Surges Of Nationalism And Just Where To Stuff Them

The last few days out here have been rather strange. Strange enough that I actually paid attention to what was happening around me instead of just going on under the oblivious haze I call my eyesight. It so seems everyone is very concerned about ‘India’ these past three weeks — concerned only in the worst possible of ways — and more specifically about how is the ‘image’ of India being represented. This isn’t to say there aren’t such tower guards employed by the Government to make sure we’re represented as a footstool of human civilisation and or as a growing super-power (as per your specifications and the amount of money you can loan us!¹) but rather the whole country now wants to openly engage in this ‘patriotism’. For a while I thought it was because of the Gandhi anniversary on the 2nd of this month that has swept the nation into wholesale CountryLove but then I remembered all we do on Gandhi Jayanti is stay at home, drink the stocked up alcohol and try to look interested in the latest GandhiFlick that Bollywood spurned this year. And it turns out the real reason for this mass-ejaculation of patriotism are two entirely different polarised debates.

For the uninitiated, Delhi is the host of this year’s Commonwealth Games and garnered a lot of justified negative reputation when ceilings and bridges began to collapse two weeks before the event. Of course the media had a field day supposedly ‘exaggerating everything out of proportion’ (frankly I don’t blame them. I’d take the Government to task every turn I could too) while the politicians in charge started paling and gave out silly and inane replies providing the weekly quota of entertainment. In the light of these events, a lot of people were ashamed to think of what would happen to the image of India now? “THEY WILL ALWAYS SEE US AS A BACKWATER SEWAGE DUMP NOW” has become the chief concern. Not the gang rapes of Dalit women a few kilometers out of the national capital, or the fact that someone set another Dalit woman on fire after raping her but what will people (read: other countries) think of our sanitary practices. We’re quite placid about massive groups of Delhi beggars who have been shipped out of the city since the past four months² just so the city can look like poverty never touched it but the fact that international candidates are opting out of the game makes us cringe wholeheartedly, collectively and uniformly. So the poorly constructed stadiums and terrible lodging arrangements are the source of national shame but the thousands displaced by floods last week in Delhi hardly make it to two centimeter notes in the paper. When I raise such questions, often I’m berated for being a ‘bad’ Indian; for don’t you know good Indians don’t critique the Government — especially in events like this one — but instead make groups to encourage positive environment? I didn’t know either till fifteen different people sent me the same e-mail coaxing me to join the group that will magically pump me up with Optimism! and Happy Feelings! about the Commonwealth Games (without any drugs they say!). Which is the exact same time, co-incidentally, I burst a blood-vessel in there somewhere.

Repeatedly ritually and routinely we’re encouraged to participate in this ‘nationalistic fervor’ to promote India while easily turning a blind eye towards the internal problems that plague us such as the Olde Woman Problem where silly feminist bitches want to destigmatise abortion and abolish female feticide, the Dalit Question where those ruthless buggers are still demanding equal rights — Didn’t we give them three seats in buses and trains? people can’t stop asking–, The Army Question where the army is engaged in ‘encounters’ every other day in Jammu and Kashmir as countless rapes, thefts and forced entries go unreported to name a few. To top this, the Babri Masjid verdict came out yesterday which sanctioned that Lord Ram was indeed born in Ayodhya and the Hindus were always right and the Muslim buggers need a swift kick you-know-where. Or at least that’s how it sounded like in my head as many people from my community set out to celebrate Hindu domination and force out into the streets. In fact, I even heard many people saying, “Even if we will shame ourselves in Delhi, we at least showed those Muslim devils their place” as we once again croon how great Hinduism is while completely forgetting to mention the fascist leanings of Hindu Supremacy groups (one of them being the B.J.P which is the national freaking opposition). Why does our nationalism have to be so ruthlessly set on Othering and marginalising minority groups?

As I’ve said before, nationalism isn’t for me where I’d be required to let go of my humanity, build up this ‘love’ for my country on the basis of hating someone else’s homeland. Somehow boxing and labeling people isn’t something I’d like to do, even if my life depended on it , despite how much ‘fun’ it may seem like (it’s just like doing origami! Only you fold people to your imagination instead of coloured paper they say). What disgusts me here is the CollectiveReprimandTone almost everyone — from my parents to the woman who dusts my house — has so easily internalised. “What do you mean you don’t feel a thing about the Babri Masjid verdict?” or “How can you even call yourself Indian?” are common questions as well as sickeningly popular opinions. Whenever I manage to steer the conversation to letting go of personal biases and evaluating the situation critically, the easiest remedy is to say “But don’t you think we deserve to win the court case?” or say “scrounge up your two-inch deep respect for the country, will you?”. Apparently these statements don’t hamper common sense in other people. Supposedly. But I digress.

