Over the past couple of years, our blog has meant many things. There were times when the blog meant everything to me. I’d spend hours writing posts, getting likes, chasing followers, participating in challenges, and leaving random comments on the blogosphere. The highs and lows weren’t always easy to deal with. I was destined for blogger burnout and even contemplated giving up blogging. And there were times when the blog didn’t mean anything to me. It helped me write for myself and forget who I was writing for. And that can be truly liberating for any writer. Chances are: that’s when you will find your true voice.
For as long as I can remember, people have tried to find a cure for my introversion — never truly understanding what a joy it is to ruminate in solitude. But, how do two introverts communicate if they’re prone to keeping quiet? Sometimes, we take a leap of faith, and take the first step to start a dialogue. I know how hard it can be, so here’s a shout-out to Linda (Some Photoblog), for reaching out to me. You remind me why I started this blog, and that two people — living on different sides of the globe — can connect through words.
Linda has a few questions for me and some of you may already know the answers to these. I’ll try to be as honest as I can and hope you get to know me better. This post will be cathartic and extremely long to read. I will understand if this isn’t your cup of tea/coffee, and although I encourage a difference of opinion, I’d urge you to concentrate your energies elsewhere — should you choose to abandon empathy and the voice of reason.
What was your favourite subject at school?
I’ve been a science geek for as long as I can remember. I was never the cool kid. I was a curious child and many would complain that I asked too many questions. They still do. I remember gazing at the night sky and counting stars — wondering how incredible it would be to travel to distant galaxies. Where did we come from? And where do we go? How did it all it all start? Questions like these made me specialize in Astrophysics. However, these days, I’m more interested in history, anthropology, gender studies, and sociology.
What was your favourite music artist or band in your teenage years?
I grew up listening to western classical music, English pop & rock, Hindi movie songs, and Konkini folk songs. Dad used to play the violin and had a penchant for western classical music. Mum loved Hindi songs. Both of them loved dancing to Konkini folk songs. My brother blasted English rock and western classical music — that’s when I knew he’d come back home from college. And my sister liked English and Hindi songs.
I love music and during those volatile teenage years — rock was the answer to most of my troubles. U2 was my favourite band and their lyrics guided me towards the light. I know how hard these present times are and everyone wants to find a way out. I can’t help thinking about one of my favourite U2 songs: Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. Here’s the last stanza and I hope it helps some of you to get through these difficult days.
And if, and if the night runs over
And if the day won’t last
And if your way should falter
Along the stony pass
It’s just a moment, this time will passAdam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson
Which movie can you never get tired of, no matter how many times you watch it?
I attended a 2-week crash course on world cinema in ad school and that changed the way I watched movies. We had a discourse on sociology of film with topics that touched upon perceptions, stereotypes, race, class, and gender. Subtitles became a norm for me and I travelled the world (virtually) through movies. This was way before we had the money to travel.
My life has been peppered with moments of absolute precision and moments of chaos. I’ve been a star on some days and an absolute failure on others. That’s why I can relate to the protagonist from the Japanese movie, Departures. Do we work for money, love, or happiness? I’ve never found the correct answer to that question.
When I’m really glum and know that I can’t travel, I watch my favourite travel movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s got those gorgeous nostalgia-inducing Icelandic visuals and music that gives me goosebumps. I’m willing to ignore some of the obvious stereotypes because I feel so good after watching the classic story of the underdog triumph.
What is your favourite hot drink?
I can’t drink coffee because it gives a headache and I feel groggy. It’s green tea for me. It helps me calm my nerves when I’m anxious and goes perfectly with calming Tibetan chants. I like Indian chai to counter cold Korean winters. It’s my comfort drink for ‘homesickness’.
If you could wake up tomorrow being fluent in one language, which language would you choose?
I was raised multilingual. English was the primary medium of instruction in my all-girls catholic school. Marathi and Hindi were the second and third languages. At home, mum and dad spoke (Mangalorean) Konkini and that’s how I picked it up. I never formally learned the written script. I learned French for 2 years in high school and tried German for 2 months — before giving it up.
If I wake up tomorrow being fluent in one language, it would have to be Korean. I don’t mind trading all those other languages in exchange. We’ve been learning Korean for a year now and we’re just elementary students. My head explodes with language swirls and there are days when I feel tongue-tied. During the early days of the pandemic (when it wasn’t declared a pandemic), in the month of January, I remember panicking at every Korean message that I’d receive on my phone — before I could translate it. It’s hard when there are few ways to placate your fear because of the paucity of comprehensible information.
