Hot Flash

A dwarf called Warren runs the Internet of Things facility and I am in love with him. You can never really rationally explain why you love someone, you just do. Warren is in trouble with his refrigerator.  The refrigerator started messaging HOMELYNX about how the cucumber supply was going down faster than usual. For one thing, there shouldn’t even be cucumbers in the refrigerator, and while the most recent supply could be rationalised by the tubs of hummus, labneh and borani – guests – it was still going down very fast. Had anything else reported something irregular about the cucumbers?  It turns out that the waste disposal unit could verify that cucumber peels had been identified and the toilet could detect traces of it; so we know they hadn’t been thrown out of the window at an unsuspecting passerby. That would have been funny, actually, especially if there was such a thing as a window or a passerby around here. No, all you have here is the hum and rinse of electricity through your hair.

The thing is, Warren doesn’t even eat cucumbers, they were left over from the crudite plate at the farewell party for the Chief. Not wanting to waste them, and knowing I love cucumbers, Warren just put the extras in the fridge. Some things are perfectly rational and explain-able but the problem with rationality is that everyone has their own version of it.

Warren maintains a section of the main server farm, MEM046Z where the Internet of Things is made, and he isn’t supposed to fall in love. He certainly isn’t supposed to fall in love with someone he met online who can only stand to eat cucumbers and yoghurt all summer and thinks she is a Timurid’s Wife. The Internet of Things is a high security facility and no one is allowed to enter except authorised personnel and certainly not any Central Asian types – real or imaginary.

The irony doesn’t escape us that it all started with the very same tattling refrigerator having a Twitter exchange with @thetimuridswife. I also love melons and ice-cream and the refrigerator was telling me about the history of ice-cream making, and kulfis in particular, long before modern refrigeration.  (Kulfi has been appropriated by the Indians but it actually came from Central Asia.) If you pulled up the logs you’d see Twitter exchanges about flavours and their pairings, tweets that made sense to no one else but the two of us. It started with the refrigerator tweeting ‘beetroots & mustard’. Then, I tweeted

@thetimuridswife parmesan and chocolate

hesitantly, and waited to see what would happen. And then it came:

@coolhuntings23 blue cheese and pear

@thetimuridswife chocolate and onions

@coolhuntings23 green beans and oranges

There are no secrets with a dwarf. The dwarf had hacked into the refrigerator’s Twitter ID and was tweeting as it, without the refrigerator realising it had been compromised. It had always been him, and me;  the refrigerator was just a.. Trojan horse.

Over a series of Twitter exchanges I told Warren all about my travels and reincarnation. I am a Timurid’s wife and the fleshy concubine to a Sassanid warlord in ancient Samarqand, “a city so steeped in poetry that even medical doctors wrote their treatises in verse.” As a result I am something of a secret agent with very high levels of security clearance. Uzbek, in those days, far outstripped Persian as a language. Persian had one word for crying; Uzbek had over a hundred. Crying like a baby hiccuping, crying as if you have lost your keys, crying as if your parents have died, crying over beautiful poetry, crying for the way you used to love someone and don’t anymore. Samarqand was so far advanced in the sciences, art, architecture, medicine, astronomy, poetics… . Warren thinks that sometimes I’m doing other people’s share of make believe as well.

He lied about there being another person in the house eating cucumbers. He said he had changed his diet but it turns out the feeds from the heat sensors revealed a second person in the house. Once they all started pooling all their data and looking at everything that wasn’t Warren, they found me.  I couldn’t help it, I’m menopausal, and all that seems to keep me cool is a diet of cucumbers and yoghurt. (Dill and garlic in the mix never hurt)

It wasn’t easy to hide from a house; it’s like being 12 again and all the girls are whispering about you behind your back and you absolutely know they are but can’t seem to get even the smallest piece of information from anyone about it or make them stop. It is like the time your best friend found and read your secret diary.

Warren said we should just continue as normal – quietly, he going about his work and me reading, studying and writing. In the evenings we would eat and cheat at cards and giggle over other people’s data streams. It was only a matter of time before they came for us. Till then he told me to play with his hair and tell him about the siege on Samarqand.

