MT Week 2: Day 2

My interactive session this morning was at 9AM. It’s rather tough to wake up and feel active enough to attend a 9AM interactive session, which by it’s very nature demands some amount of participation. I’d like to think I’m slowly getting the hang of it. My preparation routine extends to ensuring I’m doing something that requires my brain to rotate its gears until the session begins. A warm-up of the mind to ensure it is at its spongiest to soak in whatever happens till 10:30.

The rest of the day is free, and that’s a dangerous thing because it is very tempting to Netflix away. Without any external accountability mechanisms, and having spent six months doing things exactly like that, the last two weeks have been interesting in terms of recalibration. Today I’m pleased to say I was successful in studying for tomorrow’s International Environmental Law class, and in taking some work-related calls.

Seeing how I was largely at home through most of the day, I decided to take a walk into town in the evening – just to get some fresh air. It’s such a delight to live in a place where town isn’t too far off, about a 20 minute walk. That distance is the right amount to feel active, or that you’ve done some activity, on days where you can’t manage much else. One of the things I need to do over the course of this week is to find a physical activity routine. Unlike my reading lists, which largely get done between Thursday and Sunday, I can’t just ignore my physical well-being between Monday and Wednesday. It’s difficult to will the body into a run sometimes, so perhaps a combination of some running and some cycling will do the trick. The weather forecast anticipates that it will rain all through the rest of this week, and I’m curious to examine how that impacts my mood as well.

Late evening brought with it some spiritual meditation and reflection, and in the night, following on from a Manchester United win in the UEFA Champions League, I looked at some treaties, and fell asleep.

MT Week 2: Day 1

We’re at Week 2 already. Someone’s posted on Camfess (the confessions page at Cambridge) asking Just wondering which week of term week 5 blues are meant to hit. Is week 2 too early?

I’ve read and watched a lot about Week 5 Blues, and my parents even discussed it. Truth be told, I’m hoping to avoid the feeling altogether. I’d like Week 5 to be Blue, but just another week filled with Cambridge Blue.

Speaking of Blues, I had a rowing ERG induction this morning. Super fun, and a very, very rythmic movement. All sports I’ve played have rhythm and flow built in – you look at tennis, cricket, hockey, and golf – and you can see examples of that flow, in every swing or shot. Rowing feels the same way, just more repetitively and at a higher frequency. Mass workouts for our Boat Club start this week, and I’m very excited to see how my stamina and fitness develop through the workouts.

Today was two interactive sessions: Global Governance and Jurisprudence. Both super fun – one used Breakout Rooms, and the other one I made fun by watching the lecture on Together Mode on Teams, which made me feel like we were discussing Jurisprudence and HLA Hart while watching a basketball match. The small joys of a virtual learning environment. Although Jurisprudence only happened online because the Faculty Building closed today.

Aside from that I spoke to a Professor whose work I had read as an undergraduate, chatting with him about his current research, life at Cambridge, and things that fascinate the both of us. I’m really looking forward to his lectures when he takes them in Global Governance, but interacting with him more. It feels like a privilege to just e-mail somebody whose work you’ve admired and ask them if they can have a conversation with you: informing them that you have the same institutional affiliation and would like to learn from them. I’ve cold e-mailed before, a lot of times, and I’ve never expected a response, so it’s very heartening when you do hear back.

I’m worried that the workload and the stuff I want to try out here will see me slip away from the healthy sleep schedule I built for myself during lockdown. This evening I charted out my day on OneNote, slotting in non-negotiable “Sleep” hours and “Personal” hours – to play videogames and de-stress, or write/read and destress. Basically something I’m committed to doing, but doesn’t fit in with the otherwise output oriented nature of my existence. I hope I can live up to that.

My roommate from College reads the blog daily, and spurred me on to write these today – so I hope he takes some joy in knowing I sleep on time and wake up quite early. Which is quite unlike the Tejas he saw for five years at GNLU. I relied on him way too much to get me up for class, and often chose not to go even after waking up, electing to do some work instead, knowing I had the exemptions and the access to notes to figure out exams when I needed to. That’s absolutely not an approach valid here. I mean, it is a route, but it’s too burdensome, and for me, not how I want to take academics and their values anymore.

