Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Few ruminations on literature today

Before i begin to indulge myself in another verbal tirade, i confess that the stimulus to write this post was one of the articles i read moments ago titled, "The decline and fall of literature", by Andrew Delbanco. It has the potential to raise some interesting discussions on the practice of the study of English literature in the past few decades.

As the title conjures up an anticipation of an elegiac mood, Delbanco fulfills the same by painting a grim picture of how literary studies, production of literary texts and academics and scholarly pursuits in English literature have increasingly declined.

What constitutes English literature? Should it strictly restrict its ambit to the nationalised identities of Shakespearean, Keatsian, Miltonic productions or should it embrace Irish Yeats and Scottish Robert Burns? Expanding globally, should we read Amitav Ghosh or Nadine Gordimer just because they write in English? To problematise the subject a little more, should we credit the study of translations - Russian novelists, Oriya poetry? Notwithstanding the argument of English being a global language which makes it accomnodative to expand its horizons beyond its restrictive national concern, i remain ill informed and unconvinced about reading Arundhati Roy's and Salman Rushdie's novels as a part of my course. I thoroughly enjoy their ingenuity in exploiting the language but can not believe that they carve a space in the 'English' canon. If not, then will i really emerge as an M.A. in 'English' Literature after reading Kabir, Premchand, Ilyankal, Ghalib?

To me Delbanco seems to point out, as one among the many concerns, a very rampantly emergent phenomenon in English studies that has plummeted to the emergence of "fragmented, jargonised subjects"(Edward said's expression). In the name of appreciation of literary writing in innovative fashion, most of the intellectual capital is invested in extremely portioned and myopic reading of the same with the tinted glasses of a particular ideology. Or, in the name of 'independent', creative , 'imaginative' reading, the limits of criticism are stretched to ridiculous and vulgar dimensions. Also, Delbanco takes a dig at the recent shift in attention at directing the analytical skills of literary appreciation through the sieve of popular media like photography, films, art, architecture etc. However, what is ironical is that while the modern tendency is to cling to popular routes of presentation, the popular tends to turn its gaze and capture the classical antiquities.

While Delbanco expatiates on the trend, he fails to substantially expand on the reasons behind this phenomena. In the cut-throat materialist and fastly transforming global situation to the dictates of capitalism, an expectation to see academicians bereft of any market influence would be fundamentally erroneous. The recent figures that suggest fastly declining trends in university enrolments in Humanities and Literature studies and contrarily extremely high spurts in professional courses with affinity to generate money, testify the overarching influence of cash and cash-driven motives.Notwithstanding this deplorable occurrence, i see a note of optimism here. Despite the fact that very few research papers and theses would be generated out of the English departments across the country in sync with this trend, the scholars entering the field would be, by and large, genuine and committed in their pursuit.

To use Sidney's phrase," A poet does not assert anything". Also, he says, good literature is universal in its appeal, like Shakespearean art which can be filmed as it is and also be moulded to Maqbool and Omkara. It is this non-accreditation to final, factual conclusions and general understanding of the mass pulse that seduces people across temporal and social realities to immerse in its consumption. However, the recent years have shown extreme exploitation of this free, liberal space that literature provides to suit petty gains of paltry demands of ease. The sequence of words that we assign meaning to are actually gaps filled by the subjectivity of individual readers. In this sense, only responsible and committed scholars can do justice to preserving the sanctity of literary studies.

Though Delbanco's article makes some interesting assertions, it fails to provide a concrete solution to the problems in the field. In his defence, what i could add is,that the nature of the problem is such that bureaucratic precision in a hunt for solutions is futile.

To begin with, universities should do away with crediting marks as the criteria to allow research in literary studies. As a professor at Oxford remarks," There are many things for a man's personal study, which are not fit for University examination. One of them is literature..." Instead written papers and verbal tests, according to the comfort of the scholar, should be invited to judge his or her credibility to join research. Moreover,research and teaching practice should be separated in commissioning promotions in academic circles. We all know that good researchers do not necessarily make decent professors. Incentives to those doing research can be shifted to other perks like free trips to places of artistic interests rather than as tools to grab the wad of a fatter salary. Also, the rules regarding examination of research papers should be stricter and net-savvy so as to check plagiarism and other innovative malpractice, thanks to a plethora of material available online.

