Breaking boundaries -Maneesha Ismail

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As she walks across the lawns of Bar-Ilan University, she does not attract attention, a brunette, petite student in jeans and T-shirt. But for Maneesha Ismail (26) everything is exceptional here. Six months have passed since she came here from India, and she is still in a kind of culture shock. Men and women sit together without being disturbed, and when the sun goes down and darkness falls, and the instinct arises in her to stay in her room, because a woman does not go out alone in the dark - she suppresses it and leaves. Freedom.

Maneesha still dreamed of this freedom as a child in Aluva, a Muslim village near the city of Cochin, India. She could continue to live in her village, amongst the big clan, and like any woman there - get married, have children, wait for her husband to come back from work and listen to his description of the day. But Maneesha had other dreams. "Madness," her family called it. Her parents don't know how and when it happened, just under their noses. Maybe it started from the unorthodox name her father had chosen for her: "Maneesha" means "intelligent" in Sanskrit. He did not imagine that his daughter would become a source of shame in family terms, and that in the small village they would point to him as the unsuccessful father, the man who failed to educate his infidel daughter.

Her father, Muhammad (58), a government official with high social awareness, sought to impart extensive education and general knowledge to his children. At home there were always many books and political magazines, and little Maneesha eagerly swallowed everything. For her seventh birthday, she received "The Diary of Anne Frank" from her father. The classic bestseller was devoured by her, and since then, the word "Jew" has been linked to one specific girl who lived during the Holocaust.

Her mother, Wahida (55), was a "poor role-model", in terms of the clan. She chose to move out of the house and work as a lab tech. Although she was wore a sari as customary, unlike the village girls, who at 9 had their heads covered in a hijab - her hair and face remained visible. She did not see a great virtue in bringing many children into the world, although she and her husband were born into large families. For her, it was enough to have two children.

Despite the relative openness, Menisha's parents did not think for a moment to leave the village and distance themselves from the clan. Nadim, the eldest son, who is three years older than Maneesha, an engineer by profession, did not stray from the path. He married at the age of 27 and set up his home in the village, near his parents.

Only the rebellious daughter, who did not marry as is customary at age 19 or 20, chose to be a scientist and, as if that were not enough - her doctorate in physics she chose to do in Israel of all places, as far as possible from her village and the mentality in which she grew up. In fact, she is the first woman to dare to leave the village.

The dominant figure in Ismail's clan is Maneesha's uncle, her father's older brother. A devout and strict Muslim cleric, who rules over the extended family. Even today, thousands of miles away, Maneesha refuses to give his name and weighs her words carefully, lest the article reach him.

There is another uncle, quite different, in the picture: Anwar Ali (53), her mother's brother, a writer who wrote about freedom and modern ideas. In the extended family, he was a persona non grata, not invited to family events, and if he happened to come, the participants of the event would try not to be seen next to him.

But Ali's books were not absent from the bookshelves in Maneesha's house. His stories fascinated her, and through her imagination she saw herself leaving her poor, simple village and living in distant districts where women have a voice and power. She admired him as if he were a rock star. When she grew up, she also imbibed the works of Kamala Suraya (Das), a bold Malayalam writer and poet who wrote about femininity and politics, and at the age of 65, fell in love with a Muslim, converted to Islam and married.

The gap between the exciting world of Maneesha in books and the reality of her life was unbearable. "My parents' financial and social status was considered low," she says. "I was sent to a public school, and by the fifth grade, I was in a mixed class of boys and girls. From the fifth through the twelfth grade, I learned, as is customary, with girls.

"The level of schooling was low, and I got very bored. I would skip classes and write stories for myself. The first story I wrote was at the age of 9. It was called  'Orphan,' and it tells the tale of my schoolmate, whose father casually left her mother after saying only three words: "Divorced, divorced, divorced." And she herself felt like an orphan. It infuriated me. "I knew then that I wanted to live a different life. My teachers and parents didn't know how to deal with me. On the one hand, I was very successful in tests, on the other I would skip classes.

Have you shared anyone in your inner world?

"I had schoolmates, but not soulmates. None of them had thoughts like mine. At one point I was disturbed that I was an exception, I told myself it couldn't be that everyone was wrong and I was right. On the other hand, I couldn't lie to myself."

