On Charting Invisible Bodies

As a Lady born on the brink of globalisation, English is something that comes to me as naturally as breathing. As a kid, I had access to all sorts of books, movies and songs from the ‘Center’ of civilisation — U.S. and Europe of course! — and was encouraged to speak in English as much as I could. Apparently, an English speaking person is a marker for a ‘civilised’ and a ‘cultured’ individual, even roughly about 50 years after the The White Buggers Left India Alone And Took Their Annoying Bulldogs With Them. There was a sense of shame or even guilt when my native tongue Gujarati would be brought up; I went as far as to believe that the person speaking Gujarati was a different ‘me’ than the one fawning over Austen and Disney and somehow they must be relegated into different spheres of seeing and believing. It took a few years for me to realise the dynamics of the DoucheColonial Gaze I had internalised and am still trying to see the person inside who speaks her native language as a fully fleshed organism rather than something out of visions E.M. Forester had in a Passage To India.

Memories of reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils are clear, so is the sense of disappointment that settled in when I realised I’d never see the flower on Indian soil, but I have very few memories of easing in to my native language, letting it unfurl against and within me. Till date, I dream think talk rant rave in English and occasionally in French — for having one language colonise you is simply not enough, the Queen said — and the person who I am in my native language sits inside and aside. This weekend, while watching a performance of Wilde’s ‘A Lady Of No Importance’ and hearing people thunder and applaud at the ‘perfected British and American accents’ did Caliban’s idea of ‘red plague’ and the notion of turning language to curse at the coloniser¹ came to its full appeal for this LadyBrain. Numerous instances where people feel embarrassed to sound ‘Indian’ come to mind, where you perform an accent and a manner of speaking till all that is left behind are dregs of another being rather than you. While there is no one way of speaking a language you don’t belong to — too bad geographical proximity doesn’t count, for that way I should speak American as I live obnoxiously close to the WorldWide Embassador of America: McDonald’s — or can ever dream of ever possessing fully regardless the number of degrees you have in this said tongue. Most of my favourite authors are from the Center, hard to undo the cannon and numerous whinyarsed problems in the same vein can be talked of time and again. What really sticks with this LadyBrain is how as post-colonial subjects anything we consume today, from the copiously auto-toned baritones of Taylor Swift to Foucault’s Genealogy,  we’re inevitably fixed sideways, invisible, alloted the space of the Proverbial Other. Even in spaces that are decidedly ‘intersectional’, colouring the Other invisible is a game we play right after the first rounds of Subtle Cultural Appropriation and before Packaging The Other As One Of Us.

As a ‘invisible body’, being in such spaces and cultural texts is a duplicitous position to hold namely because there is no specific direction or position to occupy in theory, whereas literally you’re fixed and pinned down in borders and boxes. Like Jane Eyre, I can sometimes slip in and out of these texts and corners, if the Omnipresent DoucheColonial Liberator is present like she did in and out of rooms and moors. At the same time, the ‘bestial’ Bertha still awaits my position beside her as the Woman of the Other World. The problem is, “I don’t always want to be Bertha, to be castigated and locked off” like one of my students put it. This isn’t to insinuate the internalisation of colonialism is a strictly one-way process, I’d like to think it’s a negotiation, despite how silently it’s whispered. There is an overwhelming desire to identify and even step right into the coloniser’s shoes, to feel giddy with the power, to be free and disseminate agency and rights among Othered, lesser spaces and individuals. Like George Bernard Shaw, it would be nice to be socialist and endorse FABIAN ideals while keeping the eye glazed whenever any talk goes beyond the borders being English, it would be nice — where nice translates to nausea — to have such cultural amnesia, to constantly slip up and about the boundaries of deciding who is ‘oppressed’ and to what degree. I won’t lie that I’ve never dreamt of a world that wasn’t Eurocentric, dedicated to keeping and maintaining the ‘Up‘ status-quo or thought of everyone speaking Hindi the way the world does English or if everyone was simply happy with their designated borders.  But when reality sinks in, I still break myself up while speaking in this NotMotherTongue and alienate myself when the overbearing gaze of the native tongue that is evaporating daily from my mind and body sets its hold on me. And the bigger problem that this ‘splitting into half’ is how much of this conflict is welcomed, or even self-inflicted. As an ‘invisible body’ it would be reassuring to categorise the Coloniser as the ultimate source of All Things Evil; especially for bringing to this LadyBrain’s mind the legend of Pandora before The Curse of Yellama (which is the MudSquatter version of Pandora, perhaps two shades more dustier). Like Caliban, the impulse to bite back at the oppressor is equally overwhelming as well. And stuck somewhere in the middle is the invisible body.

