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Beyond 77 Mass. Avenue

Guest Column Mitali Dhar

Do we live in a glass bubble here at MIT? Sometimes when I think about it - and I have been thinking about it this past week - I think we lead a very sheltered life here. We worry about classes and problem sets and UROPs and friends and food and laundry and maybe money sometimes, but do we ever think about what is happening outside MIT?

We are so shielded here - immune to many things that take place outside the four walls that we have built around us on this 154-acre campus and its immediate surroundings - that we forget that a real world exists outside, where people fight, starve, and die. Over the past few weeks, the world lost two great humanitarians, but living at MIT, one would hardly even think we were aware of it.

Princess Diana died several weeks ago in a gruesome car accident. Mother Teresa died days after when her heart finally gave up on her. The two were great ladies of our time, two great persons of this century, two people whose presence will be sorely missed by the world. But was there any evidence of the loss at MIT? Perhaps I have not been observant enough. But if such an unnoticeable tribute was made, then I question the very point of it.

The matter makes me wonder whether the formulas and theories and problem sets we busy ourselves with at MIT make us immune to tragedies in the world. We seem more concerned about getting the solution to part c on the fifth question in our problem set than about the deaths of compassionate people. Had we been born in a different country under different circumstances, then maybe one of these women could have changed our lives. But just because we don't have to face that predicament should we dismiss their deaths as minor tragic incidents of no consequence to us?

It is sad to see such indifference on campus. The deaths of Diana and Mother Teresa, while not scarring me emotionally, definitely did make me feel a sense of grief. Neither of these women affected my life personally, but I have always felt their presence indirectly. I was born in England and grew up hearing a lot about the monarchy, especially all about the fairy-tale wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. My mother was a great fan of Diana, and as I grew up, stories about her life would enthrall me.

This fascination with a princess soon turned to admiration for an exceptional human being when I learned of the work Diana did for charity. She did so much for the poor, suffering, and wounded, spending time in places some of us would not consider setting foot in. She defied the monarchy to let her feelings find an expression in her work.

Mother Teresa was affectionately called "the saint of the gutters" for the work she did for the suffering in India. Her tireless labor earned her a Nobel Peace Prize and won her a place in everyone's heart. She lived in Calcutta, my home city, and I was very much aware of her work in the putrid slums. She labored for decades among the poor and dying, caring for every individual she came in contact with, trying to alleviate their pain and misery.

The world openly grieves the loss of these two most beloved women. But the compassion is missing at MIT. What makes us so indifferent to the deaths of these humanitarians? Have we lost all contact with our feelings, or have we just learned to suppress feelings that might affect us too much, shoving them into a corner to avoid them?

On our admission applications, all of us wrote about the work we did in high school, in many cases community and volunteer service. But once we enter MIT, we get lost in a world that revolves around us and only us. We disappear into a cocoon, hoping our years at MIT will be a hiatus from the world, never exposing us to anything emotionally challenging. Like the ostrich that buries its head in the sand, we look away from the world, thinking that the world will then forget about us.

But at some point, the world will discover us, or rather we will have to discover the world again once we graduate. College life is a time for us to express our sentiments on events that affect us. We need to burst this bubble that we have created around ourselves and realize that life after MIT will be only more difficult to face if we hide ourselves now. Acknowledgement of tragedies occurring in the world would be a good first step.

Mitali Dhar is a member of the Class of 1999.