21.4.05

Yesterday rocked -no pun intended!

In between all the social commitments that seem to have turned my life into a bonanza of the super-hectic kind, I’ve been striving to be productive in terms of my research and writing. On my to-do-list for this month: a chapter for a book project on biographies and International Relations. I’m happy to report that the first non-nonsensical draft where I express myself in complete prose was completed yesterday. Even happier to report that it literally rocked my world, specifically the world that I inhabit as a(n) “(aspiring) scholar”. (Relevant aside: when exactly can I start claiming that I am one of these i.e. a scholar as opposed to one of the aspiring kind? Is being one tied to finishing the Ph.D. or something more or perhaps something less where something along the lines of treading down the ABD path will do?). But a little more background before I talk about how my world was rocked.

The book project for which I’m writing this chapter brings a bunch of infinitely cool (read: brilliant and fun) professors and grad students interested in exploring the question of how our biographies are relevant to the construction of knowledge, specifically in the field of international relations (broadly defined). Why is this an important question to raise and spend time on? Well, the rationale, at least for me, is that the field of international relations as a whole might benefit (read: learn to be somewhat humble about both its aspirations and achievements) from exploring how knowledge is constructed from the positions that each scholar occupies. The way I see it, these positions emerge from how scholars have worlded in a Heideggerian sense; or, simply, traces how each of us understands our (collective) experiences since they have an influence on the questions we ask and, subsequently, how we go about answering them. Sounds simple enough right? Hardly the kind of stuff of which epiphanies that could rock our worlds are usually made of. After all, one is simply narrating/articulating what has influenced oneself. No surprise there – we know how the story ends and how it begins in a lot of respects. But it isn’t that simple – or, at least, it wasn’t that simple for me…and I loved every second of it.

In my chapter, I use four different experiences in which others have reacted to my name in distinct ways. I elaborate then how this has influenced the way I approach my dissertation project. (For those of you who haven’t heard me talk about it to death I’m looking at how the India-Pakistan conflict has been sustained by focusing on a genealogy of boundaries/bounding practices/difference.) Let me also tack a disclaimer here before I go any further: I do not believe that my life thus far has been some kind of teleologically determined forward movement culminating in this particular dissertation project. Far from it. It’s more of a “particular time” feeling for me. That is to say, for now, I look to certain experiences and interpret them in particular ways as tied to who I am as a scholar – aspiring or otherwise. It’s entirely possible that these stories will point me in a different direction another day or when I’m thinking about them in a different context at a different time. It’s also possible that I might look to different stories, to different experiences when I think at another time about the questions this book project on biographies raises. But what matters in the here and now is that this is the story I like to tell myself about one aspect of my-self.

Now let’s go back to the world-rocking thing….

As I started working my way towards a conclusion for the chapter I felt uncomfortably overwhelmed. Not the kind of overwhelmed where I felt I had to just walk away from this for a while. Rather, the kind where I knew that to get somewhere I had to forget thinking about what I was writing/typing and just type away without trying to first formulate and evaluate the argument in my head. That feeling when you know so many thoughts are percolating their way up – thoughts that are so intimate to who one is – that it’d be like trying to struggle against a monsoon current if one tried to think through it first. Of course, like anyone who has ever been caught in a monsoon current knows from experience, one usually tries to move against it to break free. I did the same with these thoughts at first. But there came a point when I knew I had to let the wave take me where it wanted to rather than figuring out my direction beforehand. (Of course the wave was not external to me but you know what I mean?)

And so I typed. And typed, And then I typed some more. And then some more typing happened.

What I ended up with when I felt ready to stop were 4 or so pages of stuff I obviously knew about myself but that felt new or surprising to me in that I’d never put these ideas together in quite the same way before. Kind of like what you intend the “you know?” to stand in place of when you’re talking to someone whom you’ve known for eons so you sort of expect them to understand what you’re talking about without having even finished the thought. Similarly, these thoughts that I could now see on my screen were not alien to me but they were new to me in that it was the first time I’d seriously forced myself to push them through.

And then it happened. I’d finally articulated my personal beliefs and values as a scholar for the first time that I knew of. Scholar-virgin was, so to speak, no more. This stuff that stared back at me from my laptop’s screen was no longer a funny-in-my-tummy or an idea in my mind for me to grapple with and process some more. It was “out there” in a strange way. Out there for the world to see. And, more importantly, out there for me to see. It was then that my world rocked.

It felt incredibly surreal. It was just so strangely powerful to see my identity as a scholar extended outside my body, my mind, my tummy, my gut, and just about any part of me that is connected with me in any physical or quasi-physical way. It suddenly had a different kind of reality for me – one with a different texture if that makes any sense. All these thoughts had percolated up as coherent and connected prose for the first time and it felt kind of unbelievable. It was like I was reading someone else’s biography and perhaps feeling that it could be my story too but it distinctly felt like someone else’s because it was no longer inside me.

For a few hours I felt as if everything had come tumbling down and I just didn’t know how to deal with seeing what felt somewhat alien yet all-too-familiar because I’d never extended all of it beyond myself per se. In other words, I felt that so much of me – so much that was intimate to me – had come tumbling down. But this tumbling down wasn’t the kind you experience when, for example, you lose your first love. Instead, this felt good. Damn good! In fact, the more time I spent digesting the words that appeared on my screen the more I felt like I was on top of the world.

So what I’m trying to say is this was one of those unsettling experiences when you feel like you’re stuck in the eye of a hurricane but are enjoying the wind (understatement for a tornado I know but that’s the feeling I’m trying to convey here – an unbelievable, can’t-put-into-words-kind-of-enjoyment of what feels life-threatening because it could end your world but when all is said and done you’re standing in the shining sun unaffected by ruins and rubble that might be surrounding you in the aftermath of the hurricane) in your hair.

Simply stated, this felt undoubtedly unsettling but unusually gratifying.

Now that I’ve had time to sleep this feels even better. Trust me - a mind-fuck like the one I went through, though enjoyable, requires serious rest to be completely digested.

It feels incredible to have gotten all of that outside my system as it were and into my other system – my beautiful, year-old but still shiny PowerBook. It feels good to have allowed the monsoon current take me in directions I didn’t quite anticipate. And I must say I thoroughly enjoyed the hurricane winds blowing through my hair….actually, to be precise, through almost every fiber of my being!

So now that I can articulate my beliefs and values as a scholar can I take the “aspiring” out and call myself a “scholar” even though that Ph.D. is still at least a year away? After all, if I can explain to you what being a scholar is all about for me shouldn’t I (finally) be able to claim that identity?

Either way – hi ho hi ho, onwards I go. Until next time :-)....

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