There were a lot of things that weren’t clicking for me in 2010. I think I was on pretty much a colossal downward spiral before the New Year hit, and I decided enough was enough and decided to pull my socks up. And probably take pre-emptive measures.
I keep going into these phases, and I realize there is no Permanent Solution. I also realize everyone and his brother go through these things, only, not everyone chooses to talk about these things.
But looking back, my downward spirals now are for reasons completely different from the ones that would drive me to desperation two or three years back, and I find that a very significant improvement. My set of downward spiral behaviours have significantly changed as well, and I’m glad for that. What hasn’t changed is that paralyzing feeling of falling further and further into an abyss when things go terribly wrong.
So I tell myself, nothing’s going to change those tendencies my brain seems to be wired into feeling. The best I can do is be aware of myself and my behaviours and let go a little here, be strict a little there.
Feeling low is our system’s natural response to unhospitable conditions, and its manifestation in the form of not wanting to make conversation or pay attention to everyday matters like food, cleanliness, relationships, etc just serve to make you look inward and solve your problems and make the world a better place for you to live in. I think I should embrace that, and accelerate the processes that are involved in dealing with issues in a way that’ll help me more than hurt me. That, I’ll advise anyone who asks, is way better than trying to distract yourself from whatever’s bothering you or thinking happy thoughts so that your feeling of depression will go away. Positive thinking and stuff is useful in some aspects, but depression too serves its own purposes. It would be foolish to ignore this natural instinct of ours, which comes up to tell us that something’s wrong and we need to do something about it.
In times of crisis, we can descend to chaos, and this is where the conformist in me helps a lot, because structure and routine are things that help you bring a semblance of normality into your thinking and don’t let you fall into so many pieces that it’s hard to pull yourself together later on. And, those things also prevent you from doing crazy stuff you’ll later only regret.
So, yeah, things haven’t magically worked out for me. They might work out magically, I’ll be glad if they did, but I don’t think I should depend on that. And I’m not pretending things have worked out. All that’s changed between a week ago and now is that all my inward-looking paid off and now I’m trying to act on whatever I thought of. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be perfect, it might not even work. But, the number of drafts on this blog are increasing, my grocery bills are shooting up, I swipe my bus pass a lot more, and my mind is filling with everyday worries – how can I manage to get my hands on that dataset, why is this bit of code giving trouble, damn that’s my joke they plagiarized, where the heck is my laundry card, god I’ve forgotten the Charleston… and I guess with these indications, I can say with increasing confidence that I’m back.
I’ve been in a foreign country for a year-and-a-half now. The hardest part is not adjusting to the weather or food or the people. Even the accent is not hard, given we’ve all been listening to the American accent right from the advent of cable TV and Star Plus. The hard bit has been to avoid referring to people by their place of origin.
You can’t say someone’s a Jap, it’s racist. You can’t say ‘that pretty Black woman there’. You need to say ‘His accent sounds urban’, not the other thing. Which is hard given I say ‘You sound like a Gult’ or ‘TYPICAL Bong you are’ and pepper my speech liberally with Amit and Isha and Dig and Tam and whatnot when I’m talking to (Indian) friends.
Also, when you ask a Mr. Nguyen where he’s from, and he says ‘San Francisco’, you need to learn to control your impulse to ask ‘Oh.. but where are you really from?’.
Add to this plenty of Op-Eds written about ‘We Indians are so racist ya’. But instinctively, I feel you just can’t compare being called Macaca with being called Bong. I wonder why, exactly…
If anything, NITK has made me more regionalist than I was before. But not in the ‘Slap her, she’s Mallu’ way. To be frank, NITK just confirmed whatever regional stereotypes I was trying to dismiss in mind. While at the same time getting to know the people behind the stereotypes. If anything, it just made the stereotypes more complex and complicated in my head.