This is a particularly sore topic for me and many others to discuss because so much is wound up with both of these events. Not ‘national pride’ people of the Olde Interwebes but the massive effort it takes to come to terms with such nationwide brutality. The fact that so many people were exploited as they worked the last few weeks to make the National Capital ‘seem’ worthy of International press or the fact that the same city espouses currently thousands of displaced people who lost everything in the floods or the communal riots that can take place soon considering the verdict was more legally unfair than believable and so many things I may not even be aware of.

These bouts of nationalism that we seek and encourage epidemically just turn us into perpetrators of violence, inhuman as we are so ready to marginalise and exploit anyone we can in the social, cultural and economic ladder as long as we can look like the country people see on our coins and notes. All I know is, these surges of nationalism just need to be shoved up capitalism, cultural imperialism and neo-colonisation’s respective hindquarters — after nationalism needs to be reunited with its parent ideologies. Don’t believe me? Google Gramsci. He’ll explain everything.

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1. Seriously, ask P. Sainath. He has all the answers you need.

2. Observation of a police officer in Delhi who wishes to remain anonymous.

Discussing Dusty Skins And Previlige (Part Two)

A few days ago, I ran into an old friend. While I like running into people — for there are always entertaining possibilities — what I dislike with a Direct Vengeance Of The Force Of A Thousand Suns And Add All The Angry Stars Too™ is how quickly the conversation goes to bodies. Suddenly, you’re not the person meeting your friend, you morph invisibly into the BodyRemarkCouncil while you try to squeeze out just the right insult without seeming to undermine the person, smile tersely while silently fixing the exact difference you imagine in the person. Questions like, “Have you lost a little weight?”, “Your hair is as unruly as ever, isn’t it?” are quite common. This week as soon as I heard, “You look better than before. Your skin tone is glowing. How did you lighten it?”, my LadyBrain slammed itself shut as my acquaintance probed further to learn my ‘secret’. I may or may not have told her I peeled a layer of my skin off to achieve the effect. She may or may not have walked away from me mumbling safety chants to herself. It’s too soon in the post to digress anyway.

As I discussed earlier, I never really saw myself as ‘brown’ till the default human being — White, heterosexual, male — decided to spell it out for me. Sort of like that in that grotesque way you label a ‘thing’ in order to castigate and possess it; my ‘brown’ skin has become one of the most important signifier of my being. This is an especially ironic relationship as somehow online bodies aren’t their physical manifestations — even if your static status picture suddenly starts singing — or in the most simple manner of speaking, they are ‘left behind’ on another plane. One where the virtual and the ‘real’ don’t really meet. Isn’t that the main argument anyone who is quick to dance to the “Look how far we’ve come” or “DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN JUST DROP YOUR IDENTITY AND MAKE A NEW ONE ONLINE and THIS TIME YOU CAN WEAR A SHINY DRESS IF YOU WANT” tunes of supposed progress? Of course, that is a possibility, that new identities are made online. There is no point on denying a certain freedom in making and re-imagining bodies. You can be White, Yellow, Brown, Chocolate or as many hues as you want. Understandably, many people prefer being White because that way, you don’t get trolled as much. For instance, I can pretend to take on a ‘Western’ name, even model myself to be a member of the privileged class, that works out without a glitch. But unlike  in a Danielle Steel book, things cannot be compartmentalised that easily. Extremely safe and tested methods of the scientific variety of observation — otherwise known as legally e-stalking people — it is clear that your ‘old’ body inscribes itself on your new one. Whether you acknowledge it or not, shedding bodies isn’t nearly as simple as it is made out to be. So how does one go about discussing privileges about bodies that are essentially invisible or at least are virtual?

