Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tonight I am indolent. In half stupor. I see things clearly.

I don't know it all. And I don't know you at all. But if I never know anything ever again, if I never know anyone ever again, it will still be enough.

Tonight, I am the romance of the soul. Tonight, I am enough.

Tomorrow, I will be awake. And ambitious. And dissatisfied. And yet, tonight I am enough. Even if profoundly alienated. Even if having been declared someone's love, I no longer feel present.

Isn't love precisely this kind of a cosmic imbalance?... Love for me is an extremely violent act. Love is not "I love you all." Love means: I pick out something; it's again the structure of imbalance. Even if this something is just a small detail, a fragile individual person. I say, "I love you more than anything else": In this quite formal sense, love is evil. -- Zizek

What does love feel like?
Like a great misfortune, a monstrous parasite, a permanent state of emergency that ruins all small pleasures.

-- Slavoj Zizek in The Guardian

Saturday, February 19, 2011


To clap. To infuse noise and possibility and movement into life as is known. An act of ritual, of acceleration, of energy in lieu of movement, of the performance of speed in the hope that life will acquiesce.

Wassily Kandinsky. Fugue.
1914. Oil on canvas. 129.5 x 129.5 cm.
Private collection.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Time Out

Unusually busy week. One public lecture. Two big decisions. Three politically charged days. Now officially exhausted. One more day to go. Bear with me. Be back Sunday.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Female Body

Trawling my various online article feeds today, I found this gem:
"South Dakota Moves To Legalize Killing Abortion Providers"

Kate Sheppard writes, "A law under consideration in South Dakota would expand the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include killings that are intended to prevent harm to a fetus—a move that could make it legal to kill doctors who perform abortions...If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman's father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one."

Following up on the bill's sponsor Rep.Jensen's reaction to the article, she further writes here, "Anti-abortion lawmakers know they don't actually have to make it technically legal to kill a doctor—merely opening up the possibility of that interpretation in hopes of may discourage doctors from offering the service in the state. Given the history of violence against providers, this is no insignificant issue."

The figures she quotes are scary. "Since 1993" she writes, "eight doctors have been assassinated at the hands of anti-abortion extremists, and another 17 have been the victims of murder attempts."

A number of issues are at the heart of this chilling statistic. To begin with, of course the whole untenability of the pro-life versus pro-choice brigade. The semantics themselves are interesting as if one were to negate the other. If I am pro-life, apparently I cannot be pro-choice and vice-versa. The comments at the end of the article deserve an entire thesis unto themselves. One commenter defending South Dakota's progressiveness says, "No, I would not support this bill, but as a pro-life advocate, abortion is far more barbaric/prehistoric/and primitive, and takes away the rights of many potential women AND men. You sound un-educated and ignorant. People like you are the only ones to blame for bringing women down by brainwashing us into believing we can't raise a child AND be educated at the same time."

There are many questions at the heart of this debate: (a) Who controls an impregnated female body? (b) What is the status on the human scale of the foetus? (c) When does the State come into the picture? While this might seem to be an issue specific to the American political milieu, the debate on controlling the female body is not.

At stake in this and every other debate on female morality, propriety, behavior, responsibility, and role is the need to regulate the reproductive and sexual potential of the female body.

I wonder how I could possibly not feel like a societally gendered artifact. But I suppose the question is a moot point. We are all gendered, one way or the other. Rather, the question then seems to be, why does it feel so inherently powerless sometimes to be gendered as a reproductive body? Why is primacy accorded to being productive over being sexual? Why is our sexuality suspect even as we are sexual objects? And lastly, how does the figure of the sex worker either complicate or intervene in this debate?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Random responses...(and realities?)
---[Guest post by Arshiya Bose]

I'm writing from a small village in Konkan (Western India), where I'm doing PhD fieldwork. I have just started a survey/interview process in 8 villages and am quickly realizing that this PhD is not going to be as pretty as I had originally hoped! Yet the process of unravelling this mystery is exciting and I often feel like a detective trying to find small clues that fit together parts of a huge puzzle. However, dilemmas come in plenty and though I love the 'there's no right way' philosophy - I wish I could sneak a peak at a damned textbook one of these days!

