My boat will sink in three streams…

Amar thahor nai go mon-bepari.
Ebar tridharaye bujhi dobe amar tori.
Jemni dnari-malla beyara
Temni majhi dishehara,
Kon dike je baye tahara,
Amar pari deowa kothin holo bhari.

Ekti nodir tinti dhara,—
She nodite nai kul-kinara;
Shetha bege tufan boye,
Dekhe lage bhoy,
Dingi bnachabar upaye ki kori.

Kotha he doyal hori,
A pni eshe hou kandari;
Tomaye smoron kori
Bhashai tori,
Lalon koy, je n o bipake na pori

[I’m without sight, O merchant of the mind, I fear this time my boat will
sink in the three streams. Just as the oarsman-boatmen are unruly, so is the
helmsman confounded; which direction are they rowing in, my journey
has become very difficult.

One river has three streams,— this river is endless; a mighty storm blows
there, I’m alarmed at the sight, how do I save my boat?
Where are you merciful Hori, come and be my helmsman; it is in your
name I set sail, Lalon pleads, let me not get into trouble.]

Jonmo-chhnada noitka tar naiko shnada mara
Jol jhore bane bane nona bane jirnojora.
Tate gabkali nai kalapati
Srishtidhorer gothon kora.
Manob-torir chhidro nota tipne-phnasa modhye phata
Haye re jol lithe phata ghoche na.
Bhuluk-mara nayer bhogno gnura
Dali-poro perek-noro tokta chera.
Bnaker goraye chnow ayepani chhneche mori dinrojoni
Haye re gnaje dei chhnera kani tobn dobe dohora
Jole jaye re bheshey jolui khoshey dekhe holam dishehara.
Gorechhilo kathe kathe pilon kete perek ente
Haye re jol uthe rasta chhute charidigete boye dhara.
Kubir choron bhebe bole tori chhnechte chhnechte holam shara.

[My boat is perennially leaking and none can plug the leak; with every tide water rushes in, the salty tide has worn the boat to its skeletal frame. There is neither resin nor lacquer (in this boat) created by Him who sustains who all. This human-boat has nine orifices, tied together at the naval and in its midst is a crack-stomach, alas! The water keeps filling up, but the crack-appetites are never satisfied. Struck by the lightning of ignorance, the boat lies in tatters, its roof is shaky, its nails have become loose and the planks have cracked. At the curve of the hull water keeps seeping in, I grow tired trying to drain it night and day; alas! I try to plug the leak with a rag, yet the boat keeps sinking; there is water everywhere, the sail falls off, and I ’m left directionless. He had built it by joining wood to wood having attached planks with nails; alas! the rising water now runs everywhere on the streets too. Seeking shelter at Choron’s feet, Kubir says, I’m tired of draining my boat.]

Source: Manjita Mukharjee, Reading the Metaphors in Baul Songs: Some Reflections on the Social History of Rural Colonial Bengal, PhD. Thesis, SOAS, University of London, 2009. 171, 173-74.

On the attrition of everyday life in a state of exception

“At no point in Wahid Shaikh’s writing does one get a sense that we are dealing with “bare life” as Agamben (1998) will have us think. Indeed, the entire vocabulary, gestures, embedded references to films, songs, sacred texts, kin, neighbors shows the thick sociality within which the criminal justice system actually operates….My great fear is that democracy cannot be sustained if these practices become generalized and the possibility of intimacy in everyday life itself becomes corroded… What the anti-terror law creates is not only individuals broken down and shattered but also families, relatives, communities that are coerced into becoming inadvertent subjects of the law and liars and betrayers of kin, family, lovers, friends. The philosopher Stanley Cavell had memorably written, “But only what is human can be inhuman.” (Cavell 1978: 418). Wahid Shaikh challenges us to come up not with a definition or a boundary of what is human but to chart the routes through which the career of the human and its affinity with the inhuman might be traced in the experiences and the resulting damning critique of Indian democracy he has provided”.

From: Veena Das, Where is Democracy in India? Asking Anthropological Theory to Open Its Doors, Anthropological Theory Commons, November 24, 2019

Read the full article by Veena Das here.

On “niceness”

Robin DiAngelo writes:

  A fleeting benevolence, of course, has no relation to how black people are actually undermined in white spaces. Black friends have often told me that they prefer open hostility to niceness. They understand open hostility and can protect themselves as needed. But the deception of niceness adds a confusing layer that makes it difficult for people of color to decipher trustworthy allyship from disingenuous white liberalism. Gaslighting ensues.

