Transcribe your podcast

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said no man ever steps in the same river twice, but it's not the same river and it's not the same man, I sometimes think back to the person I was in my early 20s and wonder how anyone who knew me then can still be friends with me. We all change with time and become different. What is the difference? To me? It has to do with how we see the world. We come into this world and grow into this world with a certain vision of it.


A way of seeing this could be shaped by our geography, circumstances or upbringing and all sorts of accidents. And as we go through life, this way of seeing changes, layers of blindness that once stopped us from seeing certain facets of the world are stripped away. And sometimes we add layers because we want to see the world in a certain way. Some people can go through life as blind at 80 as it were 20, and maybe that's one road to happiness.


But if you keep your eyes open, chances are that you will see more and what you see will change what you are. And there are certain callings which require seeing if you are a writer or an artist or a filmmaker or a journalist, your most important faculty is observation. And that means not just looking at things, but seeing them as my guest on today's show is going beyond the facts and searching for the truth.


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host, Ahmed Varma. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Annie Zaidi, a blogger, journalist, playwright, filmmaker, and I guess you'd just be happy calling yourself a writer. And he's written widely about so many subjects that I wasn't sure what I would speak to her about. In fact, that's why I haven't invited her on the show before.


I couldn't pin down any one thing that an episode could be about, but I knew that I could have a great conversation with her rambling from one subject to another. I've done discursive episodes like that before, which have turned out to be wonderful with the likes of the Toronto Metro Barometer voter Russell Roberts. The book Shenoy took many years and just last week and geologically so I finally stopped procrastinating and invited Annie to the scene in The Unseen. And I'm so glad I did.


This turned out to be such a stimulating conversation and it isn't even such a ramble. We spoke about many things. Yes, language to politics, to religion, to art. But without my planning it that way, one larger theme ran through all of this. How if you combine curiosity with humility, you can see the world so much more clearly. And the fact that Annie has been so prolific with a fiction and non-fiction, with plays and short films means that we get to see what she sees and expand our view of the world if you want to discover her work.


I suggest starting with her recent memoir, Prettyman Cactus. But first conversation before we get there, though, let's take a quick commercial break.


One of the things I worked on in recent years is on getting my reading habit together. This involves making time to read books, but it also means reading long form articles and essays. There's a world of knowledge available through the Internet, but the big question we all face is how do we navigate this knowledge? Who will be our guide to all the awesome writing out there? Well, a couple of friends of mine run this awesome company called Kikue Compounds at Citigroup compound Starcom, which aims to help people apply themselves constantly to stay relevant for the future.


A few months ago, I signed up for one of the programs called The Daily Reader. Every day for six months, they sent me a long form article to read. The subjects covered went from machine learning to mythology to mental models to even marmelade. This helped me build a habit of reading at the end of every day. I understood the world a little better than I had before. Many listeners of the scene and the unseen asked me, Hey, how can I build my reading habit?


How can I apply my brain when I have an answer for you? Head on over to Seedco Compounds and check out The Daily Reader, as well as at other activities which will help you up level your future self. The next batch starts on Saturday, March 13th, and they have already done 15 batches before this. What's more, you'll get a discount of a whopping rupee's 2500 Gwenny 500 if you use a discount code unsign. This is for both the Daily Reader and Future STAC.


Another exciting program to have Soheir head on over to take your compounds at Sudoku, compounds dotcom and use the code.


Unsign up level yourself. Any welcome to the scene in The Unseen, thank you so much for having me on. I've been wanting to invite you for a long time and but what kind of baffled me was that what do we talk about? Not because there's nothing to talk about, but because there's so much to talk about in terms of how prolific you have been with the kind of writing that you do, the kind of art that you do plays as well as films and all of that.


And but eventually I thought that no, you know, should just call any on the show and just try to have a good conversation about anything and everything. But first, let's sort of talk about, you know, your early days before you came into journalism. Like I absolutely loved your book, Prettyman Cactus. And in the first chapter, you sort of talk about, you know, growing up in the town of Liberum. Tell me a little bit about that.


And we are broadly the same age. And, you know, one thread that's kind of been unraveling through a few episodes when I've had guests of, again, around my age is just sort of talking about how back in those days, a lot of the things that we take for granted simply weren't there in terms of the Internet and access to all the information in the world and all the knowledge in the world and all of that.


So all of us sort of you know, we consumed the outside world in very piecemeal and random ways and those piecemeal and random which could shape us and other ways. We were kind of shaped only by our immediate sort of geographical location. So, you know, tell me a bit about your childhood. What kind of kid were you? What did you want to be? What did you read? Did you read?


So reading is the one thing I think that have always done. And I think I also did a kind of rereading I was talking to my mother last week and she told me this quite recently. I still remember some nursery rhymes from my childhood, particularly in the nursery rhymes. I had them by heart and everybody in the family to kind of tease me about me going on, you know, walking the halls, reciting this cetera. These were not nursery rhymes that were from my own books.


These were from my older brother's books with three or four years ahead in in the academic way. And when I was two years old, maybe two or two and a half, I hadn't quite learned to read. But my mother tells me that I had the right to by heart and I wasn't yet going to school, but my brother was. And there was this book, this book of Hindi rhymes. And every time he left the house with it, she says, I used to look really anxious, not so much that he's leaving, but that the book is it.


Is this book going to come back?


I think the world, and particularly the written word and literature in some form, has been there in my life from the beginning. This is the one thing that hasn't changed at all. That aside, I think the other thing in our household was that because my grandfather was a writer and he invested quite heavily in education and literature and culture for his children, he couldn't afford a lot of the one thing he would not compromise on was education. So he as to the extent that he was able he sent them to the whatever was considered the best schools and he did not stint on books.


So, for example, when once in his life, I think all his children were grown up by that time. My mother was already married by that time. But once in his life, he got a chance to go to the United States. He traveled widely, came back and. He didn't come back with clothes. He came back with a trunk full of books, and I remember reading those books and seeing those books in there like that maroon leather bindings.


And I think that was the kind of family and household I was growing up in. And there was no question of you being denied things to read. As long as people could afford it. You had it. When we moved to Florida, it was slightly different. This is the way out place, as I describe in my Bible. My mother was looking for a job. The best job that you could find at the time was in an industrial township.


Anyone in India was growing up in industrial township, kind of knows that there's a template to it, know they called, quote unquote, colony, and it is usually near some kind of natural resource. So in case it was limestone deposits, the hills with other factories, it is something else. Coal deposits are, you know, for steel plants and things like that. For us, it was the Arava in Rajasthan is one of the states that has the most number of cement factories because that's where the limestone is.


So we moved there and there was a little school there because there were so few facilities. I think I believe there was some kind of primary school, a government school in the village nearby. But otherwise, for employees, there was nowhere else they could go. So is an attempt to set up a private school, which was by the company and for the employees exclusively for the employees of that company, the factory. So that's where from the first on the had to kindergarten and other places.


But I think from the first standard to the standard, that's where I went. My mother worked in that school initially as vice principal and as principal. She didn't really teach me. She taught my brother a little bit, but not me. She had administrative duties, et cetera. And she was very in some ways a very lenient parent, but also a very how should I say, for instance, she was concerned about academics because she had to be that was a job.


But for everyone in the family wouldn't be concerned only about me. So she wouldn't be just me. And this just almost never changed. It was only once when I was feeling quite badly in math because we couldn't find. Appropriate math tutors in that little place, and she wasn't a math Do-It-Yourself, so she had to read math and then try and teach me whatever she could understand. But except for I think that one one month in my entire 11 years, she did not teach me at all.


She did not teach me English literature. She did not teach me the social sciences. She kind of left it that you OK, this is the school I run and she will learn what everyone thinks and learned. But I read a lot and I read everything I could lay my hands on, which wasn't a lot, because this place where I was growing up, it had one rush and one subject to one kind of, I think, very small little things.


You could get beans and and socks and and just cool stuff. You couldn't help but remember that one has a shelf and nothing else, you can buy a box that you couldn't buy birthday cakes there, you couldn't you certainly couldn't buy anything that you wanted to read for pleasure. So my earliest memories of reading for pleasure are when we used to go for the summer holidays, we would go and there was this railway station. And you had to kind of sign a requisition form, requisition a cap, and then the cap would take you to the station and while we were waiting for the train so that we lost all that and we were allowed for a journey, you allowed one each.


So that was such an exciting one to see the star, to just see this of books, which I was just completely obsessed by, that the fact that they were books and you could buy them and that I could choose one. So a lot of time was just spent choosing things. My brother was allowed when I was a what. And I obviously read to us that the journey would be much longer. The book would be done in maybe three or four hours, and my brother and I would exchange books and that that would be finished too.


And the rest of the journey would be staring at my mom.


But, you know, Mom, I bought Mom and I bought this is this was my idea of free through all the journeys for has, I think for the longest time. But I was never allowed more than one book for what I've seen in all those years. However, my mom was responsible for stocking the library, so once a year she would go out and buy 30 books, 50 books, whatever she was allowed. She was given a budget and that was my reading growing up.


And I would borrow what I got from other people, orthodontist, friends, whatever I could.


But otherwise it was a very small life, a very limited life, because the kind of place that it was and because there was no public transport, we didn't have our own transport, we didn't have a car, and I certainly didn't know how to drive. And there's no way to go. I mean, even now, I have revisited the place. I went back and some of the teachers are still there, some teachers and some, though. Schoolmate.


And there's nowhere to go, you can drive out in either direction for maybe 15, 20 minutes, you might come upon a dog bite and eat there, but there's nothing else to do. There are no clubs. There are no except for the school itself. There are no libraries. There are no cinemas within that little place. So, um, that that was the venue for bringing the books for your only entertainment and escape into anything.


And you mentioned that your grandfather, of course, had written this memoir called Goodbody God. What did you read that when you were a kid or did you read that later? What impression did it make on you? Much later, much later, I knew nothing of my grandfather's work. Plus, it was an overdue and it hasn't been translated. And I came to, although very late in my life, when I began to research this question of identity and belonging and a little bit of whatever I remembered from what my grandfather told me I grew interested in.


Then I dug up this memoir and I began to read it, that even then I really struggled. I needed help to transcribe it because the lettering is old fashioned and I mean now we would do if we have modern font, which are a little more clear. But if if things were handwritten typeset in the old way, it's really confusing. So I always need to cross-check with someone who knows the language better, kind of send them snapshots and say, am I reading this correct?


Is this correct? What is this war so difficult? I knew very little about my grandfather. My grandfather was very busy man. He walked, of course, and even after retirement, he took up a post retirement position and he had his own writing and things. So he used to get up at maybe 5:00 in the morning and write for about three hours before he went to work, before he went to office. And they need to come back and used to have a cup of tea and maybe a little bit of conversation and then used to write again for three hours in the evening, and then it was dinner and bedtime.


So the kind of. I mean, I regret not having those conversations with him when I could, you know, the long, lengthy conversations about where we are from, his ideas about politics. But I could never have that because he was busy creating the literature, I suppose, and wasn't aspirational to you in some way.


Having someone like that in your family who was a learned man of letters, who was writing, you know, at that point in time, did you think of the world in terms of, look, I like to read. I'd also like to write? Or is that something that really happened much later? How did you see yourself in those days?


I don't think I grew up with any sense of wanting to be a writer. I didn't know what I wanted to be. I would keep changing my answer. People ask them and I hated it left. What do you want to be when you grow up? You know, as opposed like all kids, they cast around for what other people say. So if somebody said, doctor, I would also say, Doctor, no intention of actually being a doctor.


Then for a while I figured out, OK, science is not my thing. So what can I do then? I would say I want to be an ice officer. Then everybody would be my type. That's what should be. But I have no intention of being. And I sort of see the as very confused about what I wanted to do for the longest time. By the time I was in my ninth, tenth thought, I think one thing was clear to me.


So they I want to do something around literature, English literature, and I wanted to study literature. I still continued to study science rather than literature in my HiSeq and mostly, I think, circumstances then that's how it was. But I think I knew my family also knew that my main strength in letters and words has very confused with what to do for a career. I remember in my was a 10 or 12 one of these times. I was sent off to maybe my 12th, I take after my 12th, those sent off to live with my grandparents for the summer vacation for maybe a month or two months.


And I remember going to love it. It's just me and the two of them and. My grandfather would be busy reading, writing as well as was his thing, I didn't know what to do with myself, and there was this question of what will you do later? And with literature? I knew that there's one thing you can do which is teaching. And apart from teaching, you have no options in life. And I did not want to be a teacher.


So what else could I began to settle down and make lists of what are my skills? And I realized I have no actual skills. So my grandfather had an old typewriter and I thought, OK, let me learn to type, which I can be a typist or a secretary at least. So I taught myself to type then on that old typewriter, used to copy some of his letters and poems just for practice. I remember doing that, but even then, no sense of writing.


Originally I was just copying stuff. I was not writing. I did write essays for school, etc. but but more as an extracurricular activity, not as something I felt I was committed to in college to. I had no sense until I think the end of my first year when I discovered that maybe I could write a little poetry under these little competitions, these. I entered one of these impromptu competitions and then I for the first time, I wrote something original and I think just.


By fluke, I think I won a prize because it was just because of my age, right? It's not like you're competing against, you know, all of us are just starting out. But when that happened, I also discovered that there is self-expression and that I can do this, that this is something that. Taps into some part of me, not as a career, I wasn't even thinking of that, I was just thinking that, OK, this is something I have a certain affinity for.


I read and maybe I can write. And then I started writing poems and short stories, etc. again, not thinking of it as a career, just thinking of it as. OK, let's try this sort of thing. I remained confused about being a writer, I think, until after I graduated and I started studying journalism, at which point I think finally I then understood that, OK, writing is my thing. And so a dual question, one is that in those, you know, teenagers sort of see or as a child or who were the writers or the books that you really like that you really enjoyed.


And secondly, I think in the life of a writer, there comes a point where because they get so involved with writing and language, they become mindful of the writing of others, the tricks that others are using, what they are doing with the language the rhythms are creating, so on and so forth. And what was the shift like for you? Was it a very gradual process or was it like Arundhati Roy when she wrote a small thing, said that it was when she started writing the book that her quality of reading just went up, which is a phrase that stuck with me, the quality of reading.