Yesterday, I was chatting with a farmer about his forest and asked him about environmental NGOs working in the region. What were these organisations like? Were they crooked? Had they helped lift small, marginal farmers out of abject poverty? And most of all, why did this man choose not to participate in one particular big conservation project? I waited patiently, ready to start scribbling down his response at supersonic speed. His reply could have been "Forest protection is only for rich people" or "We don't need NGOs to tell us how to look after our forest." But he said, "I was traveling on my bike when these NGO people came to our village. You can't talk properly on the main road!"

Frankly, many farmers have responded in similar ways. "My friend participates in forest protection I participate," is the most common reply to my fancy questionnaire.

Is it a lack of trust between researcher and respondent that inhibits the real response? Or are realities genuinely this contingent? Do such responses come from skepticism, a thought pops into my head and immediately, I feel selfish and mercenary. How many lunches, teas and social 'soft' visits will it take before I can collect data? It's been 2 months in the village, day after day, and last week I found out about a rumour (among many!) going around that I could be a terrorist!

But if it is the latter and realities are genuinely random - dependent on the whims and fancies of individuals without any larger pattern - then what happens to prospective PhDs? How do you explain in the words of lofty political ecology that environmental circumstances are as dependent on a person's daily routine (departures, mealtimes...bowel movements?) as they are on 'resource partitioning', 'elite-capture' or climate change?

That said, last evening, I conducted a 20 minute interview with a woodcutter in his underwear. He offered me tea and everything. I guess fieldwork has its share of rather delightful moments!

[Arshiya Bose has oddly decided that a PhD is the best way to resolve her existential crisis and she is currently registered at Cambridge University. Read more here...]

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why would I go to Utah?

The other day, a friend and I were making a list of must-see places in the US. Apparently, Utah is one of them. Of course, given that I'm rather committed to near-urbanity having lived in two almost-cities in the US and forever aspiring to a city proper, no bells rang. Utah? Really?

The only reference I could remember to Utah was in one of the four Sherlock Holmes "long" stories. Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Study in Scarlet" was published in 1887, and is set in 1847 Utah. The year is significant to both the plot and the history of the State. Brigham Young and the first band of Mormon pioneers came to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. While the story paints the Mormon pioneers as philanderers, misogynists, and murderers, and there are conflicting versions of his sources and reasons for such a portrayal, it is important to remember that most "pioneers" were lawless, fierce, and often more occupied with the act of both annihilating previous occupants and protecting their own notion of community than political propriety. Digression aside, this never aroused in me any desire to visit Utah. Especially given that to this day, Utah is one of the most religiously homogeneous states in the US and a large number of Utahns are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

However, a couple of pictures later....

Arches National Park

Angels' Landing, Zion National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Canyonlands National Park

...I am a convert (pun not intended).

Anyone else game?

If so, let me warn you of the following:
(a) I am not an inveterate hiker, oh no. I have no stamina, I dawdle, and I while in pretty good shape, do not necessarily boast any strength. My father used to call me a paapad-tod pehalwan. Still does.
(b) My love for hiking is also aided by fantasies of what I might be able to do once I get to aforementioned places -- like read a book.
(c) I like cities
(d) Please do not talk too much when hiking. It's most annoying.

On the plus side,
(a) I am a silent hiker.
(b) I can cook on the most elementary paraphernalia. And lest we are confused, oh no, you will be in charge of firewood collection, lighting fires, and all such girl/boy scout expertise.
(c) I told you about Utah, see?

(P.S I owe you guys a food post; watch this space tomorrow)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Waiting and watching...what can I tell myself except that even though this isn't me, perhaps it is.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On the Art/ifice of Love

A picture may well be worth a thousand words, but I'd honestly just have the thousand words instead. I am not sure, for example, if any picture could do what this poem does.

(P.S Since we don't do Valentine's consider this my pre-Valentine offering)

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart;
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

-- Andrew Marvell

This was featured on John Stammers's top 10 love poems in the Guardian.

Stammers writes of the poem -
A romantic take on Horace's Carpe Diem in which the suitor desires to seize rather more than simply the day. This poem contains many of the cleverest metaphysical conceits: witness "our vegetable love" or those trying worms.

