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 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 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.

MT Week 0: Day 2

As I look over today to recall the mental impressions that today’s events have created in my head, I am left knowing Cambridge is going to give me the opportunity to experience things I had looked forward to, but also things I did not anticipate doing here.

After setting up a bank account I came home to get going on the reading lists for the first lectures of term – and in a recurring theme today, I spent a large amount of time trying to figure out the most optimal strategy for note-taking. We were informed yesterday that exams this year were going to be conducted as 24-hour, online, open-book exams. As a consequence, preparing myself is both a combination of doing readings to stay up-to-speed with things, and preparing quickly-searcheable, well-organized notes. That’s a task and a half. I seem to have, at present, found a system that leads to some level of recall, which is helpful to get started, but I think it’s going to undergo a lot of change as time passes and I learn more about what the expectations are per course.

A few hours later I headed to Eddie’s to complete some errands and then went out for a game of tennis. We don’t have a tennis club at College, so a few of us created a Social Tennis group, which about describes the level of tennis fitness I have at the moment, and the level I’d be committed to playing. Tennis is one of those sports where the fun you have is largely based on how evenly matched two players are, which I think is true of most racquet sports, and this afternoon, it was rather lovely to find somebody about the same skill-level as me. He outplayed me, and I lost 3-6 to be fair, but we’re both figuring out our service game and getting back into the swing of things, which makes for good fun.

Another cycle ride home and I sat to work on more reading. In the evening I attended to the Tolkien Society: a society dedicated to J.R.R. Tolkien and exploring all of his works, and some family calls, ate my dinner, and now I’m sitting back to do reading once more.

You’ll notice I’ve said I’m reading multiple times in this post. Being very honest with myself though, I don’t think I’m reading much at all. I still have the same few PDFs I started the day with open, because my brain keeps fluttering away, but I’ve got to get stuck into it and keep trying till I get back into a rhythm. I’m noticing here that each day is going to be very different this first week (till I find a schedule at least), and so, it’s probably best to slot out the number of hours I want to be doing something rather than trying to sort out a specific time I want to be doing an activity.

I’ve also begun to journal – which is weird, given that I run this blog, but that serves a completely different purpose. It’s more writing as well!

MT Week 0: Day 1

So this is it? Michaelmas Term has commenced.

I’m done with my first official, official day at the University of Cambridge. Two officials are necessary since I’ve been here a while now, I’ve matriculated on a different day, the academic session started a week ago, but today, things felt like they meant more.

This morning I finally had the chance to meet my buddy at St. Edmund’s, who is on the fast-track 2-year Tripos Law program. Most Colleges create College families for freshers, but as a mature College, Eddie’s offers buddies to help us adjust to life here and ask questions we may otherwise feel like holding in. Very helpful. As both of us are Law students we attended a meeting with our DoS, Dr Sean Butler – as well as our Fellow, Ms Catherine Dobson. Apart from offering up free sandwiches, both of them were super encouraging. Coming here this year, amidst how uncertain everything is, and how imminent another lockdown appears was a risk, and it’s very gratifying to know that some faculty and staff recognize that. I think the struggle with everything moving online is making the most of all the social events Cambridge has to offer and the experience that it is; but every one is really working toward providing a safe atmosphere in which we can enjoy them. I think the only issue with that is the level of responsibility thrust upon every individual, and I can only hope everyone takes it seriously.

Post-that we had our LLM induction – which felt like it stretched on a little, but was essential for the Faculty to carry out, to provide us with all the information we need before we get into the reading. Finals this year are set to be carried out all online – as 24-hour, open-book exams. I have very mixed feelings about that decision, but I know I’ll have to now account for this method of examination while doing my readings and preparing notes per course as well, so I’m appreciative of their decision to announce this policy so early on in the year.

In the evening I cooked myself some pasta, attended a theological study group, and was able to reflect on everything this past week brought as I edited the podcast. It’s been surreal. My plans for tonight are to figure out how to actually allocate pieces of my time to reading – and to reply to my messages, because I feel friendships from afar slipping away slightly as my replies delay beyond 24 hours.

Another side-thing happening at the moment is that we’re trying to mobilize my school’s alumni association. So if you’re an Inventurer reading this, please reach out – we need the support.

Pre-Term: Day #8

Today’s the last day before Term actually begins, and this becomes a #Camblog for a short period of time. I can’t think of how this day could have been better. I woke up this morning and recorded a lovely episode of the podcast with my mother, which gave me a chance to think about how I dealt with some things before I came to University. You can listen to that tomorrow if you’d like. While eating breakfast I managed to catch-up with my childhood best friend after a week or so, which felt very strange especially given how we were speaking every day for nearly five months – and I went off to the Cambridge Union.

I debated during my undergraduate degree, and I enjoyed the activity. It gave me the opportunity to improve logical reasoning skills and make new friends, but it also brought back my reading habit. I don’t think I was the best debater at University, not by a long shot – but I had fun with it. When we were there, I remember discovering the debate clips from the Oxford Union and the Cambridge Union. Close friends of mine studied at Oxford and I was able to ask them what the Union there was like. I never asked friends at Cambridge about it, and I’m glad I hadn’t. This morning, I had my breath taken away from me. The Union is stunning. The building itself is just wonderful to look at, but the history – and the way it’s preserved is delightful. I was taken by the Chamber, and taken by the fact that the bicentennial debate was This House is not what it used to be.

How else to mark changing times?

