At the Junctures

Yumi Shimizu
OCHANOMIZU UNIVERSITY, TOKYO, JAPAN

Although Iwaki city is a small town, Iwaki City Library is a clean and modern facility. Numerous fascinating books fill two floors of the commercial building in front of Iwaki Station. When I was a high school student, I usually went to the city library twice a month to read novels. I really loved reading, and any novel would make me happy. One day, however, I found myself standing in front of the bookshelves for law books. I skimmed several puzzling books for minutes and finally found the book that I was looking for. I wanted to learn how to legally change my family name.

When I was a high school student, I thought justice and fairness were the most important things for humans. I thought that human beings can be the strongest when they are clean and just. While seeking the way to be a righteous human being, I thought that all I needed to do was show myself truthfully. As soon as I got this idea, I went to the city library because I decided that I needed to know how to get back my real name.

My parents arrived in Japan more than 20 years ago from their home country, South Korea. They came to Japan to get a better life. My father studied hard in Kyoto University graduate school, and my mother supported him. They were poor, but they had extreme youthful enthusiasm. Later on, my father got a job in a Japanese company and they started living in Japan permanently. When my sister entered preschool, my parents changed our family name, and we became naturalized Japanese citizens in 2001.

By having a normal Japanese name and Japanese nationality, I did not feel any different from the other children. On my first day of preschool, my mother, looking at me meanfully told me to be proud of being a Korean. At preschool, I was a normal kid. I enjoyed playing with the other kids every day. At that time, I understood neither the meaning nor the reason for her words.

At that time, being a Korean became a greater advantage than a disadvantage for me. I was a “special international person” in the small countryside town of Iwaki. I got several prizes when I wrote essays about my unique experiences as a Korean living in Japan. But sometimes classmates or neighbors laughed and taunted me saying, “Koreans eat bugs” or “Koreans smell bad because they eat kimchee.” At the same time, some Korean kids in Korea hated me because I was from Japan.

However, these adverse circumstances helped me become all the more special. Since I ate neither bugs nor kimchee, these words did not humiliate me at all. I was even as proud of myself as Sara Crewe was in A Little Princess by undergoing a “great” hardship. Having this unique advantage, I gradually became an outstanding student. I always got good grades at school, I played the piano in the music festival, I sang in the school chorus, I swam as a representative student, and I continuously got prizes for essays and drawing. Then I became superior not only because of my background, but also because of my achievements.

After I entered high school, searching the way to get back my real family name became my challenge as Sara Crewe. I believed it was another hardship that I had to overcome. I read several law-related books and found out that changing a family name is not a simple thing. It is a complicated process to accomplish and so I soon gave up. The important thing was, I thought, being special by taking some action that normal high school students in Japan would not do. However, at that time, I did not realize that I was the frog in the well that does not know the ocean.

Eventually I forgot about changing my name. I studied as hard as the other students, because the time for university entrance examination came. I wanted to be a lawyer and so I prepared to enter a law university. However, entering any law department in Japan is not easy. To be honest, my grades were not high enough to enter a public school’s law department. At that point, my high school homeroom teacher suggested that I submit an essay for an Admissions Office (AO) entrance examination. Since everyone is able to challenge the AO entrance examination, there was a possibility even for me. I jumped to get the chance and started writing the application form. At first, I just wrote about my passion to be a lawyer. However, the teacher who checked my application suggested that I write about my background instead. He said that such a unique background could be a big advantage for me. Since I knew this very well from my past experiences, I rewrote my application. Again, I wrote about how I overcame my hardship of being a Korean living in Japan. I also wrote about how strongly I want to help Korean people living in Japan by becoming a lawyer. The essay looked great to me.

After submitting my application for the AO test, I began to prepare for the interview which comes after the paper examinations. I needed to know more about Koreans and Japanese to answer the examiners’ possible questions about my motives. I started researching about law cases related to Koreans in Japan on the Internet. I surfed several sites, and I found some words. The more I surfed, the more I found. I could not believe my own eyes, and I felt like I sank into a bottomless swamp of hatred. There were a lot of words from Japanese people toward Koreans that I had never heard before. It seems they hate, despise, and loathe Koreans from the bottom of their hearts. I began to feel that I should not read them, but I could not stop myself from scrolling the screen. I clicked one link after another. Some people said that they would print any anti-Koreans handouts for free. Others said Koreans were planning to take over the Japanese government. I even learned that there were published comic books about why Koreans are hateful for Japanese people. My brain became numb as I read them. I finally shut down the computer after several hours. I did not want to think about anything.

Several days later, I checked the result of my AO examination, and I found out that I had failed the written examination. I thought that my score must have been not high enough. But, at the same time, I could not help but think that my background as a Korean could be the reason why I failed. I wondered if it was possible, because I now knew that there were numerous people in Japan who hate Koreans just for being Korean. I could not think properly, and many images came and went in my mind’s eye. My memory laughed and taunted me saying, “Koreans eat bugs” or “Koreans smell bad because they eat kimchee.” I became afraid of Japanese people and I was afraid of being a Korean.

At that time, I finally understood the meaning of my mother’s words when I entered preschool: Be proud of being a Korean because there is nothing wrong with being Korean. My brain echoed her words again and again. Until that moment, I had thought that nobody could look down on me as long as I was a good girl. I learned that I am too small to change the world. Some people would judge me as a “Korean” before knowing how good I am at studying, at swimming, and at playing the piano. And I learned that such people might also be in Iwaki, my hometown.

I stopped doing anything and I just slept all day long. I put on my school uniform in the morning, but I kept on sleeping during the day. During the university examination period, we can go to school freely or not. I did not go to school, although I had already sent my applications to two other public universities. I could not think of anything and I was always sleepy. I felt like I could sleep forever. Since I did not study at all for a month, I failed the second entrance examination. I took the last examination and luckily I passed it. That was an essay exam, and I was good at writing essays. It was fortunate that the theme of the exam was “the Concept of Time” and not “Your Background.” During the previous two months I felt spiritless. I did not feel any emotion but fear. I always slept on my bed just below a window. From the window, warm sunshine wrapped me softly and I felt safest while in my room.

Shortly after that, I started thinking about how to be a part of Japanese society. I appreciated that my parents gave me Japanese nationality and a Japanese name then. I can be Japanese as long as I do not confess that I am a Korean by blood. Being Japanese was not difficult for me. It was even easier than being Korean. I know Japanese people and Japanese customs very well. I was very satisfied with this simple solution. If I am a normal Japanese, no Japanese person can hurt me. I thought that I could even confess to people that I am a Korean after I fully show them that I am a real Japanese-friendly Korean. Maybe some Japanese people would come to think that Koreans are not as bad as they thought by seeming me as an example. Thus, I began to feel that I did not have to be afraid of Japanese people and I had got a tranquil life in Japan as a university student.

However, of course, nobody can predict the future. The Tohoku Earthquake hit my hometown and Tokyo abruptly at 2:46 p.m. on March 11, 2011. What made it even worse was the disaster that occurred when the Fukushima nuclear power plants exploded. My hometown is only thirty kilometers away from that power plant. Like other foreigners, my parents wanted me and my younger brother to evacuate from Japan. This was so soon after my efforts to become a good Japanese. But now, I had to be a foreigner. I resisted my parents’ suggestion with all my power. What would Japanese people think of me if I departed Japan in this emergency? It would just testify that I am a Korean and a foreigner. I needed to remain in Japan and help my friends and my hometown. At the same time, however, I knew that my hope would force my father to keep working in Fukushima. I really respected my father from the bottom of my heart, and I did not want him to be in danger. I also understood that their suggestion was for our sakes. In front of my mother’s tearful entreaty, I could not resist anymore. I finally evacuated from Japan and I left my Japanese friends behind.

For a month, I did not do anything because I did not have anything to do. I stayed in my aunt’s home in Korea with my younger brother. I spent time playing with my little cousins. I continued checking the Japanese news every day. One day I read an article about a Korean student in Sendai. He helped Japanese people with the rescue efforts and put off his plan to return to Korea. I screamed in my heart. “It should be me!  I should be the person that all the Japanese people would appreciate!” I knew that there was nothing I could do anymore. I ran away from Japan but he stayed. For me, that was the only and miserable fact.

After a month, my parents arranged for my brother and me to go to the Philippines to study English. It is cheaper to study in the Philippines than in the US, and our older cousin lives there. By that point, I had already decided not to regret the past. Since I cannot change the past, I wanted to make my future better with all my best efforts.

