Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Simplicities to Complexities: Seeking the Absolute Truth

When I was a kid, I was told that I could have the answers to most of my questions if I got myself a solid education. I somehow believed that theory, that as one grows old, one acquires more skills and knowledge, gets more experience in doing things, and life becomes less complex. I believed it at age 10 perhaps, but not anymore.

I wonder if the purpose of knowledge and education is meant to reduce, or increase ambiguity. As a kid, the answers to my questions were simple and absolute. There was no ambiguity about it. I learned that 2 plus 2 is always going to be 4. I believed that the harder you worked, the better your grades were. I believed that good behavior always earned you appreciation. I knew that no one dies before old age hits them. These were the absolute truths that I had verified with my little experience with the world. I had very set ideas about things, and those made complete sense to me. I knew that you could never fall in love with a man if he was younger to you or shorter in height (those were my theories then). In between grades 3rd and 7th, I was absolutely certain that I had found the right person for me (a classmate I had a crush on for years), and would marry him someday. I studied Moral Science as a subject and was absolutely certain about the presence of God (I knew he lived everywhere, but his favorite place was the church behind our school building). I knew students who worked hard studied science, and went to America. Another absolute truth for me then.

However, as I learned more and gained more experience, I realized that there is perhaps nothing called an absolute truth. Sure not working hard doesn’t get you anywhere, but working hard might also not get you anywhere. My inherent programming makes me want to believe in God, but honestly, I am not so sure of his existence anymore. I know that love can go unreciprocated and totally haywire. I also know that it is totally possible to fall in love with a man younger to you, or shorter than you are. The research papers I read usually end with “it is more likely that this is associated with that”, instead of a “we are absolutely certain that this combined with this leads to this”. I have vigilantly presided over my cookery and ended up with unpalatable food, but I fell asleep after setting something to bake, and it ended up being a crispy golden brown dessert that was totally worth eating. I now know that working the hardest doesn’t necessarily make you the smartest, and you could study everything and still flunk. The guy who got lower grades than you in school could be making ten times more money than you are, and not every good deed goes appreciated. Someone with almost no publications could get into Harvard, while someone with many publications could end up in a local small university.

As a kid, I always thought there is an absolute answer that fits everyone’s questions. Not anymore. When I ask myself a basic question like, “Should I get married?”, I honestly don’t know the answer to it, even with all my knowledge and wisdom. On one hand, it sounds like a wonderful idea, companionship and all, but on the other hand, I am not so sure if it is that much of a value addition in my life. The honest answer is, “I don’t know”. Yet if you asked me the same question as a kid, I would have said, “Of course. Everyone should be married before they grow old and have white hair.” Then, there are other existential questions I struggle with, I have no direct answer to. Even in an experiment, the atoms and molecules all do not behave as predicted, and I hear that there is a certain probability of observing a difference or variation due to chance. There is nothing called the absolute reality, and our realities differ, and even exist in multiple dimensions. How else would you explain Dabang being a super hit, and Andaz Apna Apna being a flop?

With time, I see a major rift in the philosophy of my life. The assumptions of physical sciences do not translate to the assumptions of the human sciences. How humans make meaning of a particular phenomenon varies. I always thought science was singular, convergent, and fragmented, as opposed to being multiple, divergent, and inter-related. I always thought that if you can replicate a process and get the same answer, you have achieved the truth. But then you make errors, both type I and type II, where you can either wrongly agree to something which is wrong, or wrongly disagree to something which is right. Not everyone is free, liberated, and happy, even if they have access to similar resources or luxuries. Some people eat a lot and never put on a pound, while some hapless souls like me could live on oxygen alone, and still keep expanding. I once used to have a constellation of values and beliefs about the way the world works. I knew that as you add more to the database of knowledge, problems became clearer and solutions come up, leading to a less complicated and more simplistic world overall. However, the truth is neither generalized, nor can be triangulated upon. The best one can do is achieve the nearest approximation. Now if this is what my philosophy after 25 years of being in school (I discount the first 3 years of my life, and the 2 years in between when I worked), I wonder if my education is worth anything at all. I also question this after the adviser recently read something I wrote and said, “With these ideas of yours, you will never find a job.” If I cannot find a job after being in school for more than 25 years, I question the value and validity of all that I have learned so far.


