On creating and destroying impressions

Idols of Saraswati being made, potopara, Kolkata

This post should have been called why am I so dumb..But I decided against it. As you may understand later, I am trying to avoid using that word, the d*** word in writing.

Let me start at the very beginning: when I was really little, I was told many times that I was intelligent (that’s the British-Indian word for smart). I only have a vague recollection of that. In lower forms, if I didn’t make first in class it meant that whoever did was more intelligent. As I grew older, expectations rose, and if I didn’t make to top 3 that was because I was ‘careless’ and during many times  my dad was giving me lessons in math(s) he also told me I was dumb using couple of different languages. I did believe him for some time, he has a serious kind of a face, I tended to believe everything he said. However, I had moments of doubt when he did often try to have it both ways, by thinking I should be top of my class while calling me dumb if I made mistakes in logarithmic equations (yes, we did those by hand in 9th grade). And I must say other than 3D vectors in geometry-precalculus, I have not had any real issues in math. Real being the operative word. I may have been ‘dumb’ for many problems, but overall, I was fine in math but I was doubtful of my abilities in it for a while. Until, using my magical powers of slow deduction I realized that baba, did not mean it when he said I was dumb. I was never certain of that, but that is just another part of my nature. After that, my confidence did increase incredibly, from someone who nearly burst her bladder because she was too afraid to ask the teacher to go to the toilet (at 7 yrs old I used to think it was frowned upon, brought too much attention to me, trying to go to the toilet in between class) to someone who talked to teachers like they were friends and who most teachers knew by name (and by fame). In India one class in a public school (MY public school, where we still pay fees) can be 800.

Anyway, I know better than anyone that intelligence does not impede various moments of dumbness. Moments that can last hours to years. Believe me. Like I have said more times since I moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma than anywhere else in the world, perhaps trying to reassure myself more than anyone else: I actually am smart. What that means is beyond my powers of second guessing, except overall I do believe I am and have not found any concrete reasons to doubt my ‘intelligence’ despite moments, and years of essential dumbness.

I work from home, like to hide from people as much as possible and believe that work should speak for itself. I leave it to you to decide whether that is just another streak of dumbness, or naivete or, really, just a form of laziness.  It is definitely also high expectations of myself (this a psychiatrist friend told me in 2012 in a birding trip). I do have hopes of actually doing something that valuable and yes, just as a fact check, my thesis research did make it into some international news, including Chinese, French and Russian, not to mention the Slate blog. I am not that proud of it. You can ask my advisor, he did not even throw me a farewell dinner that he throws for everyone leaving, even the ones who quit grad school in their 4th years, because I may have mentioned to him that what we were doing was not going to change people’s lives (another of my idealistic, stupid chains of thought), among other things…  However when it was published and was even discussed as top 3-5 things on Reddit for a day, it did get noticed. I am aware that happened because my advisor talked about it to everyone and everywhere he possibly could, boasting and filled with pride, for years. Our collaborators were well known in the field, because I happened to be in a world famous institute, which by no means leaves any opportunity of blowing its own trumpet. I did do the work, but it wouldn’t have been enough without any of this.

So, I make room for my dumbness in a circumscribed manner, trying to live in the real world, attempting to learn real things. Dumbness disregarding, I do hunger for valuable things and hope (stupidly) that the other important things one also needs to make even a small impact will somehow arrange themselves around this valuable thing. How silly! Yes, you can laugh now..

At least, in my mind that’s what I think my friends would do. I expect everyone to be less dumb than I am. Lesser moments of dumbness at least. And I also avoid phone calls and have taken to texting like a fish takes to an aquarium, when it can’t have the sea. And I can’t have everyone I know read my loooong blog posts or pages of emails.

It turns out they don’t actually laugh. They are like me or what I used to be like. If I say something is dumb, they believe me. If I say someone is being stupid, like oh how stupid is it that people don’t yield at yield signs, they think I am passing judgement (this time, because I am smart and have a PhD., which I have repeatedly said has not led to anything useful yet). Unaware of the impressions I am leaving, I continue harping on people’s stupidity: people don’t vaccinate their children, people don’t care that their country is waging a war (both India and US) which is one way or another (directly in case of Indian indigenous people and dalits) seriously harming its own people and really causing loss of thousands and thousands of innocent lives in terms of death and in terms of trauma of loss of a loved one, a parent. I may not dwell on the details as people don’t like these topics of conversation to last too long. But I do expect people to understand what I mean when I say that war is horrible and all the people who scratch the bare surface and remain floating superficially on the flotsam that media produces as news,  without seeing that the wars are NOT working….. I lost my train of thought about those people, but yes they are not paying attention. These wars and army occupation of territories (Kashmir) are not bringing peace. When I say remember the deal with Iran, that is peaceful settlement, who knows what they think. Continuing on with the drone attacks and the bombing They can’t possibly be stupid enough to support such a thing and believe that everyone living in a place is a terrorist!! That everyone in that place means Americans harm! Do they not realize that these people would have their own busy schedules, just like they themselves have and scores of citizenry like them have always had and have no time to actually mean and carry out harm to any other country. Of course, they would need to have normal jobs, hopes and dreams to be so occupied with their life. A country with an economy, the only true deterrent to recruitment in terrorist camps. I may not use all these words. My dad never clarified how he knows I was intelligent, he thought I would know. And I never clarify that by stupid I only mean I have high expectations of my friends. I think they are smart. I think they should not be satisfied by superficial news, to find out and understand that the true threat to their freedom is blanket NSA surveillance, the Patriot or the espionage act or the archaic sedition act in India being applied blindly. It is not some poor Iraqi, Syrian merely trying to have the basic hope of a decent life. These days it can be as low as not living under the shadow of bombs and drone attacks.

I don’t even recall calling them dumb to their faces, but I have on a reliable source that I did, most likely in texts, which made it sound much more serious.

mm..I am giving up texting.. Emails are not read at all, and in some cases perhaps that is better. I learned that I am still dumb enough to believe people read texts in the same state of mind I write them. I had read somewhere that texting was making people callous. I don’t know about callous, it is certainly making them dumb. Yes, by them I mean me, and by dumb I mean being harmful to oneself.

My cousin said that people who doubt my intentions should pray to Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of learning and intelligence ( she is my cousin, I am hoping she is right about me). Hence, the photo of Saraswati idols in the making that I shot in Kolkata a while ago seemed appropriate for this post. I sure need my head held high and firmly attached, after it was bitten off by a ‘friend’ who had had enough of me calling her dumb. !!



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