speak of violence -- and what does it mean for us today, what responsibility do we have to various women's movements across South Asia. The conference I went to yesterday, before starting on her paper on Urdu poetry, the speaker stood up and apologised to all the Bangladeshi feminists present -- she said the Pakistani government would never state this, but as a feminist she feels responsible for her compliance and silence in the Bangladeshi war of 1971 -- a conference that addresses South Asian feminism was a good platform, she said, to make new memories out of national histories. While those were terse and moving moments -- sadly, they will not exist out of spaces made by academia and institutional discussions of feminism. Grandmum and her friend -- who I only know as Fatimabibi -- tried to keep in touch after her family migrated to Bangladesh after the Partition as many Muslim households in Bengal and Orissa did, but both were young mothers with families that didn't want to accommodate their ideologies, eventually they stopped writing to each other, my grandmum wouldn't ever speak of her -- I only found their letters while doing a project on family this semester. And even then, I felt like I was intruding on words and memories that I wasn't meant to be a part of -- grandmum mentioned burning a few letters on Fatimabibi's request in her journals; all she said was, "Those were important but not happy words". I don't know what was that in reference to -- I could speculate, but I won't. These are not my memories to play with. It's one thing to claim responsibility as a political move, as an extension of your beliefs, quite another to destroy history, to remain *that* firm on your belief of what comes under responsibility³.


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

--- This post is dedicated to a dear friend in angrezland. You know who you are --


This December, along with re-gain some modicum amount of control over my hands, I’ve embarked on another impossible task -- reading Indian fiction that makes the “best selling” list, it’s less condescending than it sounds. Classmates and friends have (rightly) complained about my preference of Subaltern literature, or any literary fiction that isn’t mainstream -- in distribution and in its ideology, such a hopeless hipster, as always -- which leave me with shelves of essays by Nivedita Menon and Richa Nagar, with most works of Spivak, Susie Tharu, Mahashveta Devi and Shauna Singh Baldwin but have never read any Chitra Banerjee or worse (gasp!) Shobha Dé -- the Queens of Feminist Writing in Fiction, I’m told. Shobha Dé and I will never see eye-to-eye, not since she came to my college in Mumbai proclaiming the fight for women’s rights has long been over for young women in Mumbai colleges and it’s only those rural women who have to yet be empowered. That said, whatever little I know of her work, she has sassy urban protagonists, who have sexual agency and at times even exhibit physical and bodily autonomy -- on some days that counts as feminism, no? In any case, I decided to read Chitra Banerjee’s A Palace of Illusions last week, most classmates and friends recommended this book because of the book’s reputation to “render the (otherwise) mute Draupadi in the patriarchal Mahabharat with a powerful voice”. I want to talk about this “giving a voice” business before we can get to the text itself. A decade ago, feminist academia was awash with “voicing” fringe groups -- for Indian feminist academia it was Dalit and tribal women -- for Eur-Am academia it was Third World Women. This is where the voice of a group becomes an intellectual and economic project for some, “global feminist networks” crop up for research and “solidarity building”. Interestingly, these networks are directly responsible for many Eur-Am feminists’ award winning theses; today, most of those networks have perished*. Interest in ‘fringe’ groups now has to be translated to issues around ‘identities’. Voicing, articulating a voice, becoming a voice that needs articulation -- none are innocent projects.


If the murky spaces of consent, negotiation of agency are not your preoccupation, Palace of Illusions sets open an ambitious project, it works within the framework of the Mahabharat, Draupadi still does and says all that she is supposed to, but this time she has a “back story” as the reviews promise. She’s a rebellious, moody, quirky and a dark heroine, ruled by her impulses -- decisions that eventually launches the Great War of Hastinapur. Her infamous derobing scene (where she is dragged in the court to be undressed in front of all the members of the Royal Court, including her five husbands who gambled her along with all their other belongings) is transformed to a tragedy, where her faith in Krishna saves her on the outside, but we get to see her strong willed thoughts even if Krishna had never enchanted her robe to never end. All of this is all and well, if “voicing” is all that you want to read and engage with. Banerjee’s work occupies an extremely strange position in society -- literary and otherwise -- for (most) Hindu nationalists love her (as they get to say, “See how great Indian women were in Ancient India? It’s only after the Muslim colonisation that we have become such degenerates”), for many feminists her book opens up a space for Draupadi to speak her mind, to ask a few feminist-y questions and for international publishers like Harper-Collins, Banerjee works as Orientalist (but not really because it’s written by an Indian herself!) project, where the book constantly interrupts itself to explain Hindu customs and traditions and for others, it’s a “fresh” perspective to an old tale -- the text is extremely aware of this balance and manages to hold attention too. But, if we were to question *who* can re-claim Draupadi’s voice (if at all), silences draw blanks.