So what was that shift like? And then who were the kind of writers you began to look up to, not just for what they wrote about in thematic terms, but also the craft and how they did what they did? I think I actually started thinking about craft very late, like very lift, given the days to read so much, but I think part of the reason was that I used to read at breakneck speed. I used to read even I ran out of reading material.


So, you know, over the holidays I would read in intense bursts, like I would finish 30 books in two months, 40 books at once. And then that's how much time do you have to pick up craft. Right. And read it. I remember, however, I did start paying attention to teams, I think when I was in high school. The question of teams I think came first and craft later craft.


I think I began to notice only in my late 20s because I think even in my own writing, I started to be a little bit ambitious about writing like in a creative way in my early 20s and wanting to be published. And all of that wasn't happening not that quickly, which was good for me, actually, I think, because now I think back. I thought I was ready to be published in my early 20s. I tried to pull together a manuscript and made a few publishers.


There were very few publishers at the time. And obviously made no headway, but it kept writing and kept writing and kept sort of practicing in a sense. And when I think back, I was writing extremely mediocre stuff. And if that had got published, I think I would not have grown much as a writer. But at some point in my mid twenties, I was working as a journalist fulltime, but I joined and I also joined and formed, set up to peer review groups for writers with aspiring writers.


And what we need to do is we to meet and talk to each other and give feedback and things like that, and I think that is when a little bit of attention to craft starts to happen, at least the mistakes I was making with my own craft and call the mistakes.


Or you can just see how other people were responding to that. I became more conscious of that. And along with that, I think when I started to read something and something would really blow me away. So, for example, I remember reading Paulistas, New York and just the craft of that, it's in your face. It's unavoidable, right? You have to overcome it when you first read it just like that. OK, what's he doing here?


Why is this working, even though it should not work in any conventional sense? That I think happened in my mid to late 20s when I began to perhaps like I think maybe because I was also writing and paying attention to what was working and what wasn't. And when you sort of think about writing and craft, how much of a difference does it make that you're actually imbibing culture in different languages? So it's not just English, it's although it's Hindustani, as it were.


As you know, we'll discuss the languages later in this episode. But how much did all of that influence your writing? Because it strikes me that all of these languages, in terms of values, in terms of what they sort of, you know, privilege in the way they are structured, are very different from each other. Something that works in Urdu may not work in English and vice versa. Murakami's interesting that you named him because he's such a rhythmic musical writer, but at the same time, like so many other Japanese writers, there's also this, you know, a sparseness to explore the simplicity to his prose, which might have something to do with the Japanese language itself, that it doesn't see value or give space for expressionism in the same way that other Bengali might.


So all all of them kind of bring different things to the table. And that's just language like even in terms of storytelling, the sort of traditions that you get, you know, the tradition of the American short story is so different from how Indian writers would kind of approach it, you know. So what was that process of figuring out all these influences? At what point do you start consciously thinking about them and all of that?


So I think that because although I was more or less cut off from the literature, there was it was in the air in the way that spoken to always is, I think especially in north India. You know, it's just there around you, Hindi, a little bit from literature. But I also think that what happened with Hindi was that after primary school, very quickly I stopped enjoying. The kind of texts that were prescribed were, I suppose, literary from the point of view of the people who make syllabi, but.


It was very difficult, the kind of language used was heavily sensitized, that vision of him and I completely lost interest in it was there. We still studied it and analyzed it. It passed the exams, I suppose. But I think in secondary school I do not have a memory of enjoying it much. I do have a very short memory of this point. I I've never forgotten it partly because of its simplicity, partly because it was just so different from the Sanskrit based kind of literature, but in its intent and the kind of morality that Hindi literature seemed to be imbued with kind of punitive morality.


And it wasn't very refreshing. This poem called Rather Solidere. It was prescribed on a school syllabus, but it is not in like what is called shouldn't in the field. So the lines go something like this. It compares the beauty of rather to various things and various animals particularly. And it was so striking the imagery because one, the imagery itself, it comes from, oh, I think a pretty contemporary era. So it's seem to dialogue, which means the waste, the lion she has stolen, her waste from the lion and the educated adult is had desaturate and it says COICA Viviane Baynie biology today, which is that she has stolen her hair from the nugget from the snake.


And that imagery is striking. The language was striking. I didn't understand much of this and I didn't understand much of that. But I remember very sharply enjoying it and understanding that this is the kind of thing that I enjoy reading. And I wish that there was more of it and the the playfulness of it. You know, the last line is up to Connecticut today.


Alina Cho to go to here and. Similarly with English, I remember there was this boy, UNprescribed, not for me, but for my brother, because I would I was always reading three years ahead when his books are right for his sessions, I would finish reading my books. Then I would finish reading his books for both English and Endi. And then, of course, the year would proceed and you would have to be taught the same text. So I think I did have a fairly solid grounding in that in at least two languages.


Or do I think I got more from Hindi films, Hindi films for a huge influence on me, even though we didn't have a television for the longest time. But I think at some point we used to you know, they used to be these people used to travel through with projectors. They would set up this white sheet and they would project the film onto it. And you would just sit there on a daily or on a chair, like a folding chair.


People would carry out the folding chairs and sit and watch them. So that's how I watched some of my earliest. Cinema in Hindi films, and I remember that very clearly, I learned to memorize the songs, I would I had a little notebook in which I would memorize the Hindi film songs and I would write them down. That was my time bus. And so I knew that I still know them by heart, all the songs of the 70s and 80s that I saw growing up.


What's your favorite one, her favorite favorite is hard. You know, there was this gas it like this magnetic tape test that we had, which was all let us like really old ones. And this this one that I really like, which is ten divided I the know something like that, which I knew all of that, but also and also Lattakia the keep and all of those. I think the poetry there and I absorbed it without it being taught to me and that was very good for me I think because I learned to then enjoy it without being tested on it or know.


But that was my only literary influence. As far as author was concerned, the mixed inheritance was more, I would say in the of that. And yes, I mean, in the end, English. You know, I'll quote a paragraph from you from your book where you've sort of described this very eloquently, where you say, quote, Hindustani, a colloquial Hindi, which was year or do was indeed my position. The Sanskrit infused version of Hindi taught in school was a and I bought reluctantly.


It was as if the syllabus had been designed to test how far the envelope of comprehension could be pushed. The Hindi of movies, songs, friends of contemporary poetry and fiction was like a cozy room with a rug on the floor. Official Hindi was like sitting on a stone floor on cold winter nights stopcock. And I kind of love that. And a lot of this, a lot of, you know, how what was essentially one language, whether you call it Hindustani or you call it something else, was, you know, went in these different directions because of politics is is so tragic.


And you see those sort of contrived effect of that on, you know, the worst of shooting, as it were, and as indeed it would probably have been taught in the schools. I mean, even I remember some pretty dreary Hindi back in the day to my listeners will be amused, by the way. And I said that in both the 10th and the 12th, I got more marks in Hindi than in English. So there you go. By way of memorizing big words, do not try this in any other language.


But tell me a little bit about all of that, the sort of politics behind language which has affected not only language, but, you know, all of us.


Essentially, I started thinking about the politics of language only in recent years, partly because it has been, I think, perhaps on purpose, politicized to this extent. I didn't think much about not being taught Urdu, for example, I, I just didn't think very much about it when I was growing up. It was what it was. You took it for granted. I regretted it, though, because as I grew more interested in poetry, particularly with the poetry, I wanted to know more.


And my grandfather was a poet. So I would ask my mom to read out some of his poems, know whatever books we had. I would ask her to read them out and then we would copy them down in Hindi and then we would write letters to have to say explain this, explain this would explain the spot. And that was my actually earliest lessons in school. And I was really interested, but there was no way to do it. I think I began to think about the politics, particularly because it became a physical threat at some point.


There's this report in the media a few years ago about people kind of being facing hostile reactions in metros and buses. If they were seen carrying all the literature or any other literature being equated with, you know, something foreign and therefore worthy of suspicion. And this kind of started to upset me. That really upset me, of course, because not only is obviously I have a personal inheritance or from my family, but that part, if any language can be authentically Indian, it is most definitely it was created in the heart of India, somewhere between from Punjab down up to the Decken.


That that's where it was made. And it's absolutely ridiculous that people know this. Everybody studied that much in school and everybody knows this. So this authorization, the designation of a language as not being from here or just because other people who are now for it, just because different people who live in different countries also own the language, that you should start to treat it with hostility at home. But something that I found quite shocking, actually. But once I started thinking about that, I also began to think about language and power.


And then that took me back to Europe and the way I was growing up, I was growing up in a small place. Obviously, as I've said, everybody who moved to that colony was from somewhere every bit. Everybody I knew had come from from Rajasthan, from other parts of India, wherever they were, students that were graduating students. We had at some point a third language requirement, I think something about CBC rules have changed to something and then the question of what language, what code language can be taught to us in addition to English.


In the end, Sanskrit, Sanskrit was, of course, compulsory. But in addition to that, we needed one more language.


So we thought about it, and I think it was decided because it's town's official language is Hindi. It was decided that we should learn Gujarati because, you know, because that is the nearest to the state. So for two years I did learn. But. The fact is that Rajastan does have two or three other languages, it doesn't have necessarily its own distinct script, so maybe pretty much we were surrounded by villagers with whom we could not communicate. Liberals would come and they would go.


They would talk in their own language. It did not strike anyone because these were not, quote unquote, board languages. We were never going to give our official exams in memory of my writing. It was just a question of picking up another language. But the school and the CBC system did not see fit to then say, OK, why not a local language, which is perhaps not designated amongst the, you know, the whatever the 16 or twenty or twenty five, whatever languages that were in the Constitution list, why not one more of those.


And it effectively what what language and its politicization does is that it feeds people off from each other. This is one of the things that official discourse around language is does it ensures that you actually cannot communicate with people who do not. And that's that's fundamental. Right? If you want to communicate with someone, you must learn their language. So what you're saying is that people who are schooled in history or whose mother tongue is Hindi ought not to then communicate with people whose mother tongue is not healthy or alternatively, the people whose mother tongue is not Hindi.


If they want to communicate at all, either with other citizens or with the state in which they must, they don't have an option but to communicate that the state must then. Within their own language and develop a certain facility with another language, these were things I began to think of, especially as a journalist, because as I traveled, I found that, you know, there is this kind of general thing which is told to us. And I never questioned either that, you know, in these the most widely spoken language, everybody speaks in the except for the South and maybe the Northeast, everybody understands Hindi, etc.


, etc., etc. Everybody understands Hindi to the extent that if you speak in very simple ways, they may kind of understand what you're saying. Doesn't mean they could talk back to you in that language or that they can express the nuances of what they want to convey that language. I was covering at one point very small Indian state of Punjab for sure, but also imagine and I traveled a lot to the British. And honestly speaking, if I was not accompanied by one other person and I usually was, it would be an enjoyable could be sometimes it was a government bus and sometimes it was or it was just somebody from the budget who was in a slightly better than the rest of the community.


If I did not have help, I could not have reported at all. And I think that even so, knowing all this, my reportage was most definitely restricted and not as good as it should be. Because what you're basically saying is that, one, if you're communicating, for example, if I'm going into a community and I need the help of, say, the patch or say, the two people who are well-educated, educated in Hindi, well-educated enough to communicate with me and take me to the homes of the people, whoever I want to speak to.


And if there is somebody who is very marginalized in that community who say does not get along with this bunch or who will not even know that there's a journalist and she wants to talk to you unless other people tell that person and bring that person out to talk to me and interpret for me. If that does not happen, then who am I reporting? What am I reporting? I'm automatically reporting from the lens and the perspective of the most privileged people in that community.


And I became aware of that increasingly, like I found myself increasingly uncomfortable because I found that I am not able to speak with the most powerless people wherever I go. And this is something that. If I cannot, the state will certainly cannot or does not even want to. So how does this work? How does this work in a diverse country where not everyone speak the same language? You know, one of those sort of the the revelations for me in your book was how language can form almost a layer of social hierarchy, which is, you know, which is like Ostrer, which is like glass.


And those are the things we talk about, what language does a similar thing. And of course, at a basic level, we all know that idea because of our postcolonial baggage and all of that English has become a marker of class and has a place of privilege. But you know what an incredible chapter on language kind of brought home to me was how it plays across so many of these different languages, like I'll quote from another part of your book where you speak about how it becomes difficult to even interface with the state of your first language is something else.


And you write, quote, It is bewildering, even scary, to get a notice from the government or the municipality and not be able to fully comprehend it. These are matters of life and it being asked for proof of citizenship, procurement of land tax, serious warnings to not venture into the forest, into the sea, information about free health care, supplementary diets, court summons, whoever controls language, controls everything. Stop court and elsewhere in the book, you also wrote about, you know, how your grandmother, I think, would be scared of going to the bank because she wasn't familiar with the language in the form she might be, you know, incredibly natural and at ease in her own language.


But that's been given an inferior status. So she's fumbling with this form and people are telling her to hurry up and it just becomes so intimidating. And the other learning was that when order was adopted as the national language of Pakistan, it was actually not a language spoken there. I mean, the first language and all of the Pakistani states were different, like in Punjab, it was Punjabi and whatever. And Urdu, on the other hand, not only originated in India.


In fact, the only foreign part of its origin might be the Sanskrit influence, because Sanskrit came from where Cryos today. But, you know, there were riots in Bihar, you pointed out, when it was once officially announced as the second language there and all of that. And it's just also incredibly political. You've also written elsewhere about how once you were wearing a Dabis with Urdu on it and you realized while you were interviewing someone in a village that you know, or should the stubbies is visible and you hit it and, you know, which was quite striking to me.


So is this sort of when you start noticing this stuff?


Because one of the things that struck me about your book and we'll discuss many different aspects of it, is that while, you know, it's structured as sort of a memoir, what you're doing is when you're revisiting all of these places, you're also seeing them with the new lens, you know, looking at language with the new lens or when you're not talking about Epuron, where you examine how apt it is that it's called a colony, because what happened there is essentially colonization.


You know, do many men think of it that way? And we'll delve into that as well.


But so did these lenses shift gradually over time or when you decided to write for it, was that what was that moment of examination a part of when you begin to look at things in a new way?


