Elizabeth: Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: Today our guest is longtime friend Raj Bery. First, we knew Rajas the father of two beautiful children, particularly his late son, Rajan, who Michael got to know when he student of his at the Washington Ethical Society High School. Then we got to know Raj as the husband to his wife, Marjorie, the beautiful woman who is his late wife. During our many visits to their home in Northwest DC our affections only deepened. So, welcome, Raj.
Michael: This interview covers the role creativity has played and continues to play in the various aspects of your life, so we like to start off all of our interviews with a couple of questions. The first one is this: In what aspects of your life has creativity had the greatest impact?
Raj: I believe in all [00:01:00] aspects of personal and professional life there is creativity, either observed or witnessed, participated in.
Elizabeth: To expand upon that, there are many definitions of creativity. Raj, how do you personally view creativity or the creative act—more as advancing a field or as a problem-solving methodology?
Raj: I think it’s a combination of both, problem solving as well as focusing on which I consider a happening when something new and valuable evolves from any thought process or work.
Michael: Let’s go back in time, so to speak. So, to your earliest memories of creativity and the creative impulse, could we start off maybe just describing [00:02:00] where you grew up?
Raj: I grew up in India, in a very, I would say, international society or a bicultural society, which was Indian as well as Western. I would say that my first memories of creativity as such, were witnessing creativity of my elders, mostly family.
Michael: Was this in, like, storytelling or did they play musical instruments or did they just behave funnily?
Raj: I think they were creative in their own rights, particularly my father. He was exceedingly creative in his own way. He was an engineer.
Michael: Oh, he was an engineer? Okay.
Raj: Yes, he was an engineer, but he was a [00:03:00] civil engineer and I saw the creativity in his work.
Michael: Oh, so you would see his, some of his projects that he was working on?
Raj: Yes, and also the fact that he thought creatively and, in many ways, and I won’t go into too much detail, except to mention that when I was coming to the States to study, I first, among very many universities that I had applied to, I got admission at the University of Missouri. Now, this was in the early ‘40s or mid-‘40s when the GIs were coming back and there was very little room for foreign students, but I got admission to the University of Missouri. And they sent a letter saying that—without realizing, I [00:04:00] think, what they were saying—is that they were not a residential university, so I would have to find my own place and to provide this proof to the university before they could send me the authorization to join.
Elizabeth: So you had to find your own housing.
Raj: So, how does one do that, half a world away?
Elizabeth: Way before the internet!
Raj: It just so happened, and we’re talking about creativity, my father used to, when I was going in high school, where there were several professors or teachers who were from the U.S., he had visited them in their house and used to exchange magazines with them. So, one day he came back with a magazine, which was a large [00:05:00] book—and the story has not been told in so many words before, in public that is—but, but he said he brought the book because there was a place, they had an address in Missouri that might be helpful. So being the kind of very thrifty person, and he had a very fine English hand, he wrote a postcard. He wrote a postcard to Sears Roebuck in Missouri, telling them what the situation was, and could they help in any way to find admission for his son? And they needed proof at the university. About three weeks later, a long letter came to say, yes, we have, already our representative has already gone to Columbia, Missouri. [00:06:00] He has found accommodation and he has proven to the university that you have accommodation.
Elizabeth: Wow. Wow.
Raj: And by the way, let us know when your son is coming.
Elizabeth: Okay, so?
Raj: When I was ready to go and admission came and everything was in place, so I went to, I sailed off and into the wild blue yonder and arrived in San Francisco one fine morning and—oh, and during the writing of this letter, he had also mentioned that a cousin of mine was coming to the United States with me. We were on the ship ready to disembark, and I heard my name being called and so I went and found that there were several people from Sears Roebuck who had arrived and [00:07:00] wanted me to just pick up my luggage and come.
Raj: And by the way, bring your cousin with you. So, we both got off ship. No problems at all. Just went all the formalities very easily because there were four people there who had known different parts of the mechanism. And so, they took care of getting me through. And they, make a very long story short, took care of us, the two of us, and put us on the train to Kansas City where we were going to transfer. And this is January of 1948, and it was snowing and it was very cold, and we ran and caught the other train and it was about to leave when somebody came down the platform shouting my name, wanting to find [00:08:00] out where my luggage was so they could take it off.
