A month into my fieldwork, during a time of deepening confusion and what I would later recognize as despair, I received an email from a student at my alma mater. She represented an on-campus publication which voices the views of students, alumni and faculty from our department. She sought my reflections on the Masters program which I had completed and which she was still in the midst of:
Did I enjoy my time at the institute? Were there things I would do differently if I could go back in time? What is life after graduating like? Did my education prepare me for the life I have begun to lead?
These were charming questions even to my muddled, fraught mind. Charming because they were naiive and almost unanswerable. They were questions that I too would have asked as a student – at a time when, seen through the prism of holidays, internships, and summer schools, life beyond university seemed to contain endless possibilities, when the horizon of the years ahead glittered, sun-like, with secrets. In my reply to these questions, I tried to refrain from platitudes, I tried to write the kind of answers that would have encouraged me as an earnest student with mutable hopes.
What is life like after graduating? Much like life was like during or before college, I said – just as resistant to summary definitions. Which was and is the truth. But there were parallel truths I could have conveyed. That my experience of exiting campus-life as I knew it, and beginning a PhD, has been nothing like I imagined. That I have had a first taste of how lonely one can feel, how lost and jaded. That I felt as though I had, without knowing it, been on a conveyor-belt headed somewhere, and that suddenly some part of me – a limb, perhaps – was dangling ragged off the belt, wizening me to how close I was to falling off, how close I was to dissolution.
There are things we say. There are things we are silent about – because they render us inarticulate, or because we feel that the mundane horrors of our lives would serve no purpose being told. What fascinates me sometimes, what holds me in its thrall, is the idea that someone who is herself fraying – whose thoughts are ill and confused – can proffer advice to someone at the other end of a cable, and quite possibly as distressed. What fascinates me is the idea that they can help each other.