Every day I wait for my phone to light up with the familiar blue light of a WhatsApp Video call. I swipe up to pick the call and two faces beam into my world filling me with happiness. The joy I get from my family undermines my vocal cynicism of marriage and my words of caution and reform about institutionalized partnership immediately lose validity from the listener’s point of view. Marriage criticism is apparently the exclusive right of the maritally discontented.
Mira seems to love going to school. I do not know what she does there. With her curious and expressive eyes, she seems to take the entire world in, drinking everything in and delighting in the joys of discovering the expanding world that she is slowly getting exposed to. She has not yet started talking and has a constantly surprised expression when she tries to communicate with me. How do I not get what she is thinking when she points to something with animatedly raised eyebrows, she seems to be thinking.
When I was in India for the new year, we had a morning routine. As soon as I came down the stairs, Mira would be ready to feed booboo with broken pieces of dry biscuits. Then we go out to put rice for the pigeons. Then I carry her to pluck two violet flowers that grow on a vine on an empty plot opposite our house. The flowers on the vine wither away and die by afternoon, leaving you wondering if it was the same place that was filled with those lavender flowers in the morning.
I learned later that it was the “pomoea cairica”, a particularly resilient variety of creeper, with an interesting list of aliases – mile-a-minute vine, Messina creeper, Cairo morning glory, coast morning glory, and railroad creeper. From playing a part in a father-daughter morning ritual to being a ruthlessly invasive species in faraway places like New South Wales, Australia, this creeper seemed to have an interesting life. This was no ordinary plant to be decapacitated by a sleepy father and a daughter whose navigational capabilities were limited to pointing straight ahead with a yelp. This creeper was a botanical avenger of human colonizers. A chlorophyllic comrade of the colonized sent out into the western world to beguile them with flowery baubles, a deception of frailty before the botanical encroachment is made apparent. But there we were, in early morning pyjamas, with fingers still smelling of idli and chutney, plucking our quota of mauve flowers.
We also keep an eye out for The Cat.
When I see the world again through Mira’s eyes, I realize how amazing it is. I am reminded once again of how there is a first to everything, and how, as an adult, I’ve forgotten the joys of discovery. Actually, I might be exaggerating. I still have that feeling of novelty and joy every time I see something. Those feelings are now mingled with the realities of the world, where miracles are made commonplace by the human condition, where, in trying to demystify the world, we strip the beauty of the process of evolution, replacing it with a utilitarian need to selectively reproduce everything quicker and faster.
I keep chewing on how to retain Mira’s wonderment and amazement of the world when the education system will start work on her to try and get her ready for employment. It will be an interesting game of wits to not let her internalize self-worth from the inevitable ranking system of schools while at the same time clearing obstacles for her to want to learn more. It will be a balancing act between teaching her to not fear failure and ridicule while teaching her survival skills of confidence, empathy, and deep skills.
I studied physics because I liked the questions physics asked. However, I was not equipped with the right skills to tackle the questions. Whether those skills could have been acquired by myself or by more diligently applying myself to understanding what I was made to study, is up to debate. I do not even know what good would have come out of me sufficiently mastering my studies. What I do know is that when I pursue knowledge in something that I am truly interested in, I am at peace. Existential questions are quelled in that pursuit. I realize this when I read literature. I can feel the difference when I am driven by questions to which I need to know answers. When I am also equipped with all the requirements needed to fulfill that pursuit, I make material progress in my chosen field of studies or passion. Given the amount of time we end up spending in school and colleges, it is a crucial phase of identity building. It determines how we view ourselves, our sense of self-worth, our joy, our outlook towards life. It shapes our personality, fusing itself into who we are, as we try to correct or capitalize on our experiences, wins, and losses, that the academic system thrusts onto us, a system we cannot escape from.
It is India’s educational conscription program.
I feel good when reading literature or studying art. I feel excited when I think of what life could have been had I pursued physics with the passion and confidence that I bring to literature or political science today.
Sooner or later though, the question of utilitarianism arises. Wasn’t that how it had played out long back too? Mira could either be naturally inclined towards the sciences, which aligns well with conventionally successful careers, or, she could want to explore her other interests.
In India, everything is taught without context. Literature is taught to be studied by rote, and science is taught episodically and dictatorially. History and geography are taught to become fall back options by the really poor or the super-rich. I do not see how, left to the mercy of the machinations of the school system and govt prescribed syllabi and learning models, any child would be incited into exploring the beauty of science.
Who has the time to explain how Newton and Leibnitz, two geniuses of modern science, battled each other in public like ruffians over who invented/discovered Calculus? Why would a bunch of children, already crowded with teensy angst and bursting with hormones, ever want to know more about mathematical formulae, whose only reputation is derisive snorts among the very same adults who exhort them to inhuman levels of prescribed academic excellence? How are they to know the exquisite beauty of breaking down the world into tiny bits and pieces, and then aggregating them all again to solve the most fundamental problems that we encounter in the world? Even as an adult, I struggle to walk the same mental line that is required to retrace the discovery of Calculus. The sheer brilliance and audacity needed to create frameworks that exist outside the realm of common knowledge, purely to understand and create and re-imagine our understanding of the world.
I suffered through at least 8 years of symbols and notations that had as much meaning to me as hieroglyphics, breaking down my confidence, hardening my hatred of science, feeding an alternate fantasy where I could be master of political sciences and arts. A fantasy that consumes all of my valuable time today. I have not put in a single hour of effort to further my core competence other than what is absolutely necessary. Every free hour I scrounge is channeled into a passion that could very well be an extreme coping mechanism to overcome the imposter syndrome.
How amazing would it have been had my passion and field of work aligned?
I keep going back to how some humans decode the earth’s mysteries and codify them for posterity. I am perennially in awe of ideas that leapfrog human understanding of the world, giants on whose shoulders we have built unworthy lives. Einstein posited how time and space are not a construct but real entities. Today, idiots write terribly tiny tales on mobile phones to get laid and brag about it. Physics is relentlessly reshaping our understanding of reality. Time can be slowed; we can be broken down into chunks of flesh; decomposed into molecular structures; structures that are theorized to exist as particles held together by spinning, vibrating energy packets whose positional and vectorial attributes cannot be determined with accuracy. Subatomic fantastic literature, a universe of contrasting and reinforcing frameworks and ideas that hold up our understanding and underpins our everyday life.
It would be easy if she loves and excels in both and chooses her own path. But then, what if Mira genuinely likes literature and I do not know how to differentiate her love for literature and the arts from her fear and inadequacy of sciences? I would be left with the delicate job of helping or guiding her through her career and passions if she was severely handicapped in the sciences. I would have to grapple with figuring out if there were enough time and opportunities for her to still come around to loving the sciences. Maybe regularly checking in on her as she grows, after she is old enough to start having these conversations, about what is important for her in life, how rich she wants to be, how important economic success is to her, might help her decide when she comes to those numerous forks in her academic life, where she can choose not based on fear of failure, but passion and confidence.
The early phase seems to have gone well, where we hoped Mira loved school. She does. For what reasons, we still do not know. She goes to school to play. She comes back to us and is happy. I suspect she goes happily to school because home is happy and balanced. It is as yet a fixed entity that has not fostered any disharmonious feelings, where her identity and behavior, her needs and wants, are not undermined.
Maybe it is a good thing that I respond to Mira’s antics with miming of my own for now. There’ll be time for language later.