The gifted girl also turned out to be a music lover, but was attracted to Hindu Krishna music played in the Hindu temples, not to the prevalent musical style in the district - a mixture of Arabic songs in Tamil and Malayalam (the language spoken there). She sang hymns, songs of longing and emotion related to Krishna. This secret, of course, is also kept from the clan's head. Her mother would accompany her to the choir where she would sing, and wait outside until the class was over.

As a Muslim, she was forbidden to sing at performances in Hindu temples, but once, in a moment of inattention by the organizers, at the age of 10 she managed to infiltrate and sing in the temple. The story of the little Muslim singer singing in a Hindu temple has become a headline in a local newspaper. "My parents were very excited," she says with glittering eyes, "Mother even cut this piece out of the paper and kept it. My uncle, Anwar Ali, also encouraged me. Less enthusiasm. "

Although Muslims in India are considered citizens of equal rights, there is inherent tension between them and Hindus. It occasionally erupts in the form of violent events. The Muslims are forbidden to enter the Hindu temples so as not to defile them, and it is clear that marriages cannot be contracted with them. A rural girl from a Muslim minority, however gifted, has almost no chance of breaking these boundaries.

However, the combination of strong will and excellence in studies, and especially in physics studies, also led Maneesha's teachers to conclude that this was an extraordinary phenomenon. "Physics and music have given me anchor in the world," she says. "Music is ordering in the spirit world, and physics is ordering in the material world.

At the age of 17, she graduated with Bachelors from Indian Institute of Science Education and Research-Kolkata aka IISER-Kolkata, and the next target she set for her was a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Calcutta. This was the stage where she was summoned by the clan's head, her father's brother.

"He explained to me that with all due respect to my success in my studies, I must realize that I am a Muslim woman and that I should marry. In the end, he said that my behavior was a negative example of family life. I did not argue with him, but I continued with my own life.

"He did not give up. Once a week he would summon me. At the same time, he put pressure on my parents to marry me, and they too began to talk to me about marriage. Great - even at the cost of a confrontation with the family. "

How did your parents react?

"They already knew me. They know I'm stubborn, and when I decide, I decide. I know they appreciate me, even though there is a piece of them that would like me to be like everyone else." At one point, his uncle and parents tried to direct her into studying medicine - so she could return to the village, open a clinic, get married and have children. She refused.

****

In 2010, she began studying undergraduate physics at the Indian Institute of Science and Research in Calcutta. It was her first break from the clan: she lived in a dorm, and began to taste the taste of freedom. From time to time she would return to the village for short breaks during which she endeavored to stay at her parents' home so as not to run into extended family members.

Did you had a social life in Calcutta?

"Sometimes I would go out with friends to the Calcutta Bridge. There are all kinds of pubs there, and sometimes I even drank."

Did you have a boyfriend?

"I'm not going to answer that question." She graduated with honors at the age of 20. The next target was to pursue a Master's degree in Physics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, with an emphasis on nanotechnology. At that time, however, her mother became ill, and Maneesha was again called to a conversation with her uncle. "He assured me that my mother was ill because of me, that I had to leave all this 'academic nonsense', go back to the village and get married. My parents, too, pressed. They said that all my friends were getting married and what will be with you, who will want you?

This time too, Maneesha refused to give up, and moved to Bangalore. There, she found out how her schoolmates, Hindu in origin, easily found rooms to rent in the city, while she was rejected for her Muslim origins. Eventually, she found a room in a hostel with Muslim owners.

She went back home to the village only for holidays, and when she attended family events, she felt an outcast. Even her cousins, with whom she grew up, refrained from communicating with her, lest they be adversely affected by her.

In this alienated atmosphere, she fondly remembers her 77-year-old grandmother, Anazar, her mother's mother, who told her, "One day you will marry, and it will be with the man you deserve." These words, from an elderly woman who never strayed from the clan's laws, were a blessing for her.

"Outside of the academy, I felt how all the doors were closed to me, whether it was because I was a Muslim in a Hindu society or because I chose not to act like a Muslim in the rural society. Only in the academic world could I feel how the doors open. In this world there is no discrimination No matter the origin or religion, there I was able to move forward and succeed.