MT Week 1: Day 7

Tomorrow the week begins again, so today – after 3 days of positively enjoying myself, I forced myself to push on with the fun and frolic, but ensure I got my reading in. Tomorrow’s lectures: Global Governance and Jurisprudence are both very theoretical subjects, taught incredibly well, and with very reflective reading. My brain has to process and form opinions – which seem to come from the heart rather than the brain – about every text I’m reading, because based on last week, if I don’t do that, I will not have anything to contribute to the class. More critically, I feel, that if I don’t develop the art of gaining perspective and voicing it – on the first instance, it’s very difficult to have somebody challenge that view. For the time would have passed and we would have moved onto something else. Allowing people to supplement, or present a contrarian opinion to one I hold is what I want to take away from my classes, and if I’ve not read – and thought about it, it’s tough for me to do that.

So of course I went to try out for Chapel Choir today, and am pleased to inform you I will now be singing on Sundays at the St Edmund’s College Chapel, Choir group permitting. I am an untrained singer, so I sing in the bathroom and quietly when I play my guitar – so what I would love is to gain confidence by singing in a group, improve upon my skills by learning to sing at sight, and more importantly – serve. I would love to continue with this as much as is possible. This and Symphony Chorus, together, I think, will really complement the Music Theory I’m studying well, and hopefully improve my own understanding of music. The Chapel Music Director was very kind about the notes I sang that were terribly off, and she really encouraged me to project, which in her words, would fill the Chapel with my voice, and oof – did that bring me happiness. It made me sound a lot better than I am, and I loved it.

Then I went and played field hockey. About ten years after I had last picked up a stick competitively, I played. I slipped a couple of times, added very little value to my team offensively and got tired quick, made one save I think (I’m taking credit). With seven outfield players and no goalkeeper, we lost 1:7 to Emmanuel (I played for Selwyn/Trinity Hall) but I was a happy fifth-grader once more – the kid who learned the sport. I was so happy throughout, and my parents saw me beaming when we spoke in the evening. As did a couple of friends.

After which I began reading once more. Reading should really have more synonyms, and it is not at all dull; which I worry my descriptions of it will make. So I’ll stop this post here – and talk to you tomorrow, to tell you how wonderful reading was, and can be.

MT Week 1: Day 6

And so it is the weekend. Truth be told, it feels like the weekend begins on Thursday, because I know that I don’t have any interactive session commitments from then onward, and all of the 24-hours belong to me, to use, to read, to spend how I desire. However, I think that’s just us on the postgraduate side of this University. The undergraduates definitely look for the weekend I think. Their week is divided up between lectures and supervisions for academics, and all of the socializing they do. Which means weekend time is Sports time at the University – and you can really see it.

The river is filled with Boats, every Commons (field) and Park and Playing Field is filled with people. All the Sports Clubs are occupied.

Naturally, the libraries are a good place to be on the weekend.

All of this however is just the University side of things.

It’s easy to forget that Cambridge is a city, a town. So the weekend is when it really comes alive, and into its own. The marketplace is swarming with cityfolk picking up their produce and shopkeepers meeting their regulars, King’s Parade has a market too, people busk and play music on sidewalks – things are very bubbly. In a lot of ways the marketplace reminds me of Bengaluru’s MG Road area. You could transplant that setting, the weather, and suddenly, Cambridge would be home.

It’s when the town bursts into life that you remember there’s local clubs that play on the weekends. Cambridge United in Football League Two, for example (the stadium is 15 minutes away by cycle). You also realize, very quick, that the town has accepted students – in a way that there’s very little divide. You can go into town but not tell the difference between a local, a family of locals who have been here for years, and a student who currently calls the city their adopted home.

That’s very comforting to me.

MT Week 1: Day 5

Another lovely day: more reading, some tennis, and reading once more.

Over the course of the week, as time has passed, I can see that I’ve been drawn into making decisions about how involved I would like to be in things here. During my undergraduate course, I tried my hand at pretty much everything that was on offer there. Five years was a long time in one place, and it felt suitable to sign-up to things, and then decide how committed I would like to be. I was, however, guilty of signing up for things and not following through on some of them – because by the time the event or submission came around, I found myself electing to be uncommitted. Largely this was down to my own flawed perception of where my interests lay. I have to say I feel I got better at this in Years 4 and 5, where I only did stuff I would commit to wholeheartedly. The rest I volunteered for, without much responsibility – taking on only the responsibility I could actually agree to.