I think one of the things with me is that I think through writing that I very rarely have clear ideas about anything until I get into the writing. So with regard to this book in particular, I had been thinking about some of these things for a while. I've been thinking about questions of belonging, identity, place for a very long time. Even in my first book, for example, when my first non-fiction book, I have this chapter on questions of identity.


And when I wrote that I was much younger maybe 15 years ago, and it used to really troubled me how in India people are so. Kind of unhesitating when it comes to asking you to define yourself and define yourself by either religion or cost or religion. So this right out. What's up? I mean, I was so shocked when that started to happen, when I was out in the hall. What are you. And I would say I'm a journalist.


And there would be like, no, what are you? And they mean your religion first, of course. And I I used to dodge that question initially just because it made me so uncomfortable. And then just out of a kind of zip, just, you know, obstinacy that I will not answer that what you're going to do. I remember in a long conversation going in at a railway waiting room with this other woman who she kept asking me what I do.


And I kept saying, I don't know. And she said, how can you not know? And I said, my parents never told me. And she said, But how is that even possible? I said, it's possible. So this was sort of thing that I used to get into these conversations, that is to resist the idea of identity set in stone. But over the years, I became more curious about what shapes them, what shapes my identity.


Actually, if I actually had to give an answer, say, how would I try and answer that? And I found myself leaning more towards language and more towards regional affiliation and regional. I don't necessarily mean linguistic. I mean, for example, when I say regional, I don't just mean yuppy. I mean Eastern Europe, you know, I feel no affiliation for Western Europe. And then where does this affiliation from Eastern Europe come from? It comes from but it comes from inheritance.


It comes from land. It comes from stories I've been told about where my family comes from, etc. narratives. A lot of affiliation comes from narrative. And I grew interested in that. So I think that. In the course of writing, in the course of researching things, I was just blundering upon these different ideas and the more I struggled with these ideas, the more certain Onslow's presented themselves, or at least one way of interpreting answers and things sort of once you start opening up the chapter.


And women, for example, was not something I conceiving of at all. I did not want to think of. I most definitely identify as a woman whether or not I identify as anything else. There's no escaping that I am a woman and that's not likely to change, but. But I hadn't thought of womanhood itself as being a dislocated or very malleable identity in regional terms or even linguistic and cultural terms, I hadn't thought of it until I began writing when I sat down and started talking to people.


Then I figured out that, OK, other women feel differently from me. Why do they feel that? That's because they're married or because their family backgrounds are different from why they don't have the choices that I have. So I think that for me, particularly at that moment, comes when I'm in the moment when I'm already kind of put myself out there into the question and I'm casting about for answers that and looking to see what I can gather sometimes these more contentious and difficult kind of ways of thinking about a particular topic just themselves at that time.


I very rarely plan, however, to approach certain question or answer.


You've written very eloquently in different parts of the book about both identity and sort of the notion of home. And I look in quote from something that you say in one of your later chapters where you write quote that I grew into womanhood with the feeling of dispossession that I could not articulate is not surprising. After all, my body, my city, even my culture was not my own. To inhabit obstinate and argumentative, I was the opposite of most feminine virtues advertised in the matrimonial columns of the newspapers.


Worse, I was afraid that I might actually be persuaded, seduced, scolded into inhabiting those values and surrendering myself. How much did you know?


And what you said about, you know, sort of discovering what you think through writing is, again, resonant. Joan Didion once said, I don't know what I think until I write it down. And, you know, when I kind of teach my writing course, I also talk about how it's a two way process. It's not that you know, something, and then you write it. Sometimes writing is a way of knowing and finding out and as much about the self as otherwise.


Now, what I've kind of noticed about see are notions of the self is that a lot of it is about peeling away layers that stop us from seeing things like you made a short film about the color red, about seeing red everywhere. And I remember you spoke about that in an interview where you spoke about that, how you imagined that Mumbai was a city of grays. But then you went around shooting red and you realized that they were just red everywhere.


And what happened? What happened is that your previous lens was a particular kind of lens and you added a layer to it or you took away that layer, which sort of didn't allow you to see red and you're seeing red everywhere. And it struck me as a beautiful metaphor for how we evolved as people as well. Like I think, for example, for a lot of men, there's one layer that never kind of goes away where they don't sort of realize the experience of women in the sense that, you know, if I get into a crowded lift with five men, I don't feel anything.


But obviously, when a woman does that, is that added layer of self-awareness. If you I can go out for a walk at night without thinking twice about it. But even in a safe city like Bombay, I would imagine that, you know, there is that layer of alertness that women have. That's one layer. Then they can be kind of layers of caste, which you peel away layers of privilege. You don't realize whether they are your glass layers of language where just, you know, being able to speak in English with a, you know, a Sakari person automatically kind of in a sense, you are seeing that here.


You know, you know, I could be someone who could have influence and get you into trouble or whatever. And over time. And most people don't become aware of these layers. And I would imagine that as a writer, you know, you are more likely to sort of especially if you're doing the kind of writing that you're doing, which goes into the territory of personal essays and fiction and all of that, that you're more likely to kind of be those.


So when you when you look at, say, the young and the 20 year old and as it were and you know you today, what do you think are those sort of big moments, those big learnings, the layers that are gone? God, I was so clueless at 20, just cannot imagine a more clueless. See, one thing about me was that. I did not grow up in big cities. I did not even grow up in smaller cities.


I grew up in this little wayout place. And then when I did go to college, I went to a town, a small town, but I went to Girls Hostel and it was very, very strict. You were not allowed out except once or twice a month. And that was for maybe two or three hours, and that was it. And if you stepped out at all, even on those. Once or twice a month, occasions, you need to have a legitimate excuse if you needed to say why you were going out.


It wasn't enough to say I want to go up. Never needed to say I'm going to visit my look. I did. I'm going to visit a doctor. I'm I need to buy some essentials, you know, I need to buy books. I need to say whatever it was, you needed to have a good excuse to do that. And because of that, my experience of urban life is extremely limited. Even what I knew it was next to nothing then I knew like not because from family visits and holidays, but you obviously are not allowed to go out on your own, that you don't have your own money.


You don't know how to negotiate public transport. So you know that that experience is completely different. I think when I moved finally to Bombay, Mumbai, as it was by that time when I moved back here, I the city itself was a very shocking experience for one, just the scale of it, the crowds, the having to negotiate everything. It wasn't just that you were negotiating an income, you negotiating every single thing, negotiating the best, negotiating the trains, negotiating the platform to negotiating the staircases.


And I think that for the first couple of years, all my experience is kind of jammed into I cannot separate one strand of experience from the other. I do have this one very clear memory, and this is from when I was younger, actually, I mentioned one of these experiences in the book where when a social worker is typically in the north and also a better and it is not necessarily for the sake of modesty, it's often just decorative. But I used to wear it around my neck and I in Bombay's local women's compartment, the doors of the door, the the loose ends of the door had got trapped between other women.


And I was trying to get off and the women getting on and I was almost strangled because there was one group of women pushing me out. There was this. Became an actual newsroom and neck, and then it started noticing that nobody masturbators the women here don't wear things around the neck, and then it started to pay close attention. And I thought that when women get onto the train to get off the train, they often take a scarf or dupatta out of their handbags and then they wear that once they're done with the crowds, once they're sitting in cabs, once they're entering the offices, that's when they do it.


And for me, that was a revelation that, oh, OK, this is how it works. These are working women in the fullest sense that they're not just women who can have their home lives, but also their external feminine selves. And they occupy in other towns. That was how it worked that whatever that you dressed in in a feminine manner, whatever that femininity was, and you occupied it very fully, but it wasn't like that in you constantly negotiated even that because it could become something dangerous.


And these were the little ways in which I began to understand that. Whatever I am, whatever I have learned as a child, as a young girl, as a teenager will have to slowly be, if not completely given up. They'll have to constantly be tested for context. So the problem is not that the problem is the context of crowded train is the context. And similarly, I found that everything else about my life became more and more contextual.


Growing up as an Indian middle class. Child, I should say, not just women, particularly a but, you know, I mean, I think this applies to men, to your ideas of morality. I suspect Suffixed going to a police station was considered a bad thing because who hangs around in courts and police stations, you know, people who've done wrong things or people who are in trouble and you definitely don't want to be somebody who's in trouble.


So but when I was a journalist, once I became a journalist and that was my job to do, it had to do the rounds of the police stations of the courts and understand that life is so hard for people. It is so hard. And I had no idea it was this hard. And I come from a not very privileged background. I mean, I, I was more or less fingerprinted. My mother didn't have much money. We grew up in these tiny places.


We didn't have our own vehicles, all of that. I needed a job. It wasn't that I was working just fine. I needed the job. But I had no idea that life was this hard for so many people. I think journalism taught me that. And I think that introduced me first to to whatever little privilege I had. It wasn't a lot is very likely just barely surviving in the city. And I thought that was hard. But then you go out there, then you see that, my God, life is hard for others.


You go to public hospitals and you see the conditions of those hospitals. And I think many of my ideas about not only about what makes people do the things they do in either a moral sense or just in a social sense, those things started to fall away. I had grown up with a slight suspicion, which I think a lot of kids grow up with a slight suspicion of leftist politics. Even though my grandfather had been at least in his youth for a few years, he was socialist and that's in his memoir, etc.


. But in general, around me, all conversations with the socialist today with the communist, so, you know, the the suspicion of. Ways of thinking which were on the left was even without my knowledge, I had no idea if you'd asked me as a 21 year old, what is it politics like? I don't know. I don't know what left us. I don't know what is. But once they actually went out there, I began to become aware not only firstly about the awareness of being political.


Did you have to be political? You cannot completely cut yourself off from everything around you and say that I'm apolitical. That was the preserve of the extremely privileged. I understood that very quickly. I also understood very quickly that when people say things like, you know, all those people like I keep slipping back into Hindi because that's the conversation. You're hungry. But people say things like, you know, amongst those people, these things happen immediately.


It's it's actually OK to slip into India to my listeners will get it like, OK, right under computer or something like that.


Yeah, something like that. Keep a digital open ghetto. You know, it'll Bernini to take you know, the poor don't want to start, they don't want to get ahead in life. And those are the kind of things which you absorb without you don't really question that very much. And then when I but when I actually went out there and I saw how hard people work to just get a chance at education, there are women holding down three or four or eight different jobs to be able to put their kids to school and that they trust that that will somehow lift them out of poverty, save them from the worst things that they're out, that there were a lot of things out there.


I remember when I was one of my assignments, I was sent off to cover a raid on a brother in laws working. And my dad, the time it was just one of those things where I mean, one, I didn't even have a family that I'm going to do it because I think I would have been sucked into the kind of confrontation I could not afford to have at the time. But even from my own point of view, of course, it was extremely frightening, extremely frightening.


Just the idea of even when you're going with the police accompanying a police team, I wasn't going on my own, but the idea of being a woman, going into a space which I understood instinctively to be hostile to women. I mean, these were sex workers. Yes. And some of them maybe voluntary sex workers. But I understood it to be intrinsically hostile to the women. And I was very frightened and. I remember thinking that this was a.


Quote unquote, not nice thing I'm doing like nice girls, even for their work, they don't go to brothels, like what is this? What am I doing in the middle of the night with these cops and who hangs out with cops anyway? You know, and I remember having all these questions in my mind, but I've actually never seen an actual sex worker in my life before. And this is true of I think women in particular men might notice or men might even enter into a conversation with the sex worker, because that is the nature of the transaction.


But for women, particularly, quote unquote, nice or respectable, whatever that means, the idea of respectability was something I had not challenged as a 20 20. It just took it for granted that, yeah, I'm respectable and you have to hold on to the idea of your respectability. But I did know quite certainly that respectability is constantly under attack, that even if you are somebody from a quote unquote respectable family, your respectability is constantly under attack.


It is constantly being threatened. Premarital sex. Can Tredinnick photos of you, nude photos if you can, threatening anybody makes a random comment about you that can threaten if somebody goes to your parents and says, oh, we saw this girl sitting so-and-so at that time with a boy. And then that threatens that if you're seen smoking, then that threatens your idea of whether or not you're respectable. All these things I knew and I knew that you have to the guard against any the smallest assault upon your respectability because then your life could be ruined, etc.


, etc.. And then here I was then doing this thing I didn't read where you were looking for underage girls and that one night I have to say that so much just fell away. First my ideas about because these were just things I'd seen in movies, never we never actually met someone. But then I go in and I see that there are all these girls that dressed up and they're being picked out by somebody who's pretending to be a client, which is actually a cop.


And then I saw the cops beating up some of the men, possibly waqas himself, whether they were procurers. And then I sat down with this girl while the raid was underway, because what else could I do? I had nowhere else to go. My job was just to sit and watch what was happening. I'm sitting with those girls, and I was really upset. I don't think I was like bowling or anything, but I was upset enough that even the cops noticed a little round and.


Somebody said that, you know, somebody take this girl away because she's going to start crying any minute now. And then some of these good the sex workers took me away, they took me to another room and they allowed the raid to progress as it was progressing. And they thought for some reason, I don't know why maybe they picked up on my fear or whatever it was. They set me down, they held my hands and they said, did me?


And it was just so ridiculous because they were the ones who are suffering because the cops were going to mean that he was going to happen to me. I was going to go back home. And that night. And even as a 21, 22, maybe a year old, I was aware of this irony that this is absolutely stupid. Why are these girls holding my head and telling me, you know, you don't worry? I mean, I should be the one to them that you shouldn't worry.


The younger it was 17, 18 years old. Many of them were minors. They ended up doing the death and finding that 16, 15 year old girls. I think a lot of my bias is immediate in that moment, everybody said held about what kind of woman deserves to be treated in what way that in that one night that collapsed completely. I also remember thinking that about the nature of policing for the first time, because it was the first time I had seen anyone hit a grown man.


When you come from families where you had seen violence, like in school, I'd see violence, kids getting beaten up, but no seeing a grown man be beaten up so that that randomly cops just seeing a man on top and he could be a client or he could be one of the people who Brookhouse, women, whoever he was, Eitel. It was a very big shock, but I also remember thinking that the cops are supposed to do this, this is not how policing is supposed to work.


Maybe they've done something wrong. Arrest them, take down their statements, etc, etc.. I think my ideas about how the police functions of the day that day, I began to understand that that that things don't happen the way they're supposed to and that the things I've seen and read in movies and read in books are not the way real life is introduced to real life, so to speak. And I was also introduced to and once you start questioning the things you have inherited, the respectability bias that you've inherited, then you start questioning everything else.