In the Philippines, my brother and I lived in a dormitory for Koreans. A lot of Koreans go to the Philippines these days to study English. By having a clear purpose, which was to study as hard as possible, my mind was serene and cool. But then I realized that that was the first time for me to live with other Koreans. There were several students who disliked us because we came from Japan. One student reproached me by saying I should return Dokdo Island to them. Another student blamed me for the historical problems, including the comfort women of WWII, between Japan and Korea. Their actions were unreasonable to me, but I was cool enough to ignore them after experiencing the Tohoku Earthquake.

What also made me surprised was that some Koreans were really kind toward me. They recognized my blood and treated me as one of them. I was confused, but at the same time, I felt something warm in my mind. I discovered that I had another home country. Until then, I had believed that everything related to Korea was troublesome for me because of my also being Japanese. I did not know the good characteristics of Koreans until then. In the Philippines, I found out many things about Koreans for the first time. I learned that although Koreans are often cold to strangers, they are extremely kind to their friends. They always spent their time listening to me whenever I remembered the dreadful scenes of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant accident. They always listen to their friends if they have any problems. There was a new hope in my mind that evolved by spending time with them. I found that I do not have to cling to Japan if I cannot live well in Japan. That hope was unbelievably bright and warm for me.

In the Philippines, I got another gift for nothing. It was my new name. I could use any English name at the language school, and I chose Lily Cho. Lily was suggested to me by my respectful mother, and Cho is my Korean family name. I chose Cho not because I wanted to get back my real name this time, but because it was easier for teachers to remember than my Japanese family name, Shimizu. With this new name, I introduced myself to the people around me. It was like drawing a new picture on a brand new sheet of white paper. They know Lily Cho as they see what I do. Deception will not work on them, but at the same time they do not have any preconception about me from my background. None of the people there know about my hometown, my university, my name in Japan, or my position in Japan. They just know me by how hard I study English, by how I communicate with others, and by what I speak and write.

After a year passed, I did not persist in many things, such as legally changing my real name, dealing with people’s prejudice, or dealing with the history between Japan and Korea. Some people really liked me in the Philippines, and I learned that I could live not for every person in the world, but for the several people who love me for being me. I learned that I do not have to worry about my responsibility as a Japanese or Korean too much from one of my Filipina friends. She told me we should be busy enough to think about things in the present.

After the one year moratorium, I decided to go back to Japan. Everyone in my family, besides me, moved to Germany with their acquaintances’ help. But I wanted to retry my life in Japan. I learned that I do not have to worry about others or countries too much as long as the people in front of me are kind. I discovered that suspicion produces nothing but fear. This time, I want to live my life without fear in Japan. I want to be strong enough to accept others’ kindness without doubting it. I want to help people and I want to laugh not because I need to, but because I want to. I just want to be able to say that I love both Japan and Korea from the bottom of my heart sometime in the near future.

After the ‘Happily ever after’

Shambhavi Tripathi
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

“It’s not that I do not love you. it’s that I love you a little too much. You’re such a special person. you deserve someone who can take you to the Moon. I will bear out the pangs of separation only because I know it’s better for you in the long run.”

I am unable to mention the speaker of these lines, probably because they’ve been used so often that it’s impossible to pin down where it all began. It could’ve been Prince Charming from Cinderella once he realized that she wasn’t all rosy lips and sunshine locks. But then again, who cared about the aftermath as long as the story ended with them setting off into this overrated ‘happily ever after’?

We breed in this almost diabetic, sweet view of love, love that is untarnished, unconceited, selfless and in most cases, an end in itself. We may forget our ABC’s but who forgets that first crush that sets you pulsating and colors up your world, or when you first learn to blush, steal shy glances with him and spend endless moments comparing him to that Mills and Boon character you’ve secured in the depths of your heart? We all have that phase, when spilling your heart out in the diary scores way above filling up pages of assignments, when you start doodling hearts everywhere and honestly believe that every love song ever written defines You. It’s extraordinary how simple it is to fall in love—after all, its not called ‘falling’ for no reason. Anything that I write about the flow and beauty of love will only be a repetition, maybe even in cruder terms.

It’s true: love transforms you and makes you believe that you can overpower any catastrophe. Love has moved mountains, waged battles and sacrificed. To a hopeless romantics like myself, there is relief even in the dooms of love. But what if it is all a charade, an age-old lore that is too tantalizing to not fall prey to? In the wanton illusions of lying below the sheet of stars with clasped hands, we are deluded into thinking that there will never be a starless night.

It’s almost cruel, that subtle drift from romantic to corny, expressive to cheesy, affection to clingy, and the hardest is to stand back and watch it all fall apart. The fear of loss, the choice between holding on and letting go, the painful wait to hear that you’re not a part of someone’s story anymore. Then come the tears. That’s the funny thing about crying. It doesn’t wash away anything, but simply sets your rash tremors in motion. Rains, sunsets and dawns—elements of nature you’d befriended do everything in their power to drown you in seas of separation, hurt and rejection.

He would have you believe that it is all in a vested larger good, an ironical attempt of ‘protecting’ you from a more severe degree of pain. It’s tough to compose arguments when you see the determined look in his eyes, and hear the harshness in the voice that made your heart melt. Breakups are severely underrated; the world seems to have objectified love in stunted concepts of ‘getting over’ and ‘replacing the guy’. There seems to be no space for those who love once with everything they have to offer. Love isn’t a conquest. It’s not a tryst to intensify life. It’s sunlight, which warms you to your core. You never grow out of love, it never fades away. Over time, we just find less painful ways of keeping it at bay.

It hurts, yes. Then again, what doesn’t? For a while, the world around you might not make sense to you, may even seem unnecessary, you may not want to go to the movies or tune into your playlist and no one can tell you how long that feeling of not feeling anything would last. In some cases, a broken heart is mended and other times, it might be the only time that the heart attaches itself to anything that requires it to beat faster than it biologically does. How much love is destructive? When is your insistence at holding on mistaken for your helplessness at letting go? When do you draw the line between trying to preserve it and letting it slip away because it doesn’t want to be saved? How do you know when you no longer have the right to move someone whose gravity you once were? Truth is, there’s no degree to Love. It’s either everything or nothing at all.

Next time you spot a cheesy gesture of love, think again. It’s not important to ‘succeed’ in love. What is vital is to believe in it, to believe in a version of the world that runs on simple love. The world needs that kind of addictive love, love that is supernatural, real and dreamy, all at once. I often think if we could ever run out of love, but does it really matter? The worst way to kill love is to quantify it with the ‘happily ever after’. Look out for love and grab it, make it yours, cherish and celebrate it. In love, take a couple of chances and skip a couple of heartbeats, because the world is just a dark, lonely place without it.

My Fort with Its Moat: Why Did I Make It and Why Was It Destroyed?

Ishita Sareen
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

I am an 18 year old girl, who weighs 87 kg, precisely. I know that is big amount, I am almost obese by 25-30 kg (what knowledge I gleaned in my physical education classes). I am 5’4″, a modest height. I do not have any particular talents to brag off, I am just your ordinary teenager, but with my own custom-made body image issues.

I was born a healthy child (3.5 kg at my birth on December 16, 1994), just what my parents wanted. I was the most pampered and loved on both my parent’s sides. I was fed cans of lactogen, baby formula, and God knows what else so that I grew up to be a healthy baby. I did. I was a healthy, chubby child, always a little ahead of my classmates on the weight front.

Honestly, I did not care. I never spent my time looking in mirrors, nor do I do now. I was content with myself, at peace with the world and my Alpenlibe lollipop. But as I grew old, I realized that though I was happy with me, the world was not happy seeing me being me. No offense to all those who are thinking that this is just another teen story, but really don’t flip pages just yet.

I was 8 and at school, and that was the first time I felt ashamed of my appearance, of my weight. I remember clearly. It was mid November and the class bully was holding his conference at the far corner of the playground. I was not part of that. I always stood up for what I liked/wanted/felt was right (pick any, I don’t mind)—in this case I did not like being dominated so I did not join the conference. Later on I learnt that the resolution that had been passed was to call me ‘moti ’1 from now on. My friends left me for the bully camp and I was alone. That day I cried in the school bus. Now when all memories have grown so old and I hardly remember any good ones (just vague recollections), that one is the one that stands out, corrupting other treasured memories.

After that incident and many others just like that, I taught myself to ignore them all. That was at 10. No matter what they said, I did not rise to the bait; I kept silent. I mastered it gradually. I built a permanent red brick fort, with its own moat of crocodiles. I was proud of myself. My parents might have guessed what I was facing at school, but they left me to fight my own battles and wars and for that I was grateful because I learnt to fight and hold my own fort.

