Dislocating Discourses; Rewriting Boundaries

This weekend my parents’ friends are visiting some obscure little village in some Dusty Part of India, because they apparently have a house there — and they didn’t even know it! — and the lovely Government wants to run it down and make a road connecting two villages, all in the name of progress that almost never reaches people it professes to help. After dinner, while cleaning up my Mum wondered out loud how different their lives would have been, had they lived in that house instead of this one in Mumbai. My sister and my cook began to imagine hilarious scenarios of stereotypical country life, of menial labour — because bonded labour is the new funny, People Of The Olde Interwebes — and suddenly she exclaimed, “They would speak a different Gujarati! And their English would sound like something out of a bad nightmare. I’m so glad they live here”. The idea that language and dialect would be different troubled her, especially that the family’s English wouldn’t be as ‘polished’ as it is now; their past-present-futures are different when this new dialect is injected in. The friends in question started marking the differences, he said he wouldn’t have been a corporate lawyer, she wouldn’t have been able to work and so on. Through this dinner I was stuck with a bitter taste in my mouth thinking how easily the Other is always an intruder, a predator, dangerous; it unsettles this well-established center. The Lady in question concluded, “We could be better people living here. Can you imagine us there? We would have probably been zamindars or something” and many other UnEntertaining variants of playing the Desi Coloniser. It’s always easy to claim superiority if you’ve already relegated a space that unbelongs and is unhinged as different, for this is what difference boils down to, an excuse to claim, possess and punish in one swift act¹.

Long after this dinner, I was still thinking of the above conversation. I couldn’t put down exactly what unsettled me so deeply, it was only when I started rereading Spivak’s essay ‘Can The Subaltern Speak?’ did the pieces fit together. At one point she writes, “The Coloniser constructs himself as he constructs the colony”; like did this couple. While imagining this alternative life, their present life was romanticised and their rural “would-have’s” were conspicuously ‘backward’, which is precisely why selling away that house didn’t pose a big problem to them. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only instance I’ve heard or experienced where more ‘developed’ or narratives of ‘progress’ take center stage. This week my friend put up a picture of me on Facebook dressed in traditional Indian clothes. A few people who know me from my blog and know this friend found it startling that someone who speaks so ‘freely’ and ‘liberally’ on many issues can choose to bend down tradition’s way. These are times when my ethnic identity or just wearing ‘ethnic’ dress becomes interchangeable with embodying tradition and essentialism; the alternative is to completely disengage with this identity and embrace being ‘universal’ Western. What’s the problem with e-showing and choosing to dapple in my ethnicity — out here as a Hindu woman of a certain caste and class privilege — you say? More often than not, I’m perceived as someone who doesn’t necessarily have a voice or someone who is touting for my country’s oft spoken about ‘traditionalism’. Anyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows about my strong distaste for patriarchy. Somehow in traditional clothes, the ‘me’ they saw was a different one,  and immediately an inferior one. One acquaintance even wrote to me asking if everything was okay because as she put it, “This is so out of character for you!”. And on Facebook, a tiny argument broke out assessing if I’ve changed or not; while no one talks to me just about me. This is another advantage of being Othered — as DustyLadies, this is a common experience for us — words fly all about you, but you will never be able to catch them. Like the figure of Sati (the widow who has to put herself on her husband’s pyre and be immolated with him), there are only two readings of DustyLadies. Either some ‘progressive’ Westerner is telling us how terrible our lives are, because we follow certain traditions or our Male Counterparts who speak for us (like they did in the case of Sati) and almost always showcase tradition as a voluntary act. Meanwhile the woman on the pyre burns.

