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Nostalgia and Other Maladies

It has been two thousand eighty-eight days since I entered a classroom full of expectant faces waiting for me. I am a teacher, or previously, was! On a chilly December night, in 2014, I bade my best friends adieu at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, to embark on a journey that would change my life. Looking back at the foggy landscape of the city I loved, one last time, I boarded the plane with my seven-year-old daughter and four juggernaut suitcases stuffed with an abbreviated version of my life in India. Twenty-eight hours later, I landed in Lincoln, Nebraska, where a golden sunset reminiscent of an HD wallpaper greeted me. I shook my exhausted daughter out of sleep, thanked the onboard staff, and got off the plane, to start a life in a city at the other end of everything and everyone I knew.

It has been almost six years, since, and in all fairness, I have fallen in love with this country. I have grown to love the “honestly, it’s not for everyone” state of Nebraska. The humble midwestern city with its warm welcoming people, hot, dazzling summers, and bitterly cold, snowy winters, sneaked its way slowly into my heart. Miles upon miles of trails running through the city became my source of sustenance. I love walking! Being raised in a small town in West Bengal by the river Bhagirathi, I grew up walking miles every other evening, along its banks, with my father, listening to him talk about the rich ancient history of Bengal, embroidered with betrayal, bloodshed, and glory! It went on to become an unshakable habit that stayed with me! 

Trails running through Lincoln, Nebraska (Image by Saswati Sen)

Life moves slowly for the wife of a research scholar. It gave me ample time to appreciate the innumerable moments suspended in sunlight, the incredible, intricately shaped snowflakes that stuck to my windowpanes, the unbelievable double rainbow that unfolded in front of my eyes during a walk one evening after a thundershower!.

I wholeheartedly jumped into the new role of a stay-at-home mom and wife! I read voraciously, baked cakes, planned my daughter’s Halloween outfits, listened to my husband’s research goals, cooked specialty Indian dishes for the Department parties. But from the nooks and crannies of my new life, peeped my old one! Assignments, worksheets, Shakespeare, Joyce, and Conrad struggled for predominance in my leisure-languished mind. I woke up in the middle of the night, one day, worried about my next day’s lecture, only to realize that there were no classes to teach… 

I remember one of my favorite Professors talking about roots, how it spreads inside us without warning. We all carry bits and pieces of our childhood, our culture, our beliefs, and practices deep inside us. We realize this only when we migrate.

It is when an atheist’s heart skips a beat watching a video of “Dhaaker badyi” on a forgotten Ashtami evening. It is when you wish that the tall grass of the prairies were “Kaashphul”. Or when you suddenly desperately crave “phuchka” after a particularly heavy grocery run. Or when you run out in the rain, out of years of habit, only to run back inside shivering, realizing its Fall and you are in Nebraska!

A year ago, we moved to the East Coast. It has been a ‘sea’ change of surroundings. Today, I miss Lincoln like I miss India. I miss walking along the trails, waking up to tornado sirens going crazy, or snow days. I miss the old lady on the trail who had the kindest smile in the world. I miss the fragrance of chlorine and sunscreen as I lay lazily by the pool watching my daughter race her father to the deep end. I still miss teaching like an amputee misses a body part. The pain is gone, but the emptiness persists.

Nostalgia is an uninvited guest! It has a peculiar habit of finding out where you live and turning up there. As you adapt, your roots grow wings. The context changes, the music shifts to different chords, but the longing remains. You pine for different things. The subjects change, the needs change, but the ache remains constant.


Saswati Sen is a former English teacher, an avid animal lover, a food enthusiast, who runs on coffee and long walks on the beach or on the trails. When she is not holed up in her den, writing or reading, she always looks for an excuse to travel to quaint little towns with her husband and daughter to sample the local food, art, and music scene.

An International Student’s Concerns

COVD-19 has caused worldwide concerns in the higher education space, especially in the middle of the ongoing decline in the number of international students studying at American universities. They are losing billions of dollars as reported in the March 2020 report of ‘NAFSA: Association of International Educators.’ There has been discussion on how it has impacted schools, colleges, next admission cycle, financial funding, how teachers are told to teach online. Most of the universities have moved to online teaching.

Some, like Boston University, are considering the possible postponement of their Fall 2020 semester, which will again put International students at higher risk because if they are not enrolled for a specific number of credits during a semester, they will not meet the visa regulations, initiating possible deportation proceedings against them. However, these are not the only challenges international students are going through, there are many more things we need to think about as we move forward. 

Take financial insecurity. Many of my American friends don’t know that International students are only allowed to work on campus for a limited number of hours to support themselves financially. These hours are further reduced during the summer semester for international students. Due to this unprecedented situation, international students are worried about how they will earn their livelihood and pay their bills with campuses closed. 

