If someone wanted to see beautiful fall colors during the 1960s, and before, all one had to do was to take a drive along Hwy 7 between Ottawa and Kingston. This stretch was a tourist attraction, so much so that people travelled long distances to view the panorama adorned with maple trees embellished with leaves colored in red, yellow and the shades in between. Sporadic sprinkle of the green of leaves still stubbornly clinging to their past, only added to the exotic complexion of the tapestry bordering the road. Interruption of the monotonicity by variety of other trees only added to the completeness of nature’s design.
Ranjit had arrived from India a little after midnight landing in Ottawa. The international students coming to Queen’s University landed normally in Toronto or Montreal. From there a bus or a train whisked them to Kingston along the recently completed Hwy 401, colloquially known as the White Highway. Landing in Ottawa was a mishap in the travel-arrangements, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it forced him to enjoy the fall colors along that stretch of the Hwy 7
“This is truly a Limestone City, … the ‘Limestone city;’” Ronnie remarked as he looked out of the cab, taking him from the bus-stop to the University. This impression was created by the buildings around him that were constructed with the blocks of limestones available in abundance around there. As a bonus, he got to see the classic architecture captured in the limestone blocks. He was scheduled to enroll for the graduate studies in Physics at Queen’s.
He had made living arrangements for himself in the Graduate Residence. It was mid-afternoon of an early September day. After unpacking, he decided to take a walk towards the lake.
Lake Ontario narrows around Kingston slowly metamorphosing into the St. Lawrence River. The lake close to the university was bordered by a narrow, cultivated forest with about the same scenery as he had witnessed along Hwy 7.
As he reached the lake, he noticed a young lady sitting on a bench gazing at the waters of the lake.
“May I share your bench,” he asked the girl who appeared to be in a state of trance.
“Hun…,” the girl asked coming out of her transcendental state.
“I was just asking if I could share your bench;” Ronnie asked her again.
“You certainly can. Incidentally, this bench is not mine; the city has placed several of them for the onlookers like you and me;” the girl tried to play rather witty.
Ronnie laughed, which is what the girl had intended.
“What’s your name?”
“Joan; and yours?”
“Mind if I call you Ronnie?”
“No; in fact, I like the name.”
“Do you go to Queen’s?” he asked.
“Yes; will be going in third year this year. Presumably, you are going to Queen’s too.”
“Will, from this year on.”
“Oh, what will you be studying?”
“Ouch!” the girl exclaimed. “Experimental or theoretical?”
“Ouch, ouch! Don’t tell me, you like Mathematics too.”
“In fact, I do.”
“Are you bent on killing me?”
“No;” Ronnie laughed, “Some people do study Theoretical Physics, and Mathematics you know; and enjoy it, as do I.”
“Which one do you like more; Physics or Mathematics?”
“Don’t want to stun you, but the best way I can answer this question is: ‘I’m in a beautiful romantic relation with Mathematics, but a messy marriage with Physics.”
Joan laughed, “This did not stun me. In fact, it mitigated the initial shock. … I like your way of escribing your liking of the subjects.”
“Thank God; I thought I may have scared you away from me!” …
“I know that some people enjoy these subjects, but I still get a bit nervous about them; I find them intriguing, want to learn them, want to appreciate them, but can’t.”
“May be, we can become friends, and then I may be able to remove your phobia; you might even learn to enjoy them.”
“That a good line;” She laughed.
“Is it working?”
“Too soon to tell.”
“That’s encouraging; much better than a flat no.” …
“Are there any places worth visiting around here?”
“Number of. … You see that bunker, not far from here, they were used to fight the aboriginals; a major tourist attraction is Fort Henry; people like to see the Change of Guards there; you can see the original house of Sir John A. Macdonald, our first PM; … what else … oh yes; people come to see the Thousand Islands, and take a boring boat-ride through them, one of them is still for sale for $9.00; and the Wolf Island; you won’t find any wolves there anymore; they have all been hunted down to collect $60.00 per head bounty; you can still find a wolf here and a wolf there in the bushes, and collect the bounty. …”
“I’ll have to buy an expensive gun, and then comb through the bushes to spot a wolf; … an expensive and risky proposition!” Ronnie laughed; the girl joined in.
