America, Friendship, Graduate School, Higher Education, Student Life

#9. American diaries: To Carolina and beyond

The step forward
The step forward

When you sit back and quietly wait for a change, it’s weight often troubles you. The same happened for me when I was in the transitory period between my college and graduate school. Being in the suburb I used to live, it wasn’t possible for me to get myself engaged professionally for those 3 months and let us be honest here, I wanted to have the last booster dose of being pampered by family and indulgence of home cooked food before setting off.

There is however a problem with transitions. When you can’t see it clearly and only anticipate, it gets scary and dreadful. You have a half-baked idea of what to expect, you start grasping the things you are going to lose- your cozy inner cohort and the physical companionship with people you love, the status quo in your life and try to prevent yourself from getting sucked into the darkness of uncertainty that awaits you.

As the D-day approaches, an interesting shift often takes place. Your emotional response either gets amplified several times, or it often gets numb! The latter happened for me. So before I could correctly register the rapidly changing frames, I found myself in an airplane and 28 hours later in a locale which was going to be my residence for at least the coming five years, 8.5k miles away from the country where I spent 22 years of my whole life.

Chapel Hill wasn’t exactly an alien township for me. My sister has been a postdoctoral researcher here and I had been to North Carolina in my last trip to United States, enjoying a dip in the famous beaches of Wilmington. 🙂 But this time it meant business!

Being Indian: Baseball is like Cricket, Cricket is like Baseball
Being Indian: Baseball is like Cricket, Cricket is like Baseball

The first week involved a flurry of activities. The stagnant life of past few months suddenly received a tug and I let myself loose in the motion. And wasn’t it overwhelming? UNC Chapel Hill doesn’t have many international students. In our program, there were only 12 international students in a batch of 79. In fact I was the sole flag bearer of my nation. That also meant I stuck out among others! In order to harmonize and integrate, I had to quickly adapt myself to gel with my new gang of American peers. It wasn’t exactly so comfortable to change oneself so fast! But thanks to the jolly good bunch of my friends who were so kind and cordial, within a week I ended up moving to the steps of Y.M.C.A in a baseball game and relishing Moonshine while enjoying live Bluegrass music (a friend of mine remarked it to be a very ‘Southern’ thing to do 😀 )!

Though it was precisely my doctoral studies that defined my voyage to  states, I would rather save science and grad school for another post. Let us talk the about science of people today. After arriving here, I had a lot of experiences in quick succession. Now every experience has it’s brighter and darker shades. It is never possible to like everything in entirety. That’s neither the fault of the circumstances nor the individual.

The rapidly expanding friend circle!
The rapidly expanding friend circle!

Those who have visited India likes to talk about the hospitality of people there. But Americans themselves are also very accomodative and warm people. But are they all same? No, because every culture has its own brand of interpersonal relationships.

In India, talking with a stranger is generally not greeted with enthusiasm. But here (though I had an idea of the same from my previous trip) I started enjoying my candid conversations with people of all gender, race and age while waiting for a bus, in the cafe and with the cab drivers late at night. I really treasured those tiny bits and pieces of reflections which I trapped in the process. I couldn’t do something like that in India. However, I also had to acquaint myself with segregation dynamics of finance and personal relation maintained by people.

I lived in a country and spent my last five years in a university where people don’t really go specific about money around their close peers. Getting frequent treats from seniors was an accepted norm, going for eat-outs didn’t need splitting money. The bill was paid by any of the friends in the group, another taking the turn next time and so on. Nobody really cared about each buck. I even remember when a college senior offered to pay a part of my airfare when I was waiting for sponsorship to come for the conference. So, I really didn’t know how to respond to the polite remark of my cab driver when he said “You have an awesome sibling. You better keep her!” when my sister paid for both of our cab fare in a short ride. I couldn’t tell him that day it is a normal practice for an elder sibling to take care of the younger when he/she has the capacity to do so and vice versa.

I am not trying to criticise. I am just trying to show the different cultural perspectives with which we look at life and the way in which we do share a love/hate relationship with many aspects of it. However I found in it an excellent opportunity to collaborate the best of both worlds!

Independence day Selfie!
Independence day Selfie!