Cambridge is larger than my undergraduate University in terms of size and population. Naturally as a consequence of that and people’s diverse interests, there’s a Society for everything you can think of, and a space to learn anything you are interested in. I’m very curious about most things in the world, and given a chance, I’d just rotate among the 200+ odd Societies that are on offer. But even then I wouldn’t be able to experience it all well, becuase having so many societies to fit into a week would just mean clashing commitments all of the time.

So it was, through Fresher’s Fair and this week that I’ve eliminated a bunch of things and unsubscribed from mailing lists. Some events are events I genuinely want to know are happening – even if I don’t attend, and so I’ve stayed onto the mailing lists. Societies and Clubs form a large part of the social interaction you can have here, and so I’m committing to the events I would like to meet people at the most. Some of them I’m on because I’m curious about meeting these people, who share an interest or a perspective divergent from mine.

Which brings us back to tennis and some sports. I can only commit to them socially – and without paying for them (because I cannot commit to them every week). As a result I’m literally on a Social Tennis WhatsApp group – finding people of the same or similar level to play with week-on-week.

Hopefully we shall improve together. We’ll definitely have fun though.

MT Week 1: Day 4

No lectures today, and so ample time to relax and unwind one would think. That is only partly true. The absence of interactive sessions does create a void in one’s life: a 2-hour window (and the 30 minutes prior and 30 minutes after) that is to be filled with an activity of one’s choosing. Yet a morning glance at the Outlook Calendar, my OneNote, and Moodle – with next week’s reading list allays any misconceptions I have. The 2-hours are now filled with more joyous reading, but also a less quick pace of life.

That allowed for random tid-bits, a bit of piano practice, some phone calls to family, some YouTube scrolling, figuring out how to manage relaxation reading alongside University work, and a quick trip to Decathlon. Why? To pick up a mouth-guard, among other things to play Field Hockey. I do have a long essay planned about the sport later on in the week, but today was about ensuring I have the gear with which to play and partake in the game with as little fear as is possible.

I was able to take a nice walk along the river in the evening. Although we consistently experience changeable weather conditions here, the sun was shining bright, which meant rowing teams were out practicing. The crowded river, with the shutters of every boathouse open provided the perfect background for a conversation about Jurisprudence classes from the last week with a fellow batchmate, whose undergraduate education is so different from my own.

My Jurisprudence lectures at the undergraduate level never asked of me to engage with the core texts – nor did they reward or encourage that engagement. Although I read one text, I didn’t have the curiousity while studying my course to read through any of the other core texts or primary material we were critiquing. Over the course of my five years, I spent only my final two semesters reading some more core literature, but never for academic reasons. On the contrary, the batchmate I was speaking to spent five years reading just the core texts per paper. So he’s already read through the stuff here, and is just gaining different perspective.

I don’t blame the system for me not reading the core texts, and I think I could have if I wanted to. My curiousity at that time was directed elsewhere, so I’m quite glad it’s being directed here now. Jurisprudence is often described as the theory or philosophy of Law, and it seems to lay down formal logic that’s applicable to the field; with different authors suggesting different systems of logic that may apply. It’s a ton of fun, really.

That’s where most of the night is going as well – and trust me, I’m a happy camper.

MT Week 1: Day 3

Today was the ideal blend of academic life and personal life – insofar as I was able to actively ensure neither was left lagging behind. My interactive session was at 1pm and I had some reading to get through before that, so a quick lecture-watch and it was down to readings. Something I’m discovering is that I need to concentrate a lot better, so music I choose to accompany me as I read is a lot softer than it used to be at undergrad. My system of note-taking is still a work-in-progress. In the past few days, it’s become apparent to me how much the system here relies on self-motivation and figuring things out on your own – there’s a lot less instruction and a lot more of a guiding hand, if you’re ever in doubt about things.

