"Oh Captains, My Captains!"

I shamelessly agree that I watch a LOT of movies. And that I cry every time a Danny Archer calls a Maddy Bowen to say 'Wish you were here Maddy..' before he dies or the moment when Marley is put to a permanent sleep with a shaking John beside him, whispering in his ears 'You're a great dog Marley.. you're a great dog!' or whenever Mufasa is thrown off the cliff by his brother Scar, after he whispers 'Long. Live. The King.' on his horrified face or when Forrest Gump meets his son for the first time and asks 'Is he.. Is he smart?' or when Ellie gets fatally ill as Carl gets ready for their 'dream adventure' to the Paradise Falls in the movie Up.

Sniff. I've been moved, repeatedly, by movies and movie scenes and by the fictional characters and personalities that govern the directions they usually go.

So when Robin Williams died a couple of weeks back, I shut the door for my room upstairs, climbed up the chair and silently whispered 'Oh captain, my captain' into the air. Just before I drowned my face into the pillow and slept off, depressed. But that depression was nothing in comparison to the one that Williams must have felt.

Robin Williams has been a big inspiration to me through his movie Dead Poets Society. I think the timing of my watching the movie was perfect. I was 19 years old and in my first year at the university in Vellore. I saw the Dead Poets Society illegally, on the internet, as is the general trend in India. I'm not proud of it now. The film – directed by Peter Weir – depicted a world very similar to mine. It was set in Vermont in 1959 at an elite private boys school named Welton Academy – which reminded me repeatedly of the middle and the high school I attended.



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As I watched the movie further, the parallels between my life and theirs became more apparent. The students endured constraints that seemed very closer to home. In an early scene the boys are reminded of the four pillars that were the foundation to a Welton education: tradition, honour, excellence and discipline. Those were the same pillars that had shaped my education. Like the students in Dead Poets Society, I felt weighed down under the fearsome load of responsibility and obligation. Perhaps that's why I was captivated by Robin Williams's portrayal of John Keating, the unorthodox teacher who, with the power of literature opens his pupils' minds. Watching Williams's performance I found myself wishing my teachers had been as inspiring. I did find one as well. It is through Keating that the boys slowly learn to emerge from under the shadow of expectation. That theme resonated with me.

In junior school, I have had the privilege of being taught by a teacher who, if not as inspiring as Keating, was equally responsible for motivating me to pursue what I ended up doing. For the sake of progression, I'm not revealing what they are now. He was an old man, retired but recalled to active teaching, because the school was short of quality teachers back then. He taught the 'life sciences' to us, but I would like to claim that he taught us much more.

He used to say that we need to look beyond what the words in the texts merely mean. I ended up doing the same thing when I would be tutoring a couple of first-years later. 'Before you get what endomitosis and exocytosis mean, you need to understand what those endo- and exo- and infra- and intra- mean!' I used to tell them, as they'd otherwise expect my readily available notes.

This teacher once gave an example of how etymology is sometimes more important for retention before anything we learn in science or humanities or art. He asked us if we knew where the name LUFTHANSA came from. For the airlines, that is. Quite obviously, we didn't know. He explained how it being the German flagship carrier, derives it's name from the ancient Aryan language of Sanskrit. We were all like shut the front door! But he explained patiently. We can say that LUFTHANSA can be broken up as LUFT + HANSA. While LUFT needed a little more contortion, HANSA is the Sanskrit word for Swan. LUFT or more commonly, LUPT, is a word that either means extinct or the expression of 'fading away from apparent view'. So when put together, LUFTHANSA may actually signify the serene image of a graceful Swan that is fading away from apparent view as it flies beyond the clouds. Just like an aeroplane.

Beautiful, isn't it? I used the etymology-thing frequently in science years later and boy, that has been helpful!

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I have always hated how the youth in India first become engineers and then decide to pursue what they really want to do in life. Some young minds don't realize that until they're way into their 30s. Most of them just blindly follow the trend as a herd. I hate precisely that. I hate pursuing some predetermined set of rules blindly and not applying my head into what I'm doing. Robin Williams's character from Dead Poets Society, John Keating, had the greatest impact on me as I decided to get into academics and inspire kids to go beyond the norms and break barriers.

Keating ushers his young pupils towards the black–and–white photographs displayed in a glass cabinet of former pupils of the school. "They're not that different from you, are they?" he says as the camera slowly pans from the faces in the photograph to the boys in his class. "Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel.. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you.. these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.. Carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary!"

