A Passage to India
Christina Lamb ’08, a doctoral student in biomedical science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, fulfilled a longtime dream by traveling to India in 2011 to visit her beloved Wagner biology professor, Ammini Moorthy, who was back in her native Kerala on a yearlong sabbatical. Here is her report on the trip.
“Even before I was a student at Wagner, I had wanted to travel to India. I loved exploring different places, and the thought of all of the colors and sights of India had been tempting me for years. I knew that I would travel there one day, but I had no idea that it would be with such a wonderful woman that I have grown to love. When I came to Wagner in 2005 for undergraduate studies, I almost immediately met Dr. Moorthy, and that was the beginning of a beautiful mentoring relationship and now a real friendship. If anyone has met Dr. Moorthy, they instantly sense her enthusiasm for science, her love of life, and her effervescent spirit. I was so honored to be surrounded by that spirit for three years during my studies, when Dr. Moorthy served as my academic advisor and research mentor in the biology department. After graduation, I kept in close touch with Dr. Moorthy and her equally kind, warm and thoughtful husband, Sundaram Moorthy. I spent some weekends with them when I travelled to New York, and we would joke that I was like their adopted child. This past year, Dr. Moorthy told me that she would be going on sabbatical for several months to Kerala University in southern India. I jumped at the opportunity to go with her and stay with her family.
“It was wonderful to experience India with Dr. Moorthy. From the second I landed, her family treated me with so much kindness. With the capital city of Trivandrum as our base, we travelled in many places throughout Kerala. My first day was spent on a thatched houseboat slowly gliding through the backwaters of Kerala. We enjoyed the breeze in our hair, and ate a fabulous Indian feast prepared in the smallest kitchen I have ever seen (two burners and one counter)! We also went on an excursion to the Botanical Gardens, a peaceful and beautiful compound that stretches for miles with bamboo forests, orchid collections, and tropical plants. We were given a tour through the sprawling grounds and learned about the many medicinal plants of India as well as the delicately beautiful flowers that thrive in the Kerala climate. After the garden tour, we drove into the mountains of Kerala. The roads wound up the mountain at 90 degree angles through tea gardens planted on almost vertical inclines. The road finally leveled at the top and revealed the stunning mountain views of the land below. Kerala is called “God’s Own Country,” and when you stand above the hills and look over the lush valleys, you can see why. My favorite experience was visiting a generous and kind family who cared for multiple elephants. They let me ride one of the elephants! It was so exciting to be on the back of such a magnificent animal, and we later got to see him being decorated for a temple festival that was taking place that afternoon. The elephant was to carry the godhead for the festival, so they adorned him with beautiful panels of brass to prepare for the event.
“All of these adventures were more than I could have wished for, but the best part of the trip was being a part of the Moorthy family. I have always felt blessed to have Dr. Moorthy in my life, and now I feel like I am a part of her extended family as well. It is rare to have the opportunity to experience someone’s homeland, and I was honored to see India through Dr. Moorthy’s eyes. It was an experience I will never forget.”