"My inspirational model was Prof. Rohini Godbula, a great Indian scientist, who also participated in the particle accelerator project in Switzerland. When I was pressured to get married, I consulted her. She asked me why I was studying physics.

"She told me, 'Don't do things you won't be happy about, but don't fight your parents. Tell them you intend to get married – so that they will leave you alone - after a few months, they will understand by themselves that there's no point in pressing anymore.'

Another crisis point came at the conclusion of the Master's degree. Maneesha's mother fell ill again, and the pressures she bore came back full strength. "I realized that if I returned to the village, I would be forced to get married, and then I would not go back to academics anymore. I started sending doctoral applications to labs in my field - Cambridge, Oxford and Israel, Bar-Ilan University."

The answer from Bar-Ilan came first, and she didn't wait for answers from elsewhere. "For my extended family, the choice of Israel was a blow. How does a Sunni Muslim family choose to go that far, and of all the possibly places – why  Israel?  My parents were particularly concerned by the fact that now for sure no one would want to marry me.

What did you know about Israel then?

"Not much. I knew very well that there was a conflict with the Arabs, but only before I arrived did I read more about the country and the conflict.

"I've been in Israel for six months, and most of the time I'm at the University, where I live in the international dorms. In general, most of the people I've met are friendly."

Maneesha is one of 11 researchers on the team of Prof. Aviad Frydman, head of a nanotechnology lab at the University's physics department. The team includes six students from Israel, one from China, and four from India. They are all at different stages of a master's, doctoral or post-doctoral degree. "I saw the work that Maneesha did in her master's, and I thought she could continue working here on the techniques she learned in India," says Prof. Frydman.  Her thesis supervisor in India told me of her personal story and I was intrigued. We talked on Skype and my interest only increased.

"I wasn't sure we would be able to obtain a place for her in the dormitory. I told her she would probably have to find an apartment in the city. She asked me if it was okay for a single woman to live alone, because in India it was considered improper. When we did get her a room in the dormitory, she asked if she was allowed out after dark.” 

Half a year ago, the long-awaited funding approvals arrived, and Prof. Frydman himself traveled to the airport to pick up the new student. It was the first time Maneesha had left India's borders. "She looked perplexed," says Prof. Frydman. "She did not know if she was allowed to sit next to the driver, because in the village, women sit in the rear."

We meet in one of the lab rooms in Bar-Ilan, where she feels most at home. In the next room, she is experimenting with graphene - one of the solid formations of carbon, of one atom thickness. Graphene has unique physical properties, with exceptional strength given its thickness and excellent conductivity, and is dense and transparent. It can be used to produce almost any nanotechnology component in the computer, optics, automotive and medical industries. A Chinese company has even been able to produce a smartphone from graphene. According to Prof. Frydman, this is one of the materials that will replace the silicon industry in the future.

Maneesha explains that "The world of physicists is divided into two groups, theorists and experimentalists. Theorists sit in front of a computer, develop an equation and predict processes. The experimenters go into the laboratory, experiment and ask n

Nature what it says. I love being in the second group."

On the women's floor in the international dormitory, she has her own small room, with a single bed, closet and bookcase. Among the books of physics are four items from her old world: the Krishna figurine, which reminds her of her favorite music, her Muslim prayer chain, which her mother gave her as a charm, and two framed photographs: in one she appears as a child, in the arms of her admired uncle, and in the other her parents look like traditional Indians, with she and her brothers sitting at their feet, dressed in trendy jeans.

Her schedule is fairly fixed. From 9:30 in the morning until 7 in the evening, she performs experiments in the laboratory, then returns to her room and cooks dinner in the shared dorm kitchen. She does not watch TV, but is connected via her mobile phone to what is happening in Israel. From time to time, she travels to Tel Aviv, strolling the streets or sitting in a cafe watching passersby. On Saturdays, she practices singing and reads books.

"I love the atmosphere in Tel Aviv. It's a colorful and vibrant city, with a tolerance for people of other cultures and beliefs. In a way, I even feel more comfortable there than in India. As a Muslim in India, I have the feeling that I have to prove all the time that I am patriotic, that I am not a terrorist or potential terrorist. Here I don't have to prove anything. "

What is the most difficult thing for you in Israel?

