India: On Charting Invisible Bodies

May 11, 2011
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Decades after the end of colonisation, it remains embedded in the culture of the colonised. Case in point: the English in India.



As a lady born on the brink of globalisation, English is something that comes to me as naturally as breathing. As a kid, I had access to all sorts of books, movies and songs from the “Centre” of civilisation – US and Europe of course! – and was encouraged to speak in English as much as I could. Apparently, an English-speaking person is a marker for a “civilised” and a “cultured” individual, even roughly about 50 years after The White Buggers Left India Alone And Took Their Annoying Bulldogs With Them.

There was a sense of shame or even guilt when my native tongue Gujarati would be brought up; I went as far as to believe that the person speaking Gujarati was a different “me” than the one fawning over Austen and Disney, and somehow they must be relegated into different spheres of seeing and believing.

It took a few years for me to realise the dynamics of the DoucheColonial Gaze I had internalised and am still trying to see the person inside who speaks her native language as a fully fleshed organism rather than something out of visions E.M. Forster had in A Passage To India.

Memories of reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils are clear, so is the sense of disappointment that settled in when I realised I’d never see the flower on Indian soil, But I have very few memories of easing in to my native language, letting it unfurl against and within me.

I dream, think, talk, rant and rave in English and occasionally in French – for having one language colonise you is simply not enough.

Till date, I dream, think, talk, rant and rave in English and occasionally in French – for having one language colonise you is simply not enough, the Queen said – and the person who I am in my native language sits inside and aside.

This weekend, while watching a performance of Wilde’s A Lady Of No Importance and hearing people thunder and applaud at the “perfected British and American accents”, Caliban’s idea of “red plague” and the notion of turning language to curse at the coloniser¹ came to its full appeal for this LadyBrain.

Numerous instances where people feel embarrassed to sound “Indian” come to mind, where you perform an accent and a manner of speaking till all that is left behind are dregs of another being rather than you. While there is no one way of speaking a language you don’t belong to – too bad geographical proximity doesn’t count, for that way I should speak American as I live obnoxiously close to the WorldWide Ambassador of America: McDonald’s – or can ever dream of ever possessing fully regardless the number of degrees you have in this said tongue.

Most of my favourite authors are from the Centre, hard to undo the cannon and numerous whinyarsed problems in the same vein can be talked of time and again. What really sticks with this LadyBrain is how as post-colonial subjects anything we consume today, from the copiously auto-toned baritones of Taylor Swift to Foucault’s Genealogy, we’re inevitably fixed sideways, invisible, allotted the space of the Proverbial Other.

Even in spaces that are decidedly “intersectional”, colouring the Other invisible is a game we play right after the first rounds of Subtle Cultural Appropriation and before Packaging The Other As One Of Us.

As an “invisible body”, being in such spaces and cultural texts is a duplicitous position to hold namely because there is no specific direction or position to occupy in theory, whereas literally you’re fixed and pinned down in borders and boxes.

Like Jane Eyre, I can sometimes slip in and out of these texts and corners, if the Omnipresent DoucheColonial Liberator is present like she did in and out of rooms and moors. At the same time, the “bestial” Bertha still awaits my position beside her as the Woman of the Other World. The problem is, “I don’t always want to be Bertha, to be castigated and locked off” like one of my students put it. This isn’t to insinuate the internalisation of colonialism is a strictly one-way process; I’d like to think it’s a negotiation, despite how silently it’s whispered.

There is an overwhelming desire to identify and even step right into the coloniser’s shoes, to feel giddy with the power, to be free and disseminate agency and rights among Othered, lesser spaces and individuals. Like George Bernard Shaw, it would be nice to be socialist and endorse FABIAN ideals while keeping the eye glazed whenever any talk goes beyond the borders being English, it would be nice – where nice translates to nausea – to have such cultural amnesia, to constantly slip up and about the boundaries of deciding who is “oppressed” and to what degree.

I won’t lie that I’ve never dreamt of a world that wasn’t Eurocentric, dedicated to keeping and maintaining the “Up” status quo or thought of everyone speaking Hindi the way the world does English or if everyone was simply happy with their designated borders. But when reality sinks in, I still break myself up while speaking in this NotMotherTongue and alienate myself when the overbearing gaze of the native tongue that is evaporating daily from my mind and body sets its hold on me. And the bigger problem that this “splitting into half” is how much of this conflict is welcomed, or even self-inflicted.

As an “invisible body” it would be reassuring to categorise the Coloniser as the ultimate source of All Things Evil

As an “invisible body” it would be reassuring to categorise the Coloniser as the ultimate source of All Things Evil; especially for bringing to this LadyBrain’s mind the legend of Pandora before The Curse of Yellama (which is the MudSquatter version of Pandora, perhaps two shades more dustier). Like Caliban, the impulse to bite back at the oppressor is equally overwhelming as well. And stuck somewhere in the middle is the invisible body.

If I were to map the invisible bodies on the globe, a majority would take up The Third World; and the other half would take up half the world’s population that is biologically or culturally inclined to being feminine.

Imagine if you’re a Double Invisible Body and then someone, magically, gives you a pen and you start reclaiming your body and space; only to realise that body you mention is already in someone else’s possession – namely capitalisation, neo-colonisation and cultural appropriation – and that space never existed but between the cracks of your own mind?

Only when we stop fixing, cartologising, mapping and charting both ways – our and the Coloniser’s identities – do the gaps and breaks help us build a cohesive language of silence, expressed through feeling and not saying.



absences the spaces we con


build and

no one comes

the silences — speak volumes

the gaps start creaking songs