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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)


Note: This is a dialogue that has taken months to articulate, Numa and I have been talking about allyhood, groups and new modes of organising -- important to remember this dialogue has no end -- we are just certain about one thing, if any speculation around solidarity is not a dialogue, a mutual engagement then it holds no value.

---

Numa: When you suggested that we start discussing Islam, I wasn’t entirely sure where you wanted to go with this discussion/talk. Talking about Islam certainly hasn’t figured much in our conversations, so I was like, huh?, where did that suggestion come from? But thinking about it now, I recall what you said when you first introduced this idea of this series to me. The assumption made by many is that because we are South Asian women, we will be natural allies.
 

Well, to be fair, I think because of our melanin count we DO have some shared experiences/ similar experiences that made it possible as individuals to identify with each other. Of course, that’s just on an individual level and it wouldn’t necessarily be the same for myself and another person who looks like me (my mother for example).
 

Yes, there are differences, like religion. I was going to say, it is interesting that this is clearly a big signifier of difference in your geo-political location, where everyone is more or less the same race, but for me, it wasn’t the first difference that occurred to me. Growing up in a majority white space, and having been raised in a family that while Muslim, is not outwardly read as Muslim by most white people (I don’t wear a headscarf, my father doesn’t have a massive beard etc.), our main signifier is our clearly South Asian looks.
 

The other day, my father approached a traffic warden to ask about parking in the neighbourhood we were in and the traffic warden put his hands together in greeting (Namaskar), and asked my father whether he knew Shah Rukh Khan. Anyway, my point is that I think this kind of lumping all South Asians into one homogeneous mass, kind of rubbed off on me.
 

When I meet South Asian people here, we are kind of immediately connected by this bond of shared racism that we face, and intra-group tensions due to religious/regional differences, at least to me, are not something that I think about actively. It’s not like when I meet somebody white, and I immediately think, how will the fact that I am different to them influence the way they behave towards me.
 

In fact, I kind of feel like, whenever I meet anyone who is foreign/POC, there is this immediate connection that is forged because when you live somewhere where everyone else is nothing like you, anyone who is a little bit like you becomes a friend/ally.
 

Me: Yes don’t you know? We brown women are all alike! We have the same needs and if you squint really hard, we’ll look the same from a distance too! As you suggested one time, maybe we all come from the secret clone factories. But I digress. It’s fascinating you said “people of the same race” -- while it is true -- what is strange is, we don’t see ourselves as “races” rather as castes and communities, most of which are almost always on opposite ends. When I think back about my childhood ideas around caste and communities, they are so strongly influenced with the dominant Hindu nationalism, even though I don’t remember ever really believing in God or a religion. Hindu nationalism learnt firsthand from my immediate family who’d wish Pakistan would lose every time there was an India vs Pakistan match, watching the whole neighbourhood taking immense amount of pride when we’d hear the Pakistani soldiers shot during the Kargil war, seeing most people I know fly into a rage whenever Kashmir’s “integrity” into the Indian nation-state was mentioned, having people I looked up to in my family believe that the Godhra riots were “provoked”, having teachers constantly talk about “dignity in all labour” but saying that certain jobs like scavenging and garbage collecting are not for “people like us” in the same breath, being punished for playing with children from slums, being punished for publicly declaring my family as casteist -- these are memories that I carry with my body. So while you may feel some sort of connection based on “shared oppression” -- however you and the other person define that -- or you may start organising, forming alliances based on some similar marginalisations, here, more often than not, even the people we’d categorise under “WOC” or “third world women” have such diverse ideologies, needs, histories and geographies of exclusion (which go both ways), that sometimes I see people allying themselves with [x] community in some far off country, rather than the person sitting next to them in the bus*.
 

Going to the example you gave, whenever I meet anyone who I think I can potentially work or associate with, usually I have to make sure our ideas of feminism(s), communalism and casteism are somewhat similar -- otherwise I’d get stuck in the rut of Hindu nationalist feminism(s), where the imagined community and emancipation is only for the select few. As is customary, I have no answers, I’m just wondering how can we translate our friendship beyond just an individual level, when and if we want to organise around lines of race, nationality and/or ethnicity?
 

