Majors: Government & Humanities
Hometown: Missouri City, TX
Writing, publishing and reciting poetry
Working on a religious website
Taking part in on-campus art/political events
Loves to memorize 12th & 13th century Urdu-Persian poetry
Looks up people’s natal birth chart in her free time (with their consent)
Still does not know how to make rotis
1. Why the Humanities program?
I was looking for an academic space where I could synthesize my gender and feminist interests with the interests of the post-colonial attitudes towards sexuality and women’s work in India. It was hard to find any two or three majors that did it as well as the Humanities Program. If this program did not exist, I would not be able to explore the breadth and depth of my subject. I would have been majoring in three different departments and feeling like I stretched myself too thin.
2. What led you to your research interest?
Many things. I remember watching the Kamasutra, the one directed by Mira Nair, and wondering how odd it is that she made everyone speak english during a time when the sub-continent was still a free land. Later, I found out that the movie was banned from India because it was too explicit and sexual. How can a book written by an Indian for Indians be banned in India? It was very odd. I had so many questions about the gaps in our attitudes towards our very own sexualities and the way we express it. We have temples with erotic art and whole books written just about how to perfume the body when the moon enters the waning crescent phase versus the waxing crescent phase. In the middle of all this wondering, I saw a very poorly told story about kids of sex workers in Kolkata. What really disgusted me is the flippant way the white director used the labor, hope, and experiences of these children to cater to her own ideas of what their lives should look like. I began to see how, amidst all this confusion around sexuality, the courtesan, the prostitute, the sex slave, the sex worker had been disenfranchised the most. Through this small thesis, I am only scratching the surface of what is, a giant narrative around the sexual arts, feminine labor, (pre/post) colonial sexualities, and notions of mainstream respectability in India.
3. What’s your favorite aspect of the Humanities program?
It made the experience worthwhile by letting me do what I think is the very essence of higher education, which is to think critically and write in ways that makes one uncomfortable. I mean my thesis makes me really uncomfortable. It makes me confront myself. What are we doing, as academics, if we are not unlearning and challenging ourselves in the very same ways that we are challenging our readers? It goes both ways. The Humanities program made space for me to affirm that.
4. What has been the best part about your Humanities project?
I have been able to study things, sit in on classes, and dip into various departments without having to take the 101 classes on them. I am immensely grateful for the Humanities Program for that, because I have very little patience for those 101 classes—I knew what I wanted to study, what I wanted to read, and who I wanted to teach me, and it just happened! This would not have come true, or unfolded as smoothly, had the Program not been so intensely interdisciplinary.
5. What are your future plans?
I want to work with folks who have been trafficked in the states. My thesis is on sex workers in Kolkata, and though there is an assumption that they are all trafficked, that is not the case. However, I do understand that sex trafficking is a very real, very serious issue that continues to affect people around the world. As a way to extend my work, and complete it outside of my thesis, I want to work with those who have been trafficked in any capacity.
I will also apply for graduate school to earn my PhD in South Asian Studies, Women & Gender Studies, and perhaps, Ethnography. It depends if I can find another Humanities program in graduate school!