Disgruntled by the thin demarcation between ‘ethnic’ and ‘orthodox’ I turned to a few close activists who know the rural realities of my country better than I do to see if there was anything of credit in this construction at all. While they understood and sympathised with my situation when speaking in a Glocal context, they referred to Indian rural women as “ourselves undressed” more than once. While this binary is troubling, damaging and too narrow, this is a very common opinion; it perhaps even has a dash of truth lodged somewhere between the Othering and imperialism. But once again, voices are being dubbed as ‘tongue-dumb’, as ‘backwater verses’ and god knows what else — I had tuned out of the conversation long before this part — these voices are repeatedly disallowed of agency and choice. My school teacher always talked of dislocating discourses from their words and environment, to see them empirically in order to arrive at a fair conclusion. One Dalit activist I know is trying to get her anthology of short stories published, and is often rejected because it doesn’t ‘tap into the tribal sentiment’ of Dalit women. Because her voice is different, because it cannot be localised to this part of this state, coming from this dialect and community, it’s declared ‘inauthentic’. Another example is of the poet Kamla Das who salaciously wrote her autobiography in order to earn much needed money, later she interrogates her fault at leaving out or exaggerating certain parts of her life, blaming the ruthless form of the autobiography for expecting a specific role out of her, and then she blames herself for giving in. Because, once again, her relationship with truth is a controversial one, her poems are rejected as ‘authentic’ experience of an Indian Woman. We still want to adhere to the well-formed Indian Doll Figurine in the words of Torru Dutt or Sarojini Naidu.

Voices of Dusty People — Dusty Ladies in particular — undergo a lot of censorship, self-imposed or otherwise, and in this case to dislocating such voices becomes a double bind, not only you strip them of any ethnicity, authenticity and value, they’re reduced to muffled words that easily slip into the ‘Ourselves Undressed’ bind that the West is waiting to devour. I’m not arguing that anyone who identifies themselves primarily through their ethnic persona is wrong but rather I am more than what I dress, how I speak. When you ‘other’ me, immediately cast me two steps below everyone else because of my difference, dislocated from my soil, all you will find is an empty shell of ‘me’.

——

1. See the brief history of colonisation circa start of time till present date.

When Freedoms Are Threatened, #1

There comes a time in American politics where the Politicians take certain movements too far. Such as the banning of Gays in the military. Or the attempts to ban Firearms, and Violent Video Games (in California, no less.) What they try to make a point in, is that by taking away violence in video games, or removing firearms from the public vendors, you suddenly remove any possible means for anyone to get their hands soaking in blood. But this is wrong, you see. The Criminals who attain these weapons when otherwise being unable to purchase them publicly, will be even more dangerous. They will have access to all sorts of underground arms that common folk have no idea where to even begin to look. And asking around is suspicious… And then about video games? Jeez, kids at such a young age will just go outside and play “war” with each other. Beat each other up, use play-guns to “shoot” each other, and imagine maiming and bleeding out. So, what’s the point? I will say that Politicians like those who try and pass these movements are either a) trying to make a name for themselves(McCarthy vs. Communism), or b) just plain idiotic, or c) both.

Just Plain Idiotic

In the last 10 years, during of which the 8 that President Bush took office, the Senate believed it had more power than the congress originally allowed them, and took great advantage of it. The Evidence? Passing several business related laws to send jobs from various established companies, such as Boeing, overseas to countries – mainly China. Or let’s say, the Patriot Act, which is only two or three steps away from Martial Law, and the lawful invasion of privacy. (Quick Point: The Patriot Act, under a different name in the 60’s and 70’s, allowed police officers to mine data from civilian activity to weed out Communists, Hippies, and Gays.)

In short, the banning of Video Games and Firearms break the first two Constitutional Amendments: 1, and 2. These are the most common of debated Amendments, the Right to Free Expression, and the Right to Bear Arms.

The Right to Free Expression: Video Game makers aren’t elves who live in a tree who make diabolical games in order to enslave people and rack up money using obscene prices (unless you’re EA.) They are a group of Artists and Programmers who are dedicated to a common goal, of expressing their creations. This is especially true when they make games that often look controversial, or appeal to very small groups of cult-style fans. There are of course other supposed “repercussions,” such as:

  • violent games cause addiction
  • violent games cause crimes
  • violent games cause social deviancy

We should remember that Parents, Lawmakers, and Idiots, will always target things they don’t like FIRST. The sad incident of Columbine was first blamed utterly on Doom, one of the original First Person Shooters of that time. Yet, the game “Doom” didn’t show up in the diaries of the two assailants of this massacre. What was pointed out by them was bullying, teasing, and the inability to act or think in classrooms. One was a great manipulator, and the other was a great follower. Neither really had social lives. Therefore, it must be blamed on Video Games. (See Above, “Causes Social Deviancy,” “Causes Crime.”)