As I progressed into teenage-hood, I began to realize that the wall I had built around myself was not so permanent after all. It was showing cracks in some places. But with school, boys and lots and lots of homework, who has the time to fill up cracks? The fort turned into a ruin and I felt all those hateful memories and the new names (now improvised) boring into my memory. Like some mind-control drill.

I declined offers to sit with friends, convinced that I would be needled about my weight issue. In the school bus when we had to squeeze together, I would get up from my seat and give it to another. Many thought this act was good-breeding but it really was so that no one could get any opportunity to say that I blocked too much space. I started hating my school uniform, as I looked fat in it. I never looked at myself I the mirror in the morning because I was afraid that I might break down. Many whistles from street loafers followed me in the streets. I was getting out of control inside, getting paranoid. Convinced that everyone was looking at me, commenting about my ever increasing weight. And I could do nothing to stop it, nothing to fight. I went on walks, consulted dieticians and did a lot of exercise, but nothing budged those muscles. I was depressed so I ate even more. And that got me to my present 87 kg.

I thought or hallucinated that I was fighting the battles and winning some of them, but by some treachery on the account of my brain, my crocs were dead. I was not immune to those leers and taunts after all. I am not proud of the fact, but I just curled up under my sheets for a few days and cried. I thought and cried some more. But eventually the crying stopped the raging at the world, the leers and the whistles going through my brain too. It’s a terrifying feeling you get when everything just stops, you wonder if it ever was there, will it return, what happened to it? This was when I was 14.

I started work on a new wall this time with super strong cement, working out the points where I had been weak before. I was shy ever since I can remember but now I was an introvert too. As I grew I learned that my weight was not THE problem. The taunts, and the leers continued, but I realized that they were less a problem when I grew older, more mature. Now people were beginning to understand me, they were trying not to judge me by how I looked and I was grateful for that. They took the trouble to find out about the real me, that me who was hiding under the cemented grey brick walls. I made real friends, who stood alongside me when I needed them. The ‘friend in need is a friend indeed’ type.

And that made me realize something else too. (Other than admitting I had a problem which needed exercise to get over, which I am doing faithfully). You can decide whether its wisdom or not.

I realized that  we all are insecure. All these insecurities make a great part of who we are. Some people let those insecurities commandeer their life. Like I did, they made forts and moats and also kept crocs and jelly fish. Sigh. Some others pay no attention to them but give all their time towards scouring their real talents, their natural ones, honing them to perfection so that the insecurities look puny. Yet others find a way round them, the middle path, they spend time on their insecurities and nurture their talents too. I call these the all rounders. I haven’t decided yet to which category I belong to, but I think I just might bet on the last one.

The bullies in my life who called me all the names and the mean things had insecurities. We live in a world that includes people venting out their anger, emotions, feelings etc. at others—catharsis, they call it. And we need to do that, Why? To feel important, self-satisfied, proud, loved, arrogant, valued, safe, satisfied, confident…. In this process even if we end up saying some mean things or some people end up listening to that mean talk, it’s no reason to make a wall, or bury yourself in deep, or do anything that might make yourself feel ashamed. Because you are what you are. All the songs say it, celebs say it, our shrinks say it, the society also seems to say it—it is we who refuse to believe it. And trust me you only believe it when you are faced with no other option than to believe. You always have the power to believe but you also have the power to choose what you believe, and the impossibility of a situation becomes the catalyst of your decision.

As I learned it the slightly hard way, some mean things cannot change who you are even though you might try it. Some other souls come along and dig you up from your self-dug grave. And to me those are my angels. Sort off. Bit dramatic, huh?

Those people, the mean characters in my life had a great role to play. They eventually bought me closer to the path, at the end of which came Deduction Number 1 —  that I had a problem, and Deduction Number 1a — which needed some solutions and fast, which led to my slimming-down-by-the-earliest scheme of tasks, including a lot of exercise. I was never comfortable in my own skin. Big surprise! Every teenager says that, I guess (except the ones with no acne and perfect swimsuit bodies, if there are any). But now I am very near to it. Bet you no ‘teenager’ says that. Deduction Number 2 — there might be room for constant improvement, but that improvement should not be based on the whims and fancies of others.

I am again at peace with my world, have dreams, go party sometimes, read books still. But there is no archaic fort now. There’s a valley full of long grass that beckons me to move on and love myself even more. I have started loving myself for who I am (and believe me life has taken a turn for good), have you?

  1 Derogatory Hindi term for “fatty”

English and I

Saki Suemori
OCHANOMIZU UNIVERSITY, TOKYO, JAPAN

When I think about myself, how I have been formed, I always assume English is an inevitable thing for my life. I have learned tremendous things by studying English and I encountered many people. Studying English absolutely opened a new world for me and it made me open my views. In this essay I would like to illustrate the relationship between English and I.

I started studying English when I was a junior high school student. I entered one private junior high school and the curriculum there emphasized English. Because of this, I had many English classes compared to students in other schools and I had English lessons by a native speaker at least once a week. I did not have any clear purpose, but I was really interested in studying English at that time. I just wanted to progress in English skills more and more. So I studied English hard everyday. I used any materials for study at that time. I subscribed to a weekly English newspaper and read every article, even though I did not understand the content very well. I also listened to national public radio almost every day though I did not understand it at all.

As I was really absorbed in English, I decided to major in English in the university. I just wanted to continue studying English and improve my English skills. After I entered the university, there were many chances for studying English. When I was a freshman, I participated in studying abroad program in New Zealand. I studied English for six weeks there. Thanks to this experience, I was really motivated for studying English compared to before. In addition, energetic and powerful people there gave me energy and I became more positive.

After I came back to Japan, I studied English harder and harder. I was interested in studying somewhere as an exchange student and I studied hard to have an opportunity for exchange studies. Fortunately, when I was a junior, I got an opportunity to study in Finland as an exchange student. Finland is not an English-speaking country, but I wanted to know how English was taught there. I was also interested in the attitude Finnish people have toward English.

Studying in Finland was very interesting and I experienced a lot of things. Summer is only for two months and during that time, the sun shines until late at night. On the other hand, in winter, there is hardly any sunshine for a few months. People there are strong enough to overcome harsh winter and they cherish nature very much. I felt that nature is in the center of Finnish people’s lives.

Finnish people speak good English. So, I did not have any difficulties communicating with them even though I did not understand Finnish very well. In the university, some classes are available in English as well. Surprisingly, all classes in the English philology department, (the department in which I studied), were available in English. Most professors and students are Finnish but they teach and discuss in English.

Staying in this kind of small country taught me crucial things for my life. Beautiful lakes there indicated to me how important it is to be myself. Lakes are everywhere in Finland and I often went to see them when I had some hardships. Watching the surface of beautiful lakes made me calm down and they gave me energy to move forward. Walking around lakes was one of the most crucial activities for me. In addition, I also learned the importance of having a strong will. I always had difficulties with classes in the university and it was challenging for me to study together with Finnish students there. Their English competency is very high and I always compared myself with them. One day, I asked one professor some questions about English pronunciation. As I did not have confidence about pronunciation, I asked him how I should practice. He answered my question and he also told me the saying ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ He said that I can improve my pronunciation because I have a will. This phrase encouraged me a lot and I practiced harder and harder. This saying still helps me when I have some problems.

English is just one language, but it is crucial for me. Studying English is a tool to spread my view. I encountered many people and learned many things with English. I visited New Zealand because I wanted to improve my English skills and I experienced a lot in Finland because I could communicate in English. Studying English helps me to grow as a person; it is more than just learning a language. I have been studying English for 10 years so far and I am still studying it. Studying English is a way to experience many things and I believe it will help me to find a way to contribute to society. I would like to continue studying English so that I am able to give something back.

Self-Portraiture

Shomira Sanyal
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

A sleepy and laid-back town is an unlikely place to nurture aspirations of academic excellence. Barring the conventional pan-India phenomena of students aspiring to join the IITs1, leaving the place to pursue a course in ‘Arts’ still remains unimaginable. At the precise year of my passing class X, no CBSE2 school in my hometown (except the far flung Kendriya Vidyalayas3 ) offered Arts as an option at the +2 level. Dreaming of joining Delhi University two years later and more so the reputed Lady Shri Ram College for Women?? Well-nigh impossible!