 

Two for Friday

Here are two pieces I came across today on the subject of violence against women.

It’s Your Fault is a short video that directly confronts myths about rape with a healthy dose of dark humour and irony.

And Project Unbreakable uses a fairly tired and over-used method but does something interesting; in a sea of statistics, hashtags, shoulds and musts, the project reveals a detail you never really hear about: the words the attacker said during the act of abuse. I found this surprisingly hard to go through; it was uncomfortable to look at the eyes of those women and read the words. This campaign uses information that is private, uncomfortable, and opens it up to you as a way of engaging with the issue; it may put some people off (or trigger quite serious discomfort), but here’s the thing: I think we’re actually drawn in by the awkward, heartbreaking, sick details of something so terrible.

Just another post about the Abused Goddesses Campaign

The Abused Goddesses Campaign is creating waves ,  raising hackles (best exemplified by recent posts from Nisha Susan, Brinda Bose and Sayantani Dasgupta). Created by an advertising agency, Taproot, the campaign uses the images of (models dressed as) popular and much-loved Indian goddesses bearing the most telling signs of mortality – pain and hurt – and urges the viewer to consider that the only kind of woman free from the threat of violence is the divine kind and possibly not even them.

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The conversation this campaign has generated is polarised; on the one hand you have Buzzfeed breathlessly declaring it ‘powerful’ and many agree; the viral sharing of the images on Twitter and Facebook are one indication of this. On the other, smaller, side, you have  people raising questions like:

– Why Hindu Goddesses? Not everyone in India relates to these images. We shouldn’t be using these images in a diverse and multicultural country

– Why must we be likened to goddesses in order to earn our rights as humans?

– Why these goddesses, we already have the image of the terrifying and terrible Kali who is violent and invincible.

– Hinduism has been interpreted to have practices and rituals that discriminate against women (this of course greatly upsets the Hindu Right and a champion, an academic, comes to the defense of Hinduism and the Right)

As you know, I’m the questioning kind, so you know where I sit. I’m writing this post in order to raise something that hasn’t so far in all the deconstruction: the visual itself. The Delhi Gang Rape has revealed some things about middle class, social media-enabled Indian: we’re data-illiterate, and don’t understand how government works and laws get made. I’m going to add another one: we are visually illiterate and don’t know how to read the visual. In particular, in this context, I don’t think the critics of this campaign have approached it as a visual campaign. This is the subject of this post.

Tactical Tech, where I work (there’s the disclaimer/plug) is going to officially launch our newest publication, Visualising Information for Advocacy which is all about how the visual works in advocacy, on October 1st, 2013.  The Abused Goddesses Campaign is a good example of what we would refer to as a ‘Get the Idea’ sort of campaign – one that uses strong and provocative imagery to inspire extreme emotions such as shock, suprise and anger or humour and laughter. These sorts of campaigns typically feature captivating and arresting images, very little data or nuance. As we say:

“If badly conceived or executed, it can alienate or insult an audience. But when it works, the effect of such a campaign can be significant: it can spread quickly across media, be talked about and rapidly bring attention to an issue. These kinds of images pass on tiny packets of information about the issue, referring only obliquely to what people commonly think of as evidence, rather than presenting it directly. As provocations, such images mostly work as routes leading into a wider campaign where further information about the issue can be found. They are often designed to appeal to people who have not yet been exposed to the issue or who don’t have a clear position.”