Allow me to explain a little bit about addictions. Normally, they happen on their own. Whether or not someone has an addiction, is mostly based on their “Addictive Nature.” Sexual Addicts, Drug Addicts, and Alcohol Addicts (or Game Addicts) aren’t really there for the thrill, excitement, or pleasure… rather for the power, need, and habitual nature. Game addicts aren’t any different from the other Addicts. They seek out something, anything to defeat boredom, and the normal every-day beat of life. Often this happens without realizing that this escape becomes their every-day life.

Let me point something out about the Grand Theft Auto games. On news broadcasts, in the Senate discussions, and in talk shows, GTA has been demonized for allowing the player to kill Police Officers, beat Hookers with baseball bats, and run various people over without any cause of belief that you’ve done anything wrong. Well, it’s true! One, it’s a video game! The moment you walk in front of a Police Officer and point a gun at him, think of two things. 1. You probably don’t know how to handle a real firearm, as opposed to your high-rank in the video game. 2. The Police Officer knows how to not only use their sidearm, but WILL fire on you if he/she is threatened. Next, people need to think about what they’re saying. Many Politicians sleep with Hookers, but then deny them their rights on the Senate Floor, but then give them the same “humane leniency” in video games. This is kinda screwed up, honestly. While there isn’t any reason for beating up anyone, the game simply “allows” this to happen. Meaning, there are no missions where you actually are forced to beat up hookers. The same style of Postal 2, is that you are “allowed” to do as you wish. I once went through a GTA game WITHOUT beating up a hooker. Let’s look at it another way. Hookers in Television: Bad, nasty women who hear all the good talk, and sell that information. They’re dirty, full of diseases, and you should probably stay away from them. Hookers in Movies: Bad nasty women who like being dominated by their Pimp, and do so voluntarily. In the case they don’t like it, the movie becomes based around them in a freedom-seeking hour fest that somehow introduces a Manly Man to do a lot of fighting. Yet, in GTA, Hookers just act like Hookers IRL: they want you to get “in the mood” so you buy their services. So, you can either buy their services, deny their services, or in GTA, run them over with a Semi-Truck at full speed. For more on this topic, you can watch this video.

Who’s The Tool Now?

Much like adolescent Emos, guns are highly misunderstood. They are often confused as being “violent” and “dangerous.” Yes, they are. However, like many tools of trade, anything able to craft or destroy is considered dangerous. Take for example, how many workers lose fingers or entire limbs due to the Industrial Machine, in comparison to actual gun related injuries or death. It’s actually rather small! Next, take Automobile deaths per year, and compare them to gun deaths! Another gap! Yet Automobiles, for their sincere advantages over (gasp!) walking, they will never be banned. Since guns don’t necessarily have a practical use in modern society — not here, here, here or even here! — (sigh) nevermind. The above videos are a reminder that it isn’t always the criminal who has the firearms. But let me tell you that these videos would be far more gruesome and tragic if those same firearms were banned. Across the United States, the most common gun-related robberies are related to Pizza-Deliverers, who are lured to the robbers home… or taxi drivers. California has been very hard-pressed to ban firearms to the public, but considering how many well-armed gangs there are in California, I would say that it would be very stupid to disarm the innocent half

Another point that I have, is that many news casters and journalists very rarely look at Police Reports given to the public for common knowledge, which will show the actual numbers recorded with Firearm Involvement with Crimes, as opposed to “trusting” private research institutes. The number of true gun-related assaults are very small, even in urban cities. Well, this is because of how expensive Firearms are in a Gun-Shop, and surprisingly (or not so) more expensive in the underground trades. Not to mention, a knife is more deadly than a gun in many aspects. For one, a bullet when penetrating a soft target may only cause a small entrance wound, and an exit wound of only an inch or so more wide (With the exception of Hollow-Points, and some larger rounds/cartridges.) Most deaths related to gunfire are mostly due to shock and bleed-outs, but they can actually be treated easily. Knives on the other hand are much more mortal. Do your own research, I don’t really need to explain the idea of metal slowly rubbing against skin, as opposed to a bullet that shoots faster than the blink of an eye.

