Campus capers by Zuni Chopra: Wilful hatred, wilful change
I once told my dorm-mates at university that I was passionate about dedicating myself to the arts; one of the reasons being that my future felt exciting, fresh, full of a thousand possibilities. I didn’t already know my courses for the next four years (cinema, journalism, fantasy?), didn’t know whether I’d go to graduate school (maybe I’ll discover a talent for oceanography?), had no idea where I wanted to live once I stepped out into the world (Mumbai, New York…Paris?). I loved, in short, the uncertainty of it all. Well. If you’re listening up there, whoever’s running the show, this – and I cannot stress it enough – is definitely not what I meant.
College students now confront an uncertainty so absolute that to face it is like staring into the heart of unperceivable darkness; to step forward in spite of it is like hovering over a bottomless, unearthly tomb; something’s moving in the depths of shadow…but you’re not quite sure what it is. Will I return to college – or even be allowed to return to college – in the fall, travelling halfway across the world to a country ablaze with conflict? Will I stay in my bedroom, writing increasingly despairing and desolate monthly columns? Will I feel my spirit snap cleanly in two somewhere around the millionth day of mundane, monotonous gloom, and pack my bags to swim to Switzerland? Go with your gut, my loved ones tell me. Informed decisions are nice, sure – but for something as crucial and emotionally driven as this, go with what comes naturally.
There are few things in this world that come naturally to humans. There is much disagreement over these few things, and hence there are even fewer things that we know for certain. In the times we’re living through, a most compelling case can be made for hatred. Twisted, vicious, incurable hatred that blossoms in the vile hearts of humanity, shredding apart their artificial peace, as if to prove it had never existed in the first place.
Hatred that flourishes on fear, despair, abuse; hatred that burrows its way into cavernous souls that can no longer bear the weight of the gruelling lives they’ve been made to lead. I see it in the faceless rage of social media; I see it in the barrels of military rifles marring defenseless communities; I see it in the tattered soles of migrants, caked with clotted blood; I see it in the eyes of the fairer man, the pious man, the decidedly masculine man - forever mistrusting, forever untrue.
Power of change
But there is another thing that comes naturally to humans, as surely as all rivers eventually meet the sea. Change. It’s such an obvious thing, a thing which flows so effortlessly, that, like a peculiar cloud, one might not even notice it until it’s pointed out. Even in a world that has frozen in terror, change persists. Some change is easy. It comes with the graying of autumn leaves, the rise and fall of the misshapen moon, the shuffle of music that catches your ear, the shift in the stories your heart chooses to lose itself in. Some change is excruciating. The tears on a crumpled boarding pass, the fading smell of your mother’s shampoo, the casting aside of a flat, square cap, unmissable ocean blue.
But the most powerful change, I believe, is wilful. Today, you decide, I’ll have fruit for breakfast. Today, I’ll be kind to strangers. Today, I start work on a screenplay. Today, I no longer care what they think. Today, I will dare to ask for more. Today, we will demand equality. Today, we begin our campaign for justice. Incredible. Not unbreakable, perhaps; but unmistakable, inescapable, and, in the end, always influential.
So, believe in it. Believe not in uncertainty and hatred, but in this. Believe that the person you want to be, the world that you want to create, is only a few determined decisions away. No matter its scale, no matter its form, no matter its eventual conclusion, this is the best advice I have both received and dispensed; be your own wilful change.
Zuni Chopra is currently a freshman at Stanford university where she’s studying the creative arts. She has authored three books of poetry and one novel. Through this column, she chronicles her journey as an international student leaving home for the first time to study abroad.
From HT Brunch, July 12, 2020
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