on feminism/kabaddi

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.

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9 thoughts on “on feminism/kabaddi

  1. Hi,

    Well written. You do have a point about women being disrespectful to other women, which is very common among feminist intellectuals. But, i think so much of their attitude has to do with their insecurities in life and ofcourse competition. Its rare to find educated women, working women who feel secure and confident about their achievements, enough to engage with other women with respect, a sense of equality and camaraderie.

    More so, when two Muslim women working in the same/similar fields encounter each other. One’s achievements seem to be undermined by the ‘other’s’.

  2. Thanks anon.I’m glad to have someone engage with this piece because at face-value it seems hateful and rude.But what I’ve felt is true.I am justified in my anger because we have a long way to go as women in accepting each other’s work, and drawing from it.

  3. When I read her work, closely I realise that it is important, but that you cannot pit one woman against another in a situation where there are anyway very few feminist writers and that too from a minority community, not to mention the fact that there has to be a feminist understanding that draws from the work that we produce.
    But beyond that, we have to begin to take each other seriously at first, and understand the sexual politics later.

  4. And I’m still angry.It would make a lot of sense to complicate things, which is what this article is trying to do, and strangely enough, I find that the Indian intelligentsia( which is a rather amorphous term) is either not interested or too steeped in the travails of living in our difficult political climate.
    It’s hard to exist in a system where you are denied any recognition of your mental and physical resources and from pursuing your vocation,the other struggles notwithstanding.

  5. Interesting critique…however, in as much as i agree with most aspects of the chatterati/litterati circuits of Mumbai and Delhi…I may add that your own critique comes from a highly elite academic backround. Heavily jargonised lingo is often inaccessible to a lot of people. That’s an issue with most academicians. The irony of it all as I see it is that even in the 21st century to be an artist, writer, academician or a cultural practitioner you have to adorm the status of a demigod or a pseudo celebrity to be taken seriously. I wonder if this is the case with the west where if someone is concerened about voicing an issue and creates a project which iinvolves participation of the people at large, it will not again (as is so often the case in India) be inscribed back in a gallery space. The whole purpose is to liberate it from the very same shackles of elitism which it has historically been. And yet most of the eminent/celebrated artists/contemporary Indian artists are akin to Page3 Bollywood stars. It’s an inane incestutous space they seem to inhabit. And that can be as stifling if not more than the literatti that you speak about. Pardon the digression, but there needs to be space for all kinds of people to express themselves here and everywhere. One doesn’t have to be a product of an elite art school or humanities university. Besides, feminsists need to realise that they are human first, while fighting their causes, the humanist aspect is often completely overlooked. Why should one speak a certain language, which is so exclusivist and codified? That itself is the most delluded heights of eltisim!

  6. Increasingly the term “elite” itself is coming to acquire multiple meanings. It si very relative to the context. I often find new-age activists spouting so much jargon. It’shigh time, people realise that they themselves are not empowered enough. How can they fight someone else’s cause? Rather there is empathy, however, sometimes it makes us sit up and wonder about who is the real underdog!!

    The problem here as you’ve hinted in your piece is that there is a lack of respect for the culture of sharing…and more so in the arts and cultural spheres. Which is why often the west is so liberating. Everything there is not valued on the basis of it’s capacity to generate revenue. How different are these upcoming and established self-styled celebrity artists from the ilk of the poets and writers of tinsel town. They may very well ensconse their stuff in ploitical correctness…however one often wonders — is it at the end of the day the only way to acknowldege the fact that as artists safely insulated and shielded from the dirt and sleaze of the real world, how much of the social critique comes from grounded engagement, which to many others seems like the incapability of being able to deal with the outside world or more complicated forms of life.

    1. Its been more than six months since this conversation and I’d like to continue it.There are things in there that you were hinting at that I think are interesting.
      This is an interesting point you make about engaging with the real world.I often wonder if we really can and whether we are so lost in fighting stances and performing them to an imaginary approving or reproachful audience that we forget to engage with the ‘objects’ of our inquiry as if they were human or as if they were people.
      What art project are you referring to?

  7. Hi,
    Thanks for the comments and I beg to differ on certain points.First of all, the word ‘elite’ comes from a certain history of feudalism and the French Revolution and Marxism.Now it is one thing to speak the word, while if you set out to understand where it came from , then you would have to seek the money, the time and the resources to allow yourself to do it.
    But I agree with you that you do not have to go an elite school (whatever that is, I mean a school is a school and there are good ones and not so so good ones and there are a whole lot of complexities when it comes to schools and colleges) to be able to work or think in the humanities, but everybody needs to figure out a certain set of interests, and directions for their work to take, and to locate it in the context of other contemporary work, and it helps if you give yourself time and space to do that, with or without a school.

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