"It's hard for me that the work week starts on Sunday and not on Monday. It's hard for me when I ride a bike, and the drivers drive on the right rather than the left like in India. And even the bathrooms here are different, because India uses water rather than toilet paper in a lot of places. But I got used to it."

Doesn't it bother you to be alone?

"I don't feel lonely. I have student friends from Israel, India, Russia, Italy, England and China. I write for my drawer quite a bit, impressions and thoughts. I was toying with the idea of writing a blog about the status of women in India, but I decided it was not appropriate for this stage of my life, because I want to concentrate on studying. A day will come and I will publish these things. "

Do you miss your homeland?

"Sure. I miss my childhood in the village, the smell of the earth after the rain, my mom, my conversations with Dad. Although we communicate via WhatsApp, it is not always enough."

Is there also a longing for the extended family?

"Not at all. To my surprise, just after I came to Israel, several young cousins contacted me secretly, via WhatsApp and e-mail.  Suddenly, I discovered that I had become a sort of role-model for them, a legend,  the only women who had succeeded in leaving the village.

Will you go to India on vacation?

"I guess so, I would like to visit my family. I deserve a vacation once a year, depending on what I manage to accomplish by then."

After you finish your PhD you will return to India?

She pauses and weighs her words. "This is a painful subject. Since the BJP party came to power, the Muslims in India are exposed to acts of violence, hate crimes and ethnic cleansing. I fear there is a threat to the central concept of our constitution, which speaks of a sovereign democratic secular republic, which is obligated to protect all its citizens. Our ancestors fought for freedom, and today my family lives in fear. I know I want to go back to my homeland and live where I can continue my work as a physicist, I still don't know what city. I think that the more that discourse is based on science and rationality, the weaker the caste system and prejudice will be. And when that happens, the economic gap between rich and poor will gradually diminish."

Do you have any concerns that, because of your choice, you really won't have in the end a family?

"For me, putting a relationship in first place means giving up on the academic dream. I know it's hard to find a married woman in India who has advanced degrees, but I'm more afraid of giving up on the dream than staying alone."

Do you think you will have a non-Muslim spouse?

"For my family it would be a disaster, I would never be able to return to the village. But that is a price I am willing to pay."

 

The article was published at "Israel Hayom" newspaper

 

