The following is adapted from the book The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in A Reckless Age, by Bina Venkataraman. Copyright © 2019 by Bina Venkataraman. Reprinted with the permission of Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Watch Venkataraman’s TED talk on the same topic here.
A few years ago, I visited my grandmother in India. Memories flooded back of childhood trips to see her, of my sister and I pinning jasmine garlands in our hair and filling a bucket to pour water over our sticky bodies in the bath. For as long as I can remember, all have been welcome to pass through the wrought-iron gate into her home: gossiping neighbors, whiny street cats, and droves of mosquitoes with a taste for American-born blood.
On this recent visit, she had something she wanted to give me. She directed me to climb onto a rickety chair in her bedroom and reach above her armoire to bring down an heirloom that she had saved for me. We sat together on the mattress, hard as a coffin, as I unraveled the fraying rope and unfurled the batik cloak that clung to the antique.
The heirloom belonged to my great-grandfather, a music and art critic named K. V. Ramac... Read more