Going away – a visit to NIAS

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Our team at work went for an offsite to NIAS in Wassenaar. I wrote a small feature on the outing. I am sharing a snippet (the one which Purab made me read out again):

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Read more: click here

The pictures are that of NIAS and the area around the building taken on my iPhone 5s.

Full text:

The act of going away is highly underrated. The cyclic nature of everyday routines coats like a fog. When we step away we are able to see details clearly, patterns emerge that our eyes would have otherwise missed.

On November 20, 2014, Thursday, the VU Literatures in English team – staff members, Research Master students, and Ph.D. scholars – visited the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIAS) in Wassenaar where Professor Diederik Oostdijk is writing a book while on sabbatical.

NIAS is an idyllic location nestled near the coast, with glorious beech, oak and horse chestnut trees currently in vibrant autumn colors. The building – quaint and a generous space provides valuable research time for international scholars.

The team enjoyed a walk through autumn’s bounty to the Persian Rose garden. Intricately painted blue tiles stood out against the white walls, a fountain, and roses saturated in white, in summer the same roses are pink. To grow, indeed, we must pay heed to changing climes and still retain some of that ethereal beauty that makes us unique.

Autumn is an extraordinary season. The trees laden with orange, brown and red, shed their leaves. Ripe with the experiences of the entire year, this purging of excess is liberating. Autumn prepares for winter a time of silence and rest. Lest we forget, in this stationary season much work is done. Below the surface, life prepares, and waits. The reflective black waters of the fountain in the Persian Rose garden is stirred, from these ripples emerge messages, onwards we must proceed.

Surrounded by this lushness, visible through large windows, the team members had their first session. Diederik Oostdijk talked about the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Tim Scheffe on the Spanish Civil War, Karin Diks on Grace Nichols, and Anita Raghunath on the creation of the postcolonial other. They were joined by Professor Arthur Verhoogt, also a fellow at the NIAS. He is the Professor of Papyrology and Greek at the University of Michigan.

A warm lunch with pumpkin soup (apt for autumn), meatballs, vegetables and salad, cups of coffee and banter about the journeys undertaken and work accomplished was followed by the second session. Allard den Dulk, a guest from Amsterdam University College, joined the conversation and talked about 21st-century existentialism in American films and novels. Subsequently Roel van den Oever spoke about reading and sexual desire, Dirk Visser about plays revolving around the AIDS crisis and Amrita Das about American ghazals.

The themes varied, the techniques different, yet common threads of memory, remembering, forgetting, commemorating, performance, cultural symbolism and a passion for literature emerged. As the participants walked back to their cars, heading back to Amsterdam to what awaited on their desks and in their rooms, one could sense that stepping away had been worthwhile. Like the Persian Rose garden in the middle of NIAS, in between teaching, exams, administration and preparation, our research lies, sometimes white, sometimes pink, and it is helpful to step away and notice we chose the academic path (and literature in particular), and to witness ourselves going through the process of creation and recreation.

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