To borrow and modify from Spivak, it is only when we look at margins and cracks, will we possibly find traces of earlier bodies (in this case). A good example to is to look at the absences that are present in most lingerie ads that come on TV out here. Here is one revolting one :

At this point you’re probably wondering if my pain meds have taken over my LadyBrain again, for you see nothing offensive in the ad. On close attention, you’ll see the women are speaking in what is stereotyped as the ‘Indian accent’. This ad is specifically made for viewers in the subcontinent, by a team that is Indian too. So why are most models White? Especially when the product is for Indian women, who do not resemble the protagonist in skin tone. Turns out, after all these years, we associate that White women are all ‘sluts’ so then they can display their skin without ‘shame’ that is embroiled within every Indian uterus from birth. Here the absence of an identifiable Indian body stands for marks it bears of guilt and shame. This isn’t to say Indian actors have never gone nude or showed skin on film, or worn ‘revealing’ outfits; but rather given a choice we’d rather put a White body in a position of autonomy and agency than a hued body.

In virtual spaces too, the same kind of regulation takes place where people are more comfortable with reading and even accepting White bodies transgress socially, sexually etc than they are with dusty skins. The website ‘Gaysi’ which is a space for Indian (read dusty) LGTQI people to voice themselves and which has its headquarters in Mumbai, most of the DudeCouncil have problems with it (patriarchy is so predictable!) because apparently being Queer — or whatever label you apply — is like a Western myth. “Like jeans or Coca Cola, ‘queer’ people only exist over there. Out here, we men marry women” and so many hilarious explanations were lashed out. Again, we’d rather believe that only Western populations can be homosexual, transgendered etc. This is our way of ‘Othering’ the West as well as keeping our own people from (supposedly) transgressing.

On the other hand, dusty bodies are used specifically in Western spaces, where they are exotic and infinitely penetrable, possessable, too much like The Darjeeling Express isn’t it? Though many people will happily point out Anouska Shankar and her ‘acceptance’ in the International sphere; more often than not people will talk about her ‘beautiful’ eyes, deep brown skin and so on instead of talking about her musical talents. Her presence marks the absence of the autonomy her body is allotted, however unwillingly. You will not see the same partial possession and obsession of skin when discussing Norah Jones (Shankar), perhaps because she passes off as White and by extension a body of her own right.

It’s in these absences, ripples and tiny cracks do we see really how ‘invisible’ bodies relate to each other. Light skin or white skin is seen as a disseminator of progress and movement, where as dusty skins are territorial and therefore bound. The same pulse is channeled by so many ‘Fairness cream’ commercials, Bollywood movies that choose ‘fair’ actors over dark ones, families who seek daughter-in-laws that put out ads that demand a specific complexion from their bride-to-be. Much like my friend, they see light tones as the only desirable tone. And then you wonder why I can’t take any more trolls discussing, fetishising and claiming my ‘brown’ body. Next time you hear someone screaming at the word Brown, you know where that came from.

[cross-posted]

Is The Great Detachment The New Saviour?

As a Lady who is more often than not publicly and loudly UnSubtle (why yes she speaks!) (when she is allowed to that is),  I get my fair share of thoroughly silly people who will sprout the most ridiculous reasons for the most inane things. Last week I had to convince someone that I didn’t kill people who disagreed with me, that I can talk about things beyond feminism without being entirely sarcastic and the fact that I am still capable of (perhaps?) making jokes despite ‘cutting off my fallopian tubes in exchange to be let into the uber cool club of the world’s humourless feminists’. Sometimes I just have to say, “I like puppies” and I’ll still get some nincompoop call me a ‘man-hater’ as a sort of reflex to using as little common sense as possible. I am sure you know the type, the one who will cower the moment you give them your MedusaGlare for insinuating you can’t be a feminist, simply because you are not lesbian or aren’t as hairy as the yeti or have an inordinate liking for bras or so many inconsequential reasons. What actually struck me today when someone accused me of not being feminist or feminist enough because I’m not particularly fond of body hair — call it the parting gift of colonisation if you will — is how deeply Western this slur was.