The reason the Western world condemns these sort of things as ‘racism’, is because classifying and referring to someone by their place of origin there in the last century or so was borne out of xenophobia and misunderstanding. And a feeling of superiority/inferiority. Whereas, for us, it is not so. There are enough Madrasis in Delhi and there are enough Amits in Chennai that calling someone a Madrasi or an Amit is just a way of referral, not something derogatory. And people from other parts of India in any given Indian city don’t ghettoize and mingle only with ‘their own people’, that anyone would see someone else as only a Bong or Bawa or Dig, or have no idea about anything else about the community than just the stereotypes.
Regional stereotypes in India don’t mean anything. My cousin calls her neighbour Nair-maami, just like she calls her upstairs neighbour maadi-veetu-Usha-maami (Usha-aunty from upstairs). It doesn’t mean anything more. And who the heck takes these stereotypes seriously? No one seriously believes all Tambrahms are paavam vegetarian silent people and no one expects every Bong to have yellow nicotine-stained fingers along with a craze for football and Dada and adda.
If anything, taking the name of your place of origin can only be seen as a celebration of our diversity. Because, heck, we are all minorities and are all so spread out over the country that you can’t say it is better to be a Reddy than to be a Gowda or that you won’t rent your house out to someone with a Maharashtrian surname, the way they do in the Western world. There is not that stark a difference between different communities in India as there is abroad, that highlighting your place of origin means much. To call all this racism in the Indian context would be incredibly shortsighted, and absolutely unnecessary. There’s no point looking at our own culture through the prism of someone else’s culture, take everything out of context to the point that everything appears absolutely wrong.
This is just like a westerner seeing Arab men holding hands in public and assuming that everyone has deep-wrought homoerotic tendencies brought about by sex segregation everywhere.
With one exception, though. I don’t like referring to folks from the Northeast as ‘Chinki’. If we keep doing that, like someone on Twitter said, let’s give up all claim to Arunachal next.
And for the party-sharty crap that infests NITK, the sooner it dies a painful death, the better.
And don’t even get me started on Fair-and-Lovely. But if you do, please don’t call it ‘racism’. ‘Skin fetishism’ is a more appropriate term
Hartosh Singh Bal wrote a piece about how easy it is for any British ‘writer’ to be taken seriously in India. William Dalrymple, one of the main people named in the article, wrote back saying that the article was blatantly racist. Mr. Bal replied even more scathingly.
Wondering if all the accusations in the original article are true makes me think about the Indian literary scene.
Now I’m probably unqualified to comment on this, given that I’ve quit my fascination with Indian writing in English since probably my third year at NITK., and am not up-to-date on the scene. I think that probably happened because Indian writing in English rarely if ever is pirated in ebook form.
The stuff I’ve been reading since then is more or less nationality-agnostic, and given that I was going through enough trouble with see-sawing emotional states over the past few years, I have cut out anything that’s even mildly depressing. No tales of rape victims, no suicidal females, no people selling organs or themselves out of poverty. And I’m sick and tired of wordy prose, so all the emo stuff is also out. And, ever since the Mumbai train blasts, since when I have turned internetHindu and internetIndian, I detest, detest, detest any books that espouse the warped leftie-commie-westie perceptions of the Motherland and pronounce it to be the only true point of view [That's not because of the point of view. It's just that I feel their case is extremely overstated and I don't want to hear those arguments again and again and again].
And guess what. The number of Indian books I’m reading has gone pitifully low. Off the top of my head, I can remember only three Indian English books that I’ve read with delight in the recent past. The most recent one is The Immortals of Meluha. It’s okay. It’s not a great book. The plot is rather weak, though the premise is brilliant. Then there’s The House of Blue Mangoes I’ve reviewed before here. And the most, most delightful one has been Gopa Majumdar’s translation of Satyajit Ray’s Feluda and Professor Shonkhu.
Isn’t it a rather depressing thought that most Indian writing in English is tragic, depressing, emo stuff? Or that it’s by foreigners/NRIs who’ve visited Delhi and Mumbai and maybe one location in the South and decided they want to set a novel here, and borrow the mainstream media’s perspective on the country to do so?
