Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Politics Of Crammed Spaces

The caption to this News 24 picture reads, "PACKED TO CAPACITY: Indonesian men struggle to board a packed commuter train at a station in Jakarta. (Irwin Fedriansyah, AP)."

It got me to thinking about the time I took a train from New Delhi to Agara to see the Taj Mahal.

We were packed into the compartment like sardines except we were standing. I boarded the train after buying a general ticket thinking the trip was only a couple of hours how bad can it be.

I have never been more wrong in my life.

People kept cramming into the space and at first I thought it was not real.

It was.

More and more folks boarded with boxes and cases and crying children and live chickens.

About two hours into the trip I could not take it anymore. My face crammed into a wall and alternately into someone's back pressed me to escape.

I did and found myself in Mathura. The birthplace of Lord Krishna.

Somewhere in-between that space and standing in crammed lines here in South Africa I have started to think about development as freedom and not primarily the neo-liberal kind pronounced upon by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.

I have been thinking about the politics of crammed spaces. About the violence that characterizes crammed spaces where competition is fierce for even the most mundane of things.

In recent months I have been struck by the intensity of struggle needed to navigate living in South Africa.

Even the most elemental of tasks can end up taxing your being. You stand in lines that seemingly move to a dysfunctional rhythm for just about anything.

Once a month I take a whole day out to just pay common bills. The telephone. There is a long line. Electricity and water. There is a long line.

Lines are long and service non-existent.

People jostle for places. Steal in front of you. Argue and push and cuss each other out before having to move to another line.

Inside of this hurry up and wait routine the resolve not to take anyone's sh*t grows stronger.

Just the other day I told this towering brother that the line started behind me and not in front of me.

He just looked at me and continued standing in his stolen space.

I tapped his shoulder and said "I told you the line was behind me," he turned and walked off fuming.

Crammed spaces is undoubtedly about scarce resources.

If you stand still in India the motion of people will swallow your existence.

Often it felt as if my moving was about surviving. If I did not move someone would stand on top of my being.

How original can one be in crammed spaces?

Is the act of speaking as one in crammed spaces original? Is the collective a forced condition that interrupts life, or living meaningfully?

Don't get me wrong here. I am not glorifying the concept of the individual as a counter against the rot of crammed spaces and its dysfunction(s).

Nonetheless, I am thinking about thinking as an individual, separate from the sea of sameness that hands and takes in one motion.

I do not want my politics to be an expression of sameness brought on by not being able to breathe inside the crammed collectivity.

It is for this reason that I am trying to understand the politics of crammed spaces. The manner in which sameness is a rehearsal of consciousness.

Nothing new comes out of being crammed. I think.

What say you?


Image Credit


Dade said...

This post brought back memories, for sure. The train ride you describe reminded me of the oppression I felt when I was in India: so many people. I felt a constant anxiety; I was constantly aware of the need to keep moving, to be vigilant about protecting my own "space," about getting my immediate needs met. That's one big reason that I'm in no hurry to go back to India.

You've touched on something primal here, I think. A very intriguing post. I'm going to have to think about it some more...

Great post, Ridwan, my brother.

Ridwan said...

Hi there brother Dade!

I remember seeing your pictures of India some time back. I especially remember the one where you were jumping in front of the Taj Mahal.

I have to agree with you on the pressure of being surrounded constantly and not being ready to do it again.

India is a wonderful place of layers. To travel there again however takes a little more than just the urge to experience those layers again.

I thought about you after I got home yesterday.

I thought if you were closer I could ask you whether I had confused the words crammed and cramped.

I did a little digging this morning and it seems (seems being the operative word) that crammed is what I mostly mean.

Though I do see cramped spaces as quite relevant too.


Peace to you!


Ridwan said...

Ummm Dade I think cramped is the right word (adjective) for the title.

Geez need help with my first colonial language.

Dictionary defines crammed as: "to fill (a space) beyond normal capacity by pressing or squeezing; pack full or too full"

That is what I mostly mean. The transitive verb, crammed/cramming.

Time to get back to skool :)


Dade said...

"Time to get back to skool :)"

You and me both, brother. :-)