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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Domestic transfers

It's a weekend, and so the burden to think and write academically is off--or is it? Some might say the very act of writing is academic; it involves a three-step (at least) translation, from thought to word to type, mixed up with processes of selection, analysis and synthesis, creating or inviting meaning by placing certain sounds, pauses and images in specific order.

No matter.

Here I am, on a Sunday morning, looking out from my small rectangular windows on to a quiet Somerville street. Cars wait attentively in driveways, while cellphone-toting walkers are being energetic in activewear, and the stone-walled church at the end of the street waits for the faithful to break their weekend fast to seek prayer and peace. Now I hear the strains of the choir waft down my way: a pleasant opening to the day.

I have cleaned up my small apartment, done my morning stretches, listened to the news on public television, had a granola cereal breakfast, and feel virtuously productive, having engaged in some of the rituals that I gather are common to left-leaning liberal academics in this country. Except that somewhere in the corner of my mind is the niggling awareness--fast turning into acceptance--that i will now proceed to rapidly lose myself on the internet, as I shuttle between must-respond-to emails and must-click links on Facebook while I also catch up on the news from here, home and elsewhere. After all, I must keep the global consciousness intact!

So, returning to the 'domestic' in my life. For the past two weeks, I have found myself in a space where the word translates into nothing more than a quick making of the bed and a rustled up dinner for one, trips to the supermarket focused on what will fit into my tiny refrigerator and what will not be too much for a single person to consume before it goes bad.

The domestic is on the sidelines of my life here. From the minuscule kitchenette (known as a "Pullman kitchen") to the minimalist shelving that holds no more than a week's groceries and one person's crockery and cutlery, it is designed to not intrude into the "larger purpose" of my existence this fall. I am forced to spend as little time as possible in those activities of basic sustenance. The absence of a counter ensures that I contain my activities on the space available between burners to chop vegetables or mix spices. I am concerned that the aromas of my exotic foods do not disturb or offend as they waft down the two floors to my landlady's rooms. The sink compacts the number of dishes I use. The large kitchen in my Hyderabad home now seems symbolic of the hours I spend there, often doing more than just cooking, but it is a hub around which a significant part of me unfolds.

So the absence of the domestic (or its relegation to the margins) has been disorienting for me. I realize that the domestic--home, family, the routine of cooking, cleaning, conversation around all of that--is what anchors the rest of me. I complain about finding time within that to do my "professional work", or what I enjoy, but it is the scaffolding on which the rest of me builds. It is what enriches and folds meaning into the outcomes of the non-domestic.

I realize that what I need to do is to find--rather, create--a structure for myself that uses the minimization of the domestic and turns it into a liberating force.

I suspect that sounds undeniably academic....

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