Serendipity…funny word, isn’t it? I remember a 16-year-old me being introduced to this word on a wintery November morning. The beauty of this word is not just in its meaning, but also in its eligibility of practical application. Serendipity that is, finding good without consciously looking for it is pretty much how I have chosen to look at the last 22 years of my life. It has been a serendipitous roller coaster, in trials and triumphs alike. I, however, do not intend to romanticise my life experiences, neither do I wish to consider it in terms of relativity.
Stories have been a rather crucial part of my world. As I child I grew up with stories being narrated to me, and subsequently got into the world of reading. I believed (and continue to believe) not just in the power of the words, but also in the abilities of stories to be a mirror unto what we seek and what we choose to reflect. So what happens when I map out my life experiences in the form of a story? I realise how serendipity has been the core undercurrent of everything and everyone that came my way!
If I had to describe the one force that drives me, it has to be passion. Nothing done half-heartedly has ever had the mettle to keep me glued to it, and neither has it been in my system to continue with things that I do not resonate with. Apart from a few opportunities in my life, my life choices have largely revolved around things that keep me passionate, and drive me to be a better version of myself every single day. While this may sound a rather dramatic approach to life, I have had the good fortune of this belief getting reinforced by watching people around me follow things that they truly believe in.
I grew up in a house that always upheld the importance of education: not just literacy, but education. Understanding cultures and diversity (and disparity) was inculcated as a core value in my life, and that is where my love for the Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts began. My courtship with Humanities went further ahead as my exposure to culture took an international turn, with my mother’s posting to the Embassy of India School, Moscow.
It was there that I became closer to my culture, and became sensitised to different standpoints and approaches that people came with. The level of national integration there was immense, and it taught me valuable lessons on the true spirit of unity. You see, you may read a lot on all of this, but the real deal is when you get to experience it first hand.
While these may seem big words for a then 10-year-old to comprehend: that’s what growth is, and better realised in hindsight. My scope of understanding cultural heterogeneities reached a high as fifth grader, when I got to work on a project called ‘Religious Harmony and World Peace’ under Oracle. It allowed me to foster interactions with children and educationists from the US, UK, France, Indonesia and Germany; apart from Indian educationists and children. It is imperative to talk about this experience mainly because of the indelible mark it left on my thinking. While all of us may have come from different processes of socialisation, the core undercurrent of emotion running within all of us is essentially the same – that is what makes us all human. Furthermore, the richness of Russian culture and heritage; and constant interactions with the natives ignited the latent love for exploring historical heritage.
Coming back to India after a three-year stint in Moscow was ironically tough. As someone who had been sensitised in terms of interactions with people from across the country there, I felt that my idea of looking at culture as a seventh grader was not in sync with the majority. It was demoralising, yes, but also it gave me enough grit to gradually identify and tap on my passion for working in the social sciences. So while most eighth/ninth grade students are caught in the doldrums of choosing career streams for their 11th and 12th grade, I had complete clarity of thought about the line that I wanted to pursue. My parents played a pivotal role in keeping me insulated from the clichéd questions: “Oh, you scored above 90%, why are you not taking Science?” or “Why are you taking Humanities? Do you want to be an IAS Officer?”
Limelight is rather overwhelming, flattering at times, but not when you become the talk of the town for choosing an academic stream that is ‘unworthy’ of your potential. It gradually dawned on me that in spite of being immersed in social structures and constructs, everyone is running away from it – not ready to look within the structures that are so deeply entrenched in our upbringing and collective consciousness that we refuse to review them or reflect on them. Grades 11 and 12 were all about burning the midnight oil to make sure that I do the best in the subjects I vouch so strongly for. My quest for understanding people and cultures saw an all-new high again in 12th grade when I lived the life of a cultural exchange student in Japan. It opened my eyes to how blinding westernisation is, and how the McDonaldisation of the world had made us so unaware about anything that was not European or American. The warmth of the people was endearing, and I realised that the philosophy of ‘Atithi devo bhava’ could very well be projected to the Japanese way of hospitality. At the same time, their town planning, civic sense and emphasis on discipline and cleanliness was mightily impressive – also because it was a non-negotiable way of life. Japan is a beautiful blend of the old and the new, and how to take everyone along together.
The idea of studying History, Economics and Political Science further on in graduation had completely concretised from an idea to a plan, and I was looking out for options that allow me to study ‘Social Sciences’, and not just one aspect of it. Serendipity struck once again when I got to know that the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the premier institute for someone like me who call themselves a Social Sciences enthusiast, had happened to finally venture into not just post-graduate and doctoral studies but had also introduced a multidisciplinary undergraduate course by the name ‘Bachelors in Social Sciences’.
As already mentioned, the running theme of this story is serendipity, so it should not be difficult to guess what the next plot point in this story is.
I joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, for a three-year course in Social Sciences, and as the rhetoric goes – my life changed. The process was of massive adjustment – an 18-year-old living 2000 odd kilometres away from home, for the first time and studying a course of her passion. The partial adult life was a handful, but the experience of being in a conducive academic environment with some of the brightest minds in academia was a sheer blessing. The nuances and depths of Social Sciences were introduced to me during this time, and it widened my horizon in ways that were immensely humbling. I fostered friendships with people, transcending all kinds of boundaries that may otherwise segregate us. I learnt to be thankful for all of life’s privileges, learnt to question all the constructs that I had unquestioningly imbibed, learnt to confront my personal biases before confronting anyone else about theirs, and realised that we are all entrenched in ideas that needed to be considered for serious revision.
At TISS, the focus was on understanding everything that we see every day but do not question, and everything that we choose not to see. The beauty of TISS is not just in the beautiful concoction of diversity that it is, but also in how everyone blends so well in it that there is no judgement. We were taught to fearlessly talk about everything that our society cannot talk about; to give a name to everything that the society considered ‘that-which-not-be-named’ (As is now evident, Harry Potter has continued to influence my childhood as well as my adulthood. There could be a separate anecdote on that).
Another important facet to my life at TISS was that I could talk about social issues and nuances in not just an academic way, but also in a way that would be understood by people out of the realm of the academics of the Social Sciences. I learnt to co-exist and blend in with different life experiences, which could sometimes be contrasting or conflicting. I knew that my love for my subjects was now a commitment. I also knew that I wanted to work in areas that required a much greater intervention by Social Sciences.
The ethos of TISS and the cultural wealth of Hyderabad brought me closer to my passion for Humanities and heritage, and to the realisation that this is where I’d flourish the best.
By the time graduation was drawing to a close, the serendipitous life of a 21-year-old me declared innings number two at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai – as a Master’s student in Human Resources Management and Labour Relations. While the radius of the challenge may have increased, I am hopeful of the simultaneous increment of serendipities in the circle too.
The beauty of studying Human Resources Management as a student of Social Sciences is that it allows me to understand not just the management side of the story, but also understand the pulse of the ‘labour’ involved – and to understand their pulse in ways that the social sciences have equipped me with. As I have been hearing in the last one month at TISS Mumbai, we are the ‘human’ in the Human Resources.
Given that I have been getting pleasant surprises as I tread the road I chose to travel, there is not so much of a conclusion to give to this little compilation of anecdotes. The journey has only begun, and it is now getting interesting. At such a point, all that I can do is to soak myself up in all that life’s had to offer, and exude it back to those around me – that is what seems to me, the best way to making good use of everything that I resonate with. As for the end of this story, who knows, you might just find a season two ready to realise somewhere in due time?