This means one of two things. Either India can’t produce people good enough to express themselves well in English, or these forin/NRI folks are actively preferred over India-born-and-bred writers. Ok, third possibility – depressing stuff is preferred anyday over stuff with more joie de vivre. And forin/NRI folk are more likely to write about the depressing squalor of India than the average English-writing Indian (it’s just darn impossible for someone who lives here to constantly be depressed about poverty and rape and abuse and organ harvesting enough to churn out book after book on those topics).
The first possibility seems likely. Yes, not everyone from an English-medium school speaks well in English, let alone write novels in it. But heck, is the situation so bad that we have very few who write cheerfully and well in English? I don’t want to believe that’s possible.
I’m ambivalent about the third possibility. Given that most Indian hit films are escapist fare, I find it hard to believe that depressing stuff is preferred over fun stuff. But then, it’s also possible that the folks who watch the fun movies are not the ones who read, and that the ones who read are folk who prefer emo sad stuff, because it feels more ‘real’. I was one of these people in my less-jaded days where I equated ‘real’ with ‘stark’, ‘explicit’ and ‘depressing’. And back then, I read a lot of Indian writing in English
The second possibility…. ah, here’s where we lock horns with the likes of Dalrymple. It’s no secret that Western (and even Eastern) recognition and approval is highly prized in India. It’s as if we have no good standards of our own that we look to someone else’s to know what to like and what not to. It’s like Yahoo coming to NITK’s campus for placements and instead of conducting their own set of Aptis and interviews, giving offers to the folks placed in Microsoft (No, that did not happen. And if you want, you can replace Yahoo with Infy and Microsoft with ITTIAM. Or any two random companies. It is immaterial). The reasons for that are many… colonial hangover, our persistent resistance to growing a backbone, our sense of identity and self being derided every single day by own own media… the bottomline is, you can go places here with a forin tag – skin colour, accents, degrees, passports. Even if you are decidedly a worse stringer-of-words-together than the average Indian; your use of the language will be feted as ‘interesting’ and ‘intriguing’ and ‘creative’.
Where’s our own Steig Larsson, JK Rowling (no, don’t point to the scriptwriter for the flick Hari Puttar), Rick Riordan (Amish Tripathi seems to be trying), Eoin Colfer, Agatha Christie? Why don’t we have our own Miss Marple, shouldn’t it be easy to have a nosy lady solving murders here? (Oh hey, we do… I found this series about a detective aunty called Lalli. Except it’s not thaaat well-written). Why don’t we yet have our own LotR, given that our folk myths are so rich and ripe for drawing from?
Where are our school stories, the ones that involve making fresh-out-of-college teachers with weird pronunciations run out of the class crying, and hatching plots over ice-lollies and salt-n-chillied-amlas after school? And what about our own murder mysteries, surely there’s sufficient fodder for that? And given that we have so many threats, where the heck are our spy thrillers? The only one I’ve come across that had a hint of a spy in it is Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey. Are we so unimaginative a people that we can’t produce our own kahani-mein-twist writer, like an Archer or an O Henry?
I’m not saying no examples of any of these exist. I’m saying there isn’t enough. I’m saying it’s not reached a critical mass enough to be its own genre, the way books about (and by) IITians have. The dominant chunk of Indian writing in English is hardly positive, fun-to-read stuff.
So, I repeat, where the heck are all these writers? Too busy slaving away in an IT company? Or gone abroad for higher studies/job and will now only write sickening Indo-nostalgic stuff? Or writing up a storm in some other of our fourteen languages? If so, why aren’t they being translated into English?
Or worse, are there actually none? Surely, judging by the number of user-contributed stories in children’s magazines from, say, eight years back and earlier, there must be a significant portion of good writers in their twenties now?
Coz it’s going to be a depressing next thirty if there actually are none. I see these children’s magazines go lower and lower in quality, and dumb down their content more and more. It’s a symptom of lower and lower standards in English writing in India…. when there is nothing to whet the imagination of children, it is a sad state of affairs, indeed.