Traveling is extremely expensive at this point. Canada, India, and many European countries are on complete lockdown. International travel is expensive, and that is why international students choose to go annually or biannually.

Someone I know can afford tuition fees, but they depend entirely on their on-campus cafe’s job to pay bills. In these extremely uncertain times, the educational institutions are doing their best to offer most of their classes online, providing free food, supplies, and virtual support, but this is a temporary solution. International students have sustained the economy of American Universities and though international students may not be citizens or permanent citizens, they pay similar kinds of taxes on their income; another contribution to the US economy that has been impacted.

I have been worried about my friends and family. I am not at home to take care of my parents, and to seek solace, I have been talking to other international students. I realized that I am not alone, we are all stressed. One lost their family member, a few have economic challenges, my friend’s elderly parents are alone without any help. We do not know if traveling is safe, from both, an immigration and health point of view. 

Many students have invested their hard-earned resources for a dream to earn their degrees from America. University of Chicago’s Business Professor and Economist Anil Kashyap and Jean-Pierre Danthine at the Paris School of Economics are predicting a massive recession that will likely hit the job market shortly, which would be again detrimental for international students trying to find a job. Graduate students who are joining US schools from Fall 2020 also see an uncertain future because after they graduate in two or five years, depending upon what degree they are pursuing, may not have a stable economy waiting to welcome them. 

This situation is of global concern and everyone should take steps that are guided by morality and compassion. The American economy has benefited immensely from the contribution of immigrants. Far from home, they don’t have much direct physical support, unlike most other students, and everyone should come forward with a different approach to meet our challenges.

Saurabh Anand is an international Ph.D. student and a Graduate School Research Assistantship Block Grant (GSRA) fellow in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of Georgia. A version of this article was first published in Duluth News Tribune.

Not the Brown Girl with the Red Dot

Desi Roots, Global Wings

Fifteen years ago, I wrote an essay titled “The Girl with the red dot” that was accepted by alternet.org for publication on their website. Through my writing, I was trying to explore my motives for wearing a bright red bindi during my years as a Ph.D. student in Baltimore.

Having grown up in Bombay in a traditional family that valued education, I had been sent to a convent school, a decision taken by my mother, which her mother did not approve of, for the simple reason that school rules forbade me from wearing a bindi. 

My orthodox grandmother had strong opinions on a variety of subjects, most of which didn’t agree with my cosmopolitan outlook and free thinking. Not having to wear a bindi to school didn’t bother me one bit, it was actually a relief since it meant one less thing to do on busy school days. I do remember being perversely pleased that my bare forehead vexed my grandmother, since we constantly locked horns on most subjects.

Given my ambivalence about it, why then did I choose to earn the title of “the girl with the red dot” on campus?

Far from home, without any pressure to conform to a particular style of dressing, I had adopted the bindi as part of my new identity in America. Acutely aware of my presence in a new country, among people of many races, I noted all the ways in which I was different. Even amidst my Indian peers in the department, I was the youngest married person.

Was it because I was trying to redefine my identity while grappling with all the changes that had transpired in my life in a short time? Did the bindi give me a sense of control over one aspect of my appearance which was different from that of the majority? Did it serve as a link to my former self?

Identity, defined as “exact likeness in nature or qualities”, come from things we inherit within our cells. It shows up in the way we use our bodies, in our speech and mannerisms. The feeling of belonging that arises from similarities that we perceive within our family and the larger community in which we come of age is an intrinsic one and seems pre-ordained, to some extent.

Identity, however, is also defined as the condition of “being oneself and not another”. By moving away from a racially uniform, albeit culturally diverse home environment, I was perhaps trying to re-calibrate my place in a new system on many fronts, both within and outside my home.

My bindi was neither a symbol nor a statement. My bindi was as much a part of me as my long black hair that I wore in a single braid, a unique, visible identifier. It was as important to me as the clear contact lens (which I had also taken to wearing in the US) that although invisible to others, was essential for me to function.

The question about the bindi receded to the background when I moved back to India. But the essay gained momentum when it was featured in a college textbook alongside essays by Maya Angelou and Bharti Mukherjee. Recommended across college campuses for freshman composition, a study guide was appended to each essay. Simple but incisive questions prompted the reader to try and understand my background, my motivations and my analysis of the situation. What had come as a natural progression of my thoughts and coalesced into an essay, was a matter of interpretation for students of a different generation, for people who I wouldn’t know but who would try to know me through my words!

Although I had not visualized such an audience when I first wrote the essay, I felt a sense of validation and accomplishment that my words would help connect people by opening a window to understanding. I hoped my message that “even though I look different, my struggle with conformity and identity, is part of the universal human struggle to find our place in this world,” would shine through.

