Cultural appropriation

the key issue when you write about cultures that are distant from your own: be sympathetic to their worldview, even if you don’t understand it fully, which you never will. Don’t judge, don’t try to compare it with your own value-system. It is as the French philosopher Emmanual Levinas said: to relate to the Other without reducing it to the same. Respect without understanding; because understanding, too, is a kind of intellectual violence, an act of control.

– Saikat Majumdar

https://scroll.in/article/842210/why-are-writers-and-critics-around-the-world-worrying-about-or-ignoring-cultural-appropriation

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On Mental Health 

The Brtish Royal Family has started a campaign, Heads Together, to remove the taboo surounding mental health problems.

Watch thiese short videos.

Here Prince Harry, Princess Kate and Prince William discuss the issue.

And here Prince William talks to Lady Gaga –

They surely have followed the example of late Princess Diana.

The Laws of Medicine

“Doctors”, Voltaire wrote, “are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing.”

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This short 70-page book is a must read for every person who has encountered medicine, colloquially or professionally. It draws, in anecdotal as well as philosophical terms, very sophisticated and nuanced picture of the practice of medicine.

As an outsider to the discipline of medicine, I found this piece of medical literarure very endearing. To be sure, nobody is outlier to medicine. To even try to approach that vicinity, one would need to cede existence. Even then, there would be post mortem.

Perilous Interventions

 

It’s called the pottery store rule: “you break it, you own it”. But it doesn’t just apply to pots and mugs, but to nations. In the build-up to the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, it was invoked by Colin Powell, then US secretary of state. “You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,” he reportedly told George W Bush. “You will own all their hopes, aspirations and problems.” But while many of these military interventions have left nations shattered, western governments have resembled the customer who walks away whistling, hoping no one has noticed the mess left behind.

Owen Jones, Guardian, 21 March 2014

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This book presents a inside view of the UN Security Council from the perspective of a seasoned Indian diplomat at the UN. It shows how UNSC was manipulated by political & strategic self-interest of a few powerful nations and how it was even left marginalised the power play of modern geopolitics. It also renders naked the notion that unsophisticated simplistic views propounded by most Western media and think tanks are extrapolated as ground realities by those deciding such ‘Perilous Interventions’.

The carnage in the intervened nations like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Crimea etc. have left a massive international refugee crisis along with vast swathes of internal displacement of citizens in their home countries. The very powers that so vigorously engaged militarily in the name of humanitarian intervention seem to have curiously lost their humanity in providing asylum to refugees.

Mr. Puri examines the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2C) and how it became a pretext of military interventions and regime change. He introduces the doctrine of Responsibility while Protecting (RwP), propounded by former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, as a measure if UNSC has to maintain its legitimacy in the eyes of a changing world.

Is the UNSC just a puppet of the P5 nations or does it still hold the relevance it did in the immediate post war era?

Seeing Like A Feminist

The most topical issue in our times is that of feminism. But what is feminism? Is there a precise belief as such? To answer my questions, I started reading ‘Seeing like a Feminist’ by Nivedita Menon in the hope that I would have a clear picture of what this is all about. 

It covers a spectrum of seemingly obvious topics. But what I got to know is how far from obvious they actually are. I found that abstract notions like that of family, body, desire, sexual violence etc. are much more complex than my limitations would have me believe.

“Ye kiska bachha hai?” (“Whose child is this?”) – this question is frequently put to pregnant unmarried or widowed women. Now, the baby is inside her body so it is obviously hers. But in reality, the question actually means – “Who is the father of the child?” – completely circumventing the evident mother. Implicit in that question is also a concern about the caste or race of the fetus, for to assume that it is the same as that of the mother is incomprehensible. It also envelopes a concern about the claim to property rights and related complications.

A man surname is his own, not his father’s; but a woman’s surname always remains her father’s. She has to change it to her husband’s surname after marriage. Such is the irony of patriarchy!

Any relationship that does not or appears not to conform to the notions that is set in society – inter-caste, inter-religious, inter-race, homosexual – is seen as a dissent, one that needs to be controlled and disciplined. It is precisely this anxiety that exposes the fragility of such constructs. The most important concern here is the potential threat the dissent could be, just by virtue of its very existence, to the perpetuation of patrilineal descent and unequal social hierarchy. Pro-creative desires are expected to flow only in certain ‘appropriate directions’ precisely to this end.

The book studies sexual division of labour, increasing incidents of sexism and violence in workplace, in courts, in politics. The book explains our anxieties behind prostitution, abortion, commercial surrogacy etc. while trying to convince us to look beyond them. What I found most central to the book was a realization that accepted prejudiced practices of society classify something or someone without objective understanding, in order to trap us into its narrative.