5 Years !

Sometime earlier this month, I celebrated the completion of my 5 years of stay in the U.S. It meant a lot to me, since I have always considered moving to the U.S. as the biggest “good decision” I have made for personal reasons. It hasn’t been a smooth joy ride, I assure you, and it still isn’t. Things went wrong during the first few years, and I was never hopeful that I would be able to make it. I had to give up a lot, especially the security of a sheltered life, of a secure job, of the prospects of being gainfully married and raising a family. I was singly driven by my desire to pursue graduate school, and to establish myself as an academician. It became challenging and increasingly hard for me to keep myself rooted here (opting out of the PhD program in 2008, job layoff in 2009, resuming PhD in 2010, etc.). However, here I am, and here I was celebrating my 5 years of stay by taking a journey down the memory lane and remembering all the happy and not-so-happy moments that defined the latter half of my twenties.

Incidentally, I was out of town the day I completed 5 years. I was attending a conference, not presenting though. Academic daddy was invited to be there, and since he was traveling, he sent me instead. This was a huge privilege, much bigger than presenting at a conference, because in this case, someone revered in the field gave up his chance so that I could replace him temporarily and do the same kind of work that he was expected to do. I was expected to listen to the talks, evaluate the kind of research that was being done in the field, and prepare a synthesis report. This would not only give me a chance to network and meet the people in the field, but also train me in synthesizing information and making sense of them.

A quick scanning around the room revealed that as expected, I was perhaps the only “Indian-from-India” in the room, if you know what I meant. The conference started, people began to present their work, mostly in the field of developing education and bettering the school educational systems for scientific workforce development so that more students were motivated to continue into college. There was one spokesperson who got up on stage to present. I don’t remember the affiliation, but I remember listening to an impressive talk. The person had some great ideas, and was very enthusiastic about it. The person breezed through the presentation slides, and there was this last bullet point on the last slide that seemed somewhat odd, but did not register anything right away. I am not sure if I had read that point, or perhaps I was beginning to, but before I did, the person repeated what was written in the last slide.

“And hopefully this way, we will be able to stop the foreigners taking up our jobs.”

The crowd clapped and applauded. However, I sat there stone faced. You see, I had never once fooled myself into believing that this country is mine, and has embraced me lovingly. I was always reminded of the fact that I am here as long as I had my visa validated, for which, I had to struggle, compete, learn, and produce superior quality work. I had already faced the consequences of losing a job and thereby ending up without a visa (you get deported, what else?). Although I live here, I always knew I never belonged here, not only for the color of my skin or my Indian accented English, but because of the fact that I am a foreigner, and will always be one. But to be a foreigner sitting amidst a group of natives animatedly discussing strategies about how to keep the foreigners at bay was not necessarily the best conversation to hear. This country has given me a lot, taught me a lot of values. However, I believe that I have given this country at least a little bit in return, and I am not just referring to the taxes. I have given this country my hard work, my ideas, my skills, and my expertise. Look at the irony, on one hand, I was sitting there as the representative of my advisor, trying to become an expert in my field, trying to become “one of them” to help their children continue into college. On the other hand, I was also a foreigner and although this person never realized there was at least one foreigner in the room listening to the conversation, I was listening. I did not know then which side of the argument I was in.

That single incident, ironically on the 5th anniversary of my entry into the US, changed the way I perceive things. It’s been a month almost, and memories of that initial awkwardness still remains fresh. Academic daddy, who is best known for his honesty and bluntness, listened to me recount this in pain, and told me somewhat impassively, “You get established for your skills, the value you bring into a group, and not because of who you are or what country you belong to. If you become a good researcher and have all the combined skills that most people in this field do not have, if you are the best in statistics and can analyze any large scale data set, America will value you. You can either sit and lament about what happened, or fiercely try to establish yourself in the field.”

Advice taken with respect daddy, but not without knowing that perhaps I would never be able to estrange myself from the things I felt at that point, being referred to as an outcast “who is taking our jobs away”.