So as the luggage got off the train, it sped away to Columbia, Missouri.
Raj: And it was explained later by this executive of Sears Roebuck that the vice president who received this letter, this card, had arranged that he would take me.
Raj: Take us. And he thought it was my cousin and me. Except that what happened, of course, was that my cousin was going to Chicago somewhere. And on the boat, on the ship, there was another gentleman whom I met who was going to Columbia, Missouri. So the two of us got off.
Raj: And this guy couldn’t figure out what was going on. That he, the Sears Roebuck executive, would take us [00:09:00] to Columbia, Missouri.
So the next day we went to the offices of Sears Roebuck, met the vice president, and I won’t go to details of people’s names and, but, and so, from there we were transported in the snow, which I had not seen as much snow, and it was a journey of about 125 miles. And then he dropped us in Columbia, Missouri and said, “Now this is where Sears Roebuck gets off and in two weeks when you’re settled, I will come and pick you up and take you back for a weekend—”
Raj: “—with my family.” So that started another adventure that they became [00:10:00] my mother and father away from home.
Raj: And I spent all the time off with them and then the company offices moved to Chicago and so I used to go to spend time with them.
Michael: In Chicago.
Raj: To the point where—to Chicago—to the point where his wife, my same, my substitute mother at that point, attended Marjorie and my wedding.
Elizabeth: Oh, wonderful!
Raj: In New York.
Michael: Excellent. Excellent.
Elizabeth: Talk about a welcome to America story.
Michael: And I’m assuming that your father knew the people at Sears and Roebuck, right?
Michael: He never knew them at all?
Raj: No. No. He saw the name.
Michael: Okay, I was going, “That’s just incredible.”
Raj: What they said at Sears Roebuck was that this card that arrived, whenever they didn’t know [00:11:00] where it, it went to the Vice President’s Office of Public Relations. So that’s how it all started.
Michael: That’s how.
Elizabeth: Talk about customer service. Oh, that’s so amazing. It is so amazing.
Michael: Creativity, yes, that’s definitely a good example of something—
Raj: Amazing story.
Raj: Of course, it has to be mentioned that Sears Roebuck is no more.
Elizabeth: Too much customer service, I guess.
Raj: However, the son of that executive is still in touch with me.
Elizabeth: Oh, how sweet. Oh, that’s great.
Raj: So that’s a long story or a short version of the long story.
Elizabeth: Wow. So, speaking of this story, how old were you? You were still a teenager?
Raj: I was 17. I was 17 when I arrived here.
Elizabeth: So amazing.
Raj: So that’s how my beginning started here.
Elizabeth: Wow. Wow. Would that would have been the experience of more people coming here.
Raj: So, talk about creativity, as we were saying, that was my father’s creativity to have written that postcard and not knowing what [00:12:00] was gonna come of it.
Elizabeth: Oh, and that story is probably legendary or was legendary throughout your father’s life.
Elizabeth: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So what about the rest of your teenage years? Were you, in this country and many, in the present, people, young people experiment in many ways and have always experimented, from ideas and politics and fashion and hairstyles and music and identity itself. As a young person, as a teenager, how did your creativity express itself? Can you remember any early teen years of being—?
Raj: I can’t remember any creativity because I think going to college here was a very different experience. And to survive, you had to have some degree of creativity, I suppose. I don’t remember anything else in the way of [00:13:00] creativity that I can think of.
Michael: Your choice to become a chemical engineer—your father, you say, was a civil engineer—
Michael: So what, could you describe what led to the choice of chemical engineering?
Raj: I enrolled in mechanical engineering, which is what I thought wanted to do. But then as I went along, I found that, actually, there was such a thing—I never knew—as such a thing as chemical engineering, because I liked chemistry, and I thought I might enjoy chemical engineering because of my familiarity with chemistry. So that’s the only reason I went to chemical engineering. And I don’t think I regretted it. Just, it was a different form of engineering, and it was quite useful for me.
Elizabeth: Well, one of the few things I remember about high school chemistry is just how incredibly elegant chemistry is because [00:14:00] everything balances out.
