Safe Haven

Each day, I would eagerly bounce along the turquoise-railed hallway of rooms all the way to the last one, the most mysterious and elusive of them all. Opening the door was like unlocking a portal to whole new world. The soft honey-colored light that filled the room had grown to represent a maternal embrace. It was my safe haven. Although I slept, ate, studied, ran around, and drew on the whiteboards, both pealing out laughter and shedding tears in that room, I never truly stepped through the doorway, never truly crossed the barrier to the room. There was an avoidable sense of hesitance and fear of being rejected from the place I most wanted to belong in.

Only later did it occur to me that same room that represented my home away from home, where I had found so much comfort and security on campus, turned out to be a venomous, parasitical monster, feeding on my attachment to it and fostering an exclusive and cultish community. There is now enough spatial and temporal difference between myself and the room, along with all the painful memories attached to it, and I am starting to unclench my resentful grip. And as the distance has allowed me to reflect more objectively, epiphany struck me like a slap in the face: it’s not the room that was toxic, no! It was my relentless and obsessive memory of it.

I was not actively seeking a new home away from home to replace that room, yet I can’t say I was avoiding it either. There is an overwhelming sense of déjà vu when I climb up three flights of stairs and walk past the offices, feeling a gust of cool air as I push open the door to the new room on the other side of the planet. This one is cool rather than warm, white rather than honey colored, and scattered with candy-apple green chairs and wooden tables, bookshelves, and colorful stars made from construction paper rather than periodic tables, flasks, and science-related cartoons. But there is an uncanny similarity – in even as I sit there, very much inside the room, I feel a definite absence of contact with the place and an overwhelming sense of longing to reach out and close the gap. Perhaps it is better to stay here, with a healthy sense of tension, in the periphery. I wouldn’t want to taint my perception of my new safe haven and risk losing it permanently.

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Empathizing with The Other

Like many students in Professor Aparna Vaidik’s Trends in History Foundation Course, I found Johannes Fabian’s article, “Time and the Emerging Other,” to be a challenging text, as it was densely packed with information, vocabulary, and unfamiliar concepts. However, Gabe, the Teaching Assistant for the course, imparted a few reading suggestions that I believe have helped me distinguish the gist of the article from a dispersion cloud of perplexing material.

The last paragraph of the article ties the divergent stands of the article into a nice little bow. “Little more than technology and sheer economic exploitation,” Fabian claims, “seem to be left over for the purposes of ‘explaining’ Western superiority.” His argument is self-explanatory – Western societies tend to marginalize other cultures and dismiss them as behind modern times. However, they gain the credibility to disparage other cultures simply because of the factors mentioned above. I am going to focus on the point of technological innovations. Our class discussion brought us to an interesting metaphor. Societies tend to follow similar historical trends, a few members of the class claimed, and these societies and trends are reflected by the separate boogie carts on a roller coaster and the similar paths they follow. Each cart takes a similar path to arrive at the same location, even though it is not synchronous. I believe that in using this metaphor, it is important to realize that the roller coaster goes in a loop and does not necessarily have an endpoint. The end of the roller coaster is not necessarily an end in the true sense of the word, for it is a loop and is constantly returning to the past. Clichéd as the following statement may be, history repeats itself. While the analogy is effective in debunking the notion of a linear innovative progress across a period of time, it does not account for the cultural differences in societies that might even change the pathways to a similar result. There are a variety of possible processes that might lead to the same temporary result.

Our discussion has refined my view of South Asia, and specifically, India, in many ways. As I was born and brought up in the United States, I must admit, rather shamefully, that there have been times when I viewed parts of India as backwards societies. But our readings and class discussions have forced me to consider that because there is no universal truth or concept of modernity, it is unfair of me to criticize cultures as backwards. I might not agree with their values, but that does not make me more modern than they are.

Overall, I have come to the conclusion that Fabian is encouraging us not only to give up any superior attitudes we might have towards supposedly less developed cultures, but we also should not deny coevalness with societies of our past. Since time is not linear and there certainly is not a linear progression of humanity across time periods, it is reasonable to assume that we might be in fact repeating the mistakes our ancestors made. The concept of time should not forge a distance between ourselves and our ancestors. Being born at a later time does not make us better than those who were born earlier. Hopefully, studying diverse historical cultures will allow us to see similarities between ourselves and past citizens and allow us to develop a sense of empathy for those whom we refer to as the Other.

A New Home

Although I had great expectations about the Writing Center at Ashoka University, the CWC managed to meet, if not surpass, my imaginations. Naturally, being a center with the prescribed purpose of aiding students with writing and communications skills, the center has certainly fulfilled its fundamental purpose. But there is something so unique and special about the CWC. It could be the plush green-apple colored chairs surrounding the smooth wooden tables that are shaped like guitar picks, or the light manila bookshelves and glass panel distinguishing the warm, carpeted and yet unnamed “Room of Requirement”, as I like to call it. Or it could be the smell of coffee, the occasional lounge music, and the excited intellectual chattering filling the air – the tutors, professors, and like-minded students from extremely diverse backgrounds yet sharing the innate kindness, warmth, and eagerness to learn and share their voices with the world. In just one week, the CWC has become a place to test my intellectual capabilities and clear my mind, a source of another close knit community within a close knit community, and a home away from home.