Rather than outright banning the Private Trade and Selling of Firearms, why not just require a permit that requires schooling and training? If a Police Officer must pass a training exam to earn his 9mm, why shouldn’t common folk like us? And I don’t strictly mean being able to hit the bulls’ eye at least 3 of 50 shots, I mean proper handling and knowledge. You know, the most important aspects of knowing when, where, how, and why to use a firearm for personal protection. If someone doesn’t know how to properly store their weapons away from children, or even the robbers themselves, they shouldn’t own a weapon of any kind. In fact, either your child should never know you have a firearm, or you should at least have the common sense to teach them about how dangerous the weapon is. No, wait, always educate everyone about dangerous tools that you have around your home. Or, just don’t own one.

My main point is, that the Gov’t should have the option to regulate weapon trade as far as difficulty goes, but remember that there will always be someone with a much more easy way to sell a gun – even if it were illegal. Just look at how well banning Marijuana has improved in keeping it away from people. Heh, not very well. The Gov’t also needs to constantly remember just why Thomas Jefferson and John Adams wanted the public to own firearms. Personal Defense, yes, but more importantly so the public can rise up and have a fighting chance against any possible dictatorship. It is so that a Militia can defend their country in time of dire need, should it arise, instead of running away. If many of our own revolutionaries ran away from conflict, then Britain may still be in control of America, Canada, India, and Africa with their colonies. Perhaps even China would be a part of their growing colonization? Oh wait, guns were only a small portion of the American Revolution. Barely anyone remembers all the talk, paperwork, and community aid that actually won-over the war for America, and all that jazz.

 

“Dad, I’ve Been Meaning To Ask You: What Is A Slut?”

Image courtesy of Married to the Sea

Image courtesy of Married to the Sea

I was in the kitchen with our cis-gendered daughter of nine years age, a few weeks back.  She was eating her dinner and I was reading a post by Rabbit White.  Striking up a conversation, she asks me:

“Dad, I’ve been meaning to ask you – What’s a ‘slut’?”

Now, there’s an ice breaker. Of the many lessons my daughter teaches me ongoingly, perhaps the most noticeable is that the critical moments in our lives and relationships show up with no notice, no plan and no place to hide.  Intimacy, relatedness and honesty don’t pussyfoot around.

So, I closed the laptop and looked at her.  I told her that it is an insult used on women, by people that want women to feel small, shameful and bad for being human and to tell women that they are not good.  I said that all mammals have sex and that humans are mammals.  I told her that in many cultures, women are insulted for a great many things, treated like property and denied the right to enjoy many (if not all) freedoms that men have.

I said that I know some women who embrace the word themselves, to claim the right to enjoy their own lives as their own terms.

I said that the word, like any attempt at insult is only powerful if a person believes that other people define that person.  I told her that if someone insults her, the insult is not important.  What is important is that she learn the many ways of dealing with insults.

Most of all, I informed her that no word will ever be who she is, whether spoken by an enemy or a friend.  The definition of who she is, will always be a gift that only she can give herself.  No one – NO one on this earth can ever take that away from her.

I shared this on twitter because I thought it was pretty funny.  (Almost as funny as the time I used the word “orgasm” in front of her and had to explain that…to my bride’s amusement at my lump-headedness).  One person suggest that I bail on the explanation and pass it off to “mommy”.  That’s not really my style, though.  I’ve embraced digging myself out of awkward moments for a host of reasons.

– I am this girl’s male relationship role model.  If I don’t show her what an honest conversation from a man looks like, who will?

– We don’t have that kind of marriage.  We don’t run from those moments.  We cherish them because they will never come again.  Each one is special.  Rather than treat them as disasters to avoid, we hold them into our lives and share them with each other as gifts of the tales of our lives alone and together.

– In those awkward, uncomfortable moments between people – there is an opportunity for honesty and relatedness.  That awkwardness catches us off guard because we don’t have scripted platitudes, prejudices, reactions, assumptions.  These moments are gifts and they startle us with their immediacy, their undeniable presence and the sudden awareness that we not alone.  Someone else is with us, right now and they are as aware of us as we are of them.