Compromising a shift to the ISC4 board over incurring expenditure to leave the city to study elsewhere at that juncture was the only choice. It did not help that the new school was small—only two students had opted for the Arts stream and that faculty was part time. Dreams of moving, fading or a resolve strengthened were daily dilemmas. A new board, new syllabus, different approach to studying and answering examinations, were certainly daunting. “Will I, won’t I?” dodged me each day. Friends and peers grappled with their routines of tuition classes and entrance examination preparations, leaving no time to share, discuss and reassure. But surely, even at that stage, I was unwilling to give up my dream. Not quite yet. Perhaps no one else, I believe, scrutinized the LSR5 website so frequently! The college, its activities, the agonizingly high cut-off percentages of the previous year…I believed deep down, I could. I was willing to walk the extra mile, self study and reach the place I saw as an opportunity to widen my horizon.

Almost at the end of my first year in college today, I realize it was well worth the effort. Attending seminars, participating in a myriad of activities, often spoilt for choice and regrets for over-lapping events…I have grown as an individual. For the first time, I am experiencing ‘education’ and not merely literacy. A note of all the programs I have attended in my diary, be it the department, Voluntary Agency Placement Program, Women’s Development Cell or the film society screenings, is a constant reminder of what I have gained. I am unwilling to trade this for anything else! A random quote I chanced upon on Facebook, probably summarizes it best for me, “A year ago, I would’ve never pictured my life the way it is now!”

1 Indian Institute of Technology
2 Central Board of Secondary Education
3 Central Government schools
4 Indian School Certificate Exams
5 Acronym for Lady Shri Ram College

Five Days in Arashkol

Yasmin Osman
AHFAD UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN, OMDURMAN, SUDAN

At Ahfad University for Women we have an annual trip to a rural area, where a portion of the students go and spread awareness on various things related to the year’s motto. This year the motto was ‘Together for the health of the rural woman’, and it was my turn to go on the trip.

To say that I was apprehensive would be a large understatement. I didn’t know who I was going with. Will my team be a cohesive unit? Will we get along? Or will we end up poking each other’s eyes out by the end of the week? I didn’t know where I was going either.  When the Dean told me I was going to Arashkol, I heard something along the lines of ‘adas’ (which is “lentils” in Arabic), so when I tried to ask my father about the area or look it up in the atlas or online, naturally I came up with nothing. That left me in a state of near panic, thinking “Oh my God!!! Not only are we going to a rural area, we are going so far off the beaten track that even my Dad hasn’t heard of this place before!!!”

It wasn’t until the actual day of the trip that I figured out what the proper name of the place was. Apart from the police stops every so often, the ride was uneventful. I spent quite a bit of the five and a half hours in a state of stupor, hovering somewhere between sleep and consciousness. It turns out Arashkol was as far off the beaten track as I thought it was.

We were a rather large group of 17 girls and our supervisor and we were housed by the Sheikh in his mother’s house. At first different members of the group did not know each other, so they kept to themselves, forming little cliques within the group, but as our work forced us to come together, we started to get to know each other. As with any large group, there were a few who stood out. There was the unofficial leader, the group joker, the mother hen of the group, the quiet one, the lazy one, the crazy one, the trouble maker, etc. I have never lived with so many girls before in my life, and while it was an experience, it is not one I would want repeat any time in the near future. A girl needs to have her recovery time.

The people of Arashkol were simple but hospitable; there wasn’t a door that was closed to us. The Sheikh in particular was a warm and gracious host. He exuded a calm, soothing aura that put people at ease, something I have learnt to associate with deeply religious people. As we met various groups of citizens, we got to know a very different way of life, a life that could have been ours if we were born to other families. I’m not going to get into the tedious details of life in Arashkol—suffice to say that the village fit the stereotypical Sudanese village. To be honest, where we were staying, while life wasn’t hard, the people we met made us realise how wonderful we have everything back home.

The people were not completely ignorant on the subjects we were going to deliver, but a startlingly large number knew of the dangers of some of their practices and still continued to perform them. For example, female genital mutilation was a widespread practice and by far the most common problem they had, and although they practically recited the dangers of that particular practice back to us, the people still continue to do it.

Though I have only just come back from Arashkol, I must say that my memory is a hazy blur of images. (I confess that is at least partially due to what I think are the early stages of Alzheimer’s.) But there are parts that stand out clear, like once when I looked around one of the halls before our presentation and saw all of the girls interacting with the village women, or when I was lying under the stars, despite the cold that was making my toes numb, discussing the purpose of life with my best friend, or just sitting in silence next to a friend on the banks of the White Nile absorbing the beauty of our Nile.

I could go into detail about exactly what we talked about there, and what we found out about the place, but to be honest what I believe I benefited most from this trip was the importance of group work, and how working in a cohesive unit was imperative. I learnt that everybody is a capable individual in her own right, and that in order to be able to coordinate plans successfully, one must utilize everybody’s strengths and play to them. People, if given a chance, will step up to the plate magnificently. I also learnt that even the best laid plans can go awry, and while a control freak like me might find that hard to deal with, it is best to have plans B and C prepared as well as being ready to improvise.

Arashkol, a land whose name comes from the ancient Nubian words meaning “land of the king’s throne”, was a place where I renewed the pledge to strive for change in my country, and reaffirmed my faith in the soul of the Sudanese people. It is places like that which remind me why I entered Rural Extension, Education and Development in the first place, places which are tied so intrinsically to their roots but still striving to develop, without losing their identity or that which makes them unique. I made friendships that I am certain will last, and renewed bonds that were beginning to fade. I believe I benefitted as much from this trip as we hope the people benefitted from us.

Freedom Without Fear

Arunima Nair
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

What is fear?

It is the unpleasant, raw, and primal emotion that engulfs us when we are stuck in an unlit alley with a dead phone. Or when we hear of the bomb-blast at that street you’d just shopped at. Or when we watch the first few moments of Hannibal Lecter’s screen time. It is pinned to a person, a place, or a situation, that can be comfortably and prudently avoided in the pursuit of a normal life.

What if the situation covers an entire city?

Living in Delhi involves a peculiar sort of neurosis. It drives one to dive, skirt, and flit across the canopy of (male) arms and legs to reach the women’s cabin in the metro. It is evident in the involuntary surfeit of panic that rises like bile when a motorcycle swerves too close…only to veer and speed away with a gust that ripples your dress. The streets of Delhi are a fun house of mirrors, where you look up and find grotesque, distorted versions of you reflected in the public gaze.

What happens when the line between fear and prudence begin to blur?

We build up an arsenal of behavioral patterns to deal with the insidious assault: wear tights under our skirts, travel only to the prescribed list of “safe” neighborhoods, allow ourselves to be picked up by the chauffeur or our parents whenever possible. What happens when these measures—no autos after eight, no programs beyond nine, carry all defense equipment short of actual firearms—stop becoming frustrating indicators of a larger malaise and solidify into rigid, unquestioned habit? The most pernicious aspect of this fear is precisely how internalized it has become, so much so that the irrational terror that seizes one when a man brushes past doesn’t even merit a second thought, forget a discussion. Our entire schedules and aspirations are molded by this deceptive fear, a fear that, in the words of Aung San Suu Kyi ,1  “masquerades as common sense or even wisdom”. We are reduced to a state of perpetual caution, sustained by a collective amnesia that suppresses any thought of how ridiculous this existence is.

This kind of “diffusive anxiety” fractures our relationships with people outside of formal institutions, coloring them with eternal suspicion. We assume a Hobbesian, misanthropic approach towards the sea of humanity, constantly buffeted by a frenzied sense of self-preservation that distrusts the city and its inhabitants. The deeper psychological repercussions are beyond our comprehension.

Living in Delhi, we recognize that none of us is alienated from the specter of violence: we have been groped in a line or whistled at in a rickshaw, we know of a friend who had a stalker or fought off molestation from someone familiar. Living in Delhi, there comes a stage when we realize that one cruel stroke of misfortune can slice through our cocoon of precaution in the matter of seconds. December 16, 2012 was a watershed moment in our association with the city, not because we were compelled to burrow further into our dens, but because we grasped the fundamental truth that beyond a point, we cannot control what happens to us on the streets and markets of Delhi. We chose, then, to discard the straitjacketing edicts of fear. We chose to travel in buses, use the subways, and occupy the wide avenues of the city. Our actions loudly and insistently maintained that the safety of women is the responsibility of the government, its mechanisms, and the civic society that enables it.