Feminism as a concept isn’t one that is inherently Western. Of course, the feminist cannon, where you can see Beauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, J. S. Mill and perhaps even Elizabeth Cady Stanton (conveniently excluding Sojourner Truth) dancing around or playing cards while (existentially!) pondering over The Woman Problem In Their Respective Time Zones is as Western as the concept of SystematicCulturalDomination LiberalHumanism itself and just as problematic. Contrary to popular myths, feminism did exist in other ‘culture-less’ places, even in the very heart of supposed darkness, even in places as far off as India. I remember hearing about Meera Bai as a part of cultural folktales  growing up, who rejected her husband and worshiped the idol of Lord Krishna. Today, beneath the QueerLens, we can assert judging from her poetry that this was a conscious decision, involved full agency and choice. She addresses her husband’s impotency in a ‘religious’ couplet to Krishna — always under the larger umbrella of religious movements such as the Bhakti movement so as to escape harsher punishment — even talks about his (small) penis and articulates the exact way she’d like to be loved. All of this addressed to a piece of stone — her Krishna idol — or to the ideal man of her dreams enters the realm of a Queer framework. Doesn’t she fit, rather squarely the definition of a ‘feminist’ as we have today? Where she identifies the dominant ideology, subverts and perverts it by mixing erotica with religion. And she is a cannonised voice of sorts herself as she is seen as one of Krishna’s most devout followers (no one mentions her sexual transgression though). What about those countless Meera Bai’s who never recorded their thoughts, who never wrote or sang out loud? So because of lack of documentable proof, do we exclude those mutated muffles?

And this isn’t to prove one country’s feminist history over another, just an example that feminism isn’t necessarily a Western fruit, or nearly as Western it projects itself to be. Many people often question me why do I choose to align myself to an ideology that has excluded so many voices of colour over the years, and is often privileged, dominated by White women and so on. People often forget, I learnt of the Indian feminists before I learnt of Western voices, that I read Kamla Das and Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain before I ever cracked open ‘The Feminine Mystique’, that I learnt firsthand, at my Grandmum’s feet about Radha (another lover of Krishna) who was older and more sexually experienced than him, who chose to remain celibate for the rest of her life — something we still can’t exactly choose today. My association of the term allows for inclusion instead of alienation and Othering. This isn’t to say ‘feminism’ has to go uncritiqued, but just acknowledge how that term isn’t all-pervasive.

What is infinitely interesting is that anyone who is feminist automatically becomes synonymous to ‘Those Western Girls’ and sometimes even entertainingly, ‘Those Western Sluts Who Kiss Boys Full On The Lips And Did You Know They Hold Hand In Public Too?'; as if this country has never seen smart, independent people who don’t buy into the gender construct. Agreeably, they are few and far between, often under the framework of a bigger movement — the Freedom struggle, the Reform movement and so on — but between these cracks and springs one can see rebellion and resistance. Almost as if by discarding any Indian association with EvilFeminism, people want to deny women any agency over their bodies and minds. By constantly Americanising ‘feminism’ as we do everything else; from Coke to jeans, we form specific (homo-sapien-y) dichotomies that would have Descartes whooping with joy as we yet again settle into, “American = feminist = Evil + Hairy” and “Indian = NOT feminist + preferably waxed and glazed as a shiny floor”. This nationalistic (sic) boxing helps keep us in control as like any GoodOrientalLady, I too know being Western is worse than being half a person. Ironic considering almost every other Indian will be ready to chop off and sell their internal organs just so their children can be a GoodIndianCitizen and get a graduate degree from a reputed American university. But I digress.

In the light of such blatant ‘Othering’ even committing BrainCellMurder watching 90210 becomes an act of rebellion (who knew this day would come?) where the viewer gets a sense of empowerment from seeing semi-anorexic waifs straddled in loincloths, walking hand in hand and doing countless things that are restricted here or sometimes just the sheer joy of pissing one’s parents off — which all of us know is such an entertaining sport at any given time — by engaging routinely in watching such a predominantly White and by extension anti-Indian (supposedly) TV soap. You can see how many cultural codes and contexts are exchanged in the show’s journey from the US to India in the span of one episode, where it mirrors one culture and provides fanciful recreation in another. Just like that, this term ‘feminist’ doesn’t hold the same connotations of exclusion.

However, the general view is that feminism is a Western ideal (code for Indian women don’t need it) therefore the slurs it embodies must be Western itself. For practically speaking, we never had a phase where women burnt bras, in fact they don’t even star in lingerie commercials so the term ‘bra-burning freak’ doesn’t apply to us right? But like most DoucheColonial tendencies India has espoused over the years, this one serves to just dismiss off ‘those noisy pesky’ women who ask for their rights in a convenient slot of American or Western (because both are totally the same thing!) optimisation of the EvilPlan of world domination. Never mind that we’d make the same choices in their position or the fact that these countries are far from being feminist utopias themselves, using constant Western associations strips us of any cultural subjectivity we may have managed to bring to the concept at all.

