I am at this super famous conference for 3 days and its funny how things are unfolding in my nascent research career.
SCENE #1: At the bar
Light lamps are dim, wine glasses are glowing. Tanya is somehow at the same table with Prof. Goswami (who is a demigod in her field)
Prof. Goswami: So how are you Tanya. We met before right? Yes, yes I remember you. So are you finished with your masters?
Tanya: Umm, yeah. I'll be graduating this semester!
Prof. Goswami: You're not continuing to a PhD with Prof. X?
Tanya: Umm, I applied to a couple of places and am waiting for some and deciding on some, umm-
Prof. Goswami: Which ones are you deciding on?
Tanya: Uh, I got this fellowship from Awesome University and an offer from this school in Europe and am waiting from one more in UK, so -
Prof. Goswami: What? You should go work with ___ at Awesome. She was my PhD student you know. No, no, don't think about it. I told you. You must work with her, join Awesome at any cost. What will you do in Europe? Nothing. You can't live there forever. Stay in US. Look, you'll be associated with "Awesome's" brand once you graduate from there. Who will care about Europe? Here, you're confused, I know a guy from Europe. He was in Europe earlier. Let me fetch him. Hey, JJJ, tell this young lady, why Awesome is better than ___ at Europe.
JJJ: Well, it depends what the young lady wants from her life.
Tanya: Uh-um-uh, I-I-
Prof. Goswami: She's confused of course. She's young and doesn't know what's good for her. I'm just telling her, Awesome would be much better for her career.
JJJ: Well, Goswami, if that's what you want me to speak, I'll yield. But its really her choice.
Prof. Goswami laughs and exits. Tanya moves to talk to JJJ in private. A professor from Awesome university who's interested in Tanya lurks in background, overhearing everything. Tanya feels uncomfortable with all the unwanted attention and escapes the scene with a crushed tissue paper on which lies written JJJ's email.
SCENE #2: At a meeting
All participating elves are from the Awesome University.
Elf_1: So, did you hear back from any school?
Elf_2: Oh, you were one of those visiting candidates, are you getting anywhere?
Tanya: Yeah, um, they're giving me a fellowship!
Elf_2: Oh really?
Elf_1: What's the deal? How much?
Tanya is red cheeked and speaks after much hesitation.
Elf_2: That's what I got as well, a while ago. Hmph.
Elf_1: So you're coming to Awesome right?
Tanya: Um, well, I'm kind of waiting on this Europe one. And -
Elf_3: What? You're not sure about joining Awesome? Huh.
Elf_3 scoffs again and exits.
Tanya: How's the sessions going on for you guys anyway? Which ones you attended?
Elf_2: I went to X, Y and that..that. Z.
Elf_1: I went to A, B, and C, D.
Tanya: So um, you guys don't, like, attend together? I have no one here from my university :(, but we used to kind of go all together in common sessions. I can join you in whichever one you're gonna go, if you like.
Elf_1 and Elf_2 exchanged a condescending look, scoffed and left Tanya alone.
SCENE#3: In the hotel room
Tanya sits facing the glass wall in her hotel room on the 17th floor, looking out in the shining downtown.
Tanya: Things don't seem right. I don't know why. I should be happy. I have got an awesome offer from
the Awesome University. I'm finally getting a chance to leave behind Prof. X and my Jaali university. But things appear so strange. The people at Awesome, they are kind of so bitchy. They are this, really, elvish people, you know. Really competitive, and with no emotion whatsoever. But elves were supposed to be nice and kind. Maybe only the wood elves. I don't know, frikking orcs they are. They would kill the other guy to get their paper published and stuff. They have this stench of rivalry emanating from their soul. I don't know if I can live in that kind of environment. And then US is also getting on my nerves. I'ven't seen much of it but whatever I've seen haven't turned out as rosy as I had hoped it to be. It's too pompous and glitzy. Nothing real really.
And I remember, exactly two years from now when I had applied to Awesome University for Masters degree, they rejected me. Rejected like I was some lame shit. Perhaps I was. Perhaps I still am. But now they want me. They want me like anything. And I had figured, it would be a nice ending to the story that first they rejected me and then after my hard work and subsequent attempt they would accept me. But then, somehow the story's climax isn't as good as it should be. Something's missing. Something.
They rejected me once. I guess now it's my turn. It's I who should now reject their offer. What if I? Perhaps go Europe, you know. Future will be uncertain after going there. Entering US will be much harder then. But that's fine. At least the story would be nicer. Rejection replied with rejection. And then things will come to a full circle. It will make sense.
