The Student Senate of Teachers College has a notice board to inform us of their activities. A considerable part of this notice board is filled with blank post-its. Students are invited to write their suggestions, complaints, demands etc on these post-its. I love the idea! I always stop by the notice board and read the comments on every single post-it. Once in a while I also share my thoughts. One day I came across this comment- “if the Senate meets only on Fridays how are practicing Jews supposed to participate in the Senate meeting?”
One day I was in the women’s toilet of the TC library. While washing my hands at the sink my eyes fell upon an unfamiliar sight. A lady in a hijab was taking water in the cup of her hands and trying to wash her feet by the sink. I immediately realized that she was performing wudhu in preparation for the namaaz. Before offering namaz or the official prayers, a Muslim is required to wash his/her body parts such as feet, hands, and face with water. I suddenly realized that there was no provision for washing one’s feet in that or any toilet in TC.
These two episodes brought home to me the question of how we imagine spaces. Who is in our imagination as we engineer spaces? It is clear that the Student Senate did not have the practicing Jew in mind when they imagined the Senate meetings. Similarly, it is also clear that TC toilets were not built with practicing Muslims in mind. The Jew and the Muslim, in this case, were beyond the ‘limits of our thinkability’ (Deborah Britzman). These incidents led me to reflect on what Britzman refers to as “the relation between thought and what it cannot think”. They made me ask-how do we imagine the physical space of our classrooms and who is in our thoughts as we design our curriculum? It was also for me a signal to pay heed to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s call to ‘train the imagination’. In her foreword to her book Other Asias, Spivak defines imagination as “the ability to think absent things”. I hope these incidents will always remind me of the need to train my imagination so that I may seek out those who are absent in the spaces I design and the spaces I inhabit.
by Mary Chacko, Kappa Chapter Vice President