There is no solution or magic antidote that will make such negative associations go away, neither will willing ourselves to systematically disentangle our collective colonised persona can help; for there is no such thing really. Today, this WesternSelf collides, co-exists, co-opts, concerns, covers, covets, converts our ‘Indianself’ (whatever that means). Is simply shedding labels enough, especially when they can create such great safe-spaces? At this point, is it even possible?

Discussing Dusty Skins And Privilege (Part One)

Generally on any given day, I don’t go by generalisations or assumptions, given that my LadyBrain is allergic to ‘boxing’. But after careful observations and using devices that sound so scientific that you’ll be left impressed, I can say that all of you readers are really smart, analytical and incisive; mainly because you read this blog. So it must have not escaped your attention that I am a woman of colour and I write about my country India, the things I see around me or my lived experiences. Call it narcissism or limited vision or selective focus, the truth remains that my nationality and position as a woman of colour in a (virtual) world dominated by the digital dollar is the space I have access to as well as choose to discuss. However, to be entirely truthful, I had never thought of using the phrase WOC till some troll pointed out just what he wanted to do with my ‘deliciously brown’ face a while back. Since then, the effect of hueism has somehow taken residence underneath my skin and refuses to go away.

Yesterday, my friend and I got to talking over coffee about how we perceive our skin colour as anything but ‘brown’. Strangely, she has always considered herself ‘fair’ and I’ve seen my skin tone as ‘wheatish’. Obviously, from skin tone, the conversation goes to fairness creams. For the uninitiated, ‘fairness creams’ somehow get under your skin — literally speaking — and use some fancyarse magic with the melanin content of your skin and voilà! you’re white fair. A good example of this magic would be the following ad. Warning: The ad causes you to hurl and/or fling your computer across the room. Or you may just want to bang your head on the nearest nailed wall.

And people insist colonisation left with the British and their absurd fondness for bulldogs. But I digress. My point is, today you will not find women looking at Queen Victoria’s painting and wishing their skin could be translucent as well. Today you will find women — and men too! It’s the decade of the meterosexual after all! — religiously applying fairness creams every morning, afternoon, evening and night. Fine, I embellished a little but that doesn’t change the popularity and demand of these creams. Here is a censored version of what my friend I discussed earlier yesterday.

Friend: Have you noticed how Indian girls go swoon-y over ‘fairness’ or ‘whiteness’ creams?
Me: Yes. It’s like an antidote to all evil, so I hear.
Friend: And the word used for our complexion is “dusky” with the slightest tinge of “dusTy”.
Me: Didn’t you hear, our skin colour causes kids to have rabies, breeds terrorists, makes babies cry as well as make all the dogs start chasing their tails while trying to lick their feet.
Friend: You forgot to mention how men are tempted to rape us because of our dusTy skin.
Me: That was implied. As it always is, between any two dusTy Indian girls.
Bystander: All of this is a joke right?
Me: No, we don’t joke.
Friend: We can’t. We are feminists.
Bystander: (Vanishes into thin air) …

On a more serious note, I know people who refuse to believe Indians themselves can be biased towards the ‘Whiter complexion’, refusing to believe that the DoucheColonialGaze is now internalised to such an extent that now it seems as a part of Indian culture. The trajectory according to their idiot logic is that since we were oppressed for about roughly two centuries by the Whites, we are not going to worship the coloniser, plus the history textbooks say we are independent now, hence colonisation must be over. By that logic, we can also say feminism, class oppression and caste politics are over because it says so somewhere in some book that each of this evils are a part of the past. Without pointing out the obvious flaw in that strain of thought — it’s just not worth it — it would be naïve to think that only a few people think this way. Never underestimate the reach of screwed up logic, I can remember my grandmother saying.

Indians love skin colour, even if this means labeling each person like a lab rat. And just like we were taught in sixth grade, under each petal of the flower, you will find multitudes of systems and meanings. So fair means ‘beautiful’, wheatish means’ she might find someone, perhaps if she gives up speaking ‘ and dark is seen as ‘GET HER AWAY FROM ME! YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS CONTAGIOUS THESE DAYS!”. Recently some sensitive smartarse came along and popularised the word ‘dusky’ so now people say ‘dark’ only if they have ingested copious amounts of alcohol or forgot to take their medication for being politically correct. Suddenly ‘dusky’ skin becomes desirable, only if the woman in question is notably pretty, adheres to all norms of ‘ideal feminine’ body shape that is; all of this is rather obvious and well known. What people don’t know is that ‘dusky’ people like actresses, entrepreneurs, teachers, [Insert your career option here ] are good at their jobs precisely because of their skin. Or something incredibly and similarly inane. I confess I don’t know the details of this argument because my LadyBrain slammed itself shut somewhere around ‘dusky’.

