Since the time I remember stepping on this campus, I have never failed to acknowledge its beauty, the pink petals on the greens that brighten the spring, the oranges with the yellows and browns scattered around squirrels in the fall, the regal castle like library, somber yet powerfully nostalgic Mary Lyon's grave, and the list goes on. However, at the same time, I find myself noticing all the beauty much more closely at times like these, when goodbyes stand awaiting and I, in my desperate attempts to repeatedly pause time, am trying to capture it all in one go.
After experiencing the heightened exuberance of a fresh firstie who believed that she could do anything and be super amazed by every single thing this campus had to offer, I noticed my energy levels decline over the course of the next three years and the uniqueness of this place become the norm, rather than the exception. The perfection stayed where it was. Yet, it was the imperfection I often found myself focusing on. A sour taste of dissatisfaction at not having done enough, doing enough but not the way it should be done, doing it all and not being good enough, doing the best it can get but still feeling stuck, not being able to escape from certain pressures, the overwhelming suffocation of the world, sometimes ultra amplified by the confines of this small town we call South Hadley.
But now as I try to gather myself, organize my feelings - like the assortment of shells I used to pick from Karachi's beaches - retouching, reabsorbing and packing it all in the hollows of my heart, as well as one small suitcase, I dont know if there is any easier way to do this. What Mount Holyoke has given me is too much to quantify. The diploma I carry is worth more than $200,000 and by the graces of the scholarship and financial aid, I have it. But it is still the less valuable of all the things that I have today. So what are these other things that are more important? I guess its time to try doing an inventory. For the first time, and for the countless times to come.
1- A sense of home. Yes, as absurd as it sounds coming from someone who left home from the other end of the world to come here, Mount Holyoke has made me reevaluate the term "home" itself and understand my relationship with it. It is a bittersweet, nostalgic relationship. One may never be fully satisfied with home at home and be craving to venture out and about, explore the roads on another corner of the world and cruise on a ship to skies far, far away. But as soon as one steps out of home, for good too, despite the best of our travelers' instincts - our bodies crave for that familiar home, like a baby crying for his mother's lap. Of course, some of us are too old to cry so expressively, but away from home, we all shed tears one way or the other. For in the big, big world, there is lots of learning and great experiences, but the security we feel in that small, small world we know as home, is second to none. This security need not be physical or emotional, but it is more like an existential security - a security that comes from a reinforcement and validation of your existence. No matter where in the world you go, the environment where you first connected to your deeper self, will always reconnect you back to your roots, and ground you at what you know as your center. Home is not a place static in time or space, but rather a nurturing environment that makes those shy hidden buds, blossom into flowers - a place that tells your deepest fears and uncertainties that it is okay and it will be fine, because right now you are at home and even at the worst of times, you can retreat back to home. It is that center of existential gravity, that Mount Holyoke has become and will always stay for me.
2- Womanhood. From the world where I came from, I was never allowed to feel happy or even satisfied at being born a girl. Firstly, I was too tall for that gender and very possibly inclined to be doomed at the lack of potential suitors who were equally, if not more, tall. Secondly, I was too ambitious and in the words of some, too "aggressive," for my gender because of my attempts to get an education that wasn't meant for me to begin with. Thirdly, I was too adventuresome, or rowdy, unlike the way girls in middle class neighborhoods are supposed to be. Going for a bike ride early morning or playing cricket on the street when milkmen pass on their motorbikes, often casting a good long stare or two, was very much inappropriate for girls. Despite so many things being so inappropriate for my gender, last but not the least, the fact that I did manage to do them somehow or the other, was never well-taken. So when the first time I heard stories of how I would become even more unfixable and an utterly hopeless case, when I got back with a degree from "Amreeka," I decided to try a new approach. An approach of self-preservation. For the longest time ever, I resisted change and became an advocate of the socially acceptable norms of my society, just so that when I went back, I had protected my value systems just enough to not be completely unacceptable in that environment. For no one likes to be homeless. And it isn't hard to imagine the worst that could happen to one who, already so incapable of making and fitting in a home - an art that God had predisposed all other women to but had conveniently ignored in this case - becomes more unwomanly. Confused as to why I was born a girl and blessed with many instincts of a man, I persisted at my self-preservation at Mount Holyoke. However, here I met girls who defied all my conceptions of being the worst possible "girl" according to the standards set for a "good girl". I met girls who were confident about being the girls they were. I met women who respected me for being a woman and men who never treated me as any less. I saw women lead lives where they were the shapers of their own destinies, where they might be very lonely at times, but were never outcasts or purposeless because of their singlehood. Women who were individuals and humans before they were creatures capable of birthing, longing for love, and desiring to make a home. Women who were very happy with some men and very disappointed with others, but with every consecutive man, their lives did not find and lose meaning completely. For it is with this conception of what a woman is, that I hope to leave today.
3 - Intellect. Among the countless class sessions where my deeply held convictions have been thoroughly challenged and where the intellectual calibre of all those present in the room has been too overwhelming for me to give an ounce's worth of value to my own, I can hardly remember some well enough to preciously preserve forever in my mind's treasure box. My brain fails me when I try to revisit all those moments of intellectual growth. And it disheartens me that even so soon in time, I can't remember it all. But why should this be so disheartening? Although a human brain has a large storage space, we tend to forget similar events and retain only more novel information, allowing our neurons to reconnect in new ways for new learning to happen. This is why at the end of every semester, all we have are a few flash backs with large chunks of nothingness. And if I couldn't even preserve it all at the end of one semester, I can't expect myself to be able to accomplish this gargantuan task at the end of these four years. Moreover, how would such a collection of moments have served me anyways? Yes, it would have made me remember all the different view points on countless political and international issues and it would have left me with a much a greater working knowledge of all that I once learnt and continue to learn, but all is not lost due to my human limitations. I can still remember how the process of learning unraveled for me, how I challenged myself and others and felt accomplished whenever I was successful at organizing the hoards of conflicting information in a research paper. The brain conditioning that has happened because I was made to repeat the same process of learning so many times in different subject areas, will stick with me forever. Hence, even though I cant carry all that knowledge with me, I will carry a more polished intellect and use it to embark on new expeditions of rediscovering knowledge in new environments.
Three does not seem like a flattering enough number for the things that are "too much to quantify". However, this list is not exhaustive by any means. It is merely a memory in evolution, the drifting water in the upper lake and a chai discussion that never ends.