Saturday, April 30, 2011

Goodbye Australia :'(

I had never imagined myself tearing up at the end of my final PhD talk. I had practiced it in front of the mirror some 5 times before I actually appeared in front of a room full of audience -- most of them plant biotechnologists; who had no clue as to what my research really meant in terms of chemistry. But they were there to cheer me on. So when I reached my last well-rehearsed acknowledgment bit, I was fine until I thanked my family. When I started thanking Australia -- a place that gave me so many friends, I found myself suppressing that well-known feeling of having hot air trying to escape your throat and eyes. :(

It has been a hectic and enlightening three and a half years. I don't know when I am going to fully realize the value of this phase; both in terms of academic and cultural experience. But my guess is that I would continue appreciating this all my life. If there is anything Australia as a culture taught me, it is how to relax. I have still not fully grasped it, because I am an unnecessarily high strung person.

I will miss a lot of things about Australia. I will miss being woken up by this -- a kookaburra laughing in a tree. It is no use being used to hear the song of an Indian Koel if you are planning to move to Australia. The first time I heard a kookaburra call, I thought the bird was dying, and the first time I saw an Australian magpie, I thought it was a crow with a skin condition.Here's Danny Bhoy  --a Scottish comedian (who is half Indian!), talking about Australian wildlife. And to be honest, he is not exaggerating! :)

I will dearly miss the Australian accent. How the sentences here end in inflection points and how the Os are uttered like a strong surf wave hitting the Australian beach. Here is a better description of the Australian accent by Danny Bhoy again.
I will also miss the Queensland beaches with their golden sand and deep turquoise water. Sitting on the sunny beach watching the restless Pacific were some of  my rare, calm moments here. :)
I will miss the touch of the Mediterranean that Australia has. With Greek, Spanish cuisines almost an Australian staple. The small shops owned by European entrepreneurs, proudly presenting the very best from their countries, the Italian caffes and Greek tavernas.

I will miss my friends. I remember when I came to Australia, the only people I knew, that too through the Internet were my PhD guide and my would-be flatmate. When I landed in Brisbane my unreasonable worrying mind was wondering what would happen if the girl I met on the Internet is in reality a scary trap! :)

I value what I learned outside the lab more than what I did in the lab in order to get a PhD. It is a strange feeling to know more everyday yet feel like you know nothing yet. To see people who have lived lives exploring paths that never even existed in the road map that was carved for you when you were growing up. To meet people who have come a long way from their home but have still managed to carry their home with them. And then to meet people who have never left home, but have long journeys embedded in their hearts. It is quite perplexing to slowly see yourself lose the ability to make strong judgment. To see yourself as a collage of many identities and to be less certain of what is the most predominant of all of those. What is more surprising than being less certain about who you really are, is being happy about it!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Kabir and Kumar Gandharva

Following the spiritual thread from the last post, I have two musical recommendations for you. Both are Kabir bhajans. I have always been fascinated by Nirguni Bhajans that celebrate the formlessness of the divine. Kabir bhajans are not just about formlessness; they are also lessons in detachment. Like this one by Kumar Gandharva. It portrays the spirit as a swan that flies away, all alone, making this whole world a mere visual spectacle.
Although the song is about detachment, Kumar Gandarva's sincere rendition makes it impossible not to attach yourself to it! :)
This one, by Kalapini Komkali (Kumar Gandharva's daughter) is a less popular but much more beautiful rendition of  "chadariya jhini". The more popular version is by Anup Jalota. A short introduction to her style and her gharana can be found here. She transports you into the realm of an oddly satisfying emptiness. The poem establishes a parallel between human body and weaving of a shawl, only to remind the listeners in the end not to confuse this shawl with an eternal possession; for all of us have to leave it behind one day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Where is your gold?

I subscribe to a meditation podcast (yes, I am that bad). I am not a fan of how the West categorizes Yogasanas and talks about Buddhism. But I have seen and met so many dedicated Yogis outside India that I have stopped being cynical. Actually, I think I prefer being gullible to being cynical.
The usual course of how I listen to my podcast goes in two simple steps. I lie down in a comfortable position as recommended, with headphones in my ears. The next step is when I wake up next morning at 5 AM. Although I think that Zencast is one of the most genuine podcasts on Buddhist philosophy, I have very rarely made it to the other side of an episode in all consciousness.
But two days ago, the story of this golden Buddha made me reflect. This statue that weighs about 5 tonnes, was known to all as a 'clay Buddha' for centuries before someone discovered in 1957, that it was actually a statue made out of pure gold. When the Burmese army was about to invade Thailand, the monks covered this statue in clay to protect it from being looted or disfigured.
Although Buddhist thought has so many parallels and anecdotes to offer, I think this story is a parable in itself. There is much more gold than the literal gold these monks were trying to protect. It instantly reminded me of the Tall Poppy Syndrome,  which is a commonly used phrase in Australia. People  play down their achievements in order to not fall a victim to peer envy. I find that it is a significant part of work politics in every society.The fear of creating envy in others' mind is, believe it or not a genuine fear. It also has a name (zelophobia) if this source is to be trusted.
When you realize the worth of your gold, plastering it with a thick layer of clay would perhaps take you to a peaceful mind.