What is interesting is, how a few people have managed to use this ‘duskiness’ attributed to their skin to their advantage, or that is what the media would have us believe. This is why we think Nandita Das is such a ‘good actor’ because a lot of producers and directors initially rejected her because of her skin colour so she could dedicate herself to ‘indie’ and ‘experimental films’, not because she initially might have had no say over what projects she took on. Because Bipasha Basu is ‘dusky’, she has become the new-age sex-bomb of Indian cinema. Not because she has spent years perfecting and crafting that persona or anything. Being ‘dusky’ is my only hope a few of my aunts and relatives have told me, considering how ‘dark’ I’ve become in the past 20 years. It’s funny, I would have ignored all of it — sort of a habit when it comes to taking my relative’s opinions of anything at all even remotely seriously — until that one day some one commented on my skin in this e-universe. I had always considered my body to be relatively invisible online considering one doesn’t use it, or in some simplistic essence is left behind. Obviously that was wrong as my skin does have some value attached to it, regardless of the gaze I’m subjected to.

Now that I think of it, my ‘dusky’ skin has boxed me in. I am that ‘brown’ girl who ‘writes about other mud squatters her country people’ online. Beyond that, it seems like I am nothing else. I am still wondering when did I get co-opted into a system of ‘tokenism'; when the ‘dusTy’ label was accorded onto me or when I let it define me (I decided to write this post after receiving record number of troll e-mails yesterday — 118  — that seemed to suggest/assess/define me nothing beyond my skin). And as of now, the box seems to get smaller by every passing second and I fear the day I am going to vanish and all there is left of me is my skin.


Re-Making While Break-ing Bodies And Meanings

The past few days have been emotionally as well as physically taxing, as I prepared for a seminar, re-wrote, re-edited and then wrote again my paper. Then deleted it and started all over again. A few years ago I had the nasty habit of never saving any of my writing, so I went along and got me an auto-saving program. Now all I need is a program that will swat my hand away every time I try to delete my writing. So you can understand, dear reader why I didn’t want to open or even read any of my TrollMail. Turns out, had I opened it earlier I wouldn’t be comatose in front of the computer screen, losing the battle against writer’s block. Some days, the universe just provides you fodder, while on other days it spews slander all over you and your virtual space.

Questions like, “Must you use such harsh language, when you talk of your body or anyone else’s body?” or another states “It’s not proper for Indian women to talk of the body in such terms. You sound Western when you do write like this. Indian women don’t and shouldn’t talk of their private organs so blatantly. This isn’t our culture”. And I edited this one, because I distinctly remember my LadyBrain slammed itself shut after these lines. Forgive me for not reading any of her remaining eight e-mails for my eyes blurred over as soon as she started defining what “Indian women” should do or rather shouldn’t do. And just as I start to write this, another e-mail scurries forward bearing the words, “What is the point of breaking up your body to show what you mean? Aren’t you mutilating yourself, under the name of using poetic devices? Also, isn’t this an extremely Western method of articulating ? Doesn’t this stand against everything you supposedly believe in?”. As I mentioned before, the Interwebes can smack any semblance of the Writer’s Block right out of you, on a day like this.

First of all, where does language lose its trappings of ‘beauty’ and enter the realm of the ‘grotesque’? As far as I can see, there are no specific boundaries as one of the biggest dangers of any art is its ability to transform tragedy into something aesthetic or beautiful. This is probably why I like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ so much, despite the fact it is the man’s last painting before his suicide. Or the fact I like Sadat Hasan Manto’s grotesque short fictions, even though they leer so close to brutality, madness and often just plain violence. The one poem that speaks to me is where Emily Dickinson manages to write, “They shut me up in Prose –As when a little Girl/They put me in the Closet –Because they liked me “still” --” leaving me with the image of muffled words and inconsequential mumbles. All of these artists use macabre to further their crafted skill. This doesn’t mean I don’t get goosebumps when I see Starry Night, read Colder Than Ice, the above poem or any other work that hovers on tragedy and yet manages it to make it beautiful. The tragedy or the violence of these works don’t reduce because of its aesthetic value. To my mind, they become even more beautiful and jagged, pierce deeper than they would have had they not been so brutal. Do you think this painting loses its value just because of how raw or harsh it is? In fact, one of the most basic components of ‘Trying-To-Let-The-Silenced-Speak’ is to accept a certain conceit as well as “darkness” in their writing. For after years of silence, when the ‘voiceless’ speak, zie is hardly going to bestow praises to the oppressor. Outside of a Margaret Mitchell book that is. To write off someone’s word as too dark, too harsh, too loud, too blunt is nothing but another form of silencing; reducing them to be less than worthy to have – let alone use — their voice.