In such a movement, an environment like Lady Shri Ram is invaluable. It becomes an oasis where the dupattas come off and raw anger bursts forth from the pressure of constant vigilance. It is a space where we entertain the incredible idea that our right to unrestricted mobility and expression is what the state and society must uphold, respect, and protect. We mobilize ourselves around the apparatus of privilege, using it as a mode to board the bus rather than call for the car, as a means to take risk instead of avoiding it. Our privilege empowers us; it also reminds us of the legions of women in India who do not have the privilege, thus reinforcing the urgency of a combined female presence in the public sphere. Societal wisdom deems us reckless. We see it as necessary and long overdue steps to recoup the city from a male prerogative.

In the protests that burgeoned at the heart of the capital, there was a particularly outstanding and influential speech made by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Alliance (AIPWA). She called out the dismal rate of conviction in rape cases, the patriarchal policing of women under the guise of “safety”, and the endemic practice of victim blaming and shaming that are endorsed by elected politicians and biased judiciary. She asserted the freedom of women to dress as they like, to walk outside at what time they like, for whatever reason they like, making a potent demand for bekhauf azaadi ,2 or the right to freedom without fear.

Freedom without fear. This is what we’re fighting for, an inch at a time.

1  Burmese freedom fighter, Nobel Laureate, and alumnus of Lady Shri Ram College.
2  Urdu for freedom (azaadi) without fear (bekhauf)

The Little Things

Sonali Misra
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

This dialogue was given as a topic in the Inter College Creative Writing Competition conducted by Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi in 2012. Sonali Misra placed first with this piece.

The Passenger noticed her as soon as she stepped on to the bus. A first timer, for sure— he could tell by the way she clutched her bag close to her body and kept her eyes frozen to the ground. As she paid the conductor for the ticket, she moved towards the back of the bus to where he stood. He knew this was his opportunity. He strode ahead and slightly grazed her arm with his hand as he passed her. He couldn’t contain the smirk that appeared on his face nor could he stop it from spreading into a grin as he saw her wince.


The Security Guard saw her approach him from the corner of his eye. Being much too engrossed in his newspaper, he didn’t turn to face her until he heard an “Excuse me, bhaiya1. She was lost, she said. His eyes shifted from her moving lips to her breasts. He heard her pause, and he looked back up at her face as she shifted her weight nervously from one foot to the other. She was waiting for an answer. He told her he didn’t know but pointed her towards a vague direction. As she thanked him and turned away, he couldn’t help but glance at her swaying back before he shifted his attention, once again, to the screaming headlines of the day.


The Neighbour heard her exclaim, “Please, stop!”, and he slid his hand in between the closing doors of the lift. She thanked him and entered the small space. He turned to his left to look at the flustered girl and asked her if she had taken his advice to try modeling as a career. He noted how her expression changed to one of controlled gleefulness, or at least that’s what he thought to himself. She suppressed the grimace, and answered by shaking her head. They had already reached the sixth floor. He extended his hand and gently laid it behind her waist. He told her he thought she would make a great model. She took half a step away from him, and as soon as the lift doors opened on the eleventh floor, she stepped out. He shouted a “Good night” at her but she did not respond to the closing doors. She walked towards her apartment and met her father at the entrance. He asked her who that was and she answered by saying, “Mr. Raheja”. He admonished her for not wishing her elders as she walked past him into the living room.


She entered her room, dropped her bag on a chair and turned to look into the mirror. She walked towards it slowly… closer and closer… until her face was just a few inches away from it. She gazed deeply into her own eyes and whispered,

Badhe badhe shehron mein chhoti chhoti baatein hoti rehti hain.2

1 Colloquial Hindi term for Brother
2 An iconic dialogue from a popular Bollywood film, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, it roughly means: ‘Such little things keep on happening in big cities.’ It was spoken by the male lead to the female one, and its context is placed in romantic banter with repeated gestures of melodramatically gazing into each other’s eyes. The dialogue in this context depicts the girls inability to depend on anyone but herself.

The Others’ ‘I’

Arpita Mitra
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

Sitting on the periphery of the room, I am in constant search of my own reflection within four walls so opaque to light that I don’t even gather traces of a shadow. Surrounded by scattered memories, shattered inspiration, and fragments of ‘me’ in crumbled balls of paper—the ‘I’ is vulnerable, unable to weave myself a definition.

When was the last time I sketched my identity through my vision? Strangely, why did I confine myself to expectations, assumptions, notions of the ‘other’? Did I never learn to mirror my own portrait?

I am disciplined—that is what my portrait could have revealed to me by now. Ah! It was rather a lesson taught compulsorily, responding to the ticking alarm, despite my battle with burdened eyes, trembling to avoid a curtain raiser. I was a recipient of nothing but doubts- extending greetings to people. I never cared to know, folding hands as a gesture that bore no meaning per se. I had to succumb to all that, just to be recognized as a ‘good daughter’—a fanciful term to denote an ideal image—a well-brought-up child.

I was already given a meaning to hold on to: My name! It was systematically thought, discussed with innumerable others (even the farthest of relations I may have the slightest knowledge about) and also (hopefully) rhymed with my elder siblings’! For some reason, I have found this ritual of naming the newborn so intrinsically significant, such that any hurried decision established in isolation appears to me a rarity.

There was never ‘one’ meaning I got attached to, however, a meaning never my own. Someday the matrimonial leaves of the newspaper would describe me based on categorical expectations of colour, age, size, weight, skills1—as if I was advertised to be approved by the standard requirements of ‘the other’.

The conception of the ‘social’ tended to overpower the individual existence—if at all the latter had succeeded to survive by this minute. The ‘I’ had hitherto discovered a space to germinate, however within pre-defined frames, routines, its roots leveling at a certain stage of development, failing to materialize its intentions to push the boundaries already erected- of institutions firm and old. It acquired a shape, but within an already structured mould.

Not that today, I, the real me, propagates any aspiration of being a deviant, or anti-social. However I would contribute only via questions of a different kind—naïve! Did I ever get the opportunity to know what I really wanted, what I could have made of myself? Could I ever begin from a clean slate, getting to determine my own name, my own norms and ‘my’ expectations, the vision to see me, independently?

Why could I never be the artist of my own portraiture, despite being artistic?

My thoughts stoned me for a while, as I kept staring at the crumbled balls of paper surrounding me with the irrational hope to receive a response. Sadly I was (made) blind for a long time before I managed to discover the light in ‘my’ room, handicapped in layers of intellectual abstractness, as someone opened the door….

1  For a long time, the advertisements in Matrimonial sections of the newspaper would quantify men and woman to racial and cultural stereotypes. Caste, colour and skills were the lowest common denominator based on which the worth of a potential bride or groom was decided. An unhealthy practice, it has often been satirized through literature and art, yet its existence has never been eradicated.

Because No One Else Will

Sonali Misra
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

I turn my head around to find tears streaming down her face. I extend my hand to put it on hers but she pushes it away. I try to console her by saying, “It’s all right…don’t cry. Your father told you that you would get a chance to sit in the front seat in the ride back. Don’t spoil your mood, Tanya.”

“But it’s not fair, Mom! Rohan always gets to sit in front!” replies she.

“I’m sure that’s not true…now come on, stop crying.” I hand her a tissue from my purse. She wipes away her tears but still mumbles about it not being fair. I try to make eye contact with my husband, Sameer, in the rear view mirror in the hope he will calm her down but all I see are his dark-tinted sunglasses covering his eyes. I cannot read their expression.

After the film, we move towards our car in the basement parking lot of the mall. Tanya, just to be sure, races Rohan to the front seat of the car. She reaches there first, and is just about to open the door when Rohan pushes her out of the way and seats himself there. Tanya starts to protest and refuses to get in the car. I try to strike a compromise between them but no one pays any attention to me. I look at Sameer to see what he plans to do about this situation but he just ignores the entire scene and proceeds to put his sunglasses on, and gets in the driver’s seat. I somehow get Tanya to sit in the backseat with me.

“This isn’t fair! Dad. You promised that I’d get to sit in front. Please, say something! I want to sit in the front! It’s my chance!” says Tanya.

I try to hush her but she again bursts with “No! It’s not fair! Dad, you promised—“

Rohan interrupts her by saying, “Oh, shut up, will you? I’m taller than you and I need the leg space. That’s why I get to sit in front.”

“But you’re as tall as Mom and she always ends up sitting in the back with me!”

“That’s because she’s Mom. She doesn’t mind.”

“Dad! This is not fair!”

Suddenly Sameer stops the car on the side of the road, swivels his head towards Tanya and shouts, “Both of you, keep quiet! I’m driving and I don’t want this tamasha1 around me.”