As she walks across the lawns of Bar-Ilan University, she does not attract attention, a brunette, petite student in jeans and T-shirt. But for Maneesha Ismail (26) everything is exceptional here. Six months have passed since she came here from India, and she is still in a kind of culture shock. Men and women sit together without being disturbed, and when the sun goes down and darkness falls, and the instinct arises in her to stay in her room, because a woman does not go out alone in the dark - she suppresses it and leaves. Freedom.
Maneesha still dreamed of this freedom as a child in Aluva, a Muslim village near the city of Cochin, India. She could continue to live in her village, amongst the big clan, and like any woman there - get married, have children, wait for her husband to come back from work and listen to his description of the day. But Maneesha had other dreams. "Madness," her family called it. Her parents don't know how and when it happened, just under their noses. Maybe it started from the unorthodox name her father had chosen for her: "Maneesha" means "intelligent" in Sanskrit. He did not imagine that his daughter would become a source of shame in family terms, and that in the small village they would point to him as the unsuccessful father, the man who failed to educate his infidel daughter.
Her father, Muhammad (58), a government official with high social awareness, sought to impart extensive education and general knowledge to his children. At home there were always many books and political magazines, and little Maneesha eagerly swallowed everything. For her seventh birthday, she received "The Diary of Anne Frank" from her father. The classic bestseller was devoured by her, and since then, the word "Jew" has been linked to one specific girl who lived during the Holocaust.
Her mother, Wahida (55), was a "poor role-model", in terms of the clan. She chose to move out of the house and work as a lab tech. Although she was wore a sari as customary, unlike the village girls, who at 9 had their heads covered in a hijab - her hair and face remained visible. She did not see a great virtue in bringing many children into the world, although she and her husband were born into large families. For her, it was enough to have two children.
Despite the relative openness, Menisha's parents did not think for a moment to leave the village and distance themselves from the clan. Nadim, the eldest son, who is three years older than Maneesha, an engineer by profession, did not stray from the path. He married at the age of 27 and set up his home in the village, near his parents.
Only the rebellious daughter, who did not marry as is customary at age 19 or 20, chose to be a scientist and, as if that were not enough - her doctorate in physics she chose to do in Israel of all places, as far as possible from her village and the mentality in which she grew up. In fact, she is the first woman to dare to leave the village.
The dominant figure in Ismail's clan is Maneesha's uncle, her father's older brother. A devout and strict Muslim cleric, who rules over the extended family. Even today, thousands of miles away, Maneesha refuses to give his name and weighs her words carefully, lest the article reach him.
There is another uncle, quite different, in the picture: Anwar Ali (53), her mother's brother, a writer who wrote about freedom and modern ideas. In the extended family, he was a persona non grata, not invited to family events, and if he happened to come, the participants of the event would try not to be seen next to him.
But Ali's books were not absent from the bookshelves in Maneesha's house. His stories fascinated her, and through her imagination she saw herself leaving her poor, simple village and living in distant districts where women have a voice and power. She admired him as if he were a rock star. When she grew up, she also imbibed the works of Kamala Suraya (Das), a bold Malayalam writer and poet who wrote about femininity and politics, and at the age of 65, fell in love with a Muslim, converted to Islam and married.
The gap between the exciting world of Maneesha in books and the reality of her life was unbearable. "My parents' financial and social status was considered low," she says. "I was sent to a public school, and by the fifth grade, I was in a mixed class of boys and girls. From the fifth through the twelfth grade, I learned, as is customary, with girls.
"The level of schooling was low, and I got very bored. I would skip classes and write stories for myself. The first story I wrote was at the age of 9. It was called  'Orphan,' and it tells the tale of my schoolmate, whose father casually left her mother after saying only three words: "Divorced, divorced, divorced." And she herself felt like an orphan. It infuriated me. "I knew then that I wanted to live a different life. My teachers and parents didn't know how to deal with me. On the one hand, I was very successful in tests, on the other I would skip classes.
Have you shared anyone in your inner world?
"I had schoolmates, but not soulmates. None of them had thoughts like mine. At one point I was disturbed that I was an exception, I told myself it couldn't be that everyone was wrong and I was right. On the other hand, I couldn't lie to myself."
The gifted girl also turned out to be a music lover, but was attracted to Hindu Krishna music played in the Hindu temples, not to the prevalent musical style in the district - a mixture of Arabic songs in Tamil and Malayalam (the language spoken there). She sang hymns, songs of longing and emotion related to Krishna. This secret, of course, is also kept from the clan's head. Her mother would accompany her to the choir where she would sing, and wait outside until the class was over.
As a Muslim, she was forbidden to sing at performances in Hindu temples, but once, in a moment of inattention by the organizers, at the age of 10 she managed to infiltrate and sing in the temple. The story of the little Muslim singer singing in a Hindu temple has become a headline in a local newspaper. "My parents were very excited," she says with glittering eyes, "Mother even cut this piece out of the paper and kept it. My uncle, Anwar Ali, also encouraged me. Less enthusiasm. "
