Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Coo-Coo-Coomari Series, Cooking Fish Etc.

The new poem is coming along -- slowwwwwly! But it's happening. As I am moving along with it, I am wondering, to what extent will this poem stand alone! Or is it something I should even worry about right now.To me, my goals are very specific. It's one of the poems that's going to go into my bildungsroman series. From what I have now, it seems, it will be part of a five-poem series. In a nutshell,the series is an exercise on trying to come up with some reflections on things that are concerning me now-- the relationship between gender and creativity, creativity and state or social institutions, the idea of leaving, how much we can leave outside of institutions as individuals etc. I have also tried to engage with some of the conventions of a more conventional fairy-tale narrative, especially the "princess" figure. The first three were relatively effortless (I am not saying, they came naturally. For, they didn't.) Those were also the poems which were primarily about questioning the exclusion of women from more authoritarian narratives or institutions. But I didn't want to stay stuck in there, because it seems to me that that's the space where most of the liberal feminist writings get restricted. I was also trying to think, to what extent I can write about women who are in intermediary spaces. Or, to what extent women fail to provide solidarity to each other because of the privilege of class, caste or cultural capital. The form I am using is mostly lyric-narrative. So nothing much new in there. It is, after all, the dominant form of American poetry these days. Although my poems tend to be longer, more verbose and denser in terms of the language they use than the average American lyric-narrative.

In view of the post I wrote yesterday, about innovation etc., I am thus almost prompted to say, what will be most innovative in this age is to write LONG narrative ballads, which will demand readers' attention for hours, will resist flashification and will leave the reader with a kind of uncertainty after he/she's done. Am I being too demanding? Hmmmm...

Dinner is Patla Machher Jhol and Bhat. I got the recipe from the blog Cook like a Bong. I am using chapila machh, which I bought from Shahi Foods, the new Bangladeshi grocery store in Austin. The packet said "bangladeshi himayita taja maachh" and "Bangladeshi Fresh Frozen Fish."Contradiction in Terms? So, with due acknowledgment and thanks to the writers of Cook Like a Bong, here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

Fish (any fresh water fleshy fish): 200gms

Black cumin (Kalo Jeera): 1 teaspoon

Mustard oil (Sarser tel): 2 tablespoon

Turmeric powder (Halud Guro): 1 teaspoon

Green chilli (Kacha Lanka): 2 / 3 pieces

Salt to taste

Water

Preparation:

* De-scale and wash the fishes well, add ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder and 1 teaspoon of salt to the fish and mix them well.

* Heat oil in a wok and fry the fishes. Don’t over fry, Take them out of the flame just after little frying.

* Add black cumin to the oil in which you have fried the fishes. Add turmeric powder, green chilli, salt and 2 cups of water.

* Let it boil for 2 minutes, add the fried fishes and cook for some more time, till the water takes up the yellowish color.

* Serve with rice and enjoy this non-spicy fish preparation in the humid weather of this summer

The fish is marinating right now, and I have added a little bit of white pepper along with turmeric, mustard oil and salt. Let's see how it goes!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Indira Debi's Rabindrasmriti

Maybe because I need to go through so many academic articles, I tend not to read too many literary criticisms for my non-academic life. Something I do need to address, and put more essays on my reading lists.

Just finished reading Indira Debi's Rabindrasmriti. Memories of Rabindranath, that's what the title would look like when translated into English. The book is interesting to me for two reasons. One, the Rabindranath-industry in Bengal had survived to a large extent on producing these memoirs of other people about Rabindranath himself. That, in itself, is a highly charged phenomena.These memoirs, in lots of ways, not only constructed our perceptions of Rabindranath, but I would say, controlled them. For any writer/observer/theorist of culture,reading these memoirs a little bit against the grain becomes an imperative, precisely because such readings will go right into the heart of the processes through which the middle-class Bengali (male)main-stream have constructed the figure of Rabindranath. Although to be perfectly honest, it will probably be harder to find any other figure in Bengal about whom so many women have penned their memoirs. Which brings me to my second point. I was vastly fascinated by the ways in which Indira Debi's stories about herself kept seeping through the stories of her celebrated uncle. If read carefully, those stories can tell us a lot about the ways in which the Tagore-family was carrying out its own project of modernization. It also tells us a lot about how women were central to such a process of modernization, and the women themselves, weren't exactly mute spectators or little porcelain dolls who were allowing themselves to be recreated. And if that's how they often wrote about their own childhood and youth, as these periods when they let themselves be "constructed" by their liberal fathers, brothers and uncles, then we need to think why they wrote about themselves in that way. In short, we need to think of their narrative passivity as a rhetorical strategy rather than as an unmediated representation of what actually happened.

But I was also thinking of the concept of "innovation" while reading the book. Innovation is one of the words that go around the poetry circles a lot. I must confess, I don't have any specific fondness for this word. To me, it's too loaded, it has excluded too many different modes of writing and more specifically, writings generated by women and people of color throughout the world. Anyways, this is not a post about those processes of exclusion, for they are complex.What struck me when I was reading this book was, the intense ways in which Rabindranath engaged with the existing musical genres of his time to create his own music. Hindustani classical, certain forms of Bengali popular music, Western classical and the folk-popular ballad traditions of the British Isles that filtered through the colonial modes of distribution. In other words, the musical innovations he did were rooted within specific histories.And in fact, what he was innovating, were engagements/conversations with the pre-existing forms and conventions. And I will say, social histories too. Especially if we consider the fact that aesthetic forms do embody social histories in extremely complex ways. So, what I am trying to get at is, innovation is always contextual and historical. It never happens within a vaccum, nor does it fall on someone's lap from the sky. One of the biggest problems of the modernist philosophy of aesthetics and cultural productions is that, it makes the word "innovation" an end in itself.Thus, there is a very serious separation of the word from histories--both aesthetic and social. Personally I think, nothing is more detrimental to the process of art-making than this separation, but I won't go into it now. That will require a whole different post.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Putting Pressure on Language

