Monday, February 23, 2015

Some thoughts on Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and on various responses to it

The problem with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and its 'illuminating' depictions of Africa is that it has nothing to do with Africa. The story could have taken place in China, India, London, or even in a lunatic asylum. The problem remains that even if Conrad-campers defend it as an exposition of European ills/diseases (thus an indictment of a European Mess), they miss the point—in saying this, Cedric Watts, for example, does not counter Chinua Achebe’s criticisms of the book: (1) that black people are dehumanized, (2) that the exposition of European diseases does not (as claimed by defense) indict colonizers for violence and brutality, because its depiction in Heart of Darkness scarcely illustrates such with a view to the fundamental human dignity of those trespassed against, merely as the unkindness unbecoming of a true 'Son of Civilization' towards the uncomprehending, simple, inhuman, savage, helpless bumpkin, jumping, whirling, making "horrid faces," without any language, culture, civilization, humanity, and (3) that there is no obvious statement or truth, nor an alluded-to esoteric mystery available in the book which redeems its defense (that Conrad is really on your side, Chinua, Heart of Darkness is a brother of Things Fall Apart) because, again, the story is not about Africa, and thus has as little claim to it as its original colonizers. In Achebe’s own words, “my humanity is not to be debated,” nor can I be expected to accept Conrad’s apparently demonstrated, so-called humanity of the 'monsters' that Marlow encounters, which was haphazardly illustrated to elicit the understanding of European ills for a European audience, to throw them into sharp relief; again, for Conrad, these ills not in themselves ill, nor because of the misery they inflict on fellow human beings, but because these ills are unbecoming of 'Exalted Europe.'

This book is about an appeal to the same Europe, a call to its 'Exalted Finer Sensibilities,' to rise from the moral decrepitude of capitalist venture that is like the "monstrous" 'things' on the Congo’s banks. It simply does not do to try to spin this attitude of Conrad’s as an indictment of the Imperialist project’s brutality because it is not illustrated as such—just as "black fellows" dying off one by one, Conrad and his defense pontificating on human cruelty when those against whom these crimes are perpetrated in the book are vehemently denied the luxuries of human attributes by Conrad. It does not do to use this as a defense because it is absolutely and indisputably immaterial what European Imperialist 'savior' suffered in the depths of the Congo's forests—this unraveling has no need of 'Africa' and of "black fellows" to inevitably take place, because 'Africa' and "black fellows" do not figure as actual forces of any consequence in Conrad’s work, nor to Europe’s forays. Conrad/Kurtz has no need of 'Africans' or any other miscellaneous "natives" at the savage beginnings of time and the earth to discover their rot.

There is no objection to the characterization of Conrad as a masterful writer/manipulator of language producing certain desired effects on his readers to keep them in thrall--this is irrelevant. There is not much doubt that Conrad’s project is to half-heartedly throw light on the dubious purpose and implications of the Imperialist venture (but only for whites because 'tsk-tsk, really, they know better than this'). Africa has figured as a "comforting myth" because 'We in Europe from upon our pedestal know better than to succumb to the darkness in us, that which we see in 'Africa' in the "black fellows" who "want no excuse for being there," because we, after all, are rational and believe in purpose, and belong here. Which is why we must see, Brother White Man, that this foray into savage lands endangers us, because to kill as we have done there, we only become like the savage man, with whom we share a terribly distant and eerily obvious kinship we must strive to stand far above.'

But, if the story is indeed about Africa, as Achebe’s critics are quick to assert, its backdrop of Africa has no place in Conrad’s so-called indictment, just as the Colonial/Imperialist venture had no place in the rest of the world, and for the unraveling of Kurtz, then, I feel nothing—I am, after all, unfeeling, inhuman, monstrous, in Conrad’s odyssey, jumping, stomping, whirling on the shore, in thrall to grotesque and savage custom, against which he displays surprise that even as a cannibal I can honor a business contract. I am a caged animal at the zoo, passed by with half-interest by a wealthy visitor, turning tricks as a shadow of nothingness, a shadow of Kurtz’s sickness and disease, out of which Shining Europe has agonizingly emerged, virtue intact, speaking to its indisputable 'goodness.' Watts responds to Achebe’s concern for Conrad's 'message' and moral undertaking: "As there are numerous great literary works, from Juvenal’s Satires to Waiting for Godot, in which white people are treated harshly, we should not rule out the possibility of a masterpiece in which blacks are treated harshly." Dumbfounded exasperation aside, let me point out that in the former category, we have works written by and for one powerful group and within the limits of its own world in such a way as to appeal to a 'common' human dignity, or a human condition, if you like, the point being that there is, in this category, the firm understanding that all parties involved are worthy to be be exactly that: involved. It takes into account and provides its actors a substantive existence, regardless of who is treated "harshly": it is, essentially, about individuals. The latter, on the other hand, has almost exclusively been about the ridiculing, mocking, dehumanizing, obliterating efforts of the world by and for the 'White Man': the globalized power structure of classism and institutionalized racism is never of consequence to the world of the first category.

