Sunday, 13 December 2015

What a year!

2015 will go down in the personal story of my life as a really momentous year where many things happened... after a long stagnation this was the year when things finally fell in place. Three of the most important landmarks:

1. Baba's birth centenary: that had already started in Oct. 2014 and there were many events planned till Oct 2015. I have written about all that in detail elsewhere. There were lots of hiccups and I figured out that I was quite a misfit, and that except for a few like-minded souls I discovered along the way, nobody really cared about what I thought, and were not willing to change their attitudes and behaviour just because I didn't like them. 

But looking back now, I have come to know some wonderful people, and everything considered, we got a lot a work done, albeit at a huge cost of money, energy and time. So it was perhaps well worth the effort.The nice thing is that with this, I feel that I have done enough and that from now on, I will not let myself be pressured into doing something simply because he was my father. We will continue with the award and perhaps organise something every year, but not under duress. No more of that for me. That phase is over.

2. Travels: We travel all the time, but there were two special trips this year which were different -- the first one in May was to the Quebec region of Canada -- Montreal and Quebec city and the area beyond. It was fascinating to go along the breathtakingly beautiful St. Laurent river and to be reminded of the mighty Brahmaputra back home... I also made friends with two more very special people -- for someone who values friendships more than anything else, this was like winning the lottery.

The next trip in September was to Uganda, my first trip ever to Africa. And I was pleasantly surprised -- first  to see the so called 'chapatis' which one could buy literally everywhere for little money -- it was the standard and most popular street food in Uganda. I quickly however defected to Mandazi, the other snack (just deep fried batter) and got to know the details of Ugandan food choices, thanks to the very knowledgeable Mamu. 

I had always imagined African people to be happy and friendly people, full of the joy of life. What I saw more than fulfilled those expectations -- what was most impressive were the self-confident Ugandan women who knew how to take charge of themselves and others around them, to see how hard they worked and how they helped others and were ready to share everything they had with those who did not have as much. It was the best of Christian charity that these ladies practised, knowingly or unknowingly.

What hurt however was to see how poor most people were but how they still smiled and sang and danced and made do with what they had. The realisation that most of the people who were rich, who ran the tourist ventures, who owned the safari lodges and exotic holiday retreats were all foreigners, made me very uneasy. Even more the fact that most industries and businesses and markets were in the hands of Indians, who had their own expatriate social and business networks which excluded all others. It was very sobering. I wished things could be different and the Ugandans could become partners at least in these ventures. It seemed so grossly unfair.

But Uganda did not let me down also in terms of what I had imagined of its natural beauty and wild-life. That was amazing and going on an African safari was every bit as exciting as shown in the movies. To be able to see eight lions in the open from a few meters away in the space of one morning was not something that would happen to me ever again, I imagined. Although I felt guilty of being a tourist who is able to afford the very steep entrance fees (which most Ugandans cannot afford) into the national parks, it was an experience of a lifetime.

3. Dr.Dr.
Things had started to move already by the end of 2014 when certain events that happened made me realise that I had waited long enough in Goettingen,  and that no good would come out of waiting any longer. But in such situations it is not often that one has an option or knows what else one should be doing instead. In my case however, perhaps because I am an incredibly lucky person, perhaps because I had suffered enough and  was rewarded for holding on despite having been abused for so long, perhaps because there are wonderful people still left in the world, I was given an option of moving universities which I accepted gratefully.

But even then I was not sure that things would work out so smoothly. But what unfolded is a sequence of events in which there was not one false note -- everything happened as and when it should have -- I had very kind and knowledgeable supervisors who helped me to improve my text and get my argument right, the reactions of all the examiners to my thesis were positive, my new university department supported me in everything I wanted to do, and before I knew it, not only was a date for the final Ph.D. defense fixed, I also managed to  defend my thesis successfully and be entitled to be addressed as Dr.Dr.

That final ceremony was something straight out of the history books. Despite being a Protestant University, and despite being called a Free University, medieval-looking ritual traditions were strictly maintained.  The Rector and all the professors had to dress in gowns and caps, befitting their status. Most of the exhortations were in Latin, and we were all coached on what to say and do, the sequence in which the procession would proceed into the Aula, and how everything would have to end when the Pedel came in with her jingling staff at the end of the hour and pronounced the words 'Hora  est' -- the time is up. I had my two paranymphs, formally dressed, beside me, and although it did not come to the point when they had to stand in for me, it was a reassuring feeling to know that they were there and that they would help in case I needed it. However, it was rather intimating and overwhelming to have to stand under the flood lights for a full hour in a huge Aula which could accommodate up to 1500 people and have to face the Inquisition, the questions I got were excellent and once the discussion got going, the hour was over very quickly.

I was made to sign that I would abide by the code of ethics and professional conduct before my two supervisors then handed me my degree certificate and held their 'Laudatio' in which Ellen actually recounted in brief, the story of my journey towards the Ph.D. starting from when I started work in the DOBES project way back in 1 Dec 2008 and including the phase in Goettingen. Given that my defense was on the 27 Nov. 2015 it was exactly 7 years of my life, almost to the day, that I had dedicated towards this second degree. But this was not the end of my association with Amsterdam for the department very graciously offered me an attachment so that I could continue working in anthropology.

We had invited everyone to join us for an India lunch at the department after the event and that worked very well. Everyone was happy. Rains spoilt the afternoon boat trip and it was very cold and windy when we walked  to a Greek Taverna for dinner in the evening. But as we made our way back after the dinner through the cold and whistling rain and wind, I wasn't going to start to complain. We could come back to do a boat trip some other time. For this time, I had already had more than my fair share of good luck. The things that really mattered had gone well. Everything else was not that important.

I do believe in fate, in coincidences and in blessings. The very first time I had met my supervisor was in Singapore in Oct. 2012 at a conference when he, the big star who small fries like me could hardly dare to go up and greet, came up to me and asked me about my surname. He recognised it because in connection with his work on colonial photographs in the Mizo archives, he had been reading notes that my Bordeuta, who was at one time Commissioner of the Mizo hills, had left describing photographs that were taken at official events during his tenure. The name had stuck  and it rang a bell when he saw it again on my name badge. He was surprised when I told him that we were related. And soon afterwards, he sent me two photos of Bordeuta from his collection. He had also very kindly asked me about my work and had wished me well then. But little did either of us imagine then that he would one day become my supervisor. Perhaps Willem does not remember this story any more.  Perhaps that was not the reason why he agreed to be my supervisor when Ellen requested him. But I still believe that somewhere up there my Bordeuta is chuckling and smiling because he knows he made it happen.

Now that 2015 is almost at an end, and a few of the other unfinished ongoing projects will also come to an end soon, I believe 2016 can become the turning point for me to make some changes to organise my life differently in order to allow me to do the many other things I would wish to. I also turned 50 this year, maybe this is the right moment to introspect a little and work out my priorities about how I wish to spend the last third of my life that is still left, god willing.  

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