Week of 11 May, 2020

  • I got the air-conditioning fixed! It’s amazing what a few nights of sleeping in 24ºC can do for your anxiety. My mood is better, I feel more energetic, and I’m able to do things around the house again.
  • I’ve given up on the reading list I set for myself and decided to just read fiction for the rest of this year, or until the COVID-19 situation gets better. Reading fiction doesn’t do much to fix my anxiety, but it’s easier to read than non-fiction and distracts me from what’s going on in the world.
  • Talking of fiction, I’ve been completely obsessed with The Dispossessed lately. It’s not just the idea of an anarchist society that excites me, but also the fact that this is one of the few SF stories I’ve read that talk about what a better world than ours might look like. A lot of SF tends to lean towards dystopias, but The Dispossessed attempts to imagine a new, better future.
  • Continuing my Ursula K. Le Guin binge, I’ve also been reading the Earthsea series. I can’t say I’m enjoying it very much yet, but I plan to stick with it.
  • The new Charli XCX album is one of those era-defining pieces of work that people will still be talking about a decade from now. The only pop record I like better than how i’m feeling now is EMOTION, which is really saying something.
  • This also happens to be the week I discovered Griselda Records. I’m not a huge fan of the classic NY boom-bap sound, but there’s something about how Griselda approaches it that makes all their records very listenable. The individual tracks on Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris and Conway the Machine’s No One Mourns the Wicked kind of blend into each other, but the albums as a whole are really solid.
  • For the last year I’d been trying to get myself into the habit of listening to music without any distractions. I used to be able to do it four or five years ago, but these days it’s hard to keep my brain focused on just the music. I now prefer scrolling through Instagram or Reddit as I work my way through a new album. I doubt I can force my brain to change — trust me, I’ve tried — so I’m just making peace with this. Listening to music is supposed to be fun, and I’m going to do whatever feels most comfortable.
  • RTJ4 dropping on June 4! Killer Mike and El-P are the reason I’m still here today, so to say I’m excited would be the understatement of the year.

Week of 4 May, 2020

  • It’s been a bad, not good, very terrible week. Anxiety has been through the roof, and many evenings have been spent crying on the couch. At times like these exercise really helps me, except …
  • … the heat in Bangalore is getting unbearable, making it hard to do any kind of physical activity. The air conditioning has been broken for a while, so I’m keeping myself cool using a dinky little cooler that only works if you sit directly in front of it. How many baths a day are too many?
  • Turning off social media felt great for a while, but a few days ago I started feeling an intense isolation from everything that was happening in the world. For now, I’ve gone back to looking at some social media some of the time. I guess if you’ve been Very Online for more than half your adult life, simply cutting the wire does more harm than good.
  • My mind is reeling from all the new ideas in The Dispossessed. The writing is dry and the characters feel like placeholders, but it’s the what if of the whole thing that’s keeping me turning the pages.
  • I’d forgotten how wholesome Parks and Recreation was, though the presence of Aziz Ansari and Louis C.K. sours the experience a bit.

Arundhati Roy on the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write

What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write? is one of my favorite pieces of writing on the Internet. At its core, the essay is about using translation as a primary form of literary creation in a country as linguistically diverse as India. Put another way, it’s about Arundhati Roy’s quest to bend English in such a way that it captures some of the flavor of India’s many tongues.

While I haven’t read any of Roy’s novels, I recently read a different book that pulls off this feat admirably: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. One of my favorite scenes from Midnight’s Children is where a mother yells at her child: “Fool from somewhere!”

Roy’s essay covers a lot of ground. If I start quoting from it then I’ll end up reproducing the entire piece here, so I’ll just mention two of my favorite parts. The first one is how English is perceived in the Dalit community:

[English] is also the language of emancipation, the language in which privilege has been eloquently denounced. Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the most widely read, widely translated, and devastating denunciation of the Hindu caste system, was written in English. It revolutionized the debate on perhaps the most brutal system of institutionalized injustice that any society has ever dreamed up. How different things would have been had the privileged castes managed to contain Ambedkar’s writing in a language that only his own caste and community could read. Inspired by him, many Dalit activists today see the denial of a quality English education to the underprivileged (in the name of nationalism or anticolonialism) as a continuation of the Brahmin tradition of denying education and literacy—or, for that matter, simply the right to pursue knowledge and accumulate wealth—to people they consider “shudras” and “outcastes.” To make this point, in 2011 the Dalit scholar Chandra Bhan Prasad built a village temple to the Dalit Goddess of English. “She is the symbol of Dalit Renaissance,” he said. “We will use English to rise up the ladder and become free forever.”

The second one is about how Devanagari—associated at the time and perhaps even now with Brahamanical oppression—came to be the primary script in which modern Hindi is written, erasing the once-popular Kaithi script from public memory:

In order to clearly define itself and mark itself off from other competing constituencies, the newly emerging Hindu constituency [in British India] needed cultural symbols—something to fire the imagination of its evangelists and its potential recruits. The holy cow and the holy script became the chosen vehicles for mobilization. Gau Rakshak (cow protection) societies proliferated, and simultaneously the demand was raised that Devanagari (Deva as in Dio/God—the script of the Gods) be officially accepted as a second script for Urdu. Devanagari, originally known as Babhni, was the script of Brahmins and had, like Sanskrit, been jealously guarded, its purity protected from the “polluting influence” of lower castes, who had, for centuries, been denied the right to learn Sanskrit. But the changing times now required that it be promoted as the indigenous script of “the people.” In fact, the more widely used script at the time was a script called Kaithi. But Kaithi was used by non-Brahmin castes like the Kayasthas, who were seen to be partial to Muslims. Extraordinarily, in a matter of a few decades, Kaithi was not just discarded, but erased from public memory.

I’d never heard of Kaithi before reading this essay. Digging around a bit, I found a wonderful piece about the script on Satyagraha: कभी हिंदी और उर्दू से ज़्यादा इस्तेमाल होने वाली कैथी खत्म कैसे हो गई?