March 3, 2017

My Fascist and I

-          March 3, 2017

This anthro life
Mis-anthro life
Ms. Anthro Life
Piss anthrolife
I miss you
Monsieur Anthro
You taught me to revisit my cultural assumptions
My underpinnings
My overtones
My Ps, Qs, Rs, and so on
Wear the Empathetic Hat
For the suffering of peoples
And their bald revolts
And their hunched shoulders
And their pins and needles
I eat burnt eggs
And sugary chai
For breakfast
And contemplate the rise of Fascism.

What is Fascism? I ask.
You tell me it is governance based on the innermost blackness of souls.
Words trickle into my chai
As do the grey skies
And burnt cigarettes
And old love affairs.
I want to see my black soul
My soul in its hidden black corner
I want to see my Fascist
Greet her
Kiss her
Kill her
And live with the shrouded corpse
In a cold castle
My Fascist and I
My manic and I
Locked away

In deadness.

December 30, 2016

Stop the music

I switched off the music. For it was jangling against my live wounds.
I switched off the music. For it was singing praise of the enemy.
This beautiful noise
Is a curse
The noise and snapshot of a beautiful dream
A dream that felt like you were swaying on a boat
A boat that quivered in the autumn air
And an ugly ship that kicked a tumultuous wave
I switched off the music for I wanted to get off the boat
It kept swaying in my head.
My head against the red pillow.
My head the echo-chamber of painful sobs.
Interjected by the beat of hip-hop
Strung together in lilting sarangi
What is this beautiful accompaniment?
A boat that will not stop swaying in the wind.
I want to get off.

Stop the music.

December 29, 2016

Never enough money, never enough love

We are trapped in the fantasmic economy of a promise of the ‘good life’ – all the while grappling with the time of not-enough, not-good-enough, decay, exhaustion, ruination. Never enough money, never enough love – says Lauren Berlant (2011). But there is the ever-receding promise of perfect love, perfect life, tiny house with a garden, cherubic children, mild autumns and the rising dough of bread. It is the promise, however fanciful, however hegemonic, that forms the drive-force of life. Berlant unpacks the feeling of insecurity of living at the margins as the acute feeling of wanting to get inside the economy of opportunity and fantasies that drive it – they want to be exploited, she says – just so they are in the game.

Moved by Berlant’s powerful words, I think of a drunken conversation many years ago on a cold night in New York that I compared the subway station to a gamestation. When you are in it, you have to play by the rules, it’s litte hits and misses make sense, its losses and gains cause mirth and dismay. In the end, you have to come out and it all seems like it was a passing reverie, it couldn’t really have been real or urgent.  The night ended in a predictable crack of dreams – as if it had not even occurred. But the reverie retained its marks on my consciousness. I learnt not to take dreamlike experiences seriously any more. It gave me a sense of balance between the here and the there.

It is this urgency of being in the inside of reverie and its many folds that I wish to address, and, of course, the attendant pain of being ejected out of reverie. Capital unfolds an acute register of optimism and forces us to participate in dreamworlds, I agree with Berlant here. But my provocation would be that capital’s is not the only (perhaps, it is the most forceful at this historical moment) dreamworld playing on our minds. The lives and words of many are not organized around hegemonic promises and the painful experience of ‘never enough money, never enough love’. And the painful experience of diminishing, exhausting, never-occurring perfections are the very ladder that we climb and un-climb to live between this material, immediate world and others. This is a pain that consciousness burdens us with.

 ‘….husn jaana ki taarif mumkin nahi…’ Rahat sings as I write this – it is impossible to praise/describe the beauty of my love. It is this impossibility that we must and do revel in. It is the na-mumkin that expands the canvases of our being, only given names and places by capital, but existing in myriad hues and textures and dimensions. We are not yet entirely enslaved by capital, I would say to Berlant.

