Monday, April 30, 2007

A tale of sociology grad mads

I feel emboldened by the "158 hits" on this blog... no one wants to leave comments but it seems 'someone" is reading it! It's like Orkut - your popularity is judged by the number of friends you have there - even if half the "friends" are people you last spoke to in 1986. I do confess that I ignored all my inner warnings and went public last week - put my blog address on my orkut page. As you would expect from a previously anon and hence rambling blog, I put footie in the mouth (yes man in the couch I mean wrt YOU :). Well, whatever. Since you continue to sit on the couch it means you have forgiven me!

A friend from school had come in to spend the weekend with her boyfee and soon to be hubby. We were discussing how odd our school is. It takes progressive politics to the other extreme - almost to the extent of being norm-phobic. She feels embarrassed telling faculty and classmates that she is getting married this year end. "Getting MARRIED? NO! To someone from the OPPOSITE sex? NO NO! That too wearing a WHITE DRESS? OH MY GOD IS SHE CRAZY?!" Maybe I've already told you my "intro to sociology grads in Mass." story, but here it is again...

This was in the fall of 2003. I was fresh out of India. Never had any non-straight friends. Never had any bearded junky 60-year-old professor wanting me to call him "Bob" (tho I did call one "Keval" back home!). Never had stinky cheese and wine during class. And definitely never had a more varied group of friends sitting around the table
1. a fantastically fun 45 year old lesbian from the 60s
2 an awesome looking dreadlocky Afro Am 23 year old man with a 8 year old daughter,
3. an aggressive but insecure, with piercings all over her face lesbian from the 90s,
4. a self proclaimed 21 year old bi-sexual,
5. a red-haired hyperactive 21 year old white boy,
6. a red-flag waving super smart man from Syria,
7. a self-obsessed born-in-uplifting-poverty white flirtatious woman,
8. a know-it-all Afro Am gay man,
9. a 40 year old stubbornly sexist Chinese man and as a result of all the above,
10 a bewildered mistakenly believed-to-be-innocent Korean girl.

As you can tell from the descriptions I love some and not-so-love the rest. But whatever be my biases, now you should know why the poor bi-sexual who is bi sexual no more is scared to reveal the scandalous details of her white-bridal gown wedding!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Putting Gender on the Table

Went for a a really fascinating conference at Harvard on April 12-13 on, believe it or not, Food. Mabe it is not a surprise for some more well-read of you out there, but I had no idea that there is a thriving discipline called food studies. And what was even more surprising was how much I enjoyed the conference even though I thought I know nothing about food studies.

Being me, I have to start with the non-academic highpoint of the conference for me : I passed the sugar to Amartya Sen, shared a smile with (a very unexpectedly red-dressed) Martha Nussbaum and stoodwaiting outside the restroom with Vandana Shiva! And don't feel too bad if you have to click on the links to figure out who they are, I know how US- centric life in the US can get. Ofcourse I planned a dozen questions and jokes to share with them after the talk but being me, I chickened out last moment and felt happy passing the sugar instead!

Although I accept that one is often less critical and more gushing - "Oh I learnt so much" syndrome when one knows NOTHING about the topic of the conference, it would not be fair to owe it all to my lack of foodies knowledge. The sessions were so wonderfully varied and so were the speakers, that even if I was not interested in gender (and eating food!) I would have loved it.

There was a speaker Sharmila Sen, who had a very fascinating anecdote at the end of her smartly worded talk on Recipes as cultural scripts - how the famous Lea and Perrins
Worcestershire Sauce was brought back from India (in the form of an Indian chutney recipe) by Lord Marcus Sandys, ex-Governor of Bengal, who gave it to two local chemists, John Lea and William Perrins, with an order for a large batch to be made up from his recipe. A few weeks later he returned to pick up the sauce, only to proclaim upon sampling some that it tasted filthy and was nothing like how it should be, and left in disgust.

Nothing more was thought of this until the chemists discovered it at the back of their stores a few months later, and they decided to give it just one more try before tipping it down the drain. To their surprise, the foul-tasting anchovy broth, after being left to ferment, had matured into an interesting spicy condiment, and they immediately purchased the recipe from Lord Marcus. So thanks to this chance retasting,1838 saw the UK's best-known sauce launched, and the name of Worcestershire Sauce (originally called just Worcester Sauce).

Then there were equally smart talk by a geographer on how the invention of the refrigerater changed the meaning of "freshness" and how the word "freshness" is a social construct which differs overtime and between cultures. (Although, now that I am a "sociologist" I've realized that there is no word which is not a social construct and nothing that doesn;t change in time and space. That's what sociology is ALL about!)

I decided after today's morning session on Sidney Mintz's classic book "Sweetness and Power" that once I am done with my dissertation on surrogate mothers I am going to move onto some aspect of life that can be studies through the lens of a foodstuff. To tell you the truth, I landed up at the Mintz' session only cos I was scared that if I turn up only for the session with Sen I may not get a place to sit (how Indi-centric of me!). I had no idea who Mintz is. But I am so glad I made it at 8:30 in the morning.

