Planning a week and a day

I divert my attention to this blog once again as I stare blankly at the pin on the screen that tells me that I am merely half way through transcribing something I  started on 2 hours ago. It is 0239 hrs.

There can be many things for which we plan, and accordingly we negotiate our days. But I have come to realise that there are many things that interrupt this at the least forgiving (and forgivable) times. Where previously I had all days to myself and organised my pace of work to coincide with a time away from my desk to be with my partner, I now am with them and still getting used to it. I still need to get used to not having my own space. I still have to explain to them that I work all day, not just 9-5 on many days, with the odd week/weekend off here and there (given that I work weekends too).

But while this negotiation continues, there are the other disruptions. The distractions from, particularly, social media and a need for an escape from perpetual work.

And yet some others.

Today I made a to-do list for the day and the week. As one does. Everyday. They were simple tasks, I thought. They followed from a previous day of work. And so I began to transcribe an interview I found was not completely transcribed (I listened to it over so many times, I had forgotten I did not type out the words) which was a starting point to link a second section of analysis (the first section had already been sufficiently transcribed). 15 minutes of audio time took me 3 hours – as usual.

Disruptions to this included twitter-threads, and an unexpected call that I fortunately did not answer, as well as messages to various family members. It also included some e-mail reading of good news for me, though implies more more. And so my list for tomorrow increased slightly. When the library began to close, I packed up, shut down my laptop and went off home.

Now here’s another thing. A few days after I moved to be with my partner, my laptop battery died. So I work entirely on power. I return home and in the evening switch on the laptop to find that the transcription file I had been working on had been corrupted. One and a half hour of internet searches, software updates, rebooting system, uninstalling software later, and I have returned to transcribing on another saved file. I have just arrived at the point I arrived at at 1717 hrs earlier yesterday. And I have still more to go. That pin is not going to be moving itself.

Thank god for hand-written notes and screen-grabs.

I still don’t know what I’m doing.


Spoken english

Sometimes I feel like I just can’t British English anymore. I can write pretty well, but constructing proper sentences while speaking is just weird. I can’t end sentences with ‘re/mure/men/nu, or start with ‘aiyo’/’arrey’. Jumbling also just can’t happen for sentences.

Hellholes and the Global North

As we began the new year of 2018, a certain president picked on a few Global South countries calling them ‘shitholes’. Most responses to this statement have been calling the president of the US a shithole himself, his residence lit up with ‘shit hole’, calling out the racism that lies behind such a statement, highlighting the role of the US in creating said shitholes, and stressing on the progress of identified “shithole” countries despite oppression of the global North.

We all know that the Global South isn’t the epitome of cleanliness and privilege. Historic oppression, coops, internal conflict, dictatorial rule, colonialism, problems with the global economic and social order, and various various explanations exist to explain away the situation in the Global South, of which potus has an imagined idea anyway. However, my thought immediately is that of a glass house. To what extent does the Global North reflect on their countries apparently not being shitholes, and what do they have to justify it? The belief of comparative ‘objective’ criteria (mind you these criteria are set by the Global North itself or bodies controlled by the elites in these geographies anyway) determining their comparative non-shitholeness is often unchecked. When thinking of it, I realised that there isn’t enough to describe the experiences of and in these Global Norths from outside. Within we see a very large chunk of the global norths plagued by rampant racism – just see the literature on racism available regarding these geographies. But as an outsider, I do not feel I have come across anything that expresses the feelings triggered by living in the Global North. As so I wish to commit myself to doing this from today.

In my experience, barring the courteous formal friendliness of people, and the relatively higher wages and the somewhat organised manner of some aspects of life, the UK feels like a hellhole. A shithole at least has some potential to be cleaned. There is a chance that said faeces can be cleaned away, infrastructure can be changed to support people, and so on. A hellhole however is a place in which the cons outweigh the pros. Going to hell implies that you have indulged in something evil, or have done something that is biblically wrong. The Bible has its problems, but nevermind, it serves my purpose of suggesting that the punishment is eternal damnation. This is an abstract concept. We can only imagine what hell and its associated holes are like. We can imagine the idea of hellfire – scorching and ever-lasting. We can imagine the torture associated – have a look at how the Sandman series presents Lucifer’s realm; it is beautiful while simultaneously being awful.

Like Lucifer’s hell, there are many levels of hellhole-ness of the UK.

Below I articulate a few. I start with Level 1: Weather and the surround

Although the UK has a beautiful diversity of cultures – a move around the country represents the variation in behaviours, histories, industry and so on –  there is a strange subtly about how these surroundings are managed with awkward negotiations of space-use on closer observation. Furthermore, the weather is usually grim. All the time.

Level 2. The fear of touch and affection

In addition to the cold grim weather is the cold grim attitude to others. Generally, this implies that to complement the weather, there is no warmth by way of hugs or kisses as greetings. Even a handshake is an awkward ordeal, and they want to get it over with. Here is your next level of isolation.

