Four Boxes

Leaving University, particularly a residential University hits in different stages, I think. These have hit differently owing to the pandemic this year. Ordinarily, I believe, there’s the realization that you are going to relocate and move back home. That’s followed by an enjoyment of every last moment at University and hostel. Subsequently, there’s the packing up and the collection of provisional documentation. Finally, there’s the relocation and move.

I started my final semester knowing the first two – and experiencing the first two to the fullest. As I moved home (and packed up as much as I could), and classes went online, I tried to make the most of it. Truth be told, I hardly attended the online lectures, so my enjoyment about my days as an undergraduate student were spent wondering if my dissertation submissions would be cancelled and what the examination policy would be – and not much else. The last day of classes made me feel relief and a lot of emotions about the journey I had been on, whIMG-20200805-WA0004.jpegich I’ve documented here. Receiving my provisional degree marked the culmination of that journey.

None, however, have made me feel the emotions that seeing these four carton boxes made me experience.

You see, these four carton boxes contain everything I held at University within my room. Everything I had accumulated, everything I had shared.

Suddenly, before my eyes, was five years contained within four large boxes. All the experiences and all the memories presented and held in their most tangible form. Here.

And that was it.

Suddenly, all that would linger of me on campus was my name and the memory of me – not my belongings, not my presence. It felt like the last ties that connected me to the place I called home for so long had been severed. Not ripped off quick like a bandaid, which is how the flight home felt, but unwrapped slowly, like crepe bandage, leaving behind its own impressions on my body.

Before going any further, I have to thank a close friend for coordinating and liaising all of this with the packers & movers, and my roommate, for agreeing to everything so quick. It made the entire process feel so seamless. My favourite memory of this entire thing is being able to see our room one last time over a 1.5 hour long WhatsApp video call, where we saw everything get put into boxes and packed up – just as we wanted it to be. No confusion about stuff, no fluff. Thank you both for making that possible. Seeing that with my roommate was surreal because he had already lived in the room for a month before I moved in and almost turned the room on its head with my suggestions. Each year was an experiment in trying to get to the perfect orientation, and I’m so pleased we succeeded.

After leaving the boxes overnight, I opened them up the next day one-by-one. First, I was stunned by the amount I had hoarded. All my committee t-shirts and tags laid bare in front of me, but then there were the xerox textbooks and the moot compendia, all the stuff I wished to leave behind at University for somebody to make use of. There was the stationery, the memorabilia from competitions, and the gifts & postcards – birthday greetings from over the years. There was the care package I received in my second year, and one remnant sanitary napkin, from the hoard I had amassed from my friends in the girls hostel to help me with my pilonidal sinus in my first year.

There was my kettle, my trusty companion. An extra bottle of Vim. Some toiletries.

Everything I used on a daily basis.

Then, and this is what hit me most. There was the stuff I had “borrowed” from home before I left. Vividly, as I unwrapped the cardboard packaging, I remembered the day I had decided to pack an alarm clock. The day I discovered an excellent stationery manager for the desk lying around unused and told my mum I’d be taking it. There was also the stuff I had bought for home during my travels away: the miniature Delftware, some magnets.

That was all of it.

Suddenly home felt it had more stuff that represented my growth in the last five years, and less stuff that spoke of the more distant past. My room changed overnight, with law books entering the library and some choice pieces getting pinned on my softboard – reminding me of what had actually gone by.

The board examination stationery kit, which was the part of my room that made me feel like the house stood still in time, lay strewn somewhere on the side, now a part of a modern look that made home feel like the hostel, when I had tried hard to make the hostel feel like home.

All I needed to hear was unnecessary screaming as the electricity tripped, some loud music, some choice words, a whirring fan, and my roommate’s voice.

I’d be back in Ahmedabad again.

Until then however, this is another goodbye.

Gated

The onslaught of COVID-19 has seen us evacuate the University premises and find safe havens elsewhere. After considering some options, as I had to, I have returned to my childhood home. Today’s my first full day back, and with my new routine and the task of managing household affairs, I feel like a regular neighbourhood Uncle. Minus the job to go to, I can, in my present state imagine a life like this.

Wake up early, go for a run, meditate, bathe, read the newspaper, eat breakfast, do some work, cook & eat lunch, get household chores completed, get to more work, cook & eat dinner, spend time reading, and sleep.

And repeat.

Today, on my run, all I could think about was how much I feel like I’ve taken the gated community I live in for granted. Growing up at least. I loved living here. Never complained about it or anything, but it feels like I took the amenities and facilities I was provided, and the comfort that I lived in for a ride. My friends visited me in my compound in May 2019, and a distinct thought they all relayed to me was that I lived in a resort of some kind. I’ve always maintained that the locality I live in is distinct and atypical of the rest of the city. You would be forgiven for forgetting you were in this city. It smells different. The people are different, the roads are different. The rules are different here. Within the gated community I stay in, things take on an even more absurd shape and colour. Squabbles are more petty than anywhere else I’ve ever seen in my life, and egos run high within a small community trying to get by.

