Why should a tale of someone's life, or even just a period of it, be of any interest to others? Perhaps if the life is so singular, or could we say, so singularly wrought, that it takes a direction we do not expect. The person himself makes his choices because according to him, there are none other. He hears a different drummer altogether.
He believes that within all circumstances lie their reasons, you reach through them, only to pass through... like doorways.
He saw this in the opportunity that came to his spouse when she sought admission into a university abroad, leaving the country with one of their young children. Later, he did not resist when she asked him to join her there, leaving his employment.
Other things which followed were not in themselves remarkable, till perhaps when he too sought and was admitted into the same university for a one-semester course. He wished to learn more of how programming works. He was a programmer but from practice alone.
This situation is again similar to the one we began this tale with, where he finds himself amongst students younger than himself.
We won't make too much of the difference in the accents he found the other students spoke in, as native speakers of the language. He notices though, a slight sharpness in the teacher's eye as he sees him, because he stands out, being older than the others. Maybe there's something else about him too. He's a little uneasy, and feels so are the others.
The main lecture has nearly a hundred students in the hall. Next, is a smaller class with a teaching assistant, a younger person who was introduced earlier. He notices a person from his own country, and senses him making an effort to fit. He can see the others are easier with him, with what he is trying to be.
'The runtime Organization of Programming languages' -- it really is such an interesting sounding course. Parse it slowly, and it's not hard to see that for a home-grown programmer, who for years has only written programs following rules of the languages in manuals, this is nothing short of the 'key' to understanding what lies beneath the code.
So everything is present, the interest, the setting - all of which could not have been better.
As in every class, there is some earlier work you've only partly done. You are wondering how the others have succeeded and are better tuned to the material of the lecture. The TA makes references to the assignment, giving hints on how to approach it, but you are distracted by the newness of the surroundings, and tell yourself that you need only to put more effort, and can solve the problems on your own.
The class is finally over and you come out in the sunshine. People are in pairs, and threes, heads bowed, some glance towards you. You don't want to appear purposeless, or even looking too hard for companionship. You move out with the bunch, find the path leading back, and reach home slightly disheveled inside, wondering what happened exactly.
It isn't different in the classes which follow. The main lecture is too crowded to articulate your difficulty, it would be embarrassing and awkward. Then wondering how it would be in the tutorial class with the TA, you think you will muster the courage and say ' I just don't understand anything at all. Can you please help me. I notice others form groups and manage to turn in assignments, but I do not know where to begin.' But, you cannot even say this. You want the TA to notice your difficulty and address you directly himself in some way, but for some reason, he does not.
In a fortunate turn of events, a programming job turns up through a person from your own country.
Back home there are these exclusive places, owned by the very wealthy. We looked upon that kind of solid, elaborate construction as meaning - lots of money. Here, everything was as that. You felt like you walked into a designer shop and were only a dumpy tramp.
What would you think of a software organization only miles from the Washington monument, employing 20 people of which all but 3 are Asians. The founder and president of the company, an American ex-professor built up his team as this, picking the brightest of his Asian students, but wisely chose to have the public face of his company represented by three pleasant American women, at the reception, managing the administration and as the financial controller.
I am sure they developed good skills for dealing in the right way with intelligent Asians, given the close contact necessary in the working of this high technology company.
There are custom built cars, custom tailored clothes and there is custom designed software. The makers of these are on the high end of their market and competing fiercely with the mass produced, lesser priced versions of the product. In the end they are driven to such a small niche that they find it harder to keep their specialty exclusive so that customers are still willing to pay for it.
This organization after ten years of fairly successful existence was now in this struggle. Their specialty had become a common enough work space, and other companies were making products that were easy to configure with only little tweaking.
Those which mass produce have a different business model and when they acquire other companies, seek to expand their product range by bringing in technologies, people, products and all, perhaps even the customer base, calling it all a merger. The acquired company is restructured and whimsically, some weight is shed in terms of the employees.