On a different note, I had to fill out an expense sheet and a tax form by the end of it, listing my expenses. The lady at the conference counter looked at me and said harmlessly, “Oh, I am sure you do not need a tax form.”

Having known her for the last 3 days of the conference, I smiled and almost nodded a yes, assuming she knows best, but decided to confirm again. “You sure?”

“Uh, do international employees pay taxes?”

“Sure ma’am, I do pay my full share of taxes, I assure you”, I said as I helped myself to a form. “Surely us foreigners might be a potential threat who take up the jobs that your children rightly deserved, but we at least pay our taxes”, I thought with bitterness as I grabbed my form and left the conference venue.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If Einstein was on Facebook…..

Graduate school is hard. Cold and colorless. Most often sleepless. Penniless as well. Whoever thought one should take all those 20 odd courses in order to survive graduate school. Then there is actual research involved. There is TAing, and grading. You need to publish, network, acquire academic currency (as papers), and be in the good books of your advisor. The advisor is always pushing you, making you work harder, never approving of or appreciating your potential. So what if he is paying you to get an education? If PhD was that easy or fancy, everyone would be getting one. It is certainly not that easy to have a smooth ride of a PhD. Not when so many other distractions are involved.

You see, the single most distracting factor is called Facebook (there are many others, I assure you). You wake up every good morning with good intentions of doing some path breaking, jaw dropping research. But, what goes with your morning cup of coffee is the compulsive need to look at the tiny red button that tells you the number of comments and messages you have on Facebook. I would not be writing this post if things stopped there. Between classes and meetings, there is this compulsive need to stay abreast of what is happening in other people’s lives. We “comment” on pictures where we are not to be found, “like” status messages from friends that have no significance to us whatsoever, “join” communities on “How to train your adviser” or “PhD sucks”, “poke” people we would never talk to in parties, and constantly check not just the comments of others made to others, but the comments to the comments that others made on a post where we commented. The professor who claimed you were bad with numbers was crazy. For some inexplicable reason, you cannot remember the principles of matrices or determinants you learnt in your last class, but clearly remembered the number of comments and likes your recent update on “I am going to have an awesome time in Yellowstone next weekend” garnered. There is this constant need to update status messages multiple times a day, to check updates from others, to post albums every now and then giving others a glimpse of your awesome life, and deriving narcissistic pleasure by updating the world on the minutest detail like “Worked out at the gym for 2 hours” (who cares?), or “my baby loved eating strawberries today, yumm yumm !!” (20 out of 25 comments for this post would be “awwwwww”). You suddenly know of everything and everyone, the Bangla aaNtel kobita that man you met just once writes (which you hardly understand), that friend of a friend’s friend you don’t know, but still stalk on Facebook, or the menu and guest list of the last potluck party you missed, whose pictures were just posted.

Things do not stop on Facebook. There are the blogs you read everyday, comment, and comment to the comment the previous commentator makes. You read news, you read other people’s secrets on Postsecret (to be fair, I do it only on Sundays). There is this compulsive need to check weather, not just where you live, but in some remote place like Ullhasnagar you might visit in future someday. There is random browsing on Craigslist, Amazon, and Yelp. You need to know of every possible deal in the city. You are still debating whether to cast a wider net on Google Plus and Twitter. Linkedin is constantly sending you updates about the people you recently added. Netflix is suggesting movies you should watch, based on the recent ratings you posted. There is a bunch of emails from stores and services you subscribed to. The local confectionary is giving away free cookies with purchases of $20 or more. There is this long email chain going on (45 emails and counting) about the upcoming Bijoya Sammelani potluck in 2 weeks, where the chicks are discussing what color of sarees they should wear, and if they should be color coordinated with their partners. And last, but not the least, the Google chat window is perennially open (who logs out of Gmail?), you constantly eyeballing who is online and who is busy, in the hopes that someone as jobless as you are will be nice enough to say hi.