It’s essentially a microcosm of any society, so to speak. I guess it just takes on a different sheen in this part of town.

However, the other part the run showed me was the protection this gated community offered. It was my safe place. It always had been. I had come back here on terrible days at school and let those terrible days subside. I had allowed good days to get better. I had used the community as a crutch onĀ innumerable occasions, especially over the past five years at University.

Now with this COVID-19, this gated community offers no unessential human interaction, but a supply of groceries whenever you need it.

It’s the perfect isolation zone.

Field Day

I had a field day today – quite literally a day out in the field, meeting people I had to meet. It started this afternoon, when I took a trip to WIMWI. I have fond memories of WIMWI from the month and a half I spent working on a project there. Going there post-class hours and sitting in the library to get things done gave me tremendous joy. Meeting my faculty at WIMWI and figuring out a research plan has got me incredibly excited about the possibilities that collaborating over the next few months will bring. All I’m hopeful for from this period is that I can repay the faith and trust that somebody has shown in me by putting in the work I’m expected to. Actually, I’m more hopeful that I’m able to learn something new about researching a particular subject in this time period. I think if I stick to my work and keep learning how to improve, it’ll match the faculty’s expectations and lead to a considerably reasonable outcome in any case.

After that, I scheduled another meet-up to pick up more work, which I did – always a fulfilling thing.

Then it was time for a delightful catch-up with a senior I have become friends with only after his graduation. Although I knew him from his time at University, I don’t think I anticipated how warm and friendly he would be – and how much I would regard him as a friend of mine in the years to come. As we discovered today, there is a large overlap in our areas of interest and the kinds of things we do in our free-time so I’m eager to see what I can indulge in with good company before I leave this city.

There are only about 6 weeks left now, if I look at my calendar a little more closely. That doesn’t feel like too much time. Summer will hit us all soon and I am fairly certain this means time will feel like it is stretching out, but perhaps it provides us with the perfect opportunity to begin planning the things I want to tick-off my bucket list.

A morning run on the Sabarmati Riverfront is one of them.

A meal at Sam’s Pizza is another.

[Summer] Rain

It rained this evening. Out of absolutely nowhere. Atleast to me. I don’t check weather forecasts very often – because after living here for 4 years, it’s pretty much a standard weather cycle we go through, and there’s a clear expectation of what any given day may look like, given the circumstances.

The rain lasted all of 45 minutes, but it definitely created some chaos on campus. I saw one person’s room flood – which is standard for the monsoon semester, but not so much this semester. Everyone hunted around for their umbrellas. People conversed quickly, and made decisions about sprinting they’d regret in a few minutes. People showering scurried through the boys hostel hoping that a slanted sheet of rain would not touch their clean bodies.

It brought with it the smell of rain too.

I dislike the rain, but when it comes at the start of the hottest two months I experience every single year [despite my love for the sun], it’s pretty comforting that it has arrived.

Afternoon Lectures

Extra lectures should be prohibited. A few caveats before I make this argument.

  1. Unless they significantly add to knowledge or, in the alternative, the absence of the extra lecture diminishes the value an individual gets out of a particular course, lectures ought to be conducted within the scheduled class hours.
  2. Extraneous circumstances which may require extra lectures – such as the cancellation of classes. These too, however, should be slotted within the regular time-table.

Naturally, these thoughts stem out of the fact that I had a set of extra guest lectures this afternoon from 2pm – 4pm. I paid attention for some time and then, I must confess, I switched off and began to read a book. This is traditional/typical University behaviour. My reason for switching off was primarily because the afternoon is when I usually switch off and take time to do things that I consider leisurely, and there was no way I was giving that up for the lecture that happened today.

I think afternoon lectures are just unproductive for all parties.

I recognize there is no argument here. This is just a display of frustration in some keystrokes.

Also, it’s March, so the attendance calculations have begun every morning. Sigh. I will miss these days.

Holding a Fountain Pen

My left-handedness has made this world a strange place to navigate. This comes with everyday things – including the use of scissors and nailcutters. The most frustrating thing I have to overcome though, genuinely, is the art of writing. There are so many obstacles as a left-hander. Desks in science labs are always on the wrong side. Spiral bound books affect your ability to write smoothly. You can’t see what you’ve written before because your gargantuan hand and the angle you hold pens in coversĀ everything you write. It’s very frustrating. As a child, I used to come home with black hands because my hand would smudge lead from my pencil all over. It was awful.

