Hi! Welcome to the Horizon! I am Nuraini, and I write as Teja. Four years on, and it’s time for an update.
I founded this website at the end of 2016, after volunteering with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. But the journey began earlier than that, during an even earlier volunteering project in the Western Ghats in 2015.
It was where I decided to make myself into a sustainability project. You could say that that’s when Teja was conceived.
Project vs Quest
I was in the Western Ghats under a highly-coveted corporate sustainability program. It was one that combined working for the conservation project, with sustainability knowledge classes meant to prepare future senior leaders. It was a good program. But finishing it required us to come up with a sustainability project, which isn’t work-related.
In the working world, you are used to thinking in the frame of projects. You have an objective, and then you come up with milestones and timelines. A path, with which to measure your progress. And it works well enough, when you’re in a situation where conditions are well known, predictable. Not as well, when you’re looking to make something new.
Back then, I could not articulate that. I only knew it instinctively, in the depths of intuition. I am already an environmental professional; arguably my day job revolves around sustainability projects. Yet another little project was not going to make a meaningful impact relative to what I already do. I was rebellious. I countered with an unProject.
There are many ways to learn.
Not long before that trip, I finalised my divorce. It was the most difficult thing that I have had to do, and doing it with grace and compassion required me to become almost totally a different person.
But I did that, and the experience taught me a whole new way of learning. One that doesn’t rely on logical knowing, which is great for handling objects. But one that draws from the core of knowledge itself, which is the way that you speak to hearts and transform people.
Have you ever wondered why the oldest and earliest wisdoms are told in stories? And why certain stories last through the centuries? Language styles and phrases come and go. But stories that teach using human truths will stay evergreen.
Since the turn of the millennium, scientists have been feeling acutely that too many of us are specialising as specialists. We have a lot of knowledge by now, but we can’t communicate them simply.
I saw this as my biggest obstacle. My colleagues might benefit from embarking on a sustainability project.
But I needed to embark on a quest.
Knowledge vs Wisdom
People of knowledge are still human. Like other human beings, we have a tendency to assume that other people are like ourselves. So, in an era where science literacy is low, we try to fix it by flooding people with knowledge. To the extent that it has made science more accessible to ordinary people, it has been great.
But you will not get everyone. And even more knowledge will not fix that. Many people simply do not have the capacity, whether it’s intelligence or time or something else. Many people have more urgent priorities. Acquiring knowledge is a time-consuming exercise. We can try to simplify it and make it faster, but the receiving brain still has to spend time to contemplate it and understand.
The sustainability challenges we face today cannot wait for that.
Fortunately, I’m not just a scientist, I’m a polymath. I can think like many different kinds of people, not just a scientist. It’s just that you simply don’t get a lot of chances to do that, when you begin a full time job.
But it does mean that I know there is a faster way. Knowledge is slow because you must learn it using your conscious brain. For complex problems like sustainability, wisdom is faster.
Wisdom is different from knowledge. It’s not precise, but it doesn’t need to be. Wisdom is that knowing that comes from apprehending the vast connectedness of all knowledge. You don’t have to know all the knowledge nodes, as long as you can sense how they’re networked.
You can have knowledge, and be very clever, without interacting with the world. But you can only have insight, and wisdom, once you have lived and engaged in the world. And everyone can do that.
That is why I embarked on the journeys that I write about on this website. I have to offer myself to the experience of the world, so that I can see knowledge at the level of wisdom. And I use travel stories to show you what I discover, so that you can look beyond the place and the words; instead, taking away what is timeless.
And one of the main things I discovered, is that when you offer yourself to knowledge, the world will tell you the sustainability projects it chooses for you. You don’t have to choose. In fact, it would be better than anything you can design. And you would then understand, the arrogance of trying to.
The Worldview of an Ecologist
For those who have followed me since the beginning, the concept of this blog may have been unclear. It took me this long to learn the way. But now that the pieces are put together, I hope that from now on it would be clear.
This website was always meant to be a base on which sustainability projects might be conceived. With timelines and milestones this time. It just wouldn’t stop at one.
I guess that’s what happens when an ecologist gets asked to grow vegetables. She goes, why do it directly, and have to do it over and over again? I’ll build a biosphere, and the biosphere will grow vegetables for me. Over and over again.
At 4 years old, Teja on the Horizon is finally ready to be my virtual sustainability biosphere.
