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Into the Void

I first wish to introduce a quote from Sir Ken Robinson’s book, The Element to preface my entry:

“We have to go from what is essentially an industrial model of education, a manufacturing model, which is based on linearity and conformity and batching people. We have to move to a model that is based more on principles of agriculture. We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”

This particular axiom by Sir Ken Robinson intimately marries my thoughts every time I pass through the corridors of my Delhi University college. Educational pedagogies should not be derived from fast-food models of management, but should be organic in nature. Education should reach into the depths of our souls and soothingly awaken our inner artistic selves, uncover our true beings. My intent now is not to be flippant, but to be honest with you. I have been attending classes for a couple of months now and still feel the same “sturm und drang” of fellow students as when I had entered the school for my first lecture. I am beyond frustrated for them.

While I recognize that the latter statement was injected with a sense of privilege, it is justified by my now greater sense of appreciation for my home institution. My initial feelings were reinforced when I was able to share an intimate conversation with a fellow student on her thoughts about the course of her overall college experience– “There is no room for divergent thinking here. We are not taught to think differently.” This same student even disclosed to me that she feels unmotivated to do her work insofar that she sits herself down at night to begin her assignments and asks “what is the point?” Another student who harbors a passion for psychological research told me that she plans to actively avoid taking a research seminar next semester. She has been trying to get her own research published but the faculty has been unresponsive, numb towards her interests. Thus, she sees taking the course as ultimately a poor return on her investment. While I am by no means speaking for every student, I recognize the voices of those students who are effected by the dysfunction of their education. It is unfortunate for me to be saying this, but after being in their school for two months now I am glad that the end is in sight, for me. I cannot take another day of rote memorization and superficial assignments that require me to simply read and regurgitate information from a book in class the next day. In earnest, I told a fellow student who was expressing angst towards their educational system that the best way to transcend the system is to work with the system. After you graduate, find your passions, make a difference, and without hesitation leap into the void…

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Bhai

It is a universal term in India that undergirds most relationships. It forges a sense of intimacy with the unfamiliar. It is a term that transcends race, gender, class, and creed. Yet, it remains a social footprint of patriarchal institutions. Brother, friend, bhai is used in address as an expression of friendship. It is a word not reserved for the”high brow,” but as a word for all to savor. It cleanses the palate. I tasted the flavor of this singular word when I used it explicitly with two youths I had met while at Qutub Minar. They were waiting for us, and we, for them. They kindly sauntered over to me and my friend while we were amidst capturing one of Delhi’s most iconic landmarks. Unexpectedly, I let my premonitions get the best of me. I quickly looked away, hesitant, to let them capture my attention. I denied and I rejected bhai in that moment, yet, something inside told me not to be so hasty to beat them back. What was it inside me and what did it want? Was it an unconscious yearning that surfaced to identify with the familiar, with my people? I caved in. They merely asked if they could see me take a picture with my camera of Qutub Minar. I delivered, but to no avail. They directed me to adjust my zoom, to focus in, and to lift up to get a better shot. In that moment they became the sages and I the seeker! As soon as I started to feel comfortable enough to wade in my Indianness, they were gone…. As I ascended the hill to get one last glimpse of Qutub Minar before I left for the day, I saw them. I saw bhai. They had their backs turned toward me embracing one another in exultation. But without hesitation I captured them this time. I dare not beat them back and I dare not disrespect my sages.

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Color Me Indian

Simply put, India reified is the painter’s palette.  A palette of cultures, faiths, beliefs, values, systems, societies, and socioeconomic statuses abound engage in forms of social intercourse yet somehow artfully retain their identities.  It is breathtakingly synergistic. As I wait for my ride outside of the Albert Hall Museum in Jaipur, Rajasthan I notice a peculiar color wheel, a palette, recently smeared by the summer rain. The rain, a social lubricant, enables the colors to bleed outside of their boundaries, bleed into one another. Yet, amidst this chaotic interaction, there is equilibrium. There is an unbridled energy as the paints attempt to retain their color.

Before this moment, I had never experienced art that could feel so alive, never before once felt as though I was the art I perceived. I had never completely understood up until now the intimate interaction between art and life.  The palette, in more ways than one, mirrored not only the collective, but also the individual identity. Indeed, the palette harkens back to social activist, Jane Elliott’s theory of racial integration:

“We don’t need a melting pot in this country folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables-the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers-to maintain their identity. You appreciate the differences.”

The color wheel outside of Albert Hall that day reinforced for me that attempting to meld my biracial Indian-American identity will only muddy it. Conversely, I need to appreciate the differences of both of my identities. I need to strive to maintain a sense of concord between these two complementary colors. Even still, the rangoli-designed palette captured the bedrock of Indian culture and society— that a multitude of cultures and identities exist in harmony, through varied forms of social lubrication and chaotic social intercourses, as it becomes socially permissible to draw outside of the lines.

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Make A Wish…

“Please, don’t worry so much because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky, when the stars are strung across the velvety night. When a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day, make a wish. Think of me. Make your life spectacular, I know I did.”

 

Robin Williams (1951-2014)

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Rakhi

“If we discovered that we only had five minutes left to say all that we wanted to say, every telephone booth would be occupied by people calling other people to stammer that they loved them.” —-Christopher Morley.

It may seem awkward or rather trite for me to be inserting a quote before sharing my most recent experience in India, yet by braiding the former and the latter together I am able to yield a product all the more remarkable. Christopher Morley propounds that:

Five minutes left + a telephone booth= people stammering to other people that they loved them.

Yet, when I entered the apartment to celebrate Rakhi with my Indian relatives this evening, Morley’s algorithm quickly crumbled. There was neither a telephone booth nor five minutes left of life and yet the outpouring of love, support, happiness saturated the room. It seemed as though the familial warmth and energy had temporally removed our environment from the passage of time. Upon entering the apartment  I was greeted by many members of my family I had never seen before. I respectfully touched their feet. They encouraged me to sit down to have a rakhi, a beaded thread which denotes a promise to always protect my sister, tied on my right hand wrist. Afterwards, they proceeded to feed me cashews and deserts by hand thus reinforcing the fluid boundary between public and private. An elder then called me over and gave me her blessing. Upon receiving her blessing, I glanced over towards the corner of the apartment and caught a glimpse of an India-past–elder’s feet were being massaged by a young boy. This performance of seva, or dutiful service to an elder out of veneration, was simply touching. It was rejuvenating to witness youth give back in a way that reestablished a certain web of bodily connections. A cup of chi and a food coma later, it was time for me to leave. I said some final goodbyes and left for home.

In short, to hear a stammered ” I love you,”  there is no need to search for a vacant telephone booth five minutes before the end of time. Search for an Indian family and you will feel it, all the time.

Conflict through Coexistence

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