During my senior year of college, in the wake of the Duke lacrosse scandal, a group of students started an organization to rethink the campus culture and options for socialization. One warm autumn afternoon, the “Duke Players” ceremoniously landed on our main quad with jump ropes, hula-hoops, hookahs, soap bubbles, and 1000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A few months later, the entire university was invited to a party in the library, where we were given playing cards and fed calorific desserts reminiscent of a grade school Halloween party. “Work hard; play hard,” the players permitted use of the familiar mantra, but make sure you “play well.”
I was reminded of the “play well” movement recently upon packing my younger brother, Ananth, off to university. For the first time, I was on the well-wishers’ side of airport security, standing wistfully alongside my parents, waving at the disappearing figure of a college sophomore. He was headed back to school to study, but also, and just as substantively, to have fun. While Ananth worked and played hard, would I just be working? Now that I’d graduated, did I need an invitation to play?
The quad invasion and library party captured the imagination of the campus because they allowed students to perform play in a manner that was immediately recognizable as such. For one afternoon and one evening, we lived our youth in a spectacularly visual and hyperbolic way. We “played.” This worked to invigorate a population of college students because so much of what we do in college is to perform, to try out new roles and modes of thought, and fashion ourselves in different images.
But I wouldn’t think of bringing hula-hoops to the India Currents office for playtime, never mind blow bubbles on my way to work. It’s not that I don’t want to “play” anymore, to renounce juvenile indulgences in a show of assumed maturity, but we all need to find honest, sustainable ways of playing at every new stage of life.
The kind of play that I’ve been thinking about does not start and stop with performance. It doesn’t involve paint-by-numbers or p.b. & j. or any other explicit indication that “play” is happening. The kind of play that I would want my parents to engage in, and my readers to participate in, and that I hope to integrate into my working life, is an ethos, not an effect. It is the conviction that being in the world is joyful and worthy of expression—whether through music, speech, and activism, or in the simple act of turning the page.
|Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan was Editor of India Currents from July 2007-June 2009.|