January 29, 2008

Girl Friday at the University

Meena Kandasamy

She wanders like a flimsy ghost
in the two-hundred-year-old
university where love thrives
in large abandoned third-floor
classrooms, monkeys shag on
corridors, restless gossip piles up
like dirty dishes in the canteen,
and young women learn some
tough lessons.

Here, she learns that intellectual
posturing means a hunch in her
back that swells out of reverence
and deference to the time-honoured
practices of men (and very few
women) dangling above her
in the academic hierarchy.

Girl Friday’s Lesson #1:
Discard the proud
Tilt of your head.
Save the strut in
Your walk for another
Age. Bow in gratitude.

Here, she learns that research
is the clandestine by-product
of specialized internet browsing,
Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, font customization,
and convoluted paraphrasing
to suit submission guidelines
of peer-reviewed journals.
Here, she learns that collaborative
research happens when everybody
agrees to seal the secret of the source.

Girl Friday’s Lesson #2:
Discard your dream
Of having an original
Idea. Treat your itch
To be yourself. Just as
Cloning is research,
Research is cloning.

Here, Guide isn’t a Dev Anand
film, but a word (with an anaconda air
Of authority) that refers to the man
Playing scrabble with her phd dreams.
Here, supervisor means overseer,
(the slave-era sound intact)
Whose classes she can handle,
Whose kids she cannot.

Girl Friday’s Lesson #3:
Your guide is your Crusoe,
Your guide is your crucifix.
Get ready to toil.
Get ready for torture.

Here, she inevitably comes face
to face with the sexual harassment
committee– and its token woman–
that has spent its lifetime bailing out
bald, lecherous supervisors. Here, she
testifies; answers lewd questions;
drives tears back into her petrified eyes.
Here, she carries herself like a bowl
Of milk, ever-ready to shatter, or to spill.

Girl Friday’s Lesson #4:
Let him take you
To tea, but don’t take
Him to task for what
Follows afterwards.
You will have to stoop
and stoop and stoop
and stoop to submit
(even your thesis).

Here, she learns the lessons
that cannot be unlearnt easily.

Here, she runs errands.

Copyright Meena Kandasamy | All Rights Reserved

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