Notes from Semester Two

For many reasons, this was a strange semester. I know what you’re going to ask, but if I knew why, I’d have a more accurate adjective. I think it gets that way now that you’re actually in the muddy waters. The academic mess begins, you don’t have the luxury of starry-eyed “I don’t need to think about grades”, thinking about your writing makes you icky, positioning people around you gets unnecessarily weird, and you feel all your mess-ups intensely. It was also a long semester; “The Curse of the Even Semester”, apparently. (I’m writing on a Google Doc right now, and every minute I find myself reaching for the double-space option.) But I think this semester just happened to me in moments. I was busy oscillating between cringe-worthily hopeful and intellectually exhausted and pessimistic, and I couldn’t fully spot them. Unlike the tiny ladybug in the lawns.

I have so much to be grateful for: the performances (Alok-Vaid Menon, Sarah and Phil Kaye, Khusrau Ke Rang (again), Tajdar Junaid, Shubha Mudgal, Terra Guitar Quartet, Dhruv Viswanath, Soulmate, Indus Creed…whowouldathunk!), The Vagina Monologues (what a thing we pulled off!), the people I have held close for a year now (listen I need to see your faces, thanks), the growth (or so I hope). And a lot to look forward to: TEDxAshokaUniversity, more courses, juniors whoa (be good, kids). But here are some notes from/for Semester two:

Quoting is a Tradition Now

Back when we were still fresh and excited in the semester, I’d scribble down all the Professor-humour, the sass and the profundity during classes. So I just thought I’d document them. They were funny in the moment, promise. I have added context and my deeply personal reactions judiciously as and when required no extra. No filter, and I’m sure this is underestimation because I was so done by the end thanks.

Prof. Gilles Verniers, Social and Political Formations:

  1. On Phrenology. “Religiosity is at the top of the skull… Obviously, it had to be closest to the sky.”
  2. On The Suicide: “Cheerful topic!”
  3. On Mauss, gifts. “I got a fake crystal wine bottle in the shape of a bull (as a wedding gift)… it’s the most bizarre ugly thing… I still keep it because it makes me laugh.”
  4. Okay there was a story about him looking for a house. Contact Vishesh for expert impersonation (Jk he sux).
  5. “A dictator always talks to the nation as a whole, never individuals.”
  6. “Marrying within the gotra is basically to preserve the sanctity and sanity of the collective.” (looking around the house rn, don’t see no sanity m8.)
  7. On nationalism: “It also relies on the sentiment of belonging to something greater than a collective of individuals… when actually, they have just agreed not to kill each other!”
  8. “The Indian State is a strange animal… both strong and weak at the same time. Strong at policing and control, weak at welfare.”

Prof. Sandipto Dasgupta, Political Ideologies:

  1. “When I say the world, I mean Europe (at least for the first half of this course).” #DealingWithEurocentrism 101
  2. “*tries the mic* I feel like Bappi Lahiri. it’s absurd I can’t”
  3. “I mean, you can write a liberal Op-ed in Indian Express, you know… like everybody in Indian Express”
  4. *someone refers to something a female student said*: “Yeah, that’s what she said” Prof: …That’s what she said?? whAT??? What is happening in this class!
  5. “It is a travesty of Rousseau, but we’re going to do him in a half an hour capsule”
  6. “Kind of a Mickey Mouse definition of capitalism is…”

Prof. Jean Marc Deshouillers, Mathematical Thinking:

  1. Class 01: scribbles “Day-zoo-yay” on the board for pronunciation reference.
  2. “In mathematics, we want to be as less ambiguous as possible.”
  3. “Being in Uni means being more autonomous than in high school. You spot an interesting point and write it down. Of course, it is possible that there is no interesting point in this course!”
  4. “Of course, it helps to have some imagination while trying to prove something. But sometimes, you may get the wrong ideas.”
  5. “I don’t erase that because it is my theorem!”
  6. *trying to explain something* “Uh.. what I am saying.”
  7. “Let us take a statement: All cheap chinese watches are unreliable. Don’t say this to the Chinese Embassy, because I’d like to have my VISA renewed.”
  8. “Notation is very recent. That didn’t prevent them (in the 16th century) from doing mathematics… it was a mess!” Later in the same class: “It’s very easy to be a mess in mathematics.”
  9. “Statistics will help you make a decision, but it will not prove anything on its own.” YES TELL EM.
  10. “If you go to France– I hope you go to France– I hope you get a good baguette.”  
  11. On quantifiers and predicates: “It’s not to make abstract bullshit!… If you’re taking notes of this, just say abstract nonsense.”

Prof. Maya Saran, Mathematical Thinking: (She said so many wonderful things, don’t go by this gross version)

  1. On measurement: “There is no precise, but there is a precise idea.”
  2. “It just works.”
  3. On drawing graph-trees: “We want lots of action.” *class of 12-year olds laughs* *Queen Maya laughs* guys pls.
  4. “What we’re doing in our minds is… somewhat made up.” (How can someone be so gentle and wise pls how tell me.)
  5. “Okay, it looks like I got it quickly, but that’s because I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”

Prof. Ravindran Sriramachandran, Introduction to Sociology-Anthropology (aka the course with the fantastic readings):

  1. covering Enlightenment* “Europe had ‘arrived’, if you want”
  2. “Participant Observation. In some ways, the term is an oxymoron.”
  3. “Just imagine, this idea of a national culture is the most bogus term one can come up with!”
  4. “We don’t do anything because it means something.”
  5. On Geertz’s Balinese Cockfight: “This essay is like hopscotch.”
  6. On Nuclear Rites: “nuclear weaponry for peace is the ultimate deep play.” WOAH META AF.

Prof. Kranti Saran, Introduction to Philosophy (creating Kranti in da house alwayz)

  1. *writes an ontological scheme, with people and God towards the end* “I saved the false ones for the last.”
  2. “…and God! Everybody’s favourite non-existent object.”
  3. “Oh well, here’s an intention– I intend to levitate to the ceiling. *waits for a second* But it doesn’t happen.”
  4. “NO! There’s something missing in that explanation…*gasp*  God made it happen.”
  5. “Oh well, some people took the shuttle to the campus… I came here on a broom.”
  6. “Are you hot–uh, I’m sorry– are you feeling hot?”
  7. “*does a little dance* …I can’t believe I actually did that.”
  8. *goes on a five minute tangent about an epiphany on Hello Kitty* make it stop I can’t.
  9. “The mark of a conspiracy theory is that there are no accidents, no goofups.”
  10. On retreat to POV and probabilities: “This is the first brick.. The wall is going to come up, and you’re going to pay for it, but..” OHMYGOD.
  11. *Insert dead baby joke* (if someone remembers this, pls jog my memory pls.)
  12. “The fallibilist lives in the gap between truth and certainty.”
  13. “Writing well is one of the easiest ways of standing out.”
  14. “Never be overly impressed about surface similarities.”
  15. Hazelnut… god forbid.”
  16. “I don’t like the word “intersectionality”, but for aesthetic reasons.” All da kidz for whom this week was emotionally unpleasant puTCHYO HANDS UP.

Prof. Hariharan Krishnan, Film Appreciation:

  1. “swalpa adjist maadi.”
  2. “Chumma!”
  3. *a story of Edison’s lawyers being shot dead over film perforations* “Arrey, why are WE being perforated!”
  4. “Film distributors packed with inertia… they want to stay in the status quo as much as possible.”
  5. “1/48th of a second matters! It’s alive!” WHOOOOOSHHHH FRANKENSTEIN THROWBACK.
  6. “Comedy is serious business!”

TA-lking Through It All

I don’t know about you, but I think TAs are massively underrated. We sign up for the Professors– (I think 2019 kids know by now not to fall for course descriptions that much), hoping that they’re engaging, mind-blowing, funny, and charming and all the things you’ve been told about them. But often, TAs are the ones with the magic potion that fills in gaps between your classes and paper writing guidance and questions and ideas you’re stuck on and how curious you’re going to stay through the semester… and basically the whole darn course experience. I’ve been fascinated with their position since I got to Ashoka. How they orient themselves, how they sync with the Professor, what they see themselves as doing, how some of them can be so encouraging… the whole deal. But the TA experience of this semester was just off the roof. All the cool adjectives on this one.

Do you remember your fascination with the supermarket cashier as a kid? Yeah. That was me. The whole time. They were curious, they were sassy, they were kind, they were messier than we were, they were responsible, they were simple and patient, they procrastinated– again, like we did, they had foolish grins and held onto every strand of that naive hope, they were rooted in reality, most importantly they were still learning… they were just. Stunning. All of them. I don’t understand. I could never deal with them without breaking into a wide grin or squealing indecipherably at the next person.

So much would be happening in our lives– submissions, stumbling, having to carry on without direct incentive, friend troubles, campus issues, political ughs. But I’d just look at them and know exactly why I’m there. Why I decided to do this in the first place. Why they’re doing what they are. At the risk of this turning into a repetitive string of thank yous–

For Kunal Joshi and Ahona Palchoudhuri, thank you for making us feel like a family. You do not realise how much you’ve impacted us. Thank you for the goofy moments, for teaching us to pull the European old white dudes from the pedestal by their pants, the courage, the awareness, and the support. Just watching you function was a lesson in autonomy. Thank you for passing on the most exciting stories and the most memorable insights. Thank you for including us in the larger project of our world. And thank you for the glimpses of Belgium (I think Prof. Gilles won the bet!). If I’m not wrong, you’re off to do your Ph.D. We will all miss you terribly. (I’m not crying, you’re crying!)

For Ananya Sharma, thank you for listening. Thank you for considering me one of your own (technically I was a second-class citizen geddit), and for modeling for me the kind of patience and persistence I ought to have in matters I care about. Thank you for telling me we need to do this; I now know that even my unwarranted exhaustion is a choice. Thank you for those mails, the exhilarating class on feminism, and the expert balance. It has been great.

