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.

The third course may as well have been the highlight of the entire term. The mention of a History class for most students conjures up a mental picture of big yawns and long siestas in the lecture theater. But when it is taught by one of the decorated historians of our country, Prof. Rudrangshu Mukherjee, a history course instantly translates into an enlightening journey that you begin to miss the very moment it ends. And that's what is happening today, as the first term of YIF is coming to an end and I'm reflecting on my time here over the past five weeks.

It has been a roller coaster ride, yes. There were butterflies in the stomach, there were exciting thrills, and then there were moments when you thought you were going to fall off the edge and die. But you held on for dear life, enjoying the ride, maybe secretly waiting for it to end, and in your heart chanting all-iz-well-all-iz-well-all-iz-well. And now that it has ended, you are walking out the other end, marvelling at your show of courage and taking a short break before getting in line again, for another ride of the roller coaster, of course!

Sometimes I have out-of-body experiences. It's like I am in the moment, but not really inside me. I'm standing in a corner and watching a conversation or an episode unfold. It makes me look at things objectively. I had such an experience yesterday in the cafeteria. The exam had just ended, officially ending with it our first term, and spirits were high. Everyone had only two subjects on their lips - the exam and their plans for the weekend. Our next term begins on the 31st, so there are a good 4-5 days for which we can choose to sit back and relax a little. For about an hour I was sitting in the middle of the cafeteria and listening to snippets of different conversations. Some were planning to go to the Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand, some to Kasol or Shimla, and still others to Amritsar. Some were going home for Rakshabandhan and the holidays. For those who plan to stay on campus, movie nights and drinking trips were being planned. I was sitting right there, as blank as a television screen that's been dead for days, and I knew not what to do with myself now that the term had indeed come to a close. I had had loads of ideas and plans until the day of the exam. Yet, this morning I was at a loss.

And that's when I had an epiphany.

Every day for the last five weeks, I have had things constantly going on in the back of my head. The usual - what kind of career I'd like to have after the YIF, what I'd like to achieve while I'm here, what all I'd like to do in my spare time in this one year, and so on. I brought with me here a set of 10 great books that I had collected over the last couple of years but never had the chance to read. I hoped I'd be able to read them all this year. I also wish to resume writing stories. I wish to improve my essay writing skills (which are little more than rudimentary at best) and perhaps try to write for journals and newspapers. I wish to be careful about what I eat, and to get fit and healthy in this one year. I wish to learn a new dance form and take up singing all over again. There are just so many things I wish to do here, and yet, I have always found little or no time at hand to do most of these. Classes, assignments, socialising, freelance work, recuperating from illness - I've been swallowed up whole by the YIF ever since I stepped on campus on the 15th of July. I always tell myself, "Let me just get free from xyz, then I shall sit down and read at leisure" or "Let this particular task be done with, then I'll work on abc". I don't even have to say anything. You know it never works out that way.

But what now? I suddenly have 4 free days at hand, and I am not hounded by any classes or assignments during this time. Come to think of it, if I divide my freelance writing assignments over these 4 days, I do have some time on my hands to do the things I want to. Does that happen often? No. Do I realise the significance of it? I didn't, until yesterday morning. Before my Eureka moment, that is. I was in a happy bubble, excited that the term was over, looking forward to chilling with friends for a day, then probably travelling to someplace, and then heading home for 2-3 days. Holidays mean relaxation and no work, right? RIGHT?

Wrong. They don't have to mean the same for everyone. You don't necessarily have to 'chill' and to go out and party as soon as you get some time off of a hectic work schedule. You must take some time to peace out. But mental rejuvenation does not have to mean socialising or partying at all. You could in fact pull out your list of things-to-do, pick up one or two that bring you happiness, and go at it! I know this sounds like something even an 18-year-old would know. There may seem nothing monumental in what I'm blabbering on and on about. But how often do we actually do this for real? I know most people, including I, don't. We're so taken in by this cycle of work-party-work-party harder that to take some time off to do things alone and to disappear from the social scene for a while sounds blasphemous and lunatic. We're afraid to go off the radar, to miss out on things, to not be there when something funny happens to someone. We ultimately fall back into the old routine without having taken the little time we'd got free to reflect, rejuvenate, or achieve something more meaningful to us than maddening assignments, ELM pitches and the social calendar.

Sitting in the middle of a crowd of fellows, I suddenly felt overwhelmed by this realisation. I slunk away from the cafeteria and dragged myself all the way to my room. There I lay down to take a nap; I had barely slept the previous night, and my head was spinning. 5 minutes went by, and then 5 more. Sleep eluded me, while thoughts continued to play ping pong between the two parts of my brain. Eventually, having let go of all hopes of falling asleep, I opened my laptop and started typing furiously. That's partly where this blog entry has emerged from. I realised, while counting sheep and trying to fall asleep, that I do not really want to travel this weekend or party or watch movies with friends. Okay, some part of my mind does want all that. But it's inconsequential as compared to what I actually wish to do. I want to put my disarrayed life back in order. I want to finish reading Janice Pariat's Boats on Land. I want to work on an essay for a German competition. I want to finish editing the manuscript I currently have in my hand. I want to go out for a movie and a nice lunch with my family. I want to be away from the fellowship and its overwhelming impact on all spheres of my life right now. I want to join the chords left loose, to meet the people I've left behind, to have some semblance of my old life back, even if for 4 days. If I can do that, I'd consider this vacation more than well spent, and would be more than happy to get back to slogging away at the YIF for another excruciating yet enlightening term.


That said, here's leaving you with some pictures from my first term at the YIF. Good times with good people. I couldn't have asked for more from life at this juncture. Every step is a learning experience. Looking forward to many more!

Remember the creep from the railway platform in Jab We Met? Here's him. Immensely talented and equally insightful, Asif Basra, who took our orientation workshop.

The hearty laughs, and the beautiful skies.

The insights, and out-sights. (Thank you, Mitra.)

The Welcome Dinner that had no official 'welcome', and for a lot of mad ones, no dinner either. Just a lot of dancing and revelry with beautiful people.

The Namesake, the IIT Bombay, the Bose, the Gujju, the Kohli, and the one-without-a-surname.

My amazing feedback group for Dwight's Class. The perfect way to embark on a path of self-discovery and improvement is to have wonderful people giving you feedback and encouragement at every step. Thanks, you guys.

"Pramath said let there be Dwight. And Dwight said, let there be white!"

My trippy room. Put on some psychedelic music, switch on these twinklers, and you have yourself the perfect road to another world. Who needs chemical substances?

And that's the 'travel' corner of my room. I plan to fill it up with memories from the best of my travels, both in the past and in future.

I realise I have written on my blog after very long. But sometimes there's more life in and around you than you can possibly put down in words.

To writing, and to living. Cheers!

1 comment:

Sushmita Malakar said...

Finally, a post about your happening life! :D

I am glad to read about it and it sounds pretty awesome! I need to come to this trippy room of yours. Any invite? :D