MT Week 4: Day 6

The Saturday has come to a close. Would you believe me if I told you I slept for 11 hours again last night? Whether or not you believe me is immaterial, for my sleep-tracker says I slept 11 hours, and it appears as though, sleep-cycle wise, I am the healthiest I have been in years. There is a consistency, I am not over-stretching myself, and I sleep when my body demands it. It feels glorious.

Today was when media outlets began to project Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to be the next occupants of the White House. This is truly a small step for America, and I’m curious to see how the international order, that has become so used to searching within for leadership, responds to America’s attempt to lead the world again. What I most grateful for though is that climate change is now certifiably, real.

In the morning I completed a run, spoke to family, and got around to reading. I’m currently wading through my Jurisprudence reading list, where we’re reading Lon Fuller’s The Morality of Law. I have to admit that thus far, the subject is sailing over my head, but I am learning new things each week, and I am looking forward to my December break, where I hope to spend some more time with the texts we’re reading and the commentaries, and really formulate some opinions on the text grounded within it’s internal logic. I’m looking forward to reading Hart again. For a start though, I have begun to appreciate why jurisprudentialists and philosophers ask themselves What is Law? – because at the moment, I find existing answers slightly unsatisfactory. Atleast the ones I am exposed to.

The afternoon saw some ice coffee from The Locker, a time-lapse, and a lovely walk along Midsummer Common with an undergraduate third-year whom I will be working with through this academic year. I’ve met quite a few undergraduates and doctoral students here since I’ve arrived, people who are outside the Law department and program, and people within, and every person I’ve met has amazed me with their story. Sometimes I’m left wondering if I could just spend every minute here, instead of studying, meeting new people and understanding their journeys – what they find fascinating and what excites them, what got them here and what they’re going to give back. It feels like these are things to hold onto in reserve particularly when you’re uncertain about your motivations being here, if that ever occurs.

In the evening we celebrated the projections with some take-out, and now I’m back to reading more Jurisprudence. I’m taking breaks to watch clips from The Office because Biden is from Scranton, and that is amusing me to no end.

MT Week 4: Day 5

Yesterday was an incredible day.

In the morning I had a workshop for International Environmental Law, followed by a lot of free-time to read before an evening full of adventure. We hosted our first event for the International Law Society, which was delightful. Although attendance was a fraction of the number of individuals that joined our facebook group, it was really good to see that those who did attend were rather excited at the prospect of what the group had to offer – and more importantly, they came with a bunch of ideas. Hopefully we can use that to build something successful and sustainable in the Lent Term and beyond. After that I had my first team meeting for the moot that I’m participating in. It’s a joy to be mooting again, quite a thrill to be working with some new people. I’m eager to see how things go.

I think the excitement exhausted me because I slept 11 hours, and woke up this morning to get going on my reading for the next week. Lockdown means that I’m not going to get my sports quota in any time soon, so some time around the afternoon I walked along the river to clear my head and do some photography. Back at home and I cooked myself some risotto and came back up to do more work. Having spoken to my parents, it’s now been about 4 hours since the risotto business was done, and I’ve done nothing, so my goal for today is to now churn out the newsletter and then seriously, get cracking on some work for the rest of the day.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to get a run in just as the sun rises or thereabouts. Let’s see how that ambition fares.

MT Week 4: Day 3

Another week of interactive sessions down, and I feel Week 5 coming at me faster than I did yesterday. This morning was fairly slow, which was nice: allowed me to get into my reading and follow the US elections just to see the kind of stuff happening there. In the afternoon I had my interactive session, where we focused on environmental regulations in the maritime environment (for which I have a workshop tomorrow morning).

That led to the highlight of my day. I spent my afternoon preparing paneer tikka masala for my hostel neighbour from GNLU, and then went out to meet another friend for coffee. We realized that owing to conflicting schedules, the International Law kids tend to rarely get the opportunity to speak to the Corporate Law part of our cohort, and we were meeting after nearly a month. A nice long walk around the city centre later, we parted ways and I went off to do my last erg session for the month (and the Term, in all likelihood).

