Monday, 28 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

Okay, first of all: it is the middle of winter and there are PARROTS outside my window at my house. WHAT IS UP WITH THAT???? Global warming, man. It's no joke.

Now that that is out of the way, happy holidays everybody! I hope that all of you are enjoying time with your loved ones and keeping warm!

I spent Christmas in a cottage called The Forge in Herefordshire, which is three hours outside of London. We had a very peaceful, cuddly time together. I won't bore you with the details (think: 25 hours of Lord of the Rings + all the extras...). Here is a brief photo-summary:
The dangers of long-arming photos when there are three of you in the picture. Poor dad always gets cut off...
Fortunately the cottage came complete with a tree and a wreath on the door. The Segrans have been notoriously bad at getting into the holiday spirit at home...

The cottage came equipped with wi-fi. Which was great, because after watching LOTR for several hours, I could go online and discover obscure details about the differences between Silvan Elves and Sindarin Elves. (Trust me, you don't want to go there...)

This is what happens when three people from the tropics stay in a cottage that has a fireplace. In the second picture, my father is physically blowing at the fire. The general fog is a screen of smoke and ash.
Snow men are totally out of style. Herefordshire is all about the snow-caterpillars and snow-ghosts. Very cool.

I took my parents to the Stagg Inn for Christmas. Not a bad restaurant. I definitely prefer the Andover Arms though...
When dad is not actually in the picture, mom and I are pretty good at long-arming shots.
Funky hats are a must at Christmas! Ours are completely ridiculous AND match our coats. How snazzy are we?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The Maharaja Exhibit (Or, How Dissertations Affect Mental Health)

Writing a dissertation in the humanities is a psychological nightmare. For at least a year of your life, you are responsible for producing a long, detailed and original piece of work - and you have no external motivators driving your productivity. Advisors can help you set arbitrary deadlines, but all the while, you know everything about this process is arbitrary. You start when you decide to start, you finish when you decide to finish, and really, the thing has a life of its own. It sometimes feels like you are fighting a dragon or a leviathan. (Excuse my epic language - I pretty much always imagine I am fighting a dragon.)

Part of the problem is that the dissertation writing process relies on creativity. In the sciences, at least you have data to collect. For us, all of our work is conceptual and theoretical. I honestly don't think our brains are wired for constant creative or philosophical output. I am as nerdy and bookish as the best of them and even I get exhausted by concepts after a while. In fact, not long ago, my brain went on strike for an entire month. It was impossible for me to get any work done at all! Then, when the wheels got back in motion, I wrote twenty pages in five days.

My dissertation topic is still fascinating to me from a distance - I think that early South Indian poetry deserves to be translated and studied and I also think that feminist theories can shed a great deal of light on the pre-modern period. However, these days, when I dwell too long on the poetry in question, I lose focus and feel a sudden urge to do something completely different.

So, I need to play games with myself to get myself interested in the work again. The whole process is a bit bizarre, because it is entirely self-conscious. I know I am intellectually bored -and I know I am trying to trick myself into snapping out of it. But I have to do it anyway, because how else am I ever going to get back to writing?

Today, I attempted to get myself excited about my current chapter, which is about masculinity and kingship in the early Tamil poems. I finally decided to see the Maharaja Exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had been a bit reluctant to go before, because I usually prefer to see art that has absolutely nothing to do with my work (for instance, I love the Tin Tin Museum in Belgium...) But today, I decided to schlep to Knightsbridge in the sludge to check out the pictures of the fat kings of old.

And it was amazing! The V and A made the concept of kingship so sexy. I think they managed to place each painting or artifact out of context - they used very modern design and architecture as a backdrop to the art itself. In a strange way, it made me think of my own work from new perspectives. I think it helps that I am seeing these works of art here, in London, rather than in a dusty old archive in India. Everything was literally positioned in a new light.

The exhibit emphasized the importance of the king in the Indian imagination. The king is a central symbolic figure within all the subcultures in India. He embodies the masculine ideals, which are inevitably connected to power. The exhibit also pointed out that he represented unbridled male sexuality - the kings were known for having massive harems and many paintings display the king's sexuality quite explicitly. Thus, male power is connected to male sexuality. And ultimately, this male sexuality is connected to reproduction and the giving of life.

There is a lot to unpack here. But I think an important concept is that the king is a life-giving force. His military strength keeps the people's lands safe, allowing them to continue to produce food to eat. His riches stimulate the economies in the courts, which in turn, allow for the circulation of wealth within his kingdom. His sexual prowess represents the epitome of male sexual dominance, which sets the standards for men all over the kingdom to produce heirs, in order to perpetuate the cycle of patriarchy.