Of course Conrad’s context explains much of his attitude in the book, but it does not redeem him—consider Shakespeare’s finding humanity in Shylock, in Othello, in Caliban, in the context of his time. That being said, Conrad was, at least, some kind of a product of his time. We from the late 20th to the present have found ourselves in very different times, for Europe, and certainly for the formerly colonized world. It is traditional to accord Conrad the honors he is currently in possession of for Heart of Darkness, and for a long time we taught it as he would have intended it to be read, with a sort of antipathy in his words, because for Europe, he illustrated (until very recently) what it ‘knows’ about the 'wasteland' that lies beyond its borders—Achebe thus called him the “purveyor of comforting myths”—Why do I know this? Because Achebe’s demand (and, for that matter, my own) is for his reading of a canonical work to be regarded with the same respect as any other European reading—not a request, a demand. That has not met with much high-minded democratic ideal of cooperation (as of 2013, many academics fail to understand--perhaps wilfully--his position and "sadly" criticize him for it). So, to Watts, it was never a straightforward claim nor has there ever been an insinuation in Achebe’s words that 'Africans' alone may respond credibly to Conrad. It is that they have as much a right to respond to him as you do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On a quitting self-determinism

That Socrates says "γνῶθι σεαθτόν, for an unexamined life is not worth living,” does not mean the life-affirming moral-purposive, ‘self-discovery’ claim of ‘finding oneself’ that everyone makes it out to be, whether or not the Existentialists (as my philosophy teacher proclaimed today) are inspired by the thought, because even if they were, they are not reacting to the modern pop-psychology-suffused, self-centered world views we are bred on in this day and age. I have a moderately inspired philosophy teacher who is quite mistaken, as far as I understand, to treat it in this way.

Regardless, it is most likely not even something Socrates actually said (γνῶθι σεαθτόν, that is)—and it seems the so-called quote only takes on any kind of gravitas because we are led to associate it with the man. Neither should my teacher make the vast and incorrect (in my limited understanding) leap that Socrates means, “there is no use asking about the motion of the cosmos because does knowing that make me a better person?” because the biggest error in arriving at this, is that that is not at all Socrates’ concern—the idea of people tempering and improving themselves to pursue ‘justness’ needs to be used in context, because first of all, there is no conception of the individual in ancient Greece as an individual; that is, he must train himself to be “just” and that is done solo, but he does not have an individual ‘will’ or ‘calling’ to be discovered, or a volition which can be thought of as a moral compass as it were, because, second, Socratic thought can only be called an system of ethical thought/a system of ethics insofar as it pertains to the maintenance of some kind of standard order or “justice” in the universe in this way; it may even help to think of it as a structural integrity, if you compare it to the similar Vedic system in ancient India.

Therefore, Socratic and other Greek philosophies are not relevant on an individual level in that sense. So the Existentialists, in talking about "the human condition,” appeal to a similar state of being emerging from/constituted by/spontaneously and randomly forming an 'order' or a ‘universal' or an organization of sorts, only insofar as it is something all humans are born into and struggle with, this “existence.” So this holds even when we concede that Existentialists are not concerned with this on the level of humanity but on an individual level, because the only resolution possible for them is an individual one.

Lastly, I struggle to accept the proposition that Socrates was a “moral philosopher” (my teacher says) in the way we seem to understand it because 'morality' as we understand it is, again, concerned with an internal damning and elevation—very Christian, in fact.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meditation and major digression on a pretty random writing prompt I detested

Write about a jewelry box.

One would probably only find a jewelry box in homes of the moderately well-off and rising. Jewelry boxes tend to be either subtly crafted, functional, understated, or overly ornate, gilded, with lots of metalwork or precious stones and mineral laid into the outside (and even inside) of the box. The ubiquity of costume jewelry seems to be a fairly recent phenomenon, however, and therefore costume-jewelry-boxes, as it were, must also be such. They may be multi-layered, mirrored, or lined with velvet. I myself have seen only two or three of what may really be called jewelry boxes in my life, and very briefly, as well--they never contained very valuable adornments; those were locked away most of the time. My mother owns a small, darkish-pearl-gray box very lightly etched with a small miniature in its center with geometrical, winding vines of gray wisps extending to a rectangle about half a centimeter away from the lid’s edges. My grandmother, as well, has a small, yellow porcelain box almost of the dimensions of a ring box, perhaps slightly taller and wider, a small, faded painting of a rose on its lid, with a very narrow gold edging along the meeting of the lid and the body. She keeps a silver-chain amethyst pendant in it, which she pulls out from time to time to ask me to wear on auspicious occasions.

