I live and work in two countries: India and Britain and within two cultures which are usually perceived as extremely different to each other. From where I stand, it’s the similarities which strike home.
In both, the figure of the scholar standing apart from the crowd in a kind of meditative and ethereal calm holds popular currency. As an undergraduate at Cambridge, one of the first jokes I read in the fresher’s pack was this one: “How many Cambridge students does it take to change a lightbulb?” Answer: One – s/he holds it to the socket and the world turns around her/him. (Okay, I admit the gender sensitive language is my addition but it’s in my bones : )).
There is probably no British university which doesn’t have a version of this joke, and I still think it’s quite good. For my purpose here I just want to point out that it’s funny because the idea of a self-enclosed and, materially speaking, rather at-sea scholar is, in my experience, widely accepted as a common truth.
In India, particularly in Bengal where I live for some of the year and where knowledge for it’s own sake is a core, cultural value, the attitude is a little different. A scholar is still seen often as detached from the material world- but this is a positive thing. It shows that the person in question is following the life of the mind.
Teachers and researchers are far from being the only professionals who are thus subtly encouraged to live a unidimensional life. Any urban professional, anywhere – and the way our world works, an ambitious professional in any field does need to spend at least part of their career being urban – is similarly expected to focus on the visual and the mental.
But we are starving ourselves. At least, that’s how it feels to me. I didn’t realize how much until I took up a yoga and movement course, which has helped me to bring movement back into my daily work day. I am not just my head, I’m a complete human being. My research and teaching are better because I am, quite simply, happier. Yoga, of course, isn’t everyone’s movement-genre of choice but for anyone who’s curious to know how this might work, do take a look at this site, where I found the course I eventually signed up to : http://www.joyrebel.com/.
And now, to finally get that light bulb screwed in : ).