So I think for me that was that that one night I will never forget.


And I've actually you know, there's a talk on YouTube video also spoke about that one night. And it's very cinematic, actually, that image of you sitting on a bed, being consumed by the girls, your team, the context in which you brought this up was, again, something that I'd like you to elaborate on, because it's very interesting to me about a journey to journalists should take, but some may not, which is discovering the difference between facts and the truth, that when you are a journalist reporting you're going out, you're getting facts, you're taking quotes.


This happened. So-and-so said this, so-and-so said that. But there's a layer behind it that is a truth. And I presume you mentioned the story because, you know, some of the facts fall away and some of the truth comes out and you see those layers. Now, I would imagine that then, like once this happens, a switch has gone off. It's never going back again. You're never really going to look at facts again. You're going to look for truth.


And your notion of what the truth is will then evolve with time. And the kind of stories that you do, the kind of work that you do will be predicated on that, on, you know, that evolving kind of frame of the world. So tell me a bit about one, the different directions of your thought as all of this happens and to how you start thinking about the kind of work that you want to do, because very soon you go beyond journalism.


You, of course, were one of the early bloggers like me back in the day. Is that something that freed you in different ways and helped you explore subjects you would otherwise not be able to write about? And then on to fiction, drama, all of that. What was the kind of journey like and a distinction between facts and truth? How how hard it is to even define what truth is? Because I think what most of us do in the world is too complex to figure out every aspect of it.


Right. So you adopt a lens and you look at it and it could be a great lens. And Bombay looks great. And suddenly you take away the filter that hides the rate and how you see the rate also. So what is that process like? Do you keep examining your biases and your lenses and your frames?


I kind of do, and I think my journalistic training had a lot to do with it. I think I got really lucky, especially that one and a half year that I spent at midday. I think I just gave the example of the day, but I did a bunch of things like that. My editor at the time was a Carpitella is a big one for just go there and check what's happening. Just see what happens like that. So, for example, I'll give you another example.


This was one of the major stories I did where somebody wanted something done about the rights of the disabled people who are differently abled or disabled in the city. Now, how do you write about that? One weird thing is just to say that, OK, you know, the city doesn't do enough. Leave it at that. But he said, OK, go put yourself in a wheelchair and figure out what it's like. So I spent the day traveling around the city as a disabled persons.


One of the first things that happens is obviously my own fear does come crashing down because I had never thought about what it's like for people who are in a wheelchair. What is the city like? Because you are abled, you just take it for granted that the city is fine, right? What's wrong with a set of steak?


And even if you don't know that, OK, so people in wheelchairs can't go here. So then you say, well, they can't. They can't. And you shrug it off and you don't think for once I did that. I started to see so many things and so many different ways. Not just that you can't climb a flight of stairs, OK? Maybe you can get from platform number one to platform number five. Maybe it's difficult. Then you find it.


Even if you get to platform number five, the gap between the train and the platform is too big. And you can't actually, you know, the train doesn't stop long enough for you to get off the field activities. But even if you have people helping you, that won't happen. Then you second into cinemas, then you see your content eating spaces, then you see that something else, even if you need to go to a doctor and a taxi, the taxi isn't big enough mostly to hold a big check.


So I had two photographers with me who was playing along pretending that I was actually in a wheelchair and he was having to pick me up and carry me and put me in the cab and then fold my wheelchair. And the taxi driver was very concerned because the one to fold up the wheelchair doesn't fit into the back of the taxi all the different ways in which the city is not. Meant it is not designed for people who are different from the norm and then also to become aware that that person could be me.


I am able today, but I could be disabled tomorrow or something could happen, it could be temporary or it could be permanent, I could grow old. The city is not designed for the elderly and most cities aren't. So in all these different ways, I think I was constantly being pushed right to see that. OK, how long does this happen when you call the police station? How long how many rings before somebody picks up? These were all the different ways in which I was being exposed.


I think for me also, it was a lot of exposure, intense exposure of somebody who had been so underexposed within two years. This much exposure was a bit much also. And I think that those two or three. Four years of early journalism really did shape and shape me quite a bit. After that, I think, but however, this creative urge was there within me, I think even when I quit my first reporting job. I quit thinking that this is too intense, I want to sit at home and write poetry, and of course, within a month I learned my lesson because writing poetry does not pay the bills.


And I had to go back, of course, and find a job. But this creative urge also was there. And that one month when I did sit home and write poetry, all the new things I had learned, the things that I did not have time for, the course of a regular boring life, the ways in which my poetry was changing, the ways in which I was changing and learning to see the world in a different way, that I had time to process and sit down and maybe write a couple of new poems and then go back and then write in different ways.


So I was always doing that, I think, and I kept waiting and kept going back because I didn't have much of an option. But I think by the time I was around 20 and it was clear to me that I also want more, that I don't want just to disappear. I want to do more. I want to tell other stories, stories that I cannot tell a journalist. By the time I started blogging, was it all, I think, end of 2004, 2005.


I knew journalism enough to know that most things that I'm thinking and feeling are not going to make it into the coffee, even if you're writing for a magazine. And so you've got more what you don't have to stop at three hundred words. You can write the two thousand words, but you're still not going to be able to write the truth as I experienced it and see it and the many layers of food. So for example, something as simple as I'll give you an example.


What daily feels like after three? In the morning, I was in Delhi, had moved to Delhi by that time. Now, if I'm a reporter, say, a normal regular city reporter, I can just say unseasonal rain, a deluge. So I, I would do whatever and or traffic stopped. Or if traffic doesn't stop and if it's not unseasonal, then why will you write about it raining? Make it rain. So that's two words.


What does that convey to the reader? Does it convey anything of beauty? Does it convey that particular way in which you're learning to see the city if there is just a little crisper, a little cleaner and is dew everywhere or all surfaces? Where did the quality texture? I became interested in capturing that too, because that is also a different vein of truth, a different kind of experience reality. And I found that blogging gave me that freedom. There's nowhere else I could do it, even for free.


There was no other space out there. There were no other journals that would just publish me talking about how I'm thinking or feeling about a certain morning, a certain moment in time. And blogging allowed me to do that. It also allowed me to talk about the story behind the story. So I write the story for the magazine, but also then I get to write about what the train journey was like that I couldn't get a reservation and this is what it felt like or or the kind of conversations you overhear in budget hotels that I found that interesting.


And I wanted to capture that, too. And so I think blogging then became the next way. I started to be formed as a writer, as a writer of prose, particularly, that it was crucial to me learning how to put experience and words together and capture different kinds of truth and and try and make sense of the world around me. And then Ramah, I think, came after one more leap. I had done some more journalism, particularly in rural areas, for I think three, three and a half years.


And I had just started to write my first non-fiction book, my collection of essays. And around then I thought that, OK, it's time for another break, so I'm going to sweep up all my savings, whatever little saving I have, I'm going to withdraw my pay. And I decided to give myself one year in which I'm going to just write that, you know, just don't worry. You're paying the bills for one. You give yourself 12 months of not worrying about paying the bills.


And so then I moved back to my mother's home and for one year I just wrote, and one of the things that I was doing at this time was I was trying to make sense of the kind of social politics or the politics of ordinary people around me. In ways that I couldn't through journalism or even through prose, these were things that I sensed but could not say I can't point a finger or I can't take a photo of these things. Right.


So, for example, one of the first plays I wrote was just I was just thinking about certain aspects of life. One of them was about domestic staff in India. Most middle class people have domestic staff, not always live in stuff, but almost everybody employs me if they could afford it. And labor is cheap. So many more people employ me. And we grew up without too much interaction with domestic stuff, which is very limited. But in my friend's homes or wherever I was.


Ultimately, I also began to hire people when I became a worker. And in my friends homes, particularly those who live in stuff slightly more privileged people, they could afford to have someone stay constantly. I began to notice the ways in which and these were mostly orphaned young girls, young women, to look at their lives and think about their lives and what are their lives like and what are the options and the ways in which living in someone else's house, where you also work, where there's no separation of workspace and home space.


What happens then in that environment to those girls? So I started to think about this. And I knew that I didn't want to do this as an essay or as a report, that there's something else I'm getting at, but I didn't know what, but I had a lot of conversations in my mind, like things I had overheard dialogues, bits of dialogue. So I began by just writing that down. I remember this exchange between two people. Now, what happens if I take these two dialogues and I take these two characters and I open it out?


Will some other thing reveal itself? And it did. It turned into an thing because as you keep writing, those characters take on life and then they start doing things that you have not seen, that you move beyond the reality that you see into an imagined world. We also capture a certain reality and where that reality comes from, you know, but it's there and you kind of know that, yes, this is true. But I cannot present it as far as non-fiction.


I cannot say that this is the truth. So I call it fiction, but I know deep down that this is truth. That's that's fascinating as a quick aside, before I go to my next question and the outside is that story you did sitting on a wheelchair mind idea and you know, our did things like that. I remember back in the day I was so credit to him as well. I think people have forgotten that. A little side of him you know, I did a workshop with him for my writing students.


And I if I remember correctly, he mentioned in it how he no longer wants to be an editor, that that is in the past and all of that, which I think is a little bit of a loss because he would be able to mentor so many young people so well.


But but the eyesight really is that this is a you know, I had a stroke a few weeks back on my show talking about the book he's written on food signs. And we were talking about how we experience podcasts. And he listens to my show at Three Extra Freedoms of Speech. And he mentioned that he started listening at higher speeds because a friend of his who was visually disabled was blind, would listen at 66. So I try to take it up to six, six, and I couldn't make anything out.


And then if you just close your eyes and listen at six six, you get a sense of what that experience is like, that how they have had to develop this facility, because that other part of theirs, which we take for granted, which is site is simply not there. And there was recently something that Netflix did which people mocked. You can now watch something on Netflix at the half speed or double speeds and all of that. And, you know, people like us.


And our first instinct is that why you want to watch it? Normal speed. But the reason they did that is because the blind people, they watch Netflix in a sense, by listening to a visual description of what's going on and because the brain can taken, you know, up to 500 words a minute while we speak at 150, they want the higher speeds. And the people who want the lower speeds are, you know, those who can't hear.


So they are looking at the subtitles and therefore they need to be slower because reading speed is slower. So it's it's such a oh, what at first seems unnecessary to people like us who take all of this for granted, take our experiences for granted. Brilliant move on the part of Netflix. I think. Now what I also wanted to sort of look at and I've been thinking about it a bit, is about, you know, back in the day, even we bloggers didn't think of blogging as something that is incredibly serious or will change who we are.


But the more I think about it, one, I think that what blogging does is that one, of course, as you mentioned, it gives you the freedom that you are not bound by former House style or theme or whatever. You can go in different directions. You can write one better, you can write 50 Paros.


But the other thing it does is that not only do you go off in all these different directions because you are not self-conscious, because what you are writing is only a blog and you give yourself the freedom to experiment. You iterate a lot like I did. You know, when I was active, I did more than 8000 posts. I think whatever the quality of those might have been, it's only constant iteration that makes you better. And therefore and my other sort of speculation there is I wrote a post on this recently that the form in which whatever your artistic form is or your form of creativity is a form, shapes the content and the content shapes you.


So if I did a five minute conversation with you, for example, I would not need to read your book or know anything about you. I could just ask, you know, for snappy questions. And the whole thing would be very shallow. If I do something much longer, I have to read everything you've written. I have to really work at it, whatever the subject is, in forcing myself to do that, to bring about the content that suits the form.


I am also changing as a person. So now when I look at your journey and you've of course been much braver than me in the sense you haven't held back, you just got into drama and filmmaking and stories and you just read everything, which I can't tell you how much I admired because I think a lot of factors hold people back from doing that, such as confidence to begin with. But did did exploring all these different forms, did they start changing you and the kind of explorations you made and the kind of writer you eventually became?


I mean, starting with blogging, of course, but all of these other things. With the phrase fools, rush in comes to my mind, you know, I am a bit of a fool in that sense that I do tend to rush into certain things. Any one of the things about me also that I constantly like to test and learn. So I have this great thirst for novelty. I like new things. And I've never been for example, I never read in one particular genre or format, even reading wise, and I never read all the works of one writer.


And I think it is mainly that that once I've done something and I see something new, there's this great desire to see that. Can I do this? Let me try. I might fail, but let me try so I always want to do it. A couple of years ago I even wrote a chatbot script and I'm in principle like I dislike bots in general. But but when it was a project and they said, can you do a script? I said, yes, I can do it.


So if I can do scripts, I can do this too. Why not? Let me do it. Let me do it once. Let me try.


So, um, I think that for me it is one of the things that I do really like being tested in that way. I don't like being judged necessarily, but I do like being tested in that fashion. I try most things once to see that, OK, what's the worst that could happen? I'll fail and that's fine. So from a creative viewpoint, I'm not afraid of failure. This has helped me in many ways because even within something like poetry, for example, at one point we were doing this Nupur A.M. Things, which is the national poetry writing national for the US, not for us, but we just kind of appropriated that.


So the challenge is to write 30 poems in 30 days. And at one point we also began to as a collective, we were doing the writers collective took Efrati. At one point Elsas had started setting exercise and that included myself, set myself exercises and say that today, right overlimit today, write a song today, write sestina. These are difficult things to do, but you try and you do it and mostly turns out but fewer than 30 poems.


Chances are they'll be three good words, maybe two mediocre ones, and the rest will be just absolute rubbish. And you have to be prepared to just toss them out and say so. I wrote 20 bad poems a lot, but like you think about iteration, writing those 20 bad poems enables you to write the two good ones. And I was learning that. And I think one of the other things I've noticed is because I'm also kind of I've always had one foot in journalism and then one foot off and then one foot back in and out of journalism because of the nature of the job, because you're so exposed to so much of the world, to other people's experiences, etc.


At some point, I always want to stop and take a breath and see what was what was that? What is this? How do I think about this? Is it enough to just write what I have written and then leave it at that and then. And then. Do I not push further to see what this experience actually means in a creative way? So I think a lot of that was happening, a lot of what I was learning through research and journalism was then being after I've done the early work of the report or whatever it is like a year later, two years later, it's still stewing in my mind.


