Sunday, February 7, 2010

Where do I belong ???

As a child , I remember I always yearned to travel, to see, to experience different cultures, to traverse the whole diaspora called humanity. Of course being in India helped me consolidate my longings since most of us generally move out for studies or work. But being in India also implies that if you are a good student you ideally should be predisposed to take up Science. Since I was a part of the 'rat race' till then, I did what any sane person would do in those circumstances..... pursued Science disregarding my allegiance to Literature and History. Not a colossal forbearance for an adolescent from the developing world.
Little surprise that I decided research in genetics, cell and molecular biology enticed me to the extent that I wanted to pursue PhD in another country. Many people call it ' Permanent Head Damage' which could be true if you let go of the harness. But more than that it was a learning experience , a strife that teaches you the power of perseverance and renunciation. Oops!! Big words. But simple meanings. Just hang in there and keep at it. Forget the fact that you worked for two years if an experiment flops. Day in , day out , seven days a week. Doesn't matter, just relinquish everything. Start afresh. As long as you don't literally incur the head damage everything's fine.
But of course I did not know that homesickness was part of the package if you were studying in a foreign country.That's not what you think the first time you go out to study. You think life is going to be all cool, cushy and comfortable. Homesickness creeps in when you realize, life's not that commodious out there for the simple fact that its life. When you actually brave the vicissitudes in life, you recall the first twenty years when you had everything on a platter. Where even if you sneezed, one of your parents would make a dash for the doctor. And that's how you start pining to get back where you grew up. Because we humans covet one thing most and that is love. I obviously was no different.
By the end of my PhD, I had but one aspiration left in me. To get back home. So it was a dream come true when I was there. Without any hassles, without any stress, without any job to cater to. I felt like a free bird - unfettered, unimpeded, unrestricted. But my flight was short. Firstly because at times I felt outlandish in my own country. Because it was difficult for me to conform to many things happening there. And also because job prospects for people like me in India are quite bleak. An absolutely bizarre sense of being there and yet not completely being there kept hitting me. Left without many options, I again applied abroad and took up a position in another country this time.
Contrary to what I thought , when leaving India, I wasn't exactly crestfallen. Because the long flights that I hate, the airports that I detest waiting at, the living alone that I despise , the craving for home on Holi and Diwali that I abhor , were all beckoning me. My life was calling me. This was what I am used to. This was my life. Not what I was trying to look for at home. The ludicrous thing is that two weeks in America and snow were enough to make me homesick again. Tired of my capricious mind I decided I will make this time a triumph. Even if it means walking half an hour daily uphill to the lab in snow (until I get my driving license) and still being jubilant. My motto - This too shall pass.
And the optimism was enough to sustain me through the impasse - to get me out of my dilemma. I comprehended that being in a laboratory gave me a feeling of being at the right place. The familiar bastion of pipettes being used, gels being cast, papers being read, labmeetings being held. This was my niche. And wherever I found it, gratification followed suit. Roosevelt quoted once 'Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing'. On a path to self discovery through my sojourn in these continents,I envisaged that I belong wherever my work is, because that is the only fuel that keeps me going.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A quagmire of disparate thoughts

A couple of months in India after a rigorous work schedule for four years sounded therapeutic to me when I was packing my bags for a flight back. A relief from the usual , mundane lifestyle, a sojourn into realms that I probably didn't even imagine.Its surprising how you can come back to the same place you left to find out its not the same place anymore.

The usual feeling was ofcourse of elation as soon as the flight landed at New Delhi Airport. Then started the feeling of disappointment and dejection right from my Shatabdi bound from New Delhi to Lucknow. The journey eastwards from Delhi into the heart of Uttar Pradesh was a nerve wracking experience. The poverty, the filth, the squalor was appalling. I ask myself - is this the country I was idolizing? At Kanpur, the train tottered across the Ganges - The Holy Ganges, the Ganges that I felt so proud of standing at Piazza Navona where Bernini paid an ode to the river, by immortalizing it in sculpture back in the seventeenth century. But today, the lesser said about the plight of the holy river, the better.

