10 years ago, I spent a year in Geneva. I went there for all the wrong reasons and when I pursue a path with dishonest intentions, I often lose out. My official narrative wasn’t entirely untrue but I would say featured less than 30% of the reasons why I wanted to go. Indeed I did want to academically evolve and take a second postgraduate in a subject matter connected to my professional industry. But ultimately, I was looking to escape. We were as a tribe experiencing a highly volatile and traumatic episode of ill health by one of our loved ones and I did not have the courage to face up to the disintegration of my own flesh. At the same time, my personal relationship seemed to be in its last legs and I was still adjusting to the gravity of my professional responsibilities. Today, I understand that the Geneva days was a clear example of how when we choose Path B to avoid the responsibility of Path A, then life is likely to give you a bitter lesson. It will be a great lesson in the bigger overall picture of course, but roads taken to avoid responsibilities are quite often the one’s filled with sticks and stones.
I was in the greying end of my 20’s, and quite frankly I always viewed my 20’s as just an extension of my adolescence. A time of emotional and mental retardation. I watch the younger generation today in absolute awe and fascination, they seem so worldly and sophisticated and my goodness what a bonus it must be not to roam around life in a foggy mess during one’s prime years. As explained in my previous post, life for me began after India and everything else before seemed like a corridor of smoky mirrors.
In all institutions of higher learning, and especially within this niche field (at the time) competition and competitive personalities would naturally thrive but I would still say that by and large, people who gravitate towards this body of law were people who longed to be of service to others and this is never a bad quality to surround yourself with. The only thing is, being consumed by the concept of wanting to be of service to others is never quite the same of being consumed by the activity of being of service to others and it is only in the latter form was I able to experience the soul-transforming adrenalin I had been trying to achieve all of my life.
There were also too many written and unwritten social etiquettes. We ought to be polite but reserved, understand social cues enough to identify which circles we could have access to and which were off limits. People were not always comfortable enough in their own skins to share with you their lives. I did also find the intellectual vigour and stamina of the Swiss education system superior to that of the English system, where I had been moulded by for eight years. The quality of discourse and line of inquiry by my contemporaries were impressive and I’m afraid, beyond me at the time. Instead of trying to understand how the law worked, they were in fact already rolling up their sleeves to improve the law. It was both inspiring and intimidating. I excelled in some areas, fell back in others and when I realised I wouldn’t be in the top 5, I withdrew from trying too hard. Having said all that, it was a powerful degree and perhaps the only piece of qualification that I continue to practically apply in my working life today.
So what was the problem, why all the drama in this cheesy chocolatey heaven of supposed efficiency? The upheavals I experienced in Geneva ran along the themes of betrayal. And what is betrayal? For me it was about not being able to receive what you believe you were entitled to in the normal order of life – swallowing the fact that life’s equation is not about 1+1=2. If we study hard for our exams, we expect to receive amazing grades and if we stayed honest to the people we love, we expect the same from them. This was the type of social contract I thought I signed up for in life. And so when it seemed that life didn’t quite deliver to me my entitlements, the contract was breached and I felt ripped in half by the betrayal. I experienced the acute pain of heart break, of academic pressures, of a loved one’s illness and the daily activity of just getting up and going for classes felt close to impossible in many days. My pictorial recollection of this year is mainly one of walking in a stupor of blind devastation from Gare Cornavin up to Charmille in cold winter.
Having all of this drama play out in this super privileged society of punctual public transport and high achieving intellects just made my ‘struggles’ even more offensive. In a country of more disorder and palpable suffering, I have more perspective on priorities. Conversely, when surrounded by clean streets, pristine and organised architecture and an unnatural (to me) deference to rules (no using the lavatories beyond a certain time in your own private home, submitting a desirable tenant ‘dossier’, needing to purchase photocopy cards before being allowed to copy one lousy page from a library book) made me constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown by my inner chaos. For awhile I wondered if I would have been able to deal with the Geneva ‘dramas’ better had I gone to Delhi first (hence become more of a grown up woman and less of a child woman). I am still not sure – it could well be that had I gone to Geneva after Delhi, the knowledge that there was a real life to be led somewhere else in the globe rather than this sanitised first world structure of which I have no true cultural affinity with might well have broken me deeper.
And so… for me Geneva was a place where I lost my innocent belief that life was a game of arithmetics. That if we do good, we get good. It got me to learn that life is a flawed enterprise, and we do good for a higher purpose, not in order to just ‘get good’. It is always the hope of course, that our journeys are smooth and full of suitable and ‘deserving’ rewards but should that not be the case then rising to the occasion, and holding on to the rope of our Creator will be a beautiful celebration of growth.
Ten years later and we have come full circle. I have been going and will continue to keep returning to the city for work this time and will blog more about how this journey has unfolded, the second time around.