A good list is hard to find these days

Updated: Dec 30, 2018, 06:24 IST | Paromita Vohra

The Print responded to criticism with a smidgeon of blame-the-victim, saying women they asked had declined, maybe because they don't like to shine like crazy diamonds

A good list is hard to find these days
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

So, I am on a December list. I'm not very sure what it's a list of. But, come December, I begin receiving emails from students that say, "Dear Sir, I would like to apply for an internship in your esteemed firm, especially given your great contribution to the field." Over time I've understood that this 'field' is architecture. And that I got on this list due to my interest in urban topics on which I've made some films. So, I am on a list of architects, but that does not make me one.

Similar discussions have broken out on the interwebs about a list of 'new intellectuals' published on the digital platform, The Print. The Print itself did not make the list, but intellectually sub-contracted it to three older intellectuals, who they fancy for the title. As smarter people than me quickly discerned — all three were men and they all chose mostly men. The only diversity that seems to have been assiduously maintained was of left, right and maybe centrist political leanings — sides whose intellectual activity is often restricted to doubting each other's locus standi (yeah, just because no one thinks I am an intellectual doesn't mean I don't know fancy words), but chalo.

Paromita VohraImmediately, people began making counter-lists. These tried to balance identity representation. You could probably quibble with all on the count of representation, but that's another story. My favourites were the ones in which people essentially listed their Twitter crushes (I favour romance as motivation) and Twitter buddies (because cronyism amar rahe).

The Print responded to criticism with a smidgeon of blame-the-victim, saying women they asked had declined, maybe because they don't like to shine like crazy diamonds. In fact, I'm not sure identity alone is sufficient to make a good list. How does one define intellectual?

To be unable to explain this is to present your view of the world transparently, and also create a context in which you question your own assumptions. Is writing academic books the only mark of intellect? What about art, political initiatives, education, agriculture — the moment we expand our understanding of the intellectual, we look in more places, in more languages. To discuss the intellectual without any curiosity or excitement is simply a clubby activity in a suit, a dressed-up version of name-dropping.

This is bound to happen, no matter what the identity of list makers, if we remain in a paradigm of hierarchies: the best, the first, the topmost. This approach is inherently hegemonic — it is a scolding, a boasting, minimally excited by ideas themselves. In short, it's #BoreMatKarYaar.

What makes a list viable, even beautiful is, in fact, subjectivity. But, a subjectivity made transparent, a point of view well argued, rigorously researched and lusciously presented. A list should explain the logic by which people or things feature in it — films that made me go, 'Hmm'; books that played with form; scientists who made our eyes light up — because it is a proposition from the list-maker, teasing us to think afresh. A well-made list helps us, the readers, to see the world afresh, and offers gleaming points of consideration that allow us to indulge in that most sensual of activities — thinking about the world. For a list is an act of imagination and expression as much as observation.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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