I'm still trying to figure it out or two different ideas suddenly come together. And you see that, OK, you need to write this. But in a new format that this needs to become a place of this needs to become a poem. For a while I was doing this thing and I still try and do it, though. Not very successfully, but for a while, I was picking up newspaper headlines, at some point I got really frustrated and I continue to remain frustrated by how much the news hypes.


You know, you work in the news, you've been in the media, you're partly responsible for creating this thing.


But as much as it is about telling the truth, it's also about not telling the truth. And I became for a while quite obsessed with that, that idea that that this newspaper report is not telling the truth at all. It's actually helping me not see the truth rather than see the truth. So I began to write pick up newspaper headlines, which I felt were either ineffective or concealing something or just or just picking up random headlines and then seeing that, OK, how can it twist this around to actually reveal a fuller truth about society in some way?


So I took the headline and the headline remained the same. But the rest of my point was a response to that headline to try and convey what is being hidden.


Give me some examples of headlines like that which sort of hide more than they reveal. I mean, I'm sure all headlines at some level are like that.


But but I just read you a poem. Please, please do. OK, so I'll give you one headline, which was. Two Palestinians shot dead after attacking Israelis. So I saw this headline, and obviously it is it is a factual headline and there's no denying that do whatever whatever incident it was that forgotten the year, maybe maybe four or five years ago. They it was a knife attack. And I read the report and I thought that this headline conveys something, it conveys violence, but it also conceals so much violence.


And then I wrote this poem in response. Two people armed with knives were killed after they separately rushed towards different groups of Israelis armed with guns. Two people set out from home or whatever remained of that feeling called home. It is unclear if they kissed anyone goodbye, but preliminary imaginings indicate they held that thought away. It is unclear if their homes had been bombed or if any children died in the shelling. It is unclear whether they rebuilt or relocated and if they had whether they were bombed a second time.


It is clear that they had access to kitchen knives. It is clear they rushed towards wielders of guns. It is clear the guns would be used, the color of their skin is clear, the olive trees, their beds, their throaty mother tongue. The last words were not so clear. So that's the point. Lovely, thank you so much. That's quite moving.


Oh, sorry, I actually interrupted you when I asked you to give an example. So where did you finish your thought? And then I'll continue.


I know. So. So there's another one which Vassiliadis. Another one called. All eyes on HSC results. And then I thought, this is such a silly headlines. Obviously all eyes, not only just the results, not just the eyes of children and parents, maybe other eyes are doing other things. So then I wrote a kind of slightly. A teasing kind of love poem and response that is about the job or so rather than look at it.


So you want to read that Otisville.


OK, why not, I'll read that one out as well to. So all eyes on HSC Results is the headline, and the podium is how many eyes are trained on the highest secondary results? Hard to say, but eyes are slitted, sleek, with yesterday's failing eyes follow monkies, jibbering through a bizarre rubbing neon out of the black of night, eyes are fixed up on a street gone gray with too much going away. Lost foundlings, blinded by concrete eyes wait on the road divider, holding the skeleton of a bunch of red roses that grazed the skin of passerby who looked but saw nothing except a flower pot that he used as a spittoon.


Eyes are intent on some assured insurance plans and a new duffie car, but was semi friendly neighbor with good skin. Eyes are careening wildly between get Matt Gyari, TABC, UPMC, BMT, Beatties. Anything yet? Most days they're fixed upon the luminous face of a guide who won a gold medal for every exam he ever said. And he comes to uni in blue fleece and real leather sandals. Lovely, but tell me.


No, you're also being unfair to headline writer because how is the headline writers supposed to fit all that in?


But is it the case like you you've pointed out elsewhere in your book about how language can play a subversive part in how we see the world? For example, you talk about going to the school trial of a gentleman whose daughter had been murdered and it took you a while to figure out that his daughter had been murdered because the lawyers had kept using the term Hutz Gearheart scorebook, as well as if, you know, something had happened to her.


And I'm reminded of Alcalde a little bit of something Jackson got said a few years ago about how violence against women is reported, where he writes, quote, We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women. We talk about how many girls in a school district were harassed last year, not about how many boys had US schools. We talk about how many teenage girls got pregnant in the state of Vermont last year, rather than how many men and teenage boys got girls pregnant.


So you can see how the use of this passive voice has a political effect. It shifts the focus of men and boys and girls and women. Even the term violence against women is problematic. It's a passive construction. There's no active agent in the sentence stop quote. And this is a uniform example. But is it then the case that if one gets a little mindful, you can see similar perversions or similar ways in which language obfuscates what's really happening out there, where it might, you know, in the like in the two headlines you pointed out, it might be stating a fact, but hiding the truth.


Yes, absolutely, I agree with you, and in the case of women in patriarchal language, it is most evident, but in almost every other way, too. So, for example, one of these this is one of my pet peeves, this wood group. And the other pet peeve is this word development. I am so annoyed at people who do not challenge this growth in what like in general terms and actual. Don't you break down this idea, notion of growth into your personal life.


What will it mean? I remember once going to do a story in a rural area where people were protesting the impact of a particular plant because of the pollution to the destroying that is just destroying the plants and so on, so forth. What resources were getting contaminated? And then I went to the factory that was doing the polluting and there was this man and I was quite young at the time, and I didn't have the language and the ideas and the experience with which to frame my thoughts and argue with him.


And as a journalist, it wasn't really my place. I would argue it was just to hear him out. But but I felt argued with, you know, because he was quite aggressive. And one of the things he said that, madam, what is development? And I said, you tell me what is development? And then he patted the bucket, the front pocket that men's shirts have. And then he said that. I have five hundred rupees in this this is development that I should always have, and that is development.


You don't have to inaudible. And I remember thinking that there's something wrong about this argument, but I didn't know how to say what is wrong, so I didn't not argue at the time. And obviously, if I'd just spoken to the people who were protesting in more detail, they would have given me the language, their language. And later I read more about this. I read this. And now it is quite famous, actually, this letter that one of the people who were protesting the number that one of the farm leaders, you know, he wrote a letter.


And he wrote about displacement from this perspective that he said that. You know, you speak about the games that somebody would make whatever and what will be replaced and we will be given a piece of land somewhere else in exchange. But do you know what I have here? And then you listed all the different kinds of foods that he has access to where he is. And that is not seen as when you speak of money and development, what what is money?


A piece of paper, right. But what it does is it gives you access to other things. So for us in open areas, it gives you access to the ability to rent places, for example. And you think of money in those films because it is enabling that, but for somebody else in another context, they already have land and they can build their own houses. They don't need you to come and build houses for them so that you can then buy or rent those houses so they don't need you.


And whatever your idea of this so-called quote unquote, development is right. That can buy them all of these things. Choice of food we think of, OK, when you develop in life and you have growth in life, you have so many options, choices. One of the most expensive things there is the ability to go out there and then choose, do you want to eat this or do you want to eat that? You have the option of 15 different things and that is what a good life is.


But if somebody already lives in a place where you already have access to 15 things and they are all free or things, he can grow himself. He doesn't need you to give him that. And who are you then to say, surrender all this, sign up for some other system, but you will have none of this and then work in the ways we are telling you to work and then maybe you will have a choice of three different things to eat.


It is just absolutely horrific that we allow these storms like development, growth, GDP. What is the here. Break it down for the people in ways that it affects them, their lives. If people by and large benefit from a system, whatever the system is, and they want you to sign up for that system, it is because they actually do know something about life that you don't or you know something about life, too. But you can feel it under these this garbage words like develop who is developing?


What is developing the GDP number? A number of developing means nothing. Numbers of people were able to live healthy lives longer. Maybe that means something. But is your GDP doing that? If it is not able to do that, if the number of malnutrition, kids or kids suffering, stunting is not going down, but your GDP is still going up, then there's something wrong with the way you measure things or other things to which to attach labels like growth or development.


That was right. Sorry it took off.


No, there was a lovely rant. And, you know, I agree with all of that. I had and I did an episode on GDP with the economist Rajeshwari Sengupta, where we both spoke about how incredibly flawed the measure is. It just makes me angry when people in many different ways. I mean, of course, it is a metric that can be gamed. But even beyond that, conceptually, it's sort of a deeply flawed and as far as development is concerned, I think the big on DG would have defined it is the one that I think is most relevant to India with his understanding of development, really, was that if you know, if you show me a policy, I want to see whether it will help the poorest person.


And if it doesn't end with it otherwise, I'm not. And I think, you know, there are ways that both you and I can agree upon whether that can happen. But unfortunately, we've gone in the wrong direction. So we should now, I think, get to the subject of what the first chapter of your book is about, which is the ongoing colonization that happens in India. But let's take a quick commercial break then, and then we shall return to the subject.


On the scene in The Unseen, I often speak about positive some games. Well, if you want to be surrounded by beauty and you love fine art, I have a Win-Win proposition for you. Head on over to Indian colors, the Indian colors, licenses, images of fine art from some of the best contemporary artists in India and adapt them to objects of everyday use like tote bags, pouches and home decorators. You get to surround yourself with the finest modern Indian art at affordable prices and artists get royalties for every product you buy.


Win win game, the unique colors, new ranges and includes elegant yet comfortable dresses for women and casual shirts for men with standout motifs by artists such as Then Why Someone Dominika Garibashvili Shooting Sympathique, Mishra and Jedi to stay home but dress smart. And if you're missing your friends in these days, why not? You can show them you're thinking of them by buying gifts for them from Indian colors. Corporate gifting is also available, so head on over to Indian colors dot one.


This colors within you and make art a part of your life. And hey, for a 15 percent discount use code unseen. That's right. Unsign for 15 percent off at Indian Colors dot com. Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with anxiety about the remarkable sweep of a career, so I don't even know what this episode about, but it's about many things. And and there's much in all her work that is thought provoking for me.


And I hope we can talk about some of that as we go along. Let's talk about, you know, the first chapter of cement cactus, because it was really interesting to me in the sense that I picked it up. Now, I have known you a little bit. We've been kind of acquainted for many, many years and the blogging days. So I thought it's a memoir and let me read it. And, you know, one of the things that I loved about the book is that how it's sort of got the skin of a memoir.


But, you know, you'll talk a little bit about yourself, but then through that, you'll talk about something much larger than that. And and it's very well done. You know, it flows beautifully in a sense. And even sort of the memoir aspects of it are more sort of impressionistic rather than a detailed chronology that this happened and then that happened and all of that. And it works very well together. You know, as we've discussed in the earlier part of the show, you grew up in this small town called a small colony, a township.


I don't know what word you would give it, but colony is most apt, I guess called.


So tell me a little bit like you've spoken about the hierarchies within Jacopo room, of course, that they were ABCDE housing for different classes of people.


And there's this poignant moment where your mom was promoted. So you are moving to a higher housing and one of the Eagles is seeing now you'll only hang out with the seagulls. But beyond all of that, outside all of this, there's another much bigger game playing out that can only be described as colonization, making the term colony apt to tell me a little bit about all of that.


So I'm intrigued by the use of this word colony for residential bases or industrial places that even in Delhi, sometimes for residential places, people use the word in this context. I began to think about it in the context of colonization, particularly because once I got into the history of it, you know, what is this place I got interested in that, you know, how how do people just land up in the middle of nowhere and create something new? And more importantly, what was that before in India at least?


I don't think there there is any place where there is nothing before. And in colonial narratives and colonization narratives or rather colonial narratives, we see a lot of this of, you know, there was nothing there before. And for example, in the Australian context, I read this book, I think it is called that the dark travel, the secret travel, something like that, which is about. People, mostly convicts, who were sent away from England to Australia.


And it's a lovely book. It also takes a not unsympathetic view of the people who went because their lives are very difficult to win and the laws are terrible in England at the time, you could be jailed for kids, were being jailed for stealing bread and things like that. And a lot of people were sent away to Australia as convicts were just teenagers with stolen hanky or pot or a chicken or things like that. Just food. So these were desperately poor people, and it was a miracle they survived that long journey to a completely alien place with nothing really.


And if you survive, then, OK, maybe it could make a new life there. But they show up there. And the thing is, the point of that book, really.


Is that there was somebody there and that they knew there is somebody out there that pretended that there was nothing there, that pretended that these people were savages and that they didn't know agriculture and that we there be made agriculture. But then the writer says that through the this family that has gone there and. The protagonist, the man of the family. He sees. That there are patches which were already being cultivated. It wasn't the same kind of cultivation that the English were used to, but it was cultivation.


They had agriculture. They knew how to make fire. They knew how to hunt kangaroos. They had their own lives, their own, whatever it was. And when they began to take over the land, there was a lot of land, but when they began to take over these lands, they were aware of the new settlers, that they were taking something over. It wasn't uninhabited land. And you see this within India quite a bit. When something new comes up, it doesn't come out of nothing that there is something there.


And what happens to that? Something that is the big question. It's not as simple as imperialism, for example, because we are a union. Right. What is the meaning of it? It is the Union of India. So people are free to live and work and capitalize on the natural resources of the land anywhere in the country. That that is part of being what a union means. At the same time, there is the kind of taking over a kind of effacement of what was there before.


In my case, it was very stark because the name of where we lived, it was written up there in painted in limestone on the hills. Right. So in a way, it was like you stamping the landscape itself with the name of an industrial township. Right. And that the name of the industrial township is what the township does not take the name of the places that existed there before. It takes its name from the names of industrialists. So it's effectively the name.


What is it? The name lady of the industrialists, the family that owns the place. And this is true of others. Also, I shouldn't single out one another, for example. It's true of other places. It's where everybody sort of got colonies come up. The assumption is like, for example, that. But what what what was there? That was something that wasn't there. Nothing existed. But when an enterprise, a privately owned enterprise enters a space.


Transforms that manufacture, something that creates new buildings, et cetera, but it faces what was there before, starting with the knee, you know, starting with something your own name on the landscape to then other things, then using the natural resources. Obviously, the land is confused. The mountains that used, the limestone is used, water is used, ground water or the river water is used. And all of this goes into doing something, manufacturing cement right now, you can argue that it's for the good of the country because we need cement for construction and so on.


But their profit is concerned the profit does not stay here. The profit is channeled out somewhere in these respects. I do think it is similar to the process of colonization, because when you construct a colony, come in there, sometimes you change and sometimes you don't. You promised the local population something I mean, even in imperial terms that this was what was done. It was not that the locals had nothing to do with the enterprise. Of course they did.