Ronnie learned that Joan, the young lady on the bench, was born in Kingston and her father was a Professor of English literature at Queen’s. Joan’s grandfather had been a senior army officer in India. After his retirement. He moved to Canada, bought fifty acres of land outside Kingston, which is where he lived with his wife. Joan’s father together with his family had moved to Canada while his father was still serving in India. Initially Ronnie was surprised to receive such a pleasant response from a stranger; now he noticed her connection with India through her grandfather, explaining her behavior.
“Why did you choose Queen’s.”
“I applied to several Graduate Schools; this is the only one which accepted me.”
“Decision was quite easy then.”
“Yes. … Why did you choose Queen’s?”
“The main factor was financial; I can live here at home with my parents, for free. I do not want to study and work at the same time.” …
“What do you take?”
“I am going for my Bachelor’s, with major in Psychology.”
“Psychology is a nice subject; it intrigues me; you must like it.”
“Yes, very much so.”
The next day, Ronnie visited his department, talked to his advisor to be, and familiarized himself with the surroundings. It was a few days before the course work started in earnest.
Incoming graduate students were given two courses during the first year; in addition, they were supposed to conduct some publishable research, which had the potential to develop into a Ph.D. project; and then there was some teaching work. However, he discovered that those requirements were only on paper; in practice, there was no research conducted during the first year, just two courses, and teaching assistantships Even worse, one of the two courses was being given together with the undergraduates. That left Ronnie dissatisfied for he had expected that now he was entering the realm of research, the realm of higher knowledge.
Ronnie had come believing that being from India, he would find it difficult to compete with the students of North American and European origin. His classmates had magnified this impression by their comments. This fear had been allayed within a few days. Furthermore, his classmates were seeking his help. Quite a reversal!
One evening, Ronnie was going towards the lake for a walk after his supper, Joan was coming out of the general library. They walked towards the lake, and started chatting: “How do you find things here?” Joan asked.
“I am rather disillusioned. I had expected the standards higher and work more; I find the standards below my expectations, and no one seems to want to work here.
“That’s refreshing for a change; everybody keeps telling me that there is too much work in the graduate school and higher learning is quite tough to crack.”
“Where in India did your grandfather live?” asked Ronnie, as they walked along the lakeshore.
“Being an Army Officer, he had no fixed place; he moved from place to place. … He tells me that he was in Gulmarg for some years, a beautiful place in Kashmir, …”
“Yes. A Persian poet had said of Kashmir:
If there is heaven on earth,
It is here, it is here, it is here.
“Yes, my grandpa tells me so. … My Grandpa lived in Gulmarg, and all sorts of other places; all in the North. They needed more protection there; you see, there was constant threat from the Tsar’s forces, and then the Japanese. There was somebody, I think Bose, he tells me, who was the head of the Indian National Army; he with the help of Japanese attacked India from the East and advanced up to Rangoon; there was a fierce battle in Imphal, which my grandpa had commanded, and won. As a result, he got a medal and promotion, but the British days were numbered in India by that time; so, all that recognition was not worth much anymore, but …”
“You have learned a great deal of recent Indian history.”
“My grandpa likes to talk about India.”…
“What is the general impression of India on your grandfather?”
“He liked it there; he wanted to settle there, but he couldn’t stay away from us; so, he came to Canada instead.”
“This is quite different view compared to most British people.”
“Yes, the British treated the native Indians very shabbily, which my grandfather did not like. … Oh yes, my grandfather taught me some Hindi words; … shabash, Ganesh, … he had suggested the name Durga for me, but my father did not like it; so, here I am a Joan.” She laughed; Ronnie joined in.
“Durga is the goddess of strength;” Ronnie commented.
“Joan is not very far: Joan of Arc is the epitome of female strength in the West.”
Later Joan called Ronnie and invited him for lunch and chat with her grandfather: “I’ll listen and learn.”
“Where do you come from in India?”
“North-West; from a village in the foothills of the Himalayas, Grandpa.”
“He’s not your grandpa; why are you calling him that?” Joan intervened, as she took a map out.
“He’s keeping with the Indian tradition. Everyone in one’s father’s age group is an uncle and in one’s grandfather’s age group is Grandpa;” Grandpa explained, “This is to show respect for the age.”
