In terms of the fan texts my co-participants and I exchange to prep for our episode conversation, they’re largely all Western-focused. With the fan podcasts I’m looking at, they’re all Western, largely USA-produced as well. In some episodes, I’ll look for articles – not necessarily fannish – to provide an Indian context/parallel to the theme we’re talking about. However, these are few and far between. It’s also complicated by the fact that as someone who’s grown up in Mumbai, I’m cut off from a lot of contexts and conversations which are happening in the rest of the state and country. Rural and tribal issues are definitely a blind-spot but even social, cultural and political issues within Mumbai are so varied – reflecting the diversity of this city full of migrants – that it’s difficult to know everything about everything.
When I first started the project, I wanted to have some episodes which look at the themes through an Indian-lens but I was uncomfortable with me providing the only Indian perspective. Which is why having the same two co-hosts appear regularly in episodes and explore all the different intersectional themes was so important to me. And it has been immensely valuable. Especially since both of them still live in India and have much more of a stake in that country than I do living in the UK and looking at the cultural, social, and political systems of both countries. They bring up examples I don’t think of, despite being familiar with mainstream Indian media, because I’m currently so steeped in Western media. Additionally, one of the co-hosts does a lot of historical research for her work thanks to which we end up discussing Indian history and representations there too. In fact, with all our episodes, they’ve made sure to incorporate Indian examples and elements throughout our conversation.
In my own case, when I go through the fan texts – suggested by both me and my co-participants – even though they’re situated within a Western context, I can’t help but think of Indian contexts. In some cases, these examples and analogies have very direct Indian parallels; in others, they’re quite dissimilar to India – but even identifying and thinking about how and why they’re dissimilar helps me articulate my thoughts with much more depth than I would otherwise. In the process of the background work that I’m reading to inform our conversations, I’ve also picked up a few Indian books and articles and online discussions – which teach me so much about my own country, fill in the missing gaps in my knowledge, and challenge assumptions. I’ve received a much more specific and nuanced education in caste and class, for example, through a book like Everybody Loves A Good Drought by P. Sainath and Arundhati Roy’s essays. Even when it comes to topics like race, I can’t help but draw Indian parallels where race isn’t as huge a factor as caste and religion are, but Dalit and Adivasi people are oppressed in similar ways as black people in the US.
With topics like representation of different cultures, misogyny, religion, and heteronormativity among others, the episode conversations and resources have forced me to think about and question my own notions and knowledge about what it’s like in India – and added much more nuance and depth to my own ideas. I’m still very ignorant about many things – and though I’m learning to fill in those gaps – the most valuable thing I’ve found is the discovery of how little I actually do know about India – how limited and non-mainstream my own very specifically situated elite experiences are. And this not-knowing allows me to hunger for and seek more information and stories. This not-knowing is quite liberating.