Through the Goggles of a Graduate: Madhura Balasubramaniam

Having carefully read the pieces of the ‘Through the Goggles of a Graduate’ over the last five years, I am simultaneously gratified and terrified to be sitting down to write my piece. The fear stems from a rather inane and frankly naïve assumption that remained with me through the last five years in the institute – that upon graduation, one will find clarity of purpose (both in terms of what next in the immediate future and in the long term). Having turned that corner with a sense of immense relief, I find that the clarity has not emerged. Life does not feel as sorted out as I had imagined and I find that I don’t have any advice or guidance to offer. Nor do I have a pithy capture of my time as a student in the institute. Given that I currently occupy an in-between space of no longer being a student but not yet being out of the institute, I find that nostalgia is an occasional visitor whereas self-reflection is a constant companion. So at the risk of sounding very self-indulgent, this piece is a reflection of my time in the institute and what I have learnt and continue to engage and grapple with.

Half a decade ago when I came to insti, I was in awe of the campus, of the people, of my department and of my incredibly talented classmates. My aspirations at the beginning of my time in insti were slightly offbeat and I wanted, at the end of five years, to find something that makes me happy and to experience a transformative change with respect to my identity. Insti and particularly my social sciences education at the HS department was very conducive for this. My courses not only intellectually challenged me, they also pushed me to rethink what I believed were certain truths about myself and the world around me. I found myself engaging more critically with aspects of my identity and my social context that I had taken for granted. How do the social structures within which I am located shape the way I see the world? What does it mean to identify with certain labels? The questions that I was asking of myself also shaped my engagement with my academic pursuits and this was facilitated by some great courses and professors. How does privilege shape social sciences research and how does one engage with the same in one’s writing? How does one work towards more equal forms of collaborative research? These continue to be questions that I grapple with.

Simultaneously, through classes, course work, lectures, conversations with classmates, seniors, friends and professors, my politics underwent a change. I found myself losing the ability to make snap judgements and voice my opinions on every issue instantaneously. Rather, I seem to prefer to wait, to read and critically engage with everything that I can find on an issue before framing a point of view. At a time when populism and anti-intellectualism are on the rise globally and when politics has taken the form of ‘you are either with us or against us’, I think the ability to critically read and respectfully engage with multiple views are important tools of resistance. I believe that this has been an important takeaway for me from my time in insti and one that I continue to find significant.

The broad brush strokes of reflection aside, the days when nostalgia sneaks up on me, it is the more mundane and quotidian things that I remember. My time as a student in insti has been a messy amalgam of learning – academic and otherwise (aka how to avoid monkey attacks and safeguard Tupperware bottles), of friendships found in the most unlikely places and cemented by stolen appalams, hour long lunches, TV serials, a love for philosophy, Calvin and Hobbes and cricket, of breakdowns and recoveries, of mentorship and perhaps most importantly of community and solidarity. It is in insti that I found a place where I belonged and it is through the process of navigating insti over the last five years that I met my closest friends.

Together, we ran around insti to print posters, chased monkeys away with sticks in a failed bid to keep a speaker safe, feverishly worked on presentations and assignments and in the process temporarily lost our sanity and trudged to Acads section for a whole range of things. Somewhere along this journey, of spending long nights comforting and being comforted, cheering for and then being cheered for as we completed courses, projects and finally MAPs, I grew up with some of the most intelligent, committed, inspiring and all-round wonderful people.

Looking back at five years, it is easy to paper over the hard days – the days when the world felt bleak and the monsoon clouds provided melancholic atmosphere and the impossible days where one felt trapped and helpless. It is during these days that I discovered the strength of my friendships in insti, the degree of solidarity that I enjoyed and the wonderful mentors that I have.

I am incredibly grateful to friends who have been available for me 24/7, to talk to me, to