The other guy who reassuredly put my head to pursue biological science was Michael Crichton, through the voice of Richard Attenborough as the ambitious billionaire John Hammond in Jurassic Park.

Just how enthralled were you when John Hammond explained (in a little too simple ways) through the amusing A/V ride, the intricate details of molecular cloning by mixing amphibian DNA and dinosaur DNA that was found from within a mosquito fossil, trapped for centuries within amber? I immediately decided to read the book which I eventually found more exciting and found for the first time difficult words like automated gene sequencers and hormonal manipulation. I'd say it was love at first sight!

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But before the books, what gripped my attention was the enthusiasm of the man with the eccentric and outlandish vision of building a dinosaur theme park with live dinosaurs in it. It is said that Spielberg chose the genius director Attenborough to play John Hammond because he apparently required someone to portray the similar kind of motherly affection and protection towards his project as any good director would, towards his/her movie. And it was that enthusiasm that caught my attention, to further the inspirational move towards biological science and specifically molecular biology.

I'm currently working towards a PhD as a graduate student in one of the finest and the most competitive lab in the world. My project involves deciphering the intricacies of cell cycle and gene regulation. And I aim to procure a teaching position in the future. Ironically, both my cinematic inspirations passed away as I took the very first realistic step towards achieving that goal. That kinda makes me sad.

I find it difficult to comprehend the fact that they died. I guess, that is what happens when a person closer to your heart passes away. To me, they will perhaps live forever. My only hope is for Tom Hanks or Robert Langdon to stay alive and well for as long as he can. Because I love you guys for being my wackily linked inspirations. I will never forget you guys for what you've done for me. May you all rest in peace.

And watch over me.

11 comments:

  1. This was a beautiful post :) I loved the movie Dead Poets Society so much ^_^ I broke the rules and pursued a subject that everyone has claimed has no real future :P I can relate to what you've written. Back when I made the decision to pursue humanities - the common belief was,only 'good' students studied Science -_- Ahh...Robin Williams was an amazing guy :D I wasn't so familiar with the movie Jurassic Park - all I remember was screaming my lungs out when I watched the movie was a little girl :-/

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  2. Thanks for putting the post up :) This is the start of something new..and time does go by so quickly ^_^ I am glad you met interesting people on your journey!
    Have a great time, Deeptiman!!! And so glad you've tried to blog every once in a while.

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  3. I agree, yours is perhaps the most or one of the most wackiest field of studies I have come across. You're brave for pursuing it! :) Robin Williams would be missed. But while most people would miss him for Good Will Hunting and Mrs. Doubtfire, I will miss him for his advice of "Carpe Diem!" in DEAD POETS SOCIETY. Thanks Aniesha, for liking this post. See how I'm holding on to blogging? All I need is an inspiration to write perhaps.

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  4. Ur academic interests are so similar to mine!!! Movies have always inspired me to break d convention and do something new!! This post of urs is realllly goooddd:)

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  5. I just taught my first batch of students few hours ago! :) Thought I'll write a post about it, but can't - I'll end up violating a lot of university policies and privacy laws of the students and I happen to really care for this batch already. Good bunch of kids! They've just passed out of high school, have freshly dolled up for that last prom night and now here they are, for college! They were great, and I had fun time teaching them. Although, I cannot feel my legs now.. but I'll live! :)

    I'm glad you liked the post. And I hope and wish for you that you get to choose the field of study and work that you'll like the most! :)

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  6. Diptee di, as far as what I gather from how much ever time I've known you.. THERE IS NOTHING IN THIS WORLD, OR ANOTHER, THAT HAS THE REMOTEST ABILITY TO STOP YOU!! YOU'RE AWESOMEST MAXIMUS! :) And I miss you so much..

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  7. You've seen more in Tallahassee in a month than I have in a year. Great shot of the Miami terminal!
    Note to self: Really need to get out there more

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  8. Shamik da, do you see the fridge in the second last photo? If you look on top of it, you'll find the wine bottles (albeit faintly) that I told you about.. :) AND GO TO WELLS BROTHERS!!

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  9. Next time you're headed that way, give me a holler. I'll join you :)

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  10. Oh totally! :) But if you have a car, I'll let you give me the call! :P Been to the Rez or St. George or to one of the great sinkholes yet? It's super amazing to have American senior grad students as roommates from marine biology.. they take you places! :)

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