It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I’m lounging in The Tea Room for a much needed break in the last few months. Soft romantic music is playing in the background and I am tempted to grab one of the many books off the bookshelf standing in front of me. But I need to write this blog which has been long overdue now. During my short getaway from Aavishkaar, I had a lot of time to think about the present and the future. A conversation with a former colleague went like this:
“Do you know who captains the Indian Cricket team?”
“Do you who captains the Indian hockey team?”
“I’m sure the captain of the hockey team works just as hard as Virat Kohli but nobody knows him. What is the point of this unnecessary struggle that you are going through? Social problems will continue to exist. Why chase after something that already has a solution instead of contributing to innovation and research?”
During this conversation, I was offered a project that was a good match for my skills. It took everything in my power to keep myself from running towards this opportunity. I mulled over it for quite some time and thought what would have created the notion that people in the social sector do not perform research. Is it often mistakenly linked only to science and technology.
It is assumed that people working in the development sector have it easy dealing with social issues. For some weird reason, life here is compared to that in corporate organizations.
Soon after, I met Victor at Aavishkaar. He is a Venezuelan scientist who could easily pass for an Indian in appearance unless you closely observe. He is around six feet tall, usually dons a snug t-shirt over his muscular torso with cargo pants. His face is streaked with salt pepper beard and a kind smile. He is as focused as Buddha while working on his laptop for most part of the day. My interaction with him was sparse over the first two days. We introduced ourselves and exchanged a few words about our work. He was constructing a detachable DNA model that could be disassembled and put back together with ease. I was awestruck when he explained how DNA functions in our life cycles. In the next few days that followed, we got indulged in science experiments. I didn’t have the faintest idea that DNA could be extracted from everyday objects. I found myself in my own element while performing iterations of the process until it yielded the most elegant results.
For the next few days, I observed his general temperament outside work. He was on his toes to offer help, and even wanted to make rotis for the entire team for dinner. If somebody would’ve told me to do that, I would’ve thought, “What if they are not good enough? What if I take too long?” and rather stick to tasks I’m comfortable with. He had never made them before and managed just fine. Next, he taught himself to read and pronounce the Hindi alphabet, and also treated us to his native food arepas with an Indian twist to it.
One of my colleagues and I assisted him while grooving to salsa music. We talked about the crisis in his country. Because of my ignorance, I had a hard time believing that it was not a plot of a dystopian novel but the horrid reality in a distant part of the world. Who would have thought that I would discuss my Spanish assignment with a native speaker in a small village of Himachal Pradesh? While I was trying to build a connection with the local community, an outlander proved to be an inspiration. Through these subtle gestures, which might be common in some cultures, I learned how to build relationships that foster a sense of belonging and introspect my individuality.
In these thirteen months, I want to turn a list of wishes into experiences. I realize now that I have had the choice to take responsibility of my learning right from the beginning. Interactions with influential people and the time crunch has enabled me to switch gears from autopilot to consciously make better decisions.
“We are all seekers, else we wouldn’t be here,” as Victor likes to say.