This evening, I was with a different senior from the Boat Club, who really knuckled down technique on the erg, getting us to focus on separation and building out the back-stop and the catch, and each part of the stroke. I had a ton of fun, and genuinely felt my strokes in parts of my lower back I did not know I had. The other reason it was enjoyable was because this senior made me laugh a bit – he pointed out to my knees at one point and told me to complete the arms before moving my legs. Essentially by not separating, I was ending up in this weird position where my arms would invariably come into contact with my knees. On the stroke itself, my knees were getting slightly wobbly. Through that exchange, I was reminded of the countless times I was told about my knock-knees in school. Most races, the knock-knees would make my parents worry I’d trip over. I giggled.

The night was just a delight. In GNLU, every Wednesday was paneer & ice-cream night – and we were able to recreate that tonight, together, which brought a little bit of Koba into Cambridgeshire. The lockdown means it’s difficult for us to recreate this again before Term ends, but we’re going to try – and I’m hoping to try out some other things I learned during the lockdown in India. It’s always more fun cooking for a crowd.

MT Week 4: Day 2

You know how I keep referencing Week Five Blues and saying that I’m not going to let it get to me? This evening, after a rather tiring day, I spent some time on the phone with my parents theorizing why Week Five Blues exist? What brings them on? What sparks them? What makes it an affliction that unites the entirety of the University’s population? I haven’t experienced them yet, and I hope I don’t feel disappointed next week, but my working theory is as follows. It’s the realization that you’ve done so much already (and remember so little of it), but that you’ve got halfway left to go before the end of Term, which is a fair amount of work to come. Alternatively, it’s the realization that you’re behind on work, and that consequently, you have to make a choice about whether to catch-up to work from last week, or begin afresh from the subsequent week – letting go of past readings & starting anew. In either case, it means that time away from Full-Term is still going to be loaded with reading and reflection, and perhaps that causes some amount of being blue. I shall overcome. We, as a community, shall overcome.

Today, though, was quite something. Woke up by 7, did some reading – and had an interactive session for the International Human Rights Law course. Today we were discussing human rights bodies. My interaction with this subject has largely been through the lens of moot courts, or reading papers I found interesting, and although taught at University, I had never considered the subtleties within treaties, and linguistic differences in output that these bodies produce. It was a really nice way to feel awake, and at one point, I legitimately felt like the neurons in my brain were absorbing information and snapping into life.

After that, as I’ve recently been appointed as a General Editor for the Cambridge International Law Journal, I was given some training for my role. That was rather enjoyable. I’ve loved editing because it feels like you have the opportunity to play a small part in somebody’s writing process. It’s a position of tremendous responsibility, and where feedback is given, it’s an excellent exercise on how to write critique that is legitimately helpful to the author.

Then I had a workshop for International Human Rights Law, on forced labour conditions and the International Labour Organization. Before that I cooked & did some preparation for a fun evening dinner I have planned tomorrow. Coming back though – workshops, on the LLM, are essentially small-group teaching where the faculty:student ratio of 1:13 is respected and adhered to. It was interesting because there was nowhere to hide at all. I can only imagine how the undergraduates feel during supervisions.

All of this listening made me crave a power nap, so I gave my body what it asked for, spoke to the parents, took a quick walk – and then had a 7pm Jurisprudence interactive session. Why 7pm? Well, yesterday I had a conflicting Global Governance workshop, and the Professor was kind enough to accommodate the conflict by offering an online session tonight, which was fantastic. Just 5 of us going through legal abstractions – yes, Jurisprudence is still going over my head.

All of this, and it felt like it was time to give thanks for everything this place is allowing me to live out, and remember everything I have to give back to the community. That closed out what has felt like a forever Tuesday.

MT Week 4: Day 1

Today’s been an intriguing day. Having slept for 8 hours, I woke up, completed some reviews of submissions I was reading – and got to my reading lists once more. We’re at Week 4 now. Week Five Blues are close-by, it appears. As of yesterday, we’ve learned that we’re going to be on National Lockdown from Thursday. However, this seems to be a rather soft lockdown – with Universities and Retail that’s Essential continuing to be open. Restaurants are going to remain open for takeaways. The decentralized nature of decision-making at Cambridge means we’re awaiting instructions from College and the Faculty of Law on the implications of the lockdown on decisions that had been communicated to us earlier in the year – particularly on in-person teaching. For me, as an off-site student, something that I’m waiting to understand is if I will still be able to visit St Edmund’s – and to what extent I can interact with my College.