“But Dad…“ Tanya tries to say but is interrupted by my husband who says, “I said QUIET.”

My husband starts the car and continues to drive. Tanya stops speaking but cannot control her tears.

Hence ends another family trip.

The car turns in to the driveway and my husband parks it. As soon as it stops, Tanya shoots from the car and runs into the house. I get out and follow her in. I know she is headed towards my mother’s room. I go up to the room and knock on the door. Without waiting for a reply, I open it and find Tanya’s head buried in my mother’s lap as she cries and tells her nani2 about the ‘sorrowful injustice’ done to her. Mother pats her head and tells her to stop crying. I look around the room and notice that Mother hasn’t finished packing yet. She had come to stay with my family for a month. She normally stays with my brother, but he has gone to Bangalore with his family for a holiday and returns today. I decide to finish packing for her and I go around the room doing that while my mother consoles Tanya. When I complete my task, I turn around to find a sleeping Tanya on the bed. I sigh and sit next to Mother.

“Bringing up a child isn’t easy. It’s all right. You have to handle such things at times,” says Mother.

“Yes… I know that,” I reply. “You know, things like this remind me of the times when you acted as a mediator between different members of our family. Remember that one time when I wanted to get a tattoo and Papa3 totally blew it?”

My mother laughs and says, “Oh yes, I remember it very well. That argument went on for days and our home had lost its peace for that entire time.”

“Hmm…. He forbade me from getting it because he thought it looked cheap. I asked him what he meant by that. I was horrified when he said that the family I would enter in the future may not approve of it.”

“Yes, he said that.”

“I could never understand it then and I can’t understand it even now. Why should anyone have the right to say what I can or cannot do with my body?”

“Parents have to think about such things, Sweetheart.”

“Not parents. If I remember correctly, you took my side in the argument. You supported me.”

“That’s because you told me what that word meant to you and I understood. I still think it looks nice.”

I cast my eyes down to look at my inked wrist, which reads “dream.”

“And anyway, we women have to stick up for each other, you know. Because no one else will,” says my mother.

I look into her eyes and then turn to look at Tanya sleeping, tired from crying for so many hours. I get up, walk towards the bed and bend down to whisper in her ear.

“Tanya, do you want to go for a drive? Just you and me?”

She opens her eyes, beams at me and wraps her arms around my neck. I scoop her up and walk towards my car. As I put her down in the front seat and shut the door, I look at her excited face. She wipes away the tear marks. I turn around and go back to my mother’s room. I hug her and whisper, “thank you”, and she smiles at me with a twinkle in her eye. I leave the room, go to the car and buckle myself in.

Tanya asks me, “What was that all about?”

I smile and say, “nothing”.

She nods and says, “Thank you for doing this, Mom.”

As I sit in the driver’s seat this time, I say, “It’s all right, Sweetheart. Anyway, we women have to stick up for each other, you know, because no one else will.”

And I drive on.

1 Colloquial Hindi term for creating chaos
2 Hindi term for Maternal Grandmother
3 Hindi term for father

Self-Portrait

Zhang Qiaoya (Emily)
GINLING COLLEGE, NANJING, CHINA

I’m Emily, a Nanjing local. As a calm optimist, I’ll share my hobbies and reflection on my life goals with you. Rick Warren, an American Christian pastor and author, once said “lots of people are not living but existing”.  I am one of those guys who feels unclear about life goals. However, 21 years of living, accompanied by observations, has recently made me consciously rethink my interest and life goals.

When it comes to my hobbies, traveling, photography and musical instruments must be included. As an enthusiastic traveler, I feel refreshed whenever I’m on the road. Exotic scenes, local traditions or unique ways of life bring about ecstasy by activating my sense organs. Witnessing Yunnan locals sing till midnight in the Old Town of Lijiang on weekdays is an exposure to a city’s liveliness. Seeing Japanese occupy themselves with either games or books while waiting at the entrance of Disneyland calms me down in today’s fast-paced life. Traveling widens my horizon, liberalizes my perspective and cultivates my capability for tolerance.

As a passionate photographer, I carry my camera whenever I go out. With the aid of digital cameras, I keep my memory vividly reproducible and clearly organized. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Photography is my visual tool to record the happenings. Nuances in shooting angles, shooting modes or light sensitivity enrich my personal visual dairies.  Starting in  2005, I started shooting pictures out of a passion for restoring monuments. Now I’d say I shoot pictures for single moments. In tourist attractions, Chinese visitors are easily recognized by “holding cameras” in crowds. But taking photos doesn’t make any sense if they are casually stocked in piles. What’s more, photos occupy disk space especially when you never review them. However, photos mean a lot to me.  After taking photos for almost 8 years, I find my focus has turned from specific historical sites to scenes happening around me. As a passionate traveler, I used to wait for opportunities to take photos of scenery with no heads in them. But now, I just shoot for the moment instead of for the perfect scenery. The circumstance and the scenes where people crowd into a site reveal my emotions and can never be regained. All these things happen only once.  I try my best to involve contextual elements in my “single” shot. Later when you see them again, nuances of changes which we never noticed will unfold before us. It’s this observation and reproduction of changes that inspires me. While certain sites may hardly change, human activities did influence the layout of the city. Modern society develops so fast that we never even stop to think what it was like in 1990’s Nanjing. Out of appreciation for the skylines and changeable colorful sky, I have started taking photos of the sky near my home since the Typhoon Matsa, which hit Nanjing in 2005.

Speech doesn’t help me depict the impressive colors high above in the sky, so I have taken a series of the sky, a subject I continue to shoot. What I have discovered is that no matter how blue it may be, the increasingly dense skyscrapers disrupt the balance between sky and buildings. Hoisting machines rush into my eyes, making varied heights no longer a visual enjoyment. Skyscrapers seem to compete for height instead of design or function. In such a dynamic society, the relatively static pictures occasionally remind me of the past and help me look forward to the future in a rational way. (Taking photography as a hobby, even for no ends, something either unexpected or unnoticed will be revealed.)

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

A Patch of Sky Near Nanjing, China, 2007

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2008

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2009

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2010

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2011

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2012

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

The Same Patch of Sky, 2013

(More photos in the album named “The Same Patch of Sky” are on my Renren website. )

As an amateur piano player, many friends of mine appreciate my musical performance. They wonder why, without seeing the score, I can easily play the music just by listening. Actually it’s passion that creates inspirations. Captivated by an instrument’s sound and expressiveness, I have tried various musical instruments using my hearing and my sensitivity to seven notes. I treat playing musical instruments as an entertainment instead of a performance; I’m not a conformist who obeys the original rhythm strictly. With sound repetitions added or notes changed, I release my emotions in a unique way and I enjoy it.

Yet think about my hobbies carefully. My life goals pertain to struggle and health. In the final analysis, my hobbies are all consumption behaviors. What if I don’t have money to sustain my interest in those things? Thus financial stability is a prerequisite, necessitating consistent self-improvement for future. Furthermore, health is also my life priority. Nothing is more important than a healthy body. While others see difficulty in simultaneous interpretation, I put a greater emphasis on the importance of sense organs. All my ability-utilization depends on organs. And organs, if damaged, couldn’t give full play to my competence to play enjoyable melody or facilitate communication between foreigners.

Anyway, to feel happy is my ultimate goal.  Though the process may not always be obstacle-free, I will try my best to sustain my hobbies till the last minute of life. As a calm optimist, I can say I’m living instead of just existing.

In the Middle

Guan Mufei
GINLING COLLEGE, NANJING, CHINA

Although I don’t want to put any tag on myself, I have to admit that I am usually “in the middle”—neither too this nor too that.

My background is a “middle” one. Two popular words in China describe girls with different backgrounds. One of them is Baifumei, meaning a young lady who’s white-skinned, rich and beautiful. The other is Nudiaosi, meaning an unpromising girl who’s ugly, poor and badly-behaved. And I am in the middle. I am olive-skinned, plain-looking and always in desire for money, lady-like among strangers while sometimes foolish among friends.

guan_mufei_ginlingMy college is a “middle” one. Some people call it “first-level among second-level ones, but second-level among first-level ones”. I may be called a “gold debater” in my own school, but not even a “copper” or “iron” one when I attend national competitions with debaters from many first-level schools. The best Chinese proverb to cite here should be “behind an able man, there are always men beyond”.

I live with my middle-aged parents near the middle of our city. They are totally different people when dealing with virtue and money, my father being a typical romantic and my mother being a grudging realist.

