Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Genealogies as Maps

Very often the past appears to us through memories of the things we did, and the people we know. One of the earliest classes I attended as a research student in Delhi University in 1979, was to sit in  Prof JPS Uberoi's M.A class, where he walked in, looked at the kinship map drawn on the board, and said "So how many of these people are dead?" The space of reading genealogies as markers of time was an important moment. I realised then that when we think of these kinship maps we are really working with how institutionalised memories are handed down, and how useful they are for sociologists working with land, property, houses,  or movable property like jewellery and poetry and narrative.
Today, the contexts in which we think about time and memory, thirty five years later, are much more significant, because the debates have changed completely. Feminism and Dalit Sociology have worked into the narrative spaces in such a way, that the questions of land, property, knowledge and personal property such as money, jewellery or recipes have undergone fundamental transformation.  The world no longer looks the way it did forty years ago. We struggle with terms and concepts which are quite outdated, primarily because we think that if the village has changed, it has become a new entity, or become extinct. Actually, people carry the mindsets of tradition in themselves. They may look as if they have changed, but in reality, they are what tradition expects of them. This truth is however juggled in the face of the fluidity and flexibility of their own identities. They may conform to tradition, but when required they can leap frog out of it.
When we think of  how easily young women absorb and imitate the traditional roles of the past, it is not camaflouge, but the reality of their existential spaces. They enjoy the roles that they now have, as young married women, or as expectant mothers, or as warriors in the work force. They are well able to juggle these roles,  because for them tradition and post modernity are conjoined. Because there is a  class hierarchy that differs from state to state, women are expected to conform within the role expectations that are placed on them. And with increasing technologisation at the work place, and its concomitant expectations, young women find themselves able to fill these roles, because adaptation is the first sign of resilience and creativity.
The idea of Smart Cities draws in a concept of good governance, creativity and post modern conditions of life, primarily because rapid industrialisation will be seen to give people what they dream for and hope. Yet, it presumes that people want malls, gmt food and synthetic clothes. The drive to be modern is located in the hierarchy or producers and consumers. Rapid industrialisation does not ask people permission. It presumes that people will want to go with it, because it is the right choice made by the Government, elected by the people. Democracy presumes that this arrangement of ambitions and drives politically forged is to give people what they want. For Gandhi, the needs of even one person had to be taken into respectful consideration, so he was certainly not thinking of numbers as majoritiarian or minoritarian.
Village societies are able to replenish the losses that have occurred by thinking of new modalities of resource regeneration. In Pallakad in Kerala farmers are being encouraged to engage in vegetable production so that the dependence on Tamil Nadu will decrease. Farmers are being taught to grow vegetables, even if they do not own land, in makeshift sacks filled with earth. Conversely, migrant labourers in Kannadi village, 16 kms for Pallakad, were found by the police, to be growing narcotic hemp for their own use and sale, around their ramshackle living quarters, and producing illicit ganja from it.
Agriculture and Farming are now thought to be catchwords for extinction. GMT salesmen would like to use climate change as a term by which they assure us that they have the solution for the losses that lie ahead. Alternative Education, like the Greens Movement actually depends  on practise and its concomitant successes and risks. When Kerala locates its own ambition to be foresighted in thinking about food for its people it is oriented to policy which has brought it good results in the past. Why should we believe that the rural hinterland is only for purposes of feeding the cities.

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