We live in a world where kingship is an obscure notion. Our politicians make decisions for us by remote, through policy and communal governance - they have very little impact on our ideologies or on our immediate environments. It is sometimes difficult to imagine a world in which a king, or raja, in this case, was a primary figure in people's thoughts and lives. I suppose this is why we go to museums, because if our curators do a good job, it is possible to step out of our current worldview. That is always a good thing.

Friday, 18 December 2009

I'm back!

Friends! Family! Random blog readers!

Many apologies for the ridiculously long lag time since my last post! I have been significantly less connected in London than I was in India. My family moved houses a month ago, and Sky, the major broadband/satellite/phone company in the UK needed a month to set up operations in our house. Which is fine, because who needs to be connected to the outside world anyway?

Why did we move, AGAIN? Well, we're basically gluttons for punishment. In addition to moving countries every few years, which involves packing and unpacking all of our stuff, we are a particular about the kind of house we live in. Our previous house in London was gorgeous. It was huge, with a lovely garden and three guest rooms. Unfortunately, the heating didn't work, the roof leaked, the plumbing was a mess and to top everything off, gigantic white mushrooms sprouted in my bathroom overnight. The mushrooms grossed all of us out, particularly my mother. She finally put her foot down and decided we were moving. So with the help of the Aussie Man and Van moving company (no kidding - that is their real name!) we schlepped all our stuff to our new home. It is on the Hammersmith/Chiswick border, on the bank of the Thames! It is cosier, and importantly, it is structurally sound and free of fungus.

Meanwhile, the weather has gotten terribly cold. The beautiful cherry blossom outside my window is losing most of its flowers and every so often I see a bluster of snow sweep over the rooftops. These days I spend most of my time in my cloud pjs writing my dissertation or drinking tea while staring out the window:
Last weekend, we went away to the Cotswolds. My dad finally found a gap in his hectic schedule so my mother insisted that we get away from London. I had to work on my dissertation, so we decided to go to some place quiet and peaceful. Well, it doesn't get more quiet and peaceful than the Cotswolds. I spent the days curled up by the fire writing about masculinity. I am actually becoming quite an expert on the subject of masculinity. I have read all the latest psychological/literary theory/gender studies literature on masculinity, so if you ever need to know about the inner workings of masculine gender construction, do not hesitate to ask.

Thanksgiving came and went. I was sad not to be in California, doing the Thanksgiving thing with all my American nearest and dearest. It is the only day in the year when football is tolerable to me, and that is mostly because I am experiencing a food coma from Amy's mother's fifteen course Thanksgiving feast. This year, a friend of mine in London, Joyce, threw a little Thanksgiving do where we had a ton of fantastic dishes - the Turkey was perfect, the stuffing was delicious, there were about eight different types of vegetables and four pies.

Joyce and I went to the Borough Market in preparation for Thanksgiving. The Borough Market is a famous old London market with fantastic varieties of fruit and meat and desserts. I highly recommend it to all of you planning a visit to London. There are also stalls that serve food all through the day - and it is all delicious!

Apart from all this very civilized fun, I have been able to hear some good music lately! I haven't been to a concert in so long! Prog rock hasn't really made it to India and I hadn't met anyone into the indie music scene in London. But after a couple of months, I managed to find some kindred spirits who are moderately plugged in. A few weeks ago, I went to see the Panama Kings at the Luminaire. They are a grunge rock group from Northern Ireland. They were pretty excellent musicians, even though grunge isn't really my thing. I really liked the act that opened for them. They are called Sixstarhotel. They are mostly post-punk - lots of repeated verses, lots of hooks.

For those of you who are interested in some other good bands - at the moment, I am really into:

1) The Receiving End of Sirens: Really dark, epic music. It's kind of hard to describe. It's very ambient. Very good.

2) Dance Gavin Dance: I have been very disappointed with the latest Alexisonfire. As much as I hate to admit it, I am really kind of a fan of screamo... and I needed to find another band to fill the gaping void that Alexisonfire has left in my life. I love the combination of pretty-voices singing about sappy issues and the animalistic screaming. I find that old DGD is just the perfect blend of the two. Their album Downtown Battle Mountain is very good. It is like old-school Alexisonfire, except perhaps a little less hardcore. Their new stuff is just emo, without the screaming.

3) Paulson: They are a small band from Jersey. I got introduced to them by my Jersey indie music connection (Cub...) They put out an album in 2005. Pretty cool prog rock group. Nothing pretty mainstream prog rock fare, but very addictive music nonetheless.

Christmas will be here soon! I am not sure where we will be this Christmas. Our lives are very exciting at the moment. We decide at the absolute last minute exactly where we will be - I suppose provides some balance to my very sedentary academic tendencies...

I hope everybody is doing well. I still miss all of you in California and I'm looking to seeing you early on in the new year!