My mother’s was the first one I had seen. It mostly contained quality costume jewelry, a few earrings or a necklace my father had bought her when they were both somewhat penniless journalists, along with a ring here and a bracelet there she had been given her by her mother. I never had a fondness for jewelry per se, but I loved playing with the things in her box. She later gave me this box along with its contents, but I haven’t seen it for a while since I have been at boarding school. These things end up as invariably extraneous to any real interactions and events in my family, as does any kind of symbolism in thin-skinned India, to my mind. There has always been a lack of ceremony in my family, and perhaps in a way of falling on the side of tradition over traditionalism (hopefully so). But in India, we are wont to make the extraneous, the issue at hand.

But what do jewelry boxes symbolize? For many women who were married with a dowry in India (and the vast majority were) a gift of jewelry or precious, delicate little figurines and trinkets may have been the only things they could claim as theirs alone, in a new and unfamiliar home where they were expected to spend the rest of their days. It symbolized some sort of private comfort, maybe security, maybe it restored their faith in the future or gave them hope of escape. But in a film like Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam I am struck by the total desolation of a situation like that of Chhoti Bahu’s--the sterile, dream-like opium haze of her memories and her socialized end of existence in a husband to whom she may as well be a lampshade. The scene in which she sings, combs her hair, lines her eyes with kohl, wraps herself up in a gorgeous sari, and then opens a jewelry box slowly, with such joy and elation, breaks my heart. In any way, shape or form, women like her were trapped, they were ornaments, really.

It seems so passè to begin writing in this sequence about feminism--not to mention, how funny, extraneous--but I must, must, succumb to the urge and perhaps even make a sloppy analogy to the prompt to which I am responding. Feminism is not a movement ever proclaiming to speak for women globally--not historically, and not in the present. Feminism is a limited democratic ideology by white women, of white women, and for white women. Liberalism, natural-born rights, and other “[truths held] to be self-evident,” too, were not intended for “all men” and for the advantage of this part of the world so charmingly referred to as the “third world” until very recently--take President Woodrow Wilson’s reactions to African self-determinism, for instance. We have inherited a culture we don’t understand (celebrated as “syncretic” without an understanding of how little our history we have taken the time to contemplate the implications of), beginning with our obsequious kowtowing to prudish Victorian ideas of so-called “decency.” This has backfired to affect women most visibly, most pervasively, but also LGBTQ communities we fail to even mention in the liberal media.

Which is not to take a conservative position claiming very vehemently and with a desperation to make even myself believe that Bharat is sare jahan se accha and those goras came and destroyed it all--no. But we mimic, and necessarily so, given the lurch in which we left ourselves politically, economically, legally, when we proclaimed ourselves free men and women of the world in 1947. There needs to be a much bigger drive to reclaim history in India from the ground up--in a situation like that of the Raj, when one group controls in totality the lives of another, they also control the discourse and the narratives of the other group. Have we thought enough about what, really, is the “idea of India,” which we throw around so loosely? The most critical thing here--something we see ignored not only by the Hindu-leaning representatives of our ruling party but in all others as well--is that we fall not on the side of traditionalism, but tradition. The distinction is made by Jaroslav Pelikan: "Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering...that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition."

The solution is to recognize, at a fundamental level, that people are people, and forget the “this is the 21st century” argument, but let us think, for a second: someone decided that you were more worthy of acceptance and freedom and aspirations than someone else, who must be harrassed and whose qualities deplored. Who is to say that someone else doesn’t decide the opposite? Who is to say who is qualified? Are we going to accept, historically, that marginalized groups exist because they deserve what is given to them? What about Indians under the Raj? Let us not say respect a woman because she’s a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister--because besides being a sham argument and even ironical to assert. Some empathy would be nice. That Chhoti Bahu falls back on a jewelry box as the honey with which to catch her husband is not something I empathize with. Maybe I can visualize her using it to do something that rewards her--selling it all and moving away, maybe. Her life was handed to her encased in bronze metal work, and it stays there, in the film. Honestly, thank god for the internet. Demographically speaking, the next ten or fifteen years in India are golden. Maybe for a second disregarding its commodification, it is the great equalizer. Hopefully its success for us won’t be measured by a jewelry box.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A general confused rant on government akin to "fuck da police"

From the Tumblr shortformblog

"According to figures published by a major tech provider, the Internet carries 1,826 Petabytes of information per day. In its foreign intelligence mission, NSA touches about 1.6% of that. However, of the 1.6% of the data, only 0.025% is actually selected for review. The net effect is that NSA analysts look at 0.00004% of the world’s traffic in conducting their mission—that’s less than one part in a million. Put another way, if a standard basketball court represented the global communications environment, NSA’s total collection would be represented by an area smaller than a dime on that basketball court."