The armies were injured. By and large, everything was they did. But the key thing was that the profits left the place. So in our case, in a large sense, when we speak of colonization, we speak of nations or continents. You they. Whatever South Asia was, we were completely colonized and we had nothing at the end of all of these things, we always will build, but not to our purposes. Things were being made, not things that we needed, things that other people needed.


And they decided for us how much we would participate. And they took back the profits of that enterprise to another location. So in this way, I think when someone enters a place, yes, they try to do their bit. They try to give back to the community, to set up schools, hospitals, all of that. No disputing that. But what is the primary purpose here? The primary purpose is that you will enter a space, use the natural resources, take the help of the local people, create something so that you may profit.


And that place is not the primary holder of that profit. And you yourself do not live there. You'll think of something else as home. You set up industry somewhere else. You have your life somewhere else. You're invested in making that place ultimately more habitable than this place, which, you know, will ultimately run out of deposits. How long can a natural resource last? It's going to come to an end maybe. Maybe not in 10 years.


Maybe after 50 years. What after that? The money isn't staying in that community. Those are some of the things I was thinking. And these are very complex questions because it brings you back to the question of so then should we have to development? So who can exploit what and in what way? But I think it's worth having a conversation about how much of the profit and how much of the resources can be taken and how far they can be taken from the place.


Where they're being exploited, that's illuminating, I'll share a couple of thoughts and then I'll come back with sort of a question which has kind of puzzled me for a while. And, you know, let me see what you think about it. But first, a couple of thoughts. No wonder when you think of it as colonization, I would not even put the caveat that you put. I think it is exactly colonization, even if they're not separate countries, partly because, you know, when you look at language, when you look at terminology, you refer to the Union of India.


What is the Union of India? Right. The Union of India was essentially we kicked the British out. And then the way that the princely states came together. And all of that is not as if there was a consensus. Everybody agreed to join the Union of India and so on. You know, just Willy-Nilly part of it. You know, it's not any more respectful of individual autonomy than necessarily colonialism was. In fact, even that other phrase, you know, cement being for the good of the country.


Any argument that I think invokes a collective good is always problematic because it's pointless to talk about the good of the country. Although, you know, we've done a cost benefit analysis of benefits are better because in all of those, the costs will be borne by one set of people. The benefits will go to another set of people, which was a point I made even during Demonetization. Like, first of all, there were no benefits, as I wrote repeatedly at the time.


But even had there been greater benefits, the costs are being borne by someone else. And that's not sort of morally acceptable. And on the same sort of strand, you know, earlier you had spoken about how, you know, different context in the context of language about how as a journalist, you go to a village, you meet the Sarpanch, you're talking to the servants, but you don't know enough of the language of the marginalised people there to be able to converse with them.


So the sarpanch becomes sort of a mediator through which you access all of that. This seems similar to me to, you know, how the British developed the notion of what Hinduism is. I had a great episode with Monopoly on this where and he's written at length about, you know, and so have so many others where the British come here. Their only interlocutors are, you know, the sarpanch of the time, as it were, which are the uppercase Grubman's who sell them this particular notion of what Hinduism is with the word system and the costs and all of that, a very minority notion.


And they extrapolate that and that becomes part of their notion and that's how they govern. And suddenly all of these diverse identities and traditions and customs are subsumed in this larger narrative that develops over time into this monolithic grammatical thing, which is which is not really so great and which is not really so dominant, though. And it seems to me that that's also, you know, you've you quoted Tony Joseph in your book. Tony was on my show as well.


And the big revelation of his book is that what we know now from genetic evidence is that we've got an inclusive society till about the year zero or, you know, sort of the start of till 180, so to say.


And then one dendritic plain strand of thought about what Hinduism wins over and you have in Togami. And which is why, you know, David Reich refers to the Indian subcontinent as not a large population like the Han Chinese would be, but as a collection of many small populations because of what and Togami has sort of done. But that's a random trend. But I thought it's interesting because the same thing seems to have happened to these advances where you're kind of bringing them into your narrative and, you know, as if and subsuming them.


Now, my question here is sort of what I wonder about is this. I done an episode on the right to property, Shruti Rajagopalan ages ago. I think it was Episode 26 where we kind of both felt strongly that the right to property, which which was diluted massively, should have remained a right. And a lot of the sort of solutions to this kind of situation lies in the proper application of that. Because what should obviously happen in these cases is if the devices have occupied the land for centuries, they should own the land and then they deal with it.


What they do now, there are two things that can happen. One is that they don't own the land and therefore the state will get together with Krone's and they'll do all of this nonsense like another scam that is often run as you can't sell agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. Right. So agricultural land, therefore, to the farmer has no value because he can't sell it to anyone. But if you change the land use certificate, it can be worth 40 times as much.


So what the state will often do is they'll do land acquisition. They'll say bado farmer one rupee, and then they'll change the land use certificate and, you know, give it to the industrialists or the industrialist changes the land use certificate, allegedly. What happened in the Robert?


The other aspect, which is where I am kind of where I don't know what to think, is that let's say the advances are given ownership of the land, but then these private parties go to them and they bite off anyway, individually, one by one, promising there's promising that giving so much money and. They may not even you know, they may be asymmetric information, they may not even have the all the information to make a good judgment and it goes away.


Is that part of the mix of what happened that the original people in that landed on some of the land and sell it off without knowing? And if that is to be the case, what would be a solution there? Because I think the other solution that I often hear from activists that you have collective ownership by the tribe of a particular piece of land just doesn't seem to work for me because it ignores individual autonomy. And I think it's making the same mistake of thinking in terms of a collective.


So, you know, you've been to all of these places and reported from that in your book really didn't have these sort of details, obviously, because you were looking more into the sociological and cultural aspects which will come back to. But what are your thoughts on this?


So one of the things that is really difficult for me, I don't have a clear position on this, but I think one of the things I struggle with. Is the question of our notions about what is ownership? Now, a lot of indigenous tribes, including certain other tribes, not all divorces in this particular place that I wrote about, for example, they did have very clear notions of private ownership and they will families who expose it. And those families did whatever money they were given.


And I think that if there had been much more money given, they would do the same thing again. So I don't think that that in this particular case that this was a problem. But there are if they do not believe in private ownership, they do believe that the earth is holy or that nature does not belong to individuals and that it should not belong to individuals. And I see that point of view to I personally, it is true that if I owned property, I would like to think of that as my property and not think of it as other people's property, that it is true, speaking for myself.


But I also get the logic behind people thing and I also see the limits of private ownership. So when it comes to water, for example, I have forgotten the name of the guy, but some very rich person in the West, whoever he was, said something ridiculous, that there's no need for water to be a basic human right and that it should be privatized if you keep pushing natural resources and land is ultimately a natural resource, you have to understand that property is is at the heart of it.


It is nature. And within that comes everything is so minerals under the soil, whatever you can, mine, et cetera. But land, air and water are also inalienable. Right? Right. And there are limits to the transferability of that. If what is next, er then and we are coming quite close to the point where you might end up bottling and buying and deciding that, that you know what part of the planet is habitable and what isn't and then what do you do.


And I think they've actually already painted us as a species, painted ourselves into this corner dangerously close to having to take these awful decisions. But the indigenous tribes are concerned, I think from the land and water perspective. They got there much faster than not. They get as far as er is concerned, but. If you say that land ownership itself is sacrosanct, then I think that there are limits to that idea that the. If you make a purchase, obviously, in law, that Butches will hold right?


But if you make a purchase and you destroy the land and you can legally because you own it, the impact of that decision is felt by other people who own other land, but not yours if you poison the groundwater. It doesn't just affect your piece of land. It affects everyone. So which is one of the big problems with this industrial takeover. And like Google, for example, one of the big flooding problems you could have imagined was a dry place flooding.


Now, who could have imagined that that would happen? But it's happening because bad construction, taking too much groundwater, blocking off river access, et cetera, that's happening in all cities now. So the impact of one decision on private property done legally, done the right way. Even then, I feel that one has to kind of understand that because we live together, the collective idea, whether we like it or not, collectively here on the planet.


So the collective idea must be taken into account even as we discuss private property. Yeah, my my sort of response to that is that I wouldn't say that private property is sacrosanct. I would say it's necessary and it's necessary because of is scarcity. And if there is scarcity of something, then how does the world work? You can't just have people fighting all the time over limited resources, whereas, you know, a system of property properly administered can work to the, you know, works much better.


The other way of looking at it is that I think what you point out about what happens if someone poisons groundwater, what happens to everyone, that's much more likely to have happened with collective ownership. I mean, the tragedy of the Commons always happens in the Commons, right? You're much more likely to not give a damn about the quality of the water or the air or whatever. When you don't own a part of it. It's you know, that's kind of where it comes from.


And without private property, I think everything falls apart. We've seen that all through the 20th century, what happened in the Soviet Union and all of that. And inevitably, while it's a very nice concept that we all own everything and we live collectively together, inevitably, you know, the powerful will control everything and the rest of us will be vassals and serfs. But I you know, having said that, one is not I think the problem in this case is that this is not how property should really be administered.


I mean, if the idea was he's lived there, that's their property, then the only question is dealing through, you know, thinking through the naughtier problems that then arise of what if individuals are acting without, you know, adequate information? Will they make the wrong decisions? And even there, I would argue that, you know, as as far as individuals are concerned, it's sometimes dangerous to sort of condescend to them and say that, well, they don't know what they are doing.


So this collective notion of what is right must sort of prevail. But that said, I entirely agree with everything you said about colonisation. I actually go further and not put any caveats there. I mean, this is what kind of street caution sort of leads to.


So please, please go. If I can just add to that.


I think one of the problems also with the language of the law, the discussing language earlier and the problems with that is that while I agree that things should be properly administered, et cetera, the question is, which brings us to the question of one who's doing that ministry and secondly, how we're defining laws. Right. So. People who can't prove that they've lived now, not love of functions, but proof, right, if and this doesn't apply just to our devices.


We're seeing ridiculous cases like people who are alive having to prove that they're alive. Right. And as a legal entity, am I even alive, like, am I a citizen? If I can prove that a citizen of the law is not for those reasons, too, that the burden of proof is always on those who cannot substantiate it. And if you don't have people, let's say we agree that, OK, there must be other ways apart from paperwork, paperwork can be taken away from you.


If there are other ways, then what are those other ways? Those other ways are all administration and power structures. The somebody the night they lot, the set bunch, the local guy, whoever your local clerk is at some local office will then certify or the local cops that certify like they do with passports, take up to a house and certified that you actually live, but you claim to live. But then that puts you at the mercy of those people.


Right. We all know how that works. And then then the law then gets misused. So it's the never ending cycle.


But then you give the example of the gun tribbles that if the interferes with the, you know, the state, the state won't interface with them in their language. They won't even recognize the language. So what are the poor going to do? Quica cited one of my and this is an outlier, but it's an interesting example of something like this working out one of my good friends. But when Mitra, who's also been on the show, worked for many years with, I think, forest tribals in Gujarat to establish land ownership, and there was a big battle with the state and it took many years.


And my bad for forgetting the other activists at the forefront who worked with him, that I've forgotten the names. But there's a documentary called India Obliques, which documents this.


And I learned that from the Señores and how they managed to establish tribal ownership of the land they claim to own was a use Google Earth data, historical Google Earth data, going back to all the 15, 20 years that they needed to show and they could actually show the houses and the walls and the habitations and they won that case. The tribals got the land ownership. And here's what is so remarkable that the moment they got the land ownership, guess what is the first thing they did?


They all built toilets, you know, which is such a sign of incentives, right?


When it's your own home, then you begin to invest. And there is no longer that fear that we could have to leave anytime and all of that. And I find that an incredibly insightful story of, you know, technology solving almost ancient problem and, you know, getting people the rights, though I figured it might be an outlier, especially in our dysfunctional state, but moving away from sort of the unpleasant topic of the state, as it were.


You've also written at various parts in this book about something that has a lot of resonance with me, which is defining where one is from, what is home. Like you, you quoted Maya Angelou in one of your chapters where she says, quote, The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. And elsewhere when and I found this very evocative where you spoke about how, you know, you wrestled with the taboos that you were wearing without doing it.


And at first you hid it away. And then later at one point, you decided that whenever you wear it, you will not hide it. You'll wear it openly. And at that point you wrote, quote, As much as home is a place of safety, it is also a place where you are visible. Stop. Good. Look, can you expand a little bit on what your sense of sort of home comes from and where it evolves from?


Like, you know, of course, you spent a bunch of your childhood in Jaipur that's not so much part of your home. You seem to be much closer to Lucknow. You've spoken about Eastern Europe, some good Allahabad, all beautiful chapters in your book, which I recommend the listeners read. Tell me a bit about the evolving sense of home for you. And because it is something I struggled with myself in the sense that I've never been anywhere long enough to really call it home.


If anything, Bombay is home for me, but it is where I live. And when I equally think of the related subject of what is my community, I don't really have one. One can build communities of choices, but otherwise one feels kind of rootless and homeless and all of that.


And like me, you're a migrant to this great city or great in terms of big city, though, it is great in many ways.


Tell me a little bit about, you know, your conceptual sort of journey through understanding what this home could mean and what I think what it started out with this book.


One of the things I had to do was, you know, write an essay. And I threw everything I had in my mind into the essay that's kind of just sort of free floating ideas in my head. And I start with the image of the grave, for example, and then I move into language and safety notions of safety and alienation and citizenship. So I think safety is key. Certainly, I think that home needs to be a true home, needs to be to feel like a space.


Space and of course, lots of homes aren't safe, but I think that those homes then up. Possibly either houses rather more than homes or they are homes in the sense that you do love the people involved, it could be your parents, could be your siblings, etc. But if that space is not safe for you, ultimately, you're not going to feel at home there and you're going to want to leave sooner or later. That's going to happen.


And if you're not, then you're effectively trapped in a slave. And it's a horrible situation. So safety and freedom are both not only safety, but the freedom also to grow into the kind of person that you feel like you want to grow into as long as you're not obviously hurting other people. But I think those two things are absolutely critical. And that applies to both your immediate family and in a larger sense to the nation itself, that the nation needs to feel like a safe place and you need to be able to use the word visible, I mean, to be seen in the sense that you can be seen to be who you are.


