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Last week I went on my first trip to a couple of new archives in south India, in Chennai and Thanjavur to be precise, for my new research project. (More about both these places later, when I visit again). A friend who knows them well and had to do some work there too, came along, and I met some other friends and family too. Somehow, when punctuated by train travel, gin and tonics, old school meet-ups and incredible coffee, work becomes quite tolerable, no? Look at us, so busy with work, hotly discussing intricate details of micro-history, palm-leaf manuscripts and power relations in the countryside (no, really, we got a lot of work done):
I have always been a bit of an Indian Railways fanatic, and I will do a proper railways post later in the year, after I take a few more trips and better pictures. But after a very long time, I did something I used to love about train travel when I was in college – sitting in the open door of the speeding train with your face in the wind, watching the country go by. Our parents would be furious when we did this, and I don’t know if it’s my advanced age, or the increased speed of the trains nowadays, that this seemed a bit more dangerous now than back then. But swaying with the rhythm of the train and hearing the tracks bark at you as you is unbeatable. Back in the day with the steam engines, you could catch a piece of flying coal occasionally in your eye if you leaned out. Now it’s the acrid smell of diesel that you have to battle, but at the crack of dawn that day, the fresh river breeze easily subdued it. Being in an unreserved women’s compartment, with all the sociality that it entails, was even better.
The views of the sunrise, and the changing light, over the Kaveri river delta and its paddy fields were stunning as the train sped towards Thanjavur:
Speaking of coffee, there is very little in the world that provides as much joy and satisfaction as a good south Indian tumbler, hot and frothing.
I’m sharing it all with you, with some good news – I just heard, with official papers and all, that I now have tenure at my department. Big whoop of joy and all that, people!! This year has been hard in many ways, but this news brings me a lot of relief and excitement for the future. I do have to dust the seat of my pants and get cracking in the archives, but hey, I’m going to have some coffee and lie back and enjoy a break for just a little while longer. It’s great to be with my family to celebrate, but my first thought was to wonder what big knitting gift to get myself – I’m thinking a new umbrella swift, or better still, some semi-solid fingering Koigu for a sweater. I can’t do any of it until I return to Berkeley anyway and in the meantime I did get sloshed, but any suggestions?
Thanks, everyone, for the comments on the Ribby Cardi! I have been wearing it everywhere, even though it has been quite warm here during the day. The Eco+ is unfortunately already showing a tendency towards pilling with all this wear, and I hope that will not be a continued problem.
It will soon be too warm to wear all the wool sweaters, and I am packing them up. I took this picture for Swapna, who recently commented about imagining my cupboard full of handknits – they are not quite enough to fill a cupboard, but they are a decent pile and do nicely! I’m surprised that I don’t have more reds. Have to remedy that.
It is also that time of year again, when I go home to India and this blog features more food and travel than knitting. Except that this time, I am going not just for the summer but for a year’s research trip. I have waited six long years after graduating for some time off from teaching, and this is some hard-earned leave to do archival research for a second project. I am eager to get my hands dirty in the archives again and start working on relatively uncharted territory. For many reasons, it’s not the trip I had hoped for and looked forward to, and am anxious about how it will turn out. But one big plus, other than being able to spend so much time at length at home with my folks, is that the project will most likely take me to places I have never visited in the south and east of India. So I am excited!
All this is a preamble to saying that I will be blogging from India over the next year. Some of it will be about food, some about travel, random observations about lots of things, and some raving and ranting about work. Even though initially it will be too hot to knit, I will have lots of time and opportunity to keep the fingers flying, and so I am trying to estimate how much yarn I should take with me, which is easier said than done.
