On March 20, 2019, the New York Society for General Semantics hosting an event featuring author Vasu Varadhan in conversation regarding her recently published book.
The word family represents a set of relationships we all take for granted but, as with all our terms, as general semantics teaches us, the map is not the territory. Anthropologists have long studied the differences in the ways that different cultures define and experience the concepts of marriage and kinship. Understanding these differences, differences that make a difference, can help us to understand a fundamental aspect of our time-binding species.
Memoirs are attempts to map the territory of our own lives, a means of exploring memory and history, self and identity. Dr. Vasu Vardhan's memoir, On My Own Terms: A Journey Between Two Worlds (Mediacs, 2018), represents an auto-ethnographic study that illuminates much about gender, culture, family, and individuality.
From the publisher's blurb:
In moments of quiet despair following the death of her eldest son in the September 11 attack on The World Trade Center, Vasu Varadhan thought of her mother and father, a United Nations diplomat and champion of nuclear disarmament during the Cold War who died at the early age of 50; her childhood in New York City and young adulthood in India, and her arranged marriage at the age of 16. Circling back into personal family history led to her decision to write this memoir, a search for better understanding of life’s joys and sorrows.
At its core, On My Own Terms is a classic story of an immigrant’s struggle to forge an identity of one’s own amidst the upheavals of geographical and cultural displacement. On another level, it is an homage to a remarkable woman’s struggle to maintain individuality, integrity and freedom as an accomplished scholar inside the orthodox Hindu culture in which she was born and raised.
Vasu Varadhan holds a PhD in Media Ecology from New York University, where she is currently a member of the faculty at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has taught a wide range of interdisciplinary seminars on media theory, identity in a multi-cultural world, ancient Indian literature and South Asian literature with a special focus on emerging Indian writers in the diaspora. She is the featured subject of the documentary, Knowing Her Place, by Indu Krishnan which chronicles her struggle with “cultural schizophrenia” as an Indian American woman searching to forge her own identity. Her writing has been published in two of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindu and The Indian Express, in the South Asian Review and in the online publication, The Pythians. She has also published scholarly articles in ETC: A Review of General Semantics.
Teresa Manzella, a member of the Board of Directors of the New York Society for General Semantics, moderated the event. She studied media ecology and generals semantics with Neil Postman at New York University and sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and holds masters degrees in communication and education. She worked in business as a career counselor and on training and development and team-building for several companies including Citibank, Chemical, and J.P. Morgan Chase, as well as the MTA. She ran the Career and Life Design Group at The Unitarian Universalist Church of All Souls, NYC, for 20 years, and maintains a private Career Counseling practice.
It was a conversation that was memorable and revealing!