But that was not the only facet of India that manifested itself to me. Along with it came the love of family,friends and amicable, sociable people all around - in short deliverance from loneliness. So when a woman tried to strike a conversation with me on the train ride, I found it quite an exacting task to respond as heartily as I would have done five years back. A little bit of the European haughtiness that I absolutely abhor had in fact brushed on to me. When I reached Lucknow, a city that was a far cry from the Lucknow that I lived in was about to welcome me. A city which from a population of two million has grown to almost five million, where the heart of the city Hazratganj has now been replaced by several big shopping malls, where instead of the few restaurants that we frequented various lounges, bars and discotheques have come up. And last but not the least , where getting around in the city is much more tedious owing to the splurge of cars and other vehicles. This was not the city I lived in. Yet ironically, it is the city where I was born and brought up. And the big onus ahead of me was assimilating these various facets of the India that is now, and the India that is transforming expeditiously.

Driving through the streets in Lucknow I saw slum children gallivanting on the roads as if the sky was their only shelter. The fact that destitute poverty never affected me to this level was a little disconcerting. What was even more astounding was the fact that well to do middle class educated people are not perturbed by it at all, rather they turn a blind eye to it. In fact people are more inclined to acquire more and more material wealth and assets,to stash as much of capital as possible so that they can lead commodius lifestyles. What about the equal distribution of capital? I felt like yanking the millions out of the affuent and disseminating them to the poor. Alas its just a thought and India is a democracy where socialism is still theory, nothing more, nothing less.

But why do I feel like this? I am here to enjoy a holiday and instead I am vexed about the state of the country. It was in the same state when I left. So whats changed. Henry David Thoreau crept into my brain and whispered 'Things do not change, we change'. Its true, I must have changed. Living alone in a foreign country has personally metamorphosed me, but not to the extent that I stop loving my country, no matter how imperfect it is. Like the love I have for my parents, unwavered by their virtues and fallacies, is the love I have for my country wavered by nothing I know of.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Racism, Casteism, Feudalism : Is there an end to human prejudice?

When I look at my image in the mirror I see a young woman.... a young woman with some aspirations and ambitions as any person that age. I see a young woman who is strong headed and is not bogged down by any kind of dogmatic or patronizing demeanour. I do not see the colour of my skin. But unfortunately other people do.Unfortunate........... because its the year 2008.

History is dotted with events where human beings have been most intolerant towards human it the second world war, the holocaust, abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement in America, the colonization and enslavement of several nations by the British......the list is endless. But even after several movements against this kind of prejudice and bigotry , even after leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King enlightened the people of the world, it could not be removed from the hearts of people.

Thus, when I got my PhD position in Germany, seldom was I aware of what was in store for me there. I did hear some hushed admonishing about racism but inadvertently the excitement of being there covered it up. After all it was the beginning of a new life for me.The next three years were about to change all of it.

Contrary to what you must be thinking by now, I did not get beaten up. However , what many of my countrymen face is a more subtle and insidious form of discrimination.When I walk on a street in my country, i walk with a sense of freedom, I feel liberated. When I walk on the streets in Ulm I feel intimidated. Be it the loads of people who ogle at me in the bus considering that i am the only colored person around, or the women in mensa who think they can subjugate a person from a poor third world country. Sometimes I sit and ponder to myself : what do these people have against us? The answer is simple. They really don't have anything against me or you per se ,but regrettably they are stricken with prejudice.

However, are they the only ones incarcerated in the prison of narrow mindedness and intolerance? Are'nt all of us enslaved by this vice? If we go back to India , it is seeped in all kinds of prejudices - on the basis of caste, religion, region, sometimes even color. We accuse other people of being racists but we ourselves exercise bigotry in all walks of life in India. A person from North India doesent approve of people from the south or vice versa, a Brahmin does not approve of Shudras, a Muslim doesent approve of a Hindu. Who can we condemn for the fragmentation and stratification of our society ?

I guess no one. As someone very rightfully said, if we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon. Look at whats happening in Palestine at the hands of Israel. Not to mention that the Jews underwent the trauma of one of the greatest spectacles of human prejudice just over sixty years ago. Yet they practice the same dogmatism for a different sect of people today. Palestine yearns to be emancipated - but how?

When you are a minority no one tests your magnanimity , its only when you are in a majority that your tolerance is questioned. Why does it get so difficult for us to accept people who are a disparate group? I guess it comes very naturally to humans. Since everyone is a prisoner of their own experiences they nurture their own sets of prejudices. We are each burdened with prejudice; against the poor or the rich, the smart or the slow, the gaunt or the obese. It is natural to develop prejudices. It is noble to rise above them. I wish i could do that.

