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.

 

 

Rewriting The Box

Many people argue that routines are boring and often numb the soul; in addition to raise a person’s potential to inch closer to making an extremely inexpensive version of ‘A Clockwork Orange‘, on a startlingly daily basis — I do get this argument. This is the reason ‘self-help’ books like ‘The Secret’ and ‘The Alchemist’ work right? At the same time, many people also detest change and often go to great lengths to avoid facing it; maybe the afore-mentioned people go as far as to make-believe that change doesn’t exist at all till it smacks them right in the face. Not that I‘d know anything about it. Please. I’m the most UnstablyStable person I know. Also, the most humble, as you might have caught on by now.

To further this pathological need to keep everything as similar as always, we do a lot of BatPoop crazy things. What never fails to amaze me is just how many people stereotype and ‘box’ people (including myself sometimes) in convenient labels. I suppose it saves them the effort to think or somehow use their GrayMatter a little above the barest of bare minimum. See a girl walking on the street dressed in pink from head to toe, she’s suddenly ‘HumanBarbie’, see someone write or stare into space (often confused with existential magnitude) and the person is a ‘philosopher’ or at least ‘an artsy type’, see a boy walk with a sashay and he is ‘gay’, see a mother and daughter fighting in public and they are ‘The daily entertainment troupé’, see someone walk with a scowl and you’ve remembered that misanthropist quote “Sell your children to the rich as food“*. A rather large part of the population engages in such ‘boxing’, there is no point in pretending otherwise. Except if you’re Dalai Lama, only then you’re excused of this particular faux pas. At least, I’d like to believe that (Note to self : Recovering Optimists meeting tomorrow).

I never realised just how horrible this ‘labeling’ can be to the human psyche, until a few days ago. Three days ago, in class I made a presentation on Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication Of The Rights of Woman’ without drooling all over the paper or mumbling anything as intelligible as “She’s just awesome. Really“. For the most part anyway. Important to note that my paper was long and it often used words like “Post-Jacobian era femininity” and harked backed at Puritanical definitions of womanhood (a little bit of SelfPromotion is always healthy with a teaspoon of pride, I say). What I mean is, I really hadn’t expected people to pay attention. Generally when I talk, people tend to focus on the words ‘Feminism’, ‘Anti-Woman’ or ‘Really nincompoop-y of patriarchy to do so and so” and soon my fellow feminists and I are heralded with chants of “Man-Hater!”, “Baby-Burner” from many directions. You can imagine my surprise at the fact that I didn’t have to use my Medusa look on my classmates at all. And these are the same people who thought ‘A Farewell To Arms’ was a diet book! Can you completely blame me for thinking most of them were shallow airheads? Maybe you can, I’d agree with you, if it were any other day. These are the same people who think ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is a philosophy book. Before you’d start calling me a privileged arsehole, let me draw attention to the fact that we’re a Literature Major class. One cannot go around thinking ‘Pygmalion’ was written by Sophocles just because it draws the name from a Greek myth anymore.

I'm sure the inside of my brain was this. Seriously.

I'm sure the inside of my brain was this. Seriously.

I wish I’d remembered sooner what my grandmum said about scatterbrained airheads one time, “These are the people who will always surprise you so much by doing anything even remotely sensible that you’ll end up being the fool“. Had I remembered this, I wouldn’t have been so taken aback by the fact that people took notes and even asked for explanations after I was done talking. And while I was answering them, all I could think to myself was how big an arse I was being. So what if some of my classmates thought Amitav Ghosh writes literary pornography just because there are a few to many ‘stroke my boner now‘ references in the book? Who did I think I was to think of them like that? The privately funded cynic to bray at everything that displeased me? Or the re-incarnation of Marie Corelli? Certainly not. Besides, my French isn’t that good yet.

Needless to say, I felt horrible for being so petty and Tina Fey-y in ‘boxing’ everyone to a type. The person who laughed at “What women did back then can be simplified into saying they provided womb-services. Till they hit menopause that is” line wasn’t necessarily who guffawed at “she was called a hyena in petticoats“, I scolded myself. Believe me when I say, I didn’t expect to hear loud laughs for quoting ‘The neglected wife often makes the best mother’ or see scowls at being snarky at Pat Robertson’s definition of feminism — Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

The whole time I was talking, I could see the judgmental conga-line going back and forth in my LadyBrain. Dorothy Parker would have been so proud of me just then; I could almost see my grandmum again, laughing at me. At that moment, I decided to completely let go of my Darwinian instinct to ‘box’ people. Everyone deserves a benefit of the doubt. I’d completely break ‘the box’ all of us are so prone to carry around in our heads, I wouldn’t EVER again treat scatterbrained airheads like I was Judi Dench ever again, was my strong conviction. There are just so many ways a girl can be a complete swot and I didn’t want to have either of it.

After class, when I asked my friend just why were people laughing so much, she said my bra was showing AND my hair was sticking up the wrong way. Drat! My grandmum had been right all along, “Too much thinking rots the brain” she used to tell me. She was such an ‘abstract thinker’ too.

* Really. Jonathan Swift did say that. I’m not that good at making stuff up. Not yet anyway.

P.S. So how big an arsehole you think I was being?

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