A line culled from a document by the NSA, justifying the scale of their collection programs. The document was one of two released by an Obama administration in an attempt to allay fears about the programs. Suffice it to say, the evidence isn’t super-convincing. Regarding the full document, Techdirt’s Mike Masnick writes this simple-but-effective phrase: ”This is guffaw inducing.” (via shortformblog)

The most ridiculous thing about this all is that it doesn't matter how much is looked at. I'm probably wrong, but I'd be willing to bet that most traffic consists of games, porn, instagram, twitter (which is public anyway), and sites like 9gag, 4chan, reddit, and the like. The information reviewed is a specific and incredibly unethical violation of privacy. It doesn't matter that there is a sliver of that information which is "touched" by the NSA, it's that it's touched at all--especially the personal information of the private citizens of other countries, to which governments like my own have NO response! In fact, it's safe to say India basically condoned this shit. There have to be clearly drawn lines and clearly defined ethical standards. They can snoop on the entire world (and Obama can brush off the scandal with "US-citizens are not affected") and violate privacy in a way that wasn't even conceivable of governments just a few years before (as in full compliance of the websites reviewed), and Angela Merkel can have an objection to it, Putin can have a firm opposition to their aggressive "diplomatic" pleas, and we kowtow to the United States and lick their shoes like we always do? Snowden applies for asylum in India and we reject him and are satisfied with a statement by John Kerry which calls Snowden, of all people, a traitor? Snowden is a traitor to a country whose president signed a policy into action which allows him to kill any of his own citizens without charge, without review, and without any judgement except his own? I know India is a governance-wise shit hole, but this crap of "looking to the west" that everyone from my relatives to Tibetan activists do has got to stop! How are they any better off than we are? For a country with the history and ideological record of the United States from the Declaration of Independence through to people like Woodward and Bernstein, it's an understatement to say it's shocking how far ideology can be divorced from government. And why is that? Why should that be the case anywhere?

Why should Obama have had to run from the race conversation? Why should he shy from it? Why does there need to be a scramble about Kenya, white lineage and Indonesia, Hawaii and shit? There's no way I'd be exaggerating by saying he spun it to an advantage like a convenient label. There's no doubt that it was the wrong question to ask "Are we ready for a black president?" but how many people paid attention to his personal policy goals through his first term? Can anyone honestly say that there wasn't at least a slight let-down? Nothing has really changed. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes in Americanah that until the protector of democracy and leader of the free fucking world can elect a black man from Georgia, until there can be that one country with transparency in its government processes, nothing will have changed--she's probably on to something, don't you think? (As a side note, can I say that perhaps I don't have the authority to comment on race issues in America, it sort of clicked when earlier this week in a conversation over Chinua Achebe's Home and Exile someone said to me that Obama's statement "Trayvon Martin could have been me" infuriated him, and yeah, it defeats the purpose of the point he might have been trying to make. Think about it.)
Whether I like it or not, though, Amrika a leader in many ways. Particularly in ideas, even today--through music, movies, what have you. What does still make me admire the civil society in the US, something I can't imagine happening in my own country, is that the ACLU can sue the federal government. Apart from a few rockstar public interest litigators in India there isn't much active participation in our own affairs on the part of people like me who type angrily out of a dark room, or those who bounce around town as bandwagon protestors, or those who don't have any clue what the fuck anyone is talking about. I don't have any illusions, mind you, about real people anywhere. Obviously it's not like American teenagers and young people are all savvy and "involved" or anything, but there's not much I see in India that's as heartening as the ACLU and Brown v. Board of Education and Roe vs. Wade and the ongoing debates over marijuana legalization or same-sex marriage.


Then again, if I were to speak from experience or for my generation, I'd also say that many of us are disconnected from India, culturally, in a way that our parents or people immediately older than us are not. With an increasing number of us leaving the country for higher education, for jobs, and basically growing up on the internet, there's an equal disconnect from a global culture and an Indian culture and civil society. As I prepare to start as a freshman in college in September, I'm starting to feel it more and more, this sort of void that makes me nostalgic for something I don't think I've really experienced, but something I yearn for and miss nonetheless, like a quickly passing street with a lot of colored shutters, teeming with life, that you just glimpse from the window of a moving car, and can't find again.