Some people might say ‘This is why children should learn their mother tongue… writing in regional languages is far better’. I agree. But we’re looking at a generation of children whose parents themselves aren’t conversant with their mother tongues; and who talk, fight and play in English. Given that we use and abuse English so much in India (and wear it on our sleeves), shouldn’t we be giving back something to the language; is it so unreasonable to expect quality reads of our own stories, in our own language?
I was an only child for a long, long time. Suddenly, one close cousin came along, who I thought was the most wonderful thing on earth, and I couldn’t stop being fascinated by her blue eyes.
And not long after, my sister too was born.
She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Her porcelain-perfect skin was only marred by scratches from her long nails on her tiny pink hands. I strongly doubt I went through a ‘the baby’s getting more attention than me’ phase.
Unlike me, she was the healthy baby who would eat everything she was offered, and the friendliest one there was. So much that once when she was four, some stranger was carrying her away from us at Lalbagh and she didn’t as much as raise an alarm.
Rather early on, we’d always share junk food equally. It’s a rule, almost. So every single time I buy a single packet of chips or share a medium pizza with someone else, or even eat a single chocolate bar, I make it a point to tell her and say ‘nyaah nyaah nyaah’. That’s pretty much not happened for months now, given that she’s quit junk food and has successfully convinced me to do the same.
I never seem to go clothes-shopping without her. If I do, I mail her photos of everything in the store and she picks out stuff that has me going ‘Are you crazy?’, but once I wear them, they look and feel so right. Every artsy gene in the family’s ended up with her, I’m on the other hand effectively colour-blind.
She’s the only one who can so successfully push my buttons, be passive-aggressive in such huge doses that I’d want to run away (I was mean to her once when I was in 10th, and she messed up my alarm and I ended waking very late, and was very mad). I’m no less, I say the most hurtful things possible. We’ve fought worse enough to give each other lasting scars.
As we’ve grown up, I’ve found it easier and easier to vent to her more than anyone else, and she gives me the most sarcastic, most caustic assessments. She has a memory for the worst bits of everything, and makes sure to bring it all up every now and then. Including the time I dropped her on her head.
We obviously share a lot in common, but I didn’t realize how much until I went away to NITK and she came to visit me, and folks at hostel were amazed that we spoke the same way, had the same way of making jokes, the same grin, and the same mannerisms. I had never given those things a thought before.
She imitates everyone to the T, especially me, and I grudgingly acknowledge to her that she is one of the most observant people I know. Both of us are a little droll, a little passive-aggressive and caustic with each other, and can never ungrudgingly acknowledge to each other that we liked something the other did, and we never are affectionate with each other, and delight the most in telling each other our diabolical plans to embarrass or murder the other. It seems to me like we have kept scaring, pranking, embarrassing each other so much while growing up that we’ve evolved to watch for the other’s next move two steps in advance.
So yeah, I know she’s not going to read this page by herself; my parents will ask her to when they see this. And then she’s going to be embarrassed by all this stuff about her and me out for the whole world to read, more so since she’s a naturally shy person. I know she’ll call me names for this and find typos and wrong grammar in my writing.
But I’ll still write and publish this piece. And I’ll also wish her a very happy birthday that’s coming up pretty soon.
Because it came really close not very long ago to that not at all happening. I don’t want to go into details.
Henceforth, I never will say anything about how only-children are lucky. I will never ever make bossy mean older sister jokes which I use when I’m down to my last bullet and which are too, too mean to put up here.
I’m glad as hell I have my dear younger sister, with me, abusing me on chat, telling me that the pair of earrings I got are a goddarned waste of money, that my alcohol tolerance practically sucks, and that I should have seen the events of the past few months coming, breaking her head over making a collage of the images I sent her to stick on my wall, telling me I shouldn’t be getting depressed for such lame reasons, I’ve endured so much more, bringing me gossip from her college, telling me my jokes are lame, and that engineering education is all a conspiracy, and dissing my accent as ‘not American enough’.
Little one (who is taller than I ever will be), I can’t love you enough.