Saturday, May 30, 2009

Coffee-Shops and Inky Madness

I love to read and write in coffee-shops.In the middle of the smell of baked goods, brewing coffee, bad metal music and the general din. I can spend hours in a coffee-shop, reading, writing and sipping some cheap-ass drink. Although I like to work together with friends or colleagues, often times, I just want to hang out alone in the coffee-shops, while reading and writing. I don't want the disruption of having to engage in a chit-chat or casual conversation. A friend of mine had once asked me why I like coffee-shops so much, and I had answered, Because I can be alone in there. The moment I said that, the irony of the whole thing struck me a little too much. Besides, there is no way I would ever go to Indian Coffee House, either in College Street or in Jadavpur in Kolkata, to read and write. I go there to meet with my friends, chat with them, and I have no desire to work in there. So, I often think about the notion of privacy that haunts us when we bring our work to cafes. I know, I work in coffee-shops because it provides me with a break from the monotony of my matchbox-apartment, it allows me to enjoy a private moment which is also intensely public. Similarly, often times I think about the racial dynamics in coffee-shops. How intensely white sometimes they are in this country!

And I keep thinking, wouldn't it be cool if someone does a project somewhere on the history, sociology, cultural studies of coffee-shops? Like, I would say, without hesitating at all, that the emergence of the coffee-shops in most Indian cities is inextricably linked to the emergence of neo-liberalism.

Shining Coffee-Shops=Shining India

But, I am not so sure of the social history of the coffee-shops in here! But just writing this post makes me think that currently I don't have any stories which are set in coffee-shops! It might actually be interesting to try to write one over the summer or at some point in my life. Speaking of which, I am thinking:
writing indeed is a form of memorializing. So, I am wondering, what's the role of writer's own experience, or experience in general , in writing? I guess, it's a very old question. But the way I think about it, it's still a relevant one, something which every writer has to think through while figuring out one's own craft, aesthetics and politics!

What do you all think?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Responding to Elle's Post

I have often wondered what it is about the sound m. Why in so many languages in the world the word mother starts with this m sound. Mother. Ma. Madre. Mata. Maman. And a lot of the other variants we can think of.

I am not a mother.

I have been infantilized countless times in my life because I am not a mother.

My own mother, as her last weapon, often times, says to me, "Just wait till you become a mom. I will see how you feel when your own child behaves with you the way you are doing with me." I have told her every time, "Ma, I don't want to become a mom." I don't think she takes me seriously. It's just another sign of my not growing up, I guess.

I love kids. I smile at them in public places. And when I am in India, I touch them, play with them, make them giggle. I love kids because I see in them what this world can be. What I can be. What I could have. I love kids. My womb doesn't throb every time I see a kid, though.

I know plenty of "feminist" women who have written poems celebrating motherhood, and quite good ones too, while being crappy mothers themselves.

I don't equate my femininity with my capacity to reproduce. I shudder when my student says in class,
now that i am a mom, i dont worry about my body image, you, know. i feel my body is now utilitarian. I shudder because I don't believe in utilitarianism. I don't believe women need to give birth in order to prove that they can be of use. I don't believe women need to be "beautiful" in order to be anything. I don't believe it's only motherhood which can somewhat replace that idea of mass-cultural beauty.

I don't get worried when I see that the most potent political alliance in my home-state West Bengal in India coins the slogan
Ma Mati Manush(Mother, Land, Man) for the elections. After all, nationalism has a long history in using women as mother-symbols. I get hysteric when I see my leftist male friends, many of whom I consider my comrades, not feeling troubled by this coinage. I shed tears in silence when one of them calls me Euro-centric, coz I pointed it out. And then another says, you won't get it. you are not a mother, after all...guess what, by the time my mother was your age, i was 12.

I tell him, " I am not mother to anyone. I am teacher to many."

So, when Elle writes

outside and within some feminist communities, childfree women are under excessive pressure to conform to what is considered normative. Those who choose not to have children are regarded as suspect, strange, threatening. Their choices are dismissed as temporary or mean. Those who don’t have children, but for reasons other than choosing not to, are pitied, regarded as incomplete and barren--which has to be one of the coldest words I’ve ever heard used to describe a human being.
I find words of solace. solidarity.love.