December 16, 2016

Ode to the North Wind

At the Back of the North Wind by LumiLumiThe heat roars on. It is the defensive voice of a paternal authority. The cold perhaps is the temptress. That bitch. With a carefully crafted, lethal power. You know it will sting you. Still you want to touch it. Your fingers are tingling. Tagore whines in the background. And a ghoulish voice of the feminist artiste. If ever there was a bourgeois apocalypse, this is it. You drown in soft holiday spirits. Naturally, think of home and hearth. Lost loves. Perhaps new ones. Ones that look like the old ones. Corpses of cigarettes lay as testimony to the cruel power of the north wind. These cigarettes had tried to burn. And burn they did. But they fought a gallant battle like little foot soldiers. Their death brought you false tears. Crocodiles had actually cried, their tears had been soaked into their dry scales. You sip some more holiday music. From someplace warm. Where they wear bright colors. Where the war even looks pretty. On the internet. You like wars. They make you want to do things. Get out into the north winds lashes. The north wind mocks you. You look at the dead cigarettes. Their deaths were necessary to bring you prolonged survival. It was sad that they died. They must have had wives and children inside the paper boxes. And what of that? Everyone is mourned by someone. Who mourns the death of the north wind?

November 13, 2016

Letter to the Moslem

I write to you today
To a picture of you rather
You wear a cape
And ride through the desert
Kick up winds
Your horse is thirsty
The middle age sands have curdled on the shores
Of the blue-green sea
M – m-may –de-e
The broken shores of Alexandria
The boulevards of Paris
The dunes of misr
Holy stones
Turbans capes
Figs walnuts
Wives brothers
You enchanted
You conquered
In His name.
Your beard is grey now
Your step unsteady
Your strange papers in tatters
Your tongues torn
Your lovemarks erased from the stones
Your truths locked up
Your friends shun you
Your god is a failed state
Your gaze upon the horizon
In truth you loved
You loved more than they could imagine the possibility of four letters
You have seven words for love, don’t you?
I heard that in a movie
That’s how much you know to love
Tell them.
Now is the time.
There is no time.
Show us your seven loves.
Show us show us.

August 28, 2016

Clothing and its Discontents

I watched the Qandeel Baloch murder on the internet – first in anger, then in confusion, then in surprise. A young girl’s heinous death at the hands of her brother turned into an internet festival, not dissimilar from the Nirbhaya rape of December 16, 2012 in Munirka, Delhi. The feminine personalities at hand are entirely different. Nirbhaya was trying to get an education and eke out a living as a medical professional in Delhi. She carried the respectable expectations of her middle-class family. Except one day she took a bus at night. Qandeel craved fame and power. Un-respectable things for women to crave, even strive for. She took to the internet and an active use of her sexuality in order to generate fame and finagle a ticket to the world of celebrity. This was not alright for someone of her socio-economic strata to do, someone who had been married young and was the mother of a child. It is women like her that are supposed to become beneficiaries of upliftment programs, companies’ affirmative action programs, NGO-fodder for ‘violence against women’. Always the passive recipient of care – one whose destiny is determined by others. Qandeel rejected that image. In ways that struck many custodians of societal morality as ‘vulgar’. What kind of a feminist was Qandeel? My friend Sarover wrote on Facebook,
the relationship between feminism and sexuality is a complicated one.
if complicit to patriarchy it is oppressive,& sometimes if explicit, still continues to be complicit to patriarchy.even when we choose the liberator discourse we land up in the other jail set up for feminine, namely the exploitative gaze.i wonder if there is a way out. the same conditions do not hold for men. liberation does not depend on displaying the libido or hiding it. male space as much more an agnostic space of being, body and becoming. but our history is tainted with honor killings, mutilation, abuse and extreme conditions of oppression and exploitation. so the testament continues, the near irrational imbalance of liberatory celebratory sexuality as commodity, on one hand and the vile, vicious and violence of the everyday forms of patriarchy on the other.”

