Sunday, July 29, 2012

Preliminary Bibliography On South African Slavery

1. Slavery And Emancipation In South Africa

2. Social Death And Resurrection : Slavery And Emancipation In South Africa

3. Slavery In South Africa : Captive Labor On the Dutch Frontier

4.Slavery In Dutch South Africa

5.Cape of Torments : Slavery And Resistance In South Africa

6. Slave Emancipation And Racial Attitudes in Nineteenth Century South Africa

7.Slavery In Africa : Archaelogy And Memory

8.Public Memory of Slavery : Victims And Perpetrators In The South Atlantic

9.Liberating the family? : gender and British slave emancipation in the rural Western Cape, South Africa, 1823-1853

10.Children of bondage : a social history of the slave society at the Cape of Good Hope, 1652-1838

11.Breaking the chains : slavery and its legacy in the nineteenth-century Cape Colony

12.The Slave Question : Liberty And Property In South Africa

13.Slavery At the Cape of Good Hope

Those in bondage; an account of the life of the slave at the Cape in the days of the Dutch East India Company.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

::Primary Texts To Be Read For Monograph 1::

1. Kites of Fortune
2. Calligraphy of the Witch
3. River of Smoke
4. Castaway
5. Emprehendora
6. Testimony of An Irish Slave Girl
7. The Kitchen House
8. Onaedo-- The Blacksmith's Daughter
9. All the books on Slavery by Andre Brink, which deserves another list like this one
10. Before We Set Sail

: Liver Kosha With Spinach::

There was this slab of liver lying around my freezer for a while. I wanted to use it up, and I also wanted to use up a bunch of spinach leaves I bought during my last visit to the East Austin Farmers' Market. This recipe was born out of that necessity to combine the two. I learnt, while surfing through the net that submerging the liver in milk for a few hours before cooking helps. Apparently, that way the liver loses some of its characteristic bitterness. I did that. And after six hours or so, I marinated it further in turmeric, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and a little bit of red chili powder for a couple of hours or so. I followed this recipe more or less. I did brown the liver and the potatoes separately. I also added some sour cream and sugar into the mix. In some ways, this is the standard recipe for cooking anything kosha. But because I needed to use up the spinach, I made it into a puree. And while the liver pieces and the potatoes were being browned in pot number one, I mixed the pureed spinach in pot no. 2, along with the onions and the spices and let it all mix together in a nice gooey thingie. And then added the liver pieces and the potatoes into pot number 2.

I loved the results. I think, this one is going to be a keeper in my kitchen. But still, I missed the taste of the fresh goat-liver that I have eaten in Kolkata. The frozen stuff simply did not taste the same. The again, who knows, maybe it's all in my head. Anyways...

Friday, July 27, 2012

:: Setting Myself Up For A Challenge ::

I think I need a little push. So, I am setting myself up for some challenges. During this coming week, I mean starting today, I will do these things everyday, even if they mean spending only 10-15 mins. on them : 

1. Job-search
2. Finding means to fund myself in Fall 2013 
3. Working on my current short story 
4. Eating a fruit everyday
5. Working on my poems
6. Finish reading the unfinished books before beginning new ones
7. Getting back into a habit of reading serious (like serious serious) non-fiction prose, even if it means 2 pages everyday.

Today, so far I have worked on 1, 2, 3, 4, 6. It's only 9 here. I will have an hour before I close shop for the day. I will try to put some work during that time rather than wasting my time on the internet. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

::My Writing Mojo,Somewhat Lost::

There are lots of real-life concerns I am worried about right now --- the work that I will have to do before my program ends, finding a job for myself which would ensure a ensure a stable (if moderate) source of livelihood, a lot of other personal issues. Writing has been hard for a while now. In March, I yanked out a few poems, around 10 or so. In February, I wrote 12 or something like that. I would wake up around 5, 5.30 pm, make myself a cup of tea, wrap myself in my navy blue flannel dressing gown and would read some poems before writing a few lines. And I would do this everyday, before I began to prep for the class I taught. I don't think I ever finished a poem in one sitting. But I would steadily work through them, writing a few lines everyday. 