What does Teja mean?
Teja is one of those words that have a meaning in more than one language (which is appealing to me in itself) – some fairly general and others quite specific, ranging from twilight, rainbow, all kinds of radiance – but also clay roof tiles (er, yeah..).
Nonetheless, the meaning that I have in mind is from my own language, referring to the light in the sky, that is the result of the sun, but without the sun being visible.
Why do I write as Teja?
The practical reason is to create a separation between my professional identity and my activism. Although it's not exactly a secret, we do not yet live in a world where it's normal for people to have more than one career. So I acknowledge that by using a different name.
One day, I hope we reach a new post-Industrial Age era where your job is only a subset of your identity and life, and not the other way around. When the default understanding is that your personal social media is your own, and nothing whatsoever to do with who you work for at the time. On that day professionals will feel able to engage and collaborate with others in their personal time, without the worry that taking a good job must require limiting their personal speech. So we return to an age when a person of deep knowledge is sought because their knowledge is seen as an inseparable part of themselves, not avoided because they are seen as an inseparable part of who they work for. A lot of knowledge and experience in the world is fenced off from each other for such increasingly meaningless legal reasons, not to mention uprooting the natural relationships between educated individuals and the communities who sent them to become educated. But that day is not yet today. Hence, why I have to brand my personal channels clearly.
The more meaningful reason is that the part of me that I use to write these stories, is not the whole of me. There are parts of me that aren't present there, because I'm not insightful all the time. I'm not an Oracle in a mountain; I have an everyday life. So I use Teja to represent the part of me who is writing.
What is the significance of Teja?
To answer that, I have to tell you why I travel today. I go out into the world, mainly because I have a highly inconvenient need to. But the emphasis I have chosen for this pull, is to become acquainted with the diverse peoples in this world, with the awareness that it is only all together that we are complete as humankind. Which is – trust me – stupendously challenging for an introvert. “Know thyself.” To do so, one has to know us all. There's no getting around it.
Which brings me to this observation: there are no two sunsets that are the same. And yet teja on the horizon is perhaps the most universally popular sight photographed by mankind while travelling. In a world riven by differences, is it not right and timely for the traveller to hold up a kind of beauty that we all love, despite and perhaps even because each version is different?
I have always travelled. Certainly my mind always has, from every echo and scribed page it has built a map of entire worlds. I have been to many places for many reasons: as a tourist, as a business visitor, as a student, and as kin. The country that I feel most familiar with, next to the one of my birth, is 6000 miles away. It was something I took for granted, and the realisation that I was rarely homesick never really sank in during those early years.
Ibn Battuta, the great medieval traveller, observed that travelling does something to you. It gives you a home in a thousand places, but leaves you a stranger in your own land.
It crept upon me over the years, and one day I began realising the truth of the second part. I had better find me a thousand homes.
Up until I began working, I was always a writer. Growing up, I was much better known to my peers for literature than for science. But, as I also felt a passion and responsibility for the environment, I made my choice in my teens. As an environmental professional, there is a very specific, disciplined way that you write, and as time went by, I rarely wrote for beauty again.
I ended up with these loose ends because, as is the case with life, some doors are delayed and others open with barely a touch. For me, I ended up getting things backward: in many ways, I did maturity before I ever did youth.
Perhaps that is why insight comes to me. It comes from doing things in a different order than most people.
Gain Insight from Travel
There is another observation that Ibn Battuta made. It’s perhaps not a surprise, therefore, that so many travellers and wanderers in the social media age share so profusely. He said that the traveller will, eventually, feel the compulsion to become a storyteller.
Consequently, there are now many resources online that will tell you nearly anything about nearly anywhere. It has never been so feasible to be inspired and decide where to go, what to do, how to go about it, no matter your personal travel style and limitations. I benefit from them insanely and can’t think how I would do better.
Those are not the stories that Teja is about.
My stories are for the times in between. After your flights are booked, and your ideas have settled. While you are packing, waiting to go, or perhaps that downtime at the airport. When you’re home.
I will tell you something about where I’ve been, but it is not to tell you to follow. Though these are my stories, I’m not here to give you myself.
I want to remind you of perhaps why you were going in the first place. Remind you to think about what you’ve seen afterwards. Remind you to reflect on how you have changed. Let the sun of your self set sometimes on the journey, and see the strange places and new people by its teja, not through the lens of your own needs.