In preparation for this blogpost, I looked up the definition of intensity, which the Oxford dictionary very ambiguously describes as “the quality of being intense”. Over the course of my interviews for the programme, I was asked time and time again how I dealt with an intense workload. Having worked for two years before joining the Fellowship, I thought that I had seen the reality of the working world and understood how to manage my time. Nothing could have prepared me for the complete overhaul in pace and routine when you first kick off classes. Someone likened it to juggling balls, where every time you adjust to a new schedule, module, or assignment deadline, someone throws another ball in to the mix and you are just expected to continue, seamlessly, without missing a beat. The concept of time becomes slowly warped in the process. It is not unheard of to have ELM meets at midnight or class until 10pm. When I told my Irish friends that this was the schedule, they said that if someone organized class after 6pm in an Irish university there would be an open revolt akin to the French Revolution. Another theory is that of the trifecta: sleep, academics and socializing. YIF will only allow you to choose two at any time. Considering that the only break that YIF gets is one week in December, I must constantly remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
2. KNOW YOUR NEIGHBOURS
I have a habit of viewing institutions in isolation as a set of concrete blocks and people and nothing more. Ashoka has a beautiful ecosystem which it strives hard to maintain. We share the campus with a whole host of greenery and wildlife, including lizards, frogs, birds and some say, snakes. Sharing the ecosystem has both positive and negative elements. Since my arrival here, I have become a feast for mosquitoes. Venturing out in the evenings becomes an ordeal. I apply war paint, colloquially known as “Odomos” and go in to battle. I rarely escape unscathed but I have managed to drastically reduce the number of casualties. Having shown the extent of the damage on my legs to some fellows, I received no less than five donations of repellent. One night, after mistakenly leaving my window open to find my room infested with them, a friend lent me some Hit which I enthusiastically sprayed around the room and then manically laughed as the effects of chemical warfare were felt. Close to admitting defeat, I have since teamed up with a friendly spider, (Henry) who lives just above my bed. We have an agreement that he can stay, rent – free and comfortably so long as he diligently does his duty to catch all stray insects, mosquitoes or otherwise. I challenge you to name a more iconic duo.
3. SONU SUTTA POINT
I honestly don’t think that one can do justice to the wonders and wisdom that is imparted at Sonu Sutta Point. I’ve tried many times to describe it and each time, I fail to capture the essence. When in doubt, Sonu’s is the answer. It may not give you what you want but it will give you what you need. Consider it like finding the opening at the back of the wardrobe in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, but instead of disappearing in to Narnia, you disappear in to the back of a questionably constructed bar in Haryana. Will you return? Who knows. If you do, you will return undoubtedly changed. For the better or for worse is up for debate.
These three little letters come with such a mixture of dread and anticipation. After just a month in to the programme, the ELM, standing for the experiential learning module, begins. Students are expected to put together a team of three fellows, review the various projects that are on offer, narrow down the ones of interest and then draft a pitching document for the first preference. Projects span a range of the corporate world, social sector and Ashoka itself. It is extremely difficult after so little time and with a batch of 280 students to pick a team that have complementary strengths and which will develop a good team dynamic. As the project will last for 8 months, it is in your best interests to dedicate some time in choosing wisely. What strategy seemed to work was to pool together the people who were interested in a certain sector or theme. We all came together united in our common interests of female empowerment, poverty reduction, impact on mental health and social work. From there, we narrowed down the projects that interested us and divided in to smaller groups according to people’s project preferences. The pitching document is most like a cover letter with the CVs of each person, the structure of which is open to your innermost creativity. Despite having two ELM days a week to work on a project, juggling this on top of academic work is difficult but the client engagement and realization of the project is incredibly rewarding.
5. YOU MAY BE PEER-PRESSURED IN TO DRESSING LIKE YOUR PROFESSOR
In other colleges that I have attended, dressing up like your professor was reserved maybe for Halloween, or some other fancy dress event. The mere suggestion of dressing like your professor to mark the end of classes would be met with blank stares and would likely lead to your social ostracisation. Not so, it appears, in Ashoka. On our last day of class with Dwight Jaggard, it was suggested (actually, mandated) that each student dress in the token white shirt and jeans that is custom for Jaggard to wear. The vast majority of the batch complied with these orders and the sorry few who had forgotten or simply hadn’t subscribed to the mandate were left at the fringes of every photo, dominated by the white and blue attire. I have never quite seen such dedication to the cause.
6. WHATSAPP GROUPS AND EMAILS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE (and then even further)
Before joining Ashoka, I used to get a sense of joy and intrigue when someone pinged me. Now, I get an impending sense of doom. I exist in a permanent love/hate toxic relationship with it, whereby I have concluded that I cannot live an entirely productive or fulfilled life either with or without it. There are WhatsApp groups for just about everything; a general YIF group, an announcements’ group, a gym group, a group for each elective and core module, a Game of Thrones’ group, two meditation groups (that I know of) and a hostel group to name but a few. On top of this, is a bombardment of daily emails. Trying to navigate the onslaught is a daunting task. Disconnecting from my phone is an impossibility. Sometimes, I get the better of it, sometimes, it gets the better of me. Most of the time, I have reverted to a very basic level of text speak – ignoring typos and inconsistencies to save time. The one solace I have is turning my phone on airplane mode when I sleep every night.
7. FOOD WARS
Coming from Ireland where I ate rice maybe once in a blue moon, to adapting to a diet which is plentiful in rice and chapatti has been a little difficult. Usually, there is a type of rice, a Dal, two types of curry/gravy dishes, a salad bar with various vegetables, and dessert every other day. We have recently had a change in the catering staff here and there has been a marked improvement in the quality of the food. Being catered to is definitely a luxury and saves on a lot of time on preparation and clean-up that can be devoted to academics. Nonetheless, I miss making my own food choices. There are also some provisions for making food in the hostels, although the extent of which varies greatly from hostel to hostel. Apart from this, there are a number of food-outlets on campus that serve late in to the night such as The Hunger Cycle, Fuel Zone and a dhaba.
8. PARTIES BEGINNING WITH ‘P’
I am incredibly grateful that we have had the opportunity to roll our sleeves up and get in touch with our creative side. In our first lecture for art appreciation, we were asked to paint a canvas. Many of us haven’t painted in years and it was with much glee that we took to the colours. Our resident YIF artist, Vivekananda, has also taken upon himself to conduct two paint workshops whereby he leads us through some spoken word elements and music to express our creativity. One such night took on a being all of its own. Suddenly, people were painting each other, playing music and dancing. The synergy was electric.
I actually had no idea that Ashoka had a pool until it was announced that we would have a pool party. For anyone who is so inclined, there is a rather beautiful pool and swimming schedule at your disposal.
9. ASHOKA STAFF
The Ashoka staff are incredibly competent, warm and genuinely care about the students and their well-being. Despite my severe lack of fluency in Hindi, they always engage you in conversation and do their utmost to resolve any issues you are facing.
10. BEAUTY IN CHAOS
I will conclude with my favourite Alice in Wonderland quote which in many ways, aptly describes my experience to date:
‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said that Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said that Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Embrace the madness.