“I like that. Around here, even a little child calls an old man by his first name; that sounds very odd;” Joan commented.
“I agree;” both Grandpa and Ronnie spoke in chorus.
“How do you like it here?” Grandpa asked Ronnie.
“On the whole I like it, so far. But from the issue to issue, I have differing views.”
“I do not like people asking me, all the time: ‘Will you go back after you finish?’ I do intend to go back but the question imparts a message to me that I’m not welcome here. …”
“Yes, it is not very polite;” Joan commented.
Ronnie showed the location of his place on the map.
“Worse;” Ronnie continued, “If I say, ‘Yes,’ they fire back, ‘Why, don’t you like it here?’ or ‘We are investing in you, educating you at our expense, and then you’ll abandon us; how ungrateful. And if I say ‘no,’ I face another comment, ‘You people come here and take jobs away from us; you should go back to improve the conditions in your country, serve your country.’ …”
“Catch 22;” Joan interjected.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
Drown if you sink, burn if you float
Ronnie laughed; then continued.
“Another one: There is an undercurrent here that India is responsible for wrecking the British Empire, and they take it on us. This is true, India was the backbone of the Empire; once she was out, all came tumbling down; I feel proud of those who wrecked it; …”
“Yes, it is true, but it should be laid to rest; it is past. India earned her freedom by her sweat and blood; sacrificed many of her sons and daughters; British exploited her a great deal, humiliated her; the West should be content with that, in fact, should regret it; …” Grandpa commented.
“True Grandpa. … Then there are two groups at the university: One American and the other British; Canadian content is almost absent, squeezed out by the two. Those two groups fight with each other. The British keep opposing the foreign students, particularly the Indians, and the Americans, keep supporting them.”
“Not a very civil atmosphere at the university then;” Joan commented. Grandpa concurred.
“Then the Canadians suffer from a National Inferiority Complex; they run to score the third position, the first two are written off to the Americans and the British. … It’s a strange situation that on one had the Canadians aren’t happy to play the second fiddle to either one, but they are hostile to the Indians for wrecking the British empire. On one hand the Canadians despise the Americans, but then they invoke their superiority over the other nations in the academic, economic, and military matters to defend Canada. Oxymoron of the superlative degree!”…
“I like this sweet. What is it made with?” Joan commented as she took a bite of the sweet Ronnie had gifted them.
“Milk solids and sugar, and there are some nuts.”
“Delicious and nutritious.”
“What would you like to drink? I’ll drink sherry myself;” Grandpa asked Ronnie.
“I’ll take sherry as well;” Ronnie told his choice.
“I didn’t think you’d opt for a wine. I drink scotch with water myself;” Joan’s mother remarked.
“Oh, the British introduced these drinks to India; sipping sherry was a pastime for them.” …
“Is this genuine silk?” Joan asked Ronnie flashing the silk scarf he had brough as one of the gifts for his hosts.
“Yes;” Ronnie answered, “Genuine silk is still available in India, and the weaving art has not completely disappeared yet. …”
“In spite of vicious assaults;” Grandpa interjected.
“That’s what I hear.” Ronnie reacted, “Originally silk is a Chinese product, and they were very protective of the silkworms and everything else related with silk; still silk travelled from there to India and not just survived there, it thrived. In fact, mated with the art of the weavers of Varanasi, it created a miracle. The name silk-road came from the silk, which together with a variety of other goods was transported from China, passing through the northern India, through Iran, and then through Saudi Arabia, by Mecca; trading along the way; finally trading to the entire Roman empire. Indian muslin was a prized item in the whole of Europe. …”
“Silk road has propelled a great deal of human history;” Joan commented.
“Yes, it has; it is remarkable that a miniscule silk-worm could impact upon the human history so profoundly;” Joan’s father commented, who was mostly just listening.
“What is India known for, in addition to the Taj Mahal and the snake charmers?”
“And Kama Sutra;” Joan’s mother interjected. Joan threw a coy, mischievous smile to Ronnie from a corner of her eye.
“You shouldn’t talk about such topics, Lady;” Joan’s grandmother addressed the comment to Joan’s mother.
“You insisted on visiting the temples of Khajuraho dear;” Grandpa responded to his wife.