Life's dark. And challenging. And often either mundane or impenetrable. But love, ah love. Think about it. Wouldn't you rather have a playful, lilting, fleetfooted love than a simpering, sinking, serious one?
Business School

And that people, is your television fix recommendation for the year. Go watch "The Wire".

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Different Strokes

I was considering a polemic on the nation-state and its component parts, and the myth we term unity even as we ignore its inconsistencies and violence. Rivetting eh?

But I read this first thing in the morning and I think it says more, and rather, something else. Do go read Vivek Menezes' piece, "Bringing it All Back Home (To Shillong)" on 3quarksdaily.

An excerpt:

The story of western music in the North East of India starts with the church, more precisely with one very unusual missionary from Wales named Thomas Jones.

In 1841, the young Weshman clambered up into the Khasi hills from the opposite direction from the one we had taken along the Guwahati-Shillong highway. At that time, the capital of Assam was the ancient Khasi stronghold of Sohra (Cherrapunjee), and this is where Jones headed after a long boat ride from Calcutta, up the Hooghly and the Sunderbans to Sylhet far below the tribal highlands.

Thomas Jones is pure paradox. He belonged to a rigorous and conservative missionary order, but never converted anyone in his years in the Khasi hills. Eventually, he was considered disreputable by his own order, which expelled him, and he died in a kind of disgrace in Calcutta, where his tomb lay abandoned until the Khasis came looking for it.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The GAP in the vision
-- [Guest post by Madhu]

As someone prone to museum fatigue and precarious finances, I am only too thrilled to browse the colossal corridors of the Met or the Uffizi online. But I find the Google Art Project intriguing for other reasons. Having trawled museum websites for some time now, I am more interested in Google’s role in this ambitious project of digital curatorship/archiving, in relation to a museum.

The points of innovation in the GAP, as I have decided to refer to it, are adapting the Street View technology to digitally navigate certain partnering museums, providing an unprecedented level of detail and resolution for some selected images, and a tool that allows viewers to build their own collections on the site. I am quite a fan of online art databases so I wasn’t prepared for how underwhelmed I felt when I actually checked out the site. The super resolution images were of course very exciting – to see the cracks on old canvases that even the artists themselves would not have seen? That’s awesome. But apart from that, I admit I was initially tempted to wave it away as just a victory of numbers – this is from the press release:
The Art Project in numbers:
11 Cities, 9 Countries
17 Museums
17 ‘gigapixel’ pictures
385 gallery rooms
486 artists
1061 high res artwork images
More than 6,000 Street View ‘panoramas’

Reading the celebratory reception of the project, however, the lavish superlatives struck me as odd and I’ve been trying to figure out why. I also did find some criticism of the project, for instance, about how limited the list of museums and the available works from each museum are. But Google has been quick to assure us that the current list is only a starting point and will hopefully grow in the future. Fair enough I think – I wasn’t disappointed with the size of the archive anyway (although I am curious about some of the choices for super-resolution, like why the Museo Reina Sofia chose Juan Gris’s The Bottle of Anis del Mono instead of Picasso’s Guernica - but again, I doubt there can ever be a list acceptable to everyone).

Another point of contention was the inevitably simplistic question – is the GAP as good as the ‘real thing’? I think the question is misguided for more than one reason. Firstly, it assumes that the museum space is unmediated and neutral, with free access to the ‘real’, when it is anything but. Secondly, the questions of authenticity of experience in a digital version of a work of art are not exclusive to the GAP but common to the larger field of digital archiving and spectatorship.

The GAP, however, hinges on two things – the perception of the work of art as a primarily physical artifact, and the value of seeing more. The project’s greatest contribution is the heightened visual experience. But given that this hyper-visual experience can’t add much to, say, conceptual art, I have to conclude that the physical artifact is essential to the effectiveness of the GAP. I am also inclined to guess that by slotting painting into a fundamentally visual space, the project subscribes to the archaic pigeonholing of painting into 2D, accessed fundamentally by the sense of sight, implying perhaps that sculpture is best experienced spatially in 3D, and so on - ideas often prevalent in museum spaces, and challenged, ironically, even by the extraordinarily sensuous textures of Starry Night.

