Category Archives: Books

The walls of the room I am building

The Netherlands Research School of Gender Studies had their research day conference on 26th May 2014 in Amsterdam. The day was titled – Doing Gender in the Netherlands: Feminism in Transition (Activism, Institutions and Canons). I was there to present a paper: Tumbling Wall: Adrienne Rich Dismantles a Male Form. My paper spoke about the ghazal, Ghalib, and Rich, focusing on the 60s, in America, the coming together of poet and poetic form.

It was pouring. Water dripped from the corners of my coat leaving little pools wherever I went. My boots squelched. Rain drops made concentric circles on the canal water. Everything looked so grey and grim. Inside the aged buildings of the UvA, underneath original beams, sitting on freshly draped white linen chairs, over cups of coffee and generously made butter cookies we talked of contrasts and constructive confrontation. It was a day when stillness was questioned and ideas stirred. I wrote some notes and made some drawings. Of which the notes I am going to share with you.

Dr. Rachel Spronks pointed out how feminism needs to be transformative and transgressive. She explained in detail how these two aspects in feminism are interlinked for exchange and action. She said that where we find ourselves today is not a post-feminist era; for there are new forms that we see feminism in. The hierarchies in feminism – gender, race, class – and what do we land up with – activism, art and scholarly debate. The purpose of the day was to solidify efforts, navigate – truth; and landscapes – twin topics – gender + sexuality, personal + social – the co-relations and the interaction. These are always viewed as institutions and paradigms but it has interdisciplinary potential – an academy of thinking through culture that includes:

- Interdisciplinary umbrella of interactions – commonalities, pushed to undo comfortable truths
– “Less convinced about our own truths” (RS)
– Revisit canons of critical agency
– Reorganizing gender studies
– Undoing told, undoing the shackles
– Coming out narrative – coming out as a feminist

How to respond to contrast.
Female part-time work – undercurrent of patriarchy
Pivotal dilemmas: social equality + inclusion
Engagement of critical agency
Vibrancy of contemporary feminism in civil society

“Continuum” (RS) (I was so reminded of Adrienne Rich – this term I first discovered through her works) of feminist production, she urged us to “go, do gender, and enjoy” (and I sat there and asked myself – why? – why was I there? And where I fit in – or didn’t – in this community, or whether his was indeed a community).

In many of the discussions that day I noticed the importance given to the body. The physical body, where it is placed in research and what role does it play. In most academic work – we are in a three-way didactic relationship – positioning of the researcher, the text and the author and where are ‘you’ physically placed, location. The ability to do the research, the consent, the permission, the ethics, we are in many ways studying a body as well – and how do we deal with intimacy and privacy issues. I thought of the many times I face these dilemmas and what my purpose was. To be intuitively aware of what truths are told and who they are told through. I also thought of how sometimes, the body is there, it is present but then it is not bodily enough – it is much more elusive. The discussion lead us towards the work of Elizabeth Grosz – corporeal feminism, Foucault on autonomy, framing of people on gender.

Another fascinating research was on the nature and nurture role of the brain: the plasticity of the brain; brain sex; biological materiality of the body and the role of environmental influences. I discovered that there is an entire movement on how sexual orientation can be changed (no, not in the Middle Ages, apparently today, I had not realized how bullish some of these groups are or can be) – homosexual and heterosexual – “train the gay away” – what is wrong with us? In India, they are trying to criminalize homosexuality. Really, again, what is wrong with us? There are differences made in research as well between male and female – we talked about how sex works as an independent variable in research. Gender and the brain – does gender decide the brain or brain decides the gender – this is not just a neuro-scientist issue. Slowing down science. Resolve and dissolve – not important – but map them. The researchers call this the trojan horse of real issues, to use it to take away rather than actually have impact. So how does feminism change the sciences? We spoke about post-structuralism and the female scientist and subjects – and the male weight. Queering neuro science. And then there is also transexuality, transgender, Judith Butler – ambiguity of identity, and boundary objects. To learn the art of tolerating the ambiguousness. And how can we use this to see things, use of objects as a lens – to get a focus.

Can institutions dismantle/reorganize queer theory. One of the researchers Marieke van Eijk spent years working at a gender identity clinic. Mid-western American, international standards, expensive – class based – access to some, with mandatory counselling – removal to have access to treatment. Sara Ahmed’s “Strange Encounters” – historically grounded ß this was questioned. The study examined the role and character of private organizations in the process of political globalization. Recognition of diversity – not one way of being (I thought of how we had been reading Astrid Erll’s and she had mentioned: robust plural identities). To put these matters into perspective we analyzed – monolithic entities – heteronormative ideas – we are forced to rethink and how all of this (today) had created a bunch of cascading questions, one opens up into another.

