Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It is the perfect end to a not-so-perfect day. My dal rocks. My mother always feels a little sorry that I have to cook for myself, I always try and assure her that for me it is not a chore but a decompressing, therapeutic act. I have inherited some of my father's meticulousness and a lot of my mother's intuition in that regard and all in all, I am an involved cook. And most of the stuff that emerges from my swanky white stove (electric albeit) is almost always edible.

Some of my favourite projects:
1.Pesto: By far, the easiest condiment and I hyperbolate in calling this a project. All it requires is a good parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves (and no, the tulsi in my amma's backyard, I doubt, will work). Works beautifully with spaghetti and even better as a dip or on sandwiches with mozzarella.
2. Rajma: Second on my list of comfort foods. Mine never turns out near as well as my mom's, but adding pomegranate seeds I figured, adds a little kick.
3. Pasta: Farfalle mainly and spaghetti these days; some squash, some roasted peppers, no sauce (marinara or alfredo or otherwise), lots of coriander and oregano and of course, parmesan to top it all
4. My friend R also showed me how to make some rather simple and delicious Turkish dishes (she's an elaborate and fantastic cook, so I can barely imitate the simpler ones in her repertoire), one of these just being green beans with tomatoes and olive oil or Zeytinyagli Taze Fasülye
5. Tomato and avocado soup: Precisely what the title says; easy, healthy and perfect for a hot summer day (tastes like a cross between guacamole and tomato soup)
6. Dal in myriad forms (moong, toor, chana, et al) and multiple regionalities
7. Pongal gothsu: I tried my hand at this recently and it came out perfect. Really esy and the tamarind in the gothsu is so so so good!
8. Penang curry: Alright, I cheat a little on this one and buy the chilly paste, but butternut squash is the perfect veggie addition -- totally melts in your mouth
9. And last, but not the least, the queen of comfort food, the ludicruously easy to make and wonderful to eat, thayir saadam, or in other words, plain curd rice (lots of ginger, curry leaves and mustard added of course - with onion sambar)

Alas, alack, I cannot however, make rotis. And as I type and salivate over my keyboard and as my dal boils in the background, I wish I could...my ghetto blaster meanwhile plays the food song from "Duplicate"...yes, the one that goes like this.

Friday, May 26, 2006

So, what exactly is the deal with online dating?

And here, I include orkut, ryze, myspace, et al in the same category for purposes of simplicity and economy and constraint in my tendency to wax eloquent on anything and everything that does not have to do with my exams. And yes, the former do have other ostensible uses such as "activity partners" and "networking":)...but, in the righteousness of my smallmindedness, I am going to react to the latter with a resounding "yah right"!

A friend of mine told me about friends of friends of friends of his and many more not so closely related people who had fairly good relationships offline after having met online. In his smirking words, "They did find the one. After screening about 200." I am assuming that it cannot be any different. The exponential increases in reach, coupled with the ability to move on from one prospect to another with little or no emotional, physical and financial cost, will no doubt, engender large volumes of matchmaking along the virtual wires.

I used to run an online experiment on some desi sites a year ago. And then I got bored. My profiles are still online and I get strange responses every now and then, a lot of them being, "let's match time of birth, stars and dietary habits and also, your parents can talk to mine". Whoa, back off buddy. Just a little bit. To give them the benefit of doubt however, this is a site that announces "marriage" intentions, but they could have read what I've written to begin with!!! How exactly does this process work? The profiles suck, by the way. All of them. Uniformly. Bar a miniscule 0.216 percent.

The experiment did not yield any ground-breaking results either. Lack of community, breakdown of social systems and a tendency to inbreed (desi community being the breed I am talking about) will, of course, render opportunities for "real-world" romance null and void. But that sounds a tad reductive to me. I did not have the chance to actually explore the processes whereby people actually date and meet and build the idea of romance. Or even the idea of community, gender role and heteronormativity that is sustained in the process. Maybe sometime in the near future. And before I launch into my highly nuanced thesis on what this is about, check this experiment out. They stole my idea! Of course, two psychologists and two MISs do not an anthropologist make;)...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Snippets heard from various places on the 49.5% "reservations"...(More here, here and the creamy layer argument)

1. This is not going to help the populations it claims to address
2. This will dilute the quality of India's manpower
3. Our USP is our intellectual capital, it's quite disgusting that we're giving it away in the course of our political games
4. What is the point of our being secular?
5. Quota should be based on economics, not caste
6. We need a party for the middle-class now!