Elizabeth: There’s just all of these variables, and in the world of chemistry, everything is somehow offset by something else or there’s just these incredible connections. Did, when you were a young student of chemistry, did, were you drawn to that kind of elegance? That sort of perfection of a system of interconnectedness?
Raj: I used to like chemistry because more because of laboratory work that was connected with chemistry more than the theory of chemistry. And it had a, it had laboratory function connected with it, which the other branches of engineering did not have.
Elizabeth: Good point. Yeah. It’s much more hands on and real materials. Yes, not just mathematical.
To go back to this early part of your life—and I want to hear more about this Sears and Roebuck gentleman who was at your wedding to your beautiful wife—Michael and I have known you and Marjorie for, oh [00:15:00] gosh, almost 40 years. And we always knew you as an incredibly loving couple, full of grace and wisdom. You all were married for over six decades. You were from India, Marjorie was from a rural part of New York. So I’m really interested in how you and Marjorie met.
Raj: That’s another short story. I was living and working in New Jersey in my first job in a, in doing chemical research in a small organization in New Jersey. A college friend of mine who lived in New York called me one day and said, “Hey, how about coming to New York tomorrow evening? I’m taking a bunch of girls”—in those days they were not “women”—
Elizabeth: Young females.
Raj: —“taking a bunch of girls to the concert”—there was the open air concerts in New York [00:16:00] with the Philharmonic—“and would you like to join us?” Also, I think he knew that also I had a car so that I could come and also take them. Which was fine. So that’s where I met Marjorie. And from then on…
Elizabeth: The rest is history, yeah.
Raj: It’s history.
Elizabeth: What a great story.
Raj: So that was in New York, and I met her for the first time. And then she came out to New Jersey a couple of times when I had a company picnic. And then we got to know each other.
Elizabeth: And when did the Sears and Roebuck people meet you and Marjorie? Is it at your wedding?
Raj: No, this is, this is the wife of the—
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s right, yeah.
Raj: The wife of the executive came to our wedding and reception.
Elizabeth: Okay. I think that’s such a great story.
Raj: And part of the story also goes that somebody related to me, later, because I had [00:17:00] also picked up another erstwhile mother in New Jersey, and so at the wedding, somebody said, “And who are you and how are you related to Raj?” She said, “I’m his mother from New Jersey.” And so this woman says, “You know what? I am his mother from Chicago.” So—
Elizabeth: Dueling mothers here.
Raj: —that lent some relevance to how I was adopted by many people along the way.
Elizabeth: Oh, that’s so great.
Michael: Now, at the, at Marjorie’s memorial service, it was the first time I heard about your time in Calcutta and it, some of the people there and the stories. It sounded like you had an incredible time. You and Marjorie had an incredible time in Calcutta, and I was just wondering if you could share some of your impressions of your time in Calcutta with Marjorie, sort of, what that was like and how that—
Raj: Oh, Calcutta was a very lovely experience [00:18:00] and we went there with the idea of perhaps staying there and, talk about creativity, I was always surprised how creative and how easy it was for Marjorie to adopt the customs and the ways and, as it happened, our luggage was late in coming. So, she didn’t have very many clothes with her. So my mother said, “Why don’t we get you some blouses made and then you can wear a sari?” Because that’s what the clothing—so, again, in that case, she wore a sari from that day on all the years that we were in India. And wore it with such [00:19:00] panache that—Western women have a hard time wearing saris and carrying sairs—and that she was absolutely an Indian.”
Elizabeth: Wow. Wow. I did not know that story.
Raj: In, and I was then, I got a job and was working with an English company. It was the, it was called Imperial Chemical Industries, which was in those days, like the DuPont of the UK, of England. And we would be invited to parties with the Brits and so on, and he insisted on wearing saris, and that was it.
Elizabeth: Wow. Wow. What a great story. What a—
Raj: Stood out there. This is who I am.
Elizabeth: Speaking of Marjorie, who was both a beautiful woman, a cherished teacher of young children, she was an incredibly insightful thinker—
Raj: Generous teacher, she’s called [00:20:00] Butterfly lady.
Elizabeth: Butterfly Lady. That’s right. There were stories about that.
Raj: Yeah, because she started a program that now still works in, still happens in New Jersey, where she taught, that she had a whole program for preschool children to go through the life cycle of a butterfly. And it’s still done today.