I discussed Alison Bechdel (oh how much I love her), Dr. Donald Winnicott’s theories of mirror and children (that we had already studied with Dr. Lewis Krischner and Prof. dr. Dawn Scorczewski in their Master Class at the VU), Romania’s latch-key generation and communist symbols of nostalgia by Codruta Pohrib (who is also working on Erll), feminism in South Africa and Coetzee amongst many other intellectually stimulating debates and discussions.

I loved talking to Anja Meulenbelt, her speech was inspiring and funny, she blogged and took some lovely pictures of the day: (including a few of me – sounds of dripping water need to be imagined as you view my picture so please do the needful).

There were people there, who summarized many of my thoughts in enviable vocabulary, and sometimes I caught myself questioning what was being said – that does not sound right, or where is this headed. Sitting at the edge of the seat, nodding my head, looking, waiting, listening, watching the rain, the words that bounced, rooms that opened and closed, people who came and left, mugs of half-finished coffee, crumpled paper, hangers. I came home late, my head was throbbing, at home hot food and a warm bed were waiting. I snuggled into familiar arms, my mind noting, highlighting and remembering – this is indeed a gift.  I am, and will remain, one of the fortunate ones.


Diligent Candy:

Alice’s adventure through corporate land – I am already intrigued. Tarun’s sister Tulika has written a book and considering that family produces the brightest brains – I have immense hope that this book will be a good addition to the intellectual stable.

Originally posted on Collectivity:

Ok. i’m lying.

My sister wrote a Book. She’s this horrifyingly overachieving woman who is an inspiration to all, and a pain in my ass. She’s one of the youngest Women MDs of an MNC in the world. AND, in the 2 month between her switching jobs, she managed to write a book that got picked up by Penguin!

Its called Alice in Corporateland and its kinda chick-lit with a twist. It takes the route of fairy tales to give guidance to young people on how to build a strong career.

It’s actually pretty good. I hate to admit it because, y’know, Sis.

So she’s launching it in Mumbai on the 3rd (this saturday) at the Crossword at Kemp’s Corner. Anupama Chopra is in conversation with her.

The invite details are below… msg me on @probablytrippy (Twitter) if you can come? Free autographed copies for all attendees!

Also, because, i…

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“I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.”
Adrienne Rich, From an Atlas of the Difficult World

For more on this poem do read: this ~ click here
Picture clicked in Bordeaux, France, 2012.

The Normal Heart – VU Book Club

Things I learnt at the VU Book Club session conducted by Dirk Visser on Larry Kramer and his play “The Normal Heart.” It was a learning experience for I had little knowledge on AIDS and almost no idea as to how it was directly linked to homophobia:

  1. The AIDS debate is, “Not a rational but an emotional debate.” It was not a medical panic but a moral one. We discussed whether drama (if at all) counter-acts this rhetoric.
  2. AIDS did not get its name for the longest time. The first article that appeared on the disease was in the NY Times, “Rare Cancer seen in 41 Homosexuals” – the cancer was called Kaposi’s Sarcoma.
  3.  As late as 1987 (as a disease it had already been around for almost 10 years) did Ronald Reagan, the then President of U.S., use the terms AIDS.
  4. One of the first names given to AIDS was GRID – “Gay related Immuno Deficiency.”
  5. The word homosexual first appeared in 1869 – heterosexual as a term came much later as a reaction to this.
  6. You need to read Susan Montag to understand how illness is used as a metaphor in relation to blame.
  7. Larry Kramer consistently juxtaposes the holocaust with the predicament of the AIDS victims and the gay community.
  8. There have been many conspiracy theories around why and how AIDS came about – one involving alien kidnapping, another to do with the elimination of gay people, amongst many others.
  9. The words epidemic and plague have different reactions in different people. Many attendees commented on how the plague had Biblical connotations as opposed to epidemic, which somehow seemed more manageable. This had no co-relation to actual meaning but seemed more to do with assumption (perhaps sound).
  10. Larry Kramer is an angry man. And I understand now why he is.