I plan to buy some acrylic yarns locally while I’m there, Swapna has most wonderfully arranged to get me some Pony rosewood needles, plus my mum already has all the notions I will need. But it’s not stopping me from trying to take my entire stash with me, and clothes and books and yarn and patterns are already overflowing out of my long-haul suitcase. Planning for that long a time away from my set up here is inducing tremendous anxiety as it is; tossing some knitting into it should be easy, but of course it’s not. Believe me, I am usually a light traveller and am taking this opportunity to freecyle and donate lots of things in the house, but am also suffering from an acute case of “but what if I need it?” syndrome, and an insane wish to pack books that have remained unread on my shelf for years. Also, all the patterns I want to knit right now seem to be, strangely enough, in thick, hardback pattern books.
So see you all soon on the other side of the world. But in the meantime, do tell: if you had to plan for a year away from your usual knitting routine, or even your usual non-knitting routine, what would you take and what would you leave behind?
Oh, and finally, did you see the cool “Ravel it” buttons on the left sidebar above each free pattern link? Ravelry offers a nice little html code to the pattern page and tells you the number of people making it – 118 people have made the Rangoli Hat! Okay, so it’s not Clapotis, but I had never imagined that so many people would knit it. It is most thrilling. I updated the pattern recently to correct some errors and suggestions people had pointed out, so if you downloaded it before May 22, do download the fresh 3.0 version.
Thank you for all the comments on the Endpaper Mitts! I have been wearing them off and on this past week, but of course, warm mitts is just what the weather needed to turn sunny and glorious, right? No matter; if sunny warmth is here, to misquote somebody, can grey and cold bitterness be far behind?
I have been knitting a bit on the cardigan, but have nothing but a green blob to show. February is the Month of
endless blather and boredom Job Candidate Seminars, Conferences and Symposia. It has also been a challenging month for various other reasons, among them being an unwieldy and quite exhausting course I am teaching on South Asian civilization. I call it “India from the Indus Valley to the Silicon Valley” because it begins in Harappa c.2500 BC and ends with the Indian tech boom in the early 21st century. 4500 years in 16 weeks is dizzying, and not merely because in the first few weeks I am well outside my comfort zone of the 18th century and onward. I am enjoying catching up on new research on the previous eras and finding interesting ways to link up this longue duree with the present, without making it seem like a literal longue duree in the classroom. Dynasties? Out. Battles? Out. Everyday life? In. Material culture and trade? Yeah. Social relations and religious practices? Sure. But this excitement comes with the slightly nauseating feeling of being on a roller-coaster for a bit too long. I want to get off, because it’s only the 8th century and I’m already sick of talking about long-distance trade and pottery.
This emphasis on everyday life reminded me of a documentary film series on South Asian history by Arvind Das, a journalist and historian with tremendous energy, verve and humour who drew on the Marxist historian D.D. Kosambi’s approach to South Asian history, but added a good dose of his own polemic. With very, very few material resources of his own, Das just set off with a camera team to capture on film Kosambi’s argument about the material practices of the South Asian past discernible in the present, and put together a remarkable set of episodes about Indian history. Most of these are now available on Google video. Fresh out of my master’s, I worked briefly on the project during its initial stages as a basic research assistant, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I like to think that it was there that I began formulating some ideas about historical memory that I examined later in my doctoral work.
The link above is to one of the episodes on the Mauryans and the Iron age. Suddenly coming across these files on the web after more than a decade, I spent hours poring over them. Some of it is so clunky and informal, and some of it absolutely inspired. It is delightful to see Arvind again in his familiar blue shirt and oversized glasses facing the camera, and remembering bygone times when we argued fiercely over everything from Buddhism to Maoism. My flood of memories reminds me how my own historical thinking has changed and sharpened over the years, but also how eagerly, and how much, he taught me. I miss him, and like to think that if he had not died so young, so soon, we would have continued to argue, over lots of Glenfiddich and Classic Milds.
First things first – do take a look at the photo albums, all neatly organized to the right. (Click on “view gallery” in the right sidebar, then album title, and one individual photo – it will bring up a cool lightbox slideshow.)