I was attending the dissertation defense of one of my friends who happens to be a poetry scholar. During her defense, she said something that intrigued me a lot. According to her, she likes poems which put pressure on language. I have been thinking about it ever since, and I think I agree. I like poems which not only put pressure on language, but puts pressure on language in such a way that it forces the readers to re-think the inter-relationships between literary conventions, language and social history.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Story Done

Finished revising the story, and now doing some edits before posting it for the workshop. Also emailed it to a couple of "out" friends. So hopefully will have some feedback to revise it again. My own feeling is, it's definitely better now. But will also need more work.As I gave it a read this afternoon, I realized that the story is brushing up against an issue of which I don't have an immediate solution.This is the first story where I have taken up the issue of class in very direct terms. The protagonist of the story is very very different from me. He is an eleven year old working class boy whose mother works as a domestic maid in Kolkata. Therefore, the kind of childhood I am writing about is starkly different from my own. Not only that, one of the things I try to do in this story is to contrast this kid's childhood with the kind of childhood which I have had. Now, I can write authoritatively about growing up middle-class, female and Bengali in Kolkata. But I do not have the same authority in writing about the childhood of a boy who works in a tea-shop. It's not that I have never come across such kids, or have had conversations with them. But my interactions with them have always been colored by my own perceptions and social locations. Even if I plan to interview hundreds of such kids now, just for the sake of this story, that issue of my own location is never really going to go away. There is no way I will ever have un-mediated access to such voices and experiences. Therefore, in order to create this particular character in a convincing kind of a way, I have bumped against my own class-position. I don't want my protagonist to be a child-Velutha. But then, that doesn't necessarily lead me to figure our automatically what I want.

So for now, I will take the easier route. I can rest with the draft I have for now, and I will just bank on the critical faculties of my readers to help me improve the piece.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thoughts About Teaching

As I mentioned in the last post, I won't be teaching the next academic year. I have a fellowship, which means I have the luxury to sit on my ass for an entire academic year, read, write, improve my French etc. I am thankful,not because I don't like to teach, but because I am not very good in juggling the pressures of teaching along with the pressures of writing. But in the last one year, I had been thinking a lot about teaching and the issues that I had been facing as a teacher. And since they are too many in number, I will try to refrain from making any blanket statements here.

Lately I have been wondering, if I love my students.Yes, I sure have spotted possibilities in many of them, have felt occasional affection for them, felt that they are very nice, cute and sweet. But do I love them in the way I have been loved (and continue to be) by many of my own teachers? I will have to be honest here. The answer is NO.While it might just be my own personal deficiency to be lovey-dovey, I think, the issue at hand is a little bit more complicated. Ordinarily, within the semester system, we teachers get to teach our students for 16 weeks.Out of these 16 weeks, the first two are usually consumed by introductions, handing out and explaining the syllabus, setting down the ground-rules etc. Within the next fourteen weeks, we try to cover at least three large assignments, three smaller ones, numerous housekeeping issues and last but not the least, the academic materials. So, not a whole lot of time is left to get to know each other in a way that will open up spaces for intimate important conversations. I try to have at least three individual conference meetings with my students during any single semester, but they are still circumscribed by the demands of the curricula. The bottom-line is, unless a student decides to write a thesis with a particular teacher, contacts between the teacher and the taught are going to be fairly minimal and formal.Not only that, just when we begin to feel after the fourteenth week or so, that the class is going somewhere, the students are getting comfortable with each other, with me, the semester ends.

So, I am thinking, maybe this is one of the ways in which the corporate university model polices the teacher-student relationship? By keeping it minimal, extremely formal and thus preventing the formation of any long-standing bonds between the teachers and the students?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

First Day of Summer 2010

Grading done.
French exam done.

I won't be teaching for another year. But that doesn't mean much. Too many things to take care of. Too many writing projects to be finished. To many books to be read. And most of all,the dissertation needs to be finished.

I cooked something experimental after a long time today.A close friend of mine is staying with me for the month. It's always interesting to see how my desire to try out new recipes always escalates when I have people over. I tried a new dish. Found it in this website. I am cutting and pasting the recipe below just so that I succeed to keep a record of the things I am cooking these days:

AYAM MASAK MERAH
RED CHILLI CHICKEN
Prep time: 25 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 2 as a main, 4 as a side

2 large chicken breasts, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 small onion
1 medium-sized tomato
2 lemon grass stalks, discarding the rough green tops
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp sambal olek / chili paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste
water, as needed

MARINATE chicken in salt and turmeric, and set aside for 20-25 minutes.

BLEND onion, tomato and lemon grass to a smooth fine paste, adding a little water if necessary.

SAUTE the marinated chicken in hot oil till lightly browned, and set aside. In the same pan, fry ginger-garlic paste, Sambal Olek and onion-tomato-lemon grass paste, stirring continuously till sit tarts to give out oil from the sides.

ADD in chicken, salt and water if necessary, and stir fry till chicken in cooked through and the flavours absorbed.


I added some coriander powder while marinating the chicken. And added a quarter cup of raisins while blending the tomato, onion and the lemongrass.Partly because I am not the biggest consumer of that heat we call jhal in Bengali. Oddly enough, spicy is the word we use to refer to jhal here in this country. But my understanding of spicy is very different. Things can be extremely spicy without necessarily being hot at all.

Hoping that this desire to experiment will soon influence other areas of life. Aka writing. Haven't done any original writing so far today, but gearing up towards that. I have promised to myself that I will submit the first three of my bildungsroman series of poems to five journals by this week. To that end, I am making a list of journals now.