That begs my central question – what is Google’s attitude to the Museum? On the one hand the GAP uncritically legitimizes the institution of the museum as a custodian of art and arbiter of good and bad art. On the other hand, it asserts itself and subverts the museum space by turning it into an ‘artifact’ itself, with the Street View application. The works included in the GAP are selected by the museums and the accompanying information about the art is also from the respective museums. The differences I see between the GAP and online tours offered by museum websites are of course the unprecedented giga-pixel resolution in one work selected by each museum from its collection, and that it is a common space for works from different museums. The detail of the selected works is definitely a first for most of us and that specific kind of viewership of the works is greatly increased to an audience much wider than conservators and owners of the works - and hopefully this will now spawn a more complex narrative.

Dr. Julian Raby, Director, Smithsonian: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery says, “The giga-pixel experience brings us very close to the spirit and energy of the artist…” (Eh?!) Nicholas Serota of the Tate Gallery was quoted in The Guardian as saying, “This is a second generation view of the way museums will use the internet. Ten years ago museums were obsessed with getting thousands of objects on the screen, now we're interested in getting depth of understanding of the works."

At this point I began to be puzzled by the easy equation of understanding with seeing more. It aligns the GAP with the mythology of technological coups always resulting in greater democratization of knowledge, without necessarily asking questions about whose knowledge is being made accessible and why. I realize I am no expert on the inner workings of Google-sized corporations or the technical aspects of search engine algorithms. But I am one of the millions of people, who thanks to Google, can now ‘see’ more. But what we see is still determined by Google’s partnerships with institutions whose bodies of information it deems legitimate.

I don’t see anything in the GAP to indicate that Google is structurally and ideologically poised to make fundamental shifts in the field of archiving and dissemination – not, for instance, in the way that Wikipedia seems to envision. But when I think about all the Google follies – criteria for the page ranking system, the Street View in maps, its relationship with China, and Eric Schmidt responding to privacy concerns with, “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place” – it’s quite consistent. And, well, icky.

* For those interested in the buzz, the NY Times has a rather lame article out here.

[Madhu prides herself on her ability to estimate both time and space, and shuns all devices that measure either. Read more here...]

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Quick fix Sunday

Sundays are for sleeping in. And eating cold pizza. I don't know many people who love eating leftovers straight from the refrigerator. I do. Especially pizza.

So last week, when my roommate C's brother was visiting, we threw together a quick pizza from readymade dough we picked up from the local bakery. Really smart way to make home-made pizza we realized.

We rolled the dough on some parchment paper onto a baking tray and then loaded it with some unusual ingredients. For our gourmet pizza you will need

* Dough (duh!)
* One yellow squash
* Two apples
* Feta cheese
* Black olives
* Cherry tomatoes
* Fresh basil
* A light tomato sauce -- we made our own by blending together two large tomatoes, basil, walnuts, and two red chillies, and lightly frying it till it had reduced to about half its quantity.

-- Spread the tomato sauce
-- Layer all of the above, except the basil
-- Bake at 400 degrees for twenty minutes until the crust shows signs of hardening
-- Broil for ten minutes if the vegetables still look un-crunchy.
-- Remove from the oven and add chopped basil


Baked feta and the sweetness of the apple make for a delightful combination. Try this with a Moscato d'Asti (our latest find which we have been drinking like water). It might not have material impact on the rest of your week, but it will certainly make it palatable. Until tomorrow...

Saturday, February 05, 2011


It is a bit of an overused American stereotype, isn't it? The "give me space" line? As if each person needs this amount of physical distance between her/him and the next physical body and the next immaterial mind? As if closeness breeds incapacity? This is what I used to think. And yet, these days, I think I have more of an appreciation for physical space, for vastness, as far as the eye can see. I think it helps that I currently live in a deeply wintery, slightly desolate, landscape.

Ever so often, I make a list. Of places I'd like to go to. Of places I've never been. And I have noticed that of late, Central Asia has been re-appearing frequently on it. When I used to teach an introductory class on India, I often began with Central Asia; the crossroads of civilization, metaphor to nomadism, and let's not forget, home to Genghis Khan.

