Tales from An-Other Land

Tanushree Ghosh is a scientist and engineer working in the US who actively pursues writing and activism in her spare time. She has a Ph.D in Chemistry from Cornell University, NY and has worked at the Brookhaven National labs. She is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has contributed to several other blogs and e-zines writing primarily on issues concerning women, mental health and social justice. She is the author of "From An-Other Land," which tells the stories of immigrants. Here is her story.

I grew up in Calcutta, mostly in my maternal grandparents’ home. I grew up with many aunts, uncles, and cousins around me - that had its own plusses and minuses. Growing up, I always wanted to write - I was always a bookworm. But my parents wanted me to pursue a career in science. I never thought I could get the marks that were needed to get into a course in the sciences. I also suffered from quite a few things, which at the time I did not understand, but thanks to my uncle, I got all the treatment and help I needed. I had bipolar tendencies and anxiety while growing up. This became really acute during my formative years - while graduating from grade ten and then onward into my engineering course. I really wanted to study English and then pursue journalism, but my mother was adamant about me becoming either a doctor or an engineer.

I ended up studying science. Looking back, I’m grateful to them for pushing me into science, after all - because I doubt that I would have achieved all that I have, had I taken up art, as opposed to science. I was privileged and grew up in a family that could afford my education - I went to IIT-K and Cornell - and I guess I couldn’t have had any of that if I didn’t have the economic cushion behind me. Science enabled me to have financial security and a chance to come to the US far easier than I may have, had I pursued arts. That said, a part of me feels a bit differently - all said and done, this is what I do for my day job, but writing is what I really want to do.

When I was in Cornell, I worked in the same group of Professor Roald Hoffman. He was my co-advisor. One of the things that’s less known about him is that he is a poet. He was part of a poetry circle that included TaslimaNasreen on it. Roald once asked me to help him with translating Tagore’s poetry - and I refused, because I felt that I didn’t have the literary prowess to do that. But it always stayed with me. A few things happened in my life all at once, at the time.

While I was working in Intel in 2012, I became pregnant with my daughter. 2012 was also the year when the Delhi gang rape incident happened. Around that time, I went through a bad phase in my life, where I felt that I was not doing anything for the world beyond me, and that I was being very selfish in existing and earning and working for myself. I had grown up hearing that I had to finish all my commitments and then do what I wanted. This is the constant message to us: achieve all the milestones in the linear way and then you’ll get time to do what you want. In life, though, you don’t have time to do what you want - you only get less time.

The sense of urgency had set in, and I decided that I was no longer going to wait for all the milestones to end. It was only my thought process that was holding me back. I had to redefine success for myself. I wasn’t writing because I thought that I was not going to have time - but I decided that I would just take the plunge and start. I made my peace with that, and reached out to Roald and told him that I wanted to start writing. That was where the journey of writing began.

The writer
The engineer in me encouraged me to start by looking up ways to write on Google. I took on a course at MIT, and began to write my short stories. In 2014, I wrote a piece and submitted it to the Huffington Post, feeling frustrated about women’s safety in India. It went viral, and got requests to write more op-eds. I was invited to contribute to Defiant Dreams - an anthology of stories by, for, and about women.

I wrote a lot about both, sexual violence and sexism that happened to me, and about mental illness - including the post-partum depression that I faced. A lot of friends reached out to me and told me that they thought I was brave for telling my stories. On some occasions, when my father read my stories, he reached out to me and apologized to me for some of the things. One of my mother’s reaction was on my choice to share my age out in public: that was pretty interesting to me! Jokes aside, my writing has always been and will always be personal, and will always carry a piece of me.

Writing is a healing process for me. I wrote a piece on post-partum depression and how I didn’t like myself on the dark days. It took me an hour to hit submit on that article. However, once I put that out there, I began to feel so much freer, and so much lighter. It’s not easy, in our lives today, to feel comfortable sharing the darker side of your life. People tend to feel uncomfortable about responding to the painful and vulnerable side of another person’s life: but to take that leap of faith and to tell your story can be very liberating.

When I began writing From An-Other Land, the immigration situation was not this bad. In 2016, things started going south with the rise of nationalistic feelings from everywhere. The book is classified as fiction - but almost every story has a seed of truth in it. I don’t have a creative process per se - but my process is largely observation. I observe people a lot. I have high emotional intelligence - which is not positive all the time, because you become emotional in situations where it isn’t ideal. I have spent a lot of time observing people around me. Some of the things I wrote in the book were things I had experienced in my life. I began to realize that wanting to be an immigrant or wanting to go from point A to point B is a very natural human want. I also came to understand that you don’t have to be a bad person to be afraid of change and to be at a loss about keeping up with that. I don’t tell people to have a particular idea around immigration or immigrants: I just show how these experiences that we share as immigrants are largely commonly shared.

The book has opened up room for questions, dialogue, and sharing. I’m often asked if I would have taken the immigrant’s journey knowing what I know now. My answer to that is both yes and no. Yes, because living in another land has opened up my mind and perspectives and this may not have happened if I hadn’t lived outside India. On the other hand, no, because immigration permanently splits you and it is very hard to find one identity again.