Now, in my case, it could have been I use the example of the ideal verdict, but it could be, though, somebody else who was reading a book on the Metro train and was told to go to Pakistan for those reasons. Or it could be something else, like it could be a sexuality, for example. I mean, now we have the ongoing argument about same sex marriage. It could be that. It could be a bunch of things, really.


I mean, these things constantly evolve, like, for example. And the Khalistan movement was on and there was a lot of killings of Sikhs and young boys, particularly a lot of people left the country around that time. They sought asylum in other countries or they just migrated any way they could. And one of the reasons was that they were not feeling safe. It wasn't just a question of territory, but also that as a community, that community stopped feeling that the state was doing right by them.


And they they weren't sure whether they could trust the state at that particular point of time. So I do think that safety is key. Self-expression is key. That it could be. Little choices or whatever it is that, you know, that it could be language, it could be a bunch of other things that I talk about, but mainly I think it is that a place where you are not being punished for just harmless things, for being who you are.


I think both at the individual level, at the family level and at the national level, wherever you face a certain amount of hostility for being different or just being, you know, that that is. I don't know what the opposite of home is, I guess not quite sure, but we do have a. Yeah, I know that that's and it also strikes me, you know, you've written elsewhere about this great quote by you about what your claim to India is in your words.


And of course, your mother is an Indian Muslim. Your father was a Hindu who came from Pakistan. And at one point you write, quote, I don't see it the way I don't want to make any claims upon India through appeals to Hindu ancestry. The stronger claim is that all Muslims who chose not to leave and presented with the choice resisting majoritarianism, I genuinely believe is the highest form of patriotism struggle. And this is a point in the episode last year, couple committed also meant that if you think about who are truly patriotic, is not the Hindus who stayed by default necessarily because they didn't have to do anything.


It's the Muslims who chose to stay. And what you were just saying, thinking aloud, it also strikes me that all the Muslims who left did not, in a sense, leave home. It's just that they suddenly had no home because a notion of safety is tied up at home with the way you're defining home and that kind of, you know, went away with them. And in these present times where, you know, we've spoken about all of the politics, you know, coming from language and the way, you know, all those associated with Muslims and suddenly go to Pakistan is, you know, something that is hurled at us so often.


You know, I go back to your God that, you know, as much as home is a place of safety, it is also a place where you are visible. Stop. Good.


And a very sad question that struck me then. Is it then becoming very hard for Muslims to feel at home in India today the way it is?


Because those layers of whatever safety that you had are being stripped away. I mean, it's not necessarily something new. Our culture has been like this forever. You know, things like love, jihad and ghostwrote over issues back in the 1920s as well as a chemical, writes in his excellent book on the guitar press. It's it's been there. These are strains. But obviously these strains have come to the surface, you know, and it's gained more than sort of it's not just part of the culture.


It's politically dominant. You've written in your book also about how it's so hard for Muslims to sort of get the horns in Bombay, a struggle that, you know, you face being Muslim, woman and single and all of those all those multiple strikes against you. So what are your evolving feelings on this? Because this is something that to someone like me, it is not visceral. I can think about it at an intellectual level, but it is not visceral because I am not in danger.


Right. But for someone like you, it's different. So tell me a little bit about how your thinking on this has kind of evolved and where you see hope, if any.


Well, I'm always very reluctant to speak for other people. I think this is one of the reasons why I write so many personal essays and memoir and things, because I always resist the urge to speak for, you know, a community or the nation or write the big India book or whatever it is. Speaking for myself, I think certainly there is some degree of insecurity, and I think more than anything of the reason there were so many people protesting against anarchy, etc.


, was that was the first time in the language of law there was some discrimination enshrined.


I mean, there was there was no other problem with refugees from anywhere in the country. And they could they could be easily Hindu refugees from Bangladesh or Pakistan or whatever.


But there is no reason to assume that Muslims in Pakistan are not under attack and they are minorities in Pakistan and not just Hindus, the Christians and the Muslims, the Shias, the AMADI, they are also under attack. And this is the first time that specificly implicitly there was a discrimination made in law. Which I think made it extremely problematic, because once you lose citizenship, you know, this is the beginning of the loss of citizenship or at least the beginning of of discriminatory laws, which will then expose you to a lot of harassment that you're constantly having to prove, you know, by way of paperwork or some other way that you belong.


I think starting from there, certainly people are very concerned. I would say that they don't feel at home. I don't know if because. Speaking for myself, I can just say that this is what I know, that this this is home because it always has been and I don't know of any other home or any other place, but I'd rather be in that sense. And I think. All the Muslims that I know, at least even the ones who are very vocal and very critical, one of the reasons they're that vocal in that critical.


And a lot of them are relatively privileged. It's not that it is inconceivable for them a life elsewhere. The reason that they criticize is because it matters so much to them that they be here, that that their affection not be challenged and that the sense of belonging not challenge it matters that much, which is why you're willing to risk the everything else that comes with the displeasure of the state or whatever it is. But I do think that speaking for myself, I can say this, that the feel was also quite right now.


And part of the reason I, like I said, is the law, but also that more and more one sees that justice does not actually happen, where you're seeing a certain difference in the way violence that law enforcement unfolds and the ways in which if, for example, the PIF comes right now to my door, what will I do? I'll call the cops. Right. And I have always all my life believed that the cops are there for me.


Right. But if in my mind, you plant a seed of doubt because of not necessarily one set of cops, but another set of cops elsewhere, having behaved in discriminatory ways or having said and done things that they shouldn't have, once you plant that doubt in my head that you can't call the cops because of what might happen to you then or because they don't care, then you have to live your life differently. If you start counting up on the stage to give you what the state owes you, then you have a very serious problem.


That is, I, I cannot even conceive actually right now what my life might be like if I lose that faith and trust completely. So far it hasn't been lost completely. So for people, people argue people could take people fight because they haven't yet lost hope. Once they lose hope, then there'll be nothing left to talk about. Yeah, and, you know, as far as the NRC is concerned, the reason it was such a big deal was, you know, not just the kind of the letter of the law where some people defended it by saying that, hey, but, you know, all kinds of specious reasonings were given.


I had a great episode and this was not Rogovin as well, but also because the intent behind it was explicitly stated, you know, there are videos of Omidyar's stating at election rallies that what would, you know, happen? And I saw him after year, came into operation and all of that. So you could say the seizure was part of his toolkit, as it were. But to sort of get back to the subject of all that's a, you know, one of the most striking sentences in your book.


In fact, the sentence of the book for me, which really struck me, was when you wrote, quote, was Partition concluded in 1947 or was it initiated or stop quote? And almost as an elaboration of that, there is this wonderful quote by Maulana Azad, where he wrote at the time, quote, It was being openly said in Congress circles that Hindus in Pakistan need not have any fears as it would be four and a half crores of Muslims in India.


And if there was any oppression of Hindus in Pakistan, then Muslims in India would have to bear the consequences. Stop. Gordon, after quoting him, you said, well, they are right. So in a sense, just looking back on history and all your readings of it and sort of what you've seen around you, would you say that in a sense there is a historical inevitability?


I mean, nothing is inevitable, of course, but with the currents moving in this really sad direction anyway from back then, because everything that is playing out now is not something new that has happened, not some, you know, quantum leap of events. This whole movement, as you know, historians like Akshay Mikhailov and Allcott himself in his recent book have sort of documented it's been playing out for a long, long time and it's been coming to this.


So one of the things is that I am fundamentally against theocracies. I do not believe in theocracies. I do not think that's sustainable over any length of time. And I do not think that any country that defines itself solely on religious lines can hope to be a properly functioning country. I mean, it's not like countries haven't defined themselves in religious terms before, but they haven't defined themselves solely in religious terms. And I think it's been very rare in society where partitions have happened like national, but the entire country separating only on the grounds of religion.


There are usually some other factors involved. So there have been many kind of separatist movements as well. And sometimes it's about political thought, sometimes it's about language and culture. And all of these are different facets of religion. And sometimes religion is used to kind of as a as a tool to with which to extend your own political party, starting from crusades, etc. doki and the institution of the Caniff, et cetera, et cetera. All of these there was religious power invested in rulers, but there was never a time where any any prosperous, good, healthy society chose to define itself in exclusionary terms, that we are this because we are not that I think the problem began in India, in South Asia, particularly at this time, because the moment you say that, you know that that you can conceive of a nation or that you can conceive of national boundaries as countries, not linguistic terms, not on customs, not as geographic entities, that a solid mass of people will happen to be living together in the same geography.


The moment you say that we define ourselves as X, as separate from Y, the moment that happened, whether it was. One bunch of people doing it or it was another bunch of people doing it. It was the Muslim League, but it was the early thinkers. Some people say the earliest proponents of detonation theory were also the proponents of modern India. If you begin to define yourself as that, which you are not, you will always have trouble defining who you are and you will always find the other within the other within the other, like in Pakistan soon after partition, that the problems with the enmity started because you decided that, yes, we are an Islamic country, but they are not Muslims.


Let us not. So of course there will be some oppression of minorities, but you will also constantly create new minorities. And when the oppression of the old minorities gets boring, then you find new ways to focus on appropriation or marginalization. And we are seeing that Pakistan is suffering the consequences of its not just the minorities that suffer. The country as a whole suffers because conflict is conflict and conflict cannot exist as a one way street that's inevitable and added to that that all the other problems.


So it's not like you replace one set of problems with another. I think this is also the problem with India and India would absolutely. Should have taken its lesson, seeing that everything that has happened in Pakistan, seeing that this has happened, we should have taken a lesson and course corrected in some fashion and actively stopped trying to define ourselves as we are not Pakistan. That is, the entire national identity cannot be reduced to that. Not Pakistan. Not China, though.


You're not even Sri Lanka. You're not even Nepal.


So you want to be neighbors when Nepal very strongly feels that it would not like to be.


So I think there's a bit of a problem there. And I, I do think that it is quite dangerous to press on with this kind of because, you know, if you thought that you could have gotten rid of the Muslims by creating Pakistan and then later Bangladesh, then you say, OK, there's still a few more left, we'll just get rid of them in other ways, whether it's through, you know, marginalization or in political trying to find political solutions or then.


Then what? It doesn't take long in Pakistan, it didn't even take it's taken less than 50 years from the focus to shift from the Hindus, are the Christians as the other to the Shia, which is a very large minority. It's not a small minority in Pakistan. And and they have other problems in the hands. They have the Baluch problem. They have this problem, that problem, poverty, unemployment, all of those problems. I just feel that.


What happens in situations like this, I haven't read enough historically, but I think what happens is that you ultimately run out of others. And you ran out of political solutions to try and address the other ization of minorities, and sooner or later someone steps in to take advantage of the chaos. It could be an economic advantage. It could be a political advantage. It is inevitable. So it should be on its guard not to allow that to happen.


Couple of great insights which I'll unpack. One is, of course, the exclusionary aspect of it, like when I did an episode with our on this a couple of years back, in fact, he pointed out that, you know, what is this Hindu nation really all about? All it is, is exclusionary. It doesn't define itself in positive terms, like we shall only do this or we should only do that. But in negative terms, like right down to the language, right down to the movement that we shall, you know, Hindu Sunnies and good, because the influences we shall build a Hindu without question or, you know, love jihad is exclusionary.


The laws against cow slaughter, obviously we know where that where they are targeted. So they are exclusionary. This whole Pakistan thing is exclusionary. So that's a great point. The other sort of great insight of it seems to be the insight of the month on the show is what you sort of refer to about finding new others. Like last week I had Roku's Angela on the show, very fine, public intellectual, and that's a pseudonym, of course.


And Raghu spoke about Karl Schmitt's concept of politics requiring an enemy where the idea is that you always require an enemy to do politics. And so eventually, even if you manage to, for example, whoever is your enemy, know, if you get rid of them, you will find another enemy from within and you will keep splintering and keep splintering and keep splintering till till there is sort of no further to go. And one does sort of see this playing out within the Hindu right wing, even now where there are these internecine little wars developing.


So even in a hypothetical thought experiment where you could magically, suddenly all the Muslims of India could be put in Pakistan, even if you could do that, I don't think that would solve anything. It would probably make things much worse, which is anyway, a crazy thought experiment. So, yeah. So it's yeah.


But I don't know where it ends up because I don't think we have enough of a sample size of these situations playing out in history to know where we are going. You know, my earlier sense was that, look, it's going to get better, but it's going to get worse before it gets better. So you have to be patient and wait it out. But when I try to think about scenarios in which it gets better, it's really hard to come up with stuff.


Let's move away from religion for a moment and talk about another major fissure within this country, as it were, not just yesterday or day before. There was this ridiculous court judgment. I came across on Twitter where a minor girl had been repeatedly raped by someone and the court to ask her rapist, do you agree to be her husband? Right. And this is, of course, that age old thing of women being looked upon as a property of men, which is enshrined in the Indian laws.


By the way, I read episodes on this as well. And, you know, even culturally, like one of the heroes of the Hindu right right wing is a guy called Capitally Maharaj. So he wrote this really interesting book called I Forget What It's Called, but it it's something verses Ramras. I think it compares communism to Raja. And there he says the reason communism can't work is because there is no notion of property automatically. Every woman, therefore, does not belong to anyone, and she becomes a bucket from which any man can drink more or less quote unquote.


Right. Which tells you how so many people think of women that they are the property of men. So if a woman has been defiled as property, then the rapist needs to make it go to her by adopting her. Now, you've sort of written about this in pretty strong terms yourself in your chapter called Outsiders at Home, where at one point you've written, quote, There was little difference between a wife and a slave in the sense that both were uprooted physically and psychology of woman's sexual choice was easily overridden.


She didn't control the fruits of the labour and just like slaves couldn't leave. It was not for nothing that wives in many cultures refer to husbands as Lord and master stopcock. And of course, you back it up with a whole bunch of statistics like, you know, the human development Sauvie in 2016, which found that 74 percent of Indian women need permission from parents, husband or in-laws to step out of the house even just to see a doctor. And only five percent felt they had any real control over who they would get married to, which, you know, seems a very real big job.


You know, many of the people listening to this might be in privileged situations where they don't see this around them. But these figures are real. And you've written a lot about this now. You know, just looking at what's been happening over the last few years, one, there has been a sense that people are making more noise about this. You know, you had the Nirbhaya case. You had, you know, ME2 breaking twice here, nor did anything happen to any of those men, but at least in the rhetoric.


