The year started with me being interviewed by Al Monitor on Oman’s Environmental Governance in the aftermath of a new Sultan to speaking on a Club House session on the Qatar fracas in June to moderating a couple of leading ESG industry events to sharing on ‘S’ in ESG Supply Chains.
The surprising highlight of the year when I was interviewed by India Narrative on the history of Indian Labour Migration to the Khaleej.
Grateful to all mentors and friends who have offered precious touch points to share and engage my two cents on issues of the day.
Please do let me know if I can share, comment or moderate on ESG, and Labor in the Gulf or SE Asia.
One of the myths which the intellectual firmament projects is an egalitarian bent, a site for negotiation. It is a safe space for learning, however illusions of detachment from the vagaries of political economy of knowledge production is a false hope at best.
The fantastic research platform Le Thinnai Kreyol kicked off with ‘Its Cooking’ Session on Pongal with Prof Ato Quayson, Critic and Stanford Academic and Alain Mabanckou, UCLA Professor and Novelist.
The Le Thinnai platform has shown the world the power of digital collaboration in the pandemic age, the community building threading disparate threads in to a web of meaning, excavating characters and cultures by theorising new analytical categories on the go. The scholarship and the public engagement can coexist, rather the community is the site of intellectual ferment for theory building. For me, the light on French and Portuguese India’s as the entry points for expanding our understanding beyond the static conceptualisations of Post Colonial, in South Asia. It is refreshing to find the seminar room on my Facebook page, which is the inverting of the ivory tower in delicious ways particularly as I am back to research as a career after four years (yayyyy!)
Cooking is an ethnography of entering into the private sphere as Prof Ato said is striking as cooking creates an affective space of feeling. Food is communal but cooking is an intimate act of the everyday. Kitchen is a source of family stories for women in Ghana. Intelligence (or generally gossip) is obtained from the kitchen particularly post funerals.
Ari Anna noted that the writer projects a progressive character by writing on food as a male writer. This is an important point in the passing by point as how writing is a particular kind of bodily performance. Prof Ato, talked about the ethnic food store as a switchboard of nostalgia which activates images of the home one left behind. Entering the ethnic food store is always a space of the values which one left as well, although it is a great social equaliser. Dal is a Kenyan dish, which is a tasty bite of diaspora data points.
Food is a node of cultural politics (gastronostalgia is a unique term) yet of succour. The person who cooks gauges the necessary vulnerability and emotional landscape of the family, which is why Prof Ato asks his sons to cook. ‘When we cook, we open ourselves to vulnerability’ is a terrific anchor, for someone who started cooking just last year. Recipes are ephemeral traces of the past (in the terrain of relations) as Madison commented on the comment thread.
A parallel reading in original French by Prof Alain, from his novel ‘Broken Glass’ which Prof Ato read in English. I got to know of this book which I plan to read, as i know very little of African Francophone Literature.
Broken Glass was written in 2003, and was rejected by major French publishers. But it was picked up by one, was a best seller. Sometimes the writing produces its own modes of reading as Prof Alain’s novel has a distinctive linguistic palate as per Prof Ato, in particular the absence of full stops.
The real purchase of Le Thinnai is the potency of introducing new texts, movies and music to an audience used to a fixed frame of mainstream media and professional education.
On a Sunday afternoon in Sayeed Nagar, Pune I follow a friend into the back lanes of a Muslim Neighborhood as he head to buy meat. Beef was clearly one third the cost of goat meat, affordable for low income India. My friend is a caste Hindu. I saw an Abaya store after a year and beef was sold openly in a homogeneous space. These are invisible spaces of a public which are hidden behind residential townships that are inhabited by NRI investors and the IT Elite. Yet, these low income minority areas are valuable to the mainstream as votebanks.
I could not imagine any savarnas to be here. There are multitudes in every city.
My writing practice is undergirded by the ethic of representation and recovery, a response to the chaos of the everyday mayhem where where things seems just about ‘normal’. Writing ethnographic archives is the core of my written word artistic practice. Long term projects are painstakingly hard, takes a lot of time, yet the series of conversations with Autowallahs and Cabbies are a glimpse in to urban life, entrepreneurship, tech innovation and the view from below. It is a chronicle of agency more than any other tangential impulse.