It all started when my six-year-old cousin asked me the meaning of happiness.
“The meaning of happiness is a blueberry cheesecake, my darling,” I said.
“So, we all live for happiness, right?” I nodded. “So, are you living in this world only to get blueberry cheesecakes?” she asked. I paused. She looked at me in disbelief, and I regretted my answer.
“No, we live for a lot more, of course,” I said. “But for now, just sleep.”
Shortly after I tucked my cousin into bed, I wondered if this is all that there is to life. As I contemplated, I received an e-mail from one of my college professors. It was an invitation to apply for the Global Zero Institute in Istanbul. I called up a friend and read the invitation out loud to him. He told me to apply for it without any second thoughts. “I think that this is a golden opportunity to do something meaningful in life, Ashesha. You must go for this.”
I confessed to him that if I did apply for this program, it would be for the chance to visit Istanbul, not because of any passion about nuclear weapons. He recommended that I watch a few videos about the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I could barely get through one of the many clips he recommended. I was scared out of my wits. In less than an hour, he called again.
“Nuclear weapons burn people – innocent, harmless people – alive, Ashesha,” he said. “That’s what they do.”
Suddenly, everything made sense. Here was my chance to make a change in myself, and to help make the world a better place for others. So I applied for the Institute. In less than 48 hours, my life took a 180-degree turn. I was chosen as one of Kolkata’s two student ambassadors for the South Asia region.
My time spent at the Institute was an unparalleled experience. Many in our group had their own personal experiences with the threat of nuclear warfare, and it occurred to me that no future generation deserves the same fate. As Dr. Jennifer Allen Simons, Global Zero’s founding partner and Canada chair, said, “We have to leave a legacy behind for future generations.”
During the course of the training sessions, I was most inspired by the dedication each student ambassador had to the vision of a world without nuclear weapons. From building strategic goals to dancing to Bollywood songs, we made the most of each and every moment. We brainstormed ideas to effectively pursue Global Zero’s aims and grow the movement in our region. We discussed ways to raise the organization’s profile while also enhancing its legitimacy. And we shared our passion for a better, safer world.
Most importantly, I realized in short order that the fight to eliminate nuclear weapons could actually be won.
We are united for a cause that we believe in, working toward an ambitious goal we know can be achieved. Our work at the Institute formed its own rebuke to those who dismiss Global Zero’s goals as utopian: a group of complete strangers, equal parts Indian and Pakistani, collaborating to wipe nuclear weapons from the face of the planet. If we can come together for this cause, what’s to stop other nations, other nuclear powers, other rival states?
This movement is for people who dare to dream, discover and inspire – and to do the hard work it takes to make the vision of a better world a reality. As the Institute drew to a close, I thought, I am one of those people.
When I left for the airport, my bags were no heavier, but I carried a lot more home than I arrived with.