I, Me and my Sociological Imagination

25th January 2014

Dear Dairy,

The day was hectic. Routine was banal. Found the newspaper dipped in the street dog’s saliva, missed the first bus to college. There were no twists and turns in the Ekta kapoor serials that I watch. Cats were busy with themselves. Gossip.  Same people; similar talks.

To put it in capsule: things were AS USUAL!

Well, I do not mean to say that it was a bad day. It was just ordinary and spark-less. And as I have come to realise, spark-less-ness has its own perks – like Tamil item songs where the background dancers are invariably dark skinned, badly dressed women, who perform the task of illuminating the presence of the relatively fair lead dancer.
Was this the reason why the background dancers in the film Dirty Picture (song ‘ishk sufiyana’) were covered from head to toe in unattractive white cloth and Vidya Balan, skimpily clothed, pouting for no reason, swayed and twirled in their midst ? I wonder.

The Vidya Balan of my day, however, was C.W.Mills. The book, Sociological Imagination, was interesting and flawlessly written, I must admit. It actually explores the subject matter of Sociology, something which I did not clearly understand during my graduation.
As my experience says, reading (and understanding) the first ten pages of a book is the most difficult task. And because Mills was clever enough to keep these pages fairly readable and lucid, I read till page 24, the first chapter. The major point emerging from this chapter called The Promise is that “sociological imagination enables us (its possessors) to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise”. It is, then, about the relation between the personal troubles of milieu and the public issues of social structure.

Pondering over this point, i tried to relate the ‘troubles’ of my life with the ‘issues’ of society. And this, I did, after the most rejuvenating activity of my daily routine – siesta and the post siesta tea.
It then struck me that things which I believed were ‘personal problems’ were actually not that personal. For instance, I am a big time foodie. And when I eat out with friends I see a trend repeating: boys eat as much as they want (in terms of variety and quantity) and girls eat like birds; a mouthful or two and they are done. I, being a girl, am expected to eat like a bird. However, I am not a bird! I, if I have a fairly heavy wallet, I would want to relish the food I eat and take pride in the same. But that does not happen most of the time because I am made to think that I eat a lot and I then become the joke of the day! I actually started thinking that it must not be correct for me to indulge so much in food and that I am “over-weight”.
And this is not ‘normal’.
But wait. Who decides what is ‘normal’?
I certainly don’t. Is it the society then which decides what is normal? I don’t have a clear answer on this and the structure-agency debate worsens the situation.  But coming back to the issue of being a foodie, I realized that it is not really my problem alone. The society wants a girl/woman to be of a particular nature, a conglomeration of ‘apt’ and ‘feminine’ traits. And over-eating does not certainly fall under the territory of femininity. Hence, what appeared to be a ‘problem of my life’ was actually a structural contradiction. And there are, I am sure, several other girls/women like me who face this contradiction and eventually (1) give up to societal ‘roles’ and camouflage themselves by becoming birds, or (2)do nothing and keep eating, unaware of the threat of the contradiction and their inherent values ; indifference (Mills,p-11), or (3) stay depressed and anxious about the threat of the contradiction but unaware of their cherished values ; uneasiness (Mills,p-11).
I, probably, fall into the last category of uneasiness.
But this is not really a bad thing after all. My reading of Mills says that this sort of feeling of uneasiness about biography and history and their structural contradiction is a pre-requisite for budding Sociologists. It helps to question the obvious, which, according to me, is critically important in the field of sociology.
What also struck me is the difference between ‘I’ and ‘Me’. If ‘Me’ is my socialized self, I really want to explore ‘I’ one day, where I would encounter my un-socialized self. This again would help me identify the structural contradiction that Mills is talking about.

The day ended with other mundane activities. Feeding cats, Facebook, Arnab Goswamy….the same lead actress in the soap Uttaran getting married three times to three different men, patiently listening to parent’s ‘office politics’, dinner and finally bed time.

But now, I am not wishing for an ‘exciting’ day tomorrow. Because I have realised that banality is a fertile ground for my intellectual stimulation.

Sandhya

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