After realizing just what a herculean task it was to migrate my blog from Typepad to Wordpress, I have been laboriously editing every post in my archives to repoint each individual photograph to its new Flickr home. This process is only half-done, but I’m getting there slowly. (I had 200+ pictures, so now is the time for someone to step up and tell me how I could do it all through some simple code. Don’t worry about my feeling like a fool about the work I’ve already done. I’m used to that.)
In the process, I deleted many pictures and in many cases, altered the posts as well. I felt a wee bit guilty tampering with the archives, which is, as the good old Positivists used to say, anathema. I was altering the record I had made myself of my (knitting) life, and it would not remain the pristine original way I had blogged about it.
And yet, this belief in an original archive is, of course, always misplaced. We know that texts have been “improved” upon all the time – there is no pristine record of the past. A lot of my own work has examined these textual methods and their ideological environments. Depending on which period and kind of documents you work on, we can trace these “improvements” – sometimes they appear in handwriting differences and in our electronic age, they leave digital footprints. If I really wanted the first version, surely some geek would be able to get my computer – or some google index – to cough it up, right? (The “why in the world would you care, and who would read the archives anyway?” question is irrelevant – heck, it often isn’t for a lot of other topics – so it must be for my blog’s archives!)
The tedium of editing the posts was thus made a mite more tolerable by having my academic and knitblogging worlds collide. But also, my hesitation at altering my older posts made me realize how deeply and implicitly we still seem to trust in its fixity. It reminded me of my intrepid friend Sepoy’s Polyglot Manifesto again, a brilliant rumination on how historians can, and should, engage the digital world to their considerable advantage.
I should confess that in addition to this effort to make my blogging hassles feed my academic imagination, a good bottle of Chianti has greatly aided the entire migration effort.
But amidst (literally!) all this ruminating, you can witness some knitting progress.
My red alpaca pullover for the spouse, requested last year and only a year late in submission, is now entering the interesting phase. Sleeves and body done separately and joined. Right now I have 468 stitches on the poor 24-inch needle! Serious overcrowding. 8 stitches are being flung off the ship every third row, but it isn’t creating much room for the remaining masses. Deep breath for the next few inches, before the stitches (and I) can breathe more easily. But the good news is that I might actually have it done this Christmas.
Thanks for all the compliments on the shawl! Genny, I’m sorry to disappoint you as guinea pig! I still think your formula was correct, but someone more competent with numbers will have to test it.
I miss New Jersey, I miss being close to New York city, and everytime I watch an old episode of Law & Order it makes me very sad. (I’m a L&O junkie and thanks to Netflix, I can now see the good old ones again.) I miss riding the subway to 42nd st. to the public library, waiting at 2 am at the 9th st Path station on a weekend, (I can still hear the announcer in the Path, "the 33rd st elevator is not in operation…"), walking from the West 4th st stop down to Soho to Purl and taking the 1 uptown to see my friends. I miss the coffee shop next to my building and just about everything else, but somehow, most of all I miss connecting with the energy of the city through the subway, however cliched that sounds. (Although, if you talk to me in January, no matter how much it’s raining here in the Bay area, I’ll be thankful I’m here and not back east in the snow; I despise, loathe and detest snow.)
So far I have been determinedly bloodyminded about it, ready to scoff when all the Californians around me go nuts about the fresh produce here. So I went to the farmers’ market yesterday for the first time, determined to be unimpressed. And while I was gawking at some of the prices, I must say I got some real fruit and vegetables that smelt like real fruit and vegetables. Tasty, crisp and fresh. Green beans, okra, peaches, plums, strawberries… yum. It was too clean and quiet and genteel; some loud haggling over the princely sum the coriander was going for would have made me happier. But apparently the Oakland chinatown market is where all the fisticuffs happen over prices: that’s where I’ll go next time.
