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So Long and Thanks for All the Fish!

2016-02-15 00.23.58

Disclaimer: This note has been written under the assumption that article 19(1)(a) is still upheld in our country. The writer hopes no restraining order will be passed for expressing her individual opinions!

“Fear is a strange soil. It grows obedience like corn, which grow in straight lines to make weeding easier. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.” – Terry Pratchett, Small Gods

My first encounter with JNU was in the summer of 2007. At that time, I was pursuing my Masters in Zoology at Delhi University. I was selected for the summer school program at the School of Life Sciences and was instantly smitten by the lush beauty of the campus. On the last day, I had a feeling that I would come back here again. Consequently, when I was selected for the PhD program at SLS in 2009, I almost felt like it was meant to be (somewhere on campus there is a debate brewing on free will and determinism!).

Over the next five years I behaved as most science students do. I was reading, doing experiments, submitting reports and was busy having a bittersweet relationship with academia. I can’t deny that I was having a blast though, research was something I was truly passionate about and I was getting to do it. However, during the last year, I could sense that even though scientifically I was gaining some understanding and maturity about my topic of research, I had alienated myself from the world at large. The sad part is that I did not even care. And the irony is that I was here in JNU, not caring! I called myself apolitical, and I truly believed that. I might have gone on in the same vein; however, events post 9 February 2016 changed that. And at long last, I lifted up the cocoon to peer outside.  It almost felt like Hogwarts was under siege! The spontaneity with which the campus stood up is indescribable. A lot has been written about it and I won’t add to that however what I had most keenly felt then, was the palpable divide between science and humanities. And I wondered why this was so. Weren’t we all in the end attempting to understand nature? Attempting to understand the human condition and create a knowledge base that would alleviate human suffering? During this time, I was subject to various jeering comments. I was told that we are arrogant and all we do is talk. A few years ago I would have said ‘oh not at the science schools!’ But now, I was defiantly protective and I countered, well, we are given doctorates in philosophy! And what is the nature of philosophy? Isn’t it about thinking, researching, developing an understanding of the world we live in and communicating ideas?  I shifted from ‘not me’ to ‘we’. As it turned out, I wasn’t apolitical anymore! Because I finally understood that the word politics does not mean affiliation to a political party. It means building your own sense of the world you inhabit, it means having a world view.  I do not know if I was qualified to speak for all, but my allegiance was clear. I discovered that indeed there were more things in heaven and earth, than were dreamt of in my philosophy. And those things were worth defending.

Before my time at JNU I never thought about issues like caste bias. It was here that I realized that growing up I had always been privileged. I understood the broader implication of that word. I understood that in our part of the world, we are not always judged by the content of our character, or the body of our work; but by the ‘virtue’ of our birth.

What JNU taught me was that binary is an illusion. And that black and white are two ends of a spectrum, that to reach either side you have to traverse through the shades. And that when you finally reach a conclusion, you might find out that, what you thought that defined the edge of the boundary has shifted again. This never ending journey is what we call discourse. Where every dialogue takes you a little bit further. Static, is not a term a university should be fond of. Sadly, a lot of them are. So far, our University does not suffer from it. I hope it remains that way.

I’ve been asked what we actually accomplish with all the gab. Imagine if you will, a car, with tinted windows. What we try to do here, is take off those tints. You may still choose to not look or not interact, but, at the very least, you’ll need to reach out for another set of blinders. That brief instant where your peace was disturbed. That uncomfortable squirm before the music blared again, that is what we are accomplishing.

As my time here draws to a close, I would finally like to conclude by saying that passion is an integral part of the word compassion, and that, it was here, at The Jawaharlal Nehru University that I discovered, what it means, to be passionately compassionate.

This article is a guest contribution. 

Dr Kritika Kirty has obtained her graduate and post-graduate degrees in Zoology from Delhi University and her PhD degree from School of Life Sciences, JNU. During the course of her graduate studies she got interested in several aspects of skin biology pertaining to pigmentation. She will be joining the University of Iceland as a post-doctoral fellow next. Her interests apart from science include reading, writing and theatre.

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