The Inverse Interview

In the last few days, several people have been asking me how my work is going. I might be projecting my own insecurities here, but I feel like the subtext of this question is, “have you actually been doing any work?” I have yet to conduct a formal interview, or get my hands on any local wool, and have been filling my time with what probably seems like aimless puttering—knitting a few rows on my almost-finished shrug, or going for walks around the villages. But that stuff is actually part of my work.

dukaan path
On the way to the dukaan–the local equivalent of the bodega. No cats, but plenty of horses.

Knitting and walking have made space for what I’ve begun to think of as the “inverse interview.” I have not seen this mentioned as an interview format in any methodology textbooks or IRB checklists, but I’m finding it to be pretty useful. In these interviews, the tables are turned—I’m in the hot seat, and the people into whose work and lives I hope to intrude are asking me the tough questions about mine. (Tough partly because even though I’m understanding more Hindi every day, I still usually need to hear something at least twice before I get it, and then 2/3 of the way through my reply I fumble the verb conjugation. If I didn’t fumble right at the start with the wrong declension of the wrong pronoun. But I digress.)

So, for example, I might be out for a walk, and as I pass someone’s house they will call out to me “baitho!” (sit!). The following scenario will then unfold: me sitting on a chair that’s been dragged inside, the whole family sitting cross-legged on a bed in front of me, grilling me with questions about my family and my marriage prospects. I will, frankly, be relieved when the tea arrives and the conversation quiets down a bit.

The knitting interview is a bit less fraught. People are generally most curious about the following aspects of my project:

  • how fat my yarn is (I’m currently working with Reynolds Lopi, which is bulky, but not remarkably so in the U.S. Here it’s unfathomable)
  • if it’s real wool (yes—this highlights the fact that the English word “wool” is often used here to refer to yarn, which makes explaining my research a bit more complicated. Of course, to go meta, that complication of explaining my research is one of the things I’m researching)
  • if it’s local wool (no)
  • where it’s brought from (with this question I’m never sure if people want to know whether I brought it from the U.S. with me, or where the sheep were—so I generally try to answer with both)
  • what’s up with my knitting needles (to save space in my luggage I only brought my set of Addi-Clicks—here there’s nothing but straights)
  • where’s the rest of it (there is no rest of it—it’s just sleeves connected across the back)
  • what? Why would anyone make something like that? (truly, I don’t know)
  • when am I going to finish (I’ve made slow progress since I’ve arrived, mainly because I don’t actually get it out that much and also because I’m trying to replicate the cabling pattern from looking at the other sleeve, and have to keep tearing things out when I’ve figured out that I figured it out wrong. Also, the local knitters knit hella fast! While walking! On rocky terrain! In flip-flops! It boggles my mind)

Questions like these help point out (for both sides) things that we tend to take for granted about our practices (like how many different sizes of yarn there are). They help me formulate my own questions to investigate—why is the range of yarn sizes available so small? Why doesn’t anyone do bulky knits? Why do people seem to use handspun only for weaving, not for knitting?

Hm, this all reminds me that my first progress report is due tomorrow…

2 thoughts on “The Inverse Interview

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