I rarely write about my academic life here, but I feel I should record bits of it at least.
A lot of it is reading. Reading frenetically, with excitement, all the time. A girl who finished her PhD in Anthropology once asked me: “Are you one of those whose research i mostly sitting in a library?” Why yes. Not specifically the library, but I do read there sometimes for a change of scene. (Mostly, I tend to behave in libraries as if I’m at a buffet. I go there for one book, and come back my arms full, some of which I will not get around to reading but I can’t find it in me to return them yet).
But also, the couch in my living room, my bed, the MTR, escalotors, and of course, my office. (Actually, in my office, mostly I’m writing.)
My object of study is novels so I read those too. That’s a different kind of fun, and a built-in change of place.
I read along different, seemingly random and endless trajectories. Today, I decided I needed to define “the middle class in India”. I know that there is no easy definition but I still wanted to a) see if there was one b) if there was none, cite those people who say so. I asked my friend Curly how she would define the class the protagonist of chick lit novels in India belongs to and she said, “it’s complicated.” Ha! So Curly was in agreement with current scholarship on the subject. However, I still needed a concise and articulate explication of that.
So I found a book on the anthropology of society in India. In one essay on the body and call centres (a superb one), I found some references to the middle class. I tried to find that book but it wasn’t in our library system. I googled and found the pdf of the book online! I proceeded to read book. I should probably have just stopped at the introduction but no, that wouldn’t be me. I never stop at the introduction, because reading for me is not merely goal-oriented.
I get fascinated by things that might not necessarily be directly useful to my work and I tumble down the rabbit hole. And then at the end of that hole, I tumble down another. The problem is that while the stuff I’m reading may not be directly useful, it is always going to be indirectly useful. There is no useless knowledge. So I don’t limit myself, though I should.
I like reading theory. I try to tell myself that the theory I’m reading is relevant to my work, and again it’s hard to argue that it’s not. I want to use every theory I have read somewhere in my work, and my supervisor gently tries to tell me it’s looking like a mess. But all these ideas are so cool and I want them all.
Amid them, I have to find my own. Ideas that is. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, surrounded by all this brilliance. I would be happy to bask in it without offering a thought of my own.
Eventually, I have to dig myself out of the rabbit hole of ideas, and write something. To write my two lines or one paragraph on the middle class, I’ve read some 10 things or more things. It’s serendipitous when the paragraph I was writing before I tumbled into the rabbit hole connects nicely with the paragraph I start writing when I dig myself out.
It doesn’t always happen, and I wish the connections would make themselves or the reader would just get with the programme.
Only there is no reader right now. It’s just me.
So tell me… how do you define the middle class? Do you think the protagonist of Indian chick lit is a middle-class girl?