After that, it has been a really slow drain. I am working on revising some of the ones I have, and a lot of those I wrote in February had been accepted in places. But ever since April, I haven't really been able to generate a whole lot of new work. I am trying to keep a regular pace of working, writing a few lines every day, reading reading and reading. Hoping somehow that will give me the energy and whatever it needs to dance on page again. But so far, the things I have written don't have that quality which has no name-- you know, how some poems "sing", go straight into the material's core and produce something that will cause you later to think I wrote that, I really did write that

In a week I will begin this month-long workshop : Writing A Poetic Sequence. I am desperately hoping it would give me some extra space to feel that creative energy again. Possibly we will read something that will rattle my bones so much that I will be forced to write and write well. Until then, I will try to push myself through, I will bring my pen closer to the paper everyday, let the two brush up against each other, and be satisfied with whatever comes out of those moments of persistent and somewhat forced creativity. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Karen Russell's Short Stories

I finished reading Karen Russell's short story collection St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves. For the longest time, I could not get into the stories. I would find one or two interesting things – a brilliant sentence, a remarkable imagery, an intersting exposition. But overall, I could not get in. It seemed to me that the writer has not paid enough attention to the world-building, the characters are interesting, but there was something off. I appreciated how Russell built most of her stories around these children who are misfits, but it also seemed to me she has fallen back upon a kind of easy magical realism. The non-realist elements did not seem to be organic to the worlds of the stories, but came across more like something the writer had gotten involved in because she was reluctant to do the sociological, historical research that strictly realist stories would need. Then, I came upon the story “St. Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves,” (the last one in the collection) and it blew me off! It was that good. I loved how she had experimented with the “we” voiced, while inserting within that “we” three individuals (an “I”, and two “she”s), all of whom occupy three different places within the story. Also, this is the only story in the collection where moving beyond the realism actually attributes something more to the story. While reading it, I kept thinking of colonial education systems, but more specifically Native American boarding schools. Whatever it is, I could not shade off the complicated histories of race and racism while reading this story, and I think, exploring race through tropes of human-animality ascribes upon the story an additional dimension which a purely realist depiction would have probably missed, or would have seemed repetitive. I am looking forward to reading her novel Swamplandia now.  

Sunday, July 22, 2012

<< Reflections on Why I Write What I Write >>

I have been trying to think of the issues and themes that have guided my poems in the recent times. When I first began to write seriously again, I was writing two kinds of poem – a kind of high lyricism with a very strong sense of “I” and an overload of images, and what can be called speculative poems, exploring myths, fairytales and such. I was avoiding the so-called “confessional” poems because I was hyper aware of the ways in which as a woman, and especially a woman-of-color who is also a citizen of a Third World nation, whatever I write will be read as overtly autobiographical. Now, I don't like the term “confessional.” The word appears to be overtly hierarchical, bringing to mind vastly Christian notions of sin, guilt, priesthood. Even if I ignore the religious overtone of the word, it is hard to be inattentive to the ways in which the word circumvents notions of social power, guilt and wrong-doing. Now, I have nothing to “confess” in that way, having been totally dismissive of the heavenly “F”ather and highly questioning of the earthly one. Yes, I am a sinner in most ways, and I celebrate my sins. In fact, the sins I have committed are highly connected to my notions of social power and resistance, and if I have to indulge in a prayer, it would be something like this : “Dear Universe, give me the power to be a better sinner and sin in more and more creative ways.” So, that is why, I repeat, I am not a great fan of the term “confessional poetry.” Autobiographical poetry, yes. Memoir-based poems, yes. Life-story poems, yes. But not confessional ones. Then again, even when I was writing the high-lyric and speculative poems, I was being autobiographical. I haven't written anything to date that hasn't passed through my consciousness-- in some way or the other.

The way I see it, what goes on under the label of “confessional poetry” in American literary circles, have facilitated the opening up of certain things as legitimate subjects of poetry – women's lives and worlds, women's work within the family and the social relationships that encompass familial lives. The body of poems (and by now, it is a HUGE archive, mind you) that constitute the so-called “confessional poetry”, have succeeded to evolve a language which leads the writers to reflect upon the forms of structural power that invade the lives within families, the drudgery that is domesticity, the little (and often almost invisible) ways in which women resist or do not resist. The “I” in such poems are often highly gendered, and if I have to sum it up in one sentence, these poems have made it possible to make the everyday configurations of gendered violence a legitimate topic of poems (and I would argue, lyric poems too. But that's the topic of another post.) I am not claiming that the “confessional poems” are solely focused on gender. Neither am I claiming that they have been only written by women poets. In lots of ways, "confessional" poems have also made spaces for the writers to write about violences of race and class, and the intersections of such categories as gender. But, inspite of that, I do think that the confessional poems have given gender a form of visibility that is unique in many ways.

