Almost everyone envies the fact that I grew up and still have a permanent address in Los Angeles, California, the city most well known for its association with Hollywood. It is a dream for a lot of people. Temperate, consistently balanced sunny weather, palm trees and beaches. But there is so much more to the city than what meets the eye. When you’ve lived there for eighteen years, you learn that much of the culture in Los Angeles, particularly Hollywood, can be vicious. It can build you up, but it can also kill you in the blink of the eye. Behind all the sun and plan trees, glamor, and fame, Los Angeles can be the scariest and stormiest place. When you’re at your most vulnerable state, it’s so easy to be whisked away and taken advantage of. I have moved away from the place for this reason, yet every day, I long to go back home. It draws you in and disgusts you at the same time. But once you’ve lived there, as much as you might wish to do away with it, you’ll never be able to erase it from your world. No matter how many miles away I am, I will always be an LA girl.
The sight of Ashoka University security guards hitting poor and defenseless stray dogs, and that too, absolutely unprovoked, was nothing short of repulsive. I don’t understand how we can expect the dogs to treat us with kindness when they have seen so much unnecessary cruelty. It seems reasonable to me that they should be wary of us and maybe even defensive. Just because they don’t look, walk, talk, or shamelessly pollute the environment as we do, does not give us the right to hurt them. These creatures might seem scary, but they are certainly not malicious.
I can somewhat understand where the initial fear comes from. Until I had a dog of my own, I would sprint to my parents and practically climbed upon their shoulders on the slightest vision or inkling of a nearby dog, as if I were escaping the clutches of a venomous, fanged serpent. However, by the time I had turned nine years old, after reading a very enthralling novel about a puppy, I decided that I wanted to give dogs another chance. A few months later, our family got our first puppy, Muffin. Over the years, I became increasingly responsible for feeding, cleaning, and walking her, and I enjoyed the unconditional love she gave in return. Whenever I came home to her, she frantically leaped on me, her tail wagging furiously as she smothered my face with her soft pink tongue. I am no longer scared of dogs, because, for almost ten years, I have been touched by the immeasurable amount of love that they have to offer. The moment when I found out that Muffin died was the greatest loss I have faced thus far, as she was as close to me as any member of my immediate family. When I read both, the heartwarming stories of loyal dogs, faithful to their owners until the last minute, and heart-wrenching stories of despicable cruelty towards dogs, I am especially touched because of my personal experience with Muffin. These stories motivate me to fight for the lives of other animals.
My recent decision to become vegan has been an extension of my childhood wish to devote myself to animals. At first, it was because I found them “so cute,” but there is so much more to animals than cute, furry bodies. There is something about the non-judgmental attitudes of these beings that attracts me to them. It is ironic that, while focusing on issues related to equality, people do not include animals in their struggle for justice. Is it because we consider them less intelligent and capable than we are? First of all, intelligence and utility should not be a measure of how much a being deserves to live a good life. We do not consider the issue of utility when we consider the value of the lives of mentally and physically handicapped humans, do we? And how can we be sure that we are so much more intelligent than animals? Sure, we industrialize and they do not, but there are many things they do that we cannot. Guard dogs, for example, can recognize the scent of intruders and react much more quickly than we can. There are even guide dogs who help their blind human owners navigate their surroundings with a devotion that many humans would not be capable of possessing. Sea creatures can swim much deeper and faster than we can, and spiders can weave unimaginably intricate webs. More and more research results are coming out, showing us that dogs, dolphins, and birds, to name a few, are much more intelligent than we ever gave them credit for.
My classmate, Sayali Palekar, is also an animal lover, and a dog lover in particular. During our first weekend at Ashoka, we planned to visit a Veterinary hospital in Dwarka. I wanted to get involved in animal care in some way, and volunteering there seemed to be a great way to give back to the community and simultaneously boost my resume. However, on the way to the hospital, as we sloshed through the relentless monsoon rain from metro line to metro line, I became immediately aware of the impracticality of being a regular volunteer. When we arrived, dripping puddles of rainwater from the journey, the head vet at the hospital, Dr. Dheeraj, expressed his opinion that students like us shouldn’t go through the hassle of spending five hours of total travel time to volunteer for a maximum of three hours. Moreover, our responsibility lies with the stray dogs in our own community. “Do not feed the overfed,” he suggested, as the dogs who come to him are pets with loving owners who look after them, feed them and ensure their well-being. However, the stray dogs living near our own campus have no one. His words inspired me to give birth to an organization on campus that fundraises to bring food, shelter, and medication to the dogs living outside the campus gates. I have begun my fundraising efforts, and I have found many classmates and faculty members who are interested. The organization, named PAWSitive, will promote animal equality through the distribution of paintings and tote bags with animal themed subjects. The proceeds from paintings and tote bag sales will go towards obtaining food and shelter for the stray dogs on campus. Dr. Dheeraj has agreed to provide us with free medicine from his Veterinary hospital.