*Whether this alliance is problematic or not, isn’t my place to judge.

 

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So Over It

Dec. 6th, 2011 05:49 am
oncejadedtwicesnarked: Spivak is looking disgruntled and pissed. (Default)

The following post is by Numa and I as a response to Eve Ensler’s post Over It. There are some things you don't get to be over, Eve Ensler. But if we're going to play this game, here are some of ours.\
 

--

We are over cis white feminists claiming to speak for the rest of us and then shutting us up when we try to fit a word in edgewise. We are over being told that we are splintering a (separatist) movement whenever we bring up things that go just beyond their immediate focus.
 

We are over feeling left out whenever the talk goes to rape culture, because our rape culture is never addressed, maybe because it would hold you accountable too.
 

We are over rape being framed as an act done only by men on women, or that it requires a penis to forcibly penetrate a vagina or an anus and all other acts of coercion on other body parts by other bodies don’t matter as much.
 

We are over cis white feminists using experiences of POC to prove their own humanity. We are over experiences of scores of people in Congo, in Somalia, or any place with poverty tourism becoming a footnote to white feminists’ tales of enlightenment.
 

We are over cis white feminists using stories from “war torn” areas to woo audiences without addressing or holding their own Governments responsible for the said war.  We are over people making money by writing about the “horrifying” experiences they saw in the [third world nation], narrating stories that are not theirs to tell.
 

We are over countless (one-sided) dialogues with cis white feminists when they do want to talk about the difference in our rape cultures who simply retort to, “your men are irresponsible and patriarchal! We are just here to help! We can talk about murky consent issues between us some other time”.
 

We are over white cis women feminists essentialising the experiences of all women everywhere when it suits them but then having no trouble with using an “us” vs. “them” dichotomy against those who don’t agree with them.
 

We are over being told that we’re too angry and divisive when we direct criticism at the mainstream feminist movement but it’s okay for violent imagery and words to be used to threaten non-white cis women.
 

And what the fuck is “occupyrape” meant to mean anyway?! We are over people using the terminology of violence and colonisation to sound relevant and cool. How can you occupy an act of violence? How can you reclaim it? We don’t understand.
 

We are over the assumption that there is a “global paradigm of rape” but there is no recognition that this global paradigm, if there is something so all encompassing, is probably the result of political and socio-economic violation of the racial Other.
 

To be honest, we're just over of this type of rallying cry for unity where it’s believed that self-reflexiveness will do harm more than it will do good. Apparently we can’t be critical of issues without also destroying our effectiveness.
 

We are over people simply drawing back saying “this is not my culture and therefore I will stay silent and complicit” without engaging with us at all.
 

We are over thousand Eve Enslers who spew shit like this over and over again and then a few others who’ll pretend this is the first time they’ve heard us speak up.
 

We are over seeing movements perpetuate the same acts of violence we’re meant to be addressing.


 


 
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)

A friend and I started talking about communities, alliances and feminism(s) a few months ago -- this conversation is a brief culmination of our identities and ideologies.

---

Me: Writing about bodies isn't too difficult for me, that was until I realised "writing about bodies" meant writing of bodies other than mine, or even if I were to write about myself, the language automatically becomes clinical, my gaze objective and the talk goes to whatever is ailing me -- it's never about how I feel about my body, my relationship with my scars or what I see when I look in the mirror. As I am now living in a new city and adjusting to the weather patterns here, I have to take more care of my skin here than in I did in Mumbai, I have to leave myself notes to apply [x] cream before my heels crack and bleed -- it's such a jarring experience to see that my body has carried on without me (in a sense), has already started cracking, started healing in some parts while I have gone on and done something else. It all came to a head when I was thinking of Suheir Hammad's words -- when she says "What am I saying when I say I sit in this body, dream in this body, expel in this body, inherit in this body" -- where she posits the body as a start to all experiences, and here I was forgetting to take care of my body altogether, even in the most routine and seemingly trivial ways. I've often complained to friends that I feel 'bound' in this city -- as public transport systems are irregular and auto rickshaws are a luxury I cannot always afford -- so most of my 'movement' is between my apartment, the massive Uni campus and its libraries. Now that I re-think what I mean when I say 'bound', I mean more than just physical limits to where I can go or am kept from, I find limits in my syllables and expressions -- precisely because my body feels those limits more intimately and primarily, as if my body translates these borders in the silences that creep up everywhere, from my thoughts to my academic writing. It's only when I completely stopped producing words and syllables a week ago, went for a three-hour long walk, felt my words come back to me as I described to my guardian just why were my heels bleeding this time I realised how closely my body felt limited here*

 

*This isn't to say there weren't other barriers in Mumbai, just that navigating these particular changes is an entirely new experience for me.
 