– I like to spare my acts of cowardice for real emergencies (like NOT wearing my Bears jersey to a Packers home game…again)

As I considered and digested the event and that comment, I ventured back to a familiar train of thought for me: The gift of a girl child.  We only have one, so she’s the first, oldest, best, etc.  I have been able to interrupt, notice and replace my own internal sexist assumptions and behaviors – every day for the last 10 years.  I am fairly certain that I would have passed on and glossed over a great deal of sexism to a boy child, given the knowledge of what I’ve learned since she was born.  Being married to an amazing feminist woman as I am, I’m sure these things would still have come up.  But, she’s a real gift – as I believe all girl children (whether cis or trans) are.

In face of the selective abortions of girl fetuses, abandoned girl babies & murdered female infants, she is a miracle.  Given what a scheming revolutionary I am, working against the kyriarchy / patriarchy / military / religious / financial model of oppression as I am…she is going to be more than capable of carrying on the family business.

Any gender is a good gender to me.  That said, the presence of this girl child is the most amazing and powerful gift of all my born days.  She is the promise of a life that will not be dull – ever.

 

Slipping Out Of Gendered Spaces

Earlier this week I was discussing Wuthering Heights with my class of 11th graders. We were talking about how demarcations, borders and outlines of the Body are continuously challenged in the text, in such a way that the Body becomes a hybrid of human and beast. At one point Catherine exclaims, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He is always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being”, here the Body possesses masculine and feminine spaces simultaneously, which by extension ‘queers’ love, as well as allows the Body to dislocate itself from chronic heteronormativity. I was about to explain how the text polices this ‘abnormal’ body when one student asked me to stop. He couldn’t reconcile the idea that a woman’s body can embody and imprint from her lover’s body and identity. He didn’t like that she remained autonomous of her identity while slipping into Heathcliff’s body (figuratively speaking) at will. The way he put it, “Why isn’t she happy with the space she’s given?”. As trans-phobic his statement was, I could understand where it stemmed from. Even when all I wanted to do was stop the class right there and start discussing transphobia, probably also whack him on the head¹ with Gender Trouble till he saw how pungent his assumption was and all I could do was try to not start ranting and fuming, I could see why he thought this way. As a culture, we’re told to see transsexuals and intersex people as the Other, we’re encouraged when we participate in erasing people who identify as trans; so my student’s reaction was hardly out of the ordinary. What stuck with me is how ‘natural’ it was for my student to say what he said, without even pausing to consider that androgyny or ‘gender bending’ may go beyond people who are ‘born that way’.

I don’t really remember how I finished the class, I do remember mulling over what my student said even as I was waiting on the platform for my train to come. Before I knew it, I’m standing in front of the ‘Ladies Compartment’ marked with blue stripes and for a second I couldn’t move.  We gender our spaces wherever and whenever possible, and this differently ‘marked’ compartment proved just that. The reason behind keeping separate train compartments for Ladies and Dudes is to keep groping and sexual harassment to the minimum — by employing the Cure The Disease And Spare The Symptom Method — but the boundaries are clear. If I look like a Lady, I must travel in the space alloted to me or I shouldn’t complain when I get assaulted when I travel by the ‘general’ compartment; questions whether I identify as a Lady are quite easily ignored. At social gatherings and dinner parties, somehow unanimously women use separate rooms or tables, where even the talk is gendered. The Dudes sit sipping alcohol and talking of ‘dudely’ things finance, architecture, politics — I don’t even know what else as I’m generally in the opposite section — whereas Ladies talk about children, husbands, cooking, chores and ungrateful relatives. As a child I used to think that men must speak a different language altogether as they seldom talked to girls or women. This isn’t to say the two genders never interact socially — we’re one of the biggest populations on the planet, so some social intercourse is happening somewhere — but that in the presence of these different spaces, we don’t step out of our boundaries. I am often uncomfortable in such gendered tables or rooms as the manufactured differences always get to me; not because I’m uneasy in my prescribed gender but because there is no scope for me to transgress if I ever wanted to. Media and social traditions foster the idea that a person who identifies as queer or trans is a laughing-stock. In fact most encounters with hijras leave people giggling, because opinions like “can you imagine being a man down there! It’s so sad and funny!” are too commonplace. In fact, “Bobby Darling” is used as a slur to discourage boys from showing their effeminacy, effectively silencing the woman behind this slur as a body who independently chose her trans identity.

