When humankind attained wisdom and knew all that is good and bad. There was born the teller of tales; a small tribe of people (men and women), who watched and observed what no one saw. Creative, imaginative, highly skilled and having a perfect understanding of the human psyche, these people have the ability to touch the human heart with their words alone. To weave tales, by laying the selective warp and weft of time and space. Piece by piece, word by word, they build up perfect universes out of nothingness. Like a conjuring artist. They transpose the partakers in a time and place removed from the present. This ability gives them immense power, for unknown even to themselves they can mould and shape the thoughts of an entire generation. Call them influencers if you will.
No, not that type of fan– the star-obsessed weirdo, the one who tried to attract Jodie Foster’s attention by shooting President Reagan decades ago, or the jilted look-alike trying to destroy his idol in SRK’s 2016 Bollywood release.
Not the old–fashioned wooden or cane punkha either. Neither the small hand-held ones we used during power-cuts a few years ago nor the majestic ones described in old novels – those that presided over the dinner table at parties and solemnly swayed to and fro when the fan-boy tugged on a rope.
When I was in my intermediate class, my father guided me to take some USA entrance examinations, and I got a scholarship. He then sent me for undergraduate studies to Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, when I was just about 18 years old. I had hardly any experience with the outside world, but I came across many people who showed me so much concern and love that I have very fond and sweet memories of my stay in the USA, and gratitude for their support and affection.
I sometimes wonder if the “father of western philosophy”, French philosopher, René Descartes had any gender complexities in mind, when he was talking about “Cogito Ergo Sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) in 1637 in his Discourse on the Method? Some of my thoughts in this regard emerge from the idea that the history of knowledge and history of creative writing, in essence, has been the canonized history of men as intellectuals and as thinkers. Therefore, when Fundamatics requested me to write an article on what it means to be a woman academic in IITs, the floodgates of emotions were thrown open, bringing me face-to-face once again after several years with the Cartesian notion of Cogito Ergo Sum.
In most large companies, we barely know most of our colleagues – we see only the professional side of their personality (if we’re lucky) during the typical work-day. We may learn more about them during office parties and off-sites, sometimes with assistance from ethanol. The process of forming deep friendships (or enmities) usually takes a long time, sometimes many months or even years. Travelling with them is one way to accelerate this process, to its bitter end perhaps? As I’ve mentioned earlier, Mark Twain was no doubt prescient when he noted, “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
I’ve often heard someone casually parrot the cliché ‘travel is a great way to get to know people’ and felt a wee bit uncomfortable about letting a glossy half-truth pass without a murmur of dissent. For I feel that friendships are either strained or strengthened while travelling – not by any dramatic event, but by a succession of small incidents that throw the spotlight on hitherto unnoticed flaws or virtues.
Recently I noted with quiet pleasure that I finally have a gardener’s hands. Coarse and calloused, with stubborn dirt underneath my chipped, uneven fingernails. A steady reminder of my 62 companions at home clustered together in the balcony and in the three-wide window enclosures that IIT has so thoughtfully provided.
“Hey man, it’s such a long time!”
“Twenty-seven years. Wow!”
“You have not changed a bit. Ditto IIT looks. And you, you are now bald and have, err, gained weight. And you! What happened to your specs? Oh, contact lenses! Hey come in…….”
In many such rendezvous of old IIT friends, the introductions are similar. We get engrossed in our lives, lose touch and then we meet years, decades, nay life time after and feel excited as if we are living those magical IIT days again.