By Deep Vakil, Class of 2020 Following the events of the Vice-Chancellor’s Townhall, which inter alia
Nishant Kauntia, Class of 2018
The Banjaara team this year took various measures to keep us in check during the fest. Students of Ashoka were requested to sign a pledge of responsibility before the event. Posters were put up especially for Ashokans requesting us to comply with the university staff. These precautions were deemed necessary for the students of Ashoka, and nobody was surprised that they were taken.
Yet, let us take off our Ashoka hoodies for a minute, and imagine visiting Ashoka for the fest as an outsider. Would you not find it absurd that there are posters in the university requesting the university’s own students to be kind to the staff? What impression of the students would you leave with? More importantly for us, what kinds of students does this university have?
You would think that we would be dying in shame that these posters were required at all. The absolute opposite was the reality. A sizable population of the Ashokan undergraduates still took issue with showing their ID cards to the guards during Banjaara. Somehow, those posters pissed us off rather than nudging us to bear the inconvenience for a couple days. The newly-made critical thinkers of Ashoka seem to read ‘cooperation’ as ‘submission’. Unfortunately, behind our noble spirit to question authority lies a much less noble sentiment of entitlement.
Entitlement is a word we’re all tired of hearing, though; so allow me to introduce a new word for the Ashokan discourse — solipsism.
In philosophy, solipsism is the view that the self is the only thing that can be known to exist. Indeed, this is an extension of the Cartesian view that has been engraved on Ashoka’s dining hall, “I think, therefore I am.” Everything and everybody around me might not be not as real as I am. In other words, as far as I know, I am more real than everything that exists.
There is an element of solipsism in every act of entitlement that we’re all tired of getting scolded for. Indeed, I myself am guilty of many of them. Take, for example, that we throw plastic and paper waste in the food bin; or puke all over campus after getting drunk; or don’t wash the dishes after using them in the pantry; or leave a talk in the middle because we don’t find it worth our time; or get irritated at the mess staff if we have to wait for food (more on this in future).
These are all acts that require us to not consider the larger community we live in, and be concerned only with our own solipsistic endeavors. It is the proclamation that I can be whoever I want to be, and the repercussions of my behavior will be taken care of by less real, less important parts of the Ashokan community. In light of this, it is understandable that the Banjaara team had to remind us again and again that the guards and the residence life teams are ‘only doing their jobs’. This reminder is a direct response to solipsism, an attempt to make us realize that other people matter and have perspectives that must be taken into account in our own behavior.
Gamers will testify that the kind of solipsistic behavior displayed by us at times is not far from how we’d behave in an artificial simulation. Everything else is programmed to work for me, and any barrier to my enjoyment is a shortcoming of the game developer (the administration, in this case). This leads us to another interesting observation — the Ashoka experience is viewed not as a community that learns together but a commodity that has been bought for my benefit. If the commodity falls short in any way, the administration that sold it to me must be blamed for not delivering the promised product.
The problem, of course, is that people who walk around with delusions about their own supreme existence inevitably become nightmares to deal with. Strike a conversation with the guards in the common rooms or ICS staff, and they will tell you in great detail the exact ways in which we make their jobs excruciatingly tough. As a community, we are failing to recognize that other people’s experiences when dealing with us are as important as our experiences while dealing with them.
Should we not expect better from ourselves, and each other? Are we really fine with the fact that there was a genuine need for the posters the Banjaara team put up? I, for one, am not. I hope that these posters serve as a wake-up call and nudge us to think carefully about who or what we’re rebelling against, and why. Let us envision a Banjaara 2019 in which the need for these posters is not felt. All that we need to do in order to get there is, you know, to acknowledge that we’re not the only living, thinking, feeling people around.
I will end, then, with a quote from Shivam Sahu’s speech in the first debate of the election season this year –
“Ashoka me jo education job create karne ke liye hai, uske liye nahi aaye hain, insaan banne ke liye aaye hain.”
(We’re not at Ashoka for the education that will give us jobs, but the education that will teach us how to be human.)
Nishant Kauntia is the Editor-in-Chief of The Edict.