Obviously I've lost my original thread now, but since this has been a pseudo-meditation on governance, and since the Indian election season is coming up, and since I'll be applying for a voter ID in a few days, and since I'm going to miss this crazy, filthy, noisy, gorgeously vibrant street of mine, this city of mine, this general Indian tenor of life, however much I find despicable about it, I'll say that if I were to continue speaking for my generation, I'd say we want to see a government that takes responsibility. That has a shred of integrity, that takes its citizens seriously, not the patronizing bullshit we've come to accept as unavoidable (the infamous "news" channel Times Now recently had a headline accompanying a debate about an IAS officer--Indian bureaucracy--suspended for uncovering a scam that read something like "as a parent punishes a child, so must a government act on deviants" or something of the sort). I mean, fuck trade or diplomatic ties until you can get people out of slums. I want a government to focus on development first, and then on shit like creating a million new states and fucking up the relatively laughable "stability" we'd managed to hold onto, just before a new election, so that it's guaranteed to have really fucked the discussion of real issues for years to come.


Most of all, I think we'd like to see a government that responds to individual citizens, rather than groups of minorities based on religious classification, or "OBCs" and "SCs" as ethnic minorities are are referred to in order to brush off more easily. People like me, increasingly, we belong to none of these groups. I'm a quarter Parsi, a quarter Maharashtrian, and half south Indian brahman, by the acceptable labels. I went to a private, American diploma system high school in the Himalayas. I speak English better than I do Marathi or Hindi. I am an atheist and a liberal, and I side with no particular political ideology. Where do I fit in? Effectively, this means I have no voice. I am not significant in a census. I am not significant to college admissions. I am not significant to government job quotas. I am not significant to politicians' promises of policy changes. I am one of the meetings of minorities that have no say and no voice.


I want a government that takes its laws seriously, rather than one who in an effort to silence angry and hurt citizens creates over a rape case half-assed-ly mentions a new law for sexual violence, and then drops the issue altogether, while more headlines appear about children raped, girls abducted. I want a government who knows how they got where they are. I want a government that knows what it means that just 66 years ago, the color of our skin was enough to laugh us out of official business unless we were willing to sell our dignity to overlords.


I want a government that is for the people, who knows it is of the people, who knows where the bold line separating governance and being perched atop the same colonial hillock is. How fundamentally sick, that they are a group of sycophantic, opportunistic weasels, lurching for a lal-batti gadi and a sprawling mansion in Delhi, some security guards and the weekly news show interview where we don't really discuss issues, where we talk about them in a slippery way that resolves nothing, not even marginally, not even in name. Oh, and not to mention the millions they pocket every year, stealing from their own people.


We oppress ourselves. We can blame colonialism all we want for this attitude, for the complacency it breeds in a country of people who have appear to have no vision for where they want things to go but are content to, in a provincial hesitancy about the strength they have by law to be heard, elect "leaders" and just leave it to their so-called expertise to pull us out of a slump, who beyond their immediate well-being see no repercussions for history, for the rest of our lives, for posterity, for the future, but it didn't magically become this way. We have our "leaders" to blame for being catalysts to this.


At the same time, it cannot be said that we don't care at all. Or that we have no views. But we have to relate to people as individuals with views rather than communities in the way that might have been understandable before independence, but in a country that claims to be secular democracy, is ridiculous to continue doing so. But what can be said further about it if we're conditioned to just accept what we're given, even in an empty promise? Yes, we're conditioned to be satisfied with the promise of our own well-being and nothing further for the country, but on the flipside, if you were to consider the vote banks that political parties build up with promises, particularly amongst minorities that live and work in despicable conditions, how else are they supposed to relate to the political system? How are they supposed to relate to the leisure of thinking of governance as governance, of ideology and ethics in legislation and government integrity in "bigger" issues if they cannot have simple changes followed through on? What have they to look forward to? Where does even their consideration of being taken seriously for individual, ideological views come from if they can't have running water? Moreover, why is this something that no one thinks is an issue? The fact that these basic things are promised and forgotten about? We have endless reporting about the dropping percentages of minorities in government jobs and about increasing reservations in colleges, but what about actual provisions for living?


We've wasted days of airtime on already resolved issues in "low-brow entertainment" passing for news, as Pratik Kanjilal wrote yesterday in the Indian Express. Arnab Goswami and other gems on Indian news broadcasting probably create more issues than they "debate." But that's a rant for another time.