All this happened in a period of three years, so it was a learning of a different kind afforded in these circumstances, if one was inclined to learn from it.
The acquiring Atlanta based company was 400 employee strong and had much less international orientation. Those interacting with us faced difficulties they were hardly expecting or prepared to tackle. Some chose to take a 'nerdy' stance, sticking with only the technicalities of the software, others came across somewhat to their own discomfiture, as conquerors of sorts, not knowing how to converse with us. Often, just being able to articulate well puts one at a disadvantage. The rapid expression dislodges the other's footing whose command of the language is less. But only in their confidence to express themselves, and their reply is coarser than they intend. They hear themselves, the hearer might considerately repeat what he heard, as if to ask, is that what you wished to say, and our non-native speaker unsure he'll get it better the next time mutely acquiesces, accepting reluctantly.
It's obvious that whatever sense holds out, is due to such factors as, which side wields more power in that situation. For from an imagined fear, one may not wish to cause more to be pitted against oneself. But the person is unhappy with the outcome, and with himself, for losing his confidence. It's no surprise he will cast elsewhere to go.
You are in a foreign land, jobless, feeling slightly unwanted, confused and bewildered. You ask your spouse if it isn't a good time to just head back home. She has finished graduating and found a beginning job. Her prospects appear quite different. Maybe it is not fair to ask her to give it all up now. You have instead to make what you can with whatever you have..
It begins to appear not the best solution to find fulltime employment. The children are at that endearing age where, they ask for your love, you don't want not to be there when they do. You take stock and in the back of your mind, you see that however strange your course of action, it's something you really wish to do.
You have time and again felt yourself, your belief in yourself, challenged. Challenged in a fundamental way. However things work out, you have done no wrong, can you not hope for them to work out right. It is hard to see past the bend, there isn't any thing similar that you know of. Yet you strongly feel a call to hold fast to the path opening here. What it will do for you more than anything else is make firm the foundling stone, the one on which rest your other beliefs. Isn't it worth the while for everyone to put their beliefs to this test.
It is more challenging in a way to test beliefs you built in another culture, amongst other people and under different conditions altogether. You will have to let go all you have, assuming great responsibility, and let it ride on your conviction.
At the same time you are drawn to what works here in place of belief. Each step is clearly delineated. The progression of ideas logical. Beyond that nothing is acceptable. Don't talk of your beliefs to people here, they will laugh indulgently. They ask what can you do instead. That is the challenge you cannot pass. You remember your personal experience, of when the world stood still for you and you saw how things just follow a pattern, even your own actions outside your ability to withhold, and everything else of the same nature.
You can listen to the logic screaming outside, or to the drummer within.
This is definitely my favorite of all your works so far! You have managed to capture a tone that is intensely personal, yet also, in a sense, objectively detached, observing phenomena that are not created so much as just experienced. Two lines in particular stood out to me:
You move out with the bunch, find the path leading back, and reach home slightly disheveled inside, wondering what happened exactly. - I loved "slightly disheveled inside"! That's a feeling we can all relate to, but would have a hard time putting a name to, as you did.
Often, just being able to articulate well puts one at a disadvantage. - This I could definitely relate to, being an educated woman living in a rural Southern state. Is "dumbing down" to fit in shameful self-betrayal or wily self-preservation?
Anyone who has had to recreate himself due to the vicissitudes of life will relate very well with your story. The answer to your question "Why should a tale of someone's life, or even just a period of it, be of any interest to others?" is, for me, that the interest of the life lies not in the facts of the tale, but in the telling of it. You told it well. :-)
Your kind words are so encouraging...
Yes I do meet some like you Sarah, far too few; many, many others in between.
Am I trying to deceive you, starting my tale as though it was going to be about the present, and instead going on about the past?
Fact is, I am trying to create so much background that, whatever follows becomes somehow predictable.
