Monday, August 13, 2018

A capacity for joy

What does it mean to have a capacity for joy? I'm sure the actual experience of joy, or rather the granular details of that which delivers joy varies across people. And mine relates to an agglomeration of a multitude of things. And of course, these things only gesture to another multitude of worlds. So here's a list.

(a) Cats and dogs and animals: This morning, a bright white tomcat appeared at my backdoor and whined for food. I fed him two biscuits bit by bit by bit, after which he passed a soft paw through the grills on the door and gave me a low five. Every other day, two monkeys clamber onto my kitchen window and make plaintive sounds asking for food, watching me as I cook and babble nonsense at them. Some days in the morning, I leave them some food. And then there are the dogs everywhere who cock their heads and make communion; some of them charge towards me, ears down, soft and loving like only dogs can be.

All joy is about all life. Even as I anthropomorphize, my capacity for wonder is also the capacity for joy. Unbidden and boundless, unexpected and full.

(b)  Flowers: Now why do I love flowers so? Probably because they make me feel like the outdoors are indoors and that my home is not enclosed but open to the wind and the meadows and the sun and the stars. That the bright orange, purple and yellow blossoms waving in the wind of the fan, are nodding and cheering on the business of daily life. That no matter the sorrows of the moment, it is the nature of the day to move on. Some days, I pass women in the street, their hair glistening with oil and jasmine blossoms, and I think, Orientalism be damned, how beautiful are they.

(c) And then there are those conversations, the fodder and noise of life; in which I eavesdrop upon stranger and friend alike, and in which strangers tell me the stories of their lives. And what wonders are these stories, what telenovelas of abandon, bravery, chutzpah, and fortitude. How do we all live lives under so much duress? And therefore we must find momentary shelter, in words and deeds alike, and remember that this is a human ordeal, of different proportionality albeit, but shared nevertheless.Once upon a very long time ago, my father and I accompanied a very drunk, very shattered, melancholic man, back home from the train as he wept continually and quietly, to his home in the Bombay suburbs. We were received by his wife, who held his arm and asked him to drink some water. I mention it now to no avail.

(d) And last but not the least, let me tell you all about theory. For the driving forces of my life are theories—organizing mechanisms that explain the world to me, shattering like chimeras one by meticulous one. They hold together thought and the world, fleetingly and powerfully, knowing fully well that the conditions of their being are their fallibility. And in this is both their joy and their force. For all explanations are partial, all worlds are solipsistic, and like mirrors in which we view ourselves, ultimately false, albeit comforting. So I turn to feminism, and poststructuralism, and Marxism, and postmodernism, and postcolonialism, and find the world rendered a kaleidoscope of possibility and joy; turning this way and that.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Working out

The thing that they never told me about teaching is its breathless physicality. You see, in good Cartesian fashion, I thought it was all about the mind. But when faced with twenty odd recalcitrant or absent bodies as the case may be, that which kicks in most even before the mind is the body. One can sense either the presence or absence of energies, and one kicks into high gear. Literally. I'm sure if I were to view myself from the outside, hands and feet waving wildly, trying to keep in tune with the ersatz knowledge we call theory that I try so desperately to articulate, I'd consider myself just another court jester. Which, mind you, I have no problems embodying...

When first initiated into the world of Hindustani classical music in my childhood, all my attention veered towards the artist's bodily and facial contortions, and was both thoroughly tickled and completely awestruck by the ability for bodily abandon. I did not realize then as I did not realize before beginning to teach, that the body is not an instrument, it is the thing in itself. And often we see the body, and hear the voice, and think them to be separate in the world, even as together, they form embodiment proper.

See, for example, this video where you can watch Pandit Bhimsen Joshi in a rendering of Raag Deshkar, every curve of mouth, every tilt of eye, as much as the music as his voice.

But this body that I've spent so many years denying will not be denied; even as nobody ever tells you this secret. During the many years of the PhD, so many of my colleagues cultivated exercise, diet, activity and the rest not as constitutive but as substitutive elements of a life that must be abetted in reaching its highest possible potential, where the body is the means to an end, but never the end in itself. And I followed suit. I practised yoga, ran three miles a day, kayak-ed on weekends, went climbing twice a week, and wrote my dissertation on a Pilates ball. I tried to learn how to swim, a total of seven times, one set of classes at a time. As you can tell, I was not great at it. And while physical activity became routine and marginally fun, it was also equally easy for me to fall off the wagon, for every minute of every activity, counted as reasonable rather than pleasurable.

