The Watson Diaries

Madhuri Vijay

Vijay with her hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Baksh (Madhuri Vijay)

Madhuri Vijay ’09 was one of 40 national recipients of a $28,000 fellowship from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. The grant supports a year of independent study and travel outside the United States to research a topic of the student’s choosing. Vijay, who hails from Bangalore, India, is currently using her fellowship to visit different parts of the world and explore the lives of Indians like herself who have left their motherland behind. This is the final installment in a four-part series documenting her travels.
Ten months of travel. Ten months of new places, new tastes, new sights, new languages, new customs. Ten months of feeling like an outsider. After ten months, I have finally started to feel the need to put my roots down, if only in a dingy one-bedroom apartment furnished with the meager leftovers of my college belongings.
Slightly traitorous, I know. I should be constantly grateful for the fantastic opportunity that I have been given. I should be carpe diem-ing like nobody’s business, and I am, but it’s not always easy. One can’t ward off loneliness forever. So every now and again, I tell myself, it’s all right to have a day or so of homesickness. And then I’m refreshed, ready to experience new things again.
What has made this year wonderful and what will stay with me once my suitcases are unpacked for the last time, once I return to a normal life, is the memory of the people I’ve met. In each country that I’ve visited, I’ve been taken into people’s homes and treated as one of the family. Without the hospitality of my various hosts, I’d have been tempted to give up and go home at several points along the way. But here I am, in Trinidad and Tobago, a twin island nation in the Caribbean, still exploring, still learning, still traveling, still excited.
Conclusions are difficult to come by after such a year. I wish there was a way I could sum it all up, write a ten-page paper, double-spaced with one-inch margins all around, about the results of my research, my experiences. But the days of ten-page papers are over. I know of no succinct way to tell you what I have learned about the world, about Indians, about myself.
This is troubling; after all, I have been on the road for almost a year; shouldn’t I have something more to show for it than pages of nonsensical scribbling, a pile of photographs, a few souvenirs and a shrug of the shoulders?
I should have pie charts, graphs, tables, theses, summaries, bullet points, flowcharts, regressions, statistics, conclusions. I should be able to tell you what I learned. But I can’t, and this terrifies me.
Thankfully, the Watson understands that conclusions are impossible, and even more than that, that they are unnecessary. You don’t travel around the world for a year, wrenched away from everything familiar, and come back with a neat answer wrapped in a pink bow. You aren’t supposed to. This is bound to be a messy process, and you’re expected to spend the next stage of your life sorting it out.
If I were Trinidadian, I’d say something like this: “Why I should be worryin’, boy? Dees tings come when dey comes.” Well, for the next two months or so, my goal is to absorb Trinidadian culture, so that’s exactly what I’ll say.
I’m here. I’m going to be here. I’m going to ‘lime,’ as the Trinis say, in clubs on the weekends. I’m going to listen to calypso. I’m going to cheer my adopted political party in the upcoming elections. I’m going to go to the beach. I’m going to meet as many people as I can. I’m going to write. I’m going to spend time with my host family. Conclusions can wait.
You can continue to follow Madhuri Vijay’s exploits at http://madhurivijay.wordpress.com/

Vijay with her hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Baksh (Madhuri Vijay)

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