Friday, October 23, 2015

...and that's how I learned to party.

My journey thus far with the Young India Fellowship has been life-altering in so many ways. It has revolutionised the manner in which I think, broadened the boundaries within which I've historically kept myself confined, and introduced me to deeper, more beautiful aspects of the world and its people. I cannot be grateful enough for the profound impact YIF has had on my academic and professional inclinations, but I'll reserve writing about that for another time. Tonight I'd rather write about another great change this place is constantly bringing about in my life - my social life, to be precise. 

I have learned to enjoy the company of people.

Until three months ago, I had been to less parties than I could count on the fingers of one hand. Whether it was for a lack of opportunity, or the absence of a consistent friend circle, or simply my own anti-social temperament, I cannot say for sure. Perhaps it was due to a combination of all these that I never partied much. I have always preferred to hang out with one, maybe two, people at a time. Not to forget, I have seldom had more than a couple of close friends at any given point of time in my 20-odd years as a social being. I haven't gone out clubbing with a bunch of friends, I haven't given birthday treats to big groups of people. I have even gone so far as to run in the opposite direction on spotting a known face in a crowded metro. I am perfectly at ease sitting in the corner of a huge hall, observing and generally being self-absorbed for hours on end, without ever feeling the need to talk to more than two or three people. I may be anti-social or introverted; I really don't know how to distinguish between them. My life's journey has always been characterised as a little caravan trudging along by itself.

But in the last three months, all of that has changed. I have received more hugs than I ever received in all of my 24 years put together. I have said countless 'Good Mornings' and 'Good Nights', said hello to more people in a day than I would earlier manage to greet in a month, and attended more birthday parties than I've had of my own. All in the span of three months, no more. I had never thought I would be a part of such an organic, ever-growing, ever-changing community of people who are as different from each other as could be. We are bound together by a common address but almost nothing else. (Okay, maybe also the tag of being 'the brightest minds of the country'. But that's just how we like to see ourselves. You don't have to agree.)

Midnight birthday parties have taken on a new significance. Making someone feel special doesn't just come as part of a relationship or a 'best friendship' anymore. For some it is the prospect of a get-together that brings them to such parties, for others the chance to dance and make merry, and for still others, free cake and booze. But birthday parties are great events at the YIF. Everybody puts in a lot of effort to decorate the birthday girl's room (I'm talking here only about women's residence parties, because those are the ones I go to), to write beautiful and fun messages for her, and sometimes come up with gifts as well. People come and go, but the party goes on until the wee hours of the morning. And the next day the birthday girl mostly goes off to Delhi with another set of friends to celebrate her birthday. But the tradition repeats itself with the very next birthday. I, admittedly, was never a person for parties, but I am coming to enjoy this routine. It's a great way of de-stressing after a day of classes and work, and also of getting together with those fellows whom I otherwise don't hang out with on a day to day basis.

...and that's how, at the Young India Fellowship, I learned to party. I'm not anti-social anymore. Is that sort of a personal achievement? I'd like to think so.

Festivals have also taken on a whole new meaning since I came here. At home we are used to celebrating only select festivals every year - Diwali, Rakshabandhan, Bhai Dooj, and sometimes Holi. But at the Fellowship, as it turns out, we celebrate everything. I have been a part of two cultural festivals here that I had never celebrated before: Onam and Navratri Dandiya Raas, the latter having concluded only last week. It was great fun dressing up for the dandiya night, especially since I had nothing to wear for the occasion. I borrowed stuff from here and there and put together a decent ensemble that made me look almost-Gujarati. I learned some Garba and Dandiya steps, too, and danced till my feet refused to obey my command. On a more serious note, one of the fellows broke her nose while playing dandiya. Another friend had to leave the fellowship soon after, and that night saw my last conversation with her. I think it was a memorable night for everyone.

This post might sound reductive in its chronicling of the life of a Young India Fellow. But really, partying isn't what we actually do. If I were to begin describing a typical day at the Fellowship, it would take many a reader's breath away with its sheer variety and hectic nature.

On second thought, though, I think that's exactly what my next post will be about. A typical day at the YIF. The real stuff. Good stuff.

But for now, I'll sign off with an ending note: Applications to the Young India Fellowship are open! So if you'd like to see your life change too, do not hesitate. Go to the website and fill in the online application form. It is an opportunity that presents itself only once in everybody's lifetime. Do not miss it. If you are passionate, energetic, and wish to make a difference in some way, the YIF is for you, and you are for the YIF. Carpe diem!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Of roller coaster rides and more at the Young India Fellowship.

Yesterday I wrote the first examination of my very first term at the Young India Fellowship. I'm here for a one-year PG diploma in liberal studies and leadership. We had three courses this term, but only one exam. Wondering how, and for heavens sake, why? Well, of course, because we're awesome! The first of the courses was the Foundations of Leadership, taken by legendary Dr. Dwight Jaggard, a renowned professor from the University of Pennsylvania. Our final assessment for the course was carried out by means of a Group Discussion. No exam policy, FTW! The second course was on Statistics and its application in the modern world, taken by another UPenn stalwart, Prof. Santosh Venkatesh. But what is a mathematical class doing on the curriculum of a liberal arts course, right? That's what we were wondering too before the course began. But over the course of the class it dawned upon us how important basic statistical understanding is to make sense of common phenomena around us, right from Pizza Hut's 30-minute-or-free guarantee to general elections and exit polls. We were graded on the basis of a number of group case studies, ending with a final report that reflected our individual understanding of the course. It may have been a rather difficult course to cope with, given the insane amounts of coursework, the American model of teaching which Indian students are not accustomed to, and the short duration of the course (3 weeks!) But it was an intense learning experience, something I'm sure most, if not all, fellows from my batch will cherish.