by Shilpa George, LLM
Being a day scholar at the South Asian University, places you in a rather disadvantaged position, considering that pretty much most of the University lives on the premises. It is a fact I have discovered for myself because I am part of that minority that haggles with the auto wallah on a daily basis regarding which side of the road he should drop me and at what cost. Apart from the fact that you get to go back to the proverbial ‘Maa ka Aanchal’ and the comfort of home-cooked food (considered a luxury at SAU!!), there is little else that is of advantage. I end up getting late, almost every other day; I am not really ‘clued in’ on the happenings; I even ended up missing an extra class because I had not known of the announcement and was the last one to know about Rickshaw’s creative writing initiative/competition.
Yet I venture to write. My perspective…
It has been a little over a month at the South Asian University and the experience for me has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. What with home and hearth and husband and a happy yet unpredictable 3 year old!! I mean what was I thinking when I set out to crack an entrance for a subject, whose academic content, had eluded me for years? But here I was with a decade old Bachelors and a work-ex spanning a plethora of pursuits, having actually cracked it and ready to be admitted to a University whose very name evokes a sense of Diversity.
Though the idea of studying in an ‘International University’, in the heart of the city I call home, was nothing short of surreal for me, there is nothing particularly ‘surreal’ about the University. At least not yet…It is a fledgling University, working hard to make its presence felt, striving to make its corridors ‘hallowed’ and struggling to meet the expectations of a mixed bag of folks like us from nations that are generally good at cribbing and murmuring.
Indeed my ‘surreal experience’ had begun to sour a little when I walked into the building to take an admission. Considering I had studied at institutions, like St Stephen’s where the history of the buildings housing the various departments, was spoken of in hushed and revered tones and the walls themselves seemed to exude a sense of pride and belonging, there was nothing particularly charming about the erstwhile Akbar Hotel, now called Akbar Bhawan, home to a Ministry of the Government of India, with more security guards than students. Except may be the hope of meeting Minister Vayalar Ravi, in the elevator. It is a dream that hasn’t and perhaps won’t see the light of day… I am told he sits at his ‘other’ office.
Nevertheless, as the old adage goes ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.’ So I went ahead and took admission.
Classes began about 10 days later and by the end of Day One, I was a little overwhelmed, to say the least, by the sheer variety of people who had walked into this class. It was then that the ‘magic’ began to unfold. Slowly yet surely, the layers of straitjacketed rules, the constant whine of lack of attendance, were lifted so I beheld a Vision of the South Asian University…
Of a President who inspires many to join him in the endless quest for wisdom. Of a Dean who encourages each to become Reformers. Of Teachers who teach with a passion and ‘want’ you to question them, who are concerned about their own level of knowledge being up to date and humble enough to accept that they too are ‘students’ in a sense. Of assignments, the material for which has to be ‘first discovered’, then ‘invented’ and then presented ‘pragmatically.’
The class mates are no less magical. The whole idea of sitting in a class of nationals from various South Asian countries itself is well, almost, imaginary. I mean, to me, it is one thing to watch an immaculately dressed Hina Rabbani Khar, spout foreign policy and quite another to see equally immaculate Pakistani women, utter ‘Maashaallah ’ in delicate tones, when they hear of my juggling act back home! Or to discuss the fact that string hoppers of Sri Lanka and the Noolappam/Idiappam of Kerala are country cousins. Indeed it is magical to see the passionate arguments made in favour of harmonising the ‘South Asian identity.’
Learning diplomacy in the way one approaches a topic of conversation, in consideration of the Significant Other, whose country might view the same issue in a diametrically opposite way and yet have the freedom to make your point and even argue it, is powerful exercise. Imagine in a couple of years from now, the folks at SAARC meet only to realise that all the policy makers were once SAU students!!! Conflicts will indeed be ‘resolved’ and peace will ‘prevail’ in a scenario such as this.
I have reason to believe that this was PM Manmohan Singh’s secret wish when the idea of a SAARC university germinated in his mind. I mean what better situation than to have policy makers who were all once college mates!
So here’s to Argumentative Indians, Passionate for a Cause Pakistanis, Bold Bangladeshis, the Never-Say- Die Afghanis, Opinionated Sri Lankans, Assertive Maldivians, the Strong Nepalese and the Resilient Bhutanese and the equally powerful minority of Non-SAARC nations like Eritrea as together we embark on this magical journey to deliberate upon how together, we can traverse the Road to Unity, replete with twists and turns, straight roads, speed breakers, stop signals and roadblocks and… who knows may be ultimately, reach it?!!
As for me, I am eager to be part of the Magic!
So here’s to a glorious and magical month at SAU…and many more to come!