And I am in the middle. From time to time, I doubt the real motives behind seemingly holy conduct of a person or a country. Influenced by realistic novels and articles, I am often inclined to connect every action to the interest of the actor. But I still believe in love, sympathy and other virtues of mankind. Foolish as it may sound, I’d rather believe there’s sincere love in the world although not everyone may find it during her lifetime. I’d rather believe there’s some virtue and justice, that tops all the human greed and evil. If I’m wrong, I’d rather remain in the wrong.

I have two friends, one being so hard-working that she would rush to school the day after Chinese New Year’s Eve, and the other being so carefree that she is still at home right now (she was supposed to go to school a week ago).

And I am in the middle. I am constantly industrious because I know success without education happens to legends like Bill Gates (even he was once in college). But part of me also longs for an ordinary life—a plain job, a loving husband, healthy parents and parents-in-law and one or two children who would sit on my legs when I return from work. You can call me greedy because I seem to want both. If that requires more devotion, I am willing; if that is too difficult, I will try to strike a balance.

“But isn’t there always a balance to strike,” you may ask, “is it always good to be in the middle?” Maybe not. But being in the middle also means you are neither too far from this nor too far from that. If I must choose an extreme one day, I can take it easy. If I realize I don’t want to be in the middle any more, I can swiftly shift to one side. That’s what makes it hopeful.

My Diary of College Life

Qiangwei Li
SHANDONG WOMEN’S UNIVERSITY, JINAN, SHANDONG PROVINCE, CHINA

I chose English as my major at the university because, before entering the university, I used to be crazy about it and good at it.  Now I am a sophomore and I know that English is not so easy.  Just because I concentrate in English class, doesn’t mean I can have a good command of it. As the verb says, the more you know, the more you will see that you do not know.

The central part of college is studying the major. My life is filled with various English courses—contemporary college English, English-Chinese translation, Reading courses of American and British news publications, etc. When I grasp the class, I am happy. When I can not catch up with my teacher, I am upset. I spend a lot of time in the library. I enjoy myself when I am absorbed in a book and dictionary, associating new with old knowledge.

To be honest, I do not often borrow books from the library because I participate in many other activities. I am one of the vice presidents of the Self-Discipline Union, which is an association made up of students that requires its members to be strict with themselves. I become a member of the club by effort, in order to not be lost in temptation. Not only do I rule myself, but I also call the roll at the beginning of class sometimes and at the end of the of the day, in the dormitory.

At the same time, I am a member of the school press corps. This gives me more opportunities to thoroughly know about my school . I can interview the students, teachers and leaders and I can report about the welcoming-freshmen anniversary and the school’s 60th birthday ceremony. I want to be an author. Since I join the press corps I had the chance to practice writing.

Apart that, I take part in all kinds of activities. I will go shopping or have a visit on weekends or holidays with my classmates or my old friends from other universities. I have been taking good advantage of the Internet, which helps me stay attuned to the world. I pay attention to the US election, the Ya’an earthquake, and to the students of our school who went to the United Arab Emirates in the World Federation of Women’s Education Student Conference.

The Art of Articulation

Natallia Khanijo
LADY SHRI RAM COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, NEW DELHI, INDIA

Unique statements that are heard at young impressionable ages often stay rooted in memory and belief for prolonged periods of time. Whether these are iconic statements ensuing from the popular literature of the age, or adolescent catchphrases that come to represent the spirit and beliefs of an entire generation, the politics of language never fail to astonish, amuse and mesmerize. The transition from one phase of language to the next depicts the evolutionary nature of the human mind, and its desire for information and communication. However, the language that becomes liberating in this pursuit of knowledge is also imbued with subtle codes and mores that enable it to trap people into conformity and prescribed social conditioning. Studying literature and language over the last few years has given me an opportunity to rethink all the conventional tools that are used to convey action and feeling. The deconstruction of stories and the categorization of thought as an exercise is trying and exhausting but it often depicts how the tiniest detail in a sentence could either alter its meaning, or amplify it, based on the context. The application of such analytical deconstruction to the regular communication that one indulges in daily leads to some fascinating revelations of a society’s progression.

“Women can communicate alright but they can rarely articulate.”

I remember hearing something along these lines at a party my parents took me to as a child. The essence of the sentence had remained buried somewhere in the recesses of my mind, until I heard another such statement at my father’s reunion recently. ‘He who must not be named’ said something along the lines of, “the reason men don’t pay attention to everything that their wives say is because they’re so busy differentiating between the words which make sense and the words which don’t that they end up missing the rest of the conversation”. Both these statements left particularly deep impacts on my mind as I began to question the boundary between communication and articulation. To communicate, according to Webster’s dictionary is, “to convey knowledge of or information about : make known”, while to articulate is, “to express oneself readily, clearly, or effectively”. The former is arrogated to women who have been termed gossip mongers while the latter, right up till the 19th and 20th centuries, has effectively been the prerogative of male rationality.

Speaking from a personal perspective, as the daughter of a naval officer, I have been tossed and twirled with each wave of the sea and consequently have been forced to reposition myself accordingly, based on my father’s transfer from shore to shore. This constant uprooting paused for a considerable amount of time when we moved to Mumbai and stayed there for almost a decade. However our time there soon melted into a memory, as dad shifted bases and we tagged along, moving to the dreaded yet fascinating capital of the country. Delhi is a schizophrenic representation of the collective social consciousness of India. It is a place where the traditional can safely coexist with the modern, just as corruption can coexist with activism. The multiplicity of cultures unites into a blend of pure Indianness. Yet despite all this the one thing that the capital is famous (or rather infamous) for is its devastating crime rate, particularly with reference to crimes committed against women. The culture of a city which does not respect its women is no better than the culture of a city which openly subjugates them. The consciousness of such a city needs to be re-examined, de-prejudiced and cleansed. We need to go back to the roots of Greek comedy, and renew Lysistrata’s wool carding metaphor1  to re-examine the path society has picked. This need for a reappraisal of an ancient past is an example of the irony of the human condition that, while life moves on, a large part of humanity remains the same. Even today, we all ask the question that Draupadi2 raised years ago: are we free beings or are we still property to be pawned away and stripped of dignity by male authority?

Women in fiction, as Virginia Woolf repeatedly pointed out, are usually much grander than the reality of the domestic space that they embodied. The truth remains that all the Judith Shakespeares, Becky Sharps and Cleopatras in fiction remain confined to that invented space. The ‘real women’ are unable to transcend their narrative boundaries in a dystopian space, which denies them rationality. In such a reality, a female author was often treated with scorn or contempt, and refused the right to put down her thoughts in a coherent manner. Even today, in Delhi one can find a very interesting blend of opinions on female intelligence. There are some who claim that a woman is only fit for domestic duties, and must not cross the ‘Dehleez ’, 3 which would invite social ostracism and contempt. The other end of the spectrum involves radical feminists, who question the definition of “gender” and the arbitrariness of male supremacy while pushing for a cultural revolution and a conversion to matriarchy. The ‘In Betweeners’ are essentially forced to rotate like tops, swiveling between misogynists and ‘Feminazis’, depending on whichever perspective is dominant at the time. The repeated rapes that take place in the city constantly remind women about their frailty in a country that refuses their right to say ‘NO’. But the support that has been surging forth since the sixteenth December case is like a wave of resistance that refuses to be beaten down by a few perverse minds. However, despite the endearing mass of protests that have risen in defense of women’s rights, one still finds, embedded within the cultural conscience, (and exposed through the stereotypes that exist), certain demeaning and degrading perceptions of feminine ability in the sphere of Logos or Logic. Maybe this is why a majority of the students studying in IITs all over the country remain males and the women are sent off to complete degrees in art and literature. Whenever I look at the gendered nature of the educational division in our country, those words I heard long ago repeatedly return to haunt me. Women can communicate but cannot articulate. That such a distinctive prejudice is still deeply embedded in the cultural conscience of the people is evidenced by the fact that most stereotypes of Indian women either involve silenced partners, nagging wives, interfering busybodies, or beauty-obsessed crones. Each of the stereotypes typically depicts how women lack reasoning or understanding faculties. Such caricatures are an intricate part of popular culture (as evinced by the vamps in countless television serials), and yet like all satire, they raise larger issues. In this case the question that arises is the reduction of an entire gender into typified portraits of male aggrandization. They become the foils of their male counterparts and remain, as Mary Wollstonecraft once defined them, ‘intellectually children’.

