A Note On Divine Intervention

How a college paper turned into something more

Apeksha Atal
7 min readSep 3, 2022
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

If you were a science major in college, especially one who has worked in a research lab, you know that getting published is everything. It is the stamp of validity that shows that you have contributed something new to pool of knowledge that is circulated in the scientific community. Most people who work in labs long enough usually end up getting some sort of credit on a published paper. I did as well — just not in the publication you would expect.

In addition to studying Biology in college, I also studied English. I absolutely adored English. It was my creative sink, a safe place where my random thoughts were “interesting” and “thought provoking” and drove conversations further rather than stopping them in their tracks.

During my Junior Spring I took an English class called “Angels and Diplomats” where we explored Angelic beings and the heavenly hierarchy and compared them to political systems and ideologies. We explored everything from Machiavelli to Milton, and at the end of the course had to write a research paper that explored a theme in the course.

This was not my first class exploring Christian texts — as you can imagine, a lot of English literature is peppered with religious references — but for some reason, it was the first that got me thinking about how what we learned translated over to the religion practiced in my own family. Hinduism famously includes the worship of quite a few gods and godly beings. Thousands, in fact. I imagined that there must have been some sort of structure to this massive universe of beings, something that could be juxtaposed with what I’d just learned about in this course.

So, for my final paper, I wrote a paper called “Angels and Devas”, which explored just that. The paper writing process was an incredible insight into the impact of colonization on the perception of Hinduism and the essence of Hinduism itself. I connected deeply with this ancient religion that I had, until then, very superficially interacted with throughout my life.

Of course, I gave the paper a hefty name. The final version was titled: “ANGELS AND DEVAS: Exploring the Parallels between Renaissance Visual and Textual Representations of Angels in Christianity, Angelic beings in Hindu mythology”

Just before sending the paper to my professor, I decided to send it to someone who I knew would appreciate the intellectual journey I had just gone through: my paternal grandfather, or my “Dadu”.

My late Dadu was an anthropologist and sociologist. He loved nothing more than diving deep into cultures and their traditions, and unpacking the “how” and the “why” behind just about anything. He was also somewhat of a walking encyclopedia. He was always a bit of a super nerd, and was a huge inspiration in my life. He was passionate about learning, and believed in the power of academic and scholarship. Consequently, he would get very excited when I wrote about or learned anything new, especially if it had a historical or cultural angle.

Because of this, I had built a habit of sending him a copy of almost every paper I wrote that I felt he would be proud of. In the past this had included a paper on Indian Independence for my IB Contemporary World History Class, a presentation on children’s literature I put together for one of the first English classes I took in college, and a poem I had written about world peace in the 9th grade. Naturally, I sent him “Angels and Devas” as well.

As usual, the paper came back to me with his carefully and lovingly added annotations and edits. He had suggested some books that I could use as reference material, and even provided an alternative lens that I could explore to make the paper a little bolder. I was grateful for the feedback, but by the time he had written back to me, I had long submitted my own final draft to my professor. I still read the comments with a smile, imagining him leaning over his computer combing through the dense forest of my words.

Just under a year later, we lost my Dadu.

Difficult as it was for everyone in the family, it was a particularly surreal experience for me. I was one of the only family members who could not attend the funeral. My last conversation with my grandfather was right before he went into his last surgery. I remember telling him that I was on track to graduate and had done very well in school. I told him that I would talk to him as soon as he recovered from the surgery.

The lack of closure brought many strange dreams in the nights leading upto and following his passing — mostly dreams of my grandfather trying to finish something on his computer, frantically typing, unable to relax. I also had dreams of him sitting on park benches in a brown tweed suit, watching the leaves change color with a lost pensiveness in his eyes. He spoke to me a few times in these dreams, asking the same questions from our last phone call. “When is your graduation?”, “Are you coming back to India after you finish your studies?”

I ended up applying to work at a fintech startup in India after graduation, and was hired as a Product Marketing Associate. It wasn’t the most obvious next step in my career, but I took it as a new opportunity to learn. I put my best foot forward, and spent time not only getting my work done, but also trying to pay close attention to what about the work I liked, and what else I might want to try working on.

About a month into my new job, I came home one evening, thoughts spinning in my head. I had spent the afternoon trying to figure out how I was going to assemble a proposal I had been assigned to write. After the long day I had just had, I decided to take a break from my brainstorming, and opened up my personal email to find a very odd message. It was from a man who used to work with my grandfather. It read:

“A scanned copy of your article is forwarded. Please see if it is Ok. I managed to get a scanned copy from the journal. Please confirm. The editor of the Journal will email you the article later on.”

I was very confused, until I clicked on the image attached. It was an upside-down scan of a page from a journal. The top of the page said “THE EASTERN ANTHROPOLOGIST 70: 3–4 (2017)”. When I looked at the text below my eyes widened. It was my paper.

I immediately responded, confirming that it was, in fact, my article. I began emailing back and forth with the sender of the email and uncovered that my Dadu had sent my article straight to the editor of The Eastern Anthropologist shortly after I had sent it to him.

I could not believe that it had been selected.

Excited, I further asked if I could receive a printed copy of the journal, or at least a scan of the full article. I was told it would come later.

I waited patiently.

It was the 28th of November, 2018, when I received a copy of the article in full via email. I graciously thanked the editor and began sending it around to family and close friends. I must have sent it to around eight people before I dove it to read the piece for myself.

It was so exciting to see my words printed on the page in the same typeface that was used in so many scholarly papers I had read in college. I read the paper like it was the first time I had seen it, bobbing my head along, absorbing the argument, excited that it was about as interesting to me now as it had been when I wrote it. My pace was swift, until I hit a weird line of question marks, right in the middle of the paper.

My heart dropped in my chest.

Had I made a typo? Was my typo PUBLISHED? Forever? Available for anyone to see?

I suddenly regretted sending the paper around to so many people. I scrolled further down the article and found a few other weird little typos, some of which I oddly didn’t remember typing in the first place. They were a bit off.

That was when it hit me.

I went back into my email and dug up the email from my Dadu from Spring 2017. I pulled up the attachment and scrolled to the same place. Right there, clear as day, I saw in red a string of question marks.

The embarrassment I felt earlier suddenly melted into a soft warmth.

Somehow, The Eastern Anthropologist had immortalized the last real academic email exchange that I had with my Dadu. His attention to detail, the time that he took to not just read, but edit my paper, and his belief in me, had all been captured in a single article.

I ended up getting an A on my paper in the Angels and Diplomats class that Spring. Ecstatic, I had replied to my Dadu with the the great news.

His reply was simple and clear: “Good to know that you got an A on the paper you wrote. It could not have been otherwise. You make us feel proud.”

I do kind of wish he had given me a heads up before submitting the paper, but I am also glad that he did not. The way the article found me, just when I was trying to find my footing after college, almost felt like an act of divine intervention. Fitting, I think, for a paper that talks about Angelic beings.

Even today, the article is a reminder that every now and then, I do things that are pretty great and worth sharing with other people. It is also a reminder that even if I can’t send my papers to my Dadu anymore to hear his thoughts, he is proud of the work that I do, especially the work that I put into connecting more deeply with who I am.

We miss you, Dadu. Thank you for being so fiercely and unshakingly proud of me.

If you’d like to read the article that I am referring to in this article, you can check it out here: https://serialsjournals.com/abstract/42773_18_apeksha_sn.pdf



Apeksha Atal

Trying to make sense of the world, one word at a time