“I was young.”
“What do you think they are?”
“There are many things about India to think about; but dig your way out of these ones before entering the jungle;” Ronnie commented hoping to ease the tension that appeared to be building between the generations; together with responding to Joan’s smile with his own.
Ronnie met Ben, a senior graduate student languishing with his Ph.D. project. His supervisor had assigned a project to him, which did not go well. So, the supervisor assigned another project, which too didn’t go well. He asked him to go back to the original project. This back and forth was getting quite idiotic; and the valuable time, being wasted. So, he found his own problem, and persuaded his supervisor to visit an expert in the field, at the Chalk River Labs, who approved the project, and agreed to be the external examiner upon completion of the project. Ben, unwittingly, became a useful ‘counselor’ to Ronnie.
One day, Ronnie ran into a faculty member of the Indian origin, Ajay, who stopped him in the hallway and told him, “You come from a university with very low standards; I had to tell them that. I couldn’t say much, just that you had high marks in the High School, and the students to all the universities come out of them; so, you might be OK.” In response, Ajay expected an expression of gratitude. Not having received one, he lectured Ronnie on etiquette.
Ronnie talked to Ben about the conversation; Ben explained that he has year to year appointments here, and why his job in not being terminated is because your supervisor and a couple of other fellows are his friends. He befriends some Indian students; talks favorably about them to his friends in the faculty as well as collects info on other students through them and fabricates it. He uses this concoction as he sees fit. Ronnie shook his head. How different it was compared to the image he had in his mind!
“This is bizarre Ben;” Ronnie said.
“You are quite naïve Ronnie; …”
“I’m new here, not familiar with things; so, I may be making mistakes. …”
“Yes. You seem to think that people are honest. Take for example your supervisor. If you do not slave yourself to his ego, he’ll destroy you; he has destroyed some other students; … and you know well Ronnie, that’ll hurt me. …”
“But we are supposed to be intellectuals Ben; not engulfed with such pettiness. …”
“Supposed to be. … Why did you not ask Ajay that if your background is poor, then why everybody here seeks your help?”
“That would be petty of me; … besides he wouldn’t have believed me.”
“You are too tough on yourself Ronnie. … They just copy the solutions from you and hand in. This is not help, it is cheating; you are helping them cheat. …”
“I’m an academic, and an academic is a natural teacher; can’t deny help.” …
The matter got postponed for now.
Ronnie’s mind was stirred. It was true that helping the other students bothered him, “You are torn between two values Ronnie;” he said to himself, “Being a genuine academic, you must help, whoever seeks it, but being a genuine academic, you must not help anyone cheat. To be, or not to be, that’s the question.”
This kind of conflict continued in his mind, which became quite bothersome. Consequently, when he would be ‘helping’ someone, he would be drinking and smoking, to subside the conflicting thoughts erupting in his mind, which he had started finding quite tortuous.
Later Ronnie talked to his supervisor that according to the letter of admission, we are supposed to carry out some research in addition to what we are doing. The supervisor told him that he should concentrate on his course work during the year.
“But one can carry out some research in addition; courses are not challenging enough to use up all the time and energy. I’m not having any difficulty with this material; a research project would keep me occupied.”
The supervisor just stared at Ronnie. He obviously didn’t like what he heard.
Such exchanges kept repeating themselves. Ronnie’s supervisor finally got tired and came up with a research problem, which made no sense to Ronnie; there was no rationale, no reasoning. He discussed the matter with Ben, who told him that he had no choice but to work on the problem, even if it was a complete nonsense. Ronnie came up with some problems by his reading of literature, but his supervisor rejected them giving no reason. Ben kept telling Ronnie, “You have no choice Ronnie; you have to cut your foot with an axe, if he wants you to.”
“I should change the supervisor.”
“Won’t be easy.”
“Change the university.”
“Won’t be easy.”
“So, you are telling me that I have signed my slow death warrant.”
“Just about, Ronnie, as has everyone else.”
“Have you read ‘The House of Dead,’ by Dostoevsky?” Ronnie asked Ben.
“This place reminds me of that novel.”
“You are right Ronnie; but there is more to come.”
“What can be worse!”
“You’ll see my naïve friend, you’ll see.”
