Arts & Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them


by Amar C. Bakshi

In 1947, my grandmother fled Lahore, Pakistan dur - ing partition. She left for India by train at night with fires burning outside her window. Seven years later, at age twenty-one, Nani married my grandfather. My grandfather was a mapmaker who spent the next thirty years charting the new India-Pakistan border in exquisite detail. My grandparents gave birth to my mother. She grew up traveling with them along the India-side of that border, through mountain hills stations and desert sands, before eventually earn- ing a degree, migrating to America, and giving birth to me. In 2007, sixty years after my grandmother fled La - hore, I became the first member of my family to return. I was reporting for the Washington Post on how people around the world perceive America. My grandmother read my pieces with great interest, but none of them fully satisfied her. She wanted to know what her old neighborhood looked like, what life was like for her childhood friends who were Muslim and did not leave sixty years before. Nani did not have a particular friend in Lahore, just a cu- riosity for the place. I told Nani to be patient – that between all the tech giants, she would soon be able to connect seamless- ly with whoever she wanted, whenever she wanted.

Together, we imagined a future where she could touch down as a hologram on the streets of La- hore and interact with passersby.


Nani passed away in 2009, but I never stopped waiting for that vision to become reality.

By 2013, living in New Haven, attending law school, and preparing for a life of policy papers and punditry, I started wondering what life was like on those Lahore streets myself. I thought back on my days as a reporter and missed those days acutely. In particular, I missed the long bus and train rides I would take on the road where my laptop would die, I had no smartphone, and there wasn’t enough light to read a book, so, to pass the time, I would strike up a conversation with the stranger riding next to me – someone far different from myself. I missed talking to the young man in Pakistan heading to the madrassa, keen on becoming a computer scientist or the aging matriarch preparing for her final days. These conversations in the evening light were “de-instrumentalized”, “purposeless” interac- tions.

Before becoming an artist, Amar worked as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post and CNN and as Special Assistant to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Amar has a JD from Yale Law School, a Masters from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He lives and works in Brooklyn. Portals are interconnected, immersive audio-visual spaces, staffed by real human beings, in which you come face- to-face with people around the world. Inside, you can make eye-contact, talk, dance, and play as though you were in the same room. Since launch in 2014, Portals has connected 250,000 people around the world in intimate con- versation, brought in special guests including Barack Obama, Jose Andres, and Priyanka Chopra been covered by hundreds of the world’s leading outlets. Relevant websites: and

In my life in the U.S., at law school, networking,


Arts & Humanities

Don’t Leave College Without Them


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