(Author’s Note- This is a rant expressed in the form of a satirical appeal to the Japanese Ambassador to highlight the pitiable social life of PhD candidates and should not be mistaken for a serious policy recommendation. However, if the letter receives whole-hearted support from Indian PhD population who knows it might transform into reality)
His Excellency Mr X
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of Japan
Plot No.4&5, 50-G Shantipath, Chanakyapuri
Subject− A policy proposal to further strengthen Indo Japanese people to people ties.
Hope you are doing well and safe and enjoy the air of our great country as you read this.
I am a student pursuing Doctor of Philosophy, commonly known by its abbreviation PhD in International Politics (IP) in the western corner of our country. As you might be aware, unlike the comparatively cheerful and merry days of ‘youthful’ undergraduate (Bachelors in India) and Post Graduate (Masters in India), the life of a PhD scholar is one marked by piles of books, journals and research articles which encircle him/her in the form of an impregnable chakravuyh (battle formation) which is further buttressed by walls of ‘fortified’ deadlines and submissions. One can even compare our travails to those of the fable Spartans of ancient Greece, although there will be those who will counter by asking me to cite the necessary references. Quoting Kratos from the popular PC video game franchise God of War ‘Life was grim and we greeted it grimly’. As a PhD scholar, one enters the interview hall with the preceding words in mind. But after all, as Kratos adds ‘ … though we were machines of wars, yet there was humanity in us’, we PhD scholars too were lonely beings in search of love and companionship.
But age, Sir. Age and the increasing infirmity of the mind after having gulped down 50 journal articles a day, burdens us with the exhaustion of a 40 year old uncle (Ojisan) while we are trapped in the bodies of a 25-30 year olds. Hence, most of us feel hesitant to date our juniors – undergraduates and post graduates. While the mere sight of childish and freshly out of school undergraduate kids brings out the paternal instincts within us, we feel too old to ask out post graduates. I personally have reached the pinnacle of perceived ‘fatherhood’ when I address even my postgraduate juniors, no less than 2-3 years younger than me, as ‘kids’. As for our classmates, they are either already in a relationship or worse, married. As for singles like me, no two PhDs would date each other given the repelling effect by the frustrations accumulated mutually by both as a result of their research. While there have been instances of ‘ojisan’ PhDs marrying ‘aunty’ (obasan) from the Administration Office of the university or vice versa, yet no PhD would like to spend their life with a spouse who would herself/ himself be buried in paperwork. One pile of research books in the shelf is enough; nobody needs it to be overwhelmed by boring paperwork and applications. Then there is the option of matrimonial alliances arranged by family members− a common phenomenon you must have observed in India. But as do marriages happen at the snap of fingers, so to divorces, especially in the Generation Y couples. After all, which bride can stand a frustrated PhD?
At this point, you can counter me by saying that ‘romantic’ or spousal relationships are not the only human relationships that define us. What about friends? How you go out on trips or dinner nights with a very close friend (who has not crossed the borderline of girlfriendship)? We PhDs can only imagine such aspects of life. As mentioned earlier, PhDs get repulsed by each other’s accumulated frustrations and the assail of deadlines and submissions leave us in no shape to hang out. And those with girlfriends or boyfriends are too busy and pre-occupied with being at the beck and call of their baes/niggas to spare any time for their fellow comrades reeling under the weight of research work and in desperate need of companionship. As for the ones among us who are heartbroken, they would surpass even Romeo in terms of lamenting for their beloved. If Jack drowned alone in the icy water of the sea after helping Rose to the safety of the raft in the 1997 Titanic, the ‘broken hearts’ of PhDs would drag along their poor friends who came to chill out into the dark waters of sad boy stories and drown them in their stupid, boring sagas of their ‘treacherous ex’. Now you can say to me ‘Don’t worry there are plenty of fish in the ocean. Hope you may find yours.’ Sadly no. You do not ask geriatric tortoises (PhDs) to swim in the ocean. They will be swept away by waves or drown.
As I write, I don’t even feel like going out on solo trips or dinner nights as I don’t have anyone with whom I can enjoy the sun setting over Kankaria Lake in Ahmedabad or split the bill after munching down a Naga Jolokia (Chilly) Burger with Mango Lassi in Shiva Coffee House in Gandhinagar. Besides, not having a partner has its other demerits as I found during my solo trip to Kankaria Lake this Holi. I was not able to enjoy amusements such as speed boating, floating café or jet skiing as you need a friend or companion to enjoy those. My entire evening was spent cosplaying like a toddler sitting in the toy train, visiting the nocturnal zoo or like a septuagenarian pantaloon sitting in the bench while lacking a walking stick in hand. This is the state which we PhD students of India generally find ourselves, especially us guys.
