“Thoughts for a Knowledgeful day”

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

After six years of being apart, I went back to visit India this past summer, and experienced an out-of-body experience for four continuous weeks. It was like the title of this week’s Desperate Housewives episode: Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed. My old city, Hyderabad, seemed bigger, but easier to wrap my mind around. The streets seemed busier and grimier, but more natural than I expected them to feel. I screamed a couple times when the driver took a left turn as easily we we take right turns at home, but quickly adapted. When I went to visit my old house, I walked past the same tiered gardens that had always stood, but the trees felt thinner and the shrubs felt smaller. Or was I taller? I ended the nostalgic tour with a visit to my old school, and as I walked through the great hallways feeling the shroud of time and distance making my visit insensible, I came across this poster that a seventh grade student had made and attached to one of the massive bulletin boards dotting the walls of the space:

House Poster, VPSPS

My first reaction was to laugh. My second reaction was to pull out my camera and snap a picture. My third was to take a step back and reread the essay in its entirety.

The essay, Instant Inspiration, at first glance, feels ridiculous. “Strength of character! Successful career! Magnetic personality! Commanding presence! – such words are fascinating indeed!” the author writes. “Many aspire to possess these qualities and even try to imbue them in their personality.”

But look past the hyperbolic language and terrible grammar for a moment.

“The mediocres who aspire to raise themselves to glorius heights should strive to bring out their potential and should struggle hard to overcome the shortcoming of their personality,” she (no boy can have such beautiful handwriting) writes. “The aspiring souls should drive this truth deep into their minds – that all the strength and spirit are within themselves.”

To contextualize this, Indian schools are built on a structure of competition and pure meritocracy where students will fight tooth and nail to get to the next step. Also, the student was probably commissioned by a teacher to make this poster.

Yet, here’s another piece, recently published (and spellchecked) in the New York Post:

“I think the desire to live a meaningful life is universal. To some people, it’s working toward a goal. To others, it’s enjoying every minute of every day. So what does it really mean to live life to the fullest? Maybe striving to win a Nobel Prize and going skydiving are just two sides of the same coin. To me, it’s not about achievement or self-gratification. It’s about knowing that you’ve pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential. You feel it when you’re sprinting, and when the piano piece you’ve practiced for hours finally comes to life beneath your fingertips. You feel it when you encounter a life-changing idea, and when you do something on your own that you never thought you could. If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent.”

No prizes for guessing who the author is – Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld. (Harvard ’15!)

No matter what you think about her Tiger Mother’s thesis, Sophia’s perspective is untouchable. And I like it. I like knowing that no matter how many miles apart, no matter the language familiar to our hearts, no matter the opportunities presented to us, there are things about the human condition that remain universal.

Yeah, I like that I went back to India, feeling like an anthropologist, only to find that everything was different, but nothing had really changed.

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