For Suneet Singh Puri, thank you for sticking with a clueless bunch. Thank you for the mails and the links and dealing with my naive suggestions with “yup, already seen that one”. (We’ve all been that person at some point, we know how it feels) Thank you for random talk and all the great work! Most importantly, thank you for skipping that weirdass intro to Rajeev Masand every single time. Stick around, maybe. (Also, where is that Construkt T-shirt.) For Ishanika Sharma, from FilmSoc to Placebo to peer-tutoring class to the Kashmir response piece, I’ve always wondered how you keep it all together and still stay warm to my e-mail tantrums and in-person awkwardness. Thank you.

For Ritika Singh, you made math so comfortable. Thank you for always, always being there. For loving us when we signed our attendance sheets, and for cherry-picking the good stuff when we didn’t know what was happening. Thank you for admitting gracefully the stuff on the board that didn’t add up; thank you for making math human. Thank you for making it so interesting, and for the much-needed illusion of mathematical thinking being everyone’s cup of tea. You sedimented what Prof. Saran would shake up in our minds, and I am thankful we had you along the way for answering our flustered e-mails and last-minute scares.

For Alishya Almeida, I know this was last semester, but you TA-made my first semester at college. There’s no way I’d forget that. Thank you for being so encouraging, and for seeing something in me even if I didn’t see it. Thank you for cutting me off when I had to be; it’s the most important thing you’ve taught me. Thank you for getting my ass to work when I was being stubborn. Thank you for all the MCC-talk, and the time and effort and conversation. Great Books was truly great.

This is not to overshadow my gratitude and love for the Professors– I’ve never enjoyed being in a classroom so much, friends and acquaintances– you guys are just too many to name, and I’m terrified of missing people from the list. You know who you are, thank you. I love you. Okay bye.

Anthro-Phil Need Some Chill

This semester was a lesson in being in the process. It was a grand reality check about just how un-cute interdisciplinarity can be. (Not the Symposium… for the most part.) It can be thrilling to find signs of one course in another, but it can also be lots of “oh god, not again” and consecutive classes of “uhhh, but” and disconcerting talks from a backseat in the audience. I think these are kinds of paradoxes and contradictions I’m not used to yet. But I’m sure one day I will realise that interdisciplinarity isn’t so much a venn diagram with smooth overlap. I think they’re more of a 3D spectacle with red and blue sheets I can slot disciplines in, and see a blurry world Inside Out. One day I’ll learn to wear them. For now, I’m just letting them Netflix in The Middle together. (Too many references? Too many references.)

My First Course Audit

I don’t think the OAA ever realised that I (and many others) took 6 courses despite the forbidding instruction. Pls don’t tell them. Pls.

I mean, I’d been to one-off classes last semester, but POL 101 was my first full-course audit. And it held me this semester like a boon. They’re right– Prof. Dasgupta is the most generous, unassuming, knows-his-shit-too-well-for-you-to-fathom, fun and judicious Professors to have. I still remember being confused between the SPF and POL readings syllabus, but we all came so far. Thank you for an extremely rewarding experience. “Do it if you want to!” are the most liberating words a student can hear. Thank you for that perfect balance of concession and responsibility. (I think I will get around to doing the work). I think saying more will just make it more inadequate, but I will keep this close for a long, long time.

Rooming Together

Bhairvi and I mastered space. Sure, we had little tiffs and miscommunications, but that’s mostly because I sucked. She knew exactly when we needed or had to be company, and exactly when we were supposed to space. 416 was a room that could expand and contract, and where the AC never determined how warm it could get. Thank you for dealing with my late-night tiptoeing and the exasperating farrago I was this year.

I think we can sum our motto in a line: sleep during the day, angry rant at night. I look forward to next year, roomie.

For the Seventh Floor 

You were my second home, especially during the last couple of weeks. Thank you for the shelter, the gossip, the food and the love. I rediscovered bonds and pasts, and made new friends in the cozy blankets, soft fairylights, instant coffee, buttloads of work, and collective coping. Thank you for not even being surprised at finding me in a random room (well, mostly either Devashree’s or Swetha/Chandana’s). And I’m glad a lot of us ended the Semester the way we started it. I send love.

Looking Ahead

My sense of time is messed up. But I’m trying to let the fact that it’s been a year sink in. I don’t even know what a year means. I was looking at all the sneaky pictures from this year, all the ones that made it into my “hugger pupper” folder (yes, that’s a thing), and beyond a point, Semester one and Semester two are all jammed together.

It’s cute how they think they can drown us with work and activity, and then send us off with absolutely nothing to do for three months. Don’t they realise we’re millenials? Anyway, I guess I will go back to books and poetry and the home-ness and non-homeness of Bangalore, and (if all goes well), Bhindi. See you next year, after I fall for the trap that is the Monsoon 2017 courselist again. Maybe learning is also about not learning. Not learning better. Not learning to distance. Not learning to flush out drama and bad jokes and puns and memes. Not learning to be tired of cereal. Not learning to be done with the 18 years of embarrassing enthu-cutlet-ness already.
And I can’t wait.

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