Now, the thematic and political concerns of these poems had always been my concern too. I wrote about similar topics and themes, but I also concealed myself within the folds of a “she.” Sometimes, I would write deliberately obscure imageries and call them avant-garde. But, after a while I had to confront the fact that I am really hiding behind language, I am hiding behind stories and the so-called narrativelessness/problematization of narrative etc. etc. I was claiming I was doing. And I needed to face myself if I had to continue writing. So, I turned somewhat consciously to the “confessional” poetics. I tried to be less afraid of the “I”, and I began to write poems whose raw materials were derived more directly from my own childhood, my own youth – my own life-history, so to speak.

A lot of those poems are raw. They are sometimes really really angry, sometimes overtly sad. A lot of them are not good poems as such. But they did two things for me: they lead me to see my own family as a site of violence. I could not hide behind broad, big, macro-level claims of how family as an institution is itself patriarchal, how family is a site of violence blah blah blah. These poems made me confront how my own life within my own family has been extremely violent in a totally benign kind of a way. How I have been shaped by patriarchy. How my mother has been shaped by patriarchy. How my father has been shaped by patriarchal notions of masculinity. How my mother has policed her own life, and mine. It is not that I was totally unaware of these things before. But once I began to write these poems, I had to vocalize what I could only grumble about in the darkness of my own room and mind. I had to delve into the details, I had to find a viable language for these facts, stories and histories. And that opened up my voice in very important ways.

It was okay to feel sad in my poem. It was okay to be angry. It was okay to call a spade a spade. was okay to make my persona do things to claim her voice which I could not always do in my real life, but wanted to.

First of all, they led me to see how our notions of love are themselves coded in violence. And families and familial loves-- the most benevolent and benign of them – are implicated within very strange, but totally foundational forms of economic transactions and inequalities. In short, writing these poems made me see the fact that there is no “free” and “equal” love in an unfree and unequal world. And one of the profoundest acts that poets and writers can engage in, consists of tearing apart the veils and masks of our love languages. Now, I would be the first one to say, my parents are not terrible people. Within certain middle-class parameters, they are generous, gentle human beings who have tried to give me a good education and a love-filled childhood in the way they understood it. I don't have anything dramatically bad done to me when I was a bad. I wasn't sexually abused by my loved ones, I never had to think about where my next meal is coming from, I never had to worry about my school fees and such. And these are all tremendous privileges in a nation which has such high starvation and child mortality rates as India. But then, I cannot say my childhood was violence-free. Neither can I say my anger, the sense of violation I have often felt, are baseless and trivial. My life, like that of a lot of others, has always been implicated within banal networks of evil, and it is that banality that these poems gave me the courage to explore. And explore more.

I don't think “confessional poems” are the only kinds of poems I will write for the rest of my life. I do want to keep working on the other kinds of poems I had drafted, give them more complete, definitive forms. But these “confessional poems” have given me the means to explore myself a little bit more which other kinds of poems did not necessarily do. Definitely not in the same way.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ars Poetica, Notes To Myself And Other Random Thoughts

As a writer, I am attracted to what is complex, what cannot be seen through a naked eye. I am attracted to those aspects of life which we tend to shove and push under our rug in the course of our lives. I tend to draw attention to those moments which most of us would tend to ignore. Because, sometimes they are too uncomfortable. Because, sometimes they are too trivial. Also, often times I am drawn to contradictions-- between human beings, within the psycho-social world of one human being. Consequently, I am attracted to writings that engage with the uncomfortable. I don't think my writing has accomplished anything in the world yet. Neither do I think it has reached that level, but the more I read and write, I become convinced that the task of the writer is to de-mystify. To rip apart the veils with which every aspect of our daily lives are shrouded with. Yes, as a writer, I believe in a conscious engagement with the power-structured which guide our lives. I am also recognizing, that it is impossible to do so without an incessant struggle to be a better person. It also requires a cruel recognition of my own limitations as a social human being AND as a writer. But, stopping there at that acknowledgement would NEVER be enough. The hard part is to engage in that continuing struggle to confront and surpass my limitations – both as a human being and as an artist. Right now, as I am writing these lines, with the chilli boiling in my kitchen-stove, I feel intimidated by the road that lays ahead of me. I feel inspired too : the poem I am writing is progressing. I finished today the monthly quota of my submissions. I am walking ahead. Slowly, but surely.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