In the modern era, it is easily remembered as an agglomeration of the 'stans'; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Often, Mongolia, Afghanistan, the northern and western Pakistani frontier, northeastern Iran, Kashmir,parts of Western China, and southern Siberia are also included in this understanding.

I think of space and I think of Central Asia (as opposed to South Asia where space is the lack of it). Mongolia. Maybe Tuva. But these people of the expansive space apparently needed more. In the early 13th century, in just 25 years, the Mongols conquered more lands and people than the Romans had in over 400 years.

It turns out that citizens of India can travel to Mongolia sans visa. Along with citizens of Poland, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Israel, Philippines, Singapore, China, and Vietnam. And a few more, who have "diplomatic and service" passports. Notice that Europe, or the US do not feature on the list. Just like days of yore. When perhaps Central Asia was the eponymous centre of the world.

And how do I get there? Well, I could fly to Ulanbaatar from Moscow and Irkutsk (Russia), Beijing and Huh Hoto (China), Seoul (Korea), Tokyo and Osaka (Japan), and Berlin (Germany). This time around, when I was flying from India to the US via Turkey, I met a fair number of fellow passengers travelling to Moscow via Istanbul. To study medicine. Digression aside, I'm pretty sure my preferred route to Mongolia would be on the Transsiberian Railway.

But I have always wanted to go to Kazakhastan too. Ever since I saw Tulpan.

Why have I been thinking of Tuva now? Yes, it borders Mongolia I know. Ah yes, the throat singers.

And just because I had such a good time grooving to music on my way to work today; here is something to brighten your day. Kongar Ol-Ondar with another of my favourites, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (sigh, I miss Austin)...

Friday, February 04, 2011

Note for the day

This is the question that the night quiets and the dream fights; what will morning bring?

And it falls through the cracks :)....crazy day yesterday so am a day late and many pennies short. But let's try and do the best we can, shall we?

So here's post number yesterday.

Yesterday, I did a long lecture on modernity and modernism. However, we did not really touch upon the implications of newness, the wonder of imagination, and the joy/ hopelessness of experimentation. And it's difficult without material artifact to grasp the simultaneity of structure and breakdown. I think I mulled over it more than I realized. Because I last night I dreamt of this:

Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia -- exterior

Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia -- interior

The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family, more popularly known as the Sagrada Família, is a large Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926).

Rather sinister, especially given how much I was thinking about Nietzche and nihilism.

I apologize if I'm not making much sense; figuring this out has been inspired anomalous thought. On structure, repetition, belief, and breakdown. I was also reminded of Yayoi Kusama's work and its hypnotic quality. And eerie-ness.

Tell me what you think?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


Yes, the fluffy kinds. Also the immensely beautiful kinds. Also the frightfully delightfully playful kinds.
It snowed last night. Blizzard-ed rather. And we had a day off today. I had to shovel for three hours. Except for that, it was all quite magical. And so, in honour of "snow day", I give you...

Like Snow

She, then, like snow in a dark night,
Fell secretly. And the world waked
With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
So that some muttered 'Too much light',
And drew the curtains close.
Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
And to soil friendly;
Holding the histories of the night
In yet unmelted tracks.

-- Robert Graves

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egypt in Quotes

An effigy of President Hosni Mubarak hung from a traffic light in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tuesday.

Hossam el-Hamalaw in The Washington Post

"The revolution for me is about radical redistribution of wealth and a government that will represent the will of the Egyptian people when it comes to civil liberties in addition to a pro-resistance stand vis a vis the U.S. hegemony on the region and Israel. ElBaradei is not the man for that."

Yousry in conversation with Parvez Sharma in Mondoweiss:

"Now everyone knows that when you get up in the morning you need to walk towards Tahrir-its instinctive-no one needs to text you or tweet you to tell this, and in any case most of the people anywhere in this amazing country don’t have tweet or Facebook or all that shit."

And lastly, some remarkable pictures such as this on PBS:

This is not a commentary. Or a critique. This is however, in solidarity. After all, it is not necessary to know or understand outcomes. Rage such as this, revolt such as this, people such as these; it's difficult not to see. It's important to see.