The classes assigned to me in the current academic session come to an end tomorrow. My sensitivity to the movement of time makes it more difficult to come to terms with the fact that it has been almost a year since I dropped a career that was no longer serving, and nine months since an alternative path appeared. This new path has been suggested by well-wishers, at various points in time, especially during my Master’s program. I, on the contrary, refused to believe that I possessed any intellect beyond the roughly-strewn mind of a layperson, which I presume till today, even proudly at times. One reason, the academic world seemed distant, even though it explained well the reality that I had lived, was because it refused to come to par with the ordinary women and men, in a way that it imbibed true democracy. So to find myself suddenly standing amidst sixty faces, at least two times in a week, was not what I had prepared for, ever.
My friends, who have been with me in the last nine months, would know of how I talk about the work I do. I describe teaching, especially teaching young adults, as a spectrum between self-confidence including gregariousness and self-doubts not excluding self-loathing. Or at least, this is how I have experienced the profession, the respite being that there are an equal number of days spent on the extremes. But not even my closest friends would know of the perpetual nervousness that I feel, which at times, is because of poor understanding of the content, an inability to manage the class, or just sheer emotional turmoil. Nonetheless today, after what is an average length of human gestation, it seems, I need to write a few things to/for my students, especially those who will remain as the foremost faces, personalities, and memories, in my mind, when I would think of my first year as a lecturer.
“Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.
I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine — and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election…” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”
I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
Until this point in time, hope has remained for me, an abstract, one in which I wanted to rest in, but for its lack of dimensions and matter, kept slipping out. But within the closed quarters of a classroom, hope materialized and became of this world, and even though my work did not lead me to a predicament of an exile or a prison cell, I understood that this was no time to despair. In my current role, I have had the honour of witnessing an upcoming generation of sentient individuals, which is kind, sensitive, easygoing, well-meaning, intelligent, and good-humoured. In these young individuals, there is a predisposition to life – an attempt to brave the consequences of living, with or without things in their favour, to aspire, no matter what these aspirations are – and it is this predisposition that would make it infantile on my part, to not keep hope, especially in these times.
Each generation, passing through different political and social times in history, loses its way and finds itself, in most cases, the beacons of reconciliation and redemption coming from within its communal nurture. I believe, in this generation rests a sensitivity, which albeit hidden, is constantly receiving from its environment lessons of the past, the travails of the present, and the way for the future. Some of them are curious, thinking beyond what their mental faculties or academic exposure currently permits them to, while others are actively participating in the building of the present and future, surpassing the underestimated selves and deficient industrial skills. The intelligence, even research supports even though it hasn’t yet explained, has increased without bounds, and possibly the solutions that we have sought is currently being prepared in their minds.
Morrison elaborates further in her essay, which I believe stands true in every epoch,
“I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence.”
I stand in the imminent danger like many, of not knowing how tomorrow will look like; perhaps we are preparing ourselves, in our own ways, to survive without even being aware of it. Of course, the world as we had known it is crumbling, and replacing it are atrophic systems and ideologies. Some of us have resolved on our own, have decided not to give up, and still try to preserve a future for the ones who will inhabit it. But sometimes, not from the past, but from the future, we learn of this resolve. Sometimes it morphs itself as a simple question, “Why would someone do that?”; other times, it morphs as an overarching attempt to understand the world in its anatomy, “What does that mean?” From trailblazers in history and my mother, I have learned what I will be fighting against. Within the classroom, from these young adults, I have learned who I will be fighting for.
This piece then could be seen as a letter, a letter of gratitude, to my students, these young individuals, for giving back hope. Thank you.