Janhavi Sharma, Young India Fellow’ 2020 In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the city of Delhi, lies
Cecilia Costa Da Luz, Class of 2021
I procrastinated writing this essay way too many times this past week. Going down memory lane during finals week is like opening a Pandora’s Box: you never know what you will come across. Anyways, here I am with my Google Photos open, trying to make sense of the year gone by.
Ashoka came into my life as a refuge from choosing my major (and consequently my career for the rest of my life) right after high school
— in Brazil, my homeland, you pick a major and commit to it, there are no second chances. A year after graduating from high school, and I still have no idea about what I want to study. I have changed my major at least 5 times throughout this semester. As of today, I will study Political Science, but that might change if you speak to me next week.
As soon as I landed here for the first time I quickly noticed how Indians and Brazilians have so many things in common: Friendliness, openness to new people and situations, and the art of gambiarra – a Portuguese word for alternative engineering, or as I prefer to call, smart improvisation. Most especially, we share a passion for life and strength to fight any adversity.
I made my way through everyday life here with a memorised “aap kaise hai?” “main theek soon, or aap?” that helped me befriend the didis on my floor. I now moved on to memorise my staple order at THC, hoping that one day Mohit bhaiya will stop laughing at my attempts to converse in Hindi.
Looking back at my very first night on campus, a friendly third year took me out to celebrate my arrival. I had my first supper at the Dhaba, and about 30 minutes after, I could really feel it in my guts, this year would not be an easy one. My body fought with every fibre that we had to keep strong, but still, I was admitted to the infirmary with food poisoning way more often than I wish to recount here. A friend of mine once said that a stomach that can handle India can handle everything. I hope the same applies to the rest of me as well.
Once back in good shape, I found myself at a new place, ready to embrace the entirety of my being. Before this, I was stuck with the same couple of classmates since kindergarten, which gave me barely any opportunities to forge new friendships. At Ashoka, however, I was given a blank slate to start afresh, miles and miles away from everyone I have ever known. This was scary at first but it was a world full of possibilities where I could try everything I ever wanted — arts, swimming, poetry, politics, badminton, baking, writing. I tried a bit of everything trying to make sense of who I wanted to be.
Too foreign to go out in the streets unnoticed. Often times too foreign among the foreign students for I didn’t have anyone else who shared my homeland and spoke my mother tongue. I tried day after day to conciliate the person that I knew with the foreignness that was attached to me as a label. I tried to navigate my existence at this foreign place in search of some familiarity. At times, I must admit that I became foreign to myself. And then in one typical smoggy morning in Sonepat, I realised that deep searches for meaning often take away the attention from the small details of everyday life. It’s impossible to see the butterflies flying around the Ashokan gardens when you are too busy questioning whether or not you would ever fit in that scenario. I chose to be a misfit, and embrace the idea of an ever-changing self.
During my second semester at Ashoka, I took Great Books with Professor Burgers. We read Mary Wollstonecraft and her advocacy for blurring the line between public and private spaces. Nearly 200 years after she passed away, I wonder what she would think about this peculiar Indian college that holds classes not farther than 50 meters from its residencies. Such an architectural style poses essential questions such as “is it okay to attend classes on my pyjamas?”, “is this my place or my college?”. With my first year at Ashoka coming to an end, I would like to think that I was able to make this place a home – where I am lucky enough to roam around in PJs.
Image Credits: Cecilia Costa Da Luz, Class of 2021