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 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.

MT Week 0: Day 3

I’m laughing at myself because I discovered this afternoon that this was considered Week 0 and not Week 1 of Michaelmas Term. The late discovery has meant renaming each of my posts from this past week, and facing the truth that no matter how many vlogs I watch, and how many bits of information I read about Cambridge and its quirks, I will be underprepared for the experience. This amusing fact kept me going throughout the day – and what a day it has been.

After completing some clerical work with the bank to update some documents, I made my way to the Sidgwick Site to see the Faculty of Law and the Squire Law Library. Last evening I had a conversation with someone who suggested I spend some time there in the morning, which led to a quick reshuffling of plans and booking a slot at the Squire. Owing to COVID, they aren’t operating at full capacity so booking a seat in advance is necessary, but there are no restrictions on the amount of time you can spend there in either the morning slot or the evening slot.

The building is an architectural marvel. Look up the David Williams Building and you will see what I mean. It’s at a right angle, but has a curved glass facade that allows just the right amount of sunlight to creep in and assist people using the library facilities. The lecture theatres are absolutely massive – I can only imagine what being there in a regular term must feel like, it must be swarming with people moving around, and the library itself, mwah. At GNLU, I was very fortunate to have an excellent library collection. I’m not extolling praise for no reason. We had pretty much every book I needed across my five years, particularly in niche subject-areas, but I think the downfall of the library was in it’s organizational structure (or lack thereof). Books here are so neatly compartmentalized, it was super easy to navigate around despite it being my first visit. The librarians are incredibly friendly, and so knowledgeable, I’m actually headed back tomorrow to get some recommendations from them. There’s also so much access online here. Despite these resources, I hope never to become someone supporting the paywall – I hope to continue fighting for open-access.

My morning pretty much went there. I cycled back past the University Library and the bookshops and came back home resolving to spend the day reorganizing and studying. I achieved the first – moving the position of some shelves to make the books I borrowed more easily accessible to me from the table, and I managed to set up some stuff I had put off for a while (my music and Kannada stuff largely). The second has been a real uphill climb.

I spent a while tweaking the system I developed yesterday and unlocking OneNote’s true potential (what an insane tool it is), and then I slowly waded my way through two articles, before realizing I’d done just two, but it was 11pm. I really need to get my mojo back – not in the least because at this pace I’ll be weeks behind my reading before classes kick off. The other downside is that I won’t have the time to do reading I enjoy outside of Law, so its best to get into a rhythm quick. Tonight and tomorrow, I say. I’ve made myself a big mug of tea to keep me company too. Very in-theme.

Slowly and steadily, my Outlook inbox is being flooded with e-mails from the different things I signed myself up for during the Fresher’s Fair. I’m glad I haven’t paid for any memberships as yet, because I don’t think I’d be able to do justice to more than a couple judging by the term cards and mailing lists, but I need to figure out which ones I’m most keen about and sign up to them in the next week or two so I can enjoy them to the fullest. I’ve already had to apologize to Eton Fives for not being able to make their taster session owing to clashing commitments.

Such is life, and life is such. It’s nice to be a busy bee after six months of self-imposed busyness.