I wonder if this play can ever be staged in India. Will they permit the film to reach theatres there? If homosexuality is illegal – does it make all representations of it illegal as well? Won’t that make all action movies illegal, so if that argument does not hold for cinematic liberty – then why does it not apply to staging of plays? My mind tied up in knots as I drift between the rational and the emotional. Even more than before (if that was possible) I value the freedom to be critical.

The VU Book Club is organised by:
Manon Stassen
Nezjma Ramdas

Emmanuel Moses in Amsterdam

Location: Broodhuys

Only  a poet could go through pain, heartache, agony and say, “it was beautiful.” Only a poet. Thank you Emmanuel.

Nitasha Kaul – What Does it Mean to be an Internationalist Today?

Having known Nitasha and read her articulate, precise and insightful work, it gives me immense pride and pleasure to share with you this video of her speaking at a conference in London about what it means to be an internationalist today.

“Beyond the nation state and concentric circles of self” – if there is one thing that you listen to or watch today – let it be this.

The dancing moth

photo (7)I have been mulling over the relevance of people and opinions. And, I turned to the cosmos to give me a sign as to what is the way forward. It should not surprise me but I was pleasantly so when I read this:

“Instead, the major stories in Book Two are primarily concerned with the challenge of discerning the true nature of people behind appearances, in order to identify with whom one should associate so as to progress on the mystical path.” (Mowjaddedi, Rumi: The Masnavi Book Three xii)

Intrigued I read on – Rumi writes:

“Our bodies are like leaves, as in appearance / They are alike, but each soul has a difference. / People at the bazaar appear so similar / But one feels joy while grief consumes another. / Even in death we leave here the same way: / Half of us lose, half of us rule the day.” (Rumi, Mowjaddedi trans. Rumi: The Masnavi Book Three 214)

“What my eyes have already had to view. / I’m not one of those frail ones who would end / His wayfaring due to imaginings, friend. / I’m like the Ismailis: I lack dread / Or like Ishmael, with no care for my head.”  (Rumi, Mowjaddedi trans. Rumi: The Masnavi Book Three 249)

“Dig deeper each day in a muddy pit / And you’ll find water there by doing it.” (Rumi, Mowjaddedi trans. Rumi: The Masnavi Book Three 249)

The book ends with “When legs break, God gives wings.”

Each morning brings with it questions, afternoons are spent looking for insight, and early evenings the answers unravel without much effort. The seeker lives a different cycle. In the night some see darkness, I see only light.

Who is that girl letting her veil slip a little more each evening?
Why do the stars wink at her?
Who lights those street lamps that dance in the canals?
Who is working on those stations whose screens I can see glimmering from afar?
Shadows get formed when as object crosses the path of light
Short and dense, long and fragmented
Words in a poem – me a willing moth to your flame


There is always so much more to read. I find myself in conversations: “No, I haven’t read that.” The prospect is thrilling and worrying. There is that constant niggle – out there could be that one book I wish I had read before putting pen to paper. Each day passes in the pursuit of that text. Words tumble out easy and smooth from the tip my fingers but my mind is in the jungle – hunting. I am reassured with, “But that’s always a constant.” If the quest got over, there was no other material, I would feel defeated. A battle that I willingly lose everyday. I like the manner in which the pile of my books comfort me in the cold. The buffer between the chill and me.

Here: Sitting waiting for Bambi to complete his swimming lesson I am traveling to 1950s Georgia. America – a country I have never visited.
The rain pours, the wind whips the flag, the scrawny brown boy struggles to keep his head above blue waters in the deep end.

There: I read on, she has just birthed on a mattress on the road. Her child unwanted in every way.

Here: I wipe his soaking body and he trembles and shakes, words flood out of his mouth. He is excited. He tells me how it was easy. I squeeze him like a sponge to take the damp out of his bones. He grabs my neck and rubs his nose against mine smiling into my eyes.

In the evening, over cups of tea and tostis, and later wine we talk, “Have you read Althusser?” I shake my head, “I have it on my list.” “You must, really, it will change your views about this, really, I insist.”

Here: It’s dark.
There: I return to Georgia.


Reading Persepolis was like returning to a warm and safe place. Ironically, the graphic novel is the loss of that, that someone understood, lived through it, to bear witness to that truth is beyond powerful. This is the second graphic novel I’ve read (the first one being Maus) and I immensely enjoy the form. To a new found love – I raise a toast.

Merry Christmas. Wishing you such joys as well.

Images courtesy: Google search for Persepolis