Good Will Hunting (1997), the Bar Scene
It was my friend’s birthday a few months ago, and being the generous soul that she is, she invited us all to dinner at an aesthetic cafe (for the after dinner photos of course) near F.C. Road. As the sportier of the lot power-walked through the by lanes of Kothrud, I found myself inevitably at the end of pack, alongside all the other library frequenters. A soon to be very close friend, who had stayed behind out of pity for my pathetic pace, asked me about dreaded future plans, to which I replied I had none. He then asked me what my major was, and with a deep breath and some apprehension I replied, ‘Literary and Cultural Studies’.
Suddenly, time stood still; dry leaves cascaded down from autumnal trees in slow motion, power-walkers somehow decelerated back to our group, in wait. I can’t really remember that night, but I remember flashes of the conversation that ensued. ‘Pretentious’, ‘postcolonial’, ‘postmodern’, ‘stamp-collectors’, all suffixed with a muddle of expletives spanning across English, Hindi, and Marathi. A lone crusader for my major, I remember fighting valiantly (sort of) until the end. But they won – and once again, I along with my brethren, were tagged as unbearably pretentious LCS students.
I recollected myself by demolishing creamy pesto spaghetti that quite possibly knocked off two years of my life, and soothed my wounded pride. Somewhere in between the spaghetti and endless Chinese whispers, we gave the birthday girl her gift, covered with tiny post-it letters from all of her friends. One was crammed with tiny handwriting and I could see a classic Gossip Girl quote on S+B took up half it. The soon-to-be-very-close-friend turned to me and said, “Bro, chill, why’d you write so much? You think this is one of your assignments or what?” Still yet to recover from the sudden spike in my cholesterol levels, I shook my head weakly, a limp noodle hanging between my lips. It wasn’t even my post-it.
As we drove back to campus I thought about my friend, and his friends, and their friends, and all their stupid, obviously uninformed, comments. Where did this angst come from? I thought about all the other students on campus who dabbled in LCS, conjuring up hundreds of faces who had taken the same classes I had. I thought of all the other Humanities and Social Science students who were respected far more than my sorry lot was. They were fine; no one associated slightly large paragraphs with them, or called them post-modern stamp-collectors. Maybe it was just the system; maybe in an environment inspired by hard business and economics, we just didn’t want to take LCS seriously, or its students. That was why the jokes were out of control. With this 11pm epiphany in hand, I began preparing for the future defense of my major, reminding myself to verbally wallop my now reasonably-close-friend the next time I saw him.
I met him sometime later in FLAME cafe, on a Doodhi Chana mess day. He called me over, asking me about classes, listening unusually respectfully, as he squirted disgusting amounts of ketchup over his Maggi. He liked the sound of a new LCS art seminar I’d enrolled in, asking me about the teacher and the course material. ‘Why don’t you just take it, it’s not as vague and pointless, as you think, you know.’ But he didn’t think art was vague and pointless at all. He liked learning about it, and in his first year, back when his dreams were still alive, had even taken an LCS art history elective with some senior majors. ‘It’s not the topic that’s vague at all,’ he smiled.
In that one class, he’d asked about a colonial painting of an African slave tending to her White owner. He knew about other art periods, but nothing about this one. He wasn’t sure of the exact history, or politics, or relevance of the piece. If past class participation was anything to go by, no one else in the class knew very much either. And yet, in between the answers to his question, where random references to Coomaraswamy and Foucault were flung around alongside ten-syllable words, sniggers were heard and eyes were rolled. ‘You haven’t read lé-randomé-French-theorist, and the entire collected works of prototype-Marxist-art-historian? You haven’t heard of obscure-1920s-critique-of-classical-art? Wow’
The professor tried to steer the conversation back, and the class continued, but the debate eventually died, probably because my now very-close-friend slowly stopped asking original questions, and eventually ended up dropping the course. He just reads a lot on his own now, in between tormenting me, and surviving economics. He left for class soon, leaving the bloody entrails of his styrofoam plate behind.
Now alone, I once again leaned back into the comfortable upholstery of the dung-colored sofa and thought about my major and its defense. Umpteen lakhs, debates, and courses later, were we truly original, liberal, or humane? Was posturing an LCS thing too?
Author: Aarathi Ganesan