Craig Jeffrey

 

On his book Timepass: Youth, Class, and the Politics of Waiting in India

Cover Interview of March 23, 2011

A close-up

We all wait.  Waiting has always been crucial to human activity and is also a distinctive feature of modernity.  But what of “chronic waiting”?  What of situations in which people wait for years, generations, or whole lifetimes?

Several scholars have argued that such “chronic waiting” is on the rise around the world.  Witness the rising prison population, the emergence of large detention centers on the edge of industrial states, and the huge swathes of the world’s population who believe in a vision of “development” but feel that they are waiting for their social and economic dreams to be realized.

My book deals with one such “waiting population,” educated unemployed young men.  In telling their story, I’m interested in trying to think about waiting not as a passive activity but as something creative and fertile, something that opens up possibilities even as it creates frustration.

For example, among many unemployed young men in north India a type of loosening of social relationships takes place.  Men start to feel a sense of solidarity across lines of caste and religious difference.  They start to develop new genres of humor.  They begin to spend a great deal of time with another on the street.  Social relations begin to change—albeit often only temporarily.

I would like readers of the book to reflect on what other contexts are there in which people wait.  Can waiting generate new possibilities for action and experience?