Renee: It’s equally jarring to see your body stopped in time, unable to keep up with you, and trying to formulate contingencies for when it starts to slide backwards in time. This has been my experience since losing my job just more than a year ago.
 

My teeth hurt all the time now; one has eroded almost to the gum line, and I touch them constantly with my tongue and my fingers to make sure none are loose. I waited out a UTI two months ago, but an ear infection still lingers (and makes my teeth ache even more). There is no money for a doctor or dentist to attend to current ills, never mind the dreams I once had for my body. Most upsetting, when my current stash of hormone pills runs out, in perhaps a month or so, I may not be able to afford more, and at that point the person I know as me officially begins to disintegrate. I never really knew myself before starting hormones, and the threat of losing that is terrifying beyond what I can describe. Already I find myself glancing in the mirror more often, touching my face, to make sure I still exist.
 

But it’s not just the physical degradation I feel. For now, I’m staying in a friend’s spare room, sleeping upon a mattress on the floor, with all my worldly possessions piled in boxes around me. My days are lived largely in the space between my bed and the downstairs basement, where the household television is. I have few reasons to go anywhere else, and fewer resources to do so. I wear the same clothes most days, because to do anything else means doing more laundry, which inevitably costs someone money, even if that someone isn’t me. I don’t shower every day, or moisturize, or shave, or wear makeup, because all of those things are an expense too...and so again my body suffers.
 

It’s apropos that my body gets neglected first and most, as it’s the rejection of my body by others that led me here. Slowly it decays, out of sight and forgotten.
 

 

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oncejadedtwicesnarked: A cookie. The words read "meets minimum standards of basic. human" (Ally cookie)

I've been pretty busy moving and settling in a new city these past three weeks, I couldn't keep up with people, let alone the internet -- thus thankfully missing debates around whether Mumbai should have slutwalks or not. One of the organisers asked me whether I'd be willing to help organise as we've worked on a few things together before. She was quite taken aback when I declined her offer (given that Slutwalk Mumbai ends up taking place) as we usually agree on most things when it comes to activism and organising. She asked, "But don't you love your freedom? How can you pass up an opportunity such as this to see and know how far we can push boundaries?" and then I didn't have any answers for her as I was, and am still caught up in thinking how for her, and a lot of people Slutwalk™ has come to symbolise the sum of all feminist rioting considering  Delhi, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Mumbai (from time to time) have had walks and pickets by feminists and people involved in gender justice, for causes ranging from more college seats for women to raising awareness about sex-selective abortions -- each issue that emerges from our specific caste, gender, class conflicts in each specific city long before Slutwalk™ became an enterprise. Since this exchange, the rhetoric behind supporting slutwalks has become intertwined with "respecting and loving oneself" -- where love¹ (of the self, of the 'community') is continuously intertwined to the extent that any opposition to slutwalk today is to "hate" freedom -- and peculiarly, this 'freedom'  that SW represents has to move away from anything "recognisably" Indian -- whatever that means to people individually and collectively.

---------

In other parts of the country -- especially Delhi -- newspapers and news channels are all fixed on Anna Hazare's impending fast tomorrow, that has been a part of national rhetoric and vocabulary since late April. On the whole, Hazare demands for a new anti-corruption bill, asks people to fully and directly engage with the government and hold them accountable. When it comes to the news coverage of his speeches and his entire fast, the comparisons drawn to Gandhi are more than co-incidental -- tomorrow being Independence Day for India, the analogy becomes even thicker, Hazare is viewed as the "one man army" who is going to drive away corruption, going by Gandhi's views of freedom. While I don't necessarily agree that this protest is "peaceful" at all, that by specifically re-membering India's history of independence as one without critically admitting to ourselves and others that it meant freedom for only 'some' people, I do find such a 'nation-wide' movement fascinating -- as from time to time we see women also supporting Hazare's fast², it's been a while since women have been featured under the "national gaze" as more than just agency-less subjects. However, coming to the actual protest due on 15th August at Delhi, it seems women may not have a harassment-free space to march and protest. Can't say I'm particularly shocked if tomorrow there are mostly men broadcasted over the news -- as Hazare (like Gandhi) still see women's roles under traditional patriarchy of wifedom and motherdom. For instance, the Alcohol Prohibition Act reads like one that empowers women, to talk about their abusive alcoholic spouses -- it supposes that only men can be alcoholics, that one has to be an alcoholic to abuse people; there are many loopholes to this and quite a few of his other arguments too, one of the most troubling being -- does an anti-corruption movement erase/will attempt to smooth over India's history and geography of communal violence and casteism?