In view of the above problems plaguing us, I would like to propose a novel solution to the above issues. Not only would it redeem our frustrated selves but also add to the deepening Indo- Japanese strategic partnership by fostering much valuable people to people. The answer lies in an aspect of the wonderful and magnificent culture and history of Japan; an aspect quite well known but heavily misunderstood. The OKIYA (置屋) and the GEISHA (芸者). Yes, Geishas− the beautiful and gorgeous lady artisans and entertainers whom the Orientalist gaze has downgraded into courtesans and prostitutes. How comforting would it be for us PhDs to have tea with a Geisha enchanting us with the strings of her biwa and shamisen (traditional Japanese string instruments) and getting immersed in the sagas of Heike- Genji wars, the Sengoku Jidai etc (traditional retellings of Japanese historical events). How peaceful and lively it would feel to eat tasty Japanese morsels and drink sake (Japanese wine) or tea served by the tender hands of a geisha. The poetry emanating from our lips after such an experience would rival even the sonnets of Shakespeare− a welcome change from the cuss words and expletives which frequently leave our tongues as manifestations of our inherent frustrations and loneliness further fuelled by the inedible poison of hostel mess. From a researcher’s perspective, the conversation with Geishas would stimulate our intellect much better leading to increased productivity in terms of published papers and thesis. Much better ideas would be churned if lonely PhDs would get an opportunity to rest their heads on the lap of a Geisha while listening to her play the shamisen. If only, it is possible.
But it can be if your government takes my proposal seriously and decides to open up branches of Kyoto’s fabled okiyas or Geisha apartments in Indian cities such as Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata etc which are marked by heavy concentration levels of academic frustration along with air pollutants. Priority should be given to Gandhinagar, where PhDs like myself are even starved of spicy venison and not to mention, even booze. The okiyas would also cement people to people ties between both of our great nations as it would lead to a re-direction of Indian love hungry tourists from the old destination of Bangkok to Kyoto. Of them, a significant number would be students and research scholars like myself who would prefer going to Japan with its comfort of the Geisha than the individualistic and decadent US or other popular study destinations of the West. Some might even eventually settle down with their new spouses. And who knows this strengthening of people-to-people ties would also solve some of the major problems plaguing both of our nations? – In your case, its declining population and our overpopulation, even surpassing our mutual adversary China. I believe, the preceding problems are one of the reasons why its hard for youngsters like us to find a partner while the youth of your country are either becoming hikikomori (social outcasts) or falling prey to weird hobbies of dating sex dolls or having a relationship with their favorite anime character. Hence, to save the youngsters of our countries from becoming ‘unsheathed swords’ or reckless ronins (masterless rogue samurai), this initiative is of utmost importance. After all, as the great Toshiro Mifune says in Sanjuro (1962)− “The best sword is kept in its sheath”.
It was the late Shinzo Abe who inaugurated a new phase in Indo- Japanese ties with his ‘Confluence of the Two Seas’ address in 2007. Following his lead, current PM Mr Fumio Kishida recently strengthened this phase by strengthening the Indo- Pacific bond of strategic partnership in his visit to New Delhi in March 2023. To put in my own words, along with the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, it is also the time when the mermaids of the Pacific and the sailors of the Indian Ocean mingled with each other. Our childhood and teenage years were spent admiring and fantasizing the ideal romantic life portrayed by the talented Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, although now adulthood strikes us hard in the face by reminding that these are the stuff for laptop screens and smartphones, not real life. Through the geishas we Gen Y simps can relive some of our fantasies even for a brief fleeting moment paid by a fraction of our scholarship money. Who knows someday a wannabe Snehomoy like myself might meet the Miyagi of his dreams or vice versa like in Kunal Basu’s The Japanese Wife (made into a movie in 2010)?
As famous Indian singer Kishore Kumar sings through actor Dev Anand in 1970 movie Johnny Mera Naam –
Pal bhar ke liye koi hume pyaar kar le, jhootha hi sahi 
Let somebody love me, even if it is fake
A frustrated Indian PhD student
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Featured Image: Samurai and Geisha is a painting by Saeid Gholibeik which was uploaded on 30th May, 2019, Pixels (https://pixels.com/featured/samurai-and-geisha-saeid-gholibeik.html)