Walking on the street in Ulm, one cold night , I saw a group of girls coming right in front of me. They looked quite gay,ecstatic and chirpy. I hastened my pace because I wanted to avoid their intense stares. When I crossed them I could see from the corner of my eyes the same gaze that I dread. My vocal cords were itching to shout "Dont look at me like that, I am also a girl, just like you". I suppressed my acrimony and walked on, walked on to a hypothetical world which to my utmost dismay, is an illusion.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In search of God

Recently i had the opportunity of going to a Christian Prayer Service. The hymns reverberated to my ears and as soon as the signal reached my brain it gave me a mixed feeling of nostalgia and perturbation. Nostalgia...because i grew up singing these hymns in the Catholic school i attended for fourteen years. But why was i disturbed? To my chagrin, i noticed that i couldn't identify with what people were trying to do over there. Why do people pray? It made me think. Since then, my world has been in a state of pandemonium.

I kept ruminating on the same feeling for the rest of the day. I thought to myself - am i a heretic? My father is a devout Hindu. Never misses his morning prayer. My brother and mother pray often enough too. I had a strong belief in the institution of God myself. One thing that i absolutely loved doing was going to temples. The aroma of incense and the sunshine yellow marigolds filled my nostrils and gave me a feeling of elation.I felt closer to god in a temple.

Whatever happened to that young girl of twenty something who turned to god for every mishap in life with the utmost conviction and resolution? Was she lost somewhere in this 'regatta' of life? Over the past few years she was exposed to the apocalypse which made her realize that life is not just about God. Did she then become an iconoclast? I'm not too sure.

She still believes in God but not in praying. She still believes in a supreme power that transcends this planet, but cannot alleviate the pain and suffering of humans. She still believes that God is present but not in specific places of worship - not in temples, mosques or churches but that He is omnipresent. She believes more in humans and humanity. She believes that God is in Goodness. And that goodness resides in the hearts of humans. She believes humanity has, is and will always be the only path to God, not religion.

Then, what does it leave her at? Is she a heretic? Yes ,she is. If she does not conform to the age old norms of religion, then she is a heretic. If she believes praying is not the path to salvation ,then she is a heretic. She has understood the axiomatic truth, that God is the mysterious power that pervades the whole world. She has accepted that if one believes in God,then goodness is his second name. And if this ingenious line of dogma makes her a heretic, so be it.

Vincent van Gogh once said - "But I always think that the best way to know God is to love many things". That is what the underlying connotation of God's omnipresence is. And you don't have to be hallowed by God to realize this unsurpassable yet modest truth.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rowling all the way !!!

If the Harry Potter Book series wasn't enough , J.K. Rowlings address at the Harvard University Commencement, (where she received her honorary doctor of letters degree this year) definitely made me her fan. Her speech struck a chord deep down in my heart, and i'm convinced i am not the only one, because she got a long (two minutes to be precise) standing ovation. What really made her talk momentous was the fact that it was written straight from the heart, and out of her own personal experiences in life. It was titled "the fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination". Well i guess we've heard a lot of people talking about the curative and salubrious nature of FAILURE but somehow its a little difficult for me to embrace it as gracefully.....
Dont bash me up now. I know ,I know - "Those who want to bear the fruits of their action are but miserly" I have literally grown up with this adage from the Bhagavad Gita. Yet its quite a herculean task to translate it into'nt it?....working diligently without anticipating anything, least of all failure. However, i would say that the way Rowling puts it, is still a little more now... i dont mean to say that she is better than Lord Krishna and what he talks is all mythological jargon but it is, lets just say, not as stark. Coming back to her speech, she exemplifies with her own life the rewards that she got because she failed miserably on an epic scale.Here's a quote from her address- "Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies." Well i truly agree with her. Failure gives you a myriad things that success can never give you. For instance, it gives you a sense of gratitude and a power of appreciation for all that you have, and will acquire subsequently. Moreover some say, good people become good because they've come to wisdom through failure. So goodness is directly proportional to the amount of failure one braves in life..... or maybe the vice versa could be true as well. Confused?? This equation is a wee bit perplexing for me as well.
By the time you start analyzing whether you ever experienced the fecundity of failure, Rowling jumps on to the second topic 'the power of imagination'. Huh, what has imagination got to do with anything but storytelling.....thats what i thought. But what does Rowling think? She expounds a theory wherein imagination , in its most prodigious forms gives us the uniquely divine power of empathy. We can empathise with humans whose experiences we never share. I am not sure about other people, but as far as my memory goes this is one of the most beautiful metaphors ive heard in quite sometime now. Who could have thought imagination could be linked to something like empathy. It surely takes a genius to do so.
At this point however, one might ask 'so what if we acquire empathy?' My rationale would be that empathy is one of the greatest gifts endowed to mankind . Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places. There are some people who choose to be in their own confines , who have no altruistic motives in life. For such ignorance Rowling elaborates - "Those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy".
Well its already a laudable fact that such a long discourse wasn't soporific for a vast majority of people. Without being didactic, she managed to touch their hearts. Along with it, she attempted to galvanize the youth of today to do something for a better world, because we have the power to imagine better. And last but definitely not the least, she closed the address with a lovely quote from the Roman classics, which goes thus -
'As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters'.
I applaud her for it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My Inner Strife