Standard practice was to mark each assignment and reveal the marks to the students, which was not done there; neither the marked papers for two mid-term, take-home exams were revealed to the students. Thus, the students remained completely in dark about the evaluation procedure and their own progress.
The final exam sneaked upon the students quietly. All the questions in the paper that Ronnie’s supervisor set were from the previous three years. About all the classmates of Ronnie had copied the solutions to those questions from him, as was the case with most of the solutions to the assignments and exams during the year. In addition, the students could take the textbooks, and their notes with them into the exam hall.
“The game is lost;” Ronnie thought to himself, “This is no exam; everybody will copy the solutions from one’s notes; they didn’t even have to understand or remember the solutions. Oh, well.”
Situation in the other course was even worse.
Outcome was already clear; several students got marks higher than Ronnie.
“I had alerted you Ronnie. In view of your liberal distribution of your solutions combined with your supervisor’s bias against you, together with Ajay’s comments about you to him, he assumed that it was you who was copying the solutions from the others, which had determined the outcome.”
“Yes, but ‘telling is not teaching and listening is not learning,’ Ben; …”
“I’ve heard this before somewhere.”
“Yes, it’s not original.”
“… Experience is what is a genuine teacher;” Ronnie completed his sentence. … “Ben, I could do whatever I wanted, the outcome would have been the same.”
“Why is that?”
“It is in the nature of prejudice that reasoning, and proofs make the prejudice only sink deeper in mind.”
Few days after the exam, the supervisor came up with a problem. Yet again, the problem and the approach to solve it made no sense, but rough estimates showed closeness with the values in literature. Based on this, the supervisor commented, “I am very optimistic,” and asked Ronnie to conduct more accurate calculations.
“But a closeness with the literature values is no proof of the veracity of a method. By research, we are supposed to obtain reliable results for those phenomena, which are not yet known; are not in literature; agreement with the existing values in case of already solved problems tells us nothing; this is to ‘prove’ the accuracy of the one by citing the other’s; and that of the other, by citing the previous results; circular argument;” Ronnie commented.
“You have no experience; this is the way to establish the reliability of a method. This much work will be sufficient for a Master’s.”
The supervisor showed Ronnie a desk calculator and ordered to carry out further calculations. Ronnie struggled with the problem for about a week. Upon looking at the results, the supervisor commented, “Results are encouraging; refine them further.”
With each refinement the work was increasing enormously. The process was so slow that it would take years to complete the calculations if they could be performed at all.
“It is like asking you to build a super-highway like the White Highway with a hand-spade in this age of highly powerful machines. … His purpose is neither to get any work done, nor to provide a supervisory help; his purpose is to mislead you, discourage you, crush you, so that you run away;” Ben explained.
“But that’s insane Ben. He took me to do some work. Getting work done is in his interest; his career progress depends on the value, that includes the amount, of the work done. Loss of the grant money is another matter.”
“Yes, but you have bruised his ego Ronnie; you have told him that his course was not challenging enough. So, he is making the work unnecessarily so difficult that you can’t do it; to put you in your place.”
Ronnie shook his head.
“This is the time of IBM 367; use it, the computer I mean;” Ben advised Ronnie.
“But I know nothing about the computers. There were no computers where I come from. … I visited BHU once, a big university; they gave us a tour of their computer center. That is about as close to the computers I have ever been.”
With some help from the manual and the conversations with those graduate students who were using the computer, Ronnie made a rapid progress. He took the results to his supervisor.
“They are encouraging. We are getting closer to the exact values. Refine them further.”
Ronnie showed him what he asked for.
“They are getting better. Refine them further.”
Ronnie showed them the results refined further.
The supervisor looked at Ronnie in bewilderment, “How did you manage to do that much work so quickly”
“I used the computer.”
“Good, you are learning computer programming; that will be very useful for us.”
“He was sending you on a wild goose chase Ronnie;” said Ben later, “If he was worth his salt, he would have advised you to learn computer programming before embarking upon any calculations. … But he’s neither worth his salt, nor interested in teaching; he just wants to teach you a lesson for telling him that his course was not challenging enough.”
“Mr. Sharma, I want you to write your comprehensives this fall;” Ronnie’s supervisor said during the next one of their meetings.