If I were to map the invisible bodies on the globe, a majority would take up The Third World; and the other half would take up half the world’s population that is biologically or culturally inclined to being feminine. Imagine if you’re a Double Invisible Body and then someone, magically, gives you a pen and you start reclaiming your body and space; only to realise that body you mention is already in someone else’s possession — namely capitalisation, neo-colonisation and cultural appropriation — and that space never existed but between the cracks of your own mind? Only when we stop fixing, cartologising, mapping and charting both ways — our and the Coloniser’s identities — do the gaps and breaks help us build a cohesive language of silence, expressed through feeling and not saying.

in

finite

absences the spaces we con

struct

build and

no one comes

the silences — speak volumes

the gaps start creaking songs

of virtual ashes

bytes unto bytes.

—–

1. You taught me language, and my profit on’t/Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you,/For learning me your language!. Who knew I could even like Shakespeare at times? Wonders never cease.

 

 

Leave a comment

8 Comments

  1. radhika

     /  October 26, 2010

    Oh my Jaded. You’ve put words to the exact feeling I’ve had. So many, many times I’m torn between Bengali and English, feeling trapped in both and none at the same time. Does this make sense?

    Reply
  2. Imagine if you’re a Double Invisible Body and then someone, magically, gives you a pen and you start reclaiming your body and space; only to realise that body you mention is already in someone else’s possession – namely capitalisation, neo-colonisation and cultural appropriation — and that space never existed but between the cracks of your own mind? Only when we stop fixing, cartologising, mapping and charting both ways — our and the Coloniser’s identities — do the gaps and breaks help us build a cohesive language of silence, expressed through feeling and not saying.” I think I am with you until “[...] – do the gaps …” but there you lose me. Does it have to do with becoming one person through no longer using two languages and cultures to do ones “fixing, cartologising, mapping and charting”?

    It will be very interesting to see if the world changes away from being so USA- and Eurocentric as a result of the economy. If the USA crashes again, which I fully expect they will, the Europe and Oceania will probably turn to China and other growing Asian economies, and one would think change would come from that.

    Reply
    • The gaps, breaks and silences come in because both languages end up locking you in. So it’s through fissures and these tiny cracks do expression come out, for me anyway.

      If the USA crashes again, which I fully expect they will, the Europe and Oceania will probably turn to China and other growing Asian economies, and one would think change would come from that.

      I am not too sure how the Eurocentric mindset or gaze is dismantled here, considering it’s still THEM doing the seeking, castigating and funding here. Different economies enter the global race, yes. But we’re still the ‘backward’ economy making the way forward under the assumption that ‘forward’ has already been resolved by the Center. Still on square one, I’m afraid.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the explanation, I understand now.

        Well, for two reasons I’d say: With more trade I would expect the cultures to “rub off” on one another, while also bringing a deeper (or any) knowledge and understanding of the other culture. And, because it seems logical to me that a change would have to involve both some giving and taking; a “normalizing” of the other culture(s) might make it easier for Europe to give, while a strengthened economic position make it easier for non-Western countries to take.
        I’m not talking about a radical change to equality here, but the possibility of a step in the right direction.

        Reply
  3. lostgirl91

     /  October 27, 2011

    i’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re talking about – but i’ve lived in mumbai all my life and recently left to get my BA degree. so now im in france (albeit studying in a predominantly anglophone campus).

    i cant stop feeling though, that i really dont fit anywhere. talking to my own parents on skype gets hard, maybe because they are so unapologetically and emphatically “indian” (i don’t mean this in a bad way at all, just using it as a mark of difference between them and me – having lived abroad for 2 years and having had pretty shitty experiences back home has changed me profoundly as a person to the point where i’m not sure who i really identify with anymore, but i know don’t see things the same way my parents do). when i think about it – i also think, speak, read, write in english. i grew up on a steady fare of american television (late 90s, early 00s, star world, zee cafe ftw!) so i get a lot of their pop cultural references. but when i think about it, i wouldn’t want to be white – aside from becoming really really dark if i spend too much time in the sun, i like my skin colour a LOT (wheatish). i couldnt think of myself as anything but indian – but when it comes to being myself in an “international setting”, self-consciousness about my accent inevitably kicks in. I don’t have the most pronounced Indian accent, it’s actually pretty neutral – but just when i think i’ve resolved all my insecurities about indian and being able to live happily and without worry – boom! the insecurities come back out again. maybe this is partly because of the occasional dicks who like to call me out on the way i said this word or that word, but i wonder if I’m ever going to be able to live in any part of the world reconciled with myself and sans worry.

    sorry about this long long rant – i guess it’s just a big issue in my life right now! i’m not sure if this really has much to do with this specific post, but the blog in general resonates with me a lot. what do you think? have you ever felt this way?

    Reply
    • Hello! I wrote this post a *long* time ago — shocked me a bit because I had to go back read what I’d rambled on here to make sense of what you were getting at — and first off, thank you for your kind words.

      I do feel a similar distance, from my parents and native tongue, yet, still, always. Moved out recently and skype conversations are similarly peppered with static — as if we’ve started speaking different languages all at once. I’m quite certain I will never be at ease in any one. These days, when people ask “which language do you prefer/write in”, I just walk away. Le sigh.

      Reply
  1. Caught Between Colonised Consonants « Oi With The Poodles Already

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 78 other followers

%d bloggers like this: