An Open Letter to Ashoka University

Edited by: Tanvi Achwal UG 2021

Dear Ashoka,

I’m leaving on 17th May.  Can you believe that it’s already time? When I first started off as a fresher, the ug19 tag used to bother me, and make me silently laugh too. Spelling out 2019 was humorous, almost ridiculous to me, because it seemed so far away.

Three years seem like a lot, and that’s why life seems like it’s even longer. There is so much to get past. But I have realised that while a lot does go past you, it doesn’t have to take time. In fact, it does not. If you are anything like me, years exhaust themselves faster than the rate at which you can comprehend this process. But life, itself, seems like a collection of quick moments, each passing every time you blink. And, before you know it, you’ve blinked through your allotted three years.

 

Maybe this is why so many of my batchmates don’t sleep at night. They are too wary of letting time slip away. Yep, that explains a lot.

 

I remember coming here in the August of 2016, confident that I’d be the star kid here like I was back in my school. I was one-hundred percent delusional. But if there is one thing I’m truly grateful to you for, Ashoka, it is for knocking a sense of reality into me.

 

Sure, we are twenty-six kilometres removed from the national capital, and landlocked by farmlands, villages and a noisy highway. Sure, there is no conventional sense of civilization around the campus, and our only real neighbour is Asawarpur. Sure, our ‘reality’ is constructed from the intellectual fervour that lives within the campus, and our political correctness has made us a real pain in the necks of our family back home. Sure, we are in a bubble that keeps us happy and lets us own a campus-specific risqué wardrobe that we cannot even imagine carrying out of here. And sure, our progressiveness seems like a social construct that will shatter in the face of the truths that lie beyond these red-brick walls. Despite all of this (which is a lot), I can say with some pride and enormous surprise that, because of you, Ashoka, I cannot recognise the Shivangi of 2016 anymore.

I was the most invigorated when I was dancing here. My time with the dance team and on the stage in front of cheering crowds has given me a happiness that does not go away. I have choreographed, taught, rehearsed and performed. What is beautiful, is that I have never once gotten tired of it. Dance has been innate to me for my entire life, but you gave me people to share that passion with: people who danced with me and people who showed up every time to watch. Dance has given me my closest friends. I hope to put up one final performance before I leave for good. You will remember that, won’t you?

 

As a student, I went through numerous classes. Some were quite the blur, where everything went over my head. Some left an impact. These classes gave me conversations and ideas and introduced me to some exceptional professors. I have shared meals and chats even outside classrooms with these professors, and it has been moving. Away from the classroom chatter, my professors told me stories about where they come from, what and whom they love, and what is life like for them. I observed their quirks and their laughter. Their concerns humanised them, and I saw them as more than just PhD laureates delivering lectures. Suddenly, they were mentors who cared about their students, parents who had children, and people who had spouses waiting for them at great distances.

I had to watch friendships disintegrate. A very wise senior told me in the first semester, “if you think you are going to get graduation pictures with the exact set of people you got your freshers’ pictures with, you’re wrong”. While that is quite cynical, and I’m sure there are certain outliers who managed to hold on to their friends through these years, I indeed lost friends. For as long as I am here, I have to go around campus, passing by them, sharing elevator rides with them, and not give in to the pain. I learnt that not everybody puts in the same kind of fight into friendships. I also learnt that it’s okay, and that my former friends have a side of the story that is theirs alone, which comes from what they had on their plate. In respect of that, I must move on.

 

In spite of some sour experiences, Ashoka, you have left me rich in relationships. I am not one to have scores of friends, but I can safely say that I have made valuable friendships, which I hold very close to my heart. I have friends I can safely cry around, friends who will make me talk when they know I need to. These friends have looked out for me and have given me a very genuine, no-nonsense love. Despite the chaos that is an Ashokan’s schedule, they have found time every now and then to share a meal or a walk with me. At the end of every day, it is them I go home to. I am afraid that this will change after we graduate. But relationships evolve regularly, and I can hardly change that. I am sure that, if my friendships were worthwhile, they will evolve and still stand, holding me up like they have till now.

 

To be able to put down all my thoughts about you, I will need  two more of these letters. I am so thankful to you Ashoka! I know that my experiences are hardly representative of the others in my cohort, but I do know for a fact that all of us grew with you, in our own ways. In our little enclosed space of twenty-five acres or so, we all learned each other’s faces and names, bonded over cold coffees and dhaba food, realised truths about life that seemed quite revolutionary to our nascent minds, and had the time of our lives.

Undoubtedly, we hated you for brief moments. At least once, if not more, we all regretted having left everything behind to come live with you in smoggy, isolated farmlands. But in the May of this year, when we leave you for good, I am sure no one will think it’s good riddance. We will make more return trips than you’d like us to make, and we will talk about you incessantly wherever we go. As a dear professor said before leaving Ashoka in the past year, “Being an Ashokan will be an indelible part of our identities”. I will miss you so much.