In Delhi, however, I have seen a conscious attempt to move away from such stereotypes. In their own little way women all over the city rebel and refuse to conform. Whether it is by refusing to bow down to social pressure by wearing skirts, or raising their voices to stand up for each other through petitions and Women’s organizations, the recent solidarity and sisterhood that this city has seen is encouraging to say the least. While we still have a long way to go before we achieve social parity or manage to weed out the chauvinistic elements that ruin the social ethos, we are definitely on the path to progress. This can be seen in the very fact that LSR, a college for women, has been topping the college rankings for the last three years. In LSR, I found a place where like-minded women bonded over their ability to defy the stereotype by using the very faculty of reason which has been denied to them over the years. From Aphra Behn to Anita Desai, most women authors have been deemed frivolous, inconsequential or vulgar. Often denied formal training in classical literature or higher education, women have hitherto been intellectually marginalized. Yet with the emergence of the feminist movement and the modernization policy of independent India, there has been an improvement in the status of women and their bid for an equalized society. Post independence, there has been much work done in the field of women’s education. With pioneering figures like Sarojini Naidu at the helm, Indian society has made a shift from the dark ages of ignorance towards the light of equal knowledge. Now all that remains is the step which will ensure that women are allowed intellectual license, without the stigma of past associations impinging on the moment. We are yet a fledgling nation, newborn, by comparison to Western civilizations, and yet older than all the rest. Deep within our hearts, there remains a collective desire to progress beyond measure and beyond limit. Writing is one way to pen down this deep desire for intellectual parity and it is also the most powerful weapon which has been handed down for our use. The city’s women are all attempting to create change through the medium of social media and blogs, and someday maybe this articulation will end in action and women will roam the streets in a changed sociological parameter where their word holds as much emphasis as a man’s does. In conclusion, Jane Galvin Lewis’ quote “You don’t have to be anti-man to be pro-woman” seems the most sensible position, as articulation becomes a weapon for both freedom and confinement based on how society chooses to wield it.


1 From the Greek Comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes

2 Draupadi is a character from the Indian epic, the ‘Mahabharata’, which talks about an apocalyptic war that took place between the clan of the Purus, also known as the Bharatas. The failure of patriarchy and primogeniture led to a split within the Bharata family as the Kauravas (sons of Dhritirashtra) and Pandavas (sons of Pandu) competed for the throne. Draupadi is the wife of the five Pandavas, and she is gambled away by the eldest brother, King Yudhishtra in a game of dice after he has already lost his kingdom, his brothers and himself. Stripped of her caste and lineage she is dragged into the assembly hall by her brother-in-law, Dushasana, and an attempt is made to humiliate her publicly by ripping off her clothes. Her chastity protects her as the cloth regenerates and the shamed Kauravas are forced to admit defeat. Before the ‘Vastraharan’ or forced stripping begins though, Draupadi asks Yudhishtra “Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?”. He does not answer her as it was believed that a woman is her husband’s property, and if he loses himself he loses her too as she is akin to his slave. The question regarding women’s rights was not answered for the longest time, and even though there are laws for the safety of women in place now, the woman’s body, as viewed by perverted voyeurs, is as much a target of male pleasure as it was in the past.

3 Traditional Hindi term for defining the threshold of the house. Symbolically, once this is crossed, the woman has defied patriarchal authority and is liable to ostracism, isolation and punishment. It has often been used to depict the schism between modernity and tradition.

Ahfad, Sports and Self-discovery

Doha Hashim Khalifa
AHFAD UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN, OMDURMAN, SUDAN

My friend once asked me a very important question why do I study in Ahfad? That was back when I was still in my first year, I didn’t have an answer which made me question my own decision, but as I grew older and wiser I’ve come to realize that Ahfad is more than a university it’s a journey through which I myself got to experience pretty much everything I wished and hoped for.

I’m currently a fourth year student which means I’ve been in Ahfad for five years, long as they might seem they have truly flown by. One of the things I love about my university which I would not have found anywhere else in Sudan is the fact that I can still play sports. Playing basketball and football have been a joy to me ever since I was maybe 13 and when you reach a certain age in Sudan people expect you as a female to start behaving like a “girl” and become feminine overnight, being the stubborn person I am, I stood against all those beliefs and decided to keep enjoying life as it is, this is where Ahfad like a light in the dark saved me. I’ve been playing all kinds of sports ever since I become a student both on personal and competitive levels; I’ve even started practicing new ones, all because I simply can.

Being a student in Ahfad means you have the freedom to practice any kind of talent you previously had, and have the chance to acquire new ones, from music, drama and even art. Discovering your talent will not only boost your self confidence and help you find your way through college but also allows you to discover new aspects of yourself and perfect them.

There it is, one of the many reasons I have chosen Ahfad as my home for the next two years of my life, and if I had to I would do it all over again, because it has and will still continue on proving to be a truly rewarding experience.

An English Major in Shandong Women’s University

 
SHANDONG WOMEN’S UNIVERSITY, JINAN, SHANDONG PROVINCE, CHINA

After the college entrance examination in 2011, I was admitted by Shandong Women’s University (Jinan, Shandong Province, China) and became an English major. I like English, so I chose the major.

In China, there are special exams for English majors, which are called TEM-4 and TEM-8. We are allowed to take part in TEM-4 when we are sophomores, which means I needed to do that this year. In order to prepare for it, after winter vacation, we all started to get up at about 6:00 a.m. for morning reading every day and studied until 10:00 in the evening.

As you can imagine, it’s a very important exam for us and all of us have tried our best. We had the exam in April 20, 2013. Tired as we were during the process, all of us were enriched. However, now the exam has ended, and we return to normal life. Without TEM-4, I seem to have no incentive in my life. I really cherish the memory of that time when I worked hard for the exam, but there are lots of other assignments waiting for me. Whether the result of TEM-4 is good or not, I will continue to study and try my best to be a good learner.

As an English major, one of my dreams is to go abroad and know more about foreign cultures. I hope my school can have more contact with foreign countries and offer more study opportunities for us.

To Connecting Girls

Khadiga Babiker Badri
AHFAD UNIVERSITY FOR WOMEN, OMDURMAN, SUDAN

Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures is the theme for this year’s Women’s Week—an event organised annually by the staff and students of Ahfad University for Women.  A theme is chosen every year, usually in accordance with the global theme of International Women’s Day, and the competitions begin. The different schools of the university work to make the theme into a work of art, painting, theatrical drama, poetry or song, and compete amongst themselves, also through sports and debate, for the ultimate prize, the Women’s Week Cup.  I can honestly say that I have seen, heard and breathed the personification of this very statement on the week leading up to and culminating in the women of Sudan dancing in front of Al-Hafeed library to powerful words, enticing a billion women around the world to break the chain.

One Billion Rising is a global movement that was replicated all over the world on February 14, 2013.  It was organized in Khartoum through a collaboration between Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre, Makaan, UNFPA, Salmmah’s friends, Open Mic Nights Khartoum, Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), VDAY, the British Embassy, Babiker Badri’s Scientific Association for Women Studies, SEEMA Centre, Sudanese Organization for Research & Development (SORD), Blue Nile Lotus, Seema Center and Motawinat Group.

The impassioned women of Ahfad, young and old, practiced diligently, at their homes, at the university club, in the corridors, in between lectures, and at the student centre. For days, within the walls of Ahfad, the chants could be heard at every corner, while its women danced for themselves and for each other, in pairs, in threes, and in hundreds. Teasing each other, correcting each other, and teaching each other, devoutly preparing for the fourteenth day of February, when they would dance and rise to break the chain of violence committed against the women of their country, Africa, and the world.

It was a truly glorious experience. Whilst we stood in lines, the other inconsequential lines, were blown away.  Girls of different ages, academic levels, from different countries, and social backgrounds struck up conversations and bonded on how best to time the box steps, or whether to break the chain circle beginning from the left or the right. Even in this time, when Women’s Week is knocking on our doors and interschool competitions reach an all-time high, the competitive digs and remarks were set aside and delayed for another day.

On the most unconventional of Valentine’s Days, hundreds of women stood in lines, mostly dressed in black but different in every other way. They came together in front of the library and danced to break the chain. We weren’t a billion in number, but in spirit. There were synchronised and occasionally spontaneous turns and pivots, box steps and cha-cha-chas. After days of practice, our efforts were finally rewarded. It was, to me personally, one of the most exhilarating, goose-bump raising and moving moments I experienced in my life.

On that day, I not only understood but profoundly felt the meaning of connecting girls, inspiring futures.