Now with the human brain having a definite (and certainly measurable) attention span and the capacity to bear a somewhat fixed amount of cognitive load, I don’t blame you that you cannot finish deadlines on time, hardly get the time to do class readings before class, are perennially sleep deprived and grumpy, just asked for a project extension, and have started to question if getting a PhD is a waste of your youth after all. I am totally empathetic, being guilty of the same follies myself (everything that was written as “you” so far referred to “me”). You see, if Newton was sitting under the apple tree with his laptop, gravitation would never be discovered. Instead of thinking about what just happened, he would get busy updating Facebook, “An apple fell on my head, that’s a bad apple !!!” (a comment that would garner him 45 likes and 30 comments about the best cider places in town and the current recruitment policies of Apple). Imagine how Einstein’s life would be if he was Facebooking and Netflixing from his lab in Princeton. No wonder graduate school is hard these days, and advisers just do not understand.


Saturday, September 24, 2011


I once used to dream of living in a big house with glass windows overlooking the lake in Fremont, Seattle. For all of you who are familiar with the city of Seattle, you will know what I mean. I always thought that was the place that suited my personality best. I would never live in Downtown, or close to a pub district. Yet I have never wanted to wander too far from the happening hot spots and live in a 3 bedroom townhouse somewhere in Bellevue or Kirkland. Fremont was the right place. The lake nearby provides a wonderful view and a nice place to walk by, or watch the boats and occasionally the hydroplanes. There is no dearth of great eating places and coffee shops. The area is well connected by bus services, and who wants to drive when you can take the bus? The troll nearby used to be my favorite hangout area. The Space Needle looks beautiful, and so does the Seattle skyline. How do I know all this? I know this because I worked close to Fremont for a year. That was when I wrote this poem.

The joy ride welcomes me aboard
Through thirty fifth and Wallingford

To zig zag left right up and down

The view of water down and town

The needle points straight in the sky
The buildings stand so proud and high

From Stoneway me a stone throw 'way
To the monster troll I always "hey"

The one eyed giant who gobbles cars
All hairy mighty full of scars

And then to left my tastebuds vie
For coffee sushi greek and thai

Through Fremont streets with joy we hail
And watch the ships cut through and sail

The bridge that's now an upside "V"
And azureness is all I see

In skies and waters traverse planes
With lakes and sun and things arcane

Through Fremont ways and dextered roads
My City of Joy, my new abode


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Kawta Jaama Holo?

I was shaken out of my reverie where I heard the loud ghonta and shaankh in the wee hours of dawn. It had drizzled the night before, and the cold and dampness in the air made me want to cocoon myself tighter. Shaking off the remnants of sleep, I tried to bring my world into focus again. Apparently, I was no longer in Calcutta, a city where I spent a significant amount of my youth. I was in the U.S. of A., a home away from home, where the heart of Ma Durga beats in a nostalgically similar, yet a painfully different rhythm.

My cousin texted me “Shubho Mahalaya” the other day. It is that time of the year when Ma Durga, her children, and Mahishasura are busy getting spruced up for Pujo. However, Pujo is a different story in this country. Ma Durga’s calendar has been modified for years to suit that of her devotees for the probashi (NRI) Bangali in the US. She visits home not per the tithis of the calendar, but during the weekends, and in the vicinity of community colleges and high school buildings instead of paara, goli, or raasta. Thakur dekha (also known as, pandal hopping) is no longer an activity I associate with hours of walking, standing in lines, brazening the sweltering heat or the torrential downpour that is so characteristic of the pujo-scape in Calcutta. It was refreshing to see such energy reflected everywhere during pujo. I saw it in the faces of people excitedly asking friends and neighbors, “Kawta jaama holo?” (How many sets of new clothes did you buy or were gifted this season?).The real reason of the question was not really to know how many sets of clothes you acquired, but to open up the discussion about all the great places to shop, not to mention announcing to the world of your own count of clothes. I saw it in the scaffolds of the still incomplete puja pandals. I saw it in those craftsmen working diligently to add the final touches of paint on Ma Durga. The otherwise ill-reputed as “dead” city pulsates with life. The smell of pujo permeates the air- a smell characterized not just by the dhup-dhuno, but by puppy love blossoming in every paara or goli, the enthusiasm of shoppers amidst the crazy stampeding, the smell of roadside phuchka and chicken roll, the heart beating to the rhythm of the dhaak, and by loudspeakers blaring anything from “Anjali Mantra” to “Bangla adhunik gaan”, “tu cheez badi hai mast mast” for the braver communities, or “twinkle twinkle little star” recited in monotony by a 4-year old rising star during those “kalcharal nights” organized by her father who also happens to be the secretary of the local pujo’r committee.