Level 3. The undetected-from-inside ‘isms’

A next layer of hell here is the embeddedness of various negative isims, including racism, classism and sexism. These have been most glaring to me, though I suspect many others exist. On a personal level, I have found that the UK has racism and sexism woven into its very fabric. It is so in-built that one cannot identify where and how it manifests, and therefore most of the privileged, being white and/or male, do not see it. I have found that living in the UK has made it difficult for me to talk to male people, particularly heterosexual ones.

Level 4. Desert and deserving

In this hellhole, the materialities of life are abundant. There is no shortage of food. There is no real economic issue, jobs are only relatively hard to come by, most facilities work well including the internet and transport. Yet, in terms of access, not everyone has it. If you have bought yourself some privileges, you are relatively better off. Yet in this hellhole, in the bitter cold, one finds homeless people strewn across major cities. Most of these people are not refugees as could be the common perception. They are white poor people.

I often speak about the problems of living in the UK to my fellow non-UK friends. I do not have a problem doing so. Perhaps it is our shared trudging through these hellholes.

Connected stories and data units

My approach to my data is very qualitative and interpretivist and all that. The suggested way of analysing it as expressed by my supervisor was “let your data speak to you and tell you where to go”. That fits in with the ‘reflexive’ approach to social science research, and is complemented by a longitudinal research design.
It’s a bit creepy when your people (units) not only talk to you, but also amongst themselves and you’re just listening in on it. Voyeuristic even. They aren’t in the same room, probably don’t know each other, speak at different points of time, are spatially disconnected; different people, different lives, different trajectories. Same gender, same degree, similar age.
Participant x is speaking to participant y by explaining the situation without knowing participant y, but having anticipated a potential condition for themselves (that of x) that y has lived through. They, participant x, articulate the problems that cause the condition of y, whilst they themselves are attempting to high-jumped that block. It strangely follows through, and there cannot be a thematic approach. But maybe a connected one?
Connected stories, non-connected lives.

Reflection on my middle class indulgence as second nature

London is an excessively populated city. It is expensive and not worth it when you consider the congestion. Nevertheless, many an interesting academic talks take place at this not very exotic location. I travel to the city and stay with my cousin over the week. I get free lodging and free food. She has even packed me 2 lunchboxes with food for the next few days as I return to my Northern Powerhouse location – not too city-like, but only just a town. Today I venture to Kings Cross where my train is to depart from. I’ve taken a train. The difference is GBP 15.

I am a social researcher, or so I like to claim. Today on the tube to Kings X, I was reading one of the theoretical works suggested to me for my research. I want to study the multi-faceted nature of reality that influence decision-making processes. Conscious as well as sub-conscious. There are a number of approaches in the social sciences. One very popular theorists is Pierre Bourdieu. The work I am reading critiques (or rather criticises with big words/jargon) this theory. Margaret Archer calls into question the Sociologist and academic as the only people who can make reflexive decisions, or have reflexive thought processes. Or so I gathered from the words I understood. OF course I agreed. I agreed that the sociologist is privy to lenses of analysis that the commonperson is not. Yet, this does not mean that the commonperson does not themselves practice reflexive thought. The two need to meet.

I’m almost an hour early at the train station now. My cousin dropped me off to the tube station by car so that I would not be late. I was not late. Having been here before, I know that my train would not be announced until around 10-15 minutes prior to departure. I waited anyway, for 10 minutes – before I decided to loiter about the place. My mind had focused on a cooling beverage to beat the 28 degree heat. I am accustomed to hotter climates, but being ill prepared for this “heat wave”, I had forgotten to get my bottle of water.

I decided to amuse myself and look through the shops to buy my beverage. W H Smith tried to convince me that ‘Smart’ water costs only £1.99. Perhaps I’m smarter than smart water – or cheaper- as I didn’t fall for that. It was a bit out of my budget and just a bit ridiculous. I found myself thinking “ha! As if you can convince me, on top of having to purchase bottled water, to pay a ridiculous amount of money for it”. That wasn’t going to happen. With a ‘Nope’, and a laugh, I walked out of the shop. Across me was Waitrose. Waitrose is an overpriced supermarket. There wasn’t much else around, and I was mindful of the time. I walked straight in, telling myself that I would not be making a purchase if the prices were mirrored in this shop too. It wasn’t. It sold Evian – the posh water – at just £0.96. I strolled around the store in search of a flavoured alternative to water, or a cooling beverage of a fruity taste, yet not a juice or thick smoothie. I chanced upon a bottle of Lipton Ice Tea. Lemon. £1.16. The perfect balance of thrifty and middle classy. Of course I bought it. I am a smart shopper.

I made my way to the platforms to wait for the train platform to be announced. I found the trains of the company I was to travel and waited by with observant eyes for the platform to be announced on any one of the 3 services I saw. Got it. I enter the train successfully finding my reserved seat. Before I plant my bottom on the seat, I pull out my laptop, books, Staedtler colour pens, a note pad, post-its, a pen and my bottle of Ice Tea. I write this, in my middle class way. Watching in semi disgust as I behave in the way I want. In my second nature. Or rather my nature. I don’t know.