It was a normal practice for the students whom their supervisors considered suitable to continue for Ph.D. to be advised to write their comprehensives in the spring. By delaying, Ronnie’s supervisor indicated that he didn’t want Ronnie to continue for his Ph.D.; he had been dropping such hints before also. His change of mind occurred due to the rapid progress that Ronnie made.
“I have decided to complete my Master’s, and leave;” said Ronnie.
The supervisor stared at Ronnie so intensely as if he was going to pierce him. He was not used to have his orders declined. But nor was Ronnie used to taking the orders.
After a pause, his supervisor said, “As your supervisor, I’ve observed that your background is poor. …”
“Then why do you want me to continue for Ph.D.? Just give me my Master’s; … and get rid of me.”
Ronnie faced his supervisor’s characteristic gaze again, “You like to argue too much.”
“I’m supposed to; I am a researcher, must have an inquisitive mind.”
There was a long uncomfortable silence.
“How long will it take me to complete my degree; roughly?” Ronnie broke the silence.
“If you want to leave after your Master’s, I’ll have you take one more course and carry out more research; but if you stay for your Ph.D., you’ll have to take only two more courses and a little more research. … You work fast; so, you’ll get your Ph.D. within three years. … Completing the Master’s will take you more than two years, and due to the procedural matters, the time for the award of the degree will stretch to three years. Take your pick: Ph.D. or Master’s, within three years.”
This appeared clearly blackmail to Ronnie.
“You have made my choice very easy Professor. I’ll take one more course, carry out whatever additional research you want me to, take my Master’s, and leave.”
Ronnie left the room.
Sure enough. Ronnie did have to take one more course. Two students were forced to take the course; the other one was Ben, who had fulfilled his course requirements way back. Three professors were teaching the course: Advisors of Ronnie, Ben, and the lecturer in the undergraduate course, which Ronnie had to take the previous year. Neither of the lecturers was competent to teach the material. Thus, the course consisted of two lectures per week delivered by three incompetent professors pretending to teach two students forced to take the course out of their legitimate course requirements.
Due to a lack of information, misunderstanding and lack of support of his supervisor, Ronnie was relieved of his teaching duties for the year, as the year had commenced reducing his income, which was quite meagre to begin with. Towards the end of the academic year, the matters got even worse: Ronnie’s supervisor stopped paying him without even the courtesy of informing him in advance. Ronnie was left without any income. He asked his advisor the reason.
“I’m saving my money for my next graduate student.”
The hidden message was not missed on Ronnie.
“What do you suggest I do now?”
“Take a job; I don’t mind.”
“I’m on the student visa, cannot take a job.”
All that the advisor did was to stare at Ronnie.
Ronnie’s supervisor told him to write his thesis. Ronnie did that within three weeks. Upon browsing, the supervisor noticed more calculations than he had asked Ronnie to perform. He said: I didn’t ask you to perform these calculations.
“You were telling me no more work for the thesis; I was doing nothing except a little course; I noticed this natural addition to the calculations; thought, may as well carry them out.”
“The work has been done. We may as well report it.”
Ronnie deleted the calculations.
Thesis was ready in its final form. However, his supervisor delayed the defense procedure. Upon being asked, he told Ronnie, “You work fast.”
This is the first time Ronnie had heard that hard work obtaining fast results deserved a penalty! He saw no point in arguing with his advisor further.
Ronnie discussed the matter with Ben. Ben commented, “He’s just being viciously vengeful.”
By that time Ronnie had run out of the money completely. No money left and no source of income in sight, his survival was in jeopardy.
“Appy for immigration Ronnie, to obtain a Permanent Resident Visa. That’ll entitle you to seek employment and seek the social assistance also if need be;” Ben advised.
Ronnie was visibly disturbed.
“Social assistance! I did not come to this country to go on Welfare; be a burden on the society!”
“You are doing all that a graduate student is required to do, even more; you are being denied support illegitimately. You should not feel ashamed of going on Welfare.”
“It’s like begging Ben. …”
“You may not have to go on welfare Ronnie, you may be able to find a job.”
“I’ll consider applying for immigration.”
