Edgy folk are defined by their openness to experiment and novelty of all kinds. This openness to meta-physical and material evolution crosses over to permaculture in a popular, transcendence-inducing topic called the edge effect. Simply put an edge is a junctional area between two ecological zones, which attracts bio diversity as these borderlands combine the qualities and species of the two zones that meet here, often leading to the evolution of micro climates and new species.
I must be bizarro world’s Arundhati Roy. Opening up the weekend paper a few days ago, there, spread across four pages was every minute detail of Roy’s new book, from how the cover got made to how many translations were in the works. It must have induced the green-eyed monster in me to open up its beady little jade eyes. Hence the following.
We only ever hear stories of success, also known as the survivorship bias, and never hear from those who failed. Well, I failed, and even if my story does not inspire anyone it could perhaps contain a kernel of value. My book did not get published. Although its manuscript was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary prize in 2009. Immediately after this announcement, a leading Indian literary critic wrote in a column that a manuscript longlisted for the Man Asian Literary prize does not mean much. Though she did not say so in these exact words, she more or less said only the shortlist that follows matters as it weeds out the chaff. After the shortlist came out, I realised I was human chaff. Ultimately, only getting published is of merit. But in India, perhaps elsewhere, getting published is about effective networking. This means that the writer either needs to market themselves, move in the right closed-publishing-group circles, know the right people, so that the powers-that-be will give you a reasonable hearing.
But we will continue to insist it’s 2017 as we cannot ignore the calendar year, although we do consistently ignore what is going on around us. Loud, aggressive groupthink is spreading through the air waves and we have been subsumed. There are few left here to sound the voice of dissent or resistance. Even Bob Dylan has finally accepted his Nobel, that most establishment of awards.
We have atavised. Once a globe, an earth. Now we are but a sum of our tribes. Vanished is that pale blue dot. Banished. Into the darkness.
Something very complicated happens when we speak. Vocal cord vibrations are modulated by the snaky movements of a little appendage called the tongue. Twisting around the mouth cavity, tapping on the roof or on teeth-backs up front, it shapes sounds before they exit the mouth’s mini echo chamber. The hewed-out sounds have travelled a long way from cords to eardrums and then brain. When these sounds at long last go through the brain’s transliteration engine other connotations are spliced in, en route to final meaning. The way we speak reveals a lot about us. Read the transcript or listen to Meghan Sumner, Associate Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University, speak in this Freakonomics podcast. The revelations that other people have about us can be biased. The accent of your speech may cause the person listening to reduce you to a stereotype.
The act of sleeping seems to paralyse vocal cord functions. When fear grips me in the dark of the night I call out in my sleep. But no words come forth from my sleeping form. What comes out instead is a ghoulish primeval sound akin to the word for mother, a sound that goes back to the evolutionary origins of the human species.
Gravity piles it on top of itself, floating, then falling, adding layer on unabating layer, never stopping. The dust that envelops us all is almost Shakespearean in character. It’s minute and ephemeral, but can bury whole civilisations under its weight. When the sun lights it up in delicate animated motes, it is even beautiful.
I live every day inside a tower of Babel. That’s what it feels like as I stroll about the Indian cities I have lived in, acclimating to a new language with every move, being an outsider, the alien in the crowd. Around me I hear only babble. If I murmur, they tell me, sometimes reasonably and sometimes with hostility, why don’t you learn our language? I am privy to only so much of anyone’s culture that the few kind people are willing to translate, explain to me. I chose English as a raft to guide me along, through this many-tongued sea.
As a teenager, I once confessed my choice to a teacher and regretted my moment of candour immediately, as she said if you choose English you will never belong, anywhere. Maybe a few months afterwards, I would come across a poem in the library. A verse from this poem by Indian author Kamala Das went up on a wall in my bedroom. It was my answer to everyone. The part that interested me talked of why the poet was determined to write in English, no matter what other people thought of her decision. What follows is the relevant verse from the poem ‘An Introduction’,
by Kamala Das:
….“I am Indian, very brown, born in Malabar,
I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one.
Don’t write in English, they said, English is
Not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends, visiting cousins,
Every one of you? Why not let me speak in
Any language I like? The language I speak,
Becomes mine, its distortions, its queernesses
All mine, mine alone.
It is half English, half Indian, funny perhaps, but it is honest,
It is as human as I am human, don’t
You see? It voices my joys, my longings, my
Hopes, and it is useful to me as cawing
Is to crows or roaring to the lions,….” Continue reading Why English
The hardest thing to do is to come out from behind the glass walls of the tribe. You become so good at covering up, appeasing, never telling on its members, even when you know there is something wrong with the picture. As members of a tribe, glass walls of silence are built around us, the dominant among us think it’s safe to do what they want, get way with it, anyone who has felt their tyranny know to keep silent as they will be violating an unwritten social contract by telling.
You can scream, but no one can hear you through the glass walls. That is where feminism came in a generation ago. It broke through and told on everyone. But there was a price to pay, to come out and tell, for trying to upend the social order. Blowback. Things have come to such a pass that even the word feminism is now tainted with unflattering nuances. It now needs UN campaigns and celebrities to reclaim its place in the world.
I write in search of expiation. This is a piece I had wanted to write more than any other, but one that turned out to be the most intimidating to attempt. The effects of a lifetime wracked with guilt for not doing what is the norm won’t easily wear off. A norm that instinct tells you is deeply prejudiced even if socially sanctioned.
I wanted to tell a story in novel form. One evening years ago, as I wrestled with how to turn my favourite archaeological mystery into fiction, I remember, my husband and I were standing at a white porcelain kitchen sink. Swirling around our little apartment was the political debate of the time emanating from a focal television set.
The argument on TV was about the differing versions of history, and which among them were more right than others. In my country, we had been used to a condescending socialist school syllabus, which, by the time I was standing at our kitchen sink, began to be called leftist by those who were right of centre. They had gained in power and were now calling for an amended history to be taught in schools. They believed children needed to be in touch with their traditions and not be apologetic about their customs.