And when she asks,

But how do you nurture and create community when things like this stand? When women are called “moos,” “breeders,” and “placenta-brains” and their children “widdle pweshuses” and “broods?”^^ When you cast your community as one in which women who have children and women who are childfree are diametrically (perhaps, diabolically) opposed and that mothers (gasp) are taking over the movement and leaving slack that others have to catch up? When it becomes clear that some of us are not welcome into your community? When your remarks indicate that you are, in fact, chillingly “independent of community?”

I know, here is someone who has raised the crucial questions in a far more competent way than I ever could have. So, a nod to
this post. And a warm hug for writing this.

May we be never afraid of thoughts, debates, and impossible quests.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing About Violence, Writing About Childhood

Writing regularly has, for me, inadvertently, contributed to something. Well, to be honest, it has contributed to lots of things. But the biggest thing is, I have again gone back to short story as a reader. There isn't a whole lot of place within academic literary criticism to deal with short stories. Most of us work on "narratives", and that too, novels. So, for a long long time, I was caught up within it too.

In the last few days, I have read a really good short story–
"Brownie" by an younger African-American writer, ZZ Packer. “Brownie,” is a look into the intersections of race, disability, class and the ways in which these things contribute to a violent childhood. A lot of the work I have produced as a writer in the last one year is about childhood and violence. The violence of growing up in gendered familial spaces, the violence of the school system, the violence of the playground. I am so not a believer in the idea of an “innocent” child. I mean, kids, as I remember from my own days, are violent. And mean. And cruel. They understand things way more than the adults think they can, they are soaking up the norms of this unequal world very very fast, and because they don’t have the adult polish, they express those violences without any inhibition. So, for me, as a writer, it’s hard to write about kids not because they are innocent, but because they process language differently, they articulate things differently. That’s why, I loved Packer’s story “Brownie.” It addresses all these things, without ever losing track of the childish ways of linguistic and conceptual cognition.

When I first began to write, I avoided going into the crazier places. I would try to skirt around the issues of violence, and write these all-too-pleasant stories, which wouldn't make much sense even to me. I realized that what I am really avoiding is going into my own series of childhood trauma. Trauma of growing up as a little girl. Trauma of growing up within broken political dreams. Trauma of going to school. And a lot more. The thing is, once I began to put myself through that self-examination, it became almost impossible to not write about violence, about the crazy shit that's this world. So after a while, I began to feel, that my writing almost automaticallly is going towards examining how my characters are capable of doing violence to others, or are trying to deal with violence done upon them. Although, I am still struggling with this issue, I think, this realization pushed my writing towards a new direction, towards a new kind of pacing, where I at least try to see how the so-called "bad things" (and I don't mean catastrophic here) lend upon a story lots of tension, make a writer look for multi-faceted characters. But, I think, the flip side of it, in my own writing is, this push has also slowed down my writing in a way. I get too involved in little details. And as much as I think the plot-driven, contemporary American short-story scenario erases too many subjectivities, too many stories, I don't think I want to write a novel or a short-story series like Amit Chaudhuri's
A Strange and Sublime Address. So, I am really stuck in this place, how does one narrate stories of childhood and systemic violence through the short-story form?

The First Post

I haven't blogged for a long, long time. For a while, I had lost my sense of purpose. Why am I blogging? For whom am I blogging? Do I really have anything to say to the world? Meanwhile, things have happened. Out there in the world and in here inside my room, heart and mind. Things that have made me re-visit old ideas. Old memories. Things that have made me see the world a little bit more. Take stalk of my own space in it. Realize a few things about myself. And most importantly, have more questions about existence in general.

So, here I am again...

One thing I have figured out, I am a life-form who primarily resides in words and narratives. No, I am still not a full-fledged pomo yet.
Everything is a narrative, doesn't solve it for me. I am more interested in figuring out the intersections of narrative and lived history, language and materiality, words and existence. So, this blog is going to be primarily a reflection on those things.

Books and texts I am reading
1.The jumbo academic project named dissertation I have just stepped into
2.The not-so-jumbo non-academic writing projects I am working on
3.Occasional poems and stories...
All peppered with my customary judgementalism.

So, here I am again! Welcome!