We know that education needs a gradual but overhaul reformation. Any further laxity in this direction would lead to worse forms of degradation in academic standards.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It continues to ooze -
drop by drop.
The colour,
black or is it red yet?

As if
freshened by the new showers -
clotted blood yields
and begins to thaw.

The files get inked.
Fresh insights,
newer revelations.
All pooled in blood -
but wiped neatly
at the same time.

Four muffled voices
writhed and groaned.
Freshly pulsed to life
with a bureaucratic pen.

Thousands asphyxiated souls
struggle to catch
one whiff of unmethylated oxygen.

it's a crammed cupboard,
full of crawling germs,
dusty papers,
declared verdicts,
finalised justice.

One wonders -
looking deep in those
hazel-doe eyes,
flirting with jet black ringlets of hair,
caressing pale cheeks.
Rosy lips kissing
the white coffee mug,
embossed with pink flowers -
if this is what life meant.

The very next moment
one ignores,
and consciously grows numb
leavings things
just there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is it this?

I could smell the sun in you,

freshly squeezed it seems,

from the musty mould

that grows everyday-

in my furnitured brain.

Or, maybe, i smelt just you again.

Is it possible to possess?

As the night does,

clinging to its scent-

even as it melts-

in darkness,

and shadows,

and dreams?

Or, maybe, it's just loveless to possess.

I can still see the scribbles you nailed -


on the already scratched

musty, mouldy wood.

They were measured

as life is -

in teaspoons.

Or, maybe, i should leave them undeciphered.

I can smell you again



in you.

That how 'this' whiffed out


for a measured while

from the musty mould

of the sprawled furniture

that is me.

Just tell me-

should i love



Monday, August 2, 2010

Politicising the proposed personal

Well, this day begun as all days have been beginning since the past few months that i started to prepare for civils(and NOT ignoring my M.A. classes)...but i guess the day defeats the purpose of exciting me to sail new heights... reasons, many. Organisation to write coherently, nill....probable explanation, panic mode and to top it all my "high" existential moments...

I firmly believed and literally STUCK to the idea that my parents are my best friends......so far so good, but i doubt the grounds now, if not my commitment towards them. They are still the first people to know what newness i explore each day, have given me the encouraging permissions to accomplish ALL 'adventures' i have wanted to undertake (some are highly censored to be mentioned on open forums) and continue to listen and understand me through and through...but well, the ground seems to have suddenly shifted.

There is something called a generation gap which i luxuriously ignored in my relations with them till now..I donot doubt their reciprocations with an iota of suspicion...but what i failed to acknowledge was that what is "cool" about them for me is so so taxing on their part to live up to. For every outburst of emotion and commitment to my fancies, they have had to fight out battles among "their" peers.

According to the unending mass of relatives which defines THE society for my parents, i have hit the "perfect" marriageable age in sync with the "only urgent and committed mission" of all relatives (especially females) to earmark and convincingly suggest to the respective parents of the subject (here me), prospects "suitable" for the "precious little doll" of the family. It really does not bother them that the "doll" in question has literally hated the sissy idea of feminine gudia - gudda, teddy bears, barbies and other such unproductive objects of supposed girlie goodies. They also seem to have just forgotten that this same "doll" had actually been reprimanded on public notice by one among the matronly host of relatives for 'operating' a newly bought (disgusting!) doll of her cousins to see how the intestines looked like. That such a "destructive, uncouth , barbaric" girl has a life of her own definitely not to deck up for some arbitrary "gudda" seems to just not register in their fierce quest for hosting yet another marriage. My question is "Why do you guys not get a life and NOT bring weird panic stricken ideas to my parents head?"

I just wish and fevorishly expect my host of aunties and other relatives to just get to read this blog by a flip of miracle and perhaps see for themselves what has actually happened to their "doll"..
First, my assertions which are crystal clear:

(1) I do not want a "cash vending machine" for a husband....so masi, just relax! transfer your area of interest somewhere else.

(2)If by default i happened to be fair, do not punish me with the uncalled for attention of your 'yogya' nephew, bua! I hate him and his liberal hovering eyes on every girl who happens to inhabit your locality, and on his "oh so important! contacts" on networking sites ....test his 'yogyata' not on his All India Rank but the actual content of his "upper compartment"

(3)And, last but not the least of all, mami, please stop sponsoring me as a branded commodity out of a "convent school"! There is much more in my life than accomplishing the mundane act of marriage(or should i say institutionalized prostitution in more than one cases...if not all....ha ha! such a sadist i am! I just love to strike them dumb with such jargon!!!!!!)

