Thorayur, a small village in Pollachi district. Although now well known for nefarious reasons, Pollachi is often known as the “Coconut Capital” of Tamilnadu. Thorayur is a quaint little village situated therein. Situated about 600 kms away from the state capital of Chennai, the village has coconut plantations that supplies to coir mills. She was born here. And as they say, small village people have bigger dreams, she was not an exception.
Mythili Sriraman Iyer, daughter of Sriraman and Sudha Iyer. She was named after Sita, blame it on the religious Tamil Brahmin household. They fondly called her Amu. Mr. Iyer owned coffee plantations in Thorayur. It could be occupational hazard that he was fond of geography. His knowledge of the terrains, flora and fauna was laudable and his enthusiasm for it, sadly, wasn’t contagious. Mrs. Iyer was a housewife, but was extremely fond of books. They together, unknowingly, planted the dream that Mythili later saw even with her open eyes.
To a pre-schooler, Mr. Iyer had gifted a Geography atlas with a hope that she would share his interests of the subject too. But Mythili never went past the solar system printed in the book. A beautiful glossy solar system that had pictures of the planets and twinkling stars against the backdrop of the deep black night sky. And, that was where it all began. She started loving and talking about the stars. Her mother fuelled her interest and curiosity further by reading her related books about the planets, stars, satellites, everything celestial.
As a child, sleeping in the courtyard during the night, cuddled in her grandmother’s arms, little Mythili would amaze her grandmother with her queries and answers about the stars.
“Patti, Atu eṉṉa theriyuma?(Grandma, do you know what that is?)
“Athu eṉṉa?” (What is it?)
“It is a star. And all those stars together in that corner of the sky, that is a constellation. Amma tells me from the books that stars don’t really twinkle. When I grow up, I will find out why” Mythili said.
Patti would look at little Mythili with awe and surprise, and would hug her harder. And that became a norm. At school, whenever she was asked by any of the teachers “What do you want to become when you grow up?” And Mythili, without blinking would reflexively answer, “I want to travel to the stars to know more about them”
Her goal became clearer as she grew up. What began with stars, was now the field of astronomy, and what was study of stars to be specific was the specialised field of astrophysics. Mr. Iyer was extremely proud of his daughter. She was not just ambitious, but was also determined enough to reach where she wanted to. Thorayur, however, was too small a place for Mythili to soar. Her parents realised that and decided it was best that she was sent to Chennai for further studies. She would then get the right kind of guidance and exposure required.
Mythili had just completed her class 12th examinations and had secured commendable marks to get her into Loyola College, the best in Chennai for Science stream. She knew her further steps towards the goal, to complete her bachelors in Physics and bag the INSPIRE National Scholarship that would pave her way to the field of astrophysics. But little did she know that it was going to be a tough road ahead.
Mythili, was a resident student at the college. The humble place and the protective environment that she came from was averse to any kind of subjugation and that is what she faced. Day in and day out, she was bullied by her seniors. Pushing, being shoved and hurling nasty comments at her whenever she crossed paths was just the tip of the iceberg. She was made to clean their rooms, complete their assignments, wash their clothes and other nasty jobs. Her parents had sent her to Chennai for a far greater reason, and so she didn’t want them to intervene for something she thought was frivolous. She tried to tackle it her way by complaining to the authorities, but for the fear of bullies, she didn’t have anyone who would testify for her.
With her complaints, the torture just got worse. It severely affected her. Once an outgoing and amiable person, Mythili started staying cocooned to herself now. The coercion she was subjected to, made her have nightmares, she shuddered at the call of her name. Her mind wandered during the classes thinking about what she would have to face back at the hostel. Her performance suffered, grades faltered, that made her miss the cut-off marks required for her ambitious INSPIRE scholarship. She took seriously ill. The hostel authorities decided to call her parents. Mythili broke down in her father’s arms,
‘Appa, namma urruku poyaralam’
‘Enge ellorum raatchasinge.’