It questions the very nature of society – its assumptions, its institutions, its objectives, its claims – to the point that your basic understanding of the obvious is shaken. The book argues that distinction between identities is not a natural certainty but a product of ‘men’ and ’women’ being inserted into social constructs designed to preserve its patriarchal hierarchy. Any view that seek quality essentially threatens to unsettle this spectrum. It inevitably inserts a disrupting narrative into a complex matrix of established norms.

Feminism, I ultimately realize, is not a fossilized concept but an evolving theme that is inconsequential without the contextual basis of time, location and individual experiences. Any discussion on feminism that sidelines the contexts of caste, class, race, religion, region etc. is a practice in futility.

The book enumerates a spectrum of ideas that might constitute feminism. It explains how feminism complicates the social field by questioning assumed gender moralities. It tries to show us a path of thinking in order for us to find answers and then questions them too. It recognizes that gender may not be the defining factor in a situation.

While the basic idea of destabilizing societal norms to form a more equal ones runs into the veins of the book, it leaves itself open to contextual realities so that individuality of a situation is not lost in precision of a few lines. That is where I think the book signifies feminism at its best – confident and risk-taking.

Nivedita Menon puts an interesting line of poetry in Hindustani by Kamla Bhasin – 

Main sarhad pe khadi diwaar nahin,

Us deewar pe padi daraar hoon.

(“I am not the wall that stands at the border,

I am the fissure in the wall.”)

Books on bullshit, literally!

Here are a few –

  • On Bullshit 
  • My life in and out of the Rough : The Truth About All The Bullshit You Think You Know About Me
  • 100 Bullshit Jobs….and How to Get Them
  • The Dictionary of Bullshit 
  • the Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit 
  • Bullshit Artist : the 9/11 Leadership Myth 
  • Bullets, Badges and Bullshit 
  • Another Bullshit in Suckley City
  • The Business of Bullshit
  • The Dictionary of Business Bullshit 
  • Your Call Is Important to Us : The Truth About Bullshit 
  • Hello, Lied the Agent : And Other Bullshit You Hear as a Hollywood TV Writer

This is in no any particular order. I apologise to all those ‘bullshit books’ that could not find mention here. 

There is limited to Bullshit, I guess!

Source: When To Rob A Bank, Penguin UK

A Room Of One’s Own

In 1928, Virginia Woolf was invited to Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University, to deliver lectures on ‘Women and Fiction’. She is baffled by the scope of the topic, so she lets herself dive deep into the history of the plight of women in Britain and the world.

In studying the academic literature of the time, she finds nugatory mention of the actual plight of women. Whenever there is a mention of the female sex, she is an object of a male’s desire or the busy housewife. There is little room for her to navigate anything otherwise.

She explains that the lack of financial power with women had stifled her creative freedom and rendered her secondary to their male counterparts. She says –

Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time . . .

Money, according to her, might have given women a room of one’s own.

She casts aspersions on the very existence of truth in history. She writes,

When a subject is highly controversial, one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold.

She maintains that the truth about women, as accepted today, about the nineteenth century is far from what it appears to be in the countless mansplained versions of women. She, very rightly, points out that the reality portrayed in the countless ‘generous’ works are heavily contingent upon the circumstances, biases, opinions and social construct of the time. She recounts many instances of extraordinary creations of women in the privacy of their home, which – not surprisingly –  never found any mention in academic literature.

As a result of the lack of ‘room of one’s own’, she cites myriad interruptions that women had to face while doing somehting dear. She underscores the need of private spaces for the proliferation of intellectual energy in the minds of women, a lack of which constrains them to failure in their endeavours.

While underscoring the fact that women were treated unequally in her society, she cites it as a reason for the unimpressiveness of their works.

It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare.

She shows how society systematically discriminated against women, how man’s talents were recognized and encouraged by the family and the rest of the society, woman’s were underestimated and explicitly deemphasized making her secretive and ashamed of it. She hastens to point out that talent alone has never been the sole differentiator of productivity.


Feminism, as a political and cultural phenomenon, has evolved constantly over the decades from the late nineteenth century to now. However, it has become much more lucid as well vague recently. We tend to confuse the contours that broadly constitute this controversial issue of our time.

The universal nature of the text, the curious understanding and empathy that the writer shows for her own gender as well as the male, the subtle sarcasm and the citations of renowned works makes this one of the most important works of feminist literary history to date.