by Slok Gyawali, International Relations
South Asian University for me, like most other students who’ve enrolled, was not my first choice. Yet through a series of choices I find myself a month in, and almost institutionalized as a SAU student. If this month is any indicator of the next two years I will be surprised if I walk out of Akbar Bhavan for the last time with my pants on the right side – the hallmark of any sane person. This first month has taken liberties with my nerves; I’ve experienced the depth of boredom, and height of ecstasy, and everything in between.
Thank god first impressions are not last impressions. For if they were,one look at the temporary building of SAU and I would have turned around at the gate, got back into the rickshaw, and requested that I were taken straight to the airport. Fortunately, having spent a significant sum of money on the air ticket to Delhi, and lacking the amount to purchase a return voucher this was just a fleeting thought. At the gate the guards looked suspiciously at me, and asked my business. I meekly replied “bhaiya, admission”. He gave me the go ahead. Two steps in, and I faced another gang of guards, armed police, and a security machine. Wow, I thought, this building must really be important.
For a first timer in SAU, the hauntingly decrepit look of the building, coupled with the “What to do if there is an earthquake” board at the entrance doesn’t help one relax. And it takes a great effort of will to find the admission office and finally complete the enrollment. Having enrolled in the afternoon I waited till dinner to finally get some grub into my system, only to be left high and dry. It so happened that a protest broke out in the mess. “The damn chicken is infected! This chicken is not for humans!” shouted someone, while another group choired in “the veggies are rotten!” “No one eat! Students unite…say no to mess food! No to this damn food!” was the rallying cry. Grudgingly, for the sake of scholarly brotherhood, most of us agreed. One for all and all for one…and all that jazz.
This unity, however, was short lived. Internal discontent, negotiation with the enemy, and the general sense of starvation prevailed, miraculously cleansing the previously inedible chicken. Most students relented. In hindsight this surrender seems to have carried with it a paradoxical symbolic value. I shall explain: The waving of the white flag that day was, a way of stressing “We are here, and we’ve come to stay; do your worst, give us rotten veggies, and inedible chicken, give us broken elevators, and rooms with no internet excess, go on do your worst, we will not leave, we will not give up!”
And most of the students haven’t. Perhaps we haven’t left because of the inconvenience of leaving, or the probably it’s the comfort of habit, I can’t be tell for certain, but the idealist in me wants to believe that there something more noble. Maybe a growing sense of community, or perhaps even a sense of hope. A sense of community that leads us to look for The Indian Express with dread anytime it publishes an article on SAU; and a hope that this university can be a great university, that it was a good decisions coming here, a hope that this university will not let us down. In the last month all of us, students and professors alike, have thought about these issues, haven’t we? Yet most of us have stayed.
Dear readers do not misunderstand me; by no means has the last month been a breeze. Look around, there is so much left to be done before this university finds the right footing. A month in this university has made me realize that I am not what I thought I was. Finishing college and working for a year had me convinced that I was an adult, capable of interacting with different people as colleagues. But the moral policing of gender interaction via policy of segregation has lead to me to question it. Do the higher-ups in SAU decision making circles have no trust in its students? Are we not adults? How is it we can be trusted to be in the army, in politics, in civil services, and not trusted to interact with each other as respectable people?
I thought studying 12 hours a day was enough to keep up with the readings; the International Relations faculty clearly is out to prove me wrong. Additionally, I falsely believed I was an aware member of society who knew his region well. This is not so. Coming in contact with so many people with such diverse stories has me convinced that there is so much yet to see.
South Asian University, like South Asia, is filled with contradictions. A bag filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly. A month in and I’ve seen students, normally good and decent folks, bully and disrespect mess workers. I’ve seen students cat-call their classmates. I’ve seen the educated youth litter their university and waste energy, and yet I’ve seen a tradition of sharing emerge, whether it’s during Friday chicken night, on the badminton court, or with the ice-cream-walla outside the gate. I’ve seen people from different nationalities, and religion, debate “controversial” issues in the mess and leave having earned each other’s respect. I’ve seen traditions grow, and that is special.
My uncle used to play this game with us, perhaps you’ve played it too, he would name something and we would have to describe it in one word. The word that comes to mind when I think about my first month here is: confusing. I’m confused about why I came here, and about why I’ve decided to stay. I am confused about what my course demands, and what I am capable of. It would be a horrible, and clichéd, tautology to say confusion has me confused, but there you go I’ve said it. This confusion gets overwhelming at times,and even borders on anxiety. But then I do have 2 years to figure this all out, don’t I?
I don’t know what the future holds, but I know we have the luxury of looking back in time; so rewind a month into the past, before you joined SAU, and compare it with yourself now. Is your life richer now than before? The answer, dear readers, makes all the difference.