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Ramblings of the year gone by: Recap 2014

This blog flies high. This blog keeps me grounded. The more I feed it, the more it becomes food for my soul. Yes, I am definitely in a relationship with my blog.

Looking back at the posts of 2014 though, I’m a tad disappointed. I don’t think I broke any rules, nor did I write anything spectacular. There’s a lot of spunk inside me that this blog deserves! What I did notice though, is that my posts map the trajectory of my career. 2014 has been the year in which I have attempted to focus on research, on a few specific areas of exploration.

Broadly and inadequately classified as ‘work’

And so, my posts on urban issues have looked closely at housing, slums, planning, with an overlay of two themes- migration and citizenship. Reblogs and comments on research (visual methods, politics and urban geography) and practice (global capital, smart cities and beautification) from across the world tell me that my world view is slowly expanding, and the hunger to learn more is very much growing too! My first experience of presenting research (small cities, youth aspiration and migration) in an international conference was both rewarding and helped me evaluate my career goals in a more focused way. The decision to work in the field of labour migration research (the SHRAMIC project I work on at the Centre for Policy Research looks at this) emerged from an exploration of all of these themes and my observations as a practitioner in the area of informal housing.

My concerns about citizenship and democracy were also at the fore during this year’s election. My pre-election fears about the impact Modi would have on the social fabric of India seem to be coming true in the manner of a horror story, with #GharWapsi and #SecularConversions trending on Twitter and providing the strokes to entertain and titillate the masses in the country.

Visual and experiental posts

2014 has also been a year of pleasurable travel. So much of it!

Self-reflection and family

I had fewer self-reflective posts this year, and some of that thinking actually came out in the form of book and movie reviews (The Road and Queen, for instance)

I didn’t write a much about #family and #parenting as I have in previous years, but 2014 will always be remembered as the year my son Udai started his own blogging journey. Despite the rough road parenting is, friends and family have always seen me through and hopefully we will fly higher in 2015 than these soaring kites took us in the year gone by!

No, can't wipe the smile off!

No, can’t wipe the smile off!

The effect of the glass dome on the kids was interesting. They were enchanted and engrossed in the audio guide, which was simple and easy to follow, with interesting tidbits but not too much chatter!

At the Bundestag in Berlin this summer! My kids inspire me to never let curiosity and energy go!


Set in a bygone era, The Artist is really about contemporary issues like tackling obsolescence and remaining competitive- March 1, 2012

Watched The Artist last night. The film is a Guru Dutt-esque visual treat in black and white, each frame carefully constructed. A simple story beautifully told, it captures a bygone era when life was simpler.

It is easy to identify with the feelings of a great artist, someone used to being the darling of his fans, constantly in the limelight, fallen on bad times. What makes it interesting, in this case, and relevant to us in modern times, is that this downfall is a direct fallout of a new technology.

As talkies are invented and gain popularity, the silent film loses its appeal. George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin, is too proud to make the transition. He insists on holding on to the old technique and loses his money in a failed self-produced silent film. The Great Depression hits and he becomes a pauper. Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo) who Valentin had once patronized when she was an extra, goes on to become the new star of the talking movies. In love with Valentin, she continues to look out for him, rescuing him from near death. Valentin’s ego and pride stop him from accepting her help and he continues to fall into a spiral of self loathing and pity. Ultimately, Peppy innovates him as a dancing star, and brings him back into the limelight.

The real reason for Valentin’s downfall, however, is not his pride, but his complete lack of self-confidence in a changing environment. He is good at what he does, the best in fact, and he cannot fathom the idea of acquiring new skills, changing methods and indeed, working hard, to remain competitive. This is the topmost challenge we face today. Individuals and corporations must adapt and reinvent themselves to stay ahead in the game, or opt out. The Artist reminds us to keep our pride in check, always be sensitive to change, keep abreast of new developments and have the right attitude towards learning, even at times from peers and juniors. Quite a lesson!

Under Salander’s skin- Accepting the abnormal, admiring the survivors – Feb 03, 2012

Halfway through the 3rd novel of the Millenium trilogy, I am deeply delving into Salander’s psyche. At work, we are trying to put together a social assessment for a project on urban housing. So I’ve been spending a long time trying to analyze what life means to vulnerable groups like women, the elderly, SC/STs, the very poor (those who earn below Rs 5000 per month per household), religious minorities, etc.

In the trilogy, Steig Larsson is making a comment on how society (read producers and consumers of media) find it easy to condemn anybody who appears different, unlike the majority, unlike ‘us’! His book is about the misuse of power, about facing the reality that even the most evolved societies have their share of psychopaths and wierdos; and about how human nature is hopelessly intertwined with a desire to dominate and humiliate others while pleasing the self.

We see proof of this everyday as soon as we open the newspaper each morning. India’s urban areas, especially metropolis, are experiencing an acute awareness and fear of crime. Crime against women (rape, dowry-related torture, harassment, eve teasing, discrimination at work) is a significant fear. Violent crimes related to property, family and personal disputes, theft scream out from the headlines everyday. Honor crimes, more specific to our society, make many of us hang our head in shame, while a significant part of the population considers this a way of life.

The  book also points out that individuals who have been through traumatic experiences through childhood and early adulthood develop severe complexes and exhibit behavioral idiosyncrasies throughout their lives. Lisbeth certainly does in the book. I know of many people in real life whose present behavior is a result of traumatic experiences in the past.

My grandmother’s extreme stubbornness (she is 97 and does exactly as she pleases, including insisting on heating her bathing water over a chulha!), can easily be attributed to the fact that she widowed at 30 with the responsibility of 4 young children. My father documents this in his autobiography ‘Metamorphosis’ and spoke about his analysis to me often. Sometimes, when we try to reason with her to accept something we think will make her life easier (a new appliance, for instance), her face clouds over and we know she will outrightly reject the suggestion. We can only imagine what is playing through her mind at that point! And because we love her immensely, most of the time, we simply let the matter go, only to try again another time (I can see my cousins, uncles and aunts who live near her smiling at this!)

We are surrounded by people with traumatic personal histories; how much do we know and do we empathize? How do we be sensitive without being patronizing? I, for one, immensely admire those I know to have survived and rationalized these experiences. Even more, I admire those who are able to share and talk about them honestly and I have seen how they can be an inspiration to others who are yet to face their demons, whatever they may be…and don’t we all have them?

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