Under feminist discourse, the Body is a site of production and consumption of knowledge, power and desire; but the question that concerns us today is which Body is allowed this power. As Butler beautifully points out in Bodies That Matter, often there is a selective politics involved in normalising cis, White and thin bodies over any other Body. Which is precisely why trans and intersex bodies are seen as strangely asexual or overtly promiscuous — pick one according to the ruling party’s policy as well as your mood! — the goal is to render them ‘alien’, Other, ‘different’, to ‘expose their limitations’. This way, passing invasive laws, abusing trans people, trafficking trans bodies becomes quite easy. Earlier this month the Indian government passed a bill that offers hijras a monthly pension as a way of ‘helping’ them, since “most eunuchs live in misery” as Jagdish Mamgain of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi is quoted by the Belfast Telegraph as saying. While there is no denying that most hijras and trans people of other lesser known communities do live in abject poverty, that they are often discriminated against because of their ‘ill-fitting body’ or that they belong to an ‘inferior caste’, I don’t see how this bill is any way beneficial to them. My problem with this bill doesn’t lie in the idea that ‘those filthy hijras get money for being deformed!’ like many right-winged arseholes do, but rather how even here the trans body is under scrutiny and policing. According to this bill, “a eunuch must submit a medical certificate from a government hospital as proof of no longer having male genitalia, as well as an affidavit proclaiming they are not married and proof of age” to qualify for this meager pension. So hijras whose male appendages have been forcibly castrated — to keep the fine tradition of the hijra community alive — in other words, people who identify as transwomen are allowed this pension. What about transmen? Or people who aren’t born intersex, but choose to transition or identify as trans? Apparently, their bodies don’t matter under the Law’s consideration. We’re again ensnared into normalising and preferring one type of trans body over another.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of such a law or any gendered space is how any category — hijra, woman, man — are placed in a metonymic process where people who fall under specified categories — transwomen, heterosexual woman and man — become interchangeable till the point that any individual who deviates from this norm is punished and coloured invisible. While I am indeed happy for people who will benefit from this bill I can’t ignore the Othered Bodies, left to be oppressed and disposed as the stronger hegemonic narrative wills them to be. And out from these policed and controlled laws comes yet another gendered space where the Body is yet again sculpted, chained and punished till it mutates to socially sanctioned norms while the metaphorical body within it is long dead.

—-

1. Not really, as I oppose any kind of violence — especially the violent kind — but I did get furious for a few minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caught Between Colonised Consonants

These last few weeks have been rather stressful for me, so by the time I get home, I’m more than exhausted, crash on my sofa and let the TeeVee numb my LadyLobes into oblivion for a while. This is around the time my grandmother’s favourite soaps are aired and we’ve developed a routine between the two of us. I help her to get dinner going (in my limited capacities as a non-cook) and she fills me in to whatever I missed in the first 10 minutes of the show. Over these weeks, I have now become familiar with the plotlines of more than seven shows, each predictably depicting middle to upper middle class Hindu households, where the protagonist, generally a virtuous woman battling a myriad of obstacles  from abusive husbands to nosy-parker neighbours, this Indian Daughter In Law suffers and endures rather vapidly, always quoting from some scripture or following orders to a T. This is TeeVee land after all, where women go to bed in saris and with their full make-up on, where the idea of a ‘diverse’ family is a multilingual Hindu family — what? have a non-sterotypical Muslim or a Christian character? Never! The TeeVee roars back — and where always, good triumphs over evil, after about every 200 episodes. Of course, when I’m watching these soaps with my grandma these quips are contained in my LadyBrain as she genuinely enjoys these shows. Plus if you saw her blushing the way she does when a Dude and a Lady on the screen brush hands, you’ll get it too.