Don't we often wish that it were really so, and keep resisting every moment created afresh? It's always in a very limited way that we succeed to abstract patterns, which informs us rightly, and along which life may just take it's course again.
But I can say this with certainty that we are not mistaken, when, carrying some notion, we experience some things again and again, till it is finally driven into our heads, that it is so, and no other. I went into the 'West' with a notion not different than which others who only hear about it have, and then I 'experienced' it. Experienced it at length and slowly, till I understood what we got wrong, something that is almost always - lost in translation.
Countries are not dissimilar from houses and people living in them. There is a time you are welcome in someone's home and there is a time you are not. Whatever the special circumstances which take you to live in another country, you can be absolutely sure, that the reception you receive, in the crowds in grocery stores or walking along a trail, in restaurants from others there, it's all as though you walked into someone else's home!
In the last twenty years I was there, these same people visited us in our country. I remember greeting them with enthusiasm, a reflection of their own interest, in our exotic culture, our history, our mystical philosophy. I enjoyed as much asking about their own thinking, and it was by placing the two ways of thought, side-by-side, that we all got the most in our thirst for knowledge. It was of something intangible which was neither built on hypothesis or premises. Nor followed in didactic logical construction. But sprang from within us, all of us sitting together, from East and West, and seemed to fill us with it's own beauty and reasonableness.
All this was playing in the back of my mind as I found this place, in the neighborhood we lived in US. An ideal place to come together and talk of the oneness of humans.
Like some naïve philosopher-student I sat there on the metal benches, arranged around a fountain, outside a large bookstore. People stopped there sometimes to enjoy the sun, or sip coffee and eat their lunch and doughnuts. Right along this spot, ran a wide trail where walkers, joggers and bike riders could saunter to, for human company and warmth, one would think.
Something about this place seemed it would connect me with the real life in these parts. A little like the musicians who performed in this spot sometimes, hoping to connect with their higher destinies.
Anyone who has sat by himself in a park or some similar place, in an untroubled frame of mind, knows that soon you start reading life as it is happening around you. You do not intrude into any individual's events, or countenance, but gather from it all something, quite gently, and it refreshes you; it answers something you have not asked yet, and when you walk away you can sense this knowledge gently put in your mind.
India, in its people, is of three distinct categories. The very rich, themselves invisible, but their wealth is not, they are the owners of elaborately constructed buildings and fleets of expensive cars. More evident is the middle class. They are what is working in the country, as we see before us. Then the unfortunate, which is the third class, the deprived. Deprived of food, shelter, security from disease. Even deprived of the opportunity itself to rise above their plight.
If some young people stand at that junction in their lives, where they will soon find themselves free to shape it, using only skills they have acquired till then, it is evident they will suffer acute anxiety.
But remove the poor crowding the streets, and remove hovels they live in, lining the streets of almost all the neighborhoods, then what is left? It is incredibly, the same scene described above, the gathering spot outside the bookstore in US.
So, I tried to do this. To help these young people see that they are not themselves the poverty which surrounds them, nor will they ever become a part of it. Neither need they consider it their responsibility, for that's just a weight on their minds, a needless burden for their unseasoned frames. However the poor find their way out of their misery, and that is the only way acceptable to any intelligent person, to find it on his own, the incredible and undeniable aspect of these unfortunate people is, that they lack nothing in basic intelligence, just in direction and opportunity. So the best we can do is expand their possibilities for them, by doing whatever we do best, nothing more.
Freed from this burden, then what are we up against, what are we contending with? The world, and as equals. We are equal to any individual in any developed nation, but you need to be able to talk with everybody. Not only talk but communicate, in a way, that your confidence in your abilities comes through.
I see all this, but now things have come to this pass that I must not do anything, not even with these people, those whom I wish to share this wisdom with.
For the purpose of my own quest, and lying deeper perhaps, is another vein of knowledge that I too wish to tap into. The knowledge of our past heritage. If it did not surface for me in the US, maybe I will see it better here.
