A Lesson in Time

As a college student, my perception of time is, for most of the year, measured in the following parameters: days left to study for an exam, minutes between classes, seconds more that I can sleep, and countless moments of laughter and euphoria with friends. We tend to speak of time as a tangible entity, something that we can easily grab by the shoulders and steer in the direction of our dreams. Yet, time is also a sorcerer of sorts, a mystical being who, with a gentle twist of its fingers, can lift the present from under our feet and replace it with a dramatically different present.

When I was planning my trip to India back in March, I was governed by a distorted sense of time. It was my understanding that most students who participate in the Summer in South Asia Fellowship program work in India for a time span of four to six weeks. Six weeks, back then, seemed like a lifetime. I made the decision to spend approximately this amount of time working with Swasti in Bangalore. It seemed sufficient, at the time.

Since stepping through the glass doors that separate the Bengaluru International Airport from the Garden City, I have gradually come to see how inelastic the time span of six weeks is. As the time for me to leave India slithers towards me with the tantalizing stare of a golden-eared cobra, I find myself feeling incomplete. The lessons I am learning during my internship with Swasti are too numerous, illustrious and stimulating to put a neat bow on it now. And the idea of leaving a Bangalore, a city that in both its loudest and most silent states has given me so much, is highly unnerving. If I leave so soon, am I making the most out of my experience? Am I doing justice, not only to the organization I work for, but also to myself?

It was these questions that flowed through my veins the evening I frantically called home and proclaimed my unyielding desire to extend my internship. My parents, though no strangers to the charm wielded by Bangalore, were certainly surprised to hear that I had fallen in love with the same place that, one month prior, I was terrified to travel to. Still, they actively listened to my idea and responded simply. Extending my internship, they explained, would not only be expensive, but would also compromise family obligations taking place later in the summer. We understand, they explained. But there is just not enough time.

Not enough time.

I ended the call by telling them that I understood, but even in the hours to follow, I was not so confident. There is a rich body of advocacy taking place at Swasti, and an undying culture of community in Bangalore that still has to be explored. As I lay in bed that night, my eyes fixated on the window from which the deep sighs of monsoon rainfall exhaled, I realized that my thought process had a fundamental flaw: I was driven not solely by a desire to continue my work with Swasti, but also by a motivation to justify the validity of my experience to those back home.

I believe this mindset is natural of any person who is receiving an education—formal or informal—in a new space. The temptation to take incredible pictures, post them to social media and invite those we love into our experience is incredibly hard to resist. We want others to appreciate our bravery in stepping into a new realm of the world, to understand how rich our experience is. But I’ve realized—and this may be profoundly selfish of me—that this experience is mine, and mine alone. No matter how many pictures I take (very few thus far), nobody will be able to understand how eye opening this experience has actually been. The mechanics of time have given rise to a particular present, but I control how I use this journey to guide my future.

Bangalore sunset

The next day, I spoke to my supervisor at Swasti about two exciting possibilities: the first being that I continue my work with Swasti for a few more weeks after returning to the United States, and the second being that I come back to the organization next summer to complete a two month internship. While the latter scenario is far less concrete, I was humbled to see the eagerness on my supervisor’s face. Her affirmation of my thoughts has proven one fundamental truth: time can move many things, but it is entirely helpless against the current of a beating heart.

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Neel Swamy

Neel is a rising senior studying Neuroscience with a minor in Gender & Health. After graduation, Neel hopes to attend pharmacy school and one day work with patients in a clinical psychiatric setting. Neel will be spending five weeks working with Swasti, a health resource center in Bangalore that focuses on structurally and systematically addressing the health needs of marginalized populations. Neel will be specifically working with the Avahan India AIDS Initiative, a large HIV prevention program initiated in 2003 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Swasti is currently leading the third phase of the program, which specifically focuses on providing communities sustainable resources to two vulnerable populations: women from the sex working industry and men who identify as transgender. Neel's research project will focus on highlighting the ways in which the initiative that have proven to be successful and how Swasti has successfully empowered individuals from marginalized backgrounds through community engagement.

One thought on “A Lesson in Time”

  1. I’m so glad that you bring up how we see time as college students. I have noticed that it is easy to go from day to day, without really stopping to think about how quickly time passes. I think that it is important to realize that time passes quickly, but also important to think about what you can do to combat that, which you have done here. I also think both making a cognizant effort to live in each moment that you are presented with and planning on keeping in touch after you leave are really wonderful ideas 🙂

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