But California so far is proving to be quite a mix of experiences. My car was stolen right after I got here from outside my flat, but also found a few weeks later sans any damage. That was quite something. Using some gigantic lemons from a tree in my backyard, I made my first ever homemade lemon pickle. I was quite tickled at being able to pick the lemons right from my window. The mix is sitting in the sun this whole month, waiting to be slooow-cooked into a hot, spicy pickle, and I’m very kicked about being able to take some home for my mum in December. I love my students and the library. There’s a lot of Hindustani music happening around here, which is great. For some reason I haven’t been to a single yarn store here as yet. Tomorrow my book manuscript finally goes into production after loads of copyediting: no more frantic changing of footnotes or rechecking of quotes. Next up: anxiety dreams about evil reviewers. (At least I realised in time that I’d forgotten to thank ten people in my acknowledgements, and my editor corrected a million grammatical errors.) I also got possibly the worst haircut of my life yesterday and paid an arm and a leg for it. I need to knit some hats, quickly and not go near the salon in case I throttle that silly woman who did the hatchet job.
Oh, but remember my I-pod getting stolen during my move? I didn’t get it back and all the time spent loading music on to it, but yesterday the moving company sent me a cheque for the amount it cost. Small comfort, but still.
Bringing this ramble to a halt: I swatched for the cartridge rib pullover. Photos up next, after I’ve cast on.
So I travelled quite a bit by subway (and a long NJ Transit bus ride yesterday in the boonies of Jersey because I took the wrong bus) over the weekend and here’s the progress on my Koigu sock. You will note the short row toe and heel. A bit difficult to do the first time, but only because it’s not easy to pull the yarn through a tight stitch with two wraps all at once, especially when purling.
So what’s the matter? I am not so happy with it. My legendary incompetence in simple arithmetic has made a feather & fan pattern impossible at this stage. Also, while the size zero needles are producing a good, tight fabric, I think I cast on too few stitches (60). I wore the sock and still feel its tight "imprint" on my foot after taking it off, if that makes sense. So what should I do? Should I frog and cast on anew with a larger number of stitches? Or will the Koigu stretch as I wear it?
So, you ask, will I ever finish anything or is this doomed to be a frog blog? Heh. May I announce that I finally sent the damn ms. in to the publishers. YES!!! It’s DONE!! Met my deadline of March 31, and hauled it in to them. Now there’s copyediting and proofing and whatnot, but the main writing is done. I am still in a bit of a daze; I have some minor deadlines to meet in the next month, but nothing as overwhelming as this. Am looking forward to doing some serious knitting (and cooking) now.
I also rented Amar Akbar Anthony to watch for possibly the seventeenth time this evening. Guilty pleasures. One of my favourite Hindi commercial blockbusters. Sepoy, I don’t know if you’re reading this, but the stupid desi store down the street didn’t have a single one of Muhammad Ali’s films. Am very bummed about it.
Gave my undergrad class a mid-term today and the reason I’m mentioning it here is that it was also a spot of uninterrupted knitting I managed to get done after a long time. Close to finishing the vest. I cannot believe this is turning out to be so mind-numbingly slow. But I was thinking: knitting works very well during exam supervision (or as they say back home: invigilation!) and I cannot believe I have not done it before. You cannot really read anything because you have to keep glancing up and looking around. After some serious cheating in my classes last semester I cannot afford to just hope they’ll all be good. So I took some knitting in today and it was perfect; it was mindless stockinette so I didn’t have to look at it either. I had my eagle eye on them all the time and I finished the front. Now only the bands and finishing remains.
What I find remarkable is the shocked look students will give you when they realise you have a life outside the class or some skill outside the lecturing, grading and occasional yelling.