(Appa, take me away from here. The girls here are monsters. Please Appa)
Her parents were horrified to hear her sordid tales. Amma was trying her best to console an incessantly sobbing Mythili, when she herself didn’t know how to maintain composure. Appa took the authorities to task, the bullies were rusticated, but somehow the dents on Mythili’s self confidence were too many to repair. She now just wanted to go back home. She was lost. Her playful conversations with Patti were now just monosyllables. At home, she would keep to herself, staring for hours at the blank wall or the ceiling fan. Amma Appa were trying their best to talk her out of it, reminding her of her dreams, cajoling her to take up the same subjects in some other city, some other college, but nothing seemed to work. They didn’t have an answer for her question “Why me?”.
Mythili woke up one day to find a first edition of her favourite book – A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings on her bedside table. Along with the book was a note from her Appa,
“My dear Amu, Sometimes the universe doesn’t have answers to every ‘why’ that you throw at it. But, the answer for ‘what next’ completely lies within you. I just want you to know that just like always, the decision will be yours. Whatever you decide, we will always be there for you. But I also want you to know, that not everyone has in them to pursue their dreams. You have that zeal and I do not want it to die”.
She ran and hugged her parents and thus began a new chapter of her life. She went back to Loyola to complete her Bachelors. Unfortunately, due to the study gap, her grades however still didn’t bag her the INSPIRE spot.
With high spirits, nevertheless, she pursued her Masters in Astronomy from IISc, Bangalore and took up a position of Research Assistant post on completion. That helped her with the time and resources she needed for her Doctoral degree. In the meanwhile, on a personal front, she was cajoled by Amma and Appa to get married, but she dismissed the thought each time by saying “As long as I have my stars, I will never be alone”. The bullying incident had made her a cynic for good. Amma was worried for her daughter, as every mother would be, but she knew nothing else would make her happy than her dreams.
Mythili completed her Doctorate degree. Her research on dark matter, black holes and supernovae was laudable. Her scientific papers had already made her mark with renowned publications. But she knew she wanted something beyond. She continued to strive for the same and her efforts bore fruits with the received letter.
“Dear Ms. Iyer,
It gives us immense pleasure in informing you that you have been selected for the Post Doctorate Fellowship (PDF) at the prestigious Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics (MPA), Garwich, Germany.
Your ground-breaking contributions in the field of high energy astronomy and astrophysics have been noteworthy. Your research will contribute as a rich resource for the future scientists in generations to come.
We look forward to your collaboration and engagement with us.
Prof. Dr. Guinevere Kauffmann
Mythili read the letter for the nth time since yesterday and was crossed with the same thought again. If only Appa was here today to read this. She placed the letter back on the table where Appa’s photograph was kept.
Mythili walked to her room and rested herself on the armchair. She couldn’t fathom the happenings. It all still felt like a pleasant dream, and she was apprehensive about the dream coming to an end. But will it? After all she knew that happiness was dual in nature. That every happiness comes with a baggage of grief tied to its end. But for the moment, she didn’t care. She was going to be amongst her favourite stars for the rest of her life.
Appa: Father in Tamil
Amma: Mother in Tamil
Patti: Grandmother in Tamil
Prof. Dr. Guinevere Kauffmann: Current Scientific Director, Kollegium, MPA
The author realises the stark similarities between the first entry for this prompt and her work. She wishes to ascertain the fact that this piece was written much before the first entry was published. She, however, is sure that readers can’t help but make comparisons. At a moment the author and her muse decided to change the story drastically but that would have trifled the muse’s true aspirations, refuted the author’s creative streak and dismissed her man hours invested while writing this piece. Hence author urges the readers and reviewers to treat her work with a fresh perspective, sans comparisons. Thank you!
Picture Courtesy: Thom Schneider
The above story is an entry into #Aspirations an Artale Greenhorns-2, Feathers Club Exclusive writing event entry.
Check out event guidelines here: https://artoonsinn.com/artale-greenhorns-2/
Check out Pranita’s space here: https://artoonsinn.com/author/pranita-bhagat/