The joys of Amstel Park, where Bambi and I often spend hours. He hates the bees and loves the flowers, how ironical, how can one exist without the other. In the park they have a toy train that goes inside what we like to call “the deep dark woods” (a nod to Julia Donaldson). We have not spotted any Gruffalos yet, however, we have spotted butterflies, cows, sheep, goats, llamas, emus, turkeys, hens, roosters, peacocks and peahens, pigs, ponies, birds, rabbits, buffalos, and bees, lots of bees, and some mosquitoes.
“Is it summer yet?”
“I think so.”
“How would you know?”
“Well it is that time of the year.”
“What if you did not have a calendar?”
“It is warm, the sky is clear, the ducks are having ducklings, the flowers are out, and the trees have leaves.”
“That’s just a good day.”
“When you have a series of such days then I guess you can safely assume that it is summer.”
“So then summer is a series of such good days.”
“I think so.”
“I wish there was summer in winter but, then I do love the snow and when it is really cold.”
“Any other questions sir?”
“Yes, how many days till winter?”
“How many minutes?”
“Way too many.”
“Give me numbers.”
“How about the number 7.”
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: http://www.anjameulenbelt.nl/weblog/2014/05/27/een-dag-academisch-feminisme/ (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.
Rolling and Smoking Will – A Ghazal
Leftovers marked impending will
Let go if you can bending will
Old China, teak furniture, books
His never-ending quill
I closed the suitcase lid
No hope left in swallowing pills
A garden of roses and jasmine
He wove magic with his tending till
What is gone can’t come back
Time is never standing still
Tumble bumble rumble forth Das
Life is a spellbinding drill
Only a poet could go through pain, heartache, agony and say, “it was beautiful.” Only a poet. Thank you Emmanuel.
We drove from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf. From Dusseldorf to Radhadesh. And then to Genval. From there back home. It was an impromptu trip. I felt my creativity was clogged. I could smell the rust inside my head. And, I knew that all our friends would be away. We packed light, threw caution to the wind (not really – we do have winter tires but that term so aptly sums up the headspace) and galloped away.
I wrote more than I typed. I read more than I watched. The hills, a tiny town, a hidden lake, waiting, learning, talking, grinding the tip of the shoe into grey gravel, feeling cold till the bones and then hot in the head – eating and sleeping and waking up to eating. It was a sweet holiday. I got to know Bambi a lot better. His big eyes see bigger dreams, irrational ones, I stop myself from rationalising. There is plenty of time for that. I watch how he meticulously plans his day and I see me. I hear him hum and I notice Apoorva. Then I see him for who he is … the bit not like me, not like Apoorva, just him … like him.
I would advise going away to come back. To text friends from random locations. To tell them that however far we run they remain so deliciously close. I recognise my own need for isolation, for solitude, silence to hear my thoughts talking to each other, giving each other a good fight as my friend Natasha would say. Oh they fight and then they move on, just like you said Natasha. In ways that I still don’t understand I am finding myself.
I thank you 2013 – perhaps not as sincerely as Apoorva would but in my own way. You were a difficult year. I am glad you are over. I wish you peace. And I wish all my readers:
Happy New Year 2014.
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Top 3 reasons you should visit Surya:
1. Spare me the India you see: it does not have hastily crafted Ganesh statues, bad ethnic prints and distastefully made Rajasthani dolls. Neither does it play sad Indian sounding numbers with too much sitar and flute, or ghazals (cliche fest), the decor is elegant, the music easy, and the Indian influences subtle, think a brocade cushion rather than a kitsch kitchen. Their house wine is served in beautiful goblets not silver harem glasses.
2. Food baby: A restaurant that tweets pictures of how the food you eat is cooked has my vote – also it lands up making me hungry on most days. Must try menu items: Momos, chai (I almost wept, a good steaming cup of desi chai as the snowflakes came down – how long I had waited for this taste on my tongue), Gurkha chicken, mutton biryani.
3. No, this is my table: You can have a conversation, unlike most Amsterdam restaurants, Surya has space, the manner in which they have set up the tables gives diners privacy and peace.
Surya is a pleasant experience,their staff has a balanced air about them – not brusque European ‘disservice’ nor the overwhelming presence of overdone hospitality. They give you the space, time, ambiance to enjoy a good meal. 4.5 out 5 stars. I remove .5 stars for them not delivering to my house. This restaurant is a ‘keeper’.
Average price of meal for one person with a drink: 30-35 euros
Star rating: 4.5 out of 5