Monday, February 13, 2006

Behind the blank face... (part 2)

[Now grooving (it's a strange combination) to:
1. Usher's Yeah (but just the first 150 seconds.)
2. The Motorcycle Diaries - Apertura ]

Parents, being strange and striking, are people I'm continually fascinated with. Not that I've figured
(is that even possible?) my own - despite stumbling across quite a few realizations the past six to eight months - out... Just when I think, "here's the key, this is the secret to how and what they think", something jumps up, bites me right up in the butt-tocks, and let's me know the stupidity of those conclusions.

[ At a deeper level, isn't the real problem - to dig up something Derrida wrote in Force and Signification - of "concentrat[ing] our vision on the keystone of an institution, the stone which encapsulates both the possibility and fragility of its existence"? ]

For example, Mum's not terribly humorous, but when she lets me in
(which isn't often) on why she's cackling, I can't help but look like little Jack-Jack (see photo in the previous post) - eyes wide, in anticipation, confusion, and utter bewilderment, of what's next.

Here's the latest episode. This must've happened at break-time - me, from some reading; her, from some work - and we were reflecting on the previous day. Its low point had been a late evening visit - always inconvenient - by someone who's in this part of the world for a few months. The type of person who chimed, "I'll just drop by to say 'hi!' " over the phone, and then stayed for over an hour. Maybe dinner was implicit, but none of us at home were in the mood, so she finally shoo'ed off, understanding the message.

Since the evening was dragging on and on and on, the only solution to the (un)avoidable silences (during which we all looked very thoughtful, as if pondering issues of world peace and the elimination of war) was to get her talking about her work. (A dirty trick, to ensure I didn't have to talk about mine.) As always, one never knows what's coming next, and since she's a lawyer and professor, anything was possible. Here's where things got interesting. In the context of her day, she fumed about how inefficient things were in Delhi... How her writer - for the book proposal she's working on - had completely fucked up: instead of writing, he'd just edited and re-arranged the text she'd supplied him. "Maah faahv pages... he turned them into four!"

Mmm... despite being in the vicinity of academia - at it's margins, really - this already sounded suspicious. Someone else writing for you? Isn't that the standard operating procedure of professors who exploit their graduate students and students who mug a week before exams from kunjis?

"Oh, aahv duhn it many taahms. On maah previous book, aah had a great ghost-writer. We had such a goohd relationship; aah even asked her to frame her part of the acknowledgements." (sic)

I woke up. Started probing. You know, playing detective; trying to cloak "wtf is this all about? Is she crazy?" in the garb of a school-boyish/research student-ish enthusiasm for the new, the unknown. "Hmmm... are there certain ways or standard phrases a ghost-writer uses, by which people in the know can pick out if a ghost-writer was involved?" <-- Not very subtle, but I'm learning, I hope...
Magically, she was carrying a copy of her book in an oversized handbag, and brought it out. It looked like a GRE preparation book, but with yellow, instead of red, on the cover. A sentence, whose construction I've forgotten, was pointed out to me, in which words like 'perseverance', and 'originality' had been used. But the shock - not of a ghost-writer being used, but at the very phenomenon of ghost-writing - wasn't over. "Is this done often," I asked.

"Oh yes. It worked out great for me last time, and aah paid her quite well, too." (sic)

I bumped into her at a library the next day. She was very chirpy, but not oblivious, I think.

"Aah rilly enjoyed meetin' y'all last night. Hope you did too! Aah'll come by soon - wanted to talk with your mother about her work. Aah've been getting a lot of compliments for it." (sic)

Hearing her speak -
especially the intonation of "maah faahv pages" - reminded me of Bill Clinton (this little nugget connects to the punchline to this post. So, keep reading!) Damn, a solid Southern accent!

So, where was I? Ma and me were reflecting on the previous day. Having just seen a news story about Bush, been disgusted with his ignorant, imperial arrogance, I was reminded of the ghost-writer incident. More specifically, (in it,) the attitudes and tendencies lurking behind "it's okay to do this if I pay them well" i.e. how that whole way of thinking seems to be founded on "I need to get my work done. If I can pay, and someone wants to make (some) (good) money, why should there be a problem?" Maybe I'm deluding myself by thinking of research for how personal it is, something inventive, 'journey AND destination' etc etc :-(

This is when the bitching got ugly. Seriously pissed off with the 'It's okay if you pay' attitude, Ma opined that not only was this a pathetic short-cut, but worse, a diseased mentality. In the vein of superiority-by-quantity, its side-effects on people frequently include a desire for domination and a continuous desire to make another person shut up - not allowing them to speak, putting them down, and making inane connections that far from being contestable, make one wonder, "what the fuck is wrong? What's going on?" She told me about once meeting a few friends, during which a couple of Americans (embassy staffer types) went down this route. Here's what the(ir) logic seemed to be: 1) India sucks. Hence, 2) the Indian Prime Minister sucks. Also, importantly, the other way round too.

In keeping with this (line), while lamenting the sorry state of public hygiene and cleanliness, one of them said something like, "did you know that when the PM was going to the airport, he got down from his car, because he had to take a leak? He did it against a wall!"

(Incredible, I know.)

To which Mum (and those were the days of the threesome of Bill, Monica and a cigar) told me she responded with, "well, atleast the Indian PM got down to take a leak. With what we've been hearing, it's not hard to guess what Clinton gets down for." (sic)


(Let's) keep that blank face on. (Let's) keep learning.


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