But then I wonder. What is wrong with this? Why am I uncomfortable, and in what situation would I be comfortable? Today I felt like writing. In fact, when I sat I decided not to have my laptop out as I wanted to read or enjoy the view. Today I want to write. Having a laptop and an internet connection while on board this train enables me to do this. I could have done it with a paper and pen but my typing speed outshines my writing speed. I can also stare outside the window as I type, having used this keyboard before for longer documents. I have privilege. I have some agency. I have constraints. I don’t accept determinism. I don’t want to live in poverty. I don’t want to fetishise it. I want to be aware of my actions and conscious of my capacity to not worsen problems in the world. I want to think. I want to write.

This month, last month, the next month. They have stressed me out with the amount of travelling I have done. More privilege. The thing I miss most of home is the ability to be in one place, to belong to it and feel comfort in knowing that I have power to negotiate the space and my time. It is entitlement to an extent, but I guess we all need that power. How we wield it is what is most important to consider. I’m good at making excuses. But I should never forget my discomfort.

I’ve got an hour left of my journey. I think I might read.

Rambles on marching

I couldn’t make the march today. Or rather I didn’t. It wasn’t that I woke up too late to join in as I had said to a friend (sorry Mich), but it was because I had no motivation to join in another protest which did not seem to have any objective at its end. I tried searching for the aim, but could not find it. Perhaps I did not look hard enough. Laziness. Of late I have found little to no motivation to join in to protests. For years I had, and I wanted to change the world. I even did my Masters which focused on social change. But I find my passion may have been misplaced. Which leads me to my next, possibly more personal point.
I had another reason to skip this march of such a magnitude which I suspect didn’t lose much from my absence, seeing the strength in numbers being reported. I lacked interest in thinking of women as strong if they joined in a march and walked in throngs through cities. I recently lost one of the strongest woman in my life, my grandmother. She was a housewife, a mother, a grandmother who was pretty much also a (third) parent to me, a story teller, a knitter and a loving person. She was very intelligent not only because she read but also because she understood. The difference between her activism and the activists at the ‘Women’s March’ – though the former I suspect doesn’t get counted as activism because it isn’t visible, loud and intense – is that she did it in silence with her actions, and with her voice (audible) at crucial points. Her stories of her childhood and how she negotiated it – overturning gender norms; her behaviour as a parent to me – encouraging, understanding, strong-willed; the fruit of her labour including little bikinis for me when I developed a skin pigmentation condition aged 5, and woollen scarves when I moved to England – it reflected care and hard work; all this influenced how I understand what a woman is. This was in mundane practices, yet we do not think of this as a woman using her agency for change.
Today I am studying further and working because of the women in my life like her. Her encouragement made me continue to work hard. Losing her made me emotionless at first, feeling nothing at all, hollowness. I still cannot comprehend this loss, the fact that I can no longer look at her, tell her about the many things I am doing and watch her swell with pride. Eventually, it made me realise that we sometimes forget, in our neverending pursuit for individualised worth and self-importance, that it is in mundane realities too that we challenge norms, not just to be contrary, but out of conviction. This conviction makes the individual act when it is important, not react, leaving a lasting effect on those around them. It is (one of) the lessons I have learnt from the amazing women who have been in my life forever – my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, my sisters (the cousins as well); those relatively newly met such as friends, lovers and mentors for whom I have developed respect and friendship; and also supportive men in my life including my father, my brothers, uncles, and indeed friends, lovers and mentors. It is what I communicate to those with whom I forge new relations, and seek to always better my understanding of realities, and indeed my practice. We all have strong women in our lives, and can appreciate them too in their mundane existences.
So I am not going to go to a protest, but I respect those who do as their use of agency indeed is essential. Instead, I will use my agency to act reflexively and strive to appreciate the ability to make changes in everyday practice.
And I will turn up to vote appropriately when given the chance.

Footnotes on Globalisation: The pseudo-Global

My Greatgrandmother was born in Portuguese ruled Goa, moved to Dar-es-Salam where she had three children and then returned to Goa (where she had 2 more children). She was widowed at a young age and took over supervising the work on the land (yes, in many ways a Zamindar. Sorry). Her gender was not a problem, nor that she was a widow. Because in Goa it didn’t matter as much then. She saw the transfer of power of Goa to India and then lived in India owned Goa too.
She spoke English, Portuguese, Konkani, Kswahili, Spanish and Hindi – these are only the ones I know of. She probably knew more.
She saw some aspects of our so-called global world. She asked my mother often about her travels as my father works on ships.
Eventually my greatgrandmother died. I knew her for 14 years of my life. She wasn’t young, because she was strong in so many ways.
Today, we make such a big deal of being “Global citizens” and advanced peoples. Yet all I see is our limited, pathetic homogenisation of outlook on life, in terms of language use, trends followed, what we find valuable and our never-ending ego-masturbation. This is no global world. This is hegemony.
I may be fetishising the past a little, but there is so much we presume about our superiority as we exist in the world today. I doubt much of it is true. Take language for example. We take classes to learn languages. We do not learn them to speak, to communicate. We do not learn them as cultural processes, with their meaning and their practice. We learn them as tools of accumulation – to get us ahead of others. How perverse our existence continues to be. It is no wonder many try to search for a previous self, our previous selves or a less unsatisfying way of life.