Another great thing which happened to me in the past couple of weeks is one particular friendship I managed to develop. As many people know, India shares an acrid relationship with its neighbour Pakistan, which was carved out of the former about 70  years back, due to the rising demand of an Islamic homeland by a section of politicians dreading suppression of interests of Muslims in a Hindu majority India. The bilateral relationship has stayed bitter due to differences over control of Kashmir, terrorism and frequent gunfire along the borders. There are infrequent visits of people between the two countries so it wasn’t really possible for me to interact with someone from other side of the border while in India. And here after coming, I met Sehrish.

When I first met her, I couldn’t even tell that she’s from Pakistan unless she introduced herself because we share same ethnicities and look quite similar. I interacted with her, enjoyed meals together, hung out along the streets and had fun. In an unaccustomed earth, she brought with her the aroma of home! I couldn’t view her with the mistrust with which the two governments look at each other.

11866368_10207618416556999_4545808425722088924_nA lot of things to talk about but so much for now. Probably I will come back with grad school experience soon enough. I would just like to end with this sticky note which I found in my work desk. It was left by the lady who previously occupied my place. I guess it gives me a slight warning what to expect in the coming five years. But at this moment, I really don’t care! I would try to take things one at a time. Like munching blueberries and dark chocholates on a lazy Saturday night!

Que Sera sera 🙂

Bonds, Friendship, Music, Relationship, Student Life

#7. Catch 22, Murakami & ‘Me’ time

“In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

The very purpose of starting this blog was to give a channel to my hitherto stifled thoughts, which I was pondering over, trying to get across but couldn’t. An ideal alternative would have been to maintain a journal but that wouldn’t really help to attain my closure as I still ran into the process of locking the stream of thoughts essentially to my personal domain. In order to truly  communicate, I needed a space  where I could pour my ideas, frozen in sentences. But what exactly I was trying to communicate and who was my audience? Was I really trying to scream to the world reaping open my insides, showing I’m me? I rather always found the idea of sharing titbits of personal emotions in social media 24*7 nauseating and irritating. It wasn’t really my mouthpiece. I also didn’t want to justify others for who I am. I was rather unsure of why I was doing this. But I still wanted to register my expressions periodically for my heart wanted to let go of the burden of thoughts and I craved for the lightness. Probably seeing the words and polishing them also helped me to appreciate, to comprehend.

There’s a real catch with the age that is 22. You stand in face to face with the world outside from the comforts of a DSC_0015_editedcozy college life with its illusive sense of complacency. The fear of future, which was silently crouching in the dark comes and encapsulates you. And if you are a student with a prolonged research life ahead, you don’t really feel so excited about the journey ahead once all the intensive formalities gets completed and you start to mentally prepare yourselves for the gruelling ride which seeks perseverance and patience. You don’t really doubt your life choice, cause you have probably made this choice on your own without any peer pressure. But things change. The initial charm of science touching lives and the ‘muggle’-ish astonishment towards scientific wizardry  wanes away as you be a part of the school of ‘sorcery’ yourself. You see the world through a prism of pragmatism and anxiety sets in.

I never spent time in my home for a prolonged spell since I left my home for my undergrads in the summer of ’10. The summer breaks and winter breaks were always pre-occupied with internships home and abroad. But when I eventually got the time this summer to spend with my parents, in my home town before I leave it for good, I found things have changed. It wasn’t the same old place where I lived. These weren’t the same people I lived with. Or probably everything has remained same, but all what has changed is my dynamics with every entity.

“Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again.

-Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

I had always an affinity for abstract, surrealist elements; kafkaesque themes. That’s why once I got a hang of Murakami it was difficult for me to let go of the obsession. I got hold of my first one, ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the world’ from my best friend. She bought it for herself and before she could read it, it ended up with me. The easy readability, his characteristic narrative style, the magical metaphors and the reverberated use of music central to the character development diversifying from Dylan, Beatles, Coltrane to Beethoven drew me towards his other works and I started making a diet on his books in rapid succession. However, this period of life was running in parallel with the turmoil in my personal world. My long-term relationship came to an end. And with the termination came up the doubt, the regrets, the baggage of overwhelming nostalgia and the eagerness to go back to the past to tune it despite knowing nothing can be changed. I was looking for a closure, but neither the past, present or the future could assuage my mind. Till then, I stayed beside my friends and motivated them during their troubles. But once it happens to ourselves, only then we realize how difficult it is to follow suit.