Goodness breeds goodness. What you sow is what you reap. Rings a bell? How often have you heard that? I always keep hearing these cacophonous sounds everywhere. Be it a movie, a book or a person for instance. Be good to people and everything good will automatically happen to you. But does it actually happen? I see the most slimy and cunning people climbing the success ladder in today's world. Selfishness is directly proportional to material gains. Isn't it? Then where is goodness in this fast moving world of today. Have we kind of forgotten why we are here.
Well OK .. a lot of people might say i am an idealist.....we should be pragmatic. But all of us are not born with the traits needed to survive in this world. So how do we get them. Its simple. We acquire them. How? Of course through our experiences.There are basically two things that can happen then. Experiences can bring the worst out of us or maybe in some instances the better in us. Its we who decide what we have to do. Haven't you heard that the good and the evil is within us. We decide which one finally triumphs.
However, as Jacques Monod says " who decides what is good and what is evil?" Here is one school of thought which is evenly poised between the two extremities. I already mentioned idealism which of course needs no introduction. There's a thin line between idealism and "practical idealism". Practical idealism is a philosophy which describes the imperative need to implement the ideals of virtue and goodness in oneself. And one of its great proponents is our very own Gandhi. It sounds like utilitarianism, which broadly speaking, is promoting happiness for the maximum number of people we can. But nonetheless its practical and along with it don't these two terms sound like 'antonyms'!!
Therefore in retrospect, i would still say its kind of difficult to be 'practically ideal' but not impossible. As far as i remember, as children most of us (not all indeed) were without any malice or any prejudice. The beauty of the innocence of the child is somewhere marred on the way to success in this material world. Many people also say that evil must constantly re spawn but virtue is immortal. That is definitely a consolation. Yet I keep telling myself 'I shouldn't become a bad person because other people are bad to me'. Who knows, i may already have become Satan's accomplice and am not as 'holier than thou' as i perceive myself to be. And in fact, no one knows what will happen in the future. No one knows who will triumph in this never ending abstract war going on inside the grey cells of my brain.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The old order changeth, yielding place to new !!

Ive been thinking of starting this blog for almost 3 yrs now ( this of course would give you an idea about how much i procrastinate). However, why i landed up starting it today, is an enigma for me too. Writing is something that came very naturally to me when i was in school, which ofcourse now seems to be quite a long time back. I remember i used to maintain a diary in which i wrote religiously about all the school affairs right from quarrels between friends to my aspirations of becoming a tennis superstar . Sounds funny, doesn't it. I also wrote for the school magazine and my English teachers did tell me i was good in essay writing. However , these were the only meagre stints i had in writing although i always nurtured this hope of becoming a journalist and writing for a current affairs magazine !!! What a pity it is that i am still doing my PhD (in Molecular Medicine not English Literature) and the writer within me for all these years has been nipped in the bud.....
And to tell you the truth, after all these years writing is a little scary. Its not that i have run out of thoughts or ideas but to pen them down is slightly difficult. But then if i don't do it today i may not do it ever. And hasn't somebody said 'Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.' So - here I am.