;;Hunting Yellow Wings ;;

It has been rainy for the past two days. Rainy days remind me of Kolkata. And, I think it is important to spell it out to myself, that's the city I love most in the world. It is the city where I am most comfortable. I might have to stay elsewhere for a while, but that is the city where I want to go back. It is in my blood . The city is in my blood. Even more than my family. It is in my blood in the same way my native language-- Bangla-- is in my blood. But since I won't be able to go back to Kolkata for a while, not until I defend, I read these days. I read books in Bangla in the way I haven't done ever since I came here. I chose not to work on South Asian/Bengali literatures exclusively for my dissertation. And I don't regret that decision. The work I have done with African-American literatures, other ethnic American literatures, Black Atlantic literatures have opened up the world to me in ways studying South Asian literatures would never have done. Consequently, I haven't always been able to keep up my reading of Bangla literature in the way I used to read when I was still living in Kolkata. It is not that I ever stopped reading in the language entirely, but I wasn't reading as voraciously in Bangla as I was in English. This year, I have been trying to deal with that much more consciously. I am keeping a list of the Bangla books I am reading, and I am also beginning to discover, if my writing has to mean anything to the world other than a passing fancy, I will have to engage with the archives of the Bangla Literatures (yes, I put that “s” in there consciously).


I have also gone back to a regular schedule for submitting, and it feels good.

I have started drafting a new poem.


And, I am drinking mango lassi and pontificating on friendship, love and personal growth.  

For the last few weeks, I have been thinking of going back to some of the fiction I wrote during the last few months. When I was writing the dissertation, it was hard for me to work on two different forms of prose-genres. But now I am done with it, at least for the next three weeks or so, I am toying with the idea of going back to them. Yesterday, I took the printout of one of the stories, and the feedback I got from one of the workshops I took. I am looking forward to begin the work of revamping it. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Recipe : Chicken Paprika

I am always looking for new ways to fix chicken. There are quite a few chicken recipes about which I don't have to think much to cook. But most of them are very very South Asia inflected. And yesterday I was feeling like something different. I found this one. But I made few changes.

Ingredients2 1/2 lbs chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika (sweet or hot)
2 1/2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups (480 ml) of chicken stock
4 tbsp white wine
2/3 cup (70 ml) sour cream
1 bell pepper, seeds removed and sliced into rings for garnishing
salt and pepper to taste
DirectionsUsing a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces and and brown, turning occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Transfer to plate and cover to keep warm.

Drain fat from pan. Add the onions and garlic; cook until soft. Add the paprika and flour, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in the stock and bring to a boil, and continue stirring.

Add the wine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Stir in the sour cream.

Arrange chicken on a large platter and spoon sauce over and around it. Serve with dumplings and sour cream on the side.
This was the original one. What I did :

1. I marinated the chicken (Cornish Game Hens with bones) in paprika, cumin and coriander powder.
2.  I didn't drain the fat from the pan.
3. I used ghee to cook.
4. Along with paprika, I added black pepper, white pepper and dill to season the onions.
5. I added tomatoes along with a little sugar (around one tbsp)
6. I added the sour cream in the actual cooking pan and let it simmer in the heat.
7. I used red wine instead of white.

So, at the end, I think, it became a very Bengaliized Chicken Paprika. What can I say-- I am an innovator. And this one kicked ass. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

;;Writing Time ;;

At some point, while writing my stories and poems, I discovered, different languages use tenses differently. In Bangla, we mix up our tenses frequently : the past and present and present-past and pas-present reside together in the way we speak and write. I wasn't really conscious about it when I began to write. I became conscious of it when others in the workshop pointed it out to me. Ever since, tense has been one of those things. I would try to write most of my poems and stories in the past tense. But then, when I would read them again, I would feel that something is missing. And when I wouldn't be conscious of it, the tense would get all mixed up. Then, I had a meeting with the poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi during the TILTS workshop. She read aloud one of the poems I had written, and we talked about this specific problem. She suggested that I write the entire poem in present tense, and the term she used to describe that is “active past.” Yes, that's what I have been looking for so long-- a way to write about past and memory in a way that they are still active. Now when I am revising my poems, I try to write them all in the present tense. Rather than in the past tense which had been my practice so long. It doesn't resolve all the problems of time, but it does sound better. And this is making me think, what if I keep on writing in mixed tenses? Will that put too much pressure on English as a language? The kind of pressure it wouldn't be able to take?  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

