I dislike people who have no respect. Feminist or otherwise. And when you meet women who are in culture who don’t acknowledge the work that you have done and treat you with indifference or hatred or contempt then you could consider them ignorant and question their political leanings. When you come across men who are in culture who are rabidly common then it just becomes part of all that you have been through and must get over.When you meet women in culture who call themselves feminist and have no obvious excuse for their disrespect then you just laugh and try to make sense of it all.
I’m trying to ward off this person right now.She is like a parasite gnawing at my mind.And no amount of offense tends to affect her or make her seem to get the message.I cannot understand how this person moves around guilelessly in civilised society being as incorrigible and thick skinned as she is.And her constant prying voice seems to follow me everywhere I go, it’s like she’s a demon at my heel.And petty as they are, she seems to think that her opinions matter , and I’m left wondering at the spate of things in the cultural mileu of Mumbai and India.
When you make art or create work you open your mind out to people, which allows for the values you espouse to be replicable, but what seems to be happening here is an entirely different thing.
I have come across her in many instances, but I haven’t read all her work, and since I’m aware of some of it I was nice enough to engage her in conversation, although in many instances she seemed altogether rude and expressed very little empathy or understanding or willingness to engage with my work or me.The problem seems to stem from the fact that here you have this person who is one of the main and most active members of an active and perhaps the most well known literary circle in the city who is actually really exclusionary and discriminatory and not just,she seems to have an alarming lack of personal integrity.
I find myself somehow being put under the same habit with her.Maybe because we work with similar issues, which is understandable, all women in India working in culture at this time find themselves straddling three or four matrices of class, caste, gender, and communalism. But our work is different.I for example work with five or six different media for her one established mode of writing.While mine has already deconstructed gender and some of my work has deployed gender as a mere performative construct from a feminist perspective while one doesn’t see her breaking out of a gendered role in her work.In her poetry and her writing for example one comes across a seamless, comfortably situated stance, entirely at peace with itself.When she does engage with these issues on her blog she does so in a very teacherly, conversational way, which I suppose is understandable because it’s a blog and she has a background as a journalist.And in being placed on some sort of weighing scale with her I find myself restricted and dealing with petty,trivial, annoying and irritating non-issues.It seems as if all the issues that matter to younger feminists in India are just white-washed into our ten or twenty creative ways of dealing with street sexual harassment, all part of a hullabaloo which is caustic in it’s blindness to everything other than the victim stance, including caste, class and gender.Or I find myself confronting absurd allegations such as a discomfort with the English language which just goes to show the intellectual level at which this conversation is taking place..I may have worked and lived in relative isolation for two and a half years in a small town, and forgive me for having taken the trouble to understand India and broaden both the horizon and the vocabulary.And coming from people who with barely any background in criticism or theory this is entirely laughable and leaves me wondering if all you needed to be a writer was to have a flair for language and a journalistic and reporterly approach then why take the trouble to study these disciplines any further at all, or why give them such significance in our lives.And since when is mere journalistic work a measure of one’s literary or artistic merit?
This argument takes me back to the time when I was making decisions about what to study in college.A lot of people’s suggestions seemed to mirror the attitude that if you’re a woman and you are intelligent and sufficiently articulate then the only space from where you can actually make a difference or achieve a certain visibility in this country is the electronic and print media. The decision I made to study art and art-history has paid off for me and there isn’t a day when I regret it, although art history is seen by some as an inactive and flippant discipline. Why people take the trouble to study theory, or religion, or history, or anthropology, or gender studies ,or political science is beyond me when its obvious that all it seems to take is to be ‘around’, and situate your work in some safe space of women’s writing, insulated from any real analysis or critique of race, colonialism, nationhood , the increasingly fascist state, or globalisation, or minority politics.What one finds in a state where communal politics anyway inhibits the growth of other cultures is that cultural production from minority identities becomes cosmetic and merely so, so it’s okay if you want to speak , but steer clear of the emancipatory politics or identity issues.And any real engagement with religion is impossible within the modern secularist framework, so essentially one is leaving out a vast majority of people for whom faith has a lived meaning, and for whom religion really provides both solace and rectitude.
As for the burning issue of Islam; there can be no real critique of contemporary Islam without engaging with its history, or its theological and legal frameworks, no matter how ancient you think they are.I find in her work no engagement with the history of Islam in India, or with its immense wealth of Islamic scholars, poets and reformists.You cannot attempt to understand a people without endowing them with any real philosophical or metaphysical relevance in the history of ideas or the history of religion.Instead of a willingness to draw from or work with the culture I find in her work mere cultural ramblings or musings about an abandoned world, even as she sits very glibly at a celebrated status as the only working Muslim woman writer in the city of Mumbai.And instead of being sensitive to your position there is an aggression and territorialism, not to mention the dirty sexual politics reeking of ignorance.So twenty years from now you will become the name they refer to when they refer to a particular painfully inescapable bracket, one that you in your immaturity have chosen to overwrite as unimportant or unworthy of engagement.Could it just be that you are incapable and unworthy of being in it? `
Nobody wants to digest the uncomfortable, culture is meant to make us proud, remind us of the joy of living, of how wonderful it is be alive. Culture is something that is created and sanctioned by those in power, so that it may whet their appetites for the good things in life.Culture is something which we are proud of. At the first Kala Ghoda Festival I attended, in 2008, I was stunned by how you could exist in cerebral disciplines whilst being separated from the larger world.In India it seems to have become the order of the day, and it’s a small wonder that the culture we produce in this country does not and cannot stand its ground at a global platform.Our films and our art have increasingly become a domestically viable product entirely devoid of soul, and circulated within elite circles and then dies a quick death, leaving us all smug and happy.
So while the rest of the chatterati swoon as she freely floats in your drool, I have work to do.Basta ya, spare me.