Anyway, hopefully just a couple more weeks and then I’ll be posting pics of FOs like crazy. I had a strong temptation to go into my LYS yesterday on my way back to check on winter yarn sales, but I resisted. But I am looking for some Cascade 220 or some Elann Highland Peruvian for the Ribbed Cardigan pattern, which I bought sometime ago. On a side note, I still find these fancy names for patterns a little odd. The blog revolution seems to have brought it on since it makes it easier to identify patterns, but I still can’t bring myself to say, "I’m making a Ribby Cardi." Or, "that’s Ana, my alpaca sweater." Taking christening garments a bit far, eh? But then I sniffed at the whole blogging thing too, so let me not say any more.
Alianne mentioned in her latest post that there are negative knitting days where nothing seems to work and you keep knitting, but frogging as well. I agree totally, but also want to add that when negative knitting days combine with other kinds of negatives they make things a lot worse. I have a bad cold and throat that hurts, it’s grey, gloomy and freezing outside, the very thought of final exam bluebooks is making me shudder, I have realised that I am waaaaay behind schedule for finishing work I had planned to before I leave for Spain next week, and on top of it all, the monkey cap is not going well. More stuff is about to hit the frogpond.
So the Turkish motif isn’t working out, because the Pure Alpaca is really not at the Andean Silk’s thickness and it pulls in the fabric too much for it to work. The colours were lovely, the motif was great, but my f***ing gauge was off, and I frogged nearly 15 rows of fairisle. Then I just knit the main colour in stockinette, but now it seems that I have even less than I had anticipated. I have already cast on for the head part, but cannot decide how to proceed. Here are my choices at this stage. I can:
1) Buy some more Andean Silk, so what if I have absolutely no more space in my flat, or money.
2) Use whatever worsted yarn works after the AS runs out and be done with it, so what if it is wildly jarring, at least I will get gauge.
3) Chuck the idea of the monkey cap for this yarn and make a simple stockinette cap, so what if I made grand claims in my blog, I’ll just resolve never to foolishly start a project without checking to see if I have enough.
In the meantime, though, I have to steel myself for bluebooks. Already, some students have alarmed me by asking how they can set up their off-campus library access. Isn’t it reassuring when, two days before the final exam of the semester, your students nonchalantly ask you how to access their online reserve readings? Warms the cockles of my heart, it does.
But at least I don’t have to speak in class for the next three weeks, so my throat can recover. Any suggestions for feeling better, folks? Only remedies with alcohol in them are welcome.
Yay! Semester almost over. Classes done today. Every semester feels like it’s been the longest ever, and so did this one. One of my classes has been such a challenge this time, with students even more resistant than usual to the idea of any effort, hard work or contribution.
For some reason this group just didn’t gel together and I had to cancel a couple of scheduled discussions just because nobody was willing to talk, ask questions or respond to the stuff I had them read or showed in class. Not doing the readings is the worst part, and I am still at a loss about how to get lazy students to do their reading. Quizzes certainly didn’t help here. Maybe I just got a lot of people who took the class because it fit their schedule.
But the other class was great; possibly the best I’ve had ever and what really delighted me was that hardly anyone was a History major. Did their readings, did well in the midterm, asked questions, did their group discussions with great enthu….what more can a teacher ask for? It was very unnerving to go from one class to the other. This latter one was an honours section, so I suppose that explains it a bit, but still. It was not an easy course and I was pleased that the kids were up to the challenge of working hard. The other one… ah well, it’s almost over.
It’s bitterly, bitterly cold, and I have barely got up to the chin of the balaclava, which I knit while watching another film of Aparna Sen’s, Paromitar Ek Din (House of Memories). Totally made up for the latest film 15 Park Avenue’s disappointment. This one is in Bangla, and Sen herself has a stunning performance in it as a fiesty north Calcutta mother-in-law.
Spud, Mr & Mrs. Iyer was indeed the one on the bus! Both Mr & Mrs Iyer are in this latest film also, but Mr. I disappoints. By the way, your mention of the balalaika has put this song we learnt back in French class in school in my head – C’est l’hiver (it’s winter) and given the temperature, it’s quite timely! Why this French song with Russian references, I have no idea, but there you go. It’s a lovely tune.