The morality of utilising my privilege had always been something that I stood for. The societal effort of vesting its prime resources in educating and inculcating a better citizen directly implied a moral imperative to utilise the bestowed tools for the betterment of society itself. This is probably what drove me towards attempting to become a bureaucrat and in the alternate, a lawyer. However, a perennial issue, which I am sure every passionate student faces, was differentiating between a razor-sharp, methodical approach towards the examination, looking at it as an end or rather deriving the true sense of learning from the process, treating it as a means to the broader end. While grappling with this, I happened to read In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri.
The book, not only was written by one of my favourite authors, but was also path breaking in what it did. Let me put it this way – If I told you that a second-generation Indian immigrant in the United States, who had an affinity for the Italian language and is an accomplished author in English, decided to shift to Italy to learn the language and pen down her original thoughts about the process of learning the language in the language itself, there is no way you would not read that book! Indeed, the more unique the experience, the more enriching the memoir for the same turns out to be.
While the book is a mere 250 odd pages in a relatively standard print size, it took me weeks to finish the book, simply because of how magical it was. It was full of beautiful anecdotes centred around the experience of discovering a new language, and through it, understanding the centrality of the spoken and written word in the very nature of a culture itself. Further, it dwelled extensively on the joy derived from completely immersing yourself in a process, and assimilating its effects to fully effectuate the true meaning of the process. To say the book was transformational, is an understatement. It inspired me to stop chasing the outcome as merely a goal to be achieved but rather made pause and grasp the breeze of the method itself, and life as well. I started looking at books, and cinema, and literature, and art, and everything else, in a more holistic, centred manner. I think some of the best lines from the book sums it up the best – “What does a word mean? And a life? In the end, it seems to me, the same thing. Just as a word can have many dimensions, many nuances, great complexity, so, too, can a person, a life.”
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Cross-Posted at The Standing Coin