Yesterday I noticed something interesting in one of these shows; it reminded me of my other grandmum that I lost a few years ago. One of the senior actors on the show had the exact expression as my grandmum would get when I’d start rambling too quickly in English; like many MudSquatters she too could read and write English quite well. Though she was the one who introduced me to Austen and the Brontës; when it came to sounding the syllables she fell short. The actor on-screen was making an exaggerated effort to understand her grandson as the child blathered on in the Coloniser’s tongue – with the American accent no less!—when this grandma of mine looks at me and teases me, “Isn’t this like us? You and your English books, always ranting in that language! Going so fast that no one can even understand! God knows what you must be saying in that language about us!”. While my parents and I converse in English relatively easily, for my grandma this language remains an unexplained pun, as she correctly guesses our tones but the words and their exact meaning escape her. For her not learning English remains her way to defy the Empire, while today I believe in smashing the Empire from within, using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house and caught in the middle are people from my mum’s generation who learnt English to get jobs and status. My parents have a more intimate relationship with our Mother Tongue than I do, for English remains a means to an end for them, as for me English is one of my primary expressions; it’s alienating, frustrating and yet the only tongue I can dream in. The debate of ‘Whose English Is It Really?’ can continue forever. What interests me today how this language is used to cut, to prod, to break into and make room for new dichotomies to absorb. I’ve noticed how my tone changes when I’m speaking to my friends or students, while at home even my English shifts its tenor, it slows down. Here, a few words from my Mother Tongue blend in, the way I leave questions open is again extremely specific for my community, the language flows more smoothly till the transition to speaking entirely in my Mother Tongue has been made. Sometimes when my Mum and I don’t want to let the maid know we’re talking about something that concerns her, we shift unanimously and almost subconsciously to English and then step right out again in a similar manner. Here, English is used to show and maintain class and to an extent caste supremacy whether we’re aware of it or not.

Till date, English remains as a ‘gift’ and ‘boon’ granted by the coloniser to us dusty colonised people, we don’t own it, command it, manipulate it. We swim in, forth and sideways at best; which only further cements the concepts of ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds. Even while re-reading canonical texts as Austen, Dickens or T.S. Eliot and many others¹ from this camp, the one thing I’m constantly looking in this dance of conversations between the Master and the Slave is where is the end of one and the exact beginning of another’s border. As to tell the history of the Other is to expose and ‘deal’ with the limit’s of one’s own history; this is where the obsession with defining the Empire and its Colonies becomes visible as our bodies are written upon as ritually as possible by narratives of literature and media. Similarly, the Mother Tongue is heavily washed with English till all is left are Anglo-Saxon and Nordic sounding syllables in the place of well-woven langues that are birthed from Sanskrit. And this ‘conflict’ is of a Lady who belongs to the upper echelons of society — caste and class wise — where the negotiation between my Mother Tongue and English doesn’t seem as violent as it really is, as erasure ‘progress’ that comes packaged in Disney and Beatrix Potter books masks the harshness. People who aren’t as privileged as I, who are forced to learn English and are told that their ‘worth’ will increase to that of a human only if they speak in English, their transitions into our Collectively Colonised Skin is much more painful and gory². And the few who scrape pieces of themselves from this system, they are rejected later for ‘poor English’ pronunciation, ill-formed grammar regardless of what their potential is.

Here all previous notions of ‘dismantling’ or breaking the Empire go void, for words and sounds that were never yours to begin with cannot be called back or used to ‘talk back’ to and dreams of a ‘new tongue’ are long gone. What remains are shards of sounds, words, alphabets with which the POC has to start building a ground that has to move out of its previous feminised sphere — hence available and penetrable — and work to a negotiation that rests with neither the colonised nor the coloniser, the concept of ‘nation’ has to be reconciled with neither the subjugator nor the subjugated skins is the solution to interrupt and resist imperial narratives. The question that haunts me today is just how far do we force ourselves to indicate this ‘OtherLand’? All I can hope so, this defining doesn’t result in a pompous show of appropriation and tokenism. Like in the case of my two grandmothers, English has to move beyond a forced ventriloquism, a dubbing of tongues or all we will be left with will be tongue dumb tongues³.

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1. Ask F. R. Leavis. If you can resist puking at the Wikipedia page that is.

2. Most first-generation learners of English are people from ‘backward’ castes and indigenous tribes.

3. Thank you Nourbese Philip!

 

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