“An animal,” Dr. Dheeraj assured us, “will never forget you after you feed him.” At first glance, the stray dogs, who are accustomed to contempt and cruelty from humans, appear withdrawn, unapproachable, and sometimes downright scary. Yet after feeding leftover bread to a lean and graceful yet dangerously undernourished black dog at Ashoka, she lept towards me, wagging her tail in excitement. In that moment, I saw a glimmer of the spirit in Muffin that had coated my childhood with so much happiness.
I have homes in two different countries. With every passing day, I feel a sense of longing for my forsaken home in America – the warm and fuzzy familiar cottage-like house, the wooden deck and the picturesque hills, the smell of homemade vanilla muffins and mouth-watering spices wafting from the dimly lit kitchen, the comfort of my parents’ bed, and the serene drives to and from La Jolla through unpolluted air and unimposing sunlight. Yet I chose this new home, and I enjoy the close-knit community, the bright green grass and carefully arranged plants, the tall brick buildings coated with intricate white designs, the cool evening breeze and the excited chatter of youthful and vibrant students and faculty. Yet somehow, I have not truly moved here. A rather large piece of me still belongs back at my first home, and clings onto the contextual identity that I have fostered for over eighteen years. I am not a native Indian, and yet I am still not a true resident of the United States. I am straddling two different homes, and at the moment, both feel equally distant.
“Wishing on falling star….
Wondering where you ah- ah – are.”
~Girl on TV by Lyte Funkie Ones
She seemed to have the whole world in her hands. She had interviews, photoshoots, movies, television shows, and red carpet events lined up. Teenaged girls all over America were dying be her best friend, and take a leaf from her book in hopes that they might discover the some of her success for themselves. Paparazzi surrounded her, desperately attempting to steal a glimpse into her personal life and capture photos of her dazzling smile and characteristic wave. Whether she was Starbucks, at the nail solon, at the mall, or at a high profile celebrity event, she greeted them with the same politeness, respect, and cheer. Her reputation was untarnished, aside from the occasional bitter article commenting on the puffiness of her face. She was living proof that not all celebrities had to be rude, constantly partying, drug abusers. She was dead-set on her career, and more importantly, she valued her family over everything else. She was a counterargument to the claims that Hollywood was a ruthless machine that destroyed the souls of who ventured too close.
Did we speak too soon? Did we force her up on a pedestal that she never aspired to reach in the first place? We saw so much promise in her, but she soon fell off the radar, only to reemerge in the headlines under a completely new spotight. Wigs. Piercings. Plastic Surgery. Drinking and Driving. Drugs. Twerking. Verbally and physically abusing other people. For the past years, the media has been helplessly watching her downward spiral. Some people hadn’t been following her until she began to resurface in the media due to her unusual behaviour. People who didn’t know what she was find her outlandish behaviour entertaining. But those who knew her, looked up to her, and respected her for who we thought she was were heartbroken. We thought she had it all. But something in her snapped. There was something about herself and the untarnished, clean, good girl image that she despised. She despised it so fiercely that she tried to erase all evidence of who she was. And it was effective, for it is impossible to remember her adorable dimpled smile without the image of her current face, caked with layers of makeup and changed by plastic surgery superimposing her innocence. And the worst part is, things don’t seem to be getting better. She’s been on a steady decline, and we can do nothing but just watch. She had no idea that there is anything wrong with her at all, and that’s what makes it so scary. She resists help, and as long as she resists it, no one will be able to help her.
At this point, we can’t do anything but wish. Wish that this young star will somehow break her fall before she crashes, explodes, and is left with nothing but extinguished smithereens. Even knowing that I can’t do anything, I can’t pull myself away from the story. It grows more and more hopeless, but my eyes and heart are glued to it. And whenever a new story emerges, I shake my head with disbelief. How could someone go through such a staggering transformation in the matter of just a few years? I can’t help but wonder what happened to the person that we fell in love with. Has she faded away completely? Or is she lurking underneath, waiting for the right time to emerge?
Did that person even exist at all?
Each day, I would eagerly bounce along the turquoise-railed hallway of rooms all the way to the last one, the most mysterious and elusive of them all. Opening the door was like unlocking a portal to whole new world. The soft honey-colored light that filled the room had grown to represent a maternal embrace. It was my safe haven. Although I slept, ate, studied, ran around, and drew on the whiteboards, both pealing out laughter and shedding tears in that room, I never truly stepped through the doorway, never truly crossed the barrier to the room. There was an avoidable sense of hesitance and fear of being rejected from the place I most wanted to belong in.