Raj: So that was another—
Elizabeth: Just the continuum life.
Raj: Another creative—
Elizabeth: And she was also, Marjorie was also a long-time and also cherished volunteer at the National Zoo’s Commissary where she prepared the “meals,” quote, unquote, for all the animals, be it a meal of crickets or meal of raw meat for the carnivores. And Michael and I can certainly attest to Marjorie’s extraordinary culinary abilities, cooking these incredible Indian dishes.
Raj: She learned how to cook. And when we first came to Washington, the best place to eat Indian food was at our house.
Elizabeth: Was at your house—it was! [00:21:00] We were the happy recipients of a lot of that incredible—
Raj: That was in 1980! That was in 1980, 40 years ago, yes.
Elizabeth: Your house, your home in DC was always a place of incredible hospitality and spirited discussion and the free exchange of ideas. I’m wondering how that evolved. How did you and Marjorie become such a place of incredible creative exchange?
Raj: Well, I think this started in Calcutta. I think this started in Calcutta, where we met all sorts of young people, in those days, who still are friends, those that are still living are friends today, or their sons and daughters are friends. And it was an international community. Some of us were from Hungary. Some of us were from, from Baltic states—
Elizabeth: Oh, right, like Montenegro or Serbia, Bosnia—
Michael: Lithuania and—
Raj: Way up there in…
Elizabeth: Oh, Latvia? No. [00:22:00] Further, further north.
Raj: I can’t think of it, over there in
Elizabeth: Bosnia? Herzegovina?
Raj: Way up there. Several members of our groups, and they were known as the “Us’s”, we were the “Us’s”. And the “Us’s” never changed. They changed meaning new people came in and new people went out. And I think we, our house was always an open—
Raj: —open door place for people to gather and to meet.
Elizabeth: You and Marjorie not only lived in India, but you also lived in Italy at one point and in Brazil as well as in the US. So your marriage was not only, was not simply, was not only a multicultural experience for the two of you and your family, but you also navigated a wide range of cultural experiences and I’m wondering how—you’re talking about how that culturally diverse experience shaped your marriage, your family life, your, kind of, professional lives. [00:23:00] Can you talk a little bit more about that exchange of cultures and how that really was a factor?
Raj: Well, the exchange of cultures seemed to come almost naturally. We and our kids were both culturally sensitive and we went from one culture to another very easily. Was an international instinct, built in, that became part of our living structure, living habits. When we were in Italy, when we were in Brazil, it didn’t seem to make much difference. We were, we were part of the scene wherever we happened to be. And this was mainly due to Marjorie and the children who she took care of as I was going to work. So, [00:24:00] she had a great deal of influence in forming their creativity, their lives, their happenings. as they were growing up.
Elizabeth: As a teacher, indeed, she’s remembered so deeply and fondly by so many.
Michael: Are there any particular, just that the creative dynamics of your family, can you share some creative communication event or problem-solving event or just the, a creative moment just to get a sense of just what that was like. You said the international flavor, it sounds fascinating, I’m just trying to—
Raj: I don’t how to give an example of this, but it was an embracing experience. The difference in culture didn’t seem to make a difference. The variations in culture.
Michael: Right. Would the native, sort of, cuisine, would that enter the house?
Raj: It was, we were [00:25:00] international in our thinking, so that it wasn’t a new experience. It was a different experience, but it was not a new experience. And it took a great deal of creativity on her part to have this happen. Great deal of, she needs to be honored and to be recognized. for
Elizabeth: I think that’s such an important point, Raj, that whole building, of community building, of a, kind of, zone of camaraderie and acceptance and being able to create that at the personal realm in all kinds of different places is, it is a superpower really to be able to—
Raj: Yes, it is. It takes a lot of talent and creativity.
Elizabeth: Yeah, to just have that—
Raj: It’s very difficult. And it was not difficult in our family because she was just there, she knew what it was.
Michael: You mentioned her ability to adopt so quickly—
Raj: Yes, to adapt so quickly, to [00:26:00] adopt each, to adopt other ways, to adopt other cultures.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I think you, didn’t you learn to speak Italian when you were in Italy? Or at least to be able to communicate in Italian as I recall.