They were kind enough to sponsor free ice-cream after the tour, a double-chocolate cone at Jack’s Gelato was my pick. A walk to Eddie’s to collect goodies & check my pidge, a quick stop at Sainsbury’s for some groceries, and I cycled back home to eat my lunch and finish some meetings.

The evening was actually when things really kicked off. I went to Wilko’s and picked up a kettle and some colourful pens I needed, cycled around Cambridge with a friend from Bangalore, and cycled up to Eddie’s once again – using a new route I discovered on Google Maps that makes the hill climb bearable. We played table tennis out in the rain; and I haven’t found a sport more thrilling, particularly because the wind made it seem like I had some incredible top-spin ability.

I’ve been back home for a while, and was able to catch-up with my household. Living with a family is really nice because you always come home to people – and it’s always pleasant to talk about new experiences you’re having with locals, to whom all of the foreign-ness I am experiencing must sound absurd.

Like I said earlier though – tomorrow is when Michaelmas Term begins.

From the Statutes and Ordinances of the University of Cambridge
The Michaelmas Term shall begin on 1 October and shall consist of eighty days, ending on 19 December. The Lent Term shall begin on 5 January and shall consist of eighty days, ending on 25 March or in any leap year on 24 March. The Easter Term shall begin on 10 April and shall consist of seventy days ending on 18 June, provided that in any year in which full Easter Term begins on or after 22 April the Easter Term shall begin on 17 April and end on 25 June.

To quip in Hindi, feel aata hai. These small bits of tradition give me joy – and I’m pretty eager to see how much my days change now that the University is in full-swing. I already know, for example, that tomorrow is packed with inductions and introductions, yet somehow, I need to attend a Virtual Fresher’s Fair to get to know about the Societies I want to join – and sign up to as many e-mail lists as I can. I’m also hopeful there will be free merchandise, but we shall see.

Pre-Term: Day #7

Today has been a very amusing day.

This morning I woke up and ran in the rain, which was a first for me. It’s taking some acclimatizing, and I’m being forced to pick between running quickly to warm up, and running slowly so I can actually complete a decent run. It’s very entertaining for me to look at how my head makes these decisions, and makes me more curious about seeing the inside of my brain one day. I do hope that becomes possible in my lifetime.

A solid run later, we were scheduled to walk from St. Edmund’s to Grantchester Meadows, a 3 mile walk – and so I walked to college, adding a mile to my own count for the day. Grantchester is a stunning little meadow close by to Cambridge with a little village and everything, where the Bloomsbury Group used to do a lot of thinking & writing. The walk was very pretty, and I was in excellent company, keeping me in rather good spirits in the cold and the rain (the real feel at one point said 6 degrees – so the worst is yet to come). What absolutely dampened most people’s joie de vivre was the discovery that The Orchard, our destination for the day, was shut. We walked back and I returned to the warmth of my home, hoping to spend the evening on some work.

I ended up playing some videogames and attending QuizSoc’s Fresher’s Pub Quiz – making new friends, instead. The quiz was super fun, and I really love attending new quizzes to see how innovative people get in coming up with unique rounds that they can add into their quizzes. There was a letters round today – asking you to find the letter that sets two words whose definitions were presented apart. For example, you’d see the part of the alimentary canal below the stomach; the intestine and round, circular dinnerware. That would be bowel and bowl, making the letter e the letter setting them apart. Another round was dingbats, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

A bit of work on our school’s alumni association, some international law reading, and writing this blog – and I’m a very pleased man going to bed, hoping to wake up in time for another run out in the rain.

Pre-Term: Day #5

Today was my matriculation day.
Matriculation marks the formal admission of a student to membership of the University, and means we sign a Matriculation Registration Form, promising to observe the Statutes and Ordinances of the University and to pay due respect and obedience to the Chancellor and other officers of the University.

Of course, there’s that aspect of things – the signing of a form (which has taken place electronically for the moment, and will happen in small groups at matriculation soirees). However, this was the first day I got to wear my academic gown. I’ve been a fan of tradition for a long time. While hoping for increased accessibility to people from more diverse backgrounds, Universities set themselves apart with these little traditions. Even back in India, IIT-Bombay, for example, hosts their graduation in Indian traditional outfits. I enjoy that. So wearing the academic dress was quite lovely – and to me, in this chilly weather, I started to recognize that perhaps it was born out of practicality. You know, an additional layer worn on top of formals to feel warm, but still appear formal.

The matriculation itself was just a quick little photograph; but what followed was the chance to meet two friends: one who has the same personality type as me, and another whose research interests align very closely with my own – both incredibly fun. Subsequent to that was the chance for photographs. I’m someone who is always game for photographs, but rarely know how to ask people to take them of me. I was in luck – with me were two photographer friends, both who have a wonderful eye for detail and direction, but a lot of patience too. And thus, we went around St. Edmund’s in the morning, and Cambridge at night – taking photos everywhere we pleased. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite photo given the range we captured, from formal ones outside Trinity Lane at night, to me pretending to be a wizard with a twig. If only I had a broomstick too.

Cambridge at night has a completely different vibe to it. There’s very few people out on the streets, a lot more open space, and it’s very dimly lit. It definitely looks like Hogwarts. In my head, I always imagined the colleges themselves to be a source of light to the town. I don’t mean this figuratively, I mean it literally. They’re so large that I anticipated every room to carry a source of light and allow for the streets to be well-lit. How wrong I was. This night has been memorable though: for the company, the photographs, and the slow-cycling competition outside Gonville & Caius College (I’m glad we didn’t try doing that till the Corpus Clock).