In public, you'll see this being spoken about more, but are things really changing on the ground? What is your sense of it? As someone who's been writing about it and covering it for so long?


My sense is that they are changing and they aren't changing. So they are changing in the sense that compared to you need something to compare it to. Right. So from everything I read, even from what I remember seeing, I look around me in the urban context and I see that things are different from what they were, say, 20 years ago when I was a child or or from what I've read in literature of the late 19th and early 20th century.


So some things have changed just in terms of the education statistics. Right. You look at the education statistics since India won independence and you will see that for both men and women, that education is much more widely available. Literacy is much more widely available. Even from when I wrote my first book where I was saying that I did the math and said that I must be one maybe amongst the top one or two percent, just on the basis that I do have some postgraduate education.


Forget my income, just the fact that I studied that much. This is me in a position of great privilege. I think even from there, even from 15 years ago, things have changed a lot significantly. Many more women graduates, the average age of marriage has gone up. It used to be somewhere between 18 and 28 is now closer to inching towards 20 to just above 21 one. And that is, I think, a very positive sign.


And I think if you compare it to a hundred years ago, I mean, when there were girls who were being married at eight and nine and 10 and I think at 13, girls were considered too old to wed. And from there to where we are now, I would say that so much has changed. A lot has not changed when it comes to safety, and the reason it hasn't changed is because I was just having this conversation actually earlier in the day with another woman, but she refused to talk about feminism in the context of some seminar Women's Day something.


And she says that we have enough feminism, women know what they want, etc., etc. The problem is that we have no conversations about men and masculinity. We have so many conversations about women and feminism, but we do not. Men are not taught to think differently. They are not to change anything. Women are constantly being told to change things, to break the ceiling and to shatter that stereotype and so on. So the men are not shattering anything.


Maybe a very small handful of them made apologies to you. Of course I'm sure you will. But in general, by and large. And there is. So much of a tendency to laud men for simply acknowledging women as being fully human beings and being so busy doing that, the moment that this is not only offended by the way I read a lot of blogs and conversations in Australia, in the West, in America, in the USA, you have these conversations, outrageous conversations where a woman gets raped or whatever, what she accuses a man of rape.


And the only conversation there is that he's an athlete and he loses a year and his life will be ruined. And you got to wrap your mind around that, right, that we're in this day and age, even in the so-called, quote unquote, developed countries, that this conversation is is unfolding and that it's real. But it is I think that one of the things is that we haven't we haven't started talking about it. And I think we really need to start talking about the reasons why we don't talk about it, about the bodily integrity of women, the absolute and full autonomy, not just sexual autonomy, but the absolute physical autonomy that is due to women.


And all conversations kind of come to a halt of this, partly because the general fear of any sexual like in India, the government and I don't think it's just this government of all successive and previous governments over the last whatever number of years refused to have sex education in schools, high school students, I mean, and at the age of consent, legally 16. So at 16, you should be able to not only have knowledge, but also be able to discuss these things in class at all these conversations.


By and large, I think if at all the enfold that happened, maybe four, five, maybe not even one percent of the population, actually, I think the other thing is that while we give women freedoms, the whole idea is give women freedoms, that girls are given more freedom, no language, language. So the whole thing is nobody talks about giving boys freedom sometimes to give children freedom. In general. Children, again, are property in the way that women are still seen as some kind of acquisition.


The other is that we do not talk about. Because women being women and the way that your biology works, because you are the one that gives birth to children, I think a lot of the conversation dies down when it comes to this question of children, where there is this reluctance to acknowledge that the reason why you do not want to give full bodily autonomy to women or to consider their consent is because then you will also have to consider the fact that what she does with her body, including childbirth and what she does with the children after that, is also her decision completely.


And that you have either a minor role to play or no role to play at all. And this is something that no society is willing to acknowledge, not just India. I think the West, particularly to that they do not want to acknowledge the fact that if you allow women full bodily autonomy, then you lose control over the children that she will produce. And it's an ancient, ancient thing. Actually, this is the fundamental civilizational question starting from, I don't know, biblical or even before that, whatever that whatever that it was before that this it's at the heart of all systems.


This is where patriarchy shifted to patriarchy, that the control of the children, the fruit of the womb. Because finally I read this very interesting thing that when a woman gives, but they call it labor, right. She labor it is she who labors. It is the fruit of hard labor. It is not the fruit of your labors. So who then controls the children? Who owns the children, so to speak? I think fundamentally you cut away everything else.


It all comes down to that. And all violence targeted at women is ultimately targeted at controlling who she will be and what she will do with those children. Fascinating and what's also ironic here is, you know, we were talking about colonialism earlier and a lot of this prudery around sex education and all that is really, you know, was given to us by the British with the Victorian morality. And, you know, we weren't all, you know, as are ancient cave sculptures.


Sure, we weren't always this prudish, but we were always pretty misogynist. But, you know, we're leaving that aside. Let's move into, as we the last part of the show.


Let me sort of talk about some of the themes that my listeners always interested in, which is, for example, reading. How do we read more? What do we read? And I thought it's a particularly pertinent question to ask you, because many years ago you put together this anthology called Unbound, which was Writings of Indian Women Through the Ages. Fantastic anthology. And you mentioned in an interview that when it came to you, when you were the publisher, came to your you said, no, I'm not an expert, I'm not an academic.


I don't want to do this. But she insisted and you said, OK, let me give it a go. And then you started reading madly and discovered much more than you thought you had. And of course, one of the things that struck with me was a story you told about this early 19th century lady called as hundreds of who, you know, got married at eight, had kids, knew the letters of the alphabet, but wasn't allowed to read.


And she was in the kitchen all day. And all she wanted to do was read and she wasn't allowed. And then one day she kind of she dreamt about reading. She wanted it so badly. And then she would there was a book which was, you know, a series of sort of little slices of voodoo, sort of brutal paper, perhaps. And from that book, she would take one page at a time, write it in a box of Arthur and sort of read when she could.


And eventually she wrote this autobiographical Armageddon. But that's a digression. And I found it a delightful story. So I had to repeat it for my listeners. But my question to you is, clearly what you mentioned is that when you were doing the reading for this book, it wasn't reading you would ordinarily have done. You did it for the purpose of this book and it expanded your mind in certain ways. And just as you know, we were talking earlier about how the form that you write in can shape the content, can shape the person who are the reading you are doing is also kind of shaping you.


And in this case, it was an assignment which came to you and you chose to do it. But if one is to say to oneself that, look, I want to expand my knowledge of the world, how do I do this? You know, reading in an arbitrary sort of way may not kind of get me to. Do you think that there is then value to building a sort of program for yourself, even if you're not putting together an anthology just to educate yourself?


And also, what is the value of reading to you? Like, you know, I always say that if I read different books all my life, I would be a different person completely. So what does reading mean to you in that sense? And what advice would you give to people who want to read more but don't quite know what or how to go about it?


I completely agree with you on that last bit. If if if I had read completely differently, I think I would have been a different person to thank you for the nice things you said about that anthology. I think for me that doing that book was completely transformative. It came to me as an offer to do this and I was very reluctant. I think one of the things with me is also that I don't like to do things badly. So once I said yes, I said, OK, no, I will not do the lazy thing.


I'm not going to look at ten different anthologies and see what other people have done in cherrypick. Right. Because I was doing a selection, I wasn't doing everything, but I did decide to read everything I could find in order to make a proper selection. So it took me ultimately almost three and a half years from the start of the project to its publication. I read everything I could find, but written by an Indian woman, an English translation.


And obviously, while not entirely, but I would say that I read for three years almost exclusively women, and that for me really was transformative more than anything I said completely broke down. Everybody's had about what one about what powerful literature was. I had these stereotypes in my own head and I didn't know that I had them. You know, that that to think that this is interesting. Well, not interesting, but this is Buffalo. This is not Buffalo or that this is political or not political or merely domestic or merely romantic.


I learned to find the political and everything that women said it did and wrote. The act of travel could be a highly political, highly act of great performative association of absolute equality and freedom. I learned all of that. And for me, that opened up lots of windows in my own head and. Give me restored to me a little sense of history, so I wasn't reading only it was reading a lot of fiction, a lot of poetry, but even within that, there is history.


And it gave me a sense of where Indian women come from. When we say something today, we say because we've been saying something else for the last hundred years, all we've been saying the same thing for the last two thousand years and nobody listens. So I think all those different things for me were very transformative. And I think that as advice to people, I think one of the things you can do is to undertake challenges of the sort like like people say feminism canon or decolonised canon.


I think there is some merit to that. I have read I think after doing the book for about three years, I took a deep breath and I said, OK, again, God exclusively read it forever. I think I still lean more towards the fiction is concerned. I find myself now leading more. And this is this is something that has happened now. It wasn't true of me before as a reader, but I find that I end up reading a lot more women's fiction and I enjoy it in different ways.


Now, not to say that I don't enjoy men writing fiction, just that I find that I think Olio, without knowing it, I had this inherent bias against fiction by women. I thought of it as more limited and I think now I'm finally free of that bias, so I reach for it more often. Similarly, I think I also decided at some point that I would drink much more international literature. I'm still working my way sort of feral, that I haven't quite succeeded.


But there is a certain bias in the way we receive literature because we read in English, we end up reading mostly things that are written and published in America and England, and a lot of that is written by white people. And even if it's not written by white people, it's written from the Western perspective, the Western view of the world, which is both limited and limited in so many ways. Why should I read sitting in India, learn to see the way the world looks to an American writer in the Midwest or whatever it is?


Why should I not learn to see it the way it looks from an Egyptian perspective or from certain perspective or from an African any Nigerian perspective or a Tunisian perspective? Why should I not learn to see the world in these ways? So I think that is something I'm still working on. I think it does make sense if you can find the time and energy to read in these to restrict your reading for some time and say that, OK, for one year only women for one month only Japanese writers are four.


For three months only South Asian writers or only only books about a certain time period. So, for example, I become very interested in the 19th century in India and I keep reaching for books about that because I think also you need to deepen your reading. You read one book and you feel like you know this. I think it's important to also resist that and read quite widely about a subject that you feel you know or if you feel strongly about something, to then read 15 other things around it and see that your passions rooted in something.


Or are they simply rooted in a kind of ignorance?


These are very wise words. And I would add to that by telling my listeners that I just read one month of any they need to start with. That's a good start. And what you said about history is also very evocative. It reminds me of this quote by Alan Bennett, where he was talking about how the history of humanity is a history of the inadequacies of men. And at one point he wrote, quote, What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket stop quote, which indicates a subsidiary role they've been given in history, the fact that they were to clean up the mess.


And it is true that most of what we read of history is written by men about men and often flawed men. So I'm going to sort of end this food with my last question that we all need to expand DOGIES.


We have specific guesses through which we look at the world partly determined by our circumstances or whatever preferences happen to be in all of that. And sometimes we just really need to shift gears and open ourselves up to other kinds of writing like you did with the, you know, while reading for and bound so of a former listeners. And for me, can you recommend as many books as you feel like from one to many that you feel are important for expanding that gaze, whatever it is, not necessarily from male to female or from Indian to Japanese or whatever, but just in general, which can help you see the world in a new way.


One book that I never get tired of recommending is.


Sultana's dream, and the reason is that it is that it is also just good reading and as a companion to that, I would say read Slithy Namjoo Joshi's mothers, Milda. They're both fantastical. They're both written by feminists. They're both about a place where women run things. But one is kind of the kind of tongue in cheek, kind of just pure dream dream sequence, which is almost wishful thinking. And the other also tells you the limits and the nature of power itself, regardless of who holds it, whether it is men or women.


So that I would say that read these two together, if you get I would say read Babycham, list the prisons we broke. It is baby cannibalism. That is right. And so. She also writes From the perspective of being a woman in the community, she doesn't write from the perspective of being only the individual, she writes as a woman and women's place in the hierarchy. Even there, I would say retail for sure. I would say read.


I think she's quite a contentious figure. And lots of people might hate me for saying this, but I think that she continues to remain relevant. So you should read the high cost of the woman by pundit that I'm about, I think. She took decisions in her her own life, but that she took decisions because she had suffered some of that orthodoxy and she wrote it as to do it as an act of speaking up for people who wouldn't. And she's talking specifically of Brukman women at this time.


So she's talking about women who are quite high up. And so when you read the book, it's also important to read what high cost women go through. You read the litany that you read what the men, women, slaves were like. Read the two together as companion pieces. There is this very nice book, which is a selection of solutions, Naidus speeches and letters, selection of speeches and letters, which I'm not sure it's in print anywhere, but if you can find it, you should read it, because we have always grown up thinking of solutions and I do as a pointis kind of romantic.


And I grew up and I read, if you will, for poems and I was like that. This is a little too romantic for me. But you read his speeches and my God, she's a thinker. First speaker and the. Is able to articulate not only the concerns of women, but of a whole country. She was one of the leaders of the freedom movement, freedom for sure. I'll never get tired of saying this. Please read my experiments with truth by a woman.


But I do think that one of the remarkable things about Gandhi JI was that it is actually just that it is an experiment with truth. He does not take for granted that the truth is something stable and that it can never be challenged. And he challenged it himself in his own life. And I think that if he had lived longer, maybe he would have challenged it even further, whatever his existing beliefs were. And I and it's also just well written.


So you should read it for those reasons to.


You should read Ranjith quote is very fine translation of Lenda, which is helpful, yeah. Is that enough? I think that's enough and, you know, the thing is, I'm almost feeling apologetic and regretful because we haven't managed to touch upon your fiction or your films or your drama or any of that. So I'm going to at some point implore you to come back on the show after some time has passed and you can, you know, have a bigger list of books at that time.


Annie, thank you so much for your time in history.


Thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation.


If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, head on over to the Señores for this episode where I've linked Annie's books and her other work, you can follow Annie on Twitter at any one word. You can follow me Twitter, my and my TV ARMM. You can browse past episodes of the scene in the unseen art scene unseen. And thank you for listening.


Did you enjoy this episode of the scene in The Unseen? If so, would you like to support the production of the show? You can go over to see an unseen and slash support and contribute any amount you like to keep this podcast alive and kicking. Thank you.