-------


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oncejadedtwicesnarked: The text reads, "the sun never sets on the empire of fail". (Need bigger capslock)

Recently I came across Sara Ahmed’s fantastic essay ‘Feminist Killjoys (And other Willful Subjects)’ and have been re-reading several sections of the essay since. I identify with more parts of the essay than I can count, but one line that never leaves me is “[As a feminist killjoy] you become the problem you create” –- a single sentence that probably embodies the essence of my grandmum’s journals. Part of why I wanted to learn to read and think in my native tongue is because I want to read my grandmum’s journals, written in a pidgin many Gujurati’s. Apart from accounts of food items, daily expenditure and some chants dedicated to Krishna, there are extensive notes on translation and literary criticism of Oriya, Telugu and Bengali women’s literatures --- in a different tongue altogether¹ --- and her research of many texts banned in the British Empire. Most of the texts that are listed in her journals were banned because of “obscenity” under Section 292 of the Penal Code --- not that big a surprise that most of these banned and censored texts were written by women and especially by women of the “lower sections of the society”. I couldn’t find most texts she talks of, but luckily I found Radhika Santwanam written by the Telugu poet Muddupalani in a great aunt’s attic --- sadly, the text is in English but there were translator’s notes along with it, explaining their choice of words and consonants. Loosely translated, the text can be called “Enticing or Appeasing Radhika”, an epic erotic poem that talks of Radha and Krishna’s love affair --- a text that inverses the male literary tradition of supposing the “male” as a locale of power when speaking of sexual agency.

I spent most of the last month reading this poem, in its many parts and verses, simultaneously shocked and in awe of Muddupalani’s audacity to speak so explicitly about female sexuality, of Radha’s encouragement of Krishna and her niece’s love affair, of the various ways Krishna has to woo and appease to Radha, a text quite “queer” by today’s “re-readings”. While the text is beyond beautiful, with its many deviances and silences, sadly this text has always faced heavy censorship at the hands of the Raj --- interestingly when Muddupalani wrote it originally two centuries ago, her autobiographical prologue mentions no objections to the content or her context as a distinguished courtesan of the Thanjavur court². The Empire banned it for “obscenity” and “shamelessly filling poems with crude descriptions of sex” --- cannot thank K. Lalita and Susie Tharu enough for keeping a neat account of all the charges levied against Muddupalani, ranging from ridiculous to incinerating and everything else in between --- and for about 150 years after the ban Indian scholars maintained the same views about Muddupalani. In many instances, grandmum calls Muddupalani “adulteress” as this is the name she was known by. The more time I spend with grandmum’s journals, her accounts of the Raj’s censorship, read this exquisite poem, the more angry and fascinated --- where fascination is the new disgust --- I get.

 

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

Lately I've been very busy translating things -- French things to English, diluting some literary Gujarati with the help of my grandma and strangely, also my thoughts from English to my native tongue(s) as this summer break she helps me read in a few tongues that have been rusting inside me since the past few years.  For a long time, English has been my go-to language and my native tongues occupy a secondary position, of horrid pidgins that mix many tongues and dialects -- which are hilarious at best and painful at worst -- and a language I must use with family, with people who aren't fluent enough in English, a language that is substituted for English and even then I barrel this tongue with English words -- I don't see this as a necessarily bad thing, just illustrating how no matter how hard I try, my native tongues come to me as an after-thought. Sometimes, my grandma will ask me to read પાની and instead I read "water" in my head, and to save face say the Gujarati word out loud -- but she knows anyway that it doesn't come to me 'naturally'. Generally we smile at each other when this happens, she asks me to try again and I instruct myself to think in my mother tongue, and it works for a while. Then in about two minutes, she asks me to read a whole sentence and I am again judging it by English syntax and grammar forms. I don't need to learn to speak read write in these tongues, those I did as a child either in school -- where the State you belonged to dictated the tongues you'd learn  -- or at home where we speak our mother tongue. It's thinking in different tongues that I am working on and so far, miserably failing.