And I often wonder how it was that so many of my tween and teenage years were spent playing badminton, running around our colony lawn in circles, and absorbing large amount of sunlight at fantastic pursuits like lagori, three hours a day, seven days a week, with no thought of it needing to be on my calendar. I guess the answer might well be adulthood. For adulthood is the attainment of reasonable pursuits such as work, as opposed to pleasurable pursuits such as play. And as one trained in the anthropology of work, I should have known to connect the dots. And training be damned, anyone even marginally aware of the work-leisure binary ushered in by the Industrial Revolution will be able to explain my quandary. For the secret of that binary is that even leisure needs to be worked on, and all leisure in any case only exists in relation to work—yoga as curing stress, running as increasing focus, you get the drift.

So these days, in a minor albeit feeble attempt at bodily living, I do things I feel like, when I feel like. Sometimes I walk, and at other times run. I jump over balustrades, trip and fall, and skip steps. I climb walls, run into the sea, and fail miserably at somersaulting. I watch these Madras boys, running in wild abandon, vaulting over dividers, and imagine myself in their stead. I see young colt-like children waddling over grass, flailing and giggling, and follow in their wake.

And I tell myself that it'll all work out.

Sunday, August 05, 2018


I admit it. I've been unfaithful, and so many things have happened in the wake of my infidelity. For one, identity theft on this blog and then its return. Yes, my name got stolen. (So I forgot to renew my domain name. But that's a  small matter). While I procrastinated on administrative efficiency as I am wont to do, some cunning person of seemingly human proclivities bought my domain name. Now why someone who is not called either Mathangi or Krishnamurthy or a combination of the aforementioned would want a domain name called is beyond me but such are the ways of the world, with its hoarders, speculators and name-stealers. So then I contemplated chin in palms (both), for suitable alternative domain names, and then a year passed, and then said stealer let go, so here we are back in gloriously full nomenclature.

What other acts of perfidy have I performed, ask you? Well, I wrote a book. On second thoughts, I should have stuck to the blog. But ah well, I wrote a book. And then proceeded to use it as an excuse to not write a word for the next six months.

You can buy the book here, should you so be moved and there is a review to be found here, in case, like me, you are permanently suspicious and never quite an assertive consumer. There is also a very kind goodreads review here.

The book was launched in January of this year, and there is detailed pre-release interview here, and a launch description here. That's that. I have now officially sung for my supper. Sort of.

Ahem, if any of you do read it, please leave me a review either on Amazon or goodreads; or even better, send in a book review to the journal of your choice. You get publications on your resume, I get a testimony; satte pe satta and other such. (Ignore shady reference)

The beginning of the semester is upon us and I am inundated with deadlines, unfinished papers, incomplete syllabi, and fragmented class notes. Some weeks it takes effort to conjure oneself into the world. At the beginning of Tom Ford's beautifully photographed film, "A Single Man", the character played by Colin Firth, guides viewers through his morning, little by little assembling his armor of self, declaring how, it takes him a while each morning, to become himself.

My days usually begins slowly. Things work on automaton mode until the injection of caffeine. Much like my scooter, I choke until I can start.Momentarily and paradoxically, memories bind oneself to the moment. Montages of different times. Vague, and shimmery. It must be the antihistamines. Did I mention that I got bitten in the foot by a forest ant? And that my foot ballooned. One moment it's my foot, and five minutes later, it is an alien body part of a larger being. Gigantic. I didn't realize that I had this much room to expand.

I have a whiteboard and it bears lists. It summarily induces artificial order. A few hours later, order recedes and artificiality intercedes. We are back to a state of endless ennui. The mind is throwing an Everest-sized tantrum and nothing will tranquilize its will to be tranquilized.

But for today, I am satisfied because I have a composed a syllabus, a lesson plan and a reading list, and these are nothing short of works of art. This is one of the beauties of a teaching job; to be able to formulate and forecast a weekly plan that displays some modicum of orchestration and rising beauty. One week must lead to another, fugue-like, and together they must produce mellifluousness, if not learning.  And this I have done. Hallelujah. Sunday. I leave you with my current song of the day.