Finally, Ben decided to help Ronnie from his personal resources, little as they were. Thus, the life could trudge along for now. However, all the stress Ronnie was going through, in addition to the stress built during the previous year, affected his state of mind; consequently, his smoking and drinking increased considerably. This is the nature of intoxicant dependency that one would sacrifice even one’s food to consume the intoxicant.
Ronnie and Joan had been seeing each other periodically; they, together with Ben also went for a Singapore Sling occasionally. Thus, Joan was aware of the situations and Ronnie’s stubbornly proud stand. During their next meeting, Joan mentioned, “I asked my grandfather Ronnie; he’s willing to help you with money; he has said that he’d sustain you to get out of the slump.”
“Just take his money! You know Joan, I wouldn’t do that.”
“I knew that you’d say that, and I mentioned this to grandpa. He wants to have a chat with you. How about lunch together with him?”
“That will be fine.”
During the lunch, grandpa mentioned, “I know how proud people the Indians are; so, I came with a suggestion: I lend you the money; you can pay me back after you have graduated and started earning.”
“I can pay earlier. …”
“I understand that the students, especially the foreign ones are quite hard-pressed for money. So, let’s not quibble any further; you return the money when you are financially secure; I earned most of my money from your country anyway, I may as well return some of it for a good cause.”
“Grandpa, you are old, sorry; there is no security. What if you die before collecting your money?”
“If I die, write a cheque for all the money together with the interest and more, and stick it to my body in the coffin.”
There was a loud laughter.
“O.K. Grandpa, I’ll borrow money on two conditions: If I cannot find any other alternative; and that I’ll return your money, with interest, as soon as I’m in a position to.”
Ronnie and Ben decided that they’d try to manage by themselves, but grandpa’s offer can be used if need be.
“Have you decided about applying for a Permanent Resident status?” Ben inquired.
“I’ll wait until after my Master’s; … you understand Ben, that even if I migrate, I may not stay in Canada forever.”
“… Ronnie, in time you’ll get used to things here; … develop bonds, catch roots; … and I couldn’t help but notice that you and Joan have gotten quite close with each other. … Am I correct?”
“Yes; she’s a nice girl; someone worth associating with. …”
“It is more than just ‘associating with’ Ronnie. … A bond with a woman can be very strong; it binds you with your heart and mind; it strangles you; and yet, you may not want to part, even if you could.”
This sent Ronnie into a deep thought. After a pause, he mentioned, “You are right on this point. … But you are more significant to me Ben, compared to any woman.”
“I know Ronnie; but you know well that everything and everyone has its own place.”
“Yes;” Ronnie said emphatically.
Upon Ben’s advice, Ronnie talked to a few Mathematics professors; one of them agreed to hire him as a research assistant, but after his Master’s degree was formally completed. He added further, “I’m running down on my grant money; therefore, I cannot pay you much. … Your supervisor has the money; if he doesn’t want to keep you, then it becomes difficult for anyone else to consider you, and he cannot keep you for he has very low opinion of you; I asked him his evaluation of you; all he said was that your background is poor, and you are very difficult to get along with.”
There was no way Ronnie could have erased his supervisor’s evaluation, whose word was supreme. So, for now, Ronnie had to depend just on Ben’s help.
The defense of the thesis became more of a ragging than an academic exercise. Ronnie’s supervisor and his colleagues were taking it on him, disturbing him by leaving the room and coming back, and in other ways. The defense lasted for unusually long time, but finally, Ronnie was declared to have defended his dissertation successfully.
Ronnie’s supervisor let it be known that: “Not giving him the degree would have reflected badly on the faculty, therefore, they approved his thesis, but he’d never let Ronnie get admission to a graduate school nor any job in North America, unless he went with his hat in hand back to him.”
Ben had warned Ronnie, “Your supervisor has a history of creating problems for all students, particularly the foreign ones. Just before you, he had forced a Japanese student to go back to Japan.”
Joan talked to Ronnie and suggested that they got married soon, and then she could sponsor him.
“We had agreed to get married Joan; so, there is nothing bothersome in it. However, I must obtain my immigration on my own merit. … If I let you sponsor me, it will tarnish our love.”
“You just like to make things difficult for everybody, particularly for yourself. … Don’t think you can get rid of me Ronnie, if you don’t stay here, I’ll go to India with you; … or wherever else.”