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog on gaslighting. Suffice it to say that this article and this passage in particular, resound with truth for me.

White employees are typically dumbfounded when their colleagues of color testify powerfully in these sessions to the daily slights and indignities they endure and the isolation they feel in overwhelmingly white workplaces. This pain is especially acute for African Americans, who tend to be the least represented.

On the lessons of the workplace

Withholding courtesy to those that harass you through routinely micro-aggressive and intimidating practices will in turn provoke gas-lighting.

The way gas-lighting works is that you thank *everyone* by name except the one person you want to marginalize but you make sure that person is included in the “everyone else who served on committees” category. That then opens the space for the other colleague in a leadership position who is even more keen on marginalizing that person, to posture and thank the person so blatantly excluded, for something everyone else also does anyway. That’s how the “just good enough cop-even better cop” game in the asymmetrical warfare of collegiality gets played.

On Being Quiet

“Quiet…is a metaphor for the full range of one’s inner life – one’s desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities, fears. The inner life is not apolitical or without social value, but neither is it determined entirely by publicness. In fact, the interior – dynamic and ravishing – is a stay against the dominance of the social worlds; it has its own sovereignty. It is hard to see, even harder to describe, but no less potent in its ineffability. Quiet.” (Kevin Quashie, The Sovereignty of Quiet: Beyond Resistance in Black Culture, Rutgers University Press, 2008).

With thanks, for leading me to Quashie, to Michael Gillespie’s extraordinary book: Film Blackness: American Cinema and the Idea of Black Film (Duke University Press)

There is such a thing as emotional sovereignty.

On academics going on dates

Imagine this. An academic meets someone on a date. The first question that pops out of the date’s mouth is about the academic’s parents and their political views. The conversation proceeds to other topics but the other person circles back to questions such as: what does your parent do in her free time? Where does she go during the day? What are you writing about these days? If you don’t smoke cigarettes anymore, what vices do you have these days? How much of your autumn course is going to comprise new material? 40%? 50%? (The date is not an academic). Since you are teaching the course again, does this mean you will have more free time on your hands? What are your travel plans? Tell me more about this essay you have written. Do you expect revisions? The academic’s mind flashes back, to many many other similar encounters, settling down finally to the time he was approached by a stranger in the park with a question: what newspapers do you read?

Here are some possibilities (choose only one, but consider the others):

a) This is information from a news article about China’s routinized surveillance of its citizens.

b) This is from a memoir about the mundane ways in which life behind the iron curtain was subject to an expansive information-gathering regime.

c) The academic was me, an American citizen. This was a date I went on earlier this summer.

d) The person the academic went on a date with is a therapist by occupation and likes to ask probing questions.

Leather straps and dangerous living. (By which I mean reading dangerously).

This leather book strap holder is lovely. And I’m tempted to buy it since my idea of living dangerously is to read while taking long walks. Really. Especially in summers when the weather is nice. And it’s easier than you think to avoid running into obstacles or getting run over. Further, in my case, you should take the word “dangerously” seriously, since I continue to be followed everywhere, and solemn strangers sit on nearby tables and benches and manage to point their cameras at me at least once if I’m seated somewhere for any length of time that exceeds a few minutes.

But I digress. On the other hand, here’s the product description that gives me pause:

“SHOW OFF YOUR BOOK WITH CONFIDENCE: Take your book on the go and throw it right over your shoulder with the Hide and Drink Rustic Bookstrap. Made with Hide and Drink’s Full Grain bourbon brown leather, not only does this durable Bookstrap make an excellent way to carry your book, but it is also built to last a lifetime. Simply place your book in the book strap and tighten it to secure your book, and you are ready to go. Let everyone know you’re well read and stylish every day.

Flaunt it with your ironic mustache, lumberjack boots, plaid shirt and jaunty beret while walking into your favorite Seattle overpriced coffee shop. Let those techies know that they are slaves to their personal computing devices”.

Okay. I added the second paragraph there. But still, all sorts of questions pop into my head. It looks like a strap. Is that dangerous for a man being followed everywhere anyway? What if the book being flaunted in this bourbon brown leather is Edward Snowden’s latest book? Since my most intimate partners have been weaponized over the years to remind me that my body’s most ecstatic susceptibilities to touch, all its erogenous zones, have been mapped, registered, recorded by state functionaries, could I put the strap to other…ahem…Mapplethorpian… uses?

And with that, I think I’ve talked myself into buying this book strap.