A Raabta with India

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Zhang, Qiu-Jue 张秋珏
The Institute of Anthropology, National Tsinghua University, Taiwan

I am Qiu-Jue from Shanghai, China. (It is Q-I-U, not Q-U-I, [twinkle]). I study in Taiwan for my Master’s degree in Anthropology and conduct my research on transgender people. It may be a little bit strange for a student with social science background to choose an engineering college for exchange.

Many reasons motivated me to come to IIT Bombay. One tiny but important reason is for the beautiful school badge and the cheering motto. “gyanam paramam dhyeyam (Knowledge is the Supreme Goal)” which is also the first long Hindi sentence I learnt from my Hindi class.

Live the Way of Knowledge

During my four-month’s stay in IITB, every day is a fresh start to learn something new, explore more and challenge myself. It is really a great time here to wholeheartedly pursue for knowledge and value, like a life journey from awakening to awareness.

At the beginning, I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t understand too much about my courses. Terms like “Ambedkar”, “Manu”, “Dalit Feminism”, “BJP”, “Varna” “Brahma”, “Uttar Pradesh” and so on are like the Morse code which were so difficult that they were gonna swallow up me.

Luckily many IITians are nice and friendly in explaining to me and answering some other of my curious or funny questions with a lot of patience. For example, “why ‘police station’ is mentioned in the audio broadcasting in each local train stop? Is Mumbai a city which strongly appeals citizens to strengthen self-protection awareness?” My friend burst into laughter, “It is a Marathi word पुढे (Puḍhē), means next (station) “.

“What is the meaning of eating with hands in Indian culture?” ” Well, eating is a spiritual act where all five senses work, people would become more conscious of the tastes, textures and smells of the foods.” I was inexpressibly astonished with a “wow” about the wisdom of this food eating habit. Eating with hands in today’s western society could sometimes be perceived as being unhygienic and primitive. But such a small eating behavior filled with Indian Vedic philosophy led me do rethink many constructed concepts, such as what is so-called “hygiene”, “modern” and “civilization “.

Finally, those hard terms became the key words for me to learn about the Indian society and opened a new door for me to see this globalized world beyond western-oriented perspectives.


Skipping Out of the Social Science Fishbowl

This is a rapidly progressive world where disciplinary boundaries have gradually been broken down. Science and technology deeply affect human life. That people click selfies with a smart phone for a beautiful display picture as a self-identity, being immersed into a social media with a different self, taking sex reassignment surgery and converting into another gender category are simple instances of how we human beings live with technology. So one significant step in my life is to go to an engineering college and embrace an unknown world which is not only a technological world but also a new approach to know how the world operates.

At the usual time, I like going to visit some technology exhibitions to gain some general knowledge about science and technology. The Waste Management Tour in October was one of the amazing experiences for me to know the waste management technologies in IITB campus.

What’s more, a great number of engineering students I made friends with are not just science nerds. They are humble and live in mind in pursuing a meaningful life by taking different social activities. Some are the members of APPSC (Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle), advocating humanism on one hand and exposing social bigotry and injustice in protests like “stands with BHU girls” on the other. Some are active in the LGBT group Saathi, fighting for the gender equality and diversity, some are fond of the Hindi Literature, sharing the beautiful Hindi poetry and conducting Hindi classes. One of my good friends, with a civil engineering background, makes her contributions into the rural developments of India despite the tough conditions. Also she explained to me in an interesting way about the differences among various branches of engineering which I seldom concerned myself with in the past. Many of them are very adorable, especially when they are trying to learn to pronounce my Chinese name. Skipping out of the social science fishbowl is a step for me to understand different thoughts and to get rid of the limits.


Capture and Cherish Moments of Pure Joy

“Let your arms be wide open, to every moment you meet. May every moment gift you a new sight to greet. “ One lesson that India gave me is to enjoy the moment, to stay ALIVE.

From the morning dew drop on a leaf on my way to Yoga practice at a new day’s start, to the cool wind blowing through my hair before the thunder shower’s when I rushed back in the end of the day. From the fallen leaves from Albizia trees waiting for the breeze to take them from one location to the other on the ground for a new journey in life, to my staring at each dedicated piece of artistic installation at the art gallery-esque hallways at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, waiting for my next travel from one state to the other in India.

Those moments are of love and loss that “open a new window to our understanding of self-preservation and remembrance” and capture the scenes of pure joy.
Happiness is so simple, it just happened in the moment when a gentle Muslim teenager girl said hi to me, smiled at me and gave me a piece of fresh tamarind in my trip at the Seven Tombs of Qutub Shah in Hyderabad.

What is most chilled is that every Indian seems to have a sensitive sense of colors. The colorful scarves wrapped on the head of two Indian construction workers enlightened the smelly, dim and depressed room which they are going to paint, removed my fretfulness when standing in the noisy streets with dust and pollution.


The Beautiful and The Dammed in India

Every moment in Mumbai is chaotic but CHARMING to me, paradoxically including the dirtiness and artistic beauty, the helplessness and people’s hope & desires toward the cosmopolitan city, the ‘orderlessness’ and contract spirits behind Mumbaikars’ mind. One moment I got annoyed with one auto driver who cheated you as a foreigner and the next moment the other tuk tuk driver asked you to wait for him in order to give you a 2 rupees’ change.

One moment you felt it was dammed but the next moment it may be wonderful and even funny. Once I sprained my ankle severely because of the SHITY road, in order to avoid the dirty place. I emphasize the ” SHITY” word is because the painful feeling made me cry. Students and auto drivers nearby asked “do you need help” when I was sitting on the road. I also can’t imagine how earnest the staff of the mess helped me to look for and chisel the ice which I need to ice my injury foot. Different Indian friends warm-heartedly kept me accompany to the IITB hospital. The nurse arranged me an ambulance to take me back. Even as an exchange student, I wasam provided free medical care(OPD), which let me feel I wasam a part of the IIT community.

Being exposed to an exotic culture, I felt depressed about both the culture and language barriers I met. But meanwhile I also mademake efforts to be cheerful to face and to adapt.

In Hindi, people say RAABTA for inexplicable connection with another soul. My soul feels reborn when I have a raabta with India. The raabta’s are based upon knowledge that takes me further, as the Indian philosopher and statesman Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan said “It enters into our being, colors our emotion, haunts our soul, and is as close to us as life itself.”

I had been in India for a month’s travelling by myself in 2016, and I CAME BACK as a one-year exchange student in IIT Bombay in 2017.
I have a raabta with India. It is a grand passage to India, a spiritual moment in India, a smile to the world and a path to my future.

You can find Qiujue chronicling her cultural experience in India here .