The 1pm session was incredible. The Professor teaching the course is somebody I’ve wanted to work with and learn from for a while so it was excellent to be able to meet him at last (albeit virtually). The lecturers here have such a vast body of experience, and work on such current issues that there is a joy they derive while speaking about it. What I found most curious yesterday was two things. First, the characterization of the course as being a system of learning, rather than teaching, which when explained, placed a lot of onus on us to really get into the subject and interact and gain from the ecosystem he’s providing. Second, was how when one question was posed from him, he very nonchalantly replied, I don’t know. To me, that was the hallmark of somebody good – because he followed it up with the fact that he’d be wasting our time if he gave us an answer immediately, but he was looking into it – and would have an answer by next week. That was enough, to be honest. I admire that honesty, particularly because it showed me how much confidence he had over core subject-matter, and how willing he was to engage with us on issues that were developing if we gave him time.

Then in the evening I went out and did errands: paid up my Union membership, met some friends, and got back home – all while cycling the rain. I spoke to the parents, cooked myself a hearty meal, relaxed in the evening and planned for the week ahead. Having 4 days without interactive sessions is genuinely just a gift of time being given to you – to prepare for what is to come.

In other news, I have now discovered I am a member of the Cambridge University Symphony Chorus – which I’m supremely excited about, as I’ll truly be able to learn perfect pitch. Should be a good year.

MT Week 1: Day 2

An early morning with a 9AM interactive session meant waking up and completing some reading to be adequately prepared. Thank goodness for that. I’m observing that Faculty here are willing to go out of their way – in terms of time, and in terms of covering material, to ensure that our queries are answered, but also to ensure that we voice our own thoughts on the material we’ve consumed. That’s new for me. I have some opinions on the state of the law, but I haven’t developed a habit of crafting opinions on every sentence I read within academic literature. It’s probably something I did subconsciously but is now something that’s coming to the fore. I left the session with more things to think about and more stuff I wanted to read – alongwith the feeling that I wanted to read through the reading list once more just to develop more opinions about them.

Time unfortunately does not sympathize, and so it was that I made my way to the Squire with a couple of friends to get moving on the readings for tomorrow. A couple of hours later and we were able to have a mini picnic with some pancakes, after which I headed out to meet a friend.

The world is such a small place. This friend of mine was a neighbour for 2 years, after which he moved away and I lost touch with him, only to recently discover he was doing his PhD here at Cambridge. A quick message and it was easy to re-establish contact, and a meet-up later, it felt like all those years had changed us, but not what made it enjoyable to sit across from him. I used to play table tennis at his house really frequently when I was younger, and he was on my bus route as well – so we spoke a lot about a range of things as kids. Some of the things he does now, his research and the Spartan races in particular were incredibly inspiring – and I can only aspire to that level of fitness, I know.

The evening was mellow; more reading, some cooking, and some FIFA, and on I march to my final interactive session of the week.

MT Week 1: Day 1

Today was my first day of lectures. And yes – I’m finally right with it this time, it’s the first week of Michaelmas!

I got up rather early this morning, having had a late night. All of this was self-inflicted because as with other LLMs, we’ve all been very confused about when which interactive session is taking place, and I thought I had one class tomorrow that was today. That + an e-mail meant lots of reading this morning to catch up and be ready for the session. I was grateful to be able to finish in the knick of time, allowing me to catch-up with my best friend before heading to my first interactive session.

I say heading, but my first one of the week was online – so the only preparation I had to do was just check up my audio and clean-up the background a little. I should explain a little more about interactive sessions. Traditionally on the LLM program, teaching happens through a lecture in-person, per subject, each week. We study 4 modules, and so, it follows that you attend 4 lectures a week. Owing to COVID, the faculty has had to adapt, and thus, to ensure we get the benefit of some interaction with faculty, each subject now has a pre-recorded lecture component, and a live interactive component per week. The live component can happen either online, or in-person – depending on the interactive principles the Faculty of Law has laid out. It’s a rather well thought out solution that seems to be working okay for the time being. I’m grateful for how much they’ve communicated to us as they’ve made decisions. There’s a low level of consultation and no consultative process – as this was decided before we came to the University, but it’s been communicated in a timely way, which prepares us per week. As a consequence, to prepare for these interactive sessions, you need to do reading and watch the lectures for them. Then you can go in saying you’ve done the work – but you’ll always leave the interactive session realizing you missed something. At least, I’m prepared to: I’m prepared to leave the session learning more – and finding out fresh perspective my eyes may not have captured.

