Posts Tagged ‘Irawati Karve’

Infected World

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

I intended to start a novel this year. It is set in Berlin in the 1920s. It is about my grandmother, Irawati Karvé. She studied at the Friedrich Wilhelm University and the Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics under the supervision of Dr. Eugen Fischer.

It was significant that an Indian woman did her PhD under the man whose ideas inspired Hitler’s belief in racial hygiene and Aryan superiority.

irawati Karvé’s research showed race could not be discerned from skull measurement—a now-discredited method that supported colonial and racist policies. The story follows her in a turbulent Germany as she comes to terms with her identity as a woman scientist and the conflicting nature of her work: a colonial subject herself, measuring human skulls obtained during German colonial expeditions. I want to highlight the complexity and entanglement of positionality, race, gender, and colonial subjects and objects through the eyes of an unusual woman in an unusual time.

In 2019 I received a grant to research the novel. Of course, I have not been in Berlin to do it. I hope that things will get better. I don’t know where this hope comes from, in spite of the disappointments of this year: The defeat of Bernie Sanders by the neo-lib-Dems and their corporate masters. The death of my beloved dog. A forced separation from my partner, who is German, and couldn’t stay any longer in America without a visit from ICE, and I couldn’t go because US citizens are most unwelcome in the sane world. The personal sadness is small, when compared to people who have lost jobs, homes, and so tragically, family and friends to this disease. In the past months, though I have been relatively unaffected, I’ve been unable to write much of anything.

But, there have been a few encouraging moments. I was invited to a conversation with a fellow writer to speak about our work. This was organized by the Literary Colloquium Berlin, who administer the grant I received.

And now, Germany is allowing their citizens to be reunited with foreign partners. So Berlin, and this novel, may be in my near future.

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