Things look somewhat similar here, albeit in a more controlled and otherwise monotonous fashion. You could identify a pujo-hosting high school after hours of being lost in the Amazon rainforests, if only you could find that telltale parking lot filled with the Hondas and the Toyotas mostly in shades of black, blue, or silver. As you shut off the car ignition and adjust your Baluchori sari and the kundan necklace after undoing the seatbelt, other telltale signs clue you in to the venue of the pujo. Mr. Software Sen, otherwise seen in his checkered shorts and Google tee shirt with a cuppa Starbucks coffee as he drives his blue Lexus to office every morning, is spruced up in his dhuti and tussar panjabi and neatly combed hair parted sideways, dutifully handing out lunch coupons and talking unsuspecting and stray pandal hoppers into buying their annual Bangali association membership. Mrs. Anima(ted) Sen, looking straight out of the sets of the movie Devdas in her cream and red sari and her vermilion headed, kohl-smeared eyes and Ma-Kali avatar, chats animatedly about their trip to Greece earlier in summer to spend their 10th wedding anniversary, urging her bored audiences kitty party pals to check out her Facebook album now replete with “wow” comments and XOXOXOXOs. On a different note, it took years for a dehati-to-the-American-culture like me to figure out that those “showered with love” XOXOXOs found in abundance on Facebook are in no way related to the “kaata-kuti” criss-cross board games you played as a middle school student when the teacher did not make it to class. However, I digress here. The Khokon Shonas and Mamonis are running around in their Baby GAP sweatshirts or Dora pink frilly frocks and Stride Rite shoes. They are happily chomping on their pijjas and Mc Dee burgers especially ordered off the kids menu, because they have been universally stereotyped by their parents to lack the digestive system hardy enough to digest khichuri bhog. Important discussions are churning in the name of socializing and networking- I overhear a group of balding, middle-aged, and bespectacled dadas discussing Green Cards and citizenships, options for stock investment and mortgages, Xboxs andPSP3s, Kinects and Builds, or the awaited deals for the upcoming Thanksgiving Black Friday sales. The mashimas and boudis enthusiastically discuss clothing and jewelry, juicy Facebook gossip, impending annual visits of in-laws, the newest desi store selling Tyangra maach and frozen Lyangra aam, and the awesome videos of their Khokon shonas eating organic strawberries in their Bumbo seats. A bunch of young people form a visibly distinct sub-group – the “fresh off the boat” graduate students, enthusiastically discuss research agenda, upcoming conference deadlines, and demanding advisors, definitely lacking the visible traits and polish of the nouveau riches from the east now living over a decade in this country.

However, no matter how sardonically you choose to look at the Americanized version of Durga Pujo, this is the best you are going to get here. No wonder we convince ourselves over time that there is an undeniable magic, an aura even amidst talks of green cards and Tiffany’s jewelry, our mashima who is visiting her son and his family from Borishal proudly beaming, “amar naati you ass citigen” (My grandson is a US citizen). Our pujari moshai is an investment banker, dutifully chanting mantras, the sacred thread and dhoti a far cry from his menacing corporate look. The dhaaki starts to play the dhaak at some point, ushering people for the session of onjoli, picking up fistfuls of yellow lilies and carnations bought from Trader Joe’s. As usual, I experience the all familiar feeling of getting gooseflesh, tapping my feet to the beat of the dhaak. My blood rings and my soul sings to the beats of the drum. A strange magic suffused with nostalgia fills the air. Durga Pujo will remain a unique celebration for me, incomparable with the pumpkin carvings during Halloween, or the turkey roasting during Thanksgiving. I am shaken out of my reverie yet again when a GAP wearer less than half my height innocuously bumps into me, running around in excitement, followed by his hapless dad who reminds me of a pet trainer. It is the same man who was conversing in Bengali, and now, he is running after his son not with the typically what you would expect “jaashna, jaashna, orey khoka firey aaye” (Come back dear son, don’t scamper around), but with a trained and somewhat accented monosyllabic “Don’t run, come back, sit down, eat your pizza !!”, instructed in a fake accent perhaps for the benefit of the scampering kid who might not understand a word of Bangla spoken at home. I see that “Kaan mola khabi” has been aptly replaced by “You will be grounded!!”.