****

Brown is the new black. I hear this refrain all across the world, including in Singapore, where I now live. This tiny island, hidden among large nations in Asia, is a multiracial, multicultural society that seeks to be inclusive and secular, and calls itself the Little Red Dot. Although it is common to see people of different races and religions freely walk about in saris and headscarves, and listen to announcements in four different languages on trains, recent events indicate that sensitivity to racial differences, particularly by the ‘brown’ minority simmer below the feel-good icing of harmony peddled by media channels.

The problem is not unique to Singapore. As I browse articles on the New York Times and Medium.com, I come across prickly rants by ‘people of color’ who choose to attribute every single unpleasant experience to one immutable fact, the color of their skin. Rude behavior or an impolite remark on the part of one crass individual is sufficient to malign an entire race.

In today’s charged environment, I wonder if my essay about the red dot on my forehead would have been considered suitable for publication in print or digital media, leave alone chosen for inclusion in a college textbook.

My essay was a gentle exploration of what was fundamentally a personal issue, a matter of finding my place when displaced from my familiar surroundings. It did not occur to me then to find fault with curious colleagues who asked whether my dot was a permanent tattoo or made of velcro. Nor did I take offense when a tall blue-eyed professor mentioned that my long braid reminded him of the girls in his school whose braids he used to pull as a little boy. Genuine curiosity on both sides helped us learn a little bit more about the other through exchange of information and joint reminiscences.

Several years later, when an American colleague expressed interest in wearing a sari, I went over to her home with a few options suitable for her tall frame. We had a fun fashion show and photo shoot, with her doing a ramp walk in my green silk sari, with a multi-colored bindi on her wide forehead, her long blond hair forming a golden halo in the late afternoon sun.

On another occasion, a Scottish colleague who had grown up in Trinidad asked me if I had read V.S. Naipaul and Arundhati Roy. I hadn’t. He lent me his books. And I added two new authors to my list. Instead of being upset with him for my lack of knowledge about my culture, I was grateful to him for expanding my literary world. Through these interactions, each of us learnt a little bit more about the other through our literary and sartorial exchanges.

There is much that is unique about each of us, much that divides us. But what about all that unites us? Our curiosity, our need for community, our desire for kinship. By drawing lines, by using lazy, superficial adjectives like black and brown, we diminish not just ourselves but our shared humanity. Color may always remain the first thing that we notice about another person. But if color is all we can grasp, then we will forever remain short-sighted.

As I continue to wear a bindi in each country that I have called home, I am happy being  called “the girl with the red dot”. What I will not accept, however, is being called “brown girl with the red dot”.

 Desi Roots, Global Wings is a Column inspired by: Roots hold a person close. Wings set the person free.  We need both to live fully with confidence, thoughtfulness, and intention. In that spirit, Ranjani Rao and Nandini Patwardhan, co-founders of Story Artisan Press, explore what it means to be open-minded and curious global Indians.

Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training and a writer by avocation. She has been a long time contributor to India Currents. Her writing has appeared in digital and print media in the US, India and Singapore. She is the author of several books.

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Interactive Quiz: Find Your Next Spectacular Home Space

Taylor Morrison Launches Interactive Quiz to Help Prospective Home Buyers

 

Scottsdale, Ariz. — With thoughtfully planned home designs available throughout the United States, uncovering that perfect match worthy of the name “home” can be a little overwhelming. Using the newly launched tool, Spectacular Spaces, a future homebuyer takes a short interactive quiz taking them on a journey with questions about their lifestyle including cooking habits, their idea of a perfect Saturday night and even how they get their movie fix.

 

Take our 10-question quiz to find your match: https://www.taylormorrison.com/spectacular-spaces

 

“Our goal is to find you a dream home and community that matches your personal criteria and lifestyle,” said Taylor Morrison Chairman and CEO Sheryl Palmer. “This quick and interactive Q&A is the first step in taking out the guesswork on where to hang your hat at the end of the day. Who knows, you may find out more about your style than you thought?”

 

The new web search functionality aims to make the homebuying experience easier and more enjoyable for home shoppers, starting where most homebuying journeys begin—online.

 

Website visitors are asked a series of 10 quick and easy questions. This helps Taylor Morrison learn more about them and generate instant tailored results selecting the builder’s best floor plans. While the quiz is certainly playful, the goal is to help the builder deliver a targeted list of homes, in the homebuyer’s preferred location.

 

Since its soft launch in late October, more than 7,000 people have taken the interactive quiz, tripling the time buyers are spending on the builder’s website when they find the quiz organically. Visitors are also exploring more of Taylor Morrison’s home offerings, with the Spectacular Spaces quiz reducing early exits from the website by as much as 80 percent.