For years, my English and the 'talent' to say things well have been indistinguishable from my identity as an upper-caste Hindu lady, "who will one day go to the U.S. also and write big-thick books for people to read" to borrow my cook's words as she describes who I am and what I will do -- according to her -- to her neighbours. She says fondly, "Look at her English, I want my daughter also to speak like her! How fast-fast she goes, sometimes talking liddat on the phone and marking something in study books also" as her neighbours smile politely at us. I've gone to this neighbourhood since at least the past decade or so, I used to play with many children who now don't speak with me at all, and if they do only in English -- They say, "How you do" and I used to say, "ठीक हूँ" -- and they'd get embarrassed and I'd get angry that no matter what I did 'those people' don't want to speak in their native languages -- it's taken me a lot of time to see how them addressing me in English was their way of leveling ground between us and me stomping all over it and patronising them and replying in Hindi was nothing but my privilege raising its head. English still remains for us a class and a cultural marker, a certain kind of English that you speak marks you from which part of the city you come from -- if you code-switch and say, "I don't know, ask ajoba no" for instance, pegs you from North Mumbai -- and the more 'unadulterated'¹ your English is, the better education and class background you are assumed to have. It didn't help that I am 'convent educated' -- a phrase we treat as a synonym for 'Good English And Decorum' -- and was taught by British and Indian nuns who'd both tell us that "Your native languages can stay at home. Here we speak English -- like people". So we'd speak at lunch in our native tongues, but even that stopped as we grew older and English was just more convenient; plus by then, speaking in English meant Serious Business².

 

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

As a dusty third worldling, one of the things I learnt first was to see if there were other dusty people in the room whenever I go to any transnational feminist conferences. Something else I also learnt is to not expect 'solidarity' from anyone unless expressly proven otherwise -- and these views are a result of the way people view me and my body in notIndia, what people assume of me in most internet spaces and fandoms. My friend and I compiled this list comprising of a few of the most repetitive and inane stereotypes that we've encountered of Third World Women. By no means is this list exhaustive, feel free to add your experiences in the comments -- and tread carefully, the list is full of racial slurs and epithets.

1. We're not disposable objects or your fetish or 'flavour' of the month. Not all Third World Women are 'women', but we don't have the choice to identify the way we want, because exotification gets in the way of our special plans.

2. Not all Third World Women live in lands that are in a state of constant war. We exist in cities, between towns and villages -- many in the West. There is no fixity of geo-political location, we don't need to be in the Third World to be marginalised.

3. Not all of us live in tin shacks or mud houses, like every other group we too are scattered across classes and communities across the planet.

4. In popular culture and media, if Third World Women characters don't wear shiny and bright colours, reality will not crack I assure you.

5. Hospitals exist in the third world too. So not all Third World Women need to squat in bushes to give birth.

6. Third World Women aren't all 'irresponsible mothers' or 'birthing cows' because they have children at [x] age instead of the more socially 'forward' and 'acceptable' [y] age. I can vouch that the world will not come to an end if you don't see Third World Women as 'bad people' for 'not knowing better' and 'not having careers'.

7. We're not your 'Eternal She', Earth Mother, Infinite Vessel, [Insert Inappropriate Phrase That focuses And Equates Sex Organ With Gender Here].

8. We are capable of doing more than care-taking children, cleaning houses and sewing immaculate quilts. We exist in all fields of work, equating every Third World Woman as a sweatshop worker is not necessary.

9. There is no situation where phrases like 'exotic princess' can be considered a compliment, even more so if this 'compliment' is based solely on skin hue.

10. We're not always natural cooks or nurturing 'goddesses'. We can do said jobs if need be, doesn't mean we're 'more' adept at menial jobs than anyone else.

11. We're not 'eager' to dispense dusty wisdom and folktales on demand -- especially about breastfeeding or childbirth. Take a close look at the Not All Third World Women Are 'Women' bit here.

12. No, we cannot be 'purchased' outright -- definitely not if the sole 'value' that decides the 'purchase' are our hues.

13. When we say 'no' we mean 'NO' too. So saying 'we can't decipher your tongues' is not an excuse.

14. Third World Women aren't always looking to 'entice' White Men. Shocking, I know!

15. We're more than just 'enticing eyes', or 'gorgeous hair' -- we're people and not body parts.
 


 

 

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