(4)As a parting assertion, Maa and Papa! Stop falling prey to these good for nothing relatives and see who is more important for you!

It feels good to vent out your anger! Aha! Now i can think and not randomly blabber.......

One of the really amusing part of "the" sociey which continues to interest me is the obscene amount of attention given to the idea of marriages in our country. Whether in a comparatively "less developed" state like Bihar, or the supposed "open" societies offered by metropolitan cities like Delhi, the amount of energy, resources and concern this business gets makes me wonder if our sole objective in life is to get "hitched'. Look at this, a simple love affair has to culminate in a "hapily ever after" marriage, a son or a daughter who has moved out of his or her home is expected to get back to his "roots", unchanged and unadulterated with new fangled ideas to obey his social mores and get tied to a match of his or her parents' choice. I do not deny that given the predominantly patriarchal set up as being the normative framework of life in this society and the matters of property rights and social stability, marriage is the expected and easy solution to living a smooth life.

I also do not deny that we have been so subtly and at times blatantly engineered to shape up ourselves within strict gender stereotypes that it is really difficult to move out and think of actually living a life beyond the scriptures of social programming.For instance, almost every girl in our society is trained from the nascent phase of childhood to becoming a flirt. If you have noticed carefully, the barbie doll culture, the idea of designer, strappy, short dresses in which girl kids are furnished today seems like a miniature teenage or adult lady being given the first lessons in looking pretty and sexy. Is it not the same version of how girls dress up for pubs and clubs? In the effort to deck up the "cute" little girl kids, what we end up doing is giving them a subtle lesson in "how to exploit your sexuality"? Similarly, the whole idea of introducing boys to "macho" hobbies like biking and car race and even a violent world of various video games is but to instill an idea of gendered consciousness of being heroic and manly in a pervert way. I remember being asked as a kid, being given one of my first lessons in feminine behaviour, to "talk soft" and not "shriek like a crow". I wonder had i really been an avid debator if my parents would have actually made me all sweet honey for a voice.

I have equal sympathy and empathy to all of us being victims to this gendered attitude on a pornographic scale. It is a guy who is supposed to woo his girl with diamonds, food bills, endless bouts of shopping spree and all of that. I wonder if this is actually (if reduced to dimunitive parallels) not prostitution of some order. In lieu of being "pampered", the girl is supposed to shower her non wavering, true love and appear all beautiful and pretty to her guy's social circles. Is is an idea on both the counts to "show off" the catches they have managed to get for themselves among peers and in the personal domain, prostitute their respective resources to the service of each other.

Needless to say, the ideas around and behind this gradual programming of the human self in strict gender terms is bolstered by the movies we watch(hollywood) included, the package of moral values we are fed on since our birth, the kind of education we receive and the kind of job profiles we "choose". Even after all the hyped up notion around being a feminist (that by and large invariably leads to male bashing in barring a few but almost all cases), why is it that the calls of militant feminism comes from the intellectual wing of women primarily and not the ones at the grassroots about whose lives these distant, observant, feminists comment upon? Is it not worth noticing that the housemaid in our homes are the ones who battle it out with "the" society and enter into challenging job profiles of say cooking for a group of bachelors in "the big bad world" of potential rapists at the cost of experiencing the wrath of their husbands of even boyfriends, each day? One the other hand are the sophisticated self- proclaimed feminists who prefer to settle with a "respectable" job profile in a "respectable" society that arranges their marriage or nods apprehensively to love matches. Where is the battle and who fights it out tough? Who exercises more agency? And is it substantial fighting it out?

The point that i tried to put forth is this. We really need to go beyond the prevalent discourses of freedom and choice and norms and expected modes of conduct to see for ourselves what we are ready to settle with. In the process of doing so, we also need to get prepared to slander ourselves for our own politics of ease and convenience in choosing one and not the other. We need to be ready to be able to say that "Yes! we are hypocrites by choice! may be because it makes things lot easier............."

That is all maa and pa and that is all i can at the maximum submit to....