Although Muslims in India are considered citizens of equal rights, there is inherent tension between them and Hindus. It occasionally erupts in the form of violent events. The Muslims are forbidden to enter the Hindu temples so as not to defile them, and it is clear that marriages cannot be contracted with them. A rural girl from a Muslim minority, however gifted, has almost no chance of breaking these boundaries.
However, the combination of strong will and excellence in studies, and especially in physics studies, also led Maneesha's teachers to conclude that this was an extraordinary phenomenon. "Physics and music have given me anchor in the world," she says. "Music is ordering in the spirit world, and physics is ordering in the material world.
At the age of 17, she graduated with honors from high school, and the next target she set for her was a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Calcutta. This was the stage where she was summoned by the clan's head, her father's brother.
"He explained to me that with all due respect to my success in my studies, I must realize that I am a Muslim woman and that I should marry. In the end, he said that my behavior was a negative example of family life. I did not argue with him, but I continued with my own life.
"He did not give up. Once a week he would summon me. At the same time, he put pressure on my parents to marry me, and they too began to talk to me about marriage. Great - even at the cost of a confrontation with the family. "
How did your parents react?
"They already knew me. They know I'm stubborn, and when I decide, I decide. I know they appreciate me, even though there is a piece of them that would like me to be like everyone else." At one point, his uncle and parents tried to direct her into studying medicine - so she could return to the village, open a clinic, get married and have children. She refused.
****
In 2010, she began studying undergraduate physics at the Indian Institute of Science and Research in Calcutta. It was her first break from the clan: she lived in a dorm, and began to taste the taste of freedom. From time to time she would return to the village for short breaks during which she endeavored to stay at her parents' home so as not to run into extended family members.
Did you had a social life in Calcutta?
"Sometimes I would go out with friends to the Calcutta Bridge. There are all kinds of pubs there, and sometimes I even drank."
Did you have a boyfriend?
"I'm not going to answer that question." She graduated with honors at the age of 20. The next target was to pursue a Master's degree in Physics at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, with an emphasis on nanotechnology. At that time, however, her mother became ill, and Maneesha was again called to a conversation with her uncle. "He assured me that my mother was ill because of me, that I had to leave all this 'academic nonsense', go back to the village and get married. My parents, too, pressed. They said that all my friends were getting married and what will be with you, who will want you?
This time too, Maneesha refused to give up, and moved to Bangalore. There, she found out how her schoolmates, Hindu in origin, easily found rooms to rent in the city, while she was rejected for her Muslim origins. Eventually, she found a room in a hostel with Muslim owners.
She went back home to the village only for holidays, and when she attended family events, she felt an outcast. Even her cousins, with whom she grew up, refrained from communicating with her, lest they be adversely affected by her.
In this alienated atmosphere, she fondly remembers her 77-year-old grandmother, Anazar, her mother's mother, who told her, "One day you will marry, and it will be with the man you deserve." These words, from an elderly woman who never strayed from the clan's laws, were a blessing for her.
"Outside of the academy, I felt how all the doors were closed to me, whether it was because I was a Muslim in a Hindu society or because I chose not to act like a Muslim in the rural society. Only in the academic world could I feel how the doors open. In this world there is no discrimination No matter the origin or religion, there I was able to move forward and succeed.
"My inspirational model was Prof. Rohini Godbula, a great Indian scientist, who also participated in the particle accelerator project in Switzerland. When I was pressured to get married, I consulted her. She asked me why I was studying physics.
"She told me, 'Don't do things you won't be happy about, but don't fight your parents. Tell them you intend to get married – so that they will leave you alone - after a few months, they will understand by themselves that there's no point in pressing anymore.'
Another crisis point came at the conclusion of the Master's degree. Maneesha's mother fell ill again, and the pressures she bore came back full strength. "I realized that if I returned to the village, I would be forced to get married, and then I would not go back to academics anymore. I started sending doctoral applications to labs in my field - Cambridge, Oxford and Israel, Bar-Ilan University."
The answer from Bar-Ilan came first, and she didn't wait for answers from elsewhere. "For my extended family, the choice of Israel was a blow. How does a Sunni Muslim family choose to go that far, and of all the possibly places – why  Israel?  My parents were particularly concerned by the fact that now for sure no one would want to marry me.
What did you know about Israel then?
"Not much. I knew very well that there was a conflict with the Arabs, but only before I arrived did I read more about the country and the conflict.
"I've been in Israel for six months, and most of the time I'm at the University, where I live in the international dorms. In general, most of the people I've met are friendly."