Only later did it occur to me that same room that represented my home away from home, where I had found so much comfort and security on campus, turned out to be a venomous, parasitical monster, feeding on my attachment to it and fostering an exclusive and cultish community. There is now enough spatial and temporal difference between myself and the room, along with all the painful memories attached to it, and I am starting to unclench my resentful grip. And as the distance has allowed me to reflect more objectively, epiphany struck me like a slap in the face: it’s not the room that was toxic, no! It was my relentless and obsessive memory of it.
I was not actively seeking a new home away from home to replace that room, yet I can’t say I was avoiding it either. There is an overwhelming sense of déjà vu when I climb up three flights of stairs and walk past the offices, feeling a gust of cool air as I push open the door to the new room on the other side of the planet. This one is cool rather than warm, white rather than honey colored, and scattered with candy-apple green chairs and wooden tables, bookshelves, and colorful stars made from construction paper rather than periodic tables, flasks, and science-related cartoons. But there is an uncanny similarity – in even as I sit there, very much inside the room, I feel a definite absence of contact with the place and an overwhelming sense of longing to reach out and close the gap. Perhaps it is better to stay here, with a healthy sense of tension, in the periphery. I wouldn’t want to taint my perception of my new safe haven and risk losing it permanently.
Like many students in Professor Aparna Vaidik’s Trends in History Foundation Course, I found Johannes Fabian’s article, “Time and the Emerging Other,” to be a challenging text, as it was densely packed with information, vocabulary, and unfamiliar concepts. However, Gabe, the Teaching Assistant for the course, imparted a few reading suggestions that I believe have helped me distinguish the gist of the article from a dispersion cloud of perplexing material.
The last paragraph of the article ties the divergent stands of the article into a nice little bow. “Little more than technology and sheer economic exploitation,” Fabian claims, “seem to be left over for the purposes of ‘explaining’ Western superiority.” His argument is self-explanatory – Western societies tend to marginalize other cultures and dismiss them as behind modern times. However, they gain the credibility to disparage other cultures simply because of the factors mentioned above. I am going to focus on the point of technological innovations. Our class discussion brought us to an interesting metaphor. Societies tend to follow similar historical trends, a few members of the class claimed, and these societies and trends are reflected by the separate boogie carts on a roller coaster and the similar paths they follow. Each cart takes a similar path to arrive at the same location, even though it is not synchronous. I believe that in using this metaphor, it is important to realize that the roller coaster goes in a loop and does not necessarily have an endpoint. The end of the roller coaster is not necessarily an end in the true sense of the word, for it is a loop and is constantly returning to the past. Clichéd as the following statement may be, history repeats itself. While the analogy is effective in debunking the notion of a linear innovative progress across a period of time, it does not account for the cultural differences in societies that might even change the pathways to a similar result. There are a variety of possible processes that might lead to the same temporary result.
Our discussion has refined my view of South Asia, and specifically, India, in many ways. As I was born and brought up in the United States, I must admit, rather shamefully, that there have been times when I viewed parts of India as backwards societies. But our readings and class discussions have forced me to consider that because there is no universal truth or concept of modernity, it is unfair of me to criticize cultures as backwards. I might not agree with their values, but that does not make me more modern than they are.
Overall, I have come to the conclusion that Fabian is encouraging us not only to give up any superior attitudes we might have towards supposedly less developed cultures, but we also should not deny coevalness with societies of our past. Since time is not linear and there certainly is not a linear progression of humanity across time periods, it is reasonable to assume that we might be in fact repeating the mistakes our ancestors made. The concept of time should not forge a distance between ourselves and our ancestors. Being born at a later time does not make us better than those who were born earlier. Hopefully, studying diverse historical cultures will allow us to see similarities between ourselves and past citizens and allow us to develop a sense of empathy for those whom we refer to as the Other.
Although I had great expectations about the Writing Center at Ashoka University, the CWC managed to meet, if not surpass, my imaginations. Naturally, being a center with the prescribed purpose of aiding students with writing and communications skills, the center has certainly fulfilled its fundamental purpose. But there is something so unique and special about the CWC. It could be the plush green-apple colored chairs surrounding the smooth wooden tables that are shaped like guitar picks, or the light manila bookshelves and glass panel distinguishing the warm, carpeted and yet unnamed “Room of Requirement”, as I like to call it. Or it could be the smell of coffee, the occasional lounge music, and the excited intellectual chattering filling the air – the tutors, professors, and like-minded students from extremely diverse backgrounds yet sharing the innate kindness, warmth, and eagerness to learn and share their voices with the world. In just one week, the CWC has become a place to test my intellectual capabilities and clear my mind, a source of another close knit community within a close knit community, and a home away from home.