Guest Columnist: Shauryavardhan Sharma, UG’21
Ashoka University. Plot Number 2. Campus. Home. Outskirts of Delhi, if one is pressed into being geographically accurate (it’s just Delhi otherwise). There are myriad ways in which we describe this University, but these descriptions also reveal something more fundamental. What is Ashoka to us? How do we attempt to pin down the incomprehensible in a tangible way? As I start a third year at this nascent institution – which, to be fair, is by now home to seven undergraduate batches – these are questions I think about with the retrospective energy that creeps up on you with time; a hindsight you didn’t know you had, but now you do. I do not wish to answer these questions, for there is no one concrete answer. These are just thoughts.
All of us would agree that we have a love-hate degree with Ashoka. Holding a mirror to the interdisciplinary nature of education we receive, our feelings regarding this 25 acre of land – which seems to feel smaller with each passing year – are also the confluence of starkly different views coming from opposite ends of the spectrum of emotions. At the one end, no one can escape from the privilege we bring with us that contributes to Ashoka being a bubble of sorts, with an aloofness not limited to its unenvious locale. Then there’s the unpleasant bits, at least to me: a culture of partying that sometimes boils over, flashes of substance abuse, harassment and the lot that a university often runs the risk of housing – not that it should. Why does one stay at Ashoka then? What is the draw? Why do these feelings compel me to pen this note? One can argue that maybe it’s because of the beauty of the faculty we enjoy, the moments with them that blow our minds, the sheer joy of unlearning and relearning with hallowed names and remarkably able peers. But that’s only one half of the picture, and even that is putting it generously.
Ashoka to a lot us is a commitment. It’s a promise made to ourselves, it’s a crucible in which we undertake the most personal of journeys of transformation and betterment. For a lack of a better phrase, it is a clean slate upon which we have full freedom for the first time, to take control of our own journey, of our own lives, of our own choices. Just as a thought experiment, I would urge everyone to go back to August of 2018 (when my batch joined) or whenever you joined Ashoka, and just look at the pictures in your gallery from then till now, present-day. Going over the pictures over the last two years, as I embark on possibly my last year on campus, what do these photos tell me? They tell me a story of change, they tell me a story of new friendships, of broken friendships, of crazy nights, of hard struggles, stories of personal growth, stories of learning how to cook, stories of learning how to fend for myself, stories of getting to explore new places and opportunities, stories of atrium parties, stories at the Dhaba, stories in Asawarpur, stories at trying to catch the last shuttle at Jahangirpuri, stories from the smoking room, stories of decorating our rooms, stories of impromptu dance parties out SH3, stories of heartbreaks, and stories of love. The common catalyst in all of this? Ashoka.
This is the range of emotions from the other side of the spectrum, and the story of how it plays out when interacting with the negatives of Ashoka. We protest, we raise our voices, we take part in student politics, we try to reform, we try to hold our college to higher standards, because Ashoka reflects a radical act and a radical vision. This being the uniqueness in trying to define what Ashoka is, we mould Ashoka into what our dreams and aspirations are, what we imagine our safe places are, what we imagine our friendships to be, what we imagine a home to be. In shaping our spaces in this university, we end up shaping this university itself. Each of us has a piece of Ashoka that we claim to be ours and ours only, be it a space that we hold dear, a day we hold dear, a time we hold dear or people we hold dear. In each small act of imagining and molding Ashoka to our own personal visions and individual longings, we also incomprehensibly give this place a jointness, a silent throbbing identity that like a prism reflects different colours for everyone, but is unique in the oneness it offers in it’s totality.
This is Ashoka, myriad in its interpretations reflected in how each of us define it, but a home for all it’s kindred spirits. A hasty retreat is all I pine for.