Somewhere in between my present and my past, in between the uloos (the sounds you make flicking your tongue) and the shaankh (conch shell), I am transported to a different era, awash with joyous anticipation. I am 6 years old and am wearing a bright blue frock my parents bought me from the neighborhood garment store. Then I am a 20 year old, wearing a bright green silk sari that belongs to my mother, that she has painstakingly wrapped around me, safety pins and all. I am with my friends pandal hopping in Madox Square, enlivened by the dazzling beauties exchanging hushed glances and sheepish smiles with the handsomely spruced up pajama-panjabi clad group of young men who have spent the last hour or so visually appraising the chicks (an act also known as jhaari maara). So many love relationships form and dissipate in the vicinity of the pandals by the grace of Goddess Durga every year. While most never make it to the altar, an innocuous glance exchanged or that racing of heart beats as you eyed a bunch of decked up people from the opposite gender works wonders in your otherwise drab life marred by academic pressures, social expectations, and what not. I flip between the past and my 30-year old present, casually glancing around me to look in vain for the now-extinct group of good looking and single men roughly my age. A corpulent mashima just stepped on my sari (and my toes), glaring unapologetically at me for intercepting her trajectory as she walks by. She is the same mashima, I recognize, who was animatedly boasting about her sonny boy studying electrical engineering at MIT. I sigh, zoning out of my surroundings for the moment and focusing on the beauty of Ma Durga’s face instead. Of all the things that have changed around me (for better or for worse) in the last few decades of my pujo experience, people, social dynamics, pompousness and all, Ma Durga is the only one who has not changed, still looking as young and stunning as she used to for as long as I can remember. So beautiful, so powerful, yet so very feminine. The only thing that brings in unalloyed joy for me is the visage of Ma Durga and her children. And the smell of pujo. Not to mention the music of the dhaak. Or sometimes the familiar feeling of excitement I used to have as a kid as I marveled at the six packs and brawns of the demon Mahishasura.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Magnetic Personality

I sometimes wonder what will happen to all those magnets stuck on the white door of my fridge when I am gone. Surely I don’t have any property to boast of, no land, no house, not even a piece of gold or diamond, but I have around 200 magnets collected over the years of traveling in different places around the world. I suspect I might have to buy a bigger fridge in a few years, but that is a different story. There is this blue lava spewing volcano magnet I collected from Sicily. There is this panoramic view of Philadelphia magnet I bought in 2008. They come in all shapes and sizes, from bears of Yosemite to the bison of Yellowstone National Park. There is a cow magnet from the cheese factory, a longhorn from Texas, a cable car from San Francisco, a dolphin from San Diego, and many more. I wonder what will happen to them when I am dead. I am probably wondering about this since I do not have an offspring to inherit them all, but even if I did, I wonder if anyone would be really interested in collecting a bunch of magnets from a travel addict. They mean a lot to me, having collected them personally over the years, but to others, these are just pieces of magnets. Perhaps I could donate it to the science laboratory to conduct experiments using magnets. Perhaps I could donate it to a travel endorsing club. I don’t know why I am worrying about the fate of my magnets of all things, but it is probably one of those days when useful ideas do not come, and the mind is trapped between the needless polarities of the north and the south, wondering about the unknown future and the even more unknown outcome of worldly possessions when the soul defies all directions and heads toward wonderland.


Happy Teachers’ Day

Good old nostalgic times. On teachers’ day, I was reminded of all the good time I had when I used to teach in Calcutta. It was my first job, I was 24, fresh out of college, and thought I would change the world. Lot of people were surprised, even disappointed, and I somewhat understand why. A measly pay was one thing, and social perception was another. Bright students were supposed to be doctors, engineers, and lawyers, and I can see why such is the perception. Even a professor had a far more social recognition compared to a school teacher. People who had the ability to become something in life did not become school teachers. They designed chips, developed languages, and signed million dollar deals.