“We have to have some principles, some convictions, and strict adherence to them; else Joan, ‘we’ll be , who will not be.’ … As for getting rid of you, I can’t even dream of that.”
All the worries turned out to be unnecessary; Ronnie’s application for Permanent Residency went through without any hurdles, except from his own mother, who was adamantly set against it in the beginning but was dissuaded by his father, “The boy must have legitimate reasons; we can ask him and discuss later, we should not create obstacles in his way.”
Initially things were quite tough: Ben was not having an easy time helping Ronnie, which was bothering Ronnie. His employer let him work for another Prof. for a couple of months who paid him at a low rate, but enough to sustain him during that time. After a few months following this, the Math Prof. who had hired Ronnie, was very pleased with his performance, and told Ronnie, “I’ve checked my books; I can pay you, but not much.”
Although he was not getting much money, it generated a good life-long exceptionally good reference for Ronnie. It also relieved Ben of the additional expenses, and Ronnie paid Ben back slowly the amount he had borrowed.
Ronnie’s new boss was very pleased with him and his work. Ronnie had published several quality papers in reputed journals and prepared some more. His new supervisor rated his performance surpassing several of other good researchers put together. One of those days, Ronnie asked him if he would supervise his Ph.D. thesis, and he agreed gladly. However, enrolling under his supervision did not turn out to be so easy: His former supervisor and his friends were adamantly set against this, unless he returned to him. So, meetings after meetings were held to decide the issue, but each meeting ended inconclusively: This math professor supported by the Chair of the Physics Department was stubbornly clinging to his position and his former supervisor supported by his colleagues was stubbornly clinging to his. Finally, a compromise was reached: The Math professor would be Ronnie’s academic supervisor and the Physics Professor, would be the ‘Nominal Supervisor,’ looking after the bureaucratic matters. Ronnie did not feel comfortable about this, which was not a clear-cut situation; a compromise was reached to soothe the bruised ego of the Physics Professor. Ronnie saw trouble ahead.
While this was playing out, another saga was unfolding: The Physics Department had admitted a British student for Master’s program. He did not arrive on time; his supervisor-to-be, phoned him and persuaded him to join the program. The student did arrive but upon discovering the requirements for a Master’s degree, decided not to enroll. So, the department dropped the requirement to only one course, and lowered his research requirement to just a ‘Review Thesis’ requiring no original research, just a review of the literature.
“I cannot take the course in Quantum Mechanics, that is too difficult;” the student declared.
While the further meetings were being held to determine if they could change the Quantum Mechanics course to another, less challenging one, the student visited Toronto for a day and came back with a High School teaching position.
“But High School teaching position requires a Bachelor’s degree in Education;” asked Ronnie.
“Why do we need a degree? We already know the material;” he said in his typical British style.
Ronnie was quite uncomfortable about the arrangement made for him to begin with; coupled with this glaringly differential treatment, he felt very diminished. He visited the University of Toronto and succeeded in persuading a Mathematics Professor to accept him as a student; reference by the Queen’s Mathematics Professor played a crucial role in this success.
“Have you heard Ben: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“I have; Nietzsche said it.”
“Aren’t these people putting themselves at a disadvantage by making things difficult for us and thus, making us stronger?”
“Yes Ronnie, they are, but prejudice blinds them;” answered Ben, “Remember, reasoning, proofs, and the facts push the prejudice deeper in minds Ronnie.”
“You and I have seen this happening right before our eyes Ben; more I proved my abilities, the Physics faculty that was opposing me became fiercely against me.”
“I’ll be leaving in a few days Ben, but we shall be seeing each other periodically.”
“Of course, Ronnie.”
Ronnie passed through the same limestone buildings as he has when he came there for the first time, but this time the impression had changed drastically; the original luster was not there: “Eyes see what the mind has prepared them to see, I suppose;” he thought. The beautiful stretch of Hwy 7 had lost much of its beauty for a different reason: Farming area was expanding intruding in the forest, which was being depleted slowly. The white highway had lost much of its whiteness; there were some black and red patches due to the needed repairs.
“Can I leave it all behind?” Ronnie asked himself.
“No Ronnie, you are leaving a few strings attached binding you with people here;” he answered himself.