Friday, 29 May 2009

Voice-over to End 'I Journey...'

I journeyed to Canada to interview filmmaker Deepa Mehta. I stayed with my cousin sister, her husband, and their four-year old son. I also spent time with my Mum's cousin and her partner in Toronto. It struck me that I was unlikely to meet this tree of the family, this curve of the paisley in India.
Yet I was considered an Australian researcher by Toronto Airport baggage officials and the crew on Mehta's film set. It was the accent they said, which sounded like it had journeyed and picked up its lyric on distant shores.
Will this journey end? Discussions about 'settling down' have become rife amongst family. The paisley might be reaching the border of the pashmina shawl. It may be time to wrap it around my shoulders, but I will not do it the traditional way. I will morph this Indianness and turn it into a scarf, a skirt, a throw, a photograph, a living memory. I will settle only if my future remembers this detail, this evidence of a journey.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

On speaking English

I'm reading renowned hybrid cultural theorist Ien Ang's On not speaking Chinese, and wondering about my own ambivalent relationship with the English language, especially in its accented and translated mutations. In her book, Ang justifies the use of autobiographical discourse as a means of both asserting the authority of authenticity, and undermining the grandeur of hegemonic narratives. Being a person of Chinese descent who was born in Indonesia, schooled in the Netherlands and is currently working in the Australian academy, her hyphenations are multiple and complex. She apologises for not being able to speak Chinese while also arguing that the shifting identity politics of the Chinese diaspora need not be anchored in a fixed linguistic identity associated with the homeland. 

In my own case, I vividly recall being asked as to where I learnt 'such good English' in formal and informal settings during my early days in Australia. This was a compliment at times, but largely a source of petulance because I didn't think an Australian (or any 'native' English speaker, other than those with the appropriate literary acumen) was in a position to pronounce judgement on my English-speaking skills. Once during an English Literature class where the tutor handed us a sheet on 'Zero Tolerance Errors in Formal Written English' accompanied by red marks on our assignments, I was surprised to see the sheer number of grammatical and syntactical corrections in the papers of my Australian-schooled peers. Now, as a tutor in the Humanities myself, I have to admit that overseas students with a shorter history of studying English struggle more with the language that their local counterparts. However, indifference to the rules of grammar and punctuation is often rampant in the writing and speech of many university goers, irrespective of nationality. In other words, who can judge whom?

I realise that as someone who attended English-medium schools in India where the Queen's English still prevailed, I am more privileged than most. I wouldn't admit to thinking in the language all the time, but its spoken version has become more relaxed and colloquial during my time in Australia. It is still the instrument of my intellect, of my creative impulses, and hence my work self values it above the other Indian language I have learned - Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. Why did I not conduct the documentary interviews in one of these languages? Salman Rushdie and others in the diaspora have often commented on English being a link language in the linguistically-diverse Indian sub-continent. Therefore, the choice of English was strategic so as to access a wider range of people of Indian origin, as well as to render the doco semi-autobiographical.

Privileged I may be in some ways, but my experience of being a translator and interpreter for the Indian languages I am conversant in has brought me into contact with Indians and Pakistanis who are new migrants or on the struggling end of the socio-economic scale. Their stories have often been difficult to translate, but the role of mediator has taught me that transferring from one cultural idiom to another is not necessarily a loss. What is gained is an understanding, however stilted, of the seemingly inaccessible other. There are no doubt miles to go for improving this communication and making it more than a literal exchange of words. In the meantime, being aware of the relativity of linguistic and cultural norms is a crucial starting point.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Fragment d

I'm rummaging through forgotten drawers and discovering old wealth. What is this treasure? Gifts and cards. Music and soul food. Silver bangles with crests and troughs. Amethyst. Letters from my sister. Birthday messages. Notes. Audio cassettes from my sixteen year old days. Shakira, Elton John, Guns n Roses, Celine Dion, Zubeida. What taste. As electic as ever. And few photos. I wish I had them all here. I itch to print the digital ones. A new project?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Fragment c

And then there is the unconscious, almost fetishistic Japanese consumption at the moment. I'm reading Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, bought the films Japanese Story and Tokyo Story from Borders, and had a craving for udon noodles. But how can one exotic want another, and other itself further? I'm watching a female Australian geologist explore the contours of a Japanese businessman's body. The music is tragically beatiful. Tragic because I know how the film ends. Beautiful because the traditional male gaze of Hollywood cinema is reversed, if not subverted. Would it have been possible if the male body was white? Therein lies another story.

Fragment b

This has also been a week without my Motorola mobile phone whose charging port broke down. I am currently using my old spearmint Nokia which is the equivalent of a gramophone record in the age of iTouch. Messaging is awkward, and I had to manually feed in almost 80 numbers. There is a new purchase decision to be made. But for now, I miss my jazz ring tone, the snooze alarm and the text message reminders. Talk about material attachments. Affective material attachments.

Fragment a

It has been been five days, and I am missing updating my status on Facebook (besides having my friends and family contacts at my fingertips). Is this a withdrawl symptom? Am I that narcissistic? I think it is both a means of procrastination and a somewhat public writing tool for me.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Online Experiments

I've been set a challenge by a friend - not to use Facebook for a week. This is not to illustrate my addiction to the ubiquitous social networking site. I don't perceive it as an addiction, merely a daily ritual which can be curiously time-consuming. Moreover, it might be acting as a substitute for real-time relationships instead of facilitating them. I spend a large proportion of my day reading and writing, so would prefer the voice and laughter of my friends and family to emoticons and lols. There is no doubt in my mind that I can cut off Facebook in the short term, and reduce usage in the longer term. A more pertinent question is - can this lead me to make more contact with friends and acquaintances? Will I be motivated to reorganise my social life and step out of the triangular comfort zone with the University, the Borders store, and the Nova Cinemas as its three focal points? The irony is I am blogging about this experiment, and will probably continue to do so. At least I have more than 150 characters to e-x-p-l-a-i-n.
And then there is another project I've had in mind for a while. I'm always on the lookout for new Adelaide cafes, and now also increasingly interested in which ones have free wifi as well as a work-and-socialising culture. Besides the Gloria Jean's cafe at the Borders store in Rundle Mall, Cibo on Rundle Street, and Chocolate Bean, it is hard to come across coffee shops where researchers like myself can just walk in, sip a latte and work on their laptops or read away to bliss. I plan to visit a number of indie and lesser known hangouts in the Adelaide CBD during the lunch hour over the next couple of weeks and take some photos. What is the vibe in these places? Are there many individuals with books, laptops and cameras for company here? Do these individuals interact? Will keep thou posted.