Sarover is right, in a way. And she is definitely a fire-breathing feminist. Let us examine Sarover’s argument quite carefully – she is saying, that the ability or intention to display libido should not be considered a measure of feminism. It is not. I agree with Sarover, especially in her critique of the western triumphalist in challenging and showing as un-modern, the social fabric of the Other. My only addendum there would be that women’s bodies are necessarily interpreted through the rubric of male desire and male anxiety about male desire. It has been said in feminist discourse, enough times, that female bodies are constructed as passive, devoid of the capacity to desire. But the furore over women’s definite acts of showing or hiding libido causes tremendous anxiety within all kinds of patriarchal structures as it shows women becoming live, definitive subjects. So I am not going to participate in the argument over which women is feminist and to what extent. The argument has already gone around showing that women who observe karvachauth, or give up their jobs for domesticity can also be ‘feminist’. My emphasis is on showing how paranoia ensues when women emerge as subjects, push back against a force, show the existence of an inner will, talk or observe silence to make their point of view known, embrace publicness where privacy is expected, embrace privacy when publicness is expected. Societies, of varying grades of patriarchy, allocate varied roles for different groups of women – thus, the wife and the slut are co-produced with different sexual and social functions satisfying diverse needs of men.
Qandeel disturbed this arrangement – at least in the perspective of her brother. The thousands of men who googled her and voyeurised on her internet-presence saw her role differently though, but narrated their disapproval according to societal expectation. Nirbhaya did something that disturbed her perceived role as a young woman in the city of Delhi. Took a bus in the evening. I disagree with much of the conversation around gender justice that takes a particular object of clothing and a particular act of movement and frames it in judgment of the quantum of violence or restraint attached to it by patriarchy. My point is that the patriarchal disavowal cannot be seen in a single object or act alone  - it must be seen in accordance with what perceived set of expectations for that particular woman (in her socio-economic location) are. For instance, on Indian roads and public spaces, the same clothes that pass the threshold of judgment on non-Indian-looking (often meaning mainland India, excluding the north-east) women, will not pass the threshold for Indian, or ‘local’ women. In this hypothetical example, different sets of expectation are being pinned on different women based on their ethnic, racial and cultural origin as understood by those casting the male gaze.

In this context, we come to the latest incident of the police forcing a woman to strip from her burkini on the beach of Nice, France. The burkini being similar to the wetsuit is not the talking point here. For it is not the wetsuit. It is a garment women, given their communitarian circumstances, have chosen to wear in order to the enjoy the pleasure of water-sport in keeping with the religiously coded modesty regulations that are cast on their bodies. The burkini, therefore, becomes a site of two patriarchies battling it out. One saying you’re weird and you should not be seen among our midst. The other saying if you show your skin to other men, you disrupt my claim to honor since you’re my wife, mother, daughter – my kin-territory. Strangely, I think, the police’s abhorrence of the burkini have not as much to do with the perceived submissive role played by Muslim women, but to do with their disruption of the culturally coded aesthetic of the ‘beach’. A site of peculiar westernized mode of pleasure and sexual expression. The same women could have worn their Muslim dress and stood behind a counter in a shopping mall, it would perhaps be okay. But they dared to come out on the beach in Nice. Where the west is enacting its westest self. It’s like if a woman wore a bikini to a Hindu temple. It’s a spatial disruption that this woman’s garment had inadvertently caused.

When we incessantly compare western women and non-western women’s practices and cultural codes, especially in the garb of intersectional feminism, we forget that in the grid of culture and gender there is a complicated, systematic division of images, perceptions, expectations allocated on the bodies and minds of different women. Some women are expected to lend their bodies for male aggrandizement, if they turn celibate – there will be much consternation. Other women are supposed to be submissive wives and use their sexuality entirely towards reproduction of the family and the clan. Their alteration of roles and images, as we have seen, in the Baloch case, causes violent reactions. We must, in assessing these cases, see all the women as serving diverse needs of the patriarchal machine, and their purposeful or inadvertent subversive acts causing much perplexion which at times culminates in brutality. We must also remember that a larger political and masculine battle among several imperial actors is being carried out for sovereignty over land, culture, resource and discourse. The violence on women’s bodies, is necessarily, woven into that larger battleground.

July 14, 2016

Morning Dead

We make sport out of the dead
Art with our scalpel
Food in our skillet
The dead are our friends
Our food
Dead labour served up in pricetags
Dead bodies on our forks
But we look at them dead
And we shriek
We want them everywhere in our lives
Except in the morning news
Staring back at us
Eyes turned out
Flesh fallen out
Blood spattered
We like our dead to be pretty
Not like this
We don’t like our dead raw
Give us this day our daily dead

Lord don’t give them to us in the news.