:: Lessons Learnt ::

I learnt a lot from finishing the second draft of the dissertation. But there are four things that I have learnt which I believe are going to help me be a better writer, of things both academic and non-academic :

  1. Developing A Regular Writing Practice : When I began writing my dissertation, I was teaching. In fact, my first semester as a dissertator I taught two writing classes. It wasn't that the classes I was teaching were intellectually demanding per se, at least not in the way the dissertation writing was. But it required a different kind of intellectual and emotional work. And I had very little idea how to balance the two. One of my advisors told me, write 15 mins everyday, and I did. There were days when carving out those 15 minutes seemed harder than staying alive. But I tried my best anyway, and I must admit, it did help me reach the goal of a finished dissertation.

    Of course, there were days when I spent way more than 15 mins. But what having such a goal did for me was that, it really lowered the bars. I would try to put in concentrated 15 mins of writing time, and if I could do that successfully, would consider my day to be a productive one. That way, I did not suffer from the anxiety or guilt of not writing, which, in my experience, really lowers my productivity. In a nutshell, the conclusion I reached is, it is important to develop one's own regular writing practice. Whatever that might be. A 15 min. everyday approach helped me to stay close to the topic of my research and writing, I never really felt too detached from my dissertation. Consequently, I never had to devote time to fall back into the project. This, I have learnt, is crucial. Writing a little bit everyday helps me to stay focused, it gives birth to new thematic problems, it forces me to push myself to think through the conceptual problems of my work on an everyday basis, rather than feeling scared and removing myself from it completely. Last but not the least, it also helped me to break a big project like that of a dissertation into smaller accomplishable goals. And that is what lead me to this first stage towards completion.

  1. Distance From My Own Work : Inspite of developing a regular writing practice, there might be days when I will have to take a break. And, that is not only okay, but desirable. Such breaks – whether they extend for a day or two or to a week-- allowed me to develop some critical distance between my work and myself. Consequently, I was able to think through some of the conceptual problems better. Such breaks can also be used up to do further readings which will enhance the quality of the writing project. What is important, though, is to be self-aware of that break, and not fall into the practice of using the idea of a “conscious break” for a LONG period of procastrination.

  2. Giving A Project The Time It Needs : I took exactly three years to write six chapters. I began the project with a plan to write four chapters. I ended up writing six. Not that I changed my original archive of texts, but somehow two of my two original chapters ended up dealing with issues which are really divergent. I felt that they would benefit from chapter breaks. But three years is a LONG time in dissertation-land. And while I know other academics who have written great dissertations in a shorter period of time, I am not unhappy that it took me this long. My dissertation is by no means perfect, I am already making a bibliography so that I can begin to revise it successfully. But it's better today than it would have been if I had defended it last year. The leasson I learnt from this one : writing projects develop their own lives. And sometimes they demand time to marinate. It's best to give them that time.
Caveat : Giving time to a project does not really mean lazing around. No project marinates on its own. One has to prepare the marinate – that is, decide on the spices, the proportions, the other condiments etc., and then actually put the pieces of meat/whatever to marinate in that mixture. So, giving a time to a project basically means working on it and working on it some more, whatever form tha

Saturday, July 7, 2012


A little more than six months ago, I made some resolutions. My plan was to get back here during the last week of June, and report on things I have accomplished. Well, I am late. But not a whole lot. It's been only a week, and I do have things to report. For one thing, I have finished my dissertation. No, I haven't defended it yet. But I have finished the second draft, compiled it all together, and I have turned it in to my co-chairs. And I did that yesterday. And I am happy. I am happy to see something I have been working on for so long receive some kind of a shape. Meanwhile, during the last six months, I have written and submitted poems more or less regularly. Some of them have been accepted. In journals where I have long wanted to be in. I have read most of the books I made plans in this post to read. I could not find the Bengali novel version of Meghe Dhaka Tara in our school library. So, I could not read that one. But I have read other Bengali novels, short story anthologies and non-fiction. Overall, the first six months of 2012 had been productive and intense in a way things get intense when you're trying to get things done. I know I have neglected this blog space. I simply could not keep pace. But I hope to come back – I do have lots of insights, realizations and experiences to share.