When I graduated to using fountain pens, I started to discover angles at which I could make this art form of writing work reasonably enough. I practiced writing every day, using the opinion-editorial pieces from newspapers as things I would write out. It got me into the habit of reading the news, improved my handwriting and improved the speed of my writing – which is still devastatingly slow.

My handwriting went through several iterations of cursive before settling on what it is today. In Grade 9, my mother suggested I switch over to black ink and write straight and small cursive. In Grade 11, I rebelled by writing in the slopiest cursive imaginable. My cursive today sits at a pleasant 45 degree angle to the line I write on. Sometimes it goes even further.

All of this context is because this morning, I started studying for tomorrow afternoon’s examination. I realized, in that process, that I hadn’t picked up a pen all year – till today. All notes I’ve taken have been digital. Including the notes I take at meetings. So today was the first time I dusted off the pen, filled it with ink – scratched on multiple pieces of paper to get the ink flowing and started writing again.

Jee whiz is my handwriting terrible. In a way, that’s a good thing – it’ll mask some of the faffery I am bound to do in tomorrow’s exam. In other ways, it’s not so good. Maybe the next three days will be the duration in which I make a return to neat handwriting.

Exams Are Postponed

I slept really late last night, apropos my terrible sleep cycle (am I using apropos correctly?). The aim was to wake up this morning and begin studying – a task that would have fixed the sleep cycle. I need to be wide awake between 3 and 4:30pm, which is the time I’ll be writing exams, and I desperately wanted to do that today, to get into the habit of things. Except, I woke up and saw an e-mail on my phone that said exams had been postponed by a day and promptly went back to sleep. In fact, most of what I can remember from the day is sleeping. The other part is watching YouTube videos and reading. I’ve got 4 hours left in the day, in which I aim to start studying. We shall see how productive that ambition is in some time.

I can’t recall when my exams were postponed last. I remember there being some discussion around the postponement of exams owing to a senior national leader’s passing a year or so ago. The atmosphere on campus was this crazy blend of celebrating the fact that we may be getting a day off; when instead we should have been in a state of national mourning or such.

Before that, I don’t think exams at school were ever postponed. I’m the kind of person that stresses out about exams so I would have absolutely detested them getting postponed or advanced when they were given a designated date. Today, however, knowing that this is the last set of mid-semesters I will likely write, I’m absolutely okay with the postponement. It doesn’t affect me too much.

I would imagine the juniors at our University are less than pleased.

Classes (and Jokes)

I do believe that the faculty who teach us are well aware that we, as a batch in the final semester, are paying very, very little attention to what they are teaching. The subjects aren’t core papers, or as necessary as to amass widespread inherent interest among every student. One would understand the number of students whose interests are captured falling, especially given that we are on the cusp of completing our degree – but they’re dwindling. They’re so low, you can see people falling asleep or deciding to do their own thing in the classroom within 5 minutes of attendance being taken. I digress though. The force of this paragraph was meant to convey that the faculty know this information. They know that we care very little – but that we will pay attention if something is being communicated about portions, internals, or something else that’ll genuinely concern us.

Sometimes they adopt that strategy to get us to look up for a few minutes. Very unexpectedly, someone will say the words “Continuous Evaluation”, and for a couple of minutes everyone’s heads will shoot up. If nothing, to memorize the date when it’s due so you can ask the batch what is actually due the evening before the deadline – sometimes even the morning of. Or they’ll say the word “Internal” and all of a sudden you’ll be awoken from any slumber to try to understand if there’s an added component of work they’re going to make you do in final sem.

Some faculty are genuinely trying. We’re allowed to take laptops into class for drafting, which keeps you interested because there’s a bigger screen to stare at. That faculty is being super innovative. Apart from his usual quirkiness and sharing thoughts of the day with us (which are genuinely nice to watch), he’s been using technology to keep us engaged with what he’s teaching. Even if it doesn’t get the whole class hooked; it’s worth applauding the effort.

Today, however, I saw something that I think I’d like to practice if I ever get a teaching job. The art of the poor joke, executed to perfection. You see, a part of being in the last semester is a bunch of people leaving class citing various excuses – and not returning because there really is no incentive to return once you’ve left and veered out of class. One faculty sensed someone leaving – catching them just as they shut the door, and exclaimed “yeh dekho, pehli wicket gayi”

Now you see; there is no way for me to explain how fantastic her comic timing was on this joke. It was perfect. She also chose a cricket joke – which is universally understood in India. The best part was that she kept following it up with other cricket jokes: she drank water in the middle & called it her “drinks break”, and when she caught someone unsuccessfully sneaking out, she called it a “dropped catch”.

As you can tell, the jokes got worse as the class progressed. Nonetheless, it gave me material for this blog post, and caught my attention sufficiently such that I missed my mid-day snooze.

I wonder what the faculty will try tomorrow.