-more-

 

A few key trends have emerged from the more than 7,000 quiz participants, such as two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) wanting a one-story home and 45 percent needing three or more bedrooms. The large majority of home shoppers are dog owners (83 percent) and another 74 percent are aspiring chefs, preferring gourmet kitchens. Thirty-nine percent of quiz participants work from home, and when it comes to the perfect Saturday, a pool and Netflix (61 percent and 52 percent, respectively) lead the preferred leisurely activities.

 

Gourmet kitchens, elegant bathrooms, spacious storage options and special design touches all come together to create home designs that have helped Taylor Morrison become not only a market leader but also America’s Most Trusted® Homebuilder according to Lifestory Research for three straight years.

 

About Taylor Morrison

 

Taylor Morrison Home Corporation (NYSE:TMHC) is a leading national homebuilder and developer that has been recognized as the 2016, 2017 and 2018 America’s Most Trusted® Home Builder by Lifestory Research. Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., we operate under two well-established brands, Taylor Morrison and Darling Homes. We serve a wide array of consumer groups from coast to coast, including first-time, move-up, luxury, and 55 plus buyers. In Texas, Darling Homes builds communities with a focus on individuality and distinctive detail while delivering on the Taylor Morrison standard of excellence. For more information about Taylor Morrison and Darling Homes please visit www.taylormorrison.com or www.darlinghomes.com.

 

 

Why You Need to Live in the Future — As I Do

I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

I live in the future. I drive an amazing Tesla electric vehicle, which takes control of the steering wheel on highways. My house, in Menlo Park, California, is a “passive” home that expends minimal energy on heating or cooling. With the solar panels on my roof, my energy bills are close to zero. I have a medical device at home, which was made in New Delhi, Healthcubed, that does the same medical tests as hospitals—and provides me with immediate results. Because I have a history of heart trouble I have all of the data I need to communicate with a doctor anywhere in the world, anytime I need.

I spend much of my time talking to entrepreneurs and researchers about breakthrough technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics. These entrepreneurs are building a better future. I live in the future as it is forming and this is happening far faster than most people realise, and far faster than the human mind can comfortably perceive.

The distant future is no longer distant. The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon. Look at the way smartphones crept up on us. Just about everyone now has one. We are always checking email, receiving texts, ordering goods online, and sharing our lives with distant friends and relatives on social media.

These technologies changed our lives before we even realised it. Just as we blindly follow the directions that Google Maps gives us—even when we know better—we will comply with the constant advice that our digital doctor provides. I’m talking about an artificially intelligent app on our smartphone that will have read our medical data and monitor our lifestyles and habits. It will warn us not to eat more gulab jamuns lest we gain another 10 pounds.

So you say that I live in a technobubble, a world that is not representative of the lives of the majority of people in the US or India? That’s true. I live a comfortable life in Silicon Valley and am fortunate to sit near the top of the technology and innovation food chain. So I see the future sooner than most people. The noted science-fiction writer William Gibson, who is a favourite of hackers and techies, once wrote: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”. But, from my vantage point at its apex, I am watching that distribution curve flatten, and quickly. Simply put, the future is happening faster and faster. It is happening everywhere.

Technology is the great leveller, the great unifier, the great creator of new and destroyer of old.

Once, technology could be put in a box, a discrete business dominated by business systems and some cool gadgets. It slowly but surely crept into more corners of our lives. Today the creep has become a headlong rush. Technology is taking over every part of our lives; every part of society; every waking moment of every day. Increasingly, pervasive data networks and connected devices are causing rapid information flows from the source to the masses—and down the economic ladders from the developed societies to the poorest.

Perhaps my present life in the near future, in the technobubble in Silicon Valley, sounds unreal. Believe me, it is something we will laugh at within a decade as extremely primitive.

We are only just commencing the greatest shift that society has seen since the dawn of humankind. And, as in all other manifest shifts – from the use of fire to the rise of agriculture and the development of sailing vessels, internal-combustion engines, and computing – this one will arise from breathtaking advances in technology. This shift, though, is both broader and deeper, and is happening far more quickly.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has a dark side. Jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Our children may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone —maybe you—will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge. You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse.

The ugly state of global politics illustrates the impact of income inequality and the widening technological divide. More people are being left behind and are protesting. Technologies such as social media are being used to fan the flames and to exploit ignorance and bias. The situation will get only worse—unless we find ways to share the prosperity we are creating.

We have a choice: to build an amazing future such as we saw on the TV series Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max. It really is up to us; we must tell our policy makers what choices we want them to make.

The key is to ensure that the technologies we are building have the potential to benefit everyone equally; balance risks and the rewards; and minimise the dependence that technologies create. But first, we must learn about these advances ourselves and be part of the future they are creating.

 

This article is re-published here with the express permission of the author.