Many people like to say they disdain VS Naipaul and his insensitive attitude to issues such as this. While he may have a cutting critique on these things, one thing you can't call him is ill-informed. He speaks candidly, and god knows we don't like blunt honesty in our liberal media. But for someone like Naipaul, I can understand just where he comes from in his contempt. If someone from his background--which I was just enlightened on--can make it, why the hell can't anyone else? If nothing else, I think everyone could consider that aspect of his motivations. Perhaps I'm reading into it too much, but that's what it seems to be.


If you ask me, the only way to deal with this general lack of hope for humanity is to have more people who are blunt in their analysis of things. The absolute worst thing to happen can be more dancing around sensitive territory.


Which is not to say I'm trying to advocate something that gives me legitimate grounds for patriotism, because that's the furthest thing from my mind when I talk about what disillusions people in my generation, in my situation and what I feel that strange nostalgia for. To sum up, I started with a rant about the NSA, and about the various things that brings to mind that make me gag, about my disappointment with Obama, whom I vied for when the election took place the first time around because even for a 14-year-old Indian kid, it symbolized a lot, perhaps a big change. But I've been thinking for a while now, what possible reason could there be for things to be so massively fucked in a country that the whole world kowtows to and licks the ass of? If a country we put on a pedestal in my part of the world has such a shitty moral record when it comes to its government, where the fuck do I even begin on my government?


How about, for a start, we drop the attitude Sushilkumar Shinde expressed a few months ago when the protests over the infamous rape case began--"How can I meet everyone who comes to speak to me? If I meet these protestors, Maoists will come too, and so will everyone else. How can I speak to everyone?"--like the government is where it is because it's doing a favor rather than doing a job, just like everyone else in this country is doing a job, what is expected of them to hold up an already shoddy economy, one-sided, while our prime minister flip-flops and stammers a position on something maybe once a year, after which he disappears for good?


I'm not advocating patriotism, just a reason not to feel completely helpless in the face of the incredible fucked-ness of everything. Things would be a little easier to deal with if the attitude about the fucked-ness was a little bit different. If there were a few more people to look to as role models for my generation. Fuck, we're not going to "change the world" but maybe if you give us a little hope we won't fuck things up even more. Like Karunesh Talwar said at the Laugh Factory a couple of weeks ago, it's not a fucking achievement that you're Indian when you say "mera Bharat mahan" or some shit. Your parents fucked here, you were born here, end of story. The fact that we have a song called "Sare Jahan se Accha" proves that that's not the case because being the best country in this world is like being the hottest stewardess on an Air India flight. "They all look like Mahesh Manjrekar in a sari," he said.

Meanwhile, an alternative is drowning our sorrows in booze and CID.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Closure?

Wow. It's been a while. QUITE a while.

I think I've been asked at least three times in the last month (hah, seems like a lot to me though it probably really isn't) why I haven't been updating my blog. I never quite know what to say, because it sounds really, really stupid to say I just forgot about it. It sounds even worse to say I didn't know what to write about, or even have anything to write about. I've never been comfortable with blogging my day or my week or my sad little life like I know the standard blogger is supposed to do, probably. It's the same as immediately uploading selfies from your bathroom, really. My best friend thinks it's really suburban of me to still even have a blog, let alone a blog that probably doesn't have readers where I just type myself into non-existence. Well, the latter at least has some sort of farcical, poetic ending. So I guess I'll just write, since I've already begun to dribble. Dammit, if I have no readers then I'll say whatever the hell I want.

I graduated the day before yesterday, Saturday. It was the usual bureaucratic bullshit of a ceremony that my school is famous rather than infamous for, because for some reason the same thing done by an Indian school would be considered tacky and unnecessary but in the case of an "international American" (an oxymoron of epic proportions) school is considered near royal and absolutely essential to the closure of a "Woodstock education," and is treated with utterly bogus seriousness and solemnity. I wish I could just pick my diploma up from a shady back-office somewhere--I would have no issue with that. But it's enough that it's even a big deal, on my last day, to wear sneakers with a sari instead of heels. Why can't we wear gowns? Because on my last day on campus it suddenly becomes crucial to the "Woodstock experience" to "celebrate Indian culture" half-assed and hurriedly by wearing a sari because "oh, they're so elegant and ethnic," when normally everyone's conditioned to find local culture off-putting. Ugh. UGH.

