Compassion

BikerGirl and I (me?) were having a heart-to-heart, and began to wonder about writing that evokes empathy, and writers who are good at doing it. Or speakers, for that matter. There are books, articles, essays that create that strange feeling, an identity with what is being written about. Situations, people far from our own realities, but these black-on-white words make them part of what we live.

When I lived in that little-town-half-way-across-the-world, my friends used to tease me about living in books. Not literally, but I wanted a taste of what I’d read about – from watercress to walking by the river. It was a longing to do in reality what I had already done when I read Enid Blyton and William Blake, and I indulged it.

Today, I read Sacred Games or Backlash, and sometimes, I have already lived what I am reading about. But it still has the power to merge my life with what I am reading about, to make me think as they think, share joy and sorrow, anger and frustration, exuberance and incredulity.

I wonder about people who can write like that. Do they feel it more intensely that I do? I am only a reader, after all. Or is it because they distance themselves that they can write like that? I wonder about their everyday lives. Do they participate in the lives of every person they meet, they know or know of, so that I may vicariously take part in the lives of a million others? Or is it because their lives centre only around themselves that they can create a million characters for me to empathise with?

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Jommetry, Headology and a Personal Statement

I finished the last, so felt entitled to a bit of the first two. Yes, I’ve been reading Pratchett, and hugely enjoying myself. (Thanks, BB, for lending me Equal Rites!)

I’ve also been accused of talking too much, and realised how true it was when I picked up a hugely excited Pooh from the airport yesterday – I’m not surprised people confuse the two of us though we’re five-and-a-very-important-half years apart!

But back to the accusation of being so talkative… I suppose I do miss the daily one hour dose of my own voice quite a bit during the hols. And I suppose it does have a little to do with being a woman.

As I was explaining to AB the other day, it has to do with Granny Weatherwax‘s explanation of the difference between witch magic and wizard magic. Witch magic, according to Granny, is mostly a good knowledge of how things work plus a good bit of Headology. Wizard magic is jommetry. For headology to work, you need words. And I mean need.

Now, it’s natural for witches to be women, and when a witch decides to be a teacher, she needs all the headology she can muster, doesn’t she?

So do you wonder that I talk so much?

Bodies

I was reading an essay while invigilating the exam today (Mari Matsuda on the construction of masculinity), and I was struck by what she says about how the abstract individual of polity doesn’t have a body, except as something he needs in order to exist… here’s the actual quote, I can’t put it better than:

…the “abstract individual” exemplifies an absence of pregnancy and other female bodily characteristics that arguably play a major role for females in self- and social-identity formation, and in the formation of political interests, whereas in political theory the “individual” that emerges is monotonically singular, unreproductive, and apparently sexless. Moreover, the “individual” is sometimes theorised as a “rational” consciousness in a way that suggests disembodiment altogether, as the body never really appears except as a presumed material substratum. The body is certainly not the site of the drama of female bodily existence…”

The female body as a site of a drama of existence – that’s an idea that radical feminism has been largely concerned with. I don’t know who it was that said something about sexuality being central to women’s identity… 

When I first read that about sexuality being central to identity, it seemed rather abstract to me – not really relatable to experience. Maybe I relegated it to the back of my mind with a “makes sense in the context of queer studies” note.

But Matsuda’s passage above really brought it home to me how much it was about me. Those of you who know me will probably smile if I write that sexuality is central to my identity. Sitting in that exam hall today, however, I realised how much it was.

My body has been and is a site of struggle. A site of struggle between tradition and modernity, conservatism and liberalism. The conservatism of being part of the ‘arranged marriage set up’ and the modernity of arguing with my Mum that it’s okay for me to have male friends staying overnight. The traditional-ness of lighting a lamp every morning in prayer and the liberal-ness of not stopping when I’m menstruating. The conservatism of wearing a saree and the modernity of short hair. Each a struggle. Either about, or expressed through, my body.

It’s also been a site of struggle for control. Control over my body. Not forcible, or cruel. Not even conscious. Mostly born out of concern, love, even affection. Nevertheless a struggle to control my sexuality, my womb. Control that is more basic, even – the crisis* that puberty (and every menstrual period after it) sets off, and the resultant loss of control. The struggle to regain it. A struggle.

