There are two incidents that have happened since I joined graduate school: I have lost the ability to write and, lessons in critical analysis in western academia have led to a few unpleasant situations- display of usually smug moral superiority in speech followed by phases of muteness. As I righteously pass on lessons in decolonisation from Canada to friends in the ‘third world’, I recognise an odd arrogance in my speech (after all self-awareness is also a lesson learnt in western academia). The irony of these passionate, fast paced speeches driven by a sense of responsibility towards my sisters in third world is that (in the words of Audre Lorde), ‘the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’
I usually sit tight-lipped in the Dining Hall at Green College. The conversations usually seem repetitive and dull. Talks about TV shows and movies dominate and stresses usually run high, graduate students who work under pressure are rarely in the mood of early morning discussions on Palestine, Yemen or Sudan. Privilege sure does work towards erasure. At home, Amma and Abbajaan start their day with turning on the news channel. As Abbajaan does his yoga and Amma says her morning prayers, news about US and Iran, Yemen, Sudan and Palestine are on display. The comforting image of my parents spiritually at peace stands in stark contrast to the narratives and pictures on the TV screen- those of starvation, dispossession, violence and deaths.
In fact at home this summer, Amma has developed two passions: strange obsession with news and world affairs, she tunes into different channels on TV, starting with 9:00 am, 4:00 pm, 7:30 pm, and ensuring that I am well-fed. Today afternoon, through phases of being fed, Amma told me with a sarcastic smile (that anyone who mocks Trump would be familiar with) how Trump annouced a strike against Iran only to pull back from it. At home this year, I am working under a strict schedule too. I am trying and pathetically failing at wrapping my head around ‘world affairs.’ At present, the houses in Xinjiang region in China stand locked up with roads empty as Muslims are being sent reeducation camps. Their lynching continues in India. The US naval prison at Guantanamo continues to hold Muslim men and Gaza continues to exist as open air prison. What forms of homelessness and dispossession are rendered on these people. And how does one move away from sophisticated academic writing to a writing that is real, humble and speaks to people. How does one undo academic elitism?
I notice that I am switching to stories in my writings. And I am wondering if the answer lies in stories? After all isn’t news snippets of tragic stories? And stories are all I have had since childhood. My sister politely reminds me whenever she can about all the made up stories- lies- I would narrate with absolute confidence about the most unbelievable things. And stories are how we exchanged part of lives with each other in Aligarh, my friends and me, walking around Halls of Aligarh Muslim University, Abdullah Hall, I G Hall, sipping tea sharing the only thing we had, stories about our families, lives, this world, its injustices and its beauties. Stories are what my aunts pass on to us, and my elder cousin sisters pass on to the younger ones. My father repeats the same stories every time I am home. These stories by my mother, my aunts, my sister, friends and father are a part of me. We hold each other through stories. Is there hope with stories for the intellectual? Anthropology’s violent history suggests otherwise. English Literature’s colonial legacy suggests otherwise. History and politics are stories too, stories, whose violence can never truly be known.