“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”- Rumi
Now my more intellectually attuned friends often quote Rumi and so does my yoga instructor. Okay, he isn’t really my yoga instructor, I went to that class twice. But he did quote Rumi. All I am saying is that it takes people of a slightly elevated bent of mind to fully comprehend Rumi. I, on the other hand, am a much prosaic creature. I have opinions. Now they may be wrong, perhaps they ARE wrong if there is no such thing as the objective truth… but they are well thought out. More than anything, they are open to being challenged. But the process of challenging, debating, discussing is a tumultuous process, and I enjoy that tumult. And *gasp* I am sad when I can’t convince people of what I believe in.
But the world around me, it seems to be full of half thought out punchlines and easy truths. Nuance is a quality that is fast disappearing from most discussions in public spaces. More than anything, most people shy away from any discussion of things they believe in. It is ‘I state, you state, goodbye’. This is what makes my experience in an American Law school stand out. In classes on Comparative Constitutional Law we have discussions on the idea of secularism. What it really means. Does free exercise of religion mean that there has to be an accommodation of different religious practices by the state? Or does it mean a strict separation between church and state? Is it cruel and unusual punishment to incarcerate someone for life, with no scope for an early release? What does free speech really mean? Even if my mind is made up on some of these issues, the tumult of these discussions plants seeds of doubt. I know years from now, if I am even a half decent thinker, I will owe a lot to these seeds of doubt.
I remember when I was very young, I met a great Bengali author who is famous for her human rights work. I was a child and a bit of a moron. She asked me if I thought the death penalty was correct, and I said with a great deal of certitude ‘Yes, some people do such terrible things, they deserve to die’. She smiled wryly and said ‘So you think the state has the right to take people’s life?’. That was a seed of doubt. I thought of what she had said. Examined it. Forgot about it. When I became less of a moron, I began thinking about the issue again. The seed of doubt began to sprout a tiny little shoot. I have never come to the conclusion that the state does not have the right to take a life. But I oppose the death penalty for my own reasons. (I don’t think it can ever be fairly applied, there will always be biases and subjectivity in awarding it to people).
Graduate school at Notre Dame (and I can’t speak for every American school nor can I speak for all graduate school experiences), has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. I have met people from different countries, learnt that there can be widely diverging opinions on issues depending on where you are form. The Latin American views on colonization are not the same as African voices on colonization. I have even had to sit up and ask myself, what exactly we mean by African voices? There are 54 sovereign states on the continent, with incredible ethnic diversity. But we seem to think one word is sufficient to describe all of it. Now that can promote the cause of solidarity, but we must not forget the great diversity that underlies that word.
Anyway, I digress. My nuance starved mind found a place where to a great degree I could have conversations with people that were AWESOME. But I fear when I get out of this cocoon and into the ‘real world’ such opportunities will be fewer and far between. As someone who wants to be a practicing lawyer, will this intellectual satisfaction have to come from a small group of friends and family? How is the life of a practicing lawyer in India? Is she too caught up in the humdrum rhythm of daily life, or are there moments of pure pleasure when you craft a beautiful argument on a contested question of law? It is really for the latter that I want to practice law.
I can sense you rolling your eyes dear reader. My fears may be quite sophomoric. Perhaps the real world is full of hidden gems. Earnest people. I might stumble upon countless people planting countless seeds of doubt in my mind. I might be able to think about issues that shake me to the core of my being. Or it might be a big let down. Perhaps it is full of yuppies who can only speak in internet memes. Either way I think I need to make room for Rumi in my mind palace. I don’t think I can change anything about the world I will step into, so let me try and change myself.