Well, anyway, there was a lot of crying after the ceremony, something I've never really understood, since it seems to happen every year and last year's graduates were already back to visit a month into the new term--I don't understand how anyone can love high school THAT much. There's a board member who never fails to identify herself as a princess (though in this day and age, in post-Raj India, I don't understand how anyone can find that acceptable in a school that still has an almost colonial set-up, which I don't care to rant about now) who graduated in 1950, who's still ALWAYS THERE, EVERYWHERE on campus. There hasn't been one month I haven't seen her here, and I've been in that school since grade six. So, there was a lot of crying and faux-sincere apologies and yearbook signings and congrats to people I knew hated me for whatever reason, and I didn't feel even a slight tickle in the back of my throat or my eyes at all--all I could think about was getting out of there AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. My friend sort of went on and on about "everyone's crying, I'm the only one not doing it. I feel kinda bad now," and all I could do was shrug, which I think annoyed her, but she didn't say anything about it. They gave us all blankets as graduation presents, for some reason TOTALLY beyond me, so I have one souvenir to remember the fateful day and whatnot, beyond my overwhelming sensation of being covered in bullshit.

Well, I suppose it's obvious I don't like my school. I don't really like my class that much either, and I know Jack Nicholson says in The Departed that he wants his environment to be a product of him, but more often that not the opposite is true; I think my grade is basically decent, and I really hope they end up happy with whatever they're doing, because we already have too many resentful and bitter adults in the world that we were forced to school with without having to add more to the mix that will join their ranks. Is it possible to not forgive, but also not resent someone? I think that's what I feel about my grade. I wrote a paper about eudaimonia for my final English project (97%, bitches) that made me write a fairly sappy yearbook senior will, but I think if anyone reads this they'll know to just check the yearbook.

I won't miss Woodstock. Not in the slightest. I will miss my grade, to a certain extent. It's a strange feeling, this affinity to a group of people that you never really felt at home with, and more often than not tried to stay away from. It's weird, but when we were on the same page about something, all of us, together, there was a great energy going, always--I loved it. I will definitely miss a select few, a handful of people who I had the opportunity to be really close with, but again, it won't be that aching, pining, annoying kind of whining that is regularly published on my Facebook news feed, but more just a warm flashback, the only montage-y moments I'll ever allow myself to sink to. I will not give anyone, particularly the adults that tried to fuck us up, any free passes, but again, I don't resent anything or anyone, because I think I like where I've ended up today, how I've ended up. It could have been a lot worse.

As  I type this, I'm sitting at home in Mumbai to the sound of three taxis honking at each other, a school buss unloading, and what I think was a small crash with a possibly expensive car, given all the yelling. It's muggy, it's gray, it's cloudy, and it's hot as fuck, but it's home. I don't think I'd ever call Mussoorie home, at any given point in the seven years I spend there. I'm especially wary of praising those breathtaking mountains for fear of sounding like the hippies I disdain using this country as a backdrop to their suburban "spiritual awakening" so they can go start a yoga studio in a Midwestern town somewhere and call themselves enlightened, but there is one regret I do have about my time spent in the Himalayas: I never really saw the majesty that many others have had the opportunity, the sight, or even the intuitive warmth to see. I think I was too wrapped up in my own little world all these years, even when I tool long walks by myself and found myself gazing at the gentle unfurling of a hill into a lush valley to really see, REALLY connect with what people have found in those mountains, foothills of my country. My object was never really the explorer's, to camp in and hike to as many places as possible, because I never really felt like I got to absorb anything that way, either. Just jagged rocks thrusting into the soles of my shoes, making me stumble. I never really saw anything of this country in any sense of the word, wrapped up in the bubble of Woodstock, and that is what I resent the school and myself for. It breaks my heart that I didn't bother to search.

Across the board, throughout time, mountains have held some weird fascination for everyone, and the only time I came really close to seeing that wasn't at the top of Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco, it wasn't on my trek to Har-ki-Dun, seeing ice peaks and alpine forests not more than a hundred yards in front of me, massive and terrible and beautiful, it wasn't even at Courmayeur, lake Como, the Big Buddha in Hong Kong when I swung precariously from a cable car 25 kilometers above a valley where I swung like a lantern in a storm, three kilometers away from hard ground on either side of me, it wasn't when I drove through California. It was on the drive to my grand-uncle's house in Pune, when I wasn't even really looking at the mountains, when there were waterfalls all around us, when we rolled down the windows and I could smell the earthy smell of a good rainfall and when my mother and I looked for faces in the rock cutaways of the hills. I was just really happy when I thought I saw the Roadrunner.

I guess it's not really strange that I'm thinking about it right now. Bombay is a little hilly, too. My area of town is still nice for all its trees, and the sunset I see brilliantly throwing up the fading white of the building across the street from me. It may not be paradise, but it's as good as Everest for me.