Raj: Most of the work that I was doing was done in English. So I didn’t have to speak Italian except that in Italy, every head of company has to be an Italian. And so, my Italian CEO would want to change to Italian, and I resisted that after my first experience because when I found some discrepancies in the meetings and I could understand words and I couldn’t speak a straight language Italian, but, so, I asked somebody who was there in the meeting and [00:27:00] I said, I thought we had discussed certain things. He said it was nuanced in Italian. And so, from that time on, I always had everybody who spoke, if they wanted to speak in Italian, they could, but we had to summarize the discussion in English. Because English is a language that precipitates function, as it, whereas, in Italian or in French or what have you, there are many variations of the same word to the point where it can change a meaning.
Elizabeth: That is, just, culturally, I think that’s interesting because—
Raj: Yeah, and after the company got going, then I found time to be able to learn. I say, “I found time.” I could have found time earlier, but it just didn’t occur to me. And then this young woman used to come at lunchtime, and [00:28:00] in those days there was no internet, but they had what we called telex.
Elizabeth: Oh, right.
Raj: So when you wrote a telex, she said, “You are speaking Italian like you write at telex, you don’t use any pro–, any articles, ou don’t use any prepositions. You just get yourself understood.”
Elizabeth: It’s like a text these days.
Raj: Yeah. “So, it’s gonna be very hard for you to learn unless you put yourself to it.” I didn’t learn that much Italian, but the kids did. They were very good at Italian. and Renu still speaks Italian.
Elizabeth: Well, I don’t know Italian, but I know in Spanish I was struck with there are certain expressions like, say the light is just out, it’s gone out, as opposed to somebody burned it out. Or it just, so there’s a sort of generalized statement. That things just happen. And I would imagine in the engineering world, everything is much more precise, that something happened because of [00:29:00] the sequence of events. And so culturally there’s maybe a kind of a variation there. So, if you’re giving advice to younger people, what would you offer in terms of advice on how to keep a marriage creative and vital and dynamic? Any sort of words of wisdom that you’d like to share in terms of how the creative impulse really informs a relationship?
You’ve talked a lot about how your home was a place of welcoming for everybody. That there was a fluidity to the comfort zone and the cultures, and I’m wondering if you could give other people advice on how to just keep your home together a creative place, you know, how to keep that openness going.
Raj: You have to have loyalty, love as a family to be creative. Without that, it doesn’t happen. There should be open [00:30:00] communication. Without which, nothing works.
Michael: Definitely sound bit of advice.
Elizabeth: Sound advice.
Michael: So let’s shift to the world of chemical engineering, which I will admit that I don’t know a lot about.
Raj: The what?
Michael: Chemical engineering.
Michael: Into that world. Your professional life. And I definitely don’t know much about the real-life activity of a chemical engineer, but I am absolutely certain that things are created, there’s a process for creating those things. So I was wondering if you could describe some of the complexity of chemical engineering, or maybe there’s a particular project that you worked on where you, that you thought was particularly—
Raj: Well, the creativity of engineering, chemical engineering, depends to a large extent on what area of chemical engineering you’re working in. Now, I’ve worked in a chemical company, with different kinds of work. But my longest career was in, in a company that had, [00:31:00] that did design, engineering, and construction to build factories and so on. And my last project to build, meaning to design and then get built, was in Brazil. That’s why we were in Brazil. This is where you get to start up, test, and produce a product that factory or plant group of chemical entities produce. And creativity is in seeing that what you designed came to pass, and that is how it determined, there was no other way. You designed something and was built, and then you ran whatever [00:32:00] chemicals through it and the product came out and it was what you, and so, from that point of view—and that was my first part of my career, was in actual design, engineering, and construction. Later, I didn’t do much design engineering, but then I got into business development, which had its own requirements for creativity. Which was different.
Michael: So this is business development within chemical engineering fields?
Raj: Yes. Chemical engineering fields.
Michael: So you’re not, you took your knowledge of the design component and—
Raj: Then left the—
Michael: —applied that to—
Raj: —design engineering—
Raj: —and then go into business development, for that same engineering that I left.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Elizabeth: So, let’s talk a little bit more about that, because building, I mean, developing a business, organizing organizations, developing organizations, requires just [00:33:00] tremendous finesse, I would say, in, within communities of people, within workplaces. So, can you talk a little bit about how, what does it take to just get lots of different people who are all working together to create a business or an organization and how to get everybody on the same page and what that—
Raj: You have to set, you have to agree to set a goal, and then to achieve that goal. Business development was a concept that you had to be creative to be able to pull it all together—technology, in price, in competition, to be able to be successful.