Secondly, policing bodies is probably a tradition older than time. Religious texts across cultures as well as literature insist on shaming, labeling and prodding the body — be it human or otherwise. When you hide something away, create a taboo around a part of your body; you further ensure silencing. Why is talking about one’s ‘private organs’ such a faux pas for people? And Indian women in particular if I’m looking at the second TrollMail? And just who is this Indian woman every troll — virtual or otherwise — surely brings up? She sounds like she is completely SpineLess, devoid of any inkling of choice or consent and extremely happy to be a broken doll. Eternally malleable, manageable and has no more potential than a masquerade. If there is a specific person behind her existence? If yes, could I have a long conversation with them and perhaps smack them with common-sense till they get it that creating such dichotomies, ideals and definitions, they are trapping hordes of bodies in the realm of the ‘impossibly Indian’? This Indian woman serves to keep us in our place, one step below everyone else. She is that ever-elusive ideal that isn’t achievable. I shudder to think of the army of doormats women this ‘Indian Woman’ has the potential to produce. Kind of a female culture-factory. Even the visual stuns me into silence; to expect me and all ‘Indian women’ to adhere to this norm is more than a little naïve. Another thing that irked me was the troll’s insistence that “this isn’t Indian culture”, for who defines Indian culture? Historically speaking, it was a few privileged dudes who decided how everyone else behaved. Today, perhaps quite a few women have internalised this misogyny giving the illusion of choice while ironically they are still dancing to someone else’s tunes. Also culture isn’t a monolithic or fixed ground — for what is culture without its people? And if we are still to adhere to “original Indian culture” — which was first translated and recorded by German Indologists — then we should declare an infinite war against modern plumbing. But I digress. Policing and controlling this ‘Indian woman’s body’, by telling how she should sit stand walk sleep jump sprint eat move be swim follow dance run bend talk sound hear see do is like placing her in a box without holes and asking her to blow glass inside. And, by giving it the appearance of ‘culture’, the need to have ManMadeWomen, as desired so by people is hidden away.

Coming to the third TrollMail, I was rather surprised to see zie could be as presumptuous to say, “everything you stand against” as even I don’t know what things I don’t like on a fixed basis. But the most obnoxious statement was when they said I sound ‘Western’ — because that is the worst any Oriental would ever want to be. Even if it means choosing between terrorism and opposing the West, any sound-minded Oriental would pick the West. I hear they have nude beaches there. So you can see our indignation with you — because of my choice, form and use of words. It never fails to amaze me how many people want to believe that everything was perfect before they came; ‘they’ can mean the Greeks, Persians, Portuguese, English invaders (pick one according to your mood!) and regard everyone who doesn’t subscribe to this view as ‘Westernised Trash’. After being colonised for more than 200 years, after being told that we have no culture or anything at all, by people who ironically originate from ‘Barbarians’ themselves (as St. Augustine would agree), it’s a tad difficult to not be Western. We speak in a language that is not ours, go by laws that are fundamentally based on Western principles,  study in schools that still insist on teaching children ‘Daffodils’ by Wordsworth as essential poetry though we will never see that flower on our land, perceive the world through the Coloniser’s eyes. Our sense of what is ‘proper’, ‘public’, ‘private’ comes from our oppressors, even if it was Nehru behaving as the mouthpiece. And just for kicks, if I start speaking in the DesiTongue, will I become more ‘Indian’? Or perhaps I should pepper my posts with actual spices, for what screams more Indian than chillies (which we stole from the Mughals by the way)?

It is while experimenting with words, sounds, senses and meanings I can negotiate with my heart into believeing that somehow I’m articulating who I am, or am trying to be in a language I don’t belong to, that breaks me up every time I write. To deny me that space, to criminalise my chosen method, judge me based on what YOU think I should do is to ask me to  stop thinking and breathing. For it is after very long that I’ve managed to pry the blindfold off; and I have a few things yet left to see.

[Cross-Posted]

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