Surely I worked with colleagues who were bright, energetic, and had a similar philosophy as mine, where they wanted to change the perception of teachers. But they were only a handful. Most teachers were tired, lethargic, and opposed to change. It seemed a certain degree of boredom had seeped into their bones over the years. Ironically, they did not want to learn anything new. I was faced with some degree of resistance when I tried changing the pattern of questions to incorporate more multiple choice questions to help students prepare for the all India entrance exams they were to take later. My colleagues were used to doing things a certain way, and they did not see why a freshly out of college teacher should bring in reforms. I used to be euphemistically reprimanded for finishing my corrections and setting question papers early, and this might create a certain expectation for them from the school principal. I used to finish work early so that I could go home and enjoy, and do a hundred different things outside my work.

Soon, I realized what people had meant when they had shown surprise about my decision to teach in a school. I started to feel stagnation. I realized I could only do so much, and become so much as a teacher. I did not even have a masters in education, and this meant despite my quality of work, my pay scale would always be in the lowest rung, even less than others who had a bachelors with an M.Ed. Surely I could motivate children to go on to become rocket scientists and mathematicians, but that is where I would stay. I enjoyed every bit of my work during the present, but the future looked bleak. I loved my students, and they loved me back. I would wake up at 5 every morning and get ready with much enthusiasm, eager to go to school. Imagine how many of us get to work where they are all eager and cannot wait to reach office. Ironically, as much as I loved my job, I moved past it.

A friend once told me that although she loved her then boy friend, she had to move on because she did not see a progressive future with him. I was surprised, wondering how you could leave someone you loved just because you were ambitious. But this is exactly what I did too. I applied to a bunch of schools in the US and moved to Seattle the first opportunity I got.

Although I look back at my first job as a teacher with much fondness, I realize now that the decision I made was for my own good. I did not see myself as a teacher with that measly pay 10 years down the line. I needed intellectual development. I needed to feel and experience the world. I needed greater challenges. I moved on.

However, that experience of teaching left a long term impact on me. Years later when I was done with my US masters and working in the industry, I decided to come back to school to finish a PhD. The reason? I am training myself to become a professor. And it has been one hell of a challenging experience, doing research and training myself long term to be able to teach in a university. But I realized this is what I eventually wanted to do, be associated with school in some capacity, teach, and motivate others to follow their dreams. This might sounds very clichéd and dreamy, but I could not see myself working in the industry any longer. So I am back to what I have always loved doing- being in school. And for this, I thank my job as a school teacher in Calcutta. It made me realize how much I love to teach and be in academia. It also made me realize how I needed to move past it, dream bigger, create bigger challenges for myself, and push myself harder. No matter what I go on to become in life, a part of my identity will always be that 24-year old, starry-eyed math and science teacher whose job and occupation meant the world to her.

Happy Teachers’ Day everyone – We are what we are because of our teachers, for all the little experiences life was made of, and for that internal compass that guides us and eventually leads us to do what we are the best and hopefully the happiest doing.


No Small Town Girl

Sometimes, I am unceremoniously reminded of how much I love living in a city. I was in Boston for a conference, and there the thought hit me again. What would I do in a large city? No, I would not jump right in and join the hullabaloo and the madness. I love big cities because I love sitting back and watching life move at a fast pace. The busy streets, the crowds, coffee shops, the waterfront, students walking with backpacks, office commuters headed for work, mommies walking along while their little ones monkey around. There is not a dull moment when you live in a big city. I walked along river Charles, visited MIT and Harvard campus, walked the streets of the Harvard Square, admired the waterfront by the harbor, and so much more. Boston smells strongly of history. Bridges, water, international airports, large streets, bad traffic, it has everything. MIT, Harvard, Tufts, and a lot more, you might as well call it the intellectual capital. The view of the lake along the Boston College (Chestnut campus) reminded me of the long walks I used to take by the Green Lake in Seattle. I will probably be happy to relocate anywhere as long as it is a big city by the coast. So perhaps it is time to get my ass on the work desk and work harder, get some publications, propose, defend, suck it all, finish up, and look for a job in a big city. Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, one can only hope.