I've been wondering for a while if I should just consider this blog a closed chapter, but it's such a great name for a blog, and I get to use a Kerouac quote and a Kerouac book title, and I get to use an Ansel Adams picture from New Mexico. But I'm not in the Himalayas anymore. It didn't really have that impact when I was there either; I never felt the grandeur or the mystical pull that people write tirelessly about, to be honest. Sure, they're aesthetically pleasing, but I don't understand the fascination with mountains beyond a point. I guess it makes me sound superficial as fuck but I really want to feel that fascinated by something or the other. It's a special feeling. But it's my own fault, then the last few years, for being wrapped up in my own little ego to bother to grow a pair of lady balls and go out and find whatever I thought I didn't have and wanted; and I don't mean it in an instant gratification way either, just that I didn't have the balls to step too far out of my comfort zone, apparently, and that makes me feel like the biggest hypocrite of them all.

I don't think I'll end this blog though. Because it doesn't matter what I call it, if I start a new one, where I am, what I'm doing, or whether or not I happen to be in the mountains somewhere, but I am looking for something that makes sense to me. Obviously, nothing is going to be exactly 100% perfect, ever, but I don't really want perfection, or to have everything go my way all the time, because can you imagine anything more mind-numbingly BORING? Like I've said before, I don't think happiness means that at all. It's not a cakewalk, it's a state of mind. I need to find that mental space, because again, as a I type this, I realize I'm missing everything. I think too much. A Guardian reviewer once wrote about one of my favorite authors that she doesn't take anything too seriously, but that she is serious about everything. There'a a fine nuance a hothead like me needs to grasp to find some solace.

I'm going to be in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in August. I don't think I chose the Santa Fe campus of my college because of that, but then again maybe I did. The mountains of the blood of Christ. If I was trying to get away from reminders of my school, I might have chosen Annapolis (which actually seemed pretty bland, pretty sterile), but I don't want to turn my hatred of certain aspects of it turn into a resentment of EVERYTHING I was exposed to there. I like mountains, but they'll never be the sea at Worli, which during the monsoon looks like Scylla and Charybdis thrashing and writhing to make the Arabian Sea churn and waves crash over cars on the road by the sea face. Mountains will never be the wind and sea spray on my face, the roasting corn by the road there. But then again, it's when we get caught up in nostalgia like that we turn into "those guys" who only have high school to look back on as the best time of their lives, and at age 80+ that's more than a little depressing, when the only thing you can do is make sure people know you're from a now-defunct royal family with that tragic colonial mindset still impossible for you to shake after more than 60 years of independence. Granted, we still have work to do, but we're also a young country.

My god, I'm just starting to realize how incredibly, impossibly cliched this post has been sounding throughout. But basically, since I've titled this "Closure," I'll try to give myself some closure before I really start to dribble like a retard. I think the subtlety of not forgiving certain things, but not resenting them either is pretty decent closure for a reasonably hotheaded yet intelligent (and stubborn) high school graduate to have. I'm not going to be festering about bullies when I'm 30. I'm not going to bother giving it any thought. That's a closed chapter for sure. But I won't run away from reminders.

This chapter, though? This blog? It's going to stay. The Himalayan Dharma Bum. I guess I am, still. I always will be. In that light, nothing is more fitting that the Great Books in Santa Fe, in the mountains of the blood of Christ. Because fuck the label, everyone trying to get to a good mental space, however they try and fail to do it. Great Books will probably make you try again. And again. Archimedes didn't call finding the area of a shape the "method of exhaustion" for nothing. No process is ever totally over. But I like that. Things are more interesting that way. You never read a book about a happy little commune in some corner of the world where everyone's nice and civil and responsible and a good citizen. Beyond Dostoyevsky's The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (where our good Fyodor was really taking the piss out of it), beyond Utopia (or "no place"), there is no way human existence could thrive off perfection. What's captivating about perfection? Oh, this works, this is pleasant. Uh. Okay.

Like the appeal of Ithaca. You know that Odysseus remembers an Ithaca of mythical charm, and that's how it's always remembered, recalled, even by those of us who read Cavafy's Ithaca, and find ourselves reminiscing a about a place we never could physically have visited, but the idea is that that idea is THERE to keep you going.

So fuck perfection. I don't want it. Not now, not ever.

And fuck closure. Woodstock-me doesn't suddenly transform into a beautiful butterfly that flutters elegantly off into the woods. Besides, even if someone has emerged that way or believed they have, hey presto! Butterflies have a life span of something like three days.

So not really closure. More like catharsis. I know I'm mixing too many stories now, but bear with me.

So venting on a blog, my muse, my beloved, my whore, bear me away (thank you, Dhobi Ghat). I'm ready for more.