The two anthropological goats introduced last week continue to guide my work; today's post is about the place where they hang out: the former Rifah-e-Aam Club of Lucknow. Pictured to the right, in the Residency's backyard and a mere puddle (or rather goat) jump from my new home, it was initially little more than a pittoresque structure nearby and a fun place to hang out in the afternoon for kite-flying and cricketeering. But once I managed to track down the Manager-cum-Caretaker with the help of some local boys, read up a bit in the relevant books,1 and turned to the Blogosphere, fascinating new perspectives emerged.

The club was apparently a place of great historical importance, where - folklore has it - Gandhi and Nehru met for the first time, where nationalist demands began to flourish in Lucknow, and where the politics of class, caste and community all left their mark. Now being in utterly neglect as far as its existence as a Club is concerned, but recycled in many new and exciting ways, Rifah-e-Aam - the "public good"2 - also tells a lot about the changing face of Lucknow, UP and India. And since any club is, of course, at its core a game of belonging and non-belonging (even though the goats' membership remains unclear as of yet), this particular one forms a fascinating first nucleus for my quest into Lucknow's history and present, and into the diversity of relations of people with the city and with each other.

These two lovely goats, hanging out close to our new home in Lucknow, got me thinking about epistemology again.1 Or rather of epistemologies, since there are at least two kinds: one is the thinking-inside-the-box variety, exemplified by the goat to the right. His head bumps against the wall, and he has no space to move. As a result, he can think as hard as he likes - it won't help him. Only stepping out of the box would help. Which incidentally his fellow goat to the left did. As a result, she relaxes comfortably, her thoughts can float freely, and her sight can glance over this world without obstruction.2

  • 1. Yes, you non-academic readers: that's how my mind works...
  • 2. I am, by the way, pretty sure she is an anthropologist - given that, as David Gellner once put it: anthropological method is not hanging out, as many believe - it's in fact deep hanging out...

Excited policemen increased the walkie-talkie chatter, tightened traffic rules and lost all sense of humour. Lathis were being drawn, our Rickshaw puller retracted way back in a small side alley, where he remained in an ambiguous state between tension and routine endurance. Within minutes, an eerie silence engulfed the central crossing. Only some birds were audible, and of course the omnipresent elephant-clad signboards of her party, fluttering in the wind. They announced in elaborate Hindi that it has pleased the most honorouble Madam Chief Minister to bestow upon the people of her province, on the occasion of her birthday, and in recognition of their suffering for the cause, a new law (the 2011 UP Right to Information Act). Then suddenly: laughter all around, tension being replaced by noise, traffic resuming. Her motorcade must have taken the other route. It still feels like we had (almost) met her...

This post concludes the sober series of introductions to my PhD project. One important question remained unanswered so far: why Lucknow? It has many answers, two of which I shall give today.

Apart from this post on my fieldsite, there are:
An introductory post to my topic
A post on my conceptual framework
Finally a post on my methodological approach

Expect the unexpected - that is research, and that is, of course, India. What the hell is happening in the picture to the right, for instance?! A farmer, at a gas station, with his purse out. But no agricultural vehicle, just a bicycle, not even a gas container, just a breakfast tiffin. Originally, I intended today's post to be about epistemological assumptions and analytical strategies: how to explore, how to generate new insights, and how to know if what we do is scientific? I intended to argue that we know it if it disturbs our everyday assumptions and commonplace knowledge, in particular commonplace knowledge of scholars. That being scientific is, at its core, being critical. Well, I can assure you: this picture disturbed my commonplace knowledge about gas stations thoroughly. But I can't make sense of it. I am sure I could write a rant about modernization theory, but to be honest, this seems unfair. The real world got me, I guess - it got me dumbfounded and silenced for today. Feel free to interpret the picture for me, in the comments box below - but I am off until next week, with a fresh attempt at understanding what is going on around me...