Archive for February 2012
I love India. This is why I write this blog and this is (mostly) why I chose to leave up a career in development for the poverty of student life. I’ve had to remind myself of this week. Writing a PhD is tedious. It’s the same shit over and over: sit, read, write. Repeat ad nauseam.
I now have date for when I’ll be going to the country to do my fieldwork. I’ll be there after the monsoons in mid-June.
Studying Naxalism is a study of India’s failures. Academia, at its best, is rooted in criticism: speaking truth to power (the court advisors and ‘public intellectuals’ who turn this on its head are, I suppose, academic in their own way). This is the ethic that informs my work.
The risk is that this can lead to a self-defeating cynicism and nihilism that misses the point of intellectual work. Work that should (in its humble way) contribute to making the world a better place.
I haven’t been to India since 2008. I’ve begun to forget why it is that I’m doing what it is I’m doing and need to remind myself of why it is I care about what I do. I care because India has been good to me.
I first went there in 2002. I’d landed a post-undergraduate paid internship in South Africa with the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). Three days before I was to fly to Jo’burg, I was caught up in a police investigation. 300 blank passports had been stolen from the office in which my (then) girlfriend worked. The two of us were sucked into the ridiculous vortex of a post-9/11 investigation – an investigation that was both absurd and incompetent.
Within 10 months we were both ‘cleared’, but, I had been prevented from leaving the country and the internship had collapsed. The organization I was to work for, the National Co-operative Alliance of South Africa, had fallen victim to the acrimonious, ‘winner-take-all’ politics of post-Apartheid.
CCA did their best to find something else for me. They had done some work in the past with the International Co-operative Alliance in Delhi and decided to send me to India.. I wasn’t at all interested. All that I ‘knew’ about India I had learned from Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom (human sacrifice, famine, eating eye ball soup). I had no interest in the country.
My first memories of the country are landing in Delhi on a cold and foggy January night. I remember feeling smothered by the charcoal braziers of the arrivals terminal, chaos and the drive to the hotel. It was a particularly cold winter and there were fires burning by the side.
Not an auspicious beginning. But it was a beginning. Within a few weeks of being in the country my ‘interest’ (this is what it was at first) grew. During my internship I spent more time in the field than I did in the office. From Himachal Pradesh, to Rajasthan, to Bombay to coastal Andhra Pradesh. I had the privilege of travelling across a large part of the country. While my work there wasn’t of much value (NGO work often isn’t), it did make me fall in love with the country.
I’ve worked in India a number of times since my first visit. I’ve met brilliant people, some of who became my friends, some of whom I had the privilege of only meeting once.
I was once (jokingly) told by a friend of mine from Chennai who I lived with in London that I was an Indophile. I am. And I don’t apologize for it. This is who I am and this why I do what I do.
In the spirit of the Pillowbook of Sei Shonagan (but with far less skill), here are a some thoughts:
I like the way that the sun rises above the peaks of the passes into Ladakh on a crisp winter morning.
I like the damp smell of death and life after the rains in Kerala.
I like seekh kebabs. I like the beef ones my friend took me to eat in Nizamudin. They were secret, like buying drugs.
I like the ones I ate too many of too often on the street by my house.
I like the ones my Tamil friend drove me to on the way back to Chennai.
I didn’t like the ones at the Afghani place so much but the beer was good.
I like the blast of heat while riding a camel in the Thar Desert.
I like the moon over Jodhpur.
I like wondering through the streets of Pondicherry and finding a good baguette.
I like going to festivals in Goa at two in the morning and throwing coconuts at a large chariots pulled by dozens of people.
I like drinking beer until late at night in Chennai with friends. Getting more from a ‘secret’ liquor shop on motorcycle and then listening to my friends argue about caste, history, meaning.
I like shopping in creaky old bookshops where all of the books are covered in plastic, but there are so many of them
I like riding a bike on the East Coast Road.
I like meeting strangers who want to practice their English and invite me to their mother’s house in a town where I don’t know anyone
I like my friends.
I could write on, but I have to stop somewhere. I look forward to more time spent in India.
A recent story is making the rounds on twitter. From the Indian Express:
Survey blames Naxals for decline in forest cover
India’s overall forest cover has declined by 367 sq-kms in the past two years despite a few states actually expanding their forest areas. The net loss is mainly on account of Naxalites destroying close to 200 sq-km of forests in Andhra Pradesh, a government report said in Tuesday
I wanted to respond to the ‘survey’, but googling it only led me nearly identical articles in all of the other Indian English papers. For example, there was this in the Hindu.
My recent work has been looking at state expansion into adivasi areas and how this expansion has been structured around forest ‘protection’. Naturally, this piece caught my interest. On the surface, it seems like a psychological anti-Naxalite move on the part of the government (as it’s difficult to believe that the Maoists can be blamed for deforestation in any significant way). But, I can neither find the report nor do the various articles provide a link to the journalist who wrote the piece. Curious.
If any reader knows more, I’d be grateful to hear from them. Inquiring minds want to know. Please email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll take a look at it and post my response this weekend.