There is this white T-shirt that I have which I absolutely love. My dad got it for me from Japan and it says "Global peace is delivered from Hiroshima" in the front in sky blue lettering. The back has an elaborate step-by-step depiction of how to make the peace cranes. Also in the same amazing light blue print.
I used to wear it often to lab because it looked good (especially on light blue jeans!) plus it was comfortable. But most often, my mentor didn't get to see it because I'd be wearing a lab coat on top of it. One day, after I finished my work, I removed my lab coat and then went to her work bench to see what she was upto and whether she needed any help. She then noticed my T-shirt. She was initially a bit puzzled, I don't think she read "Hiroshima" properly and was asked me what that was and what the caption meant. I explained that Hiroshima was one of the cities in Japan which was nuked during the second world war and the effects of that stand as a testament to the destruction and havoc brought about by war. It was a peace-propagating shirt. The minute I finished my story, I saw a dark look on her face... like she has just seen something disgusting that she disapproves of.. and then she said...
"The Japanese deserved what they got"
I was shocked. I never expected to hear that from anybody. She then noticed the expression on my face and immediately became sheepish and kinda embarrassed and apologized for what she said. She said it was wrong of her to say something like that. But too late, I was already curious as to reason behind such a strong reaction. That triggered a 2 hour conversation with her that was so enlightening.
I had taken a History module about a year back. It was divided into 3 parts and one of those 3 parts was dedicated solely to Japan as an empire before the world wars and about its colonization in China, Korea, Taiwan etc etc etc. I had read about the Nanking Massacre. I thought it was pretty brutal but my opinions ended there. I didn't dwell on it too much.Until I got down to talking about it with my mentor. She talked about it with such passion and anger. It was surprising to see her like that because I have never seen her talk passionately about anything at all... not even science! She talked at length about all the atrocities that took place at Nanking, the scars left behind for the future generations and all the gory details. The more I listened to her, the more I realised why she had made that harsh statement earlier. It suddenly didn't seem so harsh anymore. Not from her perspective atleast.
Its so amazing how different things sound when you look through the eyes of another person and try, for just one moment, to live the life of another. The Nanking Massacre, which was bordering on the edge of reality and myth in my mind, got a big shove and made it more real that I would have liked it to be. It made a difference... between listening to an event as horrifc as that from a dispassionate, caucasian lecturer who sees the whole event as something very academic as opposed to somebody from that region, who has grown up hearing about it from people who were actually there... who learnt it as a part of history. Lets see if a comparison helps... Ask a student from Singapore who has read a thing or two about Indian History and British Raj to talk about it for two hours. Then ask an Indian student from India who had studied the British Raj as a part of the curriculum for years together to talk about it. Who would make a bigger impression? Obviously the Indian student... since the education of the Indian student in that matter does not stop with textbooks. The teacher, the parents, the gradparents, everybody around the student would talk about the whole thing... any time, any place... with a lot of passion (and in the case of grandparents, with a lot of memories). Its not something academic. It becomes something very personal to the Indian student... a part of his/her identity. What makes me who I am today is my foundation in the history and culture of my nation. It was the same case for my mentor... what defines her is the history and culture of China.
I can't blame her for holding a grudge. Some wounds just don't heal. But then she told me something else that amazed me so much. It instilled such respect in me for her... she said..
"I don't talk about this much to my son. I do not want him to grow up like me, hating a certain section of people because of what their ancestors had done. Past is past. My son is the future and I don't want it to be a future of hatred and discrimination".
Well... some wounds never heal... But I really gotta applaud this lady for being the bigger person and making sure the hatred stops with her generation. Thats the biggest step in healing the world and bringing people together.... My mentor never ceases to surprise me