I will not bother collating the various sources these have come from, google the issue and these or versions thereof will turn up in high frequency. A response would necessarily have to be a thesis comprising the origins and political upheavals that have accompanied the rhetoric and practice of affirmative action in India from Ambedkar to V.P.Singh and the Mandal Commission, to now. Not to mention the regional stances and politicization of the issue, i.e states where high quotas already exist, Tamil Nadu and of late, Andhra Pradesh being cases in point.

P.V.Indiresan, former Director of IIT, Madras calls it an addiction and not a remedy, also creates his own picture of the poor, forward caste child losing out to the rich, backward caste one. This is an argument that has often been made against affirmative action in India, that it does not help the most disempowered classes and instead creates further class divides among the SCs, STs and OBCs. But nevertheless, is that reason enough to posit a newly inverted relationship between caste and class? Also, most protests that I see are coming from the IITs, IIMs and students, of course. Also businessmen and corporate voices in the fray. Here's an exception ...what's Shiv Khera got to say?

An answer or reaction, of course, cannot be one way or the other...even though politics demands a vote.

My questions are these and most as you will see are rhetorical...and some too deconstructive and theoretical to be of immediate import.

1) Is this a political move?

Absolutely. A bill that seeks to affirmatively affect an ambiguously yet astutely nominated sector of the population is clearly not about them. Caste structures do not uniformly confirm to class brackets, variations across regions matter too.

2) Why has this issue come about at this particular time?
Let me not tout the opportunism line as the no-brainer answer. Rather, I think there is a way in which I will follow (ironically albeit) my mother's "nazar lag gayee/ kanna pattooduthu/ evil eye" framework. Or to put it in a simpler fashion, why the hue and cry from corporate India? More than the students, who clearly see something that they have stake in being negotiated, modified and I would agree, unfairly legislated (read unfairness as the lack of any larger dialogue and the lathi charges on protesting students) it strikes me that the corporate voices embody a certain middle/ upper-class hysteria at the resurgence of the state. I also read the state's resurgence as a way of staking power in the most overt manner possible, even as it continues to woo capital and celebrate outsourcing. I am reminded of Chakrabarty's discussion of alternative modernity, politicians and khadi. To give a short synopsis, Dipesh Chakrabarty takes the figure of the politician in khadi seriously and instead of reading it as the most obvious form of hyprocrisy, uses it to confront the idea of what it means to be modern in postcolonial India [1].

3) Last, but not the least, are the terms of debate instructive?
Affirmative action versus Real affirmative action
Caste versus Socio-economic conditions
Equal distribution versus India's growth and status on the world map
See something happening here?
The untenability of both/and should be indication enough...
My hunch would be to ask why the IITs, IIMS and AIIMSs?
What is specific to these that cannot be separated from this neoliberal moment?
Why does this follow in the wake of "India Everywhere" at the World Economic Forum?
Nazar lag gayee? Or is it a peculiar haunting of an incomplete milieu?

On a parallel note, Arjun Singh also ratified a decision by the Executive Council of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) for a 50% reservation to Muslims in 36 PG courses there. AMU is a minority institution and has an explicit mandate as per the Aligarh Muslim University (Amendment) Act, 1981, to “promote especially the educational and cultural advancement of the Muslims of India”. Others claim, that this is in denial of section (8) of the same act that categorically says that admission to students should be given irrespective of religious considerations. The decision has been questioned by about 65 teachers from the university itself, which includes noted historian Professor Irfan Habib. It is for the first time that reservation on the basis of religion is being given in the history of Aligarh Muslim University since its inception in 1920. More here and here.

The much larger question here then is the state and its relation to education and the multiple ways and sites on which we have seen recent struggles (textbooks, teacher salaries, reservations)...this requires a much larger and more astute genealogy than my random ramblings...