What stupid question or comment are you tired of hearing from people?
I’m genuinely amazed by the internet. There’s so much information but very few real voices of reason. I guess it’s easier to base opinions and questions on our own prejudice. I’m not saying I’m immune to it. And that’s why as a traveller and expat — I wait for people to tell me their stories — before I’m tempted to write my own versions of them. Being an introvert makes me a good listener, and I’ve realised: people like to talk once you treat them as equals and humans. That’s one way to escape the pervasive gaze of stereotype.
Here are my own examples, first with language:
India: Do you speak Hindi?
Korea: Do you speak Korean?
ROW: Do you speak English?
Now, replace ‘language’ with ‘food’
India: Do Koreans eat dogs?
Korea: Do you eat ‘Korrey’ (curry) every day?
ROW: Do you eat meat? Are you allowed to eat meat?
The same dialogue can be had with religion, education, gender, the works; you get the drift. When people get to know me better, questions become more direct/intrusive, and I become a subject to be observed and studied. Clearly, I’m an anomaly of what they’d expected me to be. From honour killings, rapes, patriarchy, songs in Bollywood movies, to bobling heads; I suddenly become an expert/interpreter on topics that I have no expertise on.
I understand that stereotypes are based on certain irrefutable truths. And there’s no denying that. However, the problem arises when those truths become the ‘only truth’ for a person’s identity. There’s always room for multiple truths to exist. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sums it eloquently in her TED talk, The danger of a single story.
Have you ever felt like you could never forgive someone? (Reveal as much as you are comfortable with).
I was a shy and quiet child. It was easy for people to hurt me and I’d forgive them very easily. I know that’s the definition of pushover. I was bullied whenever I was the odd one. My father was/is worried about me and wondered, “How would I survive in this world?”. My sensitivity was my weakness until I learned how to control it and use it to understand people’s insecurity. I’ve changed a lot since childhood. Forgiveness, for me, is letting go of the baggage of hate. It liberates me from holding on to someone else’s insecurity or stupidity. That said, I’m no saint either. In some cases, I know that it’s better not to care about getting closure through forgiveness.
My experiences in Korea have been a mixed bag. Our neighbours, in our locality, are very friendly and treat us like family. Whenever we travel in Korea — locals have always helped us. I’ve been touched by their kindness. However, at local cultural centres — that are supposed to foster cultural integration — I’ve always faced discrimination. And I accepted it for a very long time because I didn’t want to be ‘that person’ who creates trouble. It’s not uncommon to hear stories on discrimination based on race, nationality, or just because you’re a foreigner. When my hanji teacher informed me that I wouldn’t get my certificate for the second level of the course, I decided it wasn’t worth it, and I should have stood up for myself earlier. People should accept you for who you are, and not because of where you were born or how you look. I don’t think I can forgive my teacher for undermining my work — even if the problem could have arisen because of a communication gap.
What is the one really unpopular opinion you have?
I understand the need to define one’s identity on the roots of culture and language. I also understand why some people feel safe within the lines they draw around themselves. But, I also feel that we should be be able to accept people for who they are. We should be able to accept people who live between blurred lines. We should be able to accept anomalies, like myself, just as easily as we accept the stereotypes — we like to question.
The objective of most of our travels is to find similarities between people, cultures, and races. To prove that we’re all human beneath our differences. You might wonder: why do I raise this topic now? We’re living in times of fear and reason is miles away. Fear preys on our insecurities and prejudices. It’s easier to blame people from certain communities or races — because that might make you feel safe. In reality, we’re all in this together and we’re more alike than different. The only way to get through this time is to work together.
There’s also a growing perception that anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘stereotype’ doesn’t belong. But who gets to decide: who’s the outsider and who belongs? And if my argument doesn’t convince you, you might want to take a look at the ‘Map of Human Migration‘.
What are you most grateful for from the past 12 months?
The past 2 months have been surreal. I preferred not to talk or write about it because I felt it would become real. Escaping to beautiful places (virtually) has been therapeutic for me and helped me alleviate my anxiety. I know that we won’t be able to travel for the next couple of months or even visit home. I’m grateful for all travel in the past year, especially our dream trip to Uzbekistan, and for the opportunity to explore and open our minds to new people and cultures.
These days, I’m grateful for just being able to walk outdoors (whenever possible), visit the grocery store, and appreciate nature’s silver linings on cherry trees.