Her Name Was Jyoti Singh Pandey.

Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey.

It’s an image and sentence that has been circulating Facebook and other social media, stemming from the recent decision by the Indian government to ban the media from publishing “Damini’s” real name.

Damini.  Lightning.  Although this nickname originally stems from the 1993 film of this name in which the heroine witnesses a rape of a servant woman and fights for her justice, the name was appropriate for Delhi rape victim for a different reason as well.  Her experience has wreaked a complete storm across India and the rest of the world, quickly and sharply.  The news has shaken people out of the growing indifference to these crimes, like a lightning storm itself, so that people sat up straight, horror growing in their minds.  It has unearthed a basic, deeply-rooted sympathy stemming from somewhere deep inside the human conscience, which is often buried underneath other concerns of life, business, family, and success.  The problem is if, like lightning, this awakening leaves as quickly as it came.  The inherent indignation and anger boiling blood should not simply flash and then go away, leaving the same calmness, the same cool indifference.

The status quo is wrong, but people already know that.  It’s not a lack of knowledge that plagues us; it’s a lack of memory.  An incident brings back these memories and with them the same seething horror, but then like a wave the incident recedes somewhere far back in our minds.  Then the same fear in every girl’s mind as she walks on a lonely street, the same blame on a girl’s “provocative” clothing or makeup return– not from ignorance but from forgetfulness.  But we can’t forget.

It is so easy to let our daily lives take over us and block these tragedies by pushing them into the past.  It’s not that we don’t care about the issues or that we explicitly condone them, but when tragedies are not happening, they are easier to unconsciously brush aside.  Not only for this rape, but also for the unforgivable number of shootings this country as witnessed in the past year, embassy attacks like the one in Benghazi, and natural disasters, it seems that only the magnitude and frequency of these events create any action.  Only after all the shootings we experienced last year did a real momentum for gun control legislation emerge in Washington.  Only after the suffering following Hurricane Katrina did the proactive nature of the national government toward natural disasters become so important.  The bottom line remains the same: the pervasive nature of problems in our society does not preclude us from having a consistent concern for them.  Rape in this world is not a problem only when one of the cases comes to the forefront of our society; it’s a problem every day, everywhere, for more people than we may every know.  We owe it to them and ourselves to remember that.

“Damini” may exemplify the spirit of the girl who fought until the very end, but for what we should take away from this incident, her real name is more important: Jyoti.  “Jyoti” is not lightning, but light.  A light of constancy, of awareness, of unwavering remembrance.

Jyoti.  Light.  Pure, awakened, eternal.

MIT De-Techified: From Stress to Passion

Silence.  Profound, real and enveloping.  Legs crossed on the floor, hands tightly folded in my lap.  I glance to my left to my friend–ready? I look ahead to the idol of the Goddess Saraswathi, holding her veena.  Taking a deep breath together, we sing.  

This semester, I finally understood what it means to truly love and hate something at the exact same time.  I finally experienced the feeling of wanting to stay in a place forever and simultaneously wishing that I could escape and never ever return.  MIT–the quintessential paradox.

Now that it’s over, it’s hard to relive or even re-describe the sense of drowning in tasks, expectations, and circumstances beyond my control.  It’s not even a need for control; it’s the experience of feeling as though literally anything could happen.  In the past, I have always been pretty good at overestimating difficulty.  I have found old journal entries before I entered high school in which I have elaborately described all of my worries in a sort of girlish anxiety.  And although there was indeed a steep curve between middle school and high school, my high expectations eliminated any sort of shock factor.  Same goes for senior year of high school to freshman year of college.  But going into my sophomore year, suddenly the same course load with the same extra-curricular activities became ten times more unmanageable.  I cut back on some of the things I enjoyed, like dancing and singing.  I slowly began to lose control.  My life directed me, instead of the other way around.

Every year, in October, a Hindu religious festival, called Navarathri, occurs over the span of nine days.  The festival is dedicated to the divine power of women, which takes the form of several different goddesses.  Traditionally speaking, the festival manifests itself in South India through daily get-togethers in neighbors’ households where the women will offer prayers to the goddesses, sing devotional songs, and eat delicious food.  When I was at home, this meant going to nearly 20-30 houses in the span of a weekend, finding a song to sing at each person’s house, and plenty of homework in the car.  At MIT, though, suddenly, I was in a position to wonder what exactly I wanted to do.  Considering that at home the hassle of going to everyone’s houses usually put me in a pretty stressful mood, my first instinct was to continue what I had been doing– in other words, study, hang out with friends, etc.  Nor have I ever been an extremely religious person.  Spiritual, yes.  I believe deeply in the value of looking into myself, and that there is a transcendent quality to the soul, which perhaps links itself to some cosmic, divine power.  As to the specific ceremonies, the actions that make up an organized religion, I should do what makes me feel good and what my upbringing suggests is good for me.

Normalcy pervaded the first day of the festival.  Usual classes, usual dining hall, usual homework.  By the evening, though, I itched with restlessness.  Maybe I should do something special, one part of me thought.  But I have work to do, another part of me thought.  I looked on the top shelf of my desk.  There stood a beautifully carved idol of the Goddess Saraswathi, the goddess of music and knowledge.  I distinctly remembered the tears glistening in my grandmother’s eyes as she gave it to me after I sang for her– in a choked voice, she told me the gift was the most appropriate for a girl in whose voice sits Saraswathi herself.  Granted, she’s severely biased, but the affection with which the idol was given to me compelled me to take it with me to college.  As I looked up at the idol, I realized that I didn’t want to sit at my desk.  I didn’t want to stare at my computer screen.  I grabbed my phone and called my friend to ask if she wanted to join me.

Half an hour later, both of us sat in front of the idol.  As I sat with my hands folded and opened my mouth to sing, with my eyes closed, there was a moment which I think occurs very rarely–a moment of understanding, or realization, of the significance of an experience– a moment which usually comes only in later reflections.

It was the first time in a while that I had done something from my past completely and utterly for myself, because I wanted to.  For nearly a year, I had stopped studying Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music, which I had learned since the age of five.  I had let everything else, everyone else, tell me what was important.   Even now, I wasn’t even singing a particularly challenging song– it was a simple devotional prayer.

At that very moment I didn’t understand.  It took another few months, winter break away from campus, to realize that what I had done in those nine days was take charge of my life in a very small way.  This carving away of time forms a passion to be created, nurtured, and achieved.

It is possible.  If I truly want to pursue something, I can and will.  Time will be on my side.  Wait and watch.