Pearson

my name is khan and i am not a terrorist

Tonight, I watched one of the best movies I remember watching in a long time – certainly, I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie with such an important and complex social message yet shot this expertly with a love story this compelling. And it’s Indian! I confess I was a little dubious at first, because I was told it was about “a Muslim man with Asperger’s”, and it sounded a little, well, kitschy, almost. It was anything but, though. It referred and discussed so many important issues about race and religion and conflict but never lectured or focused on the issues blatantly, and it focused on the personal and managed to use it as a prism through which to refract the larger issues into relatable ones. Also, I started crying an hour into it and just couldn’t stop. It brought up the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India, and race profiling in the US, and a bit of the treatment of autistic people too, and so much more ,beyond that. The acting was amazing – the two biggest Bollywood stars (Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, who is so gorgeously pretty as a real woman – I really like how no skin was shown) are actually fantastic actors, and I didn’t realize that before because I’d only seen them in the love stories.

At the heart of it, it was a story of a family torn apart by circumstances after 9/11, essentially (though so much more than that, but that’s the plot skeleton), and seeing the familial ties – it actually reminded me of this essay question for the European College of Liberal Arts, which I am so tempted to apply for even though … I’m not sure what use the degree will be. I was thinking of applying to it initially but the application didn’t open until after I heard from the UK; reading the essay questions, however, is so exciting because they are all thought-provoking, intellectual questions on a wide range of issues. One of them was an article about this incredible (I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way, though) man who donated millions to charity and then a kidney to a random person. A kidney. It was a really long article about this guy who struggled with the personal question of morality and realized that he could be doing so much more to be a moral person, and he mathematically works out the costs and benefits of his actions. Starting from the premise that everyone is equal and no one is worth more than anyone else, he arrives to a conclusion, among many, that his kids and wife mean the same as any other person in the world, too, by that logic. The essay question was, is it possible to give too much. I think so. For this guy, it got to a point where he was genuinely contemplating suicide in order to donate his organs to multiple people. This is a philosophical argument I’ve encountered before, and I don’t think it’s valid because that’s not the point of existence, I don’t think. Everyone is equally valuable, but some people are more valuable to some than others, and that’s, I think, fair. There are different limits to how much one will and should sacrifice for different people, and that’s choice, and I don’t think anyone should tell people what or who they should choose to value more, I don’t think. Of course, some choices make you a better person than others. Also, family is family.

Another fascinating thing I got from the essay question was this quote:

“When we travel we are not, strictly speaking, setting out to learn something; most of the things we learn through our travels can easily – often more easily – be learnt at home. As Horace said, ‘Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt’ – (‘They change their sky, and not themselves, who scour across the sea’) – in other words, we will not attain wisdom by running about from one place to another. We do not, then, travel for knowledge. Nor do we travel in order to forget, for a short while, our daily cares and troubles, for we know (Horace again) that ‘post equitem sedet atra cura’ – (‘behind the horseman sits black care’) – in other words, wherever we go, our cares will go with us. Thus it is not a thirst for knowledge that drives us, nor a longing to escape, but simple curiosity; and curiosity seems to be a driving force of its own, not explicable in terms of any others. Those who have studied such things tell us that curiosity, the disinterested need to find out about things, is an instinct that remains with us all our lives, and a uniquely human characteristic.”

– Kolakowski, Leszek . “On Travel.” Freedom, Fame, Lying, and Betrayal, trans. Agnieszka Kolakowska. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1999. 42-43.

I’m glad this mentions a point that I’ve long felt, that you don’t necessarily get a more accurate picture of a country by visiting it or talking to a native. You get a more compelling perspective, a more visceral one, perhaps, but one no more accurate than a photograph or perhaps even less than the comprehensive Wiki page on it. But perhaps one travels for a different reason. This also reminds me of the first few pages of the novel, One Day (which had such a fascinating and admittedly romantic premise, but came out disappointing as a package), where the girl dismisses the idea of travel as soul-searching or self-actualizing or philosophical but rather just a cop-out, a romantic, naive, bourgeois idea for those unsure of what to do next. Who knows? I am still struggling with all the multiple perspectives myself.

My eyes are totally puffy right now and I want to go to sleep, but watching the movie has … opened the floodgates of my thoughts, it seems. I also realized something while I was there: Pearson has given me the exposure to and the familiarity with diversity, whether linguistic or cultural or religious or physical, not absolutely but incrementally, to the extent that diversity has become normal. For me, the biggest manifestation of that is linguistic; I like the fact that Arabic and French and German and Spanish and Cantonese and all these languages sound normal to me now, part of the fabric of my existence, and sometimes I think this is the biggest benefit of Pearson for me, this … contextualization of your world view as not the primary or dominant one, but just yours, and one out of so, so many – reduces the chances of cultural chauvinism. Before anything, it’s a sense in the same category as the five traditional senses, or more analogously, the less discrete ones like equilibrioception (sense of balance) and kinesthesioception (acceleration!); it’s something visceral, not necessarily an intellectual understanding, because I think I had the latter before, but I never understood what the former felt like.

The more I think about things, the less clear I am, naturally. University simultaneously seems both sure and unsure at the same time. I wish my desires or inclinations will stay concrete long enough for me to act decisively on them. What more could I want?

2 am. Perhaps time for bed.

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