Today’s were lovely. Global Governance took place online, and the convening lecturer broke the ice quite nicely, allowing for introductions and commenting on our experiences before jumping into asking us questions and moderating a fruitful discussion about the week’s readings. That ended and I immediately had to rush off to the Faculty, about 2 miles away, to reach my Jurisprudence class on time. I say rush off, by which I mean rush down the stairs so I could cycle as slowly as I desired to reach there. I cycle rather slowly, just to be as careful as possible here. Today was the first time I got to enter the Lecture Theatre at the Faculty, and it’s so stunning. It’s just a nice pit-style ampitheater, with the lecturer at the bottom – but with social-distancing and a small crowd spanning the room, it was a geometrical sight to behold. While the Faculty’s building was only constructed in the 1990’s, it’s still incredible to think about the kind of people who have studied – and taught here.

A quick coffee meeting with my batchmates later, I headed back home, spoke to my parents while cooking dinner, and now I’m on my way to do more reading. I have a 9AM online interactive session tomorrow – one I’m really looking forward to, but there’s a 93-page document I have to get through before that. Should be a lovely night and early morning.

MT Week 0: Day 6

Today was the most wholesome food day I have had since I have come to the UK. Although I’ve been the recipient of various care packages containing food, and home-cooked food at that (which I am incredibly grateful for), I can’t help but explain to you how much I have missed cooking. For five out of the six months since this pandemic began to be considered seriously, I was alone at home in Bangalore cooking for myself. In my last month in India, I cooked only once. My chikkamma did all the cooking, and I just did all the eating. During lockdown days, the kitchen became a happy place. For a lot of people, the pandemic was the chance to develop a skill, like cooking. My mother taught me the fundamentals of cooking earlier, so the pandemic was the chance to build upon those fundamentals. Honestly, living alone, it was also an opportunity to experiment. To dream of things and then eat them by learning how to make them (like chili), or try out how much my stomach could take before it reovolted (peanut milk – which along with other things has made me convert to veganism pretty much).

This morning, my housemate and I went grocery shopping. We spent two hours there, and then cycled home with a lot of groceries. Our original plan was to make idli-sambhar and share it with everyone in the house – the family hosting us too, but owing to a lack of batter availability in Cambridge and a lack of planning to soak things to make batter, we switched over to making chole with chappatis. What a brilliant, inspired decision that turned out to be. We spent an hour in the kitchen together talking about our own kitchens at home, and I kneaded the chappatis and made a bunch of them while he made the channa. I have atta now so I can make as many round rotis as my stomach pleases. I feel whole, just like the wheat in the atta. We dined like kings with orange juice on the side – and had waffles with Nutella for dessert.

I spoke to family after that and then headed out to meet some Indians from the postgraduate offer-holder group at Fitzbillies, which celebrated its centenary last week. I had the Chelsea Bun, which a friend described as being a cuckoo version of the Cinnabon. Truly though, it was exactly like the Cinnabon with raisins and a lot of sticky toffee. Very sweet and yum.

A cycle ride later and I returned home to gobi, chole and the realization that tomorrow is the start of interactive sessions, which means a night of reading to ensure I’m actually able to follow what happens.

All of this while remembering somewhere in the middle that the Cambridge Majlis was hosting a debate abou the Partition of India that I had to attend because of how politically charged it was, and realizing that there were so many fresher’s events and first-week meetings happening tonight at the same time that I’m definitely not going to be able to actually attend all the events from all the mailing lists I’ve signed up to. Need to pick and choose – oh, what I would do for more time here in this place.

MT Week 0: Day 5

Truly, playing a sport after a couple of years in front of a crowd that has played competitively, regularly for the past few years is a humbling experience.

This morning I attended the Cambridge University Badminton Club (CuBaC) trials. I already signed up for the St. Edmund’s Badminton Society, and I knew I wouldn’t make it to the University team, but here’s the thing. University Sports Club Members get this amazing Cambridge Blue Fleece Jacket that I really want. I’m just joking, really. I went to trials because it was a free badminton hour, an opportunity to meet new people, and to force myself to get a badminton racquet. It was a great chance also to see the University Sports Center without feeling like a stranger.