A site for struggle between emotion and reason.** Emotion that makes me respond to touch, to sound, even to a look – a response that is instinctive, sometimes physical. Reason that tells me to hide that response, or to ignore it, or to express it to achieve an end – and the hiding, ignoring, expression are all physical too.

I realised that my body was the site of struggle, and the struggle was about the expression of my identity, about my sexuality. That the two were central to each other.

*De beauvoir writes beautifully about this…

**The dichotomy that is the feminist nemesis – isn’t that weird? 

Lovely poem

Are the angels of her bed the angels
who come near me alone in mine?
Are the green trees in her window
the color I see in ripe plums?
If she always sees backward
and upside down without knowing it
what chance do we have? I am haunted
by the feeling that she is saying
melting lords of death, avalanches,
rivers and moments of passing through.
And I am replying, “Yes, yes.
Shoes and pudding.”

– Jack Gilbert ‘Say you love me’ from his 2005 collection Refusing Heaven.

Via Falstaff.

Holiday Books

Books I read during the hols (heavy spoilers, if anything can spoil these books!)*:

The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood

Atwood is as good as ever – I got hooked to her when I read the Handmaid’s Tale, continued it with Alias Grace, and so when I saw this one at the Kochi Airport book store (lovely airport, btb), I really couldn’t resist it. The Penelopiad re-tells the myth of Penelope (the wife of Ulysses, supposed to be the epitome of a good and faithful wife) in Penelope’s voice (I love where she says something to the effect of “… if only I’d known that I would be used as a brick to beat generations of women over the head with…”). The lovely part of the book is that Penelope’s version of events is complemented by a chorus of her twelve maids (whom Ulysses kills), who pretty much turn the story on its head by supplying rumour and speculation on what actually happened.

Delumptious!

The Complete Short Works of Evelyn Waugh

I bought this one more than five years ago at the Strand Book Sale in Bombay – a lovely hard-bound copy. Read bits and pieces here and there, but only now sat and read the whole thing through. Absolutely killing humour – the kind that slides a knife in before you even know what happened and all of a sudden you have a stitch in your side. And reading story after story in the collection just gave me a chance to appreciate and savour similarities, differences – you know?

Brill!

The Short Stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The author of Sherlock Holmes also wrote a lot of other stuff. He’s famous, of course, for all the science fiction-y and horror stories that he wrote, but he’s also written some fantastic tales of pirates and robbers, of unknown lands and strange phenomena – a delightfully imaginative mix of fact, fantasy and fiction.

Lovely in small doses.

One night at a Call Center, Chetan Bhagat

I didn’t like the first one, and I liked this one even less. Clumsy prose, a plot that falls all over itself, the few-and-far-between moments of insight into the characters are the only reason to even pick up this book. On second thoughts, there aren’t enough of those to make it worth the effort.

Junk it.

*The last one only because there’s nothing there to spoil

Catching up, living ‘alone’, and other things

Dips is on a mountaineering course. Which means she is away in the Himalayas for 26 days. The last I spoke to her, she was in Manali, cursing the food and the fact that she had to give exams. Haven’t talked to her in ages – messaging just doesn’t cut it! And just when I have so much to talk about!!

BB should be back from her Himachali trip, but I haven’t heard from her – ki holo, non-sweetie?

As for the Unnamed One, she’s fast turning into the Unknown One.

P and I seem to have had a little too much of each other – and she’s busy getting ready to flee and fly (or fly and flee?).

Hee ho hi hum.

***

Living alone doesn’t seem like living alone – I’ve had a pretty constant stream of visitors (for as long as I have been here, that is!) FM stops by on his way back and forth from HQ every month, if he can manage it. LS is here now – fifteen day holiday. Good fun.

But I realise I’m living alone when I’m expected to ‘manage’ things – like deciding how much milk to buy, making sure there are veggies in the fridge, buying groceries – you name it! And it’s really brought home to me when the cook decides to bunk on a day when LS also has to go to work…

***

What ‘other things’? Bloody Bank is a pain in the neck. In this day and age, they’re out of checkbooks to issue to me. ATMs are a distant dream – I don’t even know where they are! I can access them twice a week, when they come to this Middle-of-Nowhere, and I’ve missed both turns this week, meaning I’m cash-strapped till I can figure out a way to get at my money…

Classes are in full swing and lots of reading for Friday. Yay!

LS has also brought back lots of books. Bless her.