Mintz studies the evolution of sugar (both the consumption and production of it) and links that to Britain's growing colonial strength and mercantilism. Whereas a historian might have focused on the details of the triangle trade, a geographer on growth regions, an economist on the evolving -isms of trade, and a political scientist on the balance of power after the Renaissance, Mintz studies all these but also grocery bills and recipes. What was even better that he turned out to be a great speaker as well.

Which brings me to my thought of the day 'why do I expect great scholars to be great speakers as well?" Somehow when I read Sen (and when he won the Nobel Prize) I assumed he would have this powerful sounding voice. well he doesn't. He actually has a very pronounced lisp. Ofcourse, that takes nothing away from his talk - he is still a great speaker. The session he was speaking on was right down my (developing country) alley, "Food and Famine".

Before the session started i spent about 15 minutes just staring wide-eyed at two people whose work I've grown up reading - Nussbaum and Sen - converse with each other while sipping their coffee. And all I kept wondering was "What are they talking about? Capability and entitlements or mundane normal people stuff like " why was the dinner they served yesterday so bad if they have so much money!" (Reminds me of something I read somewhere about someone saying Do famous people fart!"

Anyhow, to get back to the academic part - this session was what made me respect the conference more, cos otherwise it would have been too middle-classy and hence dismissable for the good-old "unless there is death and misery it's not good work" calling in me.
There was Megan Vaughan whose talk on everyday food shortage and the gender aspects of it in Malawi reminded me of the super-depressing book I am reading at the moment Nancy Scheper Hughes' "Death without weeping on the Violence of everyday life in Brazil. Boy, there is tooo much misery in my work. I should really start working on less dangerous topics (on the origin and evolution of Crepes?) before I kill myself!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

बाँवरा मन्न देखने चला एक सपना

हज़ारों ख़्वाहीशें ऐसि के हर ख़्वाहीश पे दम निकले
बहुत निकले मेरे अर्माँ, लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले

You guessed right - I realized Hindi script looks way cooler than english on this blog so am trying it out! This winter went for an old friend's sangeet (a music-dance ceremony before the actual wedding). An unconventional man chose to sing an unconventional song for his own wedding... the song is from one of my favorite Hindi movies "Hazaaron Khwaishen Aisee" (got from Mirza Ghalib's couplet)

The song from the movie that invariably makes me cry (it's that "the moon is so beautiful it makes me want to cry kind of crying, not the "sob sob I am so sad" crying):

बाँवरा मन्न देखने चला एक सपना
(by the way if you are reading the title as ????? it's cos u dont have the hindi font downloaded .. sorry!)

There is no exact translation for the word baawra (बाँवरा) and I am no Silbil. But the best substitute word(s) i could come up with: madly gleefully carefree, or similar to a crazy romantic. Everytime I write crazy/mad/carefree in the lyrics below, I mean baawra. I know it's beauty gets lost in translation. So forgive me, Oh Lord Silbil for the lack of prose or style, it's just a crude translation of a really beautiful song which I identify with FULLY AND BAAWRA'LY

My ecstatic mind is dreaming again
Filled with crazy words and mad thoughts
Carefree heartbeats and careless breaths
Filled with these restless ideas
making my nights sleepless.
While my curious eyes
Want to just keep searching for crazy sights.

In these balmy times all I want is another mad companion
Holding my hand in this crowd of wise people.
Let there be a mad tune with mad lyrics
Because all my restless feet want
Is to dance to a mad mad song

I swear I will sing it better!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

It's not me...

I didn't let the wind in
It sneaked in through the windows
Not in celsius but in Fahrenheits
It swept past as I jogged through the Harvard Yard
In my Macy's Pants and New B shoes
Through traffic that stopped for pedestrians at cross walks
And cars that did not honk

It seeped in through the television commercials
The slim fast yogurts, tylenols and Ryan Seacrest
Trampled on our hinglish conversation
With your unconcious acceptance of home-sicknbess,

Conversations with self and anti-depressants.
And my conscious adjustments to my mispronounced name..

I sipped it with my glasses of wine, diet coke and seltzer water
Munched on it with the pizza and quick fix pastas.

Ofcourse I resisted at first
I resisted
By keeping my 'u' in my labour
By avoiding the vacuum cleaner
And the mildewing bathroom tub
That' s not what I came here to do, did I?
Aren't other people meant to do that for me?

I resisted
By announcing that white freckled faces
And red haair is unattractive,
That half doors in bathrooms and
No doors in shower rooms are embarrassing.
But as I watch you today
Talk about green cards and child care
I feel my resistance falter
Maybe just another 4 years?


web hit counters
Office Deals