That's a rather remarkable picture you created ... the thought that if you remove the poor and their hovels, you are left with an India that looks like suburban America. Not that we don't have pockets of extreme poverty here, but -- and you can tell me if I'm wrong -- the comfortable middle-class life is much more obvious and widespread; the norm, as opposed to an aberrant little afterthought. Here, we take that for granted.
One small editing note: the possessive form of its does not take an apostrophe: "its own."
No it is no aberrent after thought, the middle class in India. I did not have to try too hard to see spots of sub-urban America in abundance in our own metros.
Well, that's just another example of how isolated Americans are from the rest of the world. I really know very little about India, and most of it is probably wrong! It makes sense, though, because I know the impact of "Baliwood" on the film industry, and movies are a staple of the middle class. What I, and most Americans, don't have any familiarity with at all is the difference in viewpoint with regard to matters which, for lack of a better word, I will call "spiritual." Things which are taken as a given in your country (I gather, from you) are considered very "out there" by a lot of people here. It is only by exploring these differences that we can truly understand our similarities.
There's the goodness welling out again. I'm glad I pursue things you say which I'm not so comfortable about.
"Bollywood" is from Bombay now known as Mumbai, India.
Baliwood... you're thinking Indonesia.
If that's the one thing better known, can't let that pass of as somewhere else!
Nice chatting with you Sarah.
OK, good to know! I don't think I've ever seen it spelled before, or if I did, it was misspelled. :-) Nice chatting with you, too, Rajiv!
You mentioned your interest in the spiritual "preoccupation" of the people in India.
We've talked in a fashion about it. Discussing with you helped me immensely, as you can understand. By its nature, belief comes and takes up its abode deep within, and when your mind does not have its protective barriers of critical thought. In that sense we're only the perpetrators, passing on something given us.
Sometimes though we may find ourselves so cornered, by life, that we can neither surrender nor let her just run us over. Surrender, in the sense, something within me has seen life's events validated in one way, and I had agreed that this makes sense. Now I am asked to accept something quite contrary to that earlier experience. I cannot let go my sense of reason - so that's what I cling to as the most precious of everything here happening.
But reason seems to stand aside from all that life is doing, it does not enhance or diminish with the waxing and waning of all else that life is... and all I can see is life, and life alone. Yet I clung to reason when challenged by life, and survived her onslaught. Here seems something which rises beyond the vagaries of life, and as wondrous, is my own ability to grasp it. I see it in life's ironies, I see it in risks and adventures. Not so much when things happen as they are supposed to, but when things happen as they're not. For she, that is reason, even though shining through everything, gave it sense and meaning, was not herself that.
Don't you think that's all we really talked about?
I'm reasonably certain I never would have used the word "preoccupation"! :-) It seemed to me we talked of many things which Americans, at least, would consider "spiritual." It appears that, these days, anything which is not firmly grounded in observable fact (and by "observable" I mean you can plainly see it with your own two eyes in physical form) can be referred to as "spiritual."
I'm not entirely sure that I understand what you mean by "For she, that is reason, even though shining through everything, gave it sense and meaning, was not herself that." Perhaps you could elucidate?
What I meant in the above, is not other than what the words imply. Like an object we might view in a mist. That is, reason stands out in its own existence, all else is mist. Except it lights up everything, so we also percieve these, but its when we "see" the reason standing itself, that everything clicks.
Incidentally, it's a genuine compliment amongst Indians, at least in India, if they are thought preoccupied with spirituality.
And, voila! another example of Eastern thought being in divergence with Western thought. I could be wrong, but I think that to a majority of Americans, there might be a slight negative connotation to saying that someone was "preoccupied" with spirituality--although "occupied" might be all right. ;-) (I'm not necessarily including myself in that group, you understand, just making a broad generalization about the priorities of our capitalistic system.)
Thanks for explaining the statement more clearly. I do think that you need to be careful about sentences ending in phrases such as "was not herself that" because it can be unclear what is meant by "that."