I knew this was likely before I signed up to study this year, so I felt adequately prepared for this, and I am still feeling that way. I will continue to study and make the most of what this place has to offer. If I feel like it gets to me though, I will reach out for any help I need.

I had class in the afternoon, followed by a Graduate Workshop. Where we have classes that have more than 13 students signed up to study a given subject on the LLM, we get workshops that accommodate only 13 people twice a semester. That’s really helpful, and is the small-group teaching that allows for broader discussions about subjects we’re clearly passionate about. Today’s agenda: common spaces, something I adore with every fibre of my being.

Having received a notification about a book that I had to return, in the evening I cycled to Sidgwick, returned the book to the Faculty, cycled to College, and came home. Now I’ve spent an hour watching YouTube videos – so I’m going to spend the rest of the evening preparing for my 9AM tomorrow.

MT Week 2: Day 4

Thursday means no interactive sessions, but also marks the beginning of a long-weekend filled with sport, reading, socializing, and sleep.

Truth be told most of my morning passed by in writing a couple of things, after which I went and played tennis. I had a horrid game, losing the only set we played 0:6, and winning a handful of points from unforced errors my friend made. Slowly I’m hoping to gain back some confidence, particularly on my backhand, where I seem to have lost any semblance of technique. I’m a left-handed player with a two-handed backhand (occassionally one, for the flair). The technique for both, as it was taught to me, is quite different, particularly in terms of how far my left foot crosses over to generate power. Owing to a lack of practice, I don’t seem to be able to gauge the distance to the ball on my backhand side, and then I get confused between wanting to play two-handed or one-handed, as a result of which my left foot is completely out of position. Hopefully I can work on that next week. It was good fun though, particularly because we played just after it rained, and got to experience changeable weather conditions at its finest.

The evening brought with it a wonderfully enlightening conversation with a Geographer whose works I’ve admired for a long time. It feels very nice to have this access to information, and hopefully I can do something in the short and long-run that improves that access, making it available to more people. For a start though, I’ve discovered that writing good e-mails really work. In a single conversation, I learned about the bounds of a subject and how to toe time with rigour, and he really spent time answering my queries about his work, his approach to the subaltern and what inspired him to write what he wrote – and what he currently researches. He listened to my ideas patiently, asking questions of me grounded in his own work, and I left the conversation with more to think about, which is always comforting.

Last night I had a wonderful discovery – where I found out you can use a laptop as a second-screen, and Windows 10 has built-in a wonderful projection feature. Now we’ve got that going in the room, so the eyes are less strained, and I have no excuses not to be reading and taking notes simultaneously. The pleasure of learning new technology skills is truly a kick unlike many others. Genuinely, I felt like I was hackerman.

MT Week 2: Day 3

While I tell you about how I’ve scheduled-in time for sleep, it’s equally important that I acknowledge that sometimes all schedules go for a toss. That tends to happen when you realize that there’s something you haven’t penciled in that you have left to do, or that you want to do. Yesterday after my lecture, I realized I hadn’t met my hostel neighbour from college for a week or so. I haven’t met some of my other newfound friends here for a similar period, but we’re catching up on the weekend – which I’m happy about. With this guy though, it’s slightly different. We’ve known each other for five years, but not just known. We were in the same class and spent final year sitting next to each other there, and as a result of being hostel neighbours, we bumped into each other in the washroom atleast once every day, in addition to meeting once daily usually late in the evening just as he was about to go to sleep – when my days in college used to start.

So it was weird realizing that we hadn’t met, and that it hadn’t occurred to either of us that such a long time had passed between meeting each other. Clearing out what we had for the evening, we had dinner, caught up – and owing to the fact that we have no overlapping subjects with each other, tried to gauge what the others’ challenges were. We went for a walk, set-up some IT infrastructure, got some shopping done – and when I returned home, I realized I don’t feel homesick because I often carry pieces of home with me wherever I go. In small ways, for example I’ve had the same alarm clock for the past 12 years of my life, and I’ve carried that everyone.

In Cambridge it appears as though that has happened in a large way: both of us seem to have carried people.

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 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.