[1] Chakrabarty, D. (2002). Habitations of modernity : essays in the wake of subaltern studies. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

So I lied. So I haven't been blogging everyday. But then I haven't been studying everyday either, so it all works out. And no, it is not required that the above necessarily be understood.

Given that my exams loom large on the lightless horizon two weeks from now, I ought to be reading. And digesting. And ruminating. But all I do, is chew cud. That's right. I eat, I cook, I dawdle, I pace, and find newer, and stranger ways to pass time. As of this moment, I eat yakisoba.

From my doggie bag of yesterday's jaunt to Banzai. That's right, I am now into Japanese junk food. And it tastes so good!!! I love chopsticks...am giving up on the whole idea of knives, forks, spoons and all those ummentionables. Chopsticks also hold my hair by the way.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I have to make a wedding toast. Unlikely occasion and ever more unlikely sentiment.
What is that can safely be said without running too far from the ostensible cracks in the niceties?

"Here's to x and y, a truer couple there never was and yada yada yada..." or......... "I will keep this short and sweet, cheers" or... "Salut".

What I really want to say is, "I fear for you, I do. I believe it's a brave thing you do. And maybe a foolhardy thing too. This ostensible belief in the promissory naturalism of happily ever after. I wonder how you will resist the temptation of fusing into one, the comfort of speaking for and being spoken for. And then waking up one morning and beginning to sense the unsenseable, say the unspeakable, scream the unrantable."

But that perhaps is my worst fear, and here I am doing what I warn against, making my story theirs. Perhaps the calmer thing to do would be to say,
"I hope for the best. For each of you. In whatever capacity you deem fit. In the perilous nature of hope itself that pre-empts the possibility of its emptiness, I raise a glass, a toast, an ephemeral bubbly overflowing of sentiment and happiness. I hope it all goes splendidly. All I ask are front-row seats;)".

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Woke up too late, read too little. Summer's creeping into my brain, in a sudden rush of post-rain madness. We had thunderstorms here yesterday. Again. And now the day is too hot and my nerves too restless. I need to get out to the trail sometime today.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

My reading technique is beginning to be perfected. I resolve to read nine interesting, intriguing, mindblowing, soul-searching, pot-smoking pieces a day...and one extremely crappy one.

I figured this stretch of time before the exams is going to be like the night before the math test. Daddy's not here to drill common sense into my head and even if he were, he would have no idea how to wrap himself around this nonsense; engineers and anthropology you see do not necessarily go together (of course, dropped-out engineers do very well). So, coming back to my technique, I will only keep going if I feel like I am going somewhere. And the easiest, most moronic way to do this is by reading a small amount of easily surmountable, pathetically uninformed, piteously vulnerable scholarship. And so it shall be.

The almost lost art of the cheap thrill rears its sinful head.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In honor of upcoming exams, which I am most definitely not going to ace, I will blog everday! Yessiree! Every friggin day, I intend to bore you with my not-so-witty, hardly-interesting and intensely-monotonous-and-verbose vaccillations on theory and the lack thereof. And, of course, gossip when I feel like it.

It's raining here, the famous Austin weather definitely makes me feel much better about my own inconsistencies. I was supposed to go see this movie tonight, but am going to back out. Too much to do and too little time and overwhelming panic. Friends of mine are putting up a mini-exhibit on representation though and I plan to get to school for an hour or two in the evening to peep in and run out. And think really deep about the problems of representation even as I struggle to re-present anything resembling a thought, borrowed albeit.

Reading Scandal of the State and trying my best to summarize. Here's what I have so far:
1. The problems of women's representation, rights, condition and progress are statements fraught with the uncertainty of a) defining what we mean by "women" - both as empirical category and as rights-bearing entities disparate from men, b) negotiating radical critiques that disavow the possibility of liberalism versus reformist analyses that aim to work through existing structures of state and governance and c)the very notions of progress and representation
2. The state is not just "state" but this "postcolonial Indian state"
3. How then does the state name "women" and how must a political project do so? What implications does this have for women in the neoliberal state, especially in their accumulative capacity as working women?

Three true questions a day, beats Hemingway's one sentence don't you think? The more I babble, the greater is the possibility of making sense once in a rare while.

Betting on quantity vs. the purist encirclement and evasiveness of quality.