Veena Vimala Mani is a research scholar in the HSS department conducting her study under Professor Mathangi Krishnamurthy. The interview was conducted by Basima P.
Give us a dummies’ version of your ongoing research in detail.
I look at the gendered experience of football in the region of Malabar. I look into how football can be used as a analytical tool to study gendered subjectivities, regional identification and production of precarious labor. Studying society through sports, I hope to show how society is not only reflected but also produced in sports.
What made you take up your area of research?
I was fascinated by the discipline of cultural studies while doing my masters at English and Foreign Languages University. I used to play basketball and I began reflecting on my sporting experiences as a woman in the context of Kerala. Meanwhile the spectacular fan performances in Malabar attracted me and I wanted to see how men experience sport.
Describe the city you currently live in, in one word/phrase.
Austin Film Society!
Who, according to you, is an ideal guide?
For me, an ideal guide is someone who believes in collaborative work. I am someone who appreciate brutally honest comments on my writing. That person has to be intellectually motivating and responsive to your questions and concerns. At the cost of sounding cheesy, let me tell you that kind interactions can make a lot of difference. Research is a slow, frustrating and an exciting experience. We need someone who is available, honest, vigorous, and communicative to guide us in our research. I have worked with Mathangi Krishnamurthy and Kamran Ali. One similarity between them is that they buy you a coffee and a snack after challenging, pushing and ripping your paper apart.
Do you have a response to the accusation that humanities and social science students do not produce solid output of their education?
I believe humanities and social sciences study what does it mean to be human. There is nothing solid about those.
Any advice you want to give to your readers the undergrads of our department? (acads, cooking skills required in strange cities, how to reduce your general average in bunk meter, fashion, to be or not to be a research scholar… sky is the limit)
It is all about being responsible. Responsible to one’s immediate surroundings, being attentive to one’s needs and concerns and being responsible to one another. This would apply in academics, relationships and in kitchen.
One difference between undergrad and graduate studies is that while in undergrad, you are expected to answer questions in the best way possible while in research you are expected to ask important questions. PhD gives you a lot of time to read plenty of interesting things. Reading and writing becomes your everyday process. So for anyone who is planning research, I would strongly recommend to pick a subject which excites you. Never mind the “trend”. It is like a relationship you would have for five years. Believe me, research gets intensely personal and challenge you in many ways. So make sure that you pick a topic which keep you motivated for a really long time.
Find a supervisor who respects your thoughts and care enough to give you critical comments. Do not worry if your writing is criticized. It is always a process. Ask your supervisor how you can correct your writing if they point out your sloppiness. Engage, ask and contribute. If a supervisor finds you are committed and responsible, that will definitely bring out their best too.
Learning cooking skills is not an option anymore. At first I started cooking out of compulsion. Now I have begun to enjoy it. I started cooking during my field work. Cooking also makes you aware of your ways of eating and you can include healthy food habits. Find simple recipes if you do not want to spend a lot of time in kitchen. Rice, dal and pickle are in my lazy day menu. If you are too lazy and if cooking is meddling with the research time, do not feel guilty to eat a meal from a cafe or restaurant. My favorite cooking blog is http://www.cookingandme.com It has excellent step by step recipes.
Romila Thapar has written about the need for public intellectuals in India. Conducting good research and spreading those ideas and facts are relevant more than ever. We need to be creative in using multiple platforms to bring a conversation around important topics. I would encourage social science students to write in their respective vernacular mediums too. It is also important to translate vernacular literature into English to reach a wide readership. Hannah Arendt emphasizes on the need to think. It sounded pretty obvious and plain to me at first. But not anymore.