Maneesha is one of 11 researchers on the team of Prof. Aviad Frydman, head of a nanotechnology lab at the University's physics department. The team includes six students from Israel, one from China, and four from India. They are all at different stages of a master's, doctoral or post-doctoral degree. "I saw the work that Maneesha did in her master's, and I thought she could continue working here on the techniques she learned in India," says Prof. Frydman.  Her thesis supervisor in India told me of her personal story and I was intrigued. We talked on Skype and my interest only increased.
"I wasn't sure we would be able to obtain a place for her in the dormitory. I told her she would probably have to find an apartment in the city. She asked me if it was okay for a single woman to live alone, because in India it was considered improper. When we did get her a room in the dormitory, she asked if she was allowed out after dark.” 
Half a year ago, the long-awaited funding approvals arrived, and Prof. Frydman himself traveled to the airport to pick up the new student. It was the first time Maneesha had left India's borders. "She looked perplexed," says Prof. Frydman. "She did not know if she was allowed to sit next to the driver, because in the village, women sit in the rear."
We meet in one of the lab rooms in Bar-Ilan, where she feels most at home. In the next room, she is experimenting with graphene - one of the solid formations of carbon, of one atom thickness. Graphene has unique physical properties, with exceptional strength given its thickness and excellent conductivity, and is dense and transparent. It can be used to produce almost any nanotechnology component in the computer, optics, automotive and medical industries. A Chinese company has even been able to produce a smartphone from graphene. According to Prof. Frydman, this is one of the materials that will replace the silicon industry in the future.
Maneesha explains that "The world of physicists is divided into two groups, theorists and experimentalists. Theorists sit in front of a computer, develop an equation and predict processes. The experimenters go into the laboratory, experiment and ask n
Nature what it says. I love being in the second group."
On the women's floor in the international dormitory, she has her own small room, with a single bed, closet and bookcase. Among the books of physics are four items from her old world: the Krishna figurine, which reminds her of her favorite music, her Muslim prayer chain, which her mother gave her as a charm, and two framed photographs: in one she appears as a child, in the arms of her admired uncle, and in the other her parents look like traditional Indians, with she and her brothers sitting at their feet, dressed in trendy jeans.
Her schedule is fairly fixed. From 9:30 in the morning until 7 in the evening, she performs experiments in the laboratory, then returns to her room and cooks dinner in the shared dorm kitchen. She does not watch TV, but is connected via her mobile phone to what is happening in Israel. From time to time, she travels to Tel Aviv, strolling the streets or sitting in a cafe watching passersby. On Saturdays, she practices singing and reads books.
"I love the atmosphere in Tel Aviv. It's a colorful and vibrant city, with a tolerance for people of other cultures and beliefs. In a way, I even feel more comfortable there than in India. As a Muslim in India, I have the feeling that I have to prove all the time that I am patriotic, that I am not a terrorist or potential terrorist. Here I don't have to prove anything. "
What is the most difficult thing for you in Israel?
"It's hard for me that the work week starts on Sunday and not on Monday. It's hard for me when I ride a bike, and the drivers drive on the right rather than the left like in India. And even the bathrooms here are different, because India uses water rather than toilet paper in a lot of places. But I got used to it."
Doesn't it bother you to be alone?
"I don't feel lonely. I have student friends from Israel, India, Russia, Italy, England and China. I write for my drawer quite a bit, impressions and thoughts. I was toying with the idea of writing a blog about the status of women in India, but I decided it was not appropriate for this stage of my life, because I want to concentrate on studying. A day will come and I will publish these things. "
Do you miss your homeland?
"Sure. I miss my childhood in the village, the smell of the earth after the rain, my mom, my conversations with Dad. Although we communicate via WhatsApp, it is not always enough."
Is there also a longing for the extended family?
"Not at all. To my surprise, just after I came to Israel, several young cousins contacted me secretly, via WhatsApp and e-mail.  Suddenly, I discovered that I had become a sort of role-model for them, a legend,  the only women who had succeeded in leaving the village.
Will you go to India on vacation?
"I guess so, I would like to visit my family. I deserve a vacation once a year, depending on what I manage to accomplish by then."
After you finish your PhD you will return to India?
She pauses and weighs her words. "This is a painful subject. Since the BJP party came to power, the Muslims in India are exposed to acts of violence, hate crimes and ethnic cleansing. I fear there is a threat to the central concept of our constitution, which speaks of a sovereign democratic secular republic, which is obligated to protect all its citizens. Our ancestors fought for freedom, and today my family lives in fear. I know I want to go back to my homeland and live where I can continue my work as a physicist, I still don't know what city. I think that the more that discourse is based on science and rationality, the weaker the caste system and prejudice will be. And when that happens, the economic gap between rich and poor will gradually diminish."
Do you have any concerns that, because of your choice, you really won't have in the end a family?
"For me, putting a relationship in first place means giving up on the academic dream. I know it's hard to find a married woman in India who has advanced degrees, but I'm more afraid of giving up on the dream than staying alone."
Do you think you will have a non-Muslim spouse?
"For my family it would be a disaster, I would never be able to return to the village. But that is a price I am willing to pay."
 
The article was published at "Israel Hayom" newspaper