Published on 12:00 AM, June 14, 2017

Proof of Hope

I am going to break the rules and write about myself today. Columns are not supposed to be a “Dear Diary” space, but for once, I want to use it to reach out to people who want to go back to school. I did. I first went back to school to do my Master's twenty years later than schedule and then submitted my doctoral thesis nine years after I completed my MA. In total, I am twenty-nine years late in doing what I should have done long ago. All this while, I knew that I would somehow make it someday. The distance between then and now was covered by the corporate turf and with family. All that while, I was busy being a mother, a wife, and a business woman. I thought it would be OK to share my story today, risking any critique:

Back in our days, our parents associated academic excellence to students who “stood.” “Cheleta combined ey stand korechey” meant that the boy or a girl had scored great grades and had topped his/her class or had at least made it to the top twenty-list in the public examination. There was more to tell. Either we were student of Arts, or Science, or later on, Commerce. The phrase “combined” meant that the student had made it to the list which included both boys and girls. Making it to the “combined” list for a girl was exceptional, as boys, during our times were considered more gifted than us. And I wanted to be a topper. Knowing that I was always “aspiring” to ace as a student, my father used his unique parental technique to challenge me in pure Sanskrit and tell me: “pholeno porichiyotey”, which meant, the proof was in its pudding, or quite literally in this case meant, the plant was known by the fruit it bore. So, when I surprised him twice, first with my SSC results and then with HSC, my father bought me a paper weight with snowflakes inside and told me that “Delhi durast hai”, meaning, I had a long way ahead of me, and I would have to prove myself for a long, long time. When I surprised him again two years later, he got me a “two-in-one” (where I could play tapes and tune in to the World Music channel of Bangladesh Betar), which got stolen within a week and I ended up owning a second hand replacement from a friend who felt sorry for me. My mother was of altogether another species, with a separate story. She belonged to another world who thought children were meant to be fed and fattened while late night reading was to be discouraged, irrespective of exam preps, as it affected their eye sight. So, as a child, I had to carefully reposition my pendulum of ambition. So, when one day, my university days came to an abrupt end, I was damaged but not broken. Eventually, I braced myself for a fight. As a result, what was meant to be a fight, turned out to be a journey, with people all around me telling me that I was meant to teach and that I would have my PhD someday. . . . 

My wait was a long one and all along the way, I knew that my wait could have easily lasted for a nanosecond or an eternity, since in reality, there's no intuition or a crystal ball that impacts Divinity. So, I waited, played along with Life as it surfaced. In the process, I started calling myself a grand peeler, watching the layers of my life falling into the curry pan, being cooked in slow flame, giving out smells, teasing, but yet, not being able to be served on a platter. I had no idea when my life would stop and take a final turn. But the best part was in not having lost faith at any point of time. 

While I continued to believe that I would pick up my pieces again, I enjoyed wearing the graduation robe (during MA) along with many, who were half my age and received the gold medal. Following that, with a view to find an appropriate scope for PhD I worked hours over weekends in a small publishing house in Kolkata, which was a springboard to fame for many literary gems. Writers Workshop, the publishing house was founded by Professor Purushottama Lal in 1958. Many, including Vikram Seth, Agha Shahid Ali, Anita Desai, Kamala Das, Adil Jussawalla, Jayanta Mahapatra had their first books published from there. Mature poets like Nissim Ezekiel, over a period of five years, pursued Lal to publish two of his books of poems under the Kolkata imprint. Clad in sari bound covers with gold calligraphy carefully done by P Lal, the books were artefacts. I took interest in the archive and discovered that no prior research existed on that publishing house. So, brimming with confidence, I approached Jadavpur University in Kolkata to consider giving me this opportunity of doing my doctoral thesis on the Writers Workshop as an agent of change in the fifty years following Partition.

The challenge was enormous. It seemed as if I was attempting the impossible. I was running (and till date doing the same) a full time business, a demanding home and a super hectic social scene, all of which presented their multiple demands in different shades and colours. In the process, I often broke down, cried, but always picked myself back up again. Result was spectacular. Today, my 300-pages, bound in hard cover has made me way richer than I was ever before. 

Like me, many haven't lost faith in adult education yet. In fact, I just read about a 74-year old PhD scholar. The oldest doctoral graduate of Sichuan University conducted his doctoral dissertation defence at the age of 74. A History enthusiast, Huang Zushen just got his doctorate at Sichuan University four years after his retirement. Huang's 300 pages of thesis was on how the American military's support influenced China's air force development during the Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese aggression. As his graduation gifts, he got the newest iPad and iPhone from his children. At the end of it all, Huang wants to be an academic. 

Another story recently aired by Al Jazeera was about about 27 women above 60 years of age attending school 120 kilometre-west of Mumbai. Gulag Kedar, 64 and Kantabai More, 74, were two students, draped in bright pink sari as uniform, sharing their dreams on screen. Well, what do these women hope to achieve by going to school now? I don't quite have an answer to this question, but I do know that they too are allowed to yearn. Just like me.

Men and women our age and beyond, must nurture dreams and chase their own rainbows. 

After all, dreams don't have any shelf life and they don't come with an expiry date.

The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.