Ali Mehdi Zaidi

MA, South Asia Studies, 2020


When the South Asia Center decided to re-do the profiles of its students, the person in charge of coordinating, what I assume was a large logistical project at the end of the academic year, in their email wrote the following:
We’ll use whatever you’d like to submit.  You should consider this as an opportunity to market yourself.”

Though excited about the first sentence, the second irked me. It irked me because of the indignity of marketing myself. As if I was a seller of my capacities standing in the grand bazaar of the internet waiting for the next floater to price me: fifty dollars for an hour of his brain. My commodification was complete and here was my department, aiding me, assisting me in selling my labor to the highest bidder. Of course it was due to no fault of the emailer. Despite my irk, I too will apply in the next cycle of PhD admissions and I too will hope that I will be sufficiently priced (what is the going rate of a PhD student: $2500 a month?) Despite our collective participation in a system that demeans us, both you and me, there is no reason why that indignity has to be taken bent down. We might replicate that brave soul who just before being sold looked into the eyes of her buyer and smiled because she knew something he didn’t. There is another reason why it irked me. Because every profile on a university page posits the individual to whom that profile belongs as a lone individual. As if anyone of us is a lone individual: as if I could get here without the shoulders of my teachers, my friends and my family: as if I was anything but an accumulation of debts so expansive I sometimes shudder under their weight: as if the future was more important than the past. To market myself here would be to commit the blasphemous mistake of forgetting my aukat. As Malcolm X once so aptly said: “Only the mistakes have been mine”, everything else is but an ehsaan of my teachers. Some of my teachers I have met, some I have only ever encountered through the gift of language. I am not but the products of their immense commitment, sincerity and duas. I honor those I have met on the left: I honor those I have never met on the right. Neither list is exhaustive: neither do I have the capacity to ever create an exhaustive list.


All the women, neither, and men,
Who ever gave me a hand,
My writing this,
Bears witness to your kindness.


Syed Ali Murtaza Zaidi Imam Ali
Fatima Aamir Wynn Imam Sajjad
Syeda Uzma Wazir Arundhati Roy
Carol D’Souza George Orwell
Maryam Wasif Khan Saidiya Hartman
Bilal Tanweer Aime Cesaire
Hasan Karrar Frantz Fanon
Cabeiri deBergh Robinson Abida Parveen
Radhika Govindrajan Hannah Arendt
Priti Ramamurthy Michel Rolph Trouillot
Sunila Kale Eqbal Ahmed
Christian Novetzke Jennifer Egan
Purnima Dhavan bell hooks
Sana Naeem Max Weber
Sara Khan Jhagra W.E.B. Du Bois
Nida Kirmani Toni Morrison
Bibi Zainab
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Two individuals deserve special mention:
Fatima Anwar, who saved my life
Ali Raza, whose language created me.

In the end, regarding the future, perhaps Baldwin can best speak on my behalf: “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”