Lights go out and Tanya's silhouette is last seen staring out in the North-East. Outside her window, the city is still alive and vibrant in its illusive light and false music.
9:05 PM | | 5 Comments
I entered Professor X's office last friday afternoon with a beating heart and anxious face.
"I wanted to tell you something which I think I should have told you before but if I did you wouldn't have let me do it-"
His face became immediately stern as he took a half circle on his revolving chair to face me, leaving the important half written email mid way.
"What is it Tanja. Tell me straight and quick."
"I-I participated in this competition, and I got selected in the top finalists of the nation, and now they want me to participate in the final event in Texas next week. And I need your signature on this form so that I can go-"
"I will not sign it. This, this is wrong. Very wrong..And it's not the first time, you know it. When you did it in the first semester, without my permission went ahead to submit things, I tried hard to understand and forgave you because you were new...But now? Again? No, no, don't say it's a little thing. I don't care about that. I know it's a small thing for me to sign it and I don't care about it. It's about honesty. You're not honest with me. You want to hide things from me. On purpose. This is not good. Not good at all. You should have asked me in the first place. Yes, okay, maybe I would have said "no". But then an advisor must have a reason to say no, right? Then we could have argued. At least we wouldn't have to see this day. Now this is all so messed up. See Tanja, you made a mistake, you must pay for it. You must withdraw your entry from the competition. Your attitude is not right, Tanja. You push people, it makes them so uncomfortable. I can't review your thesis on your schedule. There's no time left, your defense is coming near, and you've nothing in hand. Look at XuXu, he has submitted his thesis to the committee already and his defense is later than yours. He started working on it in December and you began in March? This is not gonna work, Tanja. You've to change if you want to do well. Listen, I know you're gonna leave this university, no, no don't say anything, I can see that in your eyes. Your heart is not here anymore. That's fine, I've hired the Japanese girl anyway. But mark this, this is my personal advice to you. Wherever you go, you'll have a new advisor. He/She may not tolerate this attitude of yours. Ok? I'm telling you this because I've known you. You are bright, Tanja. And it seems you love this profession very much, you'll become a good professor one day. But only if you're honest and nice to people. Otherwise success in future will be hard. And you're my student, no matter where you go, my name will always be on your resume. I don't want to hear bad things happened to you later in your career. This is a small research community we're in. Everyone knows everyone. I want you to think and aim far, not waste your time in these petty competitions. Okay? Respect people. I hope you remember my advice."
And with that he turned his back to me to stare at the half-written email he had left behind to lecture me. Yesterday, I felt like things had come to an end. It was 3 PM when I came out of his office and I felt shattered, broken. For a few moments I realized perhaps he's right. Perhaps I won't be a great, successful person in the classical sense of these terms. And besides I didn't have a single PhD offer in my hand and I was about to be kicked out from the Jaali university within 2 months or so. Sometimes, you know, life is so dark around you, that it's not just blinding, it's suffocating.
But then, I reasoned myself. I said, "Well, it doesn't matter. Prof. X had already screwed my letter of recommendations. And if success means sucking feet of lame men by being a silent, laborious slave, then I don't want that kind of success. Nahi chahiye vaisi kamyaabi. I'll be better back in India, in my own room, alone, with a book in hand. A book like "Catcher in the Rye". And then I would write my own, and maybe publish it you know. But I can't do that diplomacy to win people. I'll never be a ruler of a reign. I was and always be a warrior. An amazon. Who fights by principles and dies in courage. I will not yield to incompetence. This life is just a story of this steep descent." But even then, the stark fact haunted me for two hours that life's gonna be harder if you're gonna continue making enemies and if you continuously refuse to respect people. But why should I respect them, these phonies?
Anyway, at 5pm, at the darkest hour of my life, I received a phone call. It was from the Awesome university I had visited a few weeks ago. And the professor that I was interested in working with was saying, "Tanja, congratulations. You've been awarded two fellowships for your PhD, which will cover your entire tuition fee and stipend. I would love if you could join my group, we would be able to do a lot of great things together. And, no, no, you don't have to tell me anything right now. Do not at all feel pressurized to decide, I'm sure that with credentials like yours, you must be having a couple of options and you might be waiting from other schools. So take your time, I would look forward to see you join us but feel free to let us know in two weeks, okay?"
"You just made my Friday night," I crackled on phone as a tear smeared down my cheek.
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