Elizabeth: That there’s a certain alchemy there that you’ve gotta have.
Raj: A certain alchemy, yes.
Elizabeth: Three parts of this and one part of that, and yeah, two thirds of this and yeah.
Raj: Yeah, and you’re competing in the open market. And you are trying to [00:34:00] convince people. that what you have is more worthy of consideration than—so in words and acts, you have to prove that, or you have to try and convince other people, to communicate this to them as to what it is—
Elizabeth: What it is, yes.
Raj: —that you are selling.
Elizabeth: To persuade them that they need to go with you, your product, or your company. Yeah. That, that’s a daunting task and I dare say it’s probably become even more daunting.
Raj: And again, it has to be done in a creative way so that you can be successful.
Michael: And I would assume that most of the work in, like, design or in business, it’s a team sport in many ways. It’s not a, in one—
Raj: No, it’s not. It’s not a singular thing.
Michael: So you have to work collaboratively with all these people.
Raj: With all these people to get the product that you want out. To compete with the other parties.
Michael: Right. So everybody’s [00:35:00] sharing ideas and at some point the judgments have to be made and so it’s, or combined, and that’s a part of the creativity of that kind of work.
Elizabeth: It sounds to me like the experience that you have had working internationally, being in other cultures, working across languages and cultures, must be an incredible asset in terms of trying to get all these disparate members of an organization or of a business to, to come together. There’s gotta be a certain kind of openness and trustworthiness—
Raj: Yes, it always was. Because first the idea was do we want to go after this developmental thing? Do we want to go after this project on a competitive basis? So from then on, you had to motivate the people to do what had to be done. To write the proposals that had to be written, to then present to the clients, to then have them competitively priced,[00:36:00] be successful.
Elizabeth: And just to present this complex technical information in a way that everyone, not just the engineers, could understand. So, that in itself, just wordsmithing, a whole complex process.
Raj: Exactly. Really, because that’s what culminated in. And that had to be presented.
Michael: Right. Now you’ve described, where you were born, you grew up, you described it as an international city with a lot of different cultures. And so I guess that when you came to the United States as a 17-year-old, that, obviously, that international experience growing up prepared you or helped you deal—
Raj: Helped. It did help, yes.
Michael: But, but in terms of, obviously, you’re landing in a snowbound place in the middle of America. Could you maybe just describe the—
Raj: It was scary.
Michael: Yeah, so if you could describe how creativity or how was it scary and how, like, you found a, an American mother nearby. Or you were able to get an American mother nearby to at least a place to escape [00:37:00] that scariness, if you will. Could you describe that a little bit?
Raj: No, that took a while. Not instantly. The scary part was in the beginning. The scary part was in the beginning where you had to, you were on your own to do what you had to do. So, in a sense, it was creative to survive.
Michael: Yes! Right, ‘cause you weren’t in a dorm, ‘cause you had to find an actual apartment, so there was no sort of university support system, I guess. Right?
Raj: There was no university support system as such. You were on your own, everybody was on their own. But you were, what you had to do.
Elizabeth: But coming from the other side of the planet—we’ve been talking in this podcast series with, not exclusively, but with a number of people who have come to this country from someplace else, and we’re absolutely in agreement that the process of transplanting yourself and recreating yourself and your life and endeavors in a new [00:38:00] place is a profoundly creative experience. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about your experiences, as you recall, in recreating your life and identity in not just in the US but in Italy and Brazil and other places that you lived or that you and Marjorie lived. Just, what were some of your techniques for recreating a life in a new place?
Raj: I don’t know if it takes a—recreating came easily to me, and after Marjorie and I were together, it came easily to us. And, again, when we had a family, it came easily to all of us. Because the international character was always present there. And I think, if you want to say creativity, I think I’ve said this before, if you are [00:39:00] going from one culture to another and you have no experience with it before, it is much more creative. Just like Marjorie coming to India. That is really creative.
