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 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 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.