“Perfect Places” and Mental Spaces

During my last week in Bangalore, a soft chill ran through the city, burrowing into my throat like a mischievous snake in a garden patch. Perhaps the change in weather—a sharp contrast to the temperate warmth that generally paces through the Garden City’s streets—was a symbol of the journey to come, one in which I must attempt to vaporize back into the world I knew before my fellowship experience. Or perhaps it was nature’s way of challenging me to absorb as much as I could before I left.

Then again, I might just be exaggerating for the sake of poetic prose. Who knows?

As the day of my departure approached, I was faced with a natural question from friends and family: how do I feel about “The Return” (as if coming back to the United States is the same thing as attending a midnight showing of a cheesy horror film)? Have I taken advantage of my time in India to the fullest extent possible? Am I excited to come back?

Given that I am someone whose mind is always running, it was rather unsettling to not have any tangible answers to these questions. I don’t know, I would mutter back. Even so, there is one question that I can answer with great certainty: has your experience changed you? Indeed, it has.

In addition to learning a great deal from my time at Swasti, I have also acquired much introspection from spending time with myself. Being in Bangalore, even for the short span of six weeks, has provided me a “mental space” that is difficult to find amidst the chaotic bustle of campus life. In Bangalore, I have been able to read deeply, explore freely and engage in life changing conversations with individuals who are both older than me and wield unique sets of life experiences. I have laughed openly with family and friends, sometimes to the point of crying. I have reflected, not only on where I want my education to go, but also on how I want to apply it towards the greater goal of living in an equitable world. I have been provided essential opportunities to consider my relationships and the ways in which I am—or am not—reconciling them with my core values. I had the time to divulge into my own mind, which as strange as it sounds has been a necessary avenue for self-care during my time abroad. In this sense, Bangalore has been more than I could have ever imagined; maybe this is what Lorde means when she sings about “Perfect Places” on her recently released album.

A photo taken in Mavinakere, a small village in the Indian state of Karnataka.

A photo taken in Mavinakere, a small village in the Indian state of Karnataka. 

I have always been someone who thrives in the comfort of others, a self-proclaimed extrovert who easily derived happiness from others but struggled to do so in solitude. There have been countless instances in which, upon finding all my close friends to be busy or unavailable, I would feel helpless and downtrodden. While my experiences in India have not completely done away with my extroverted nature (I certainly wouldn’t want it to!) I have begun to find joy in small moments of loneliness and trust in myself. I no longer feel the need to do anything and everything to avoid spending time alone…that’s pretty neat, don’t you think?

The question now becomes this: how (if at all) can this changed version of me fit neatly into what I have known, both in my home environment and at school? Is it possible for me to reconcile my desire to maximize my relationships during my last year of my undergraduate career with my drive to be intellectually and personally independent? How can I maintain a core goal of living humbly as I operate within the self-centered utopia that is a college town?

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It is getting late, and I shall end this blog post—the first part of my post-fellowship reflection—soon. But I shall say this: we often speak of experiences that “shake us to our bones,” of memories so vivid that they occupy the deepest chamber of our bodies. But what do we make of an experience that does not diffuse to our bones, but rather to the rich bloodstream lying beneath our dermis? What do we make of an episode that does not sit idly in calcium deposits, but prances freely throughout our entire system, acting as a constant reminder of the passion we felt?

I suppose the answer to the questions I have posed in these blog posts—as well as those that have been posed to me by those I have met—will be incredibly difficult to find. But then again, isn’t that part of the fun?

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About 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 ““Perfect Places” and Mental Spaces

  1. Neel, I hope you continue to explore these questions (as I know you will!). I think you have done a wonderful job of really immersing yourself and opening yourself up to the city and the people whom you surrounded yourself with. From one extrovert to another, I definitely understand the tension- or perhaps blending- of solitude that I felt when leaving India. It was both interesting and powerful because I think that I really grew as an individual. I am so excited for as you return and continue on learning (and teaching!) 🙂

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