“The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing..”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Staying in home elevated my frustrations. In a long long time, I had enough time with myself and had the trouble of adjusting myself to the obvious realities of life. I tried to engage myself pro-actively to derail myself from my train of thoughts. However being at the edge of my student life, I found my circle of friends generously distributed like pinheads in the map. And then there was Murakami. His penmanship bordering on the themes of loneliness and isolation pushed me towards my inner darkness. I started having mood swings and depressive feats.  However, as I went through these cycles I gradually learned to celebrate what I had in my life. The remnant of myself from my past which I was carrying with me. I felt like coming out of the storm and looking back at the changed landscape and the changed me. I stopped nourishing loneliness.

Whenever I finish writing a new post, I feel uncertain about what I am going to write next about. But then I saw that can’t be planned. Whenever words seem to come in moments of outburst, they just spontaneously trickle down through my keyboard and then I again reach the plateau of uncertainty. And that’s similar to our life. We are actors being pushed to the stage for a cold run. We can’t guide the course of the movie we cast ourselves, the only thing we can do is to perform our act properly. Es muss sein. It must be. We have no choice 🙂

I am not a happy person. I am not an unhappy person either. I am just not sure of the changing life around me. And I now understand that having doubts is perfectly normal.

Bonds, Friendship, Relationship

#1. ‘Total empathy’. And the tryst

Still, this was on the order of a minor miracle — running across someone to whom you can express your feeling so clearly, so completely. Most people go their entire lives without meeting a person like that. It would have been a mistake to label this “love”. It was more like total empathy.

– Haruki Murakami, Man-Eating-Cats

We make associations throughout life. Some stay, some fade away. Some are marked by oscillating periods of light and darkness, while a few are accompanied by a prolonged period of stale following an ephemeral friction, before they eventually die their natural death. However, if we are fortunate enough, we can forge a bond which lasts a lifetime, even without resorting to a label.

I met her in my last year at university. We discovered each other like passengers from sinking ships, trying to avoid drowning by clenching our fists together; perhaps in the process unknowingly taking us deeper down the depths of the ocean! We spent a lot of time together, enough to raise a few eyebrows and invite curious looks here and there. As time passed our lives got intricately entwined. I am not sure, how we could have tackled that in past. But we were veterans, with fresh war wounds. We succeeded to disentangle and escape, albeit scarred. We went on savouring each other’s company, relishing every bit of the hourglass time we had. But like every eventuality, the time had to fade away. And it did indeed soon, and we drifted along bifurcated paths.

coffee-1

I was at Kolkata, on some personal business. Though I am proud of my roots and have a deep sense of belonging with my ethnic heritage,  honestly I never came to like this city per se. The urban chaos and cacophony repelled me. However, the ‘City of Joy’ was still special as some of the moments I spent with some of my dearest acquaintances happened to be here. Since I was coming down to the city, we had planned to meet each other, as near future holds fewer opportunities for a chance meeting. I had chosen a cozy cafe which I personally was quiet fond of. As I was waiting for her in the comfort of air-conditioning, all these train of thoughts were rushing through my head while I was trying to focus my attention on a periodical.

My thinking was suddenly disrupted and I was forced to look up as a very known voice ringed through my ears.  There she was, smiling animatedly, and it was her calling me by my quirky nickname that had brought me back to reality. She looked elegant and spirited. I was not sure how I perceived beauty and whether it was amplified by my meeting her after a month since we drifted or it was her inner happiness talking. She took a seat beside me and we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, fighting playfully with each other, teasing, just like the old times (which were for the matter of fact, not so old at all).

I don’t know how it felt in olden days when departed souls used to meet each other after a long time without scope of any communication in the interim period. Digital progress had stripped us of that opportunity. We are connected every single moment of our life, albeit disconnected physically. But suddenly a realization hit me. I felt that even if there was no communication, things wouldn’t have changed much if we met in a similar scenario. When you have full empathy for someone, the ability to communicate with the person is as difficult/easy as communicating with oneself. It needed no extra effort once you knew how to appreciate yourself completely.

Towards end of our tryst, we sat beside each other in silence, just like we used to do in past. It wasn’t uncomfortable. Like that classic ‘Simon n Garfunkel’ song, the silence had its own sound. I suddenly had the imagery of a lady wearing a long skirt walking down the grass, producing a subdued murmur. Delicate, yet pleasant.

Image source: http://www.epicentercafe.com/gifs/coffee-1.jpg