In this respect, I think the Abused Goddesses campaign works very well. I think it has got a lot of people’s attention because the creators of the campaign have very smartly chosen a provocative set of symbols to work with. In the print at the bottom of the poster (really have to zoom in online to see it) the designers say they intend to send out a strong message and I think they have. Whether I agree with the use of particular symbols is another matter, and I’m not the person tasked with creating an arresting campaign. This isn’t to challenge what people like Nisha and Brinda are saying – I think their deconstructions and critiques are much-needed and we only need to continue to challenge our readings and use of the visual. I think their analyses focus on the politics of representation rather than the deployment of the visual in advertising. There is a difference. Personally, I think that in a plural society we only need more kinds of visuals – annoying, bad ones and really great ones – and more conversations about why they work or don’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing the Urban by Gautam Bhan

“Sexual violence then becomes one particular expression of a broader structure of violence, amplified by other entitlements of class, wealth, institutional authority, religion, caste, ability, sexuality and gender. In such a context, our understanding of and responses to sexual violence must broaden. The lack of safety for women on a city bus must not be separated from the devaluing of public transport in general—the insufficient number of buses at night being one sign of poor investment in the most commonly used means of mobility in the city. We must also remember that the idea of being “unsafe” takes different forms across our different identities and bodies.” Gautam Bhan on new perspectives on rape.

New writing

I’m asking friends, peers and others to contribute new writing. Some themes include:

Shadowboxing: the struggle with language

How to write about violence / writing about violence

The minotaur in the maze : looking inside the law

The feminists go swimming: notes on living politics

On masculinities.

Watch this space! And let me know if you’d like to write.

 

Writings about the city

In the early weeks and months of 2013, Delhi, the city and what it means to inhabit it, rather than the rape itself, was the subject of some writing online. Here are two of them.

One of the first, by Prayaag Akbar (who tweets here) attempts to dispel the myth of Delhi as the Rape Capital. And there was another sort of reclaiming of the city by @Koinon3a called Freedom in Three Acts.

However, the go-to guy on all things Delhi really is Gautam Bhan; here he is writing about another upheaval in Dilli, the 2010 Commonwealth Games. I link to this piece because Gautam’s passion is about all about imagining a new Delhi and his work about making this a reality.

Let me know if there are other articles about Delhi that you’ve liked.

 

 

Counting change

numbers of small car sales, and profiles of buyers

numbers of new private taxi companies in the city and data about their customer profiles

numbers of mapping projects for women to record where they experienced violence

pepper spray sales

numbers of people on different streets across Delhi who can remember the police emergency helpline number

numbers of people on different streets across Delhi who have emergency helpline numbers on their phones

streets in Delhi that were never well-lit are now well-lit

streets in Delhi that were never well-lit are still not well-lit

streets in Delhi women feel unsafe walking down alone

numbers of people on different streets across Delhi who know the sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with violence against women

a comparison of the numbers of new non government, corporate and civil society schemes and projects called ‘Nirbhaya’

numbers of reported cases of crimes against women

the everyday lives of people who work in the crimes against women cells in Delhi police stations, and chowkidars and security personnel

the number of new gates built in residential colonies in Delhi

un-gated colonies in Delhi that now have gates.

 

Going global

Facebook tells me an old acquaintance, an actress, is in London as part of the cast of Nirbhaya, a play written by South African playwright, Yael Farber, about the Delhi gang-rape and other stories of sexual violence. A common friend leaves a comment on the post about the performance, something like: “I have witnessed and recorded testimonies of survivors of war and conflict but never have I been so shaken by the stories in Nirbhaya.” I think: Nirbhaya is ready for dramatization for Edinburgh and London but when are we going to deal with Delhi?

Two weeks ago I was in Cochin and overheard a man talking to his daughter about which one of the NIFT centres she had been accepted by to consider: Jaipur, Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta – yes. Delhi – no, not now, not after everything that has happened. “We are not that comfortable sending our daughter to Delhi.”

A friend has just returned from six weeks in Delhi. I ask her what it feels like up there. She replies – “you can cut the protectionism with a knife. People who have never really bothered before will now ask you how you are going to get home. People are ready to call you a cab.”

 

Near and unlost

Reachable, near and unlost amid the losses, this one thing remained: language. This thing, language, remained unlost, yes, in spite of everything. But it had to go through its own loss of answers, had to go through terrifying muteness, had to go through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing talk. It went through and gave no words for that which happened; yet it went through this happening. Went through and was able to come back to light “enriched” by it all. (Paul Celan, from a speech he gave in Bremen; found here )

 

Machine Learning For Girl Gangs