Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shop Talk: The First Ten Updates of 2013

Friends afar, I am now thinking that this blog, ought to stop writing and start working. On maintaining the connections it already bears.  This living in multiple countries has its advantages and the ever growing loving brood of friends that you are, are much missed and thought about. But I don't know enough. So please use this column to keep me informed about your lives, and loves, and strange adventures.

As I will, you about mine. So here we go.

(a) I now live in Chennai, India, a city that used to be known as Madras, India. I teach at the Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. Oh, for those of you who haven't been paying attention, I'm by training and loyalty beholden to anthropology. Those of my ilk do things like this.

My campus was carved out of the former Guindy National Park and is three degrees cooler than the rest of Madras, which is not saying much considering that our three seasons bear the names "hot", "hotter", "hottest". If you are ever in these parts, holler, come visit, come stay. For those interested, my Institute does have the possibility of providing room,board, an office, and an internet connection should you wish to enjoy a sabbatical or a writing stint in these southern environs. My stellar company is gratis.

(b) If you want to get geekier and probe further into the history of the hallowed halls I inhabit, Ajantha Subramanian is working on a manuscript tentatively entitled "Gifted: Articulating Knowledge and Value in Indian Technical Education" that asks how "colonial legacies structure postcolonial technical education in India and the diasporic trajectories of technical professionals." I heard her speak about this work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison over the Spring of 2012 and found the research both intriguing and compelling. For those already acquainted with the illustrious/nefarious value of an IIT education, do read Shiv Vishvanathan use it as an example of everything that demolishes the "Dreams of Childhood".

(c) My postdoctoral project is now a manuscript titled 1-800 Worlds: The Making of the Indian Middle-Classes. It is being circulated and prepped as we speak. Some parts of this work can be found here and here. Excerpt/ review here. For those interested in call centers, outsourcing, subjectivity, bodies, sexuality, criminality (the works), some books I would recommend would be Reena Patel's "Working the Night Shift", Shehzaad Nadeem's "Dead Ringers", and Kiran Mirchandani's "Phone Clones". Do share your views if you have read any of the above.

(d) I am being a fly on the wall for a new project just begun by my dear friends at Evam that will (fingers crossed) be performed this summer. For more information, watch this space. For now, suffice to say, it is interesting, political, provocative, and well, interesting. I had earlier worked perfunctorily with them for a small and terribly cute short film that asked young children about the meaning of life. Yes, deep, I know.

(e) On the home front, I have a new apartment, my roommate has a new puppy, and I bought some period furniture. The process of searching for said furniture was much more exciting than its actual procurement. I lost my heart to countless wardrobes, and numerous chairs. Yes, I'm a materialist like that. But actually, let me amend that. What I am is a nostalgist. I like the affect and the feel of a different time than this, always, and the past-er, the better. Go on, take a look.

And I tell myself  that I would be a stellar author if only I had the right furniture. But that aside, I did write on benches such as these in a remote school in a rural corner of Maharashtra. Ah Toto, Kansas is long gone. 
This was in the warehouse of a large furniture store in Pondicherry or Puducherry that specializes in restoring and selling colonial furniture from the 19th and 20th century. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces ranging from the slightly damaged to the wholly termite-eaten sit forlorn, and wait for an unforgiving market to deem them worthy of redemption.  

And yes, I am being overly dramatic. But there is something slightly melancholic about the search for forgotten furniture. Reminds of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books from Carlos Ruis Zafon's "Shadow of the Wind". Sometimes, objects have so much more romance than people. 

And one last. 

(f) Over the past few months, I have been able to catch three new bands in Chennai. So quick shoutout. 

-- Bindhumalini and Vedanth, who I saw perform some of my favorite Kabir bhajans from their album Suno Bhai. Lovely, robust voices both. My favorite rendition however remains this one. 

-- And although, we went to the basement production of the Chennai IndieFest 2012 to watch Peter Cat Recording Company, we ended up catching the last act of Bombay favorites, Something Relevant. Absolutely sparkling.

(g) Onto the next agenda item: books. My new bookshelves await Amruta Patil's "Adi Parva", Naresh Fernandes' "Taj mahal Foxtrot", and Matthew Wolf-Meyer's "The Slumbering Masses". Also, so excited to possibly teach my dear friends Nick and Chris' book "The World of Wal-Mart" sometime in the near future; am working on getting myself a copy. In hand; Teju Cole's "Open City", a book I have been waiting to read for a while and one that has already made a promising start, the long awaited Junot Diaz cracker "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao", and Heidegger's "Being and Time". The last one, don't ask. It is my problem child project of the year. And on related fronts, how I love Blossom Book House.

(h) On exciting fronts, I ended the year by taking a trip to Hampi, capital and pride and joy of the Vijayanagara empire from 1336 to 1565, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The details of this fabulous little sojourn will have to wait, but until then here are a few pictures. Also, we stayed at a wonderful little heritage resort called Peshegaar in the village of Anegundi across the Tungabhadra river. This entailed magical logistics such as transporting our Super Heavy Duty XL mopeds on boats every morning and returning dusty and hatless every evening to catch the last boat at 5 pm. Sheer adult magic. Hampi itself is magnficent, even if crowded and overrun. The trip afforded many ruinous delights including endless food and drink. We were entertained by Bollywood dancers, American tourists on banana lassi overdose, and podgy old men stalking us on our mopeds. My companions claimed the latter was because of my fedora. For said fedora, please see reference below. 

 Anegundi by evening at the "golden hour"

 Innumerable tanks dot the Hampi heritage site. Some of them bear water. Such as this one. 
Oh, Yashoda drank from here.

 This is probably the Chariot temple compound.

 Banana plantations waved us by on our not-so-secret canal route at the end of which awaited hot breakfast in a tiny little hut run by Anjali and her husband. 
Best breakfast ever.

Moped, fedora, etc.

(i) And lastly, in the manner of the South Madras neighborhood I now inhabit, do tell, havaayu? My email inbox, my comments section, my facebook page, my twitter even, all await with bated breath the gory details of your secret and candid lives. I repeat, do tell.