Elizabeth: That was a big step. Yeah.
Raj: And, and the way she created this is by taking on all the cultural aspects. There was a time when we were traveling on the ship from here to London on our way to India, and there was this Hungarian lady who was a, she used to read backbones and ask, and say to people, she said to me, “Is she the only Indian or are you an Indian as well?” And that was also repeated to Marjorie at school by the principal who was a very old, cantankerous old lady. And she said, “Are you the only Indian or is your [00:40:00] husband also?” To, to the creativity to become, who she wanted to be. That’s the only way I can describe it.
Elizabeth: To be adaptive enough and—
Adaptive is the right word.
Elizabeth: —observant enough, and chameleon-like enough.
Raj: And we all adapted, and the children adapted. And so, as a result, we were able to adapt to different cultures, different places where we visited. Met different people.
Michael: Because I would imagine that, sort of, within the chemical engineering world, whether or not you’re in Italy or Brazil or Calcutta or United States, there’s something similar about worlds because it’s the language of chemical engineering. But it’s outside in the world that things—
Raj: Outside in the world, culturally, is different.
Michael: So do you think you learned how to—I mean, if Marjorie’s genius was to [00:41:00] adopt her ability to adopt the, sari and immediately become an, or ultimately I guess they become an Indian, right? Do you think you’ve learned over the years how to make as easy transformations as her?
Raj: I think she was the forerunner of adaptability and creativity in that sense.
Elizabeth: Yeah. The, one of the terms used these days is cultural competence, where you not only respect another culture, but you become, you know about it. You, you delve deeply into—
Raj: The delicate parts.
Elizabeth: Right. Into all the, all parts of it.
Wow. We we are really happy to talk with you today, Raj. We, one of the reasons, as we’ve discussed, that we’re doing this podcast is because we truly see creativity as a vital force, a necessary ingredient to a healthy emotional life. And I know we agree that the world today could use a whole lot more emotional health. So, do you have some practical advice you could give to our listeners of how to sustain and develop your own creative [00:42:00] impulse and about maintaining your own kind of dynamic availability to life and to other cultures, et cetera?
Michael: What’s the secret to adapting so readily? Because I think that is a real great piece of advice, right? To do, to do your best to adapt. But what is the secret?
Raj: I think each person is an individual and you have to do it on your own, and you have to do it as it suits you. And how you can do the adapting. Two people cannot do it alike. It’s very individual, very personal oriented. You have to be true to yourself as to what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do anything.
Elizabeth: Right. Sounds like personal integrity, that’s—
Raj: Personal integrity.
Elizabeth: —a key part.
Raj: Personal values. But always thinking about the future. And thinking [00:43:00] about how is best to attain certain objectives that you’re trying to achieve.
Elizabeth: Yeah. This lifelong learning and being continually open.
Raj: And communicating, which is probably the most important one.
Elizabeth: Oh, that takes me back to all those wonderful dinners we had at your house and the deep communication about ideas—
Raj: Communication is very important. In conveying ideas, in accepting ideas, in, in vocalizing those ideas.
Elizabeth: You and Marjorie both drew from a deep well of knowledge and literature and the arts and music and the world of policy, politics, and history.
Raj: Well, yeah. As I said, I wish she were here to share some of that, of her own ways. But that, I think, is my way of [00:44:00] describing what we can or cannot do.
Elizabeth: This has been wonderful. It has been so great to talk to you, Raj. We’ve known you all these years, but some of these stories are brand new to us, so we’re just delighted to—
Raj: You certainly got a lot of stories here, a history here.
Elizabeth: It’s, you are such a great example of living a remarkable and deeply creative life in so many different realms. So we’re delighted to have had this chance to talk with you. Yeah. And we just want to thank you so much. So, thank you.
Michael: Thank you.
Elizabeth: Tremendous thanks to all our listeners. To those of you who are free subscribers, please consider becoming paid subscribers so that Creativists in Dialogue can continue bringing you insightful conversations about creativity from Washington, DC and beyond. Thanks.
Special shout out to Creativists in Dialogue’s production team: Audio engineer Elliot Lanes, social media manager Erinn Dumas of Dumas83, and transcription editor Morgan Musselman. Thank you all.
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