And so it was that I woke up early and cycled to Decathlon at Grafton, bought myself a racquet, and then wore thermal pants under a sports kit and two jackets to cycle the 2 miles to the Sports Center. My body has genuinely just forgotten I am in a cold place. I felt nothing while cycling, and then I got off the cycle and felt my thighs warm up like it was nobody’s business. I was sweating inside and had to get the jackets off pretty rapidly.

Sports over here is organized at multiple levels: there’s the University-grade, the College-grade, and the Social. The University-grade is when you’re bloody good at a sport, and your main objective is to beat Oxford – apart from developing as a sportsperson and doing well at BUCS. You do training at a rigorous level a couple of times a week, in addition to lots of fitness sessions to develop muscle, etc. Depending on the sport, it is not unusual to have a diet regime and things laid out for you. The College-grade is when you play intercollegiate Cuppers. You play with people at your College against other Colleges, and you basically train maybe once or twice a week. Depending on your College, you’re either trying to have fun, beat other colleges, or do both – and that dictates a lot of the environment around the sport at the College-grade. Then there’s the Social-level, where you just play outside of these affiliations for kicks.

I do not think (in my wildest dreams) that I am capable of playing anything at University-grade at the moment. At best, I’m at College-grade in some sports (perhaps badminton & basketball, but not much else). The rest, I shall play socially, or to learn – for example, field hockey is something I’ve wanted to get back into for ages, and there’s finally the opportunity and the facility to do that. There’s also Boat Club to teach me rowing, which I’m super keen about trying.

It’s all very nice. All of this also involved a lengthy discussion with my parents trying to understand whether I’d actually be able to do what I wanted to along with my studying, and more importantly, whether I should. Particularly with contact sports. I’ve gained weight during the lockdown and I’m somebody who does better at sports rather than workout regimes and runs (even though I have been running consistently), so I’m hoping to use them as a vehicle to meet more people and get fit.

Badminton trials were insane fun though. I lost all my games, but I met a bunch of undergraduate freshers (17 year olds) fresh out of school who gawped at me when I told them I was a graduate student. It’s very weird to be considered old when you’re one of the youngest in your batch.

That was the most exciting event today, apart from fun events I did in the afternoon online, and of course, more studying.

MT Week 0: Day 4

I woke up this morning and had a lovely, open and frank discussion with members of my school management about the alumni association that we are looking to set up. One of my batchmates actually said things best when we were on call when he explained that we didn’t understand the value of an alumni association till we grew old enough to recognize how easy things become when you have an established network in place to assist you with queries. More critically, we’ve reached an age where we’ve all come to realize how fortunate we were and how much we can use the alumni association to mobilize resources to help other people, and that’s something we’re eager to do. Hoepfully things go smoothly here on out because we’re slightly enthusiastic at the moment – and we need to capitalize on that.

Then I met up with a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law to understand how his start of term has been compared to my own, but honestly – just to hang. This place provides such good avenues to speak to people about the ideas they’re exploring, and it’s a useful way to remind yourself how littler you’re reading (even though the reading lists make you feel like you’re doing a lot). It’s helpful to know that there’s so much out there that is worthy of human exploration, and so many people capitalizing on it. Genuinely, I believe that moves humanity forward in a lot of ways. I also activated my subscription to Pret A Manger, which gives me 5 free drinks of my choice a day for the first month, which is unbelievable. This month will be filled with a lot of oat-milk hot chocolate. Yum.

In the evening I went to the Eagle Pub, right across from Corpus Christi, where Watson & Crick regularly hung out. The entire place had a lot history inside, with photos of rowing teams adorning the walls and dim lighting that gave it a very old feeling.

I returned home to get cracking on my reading. Interactive sessions begin next week by which time I’m expected to have finished the reading and watched the initial lecture for the classes I’m taking: a fair amount of work given that I need to really assimilate what I’ve read and not merely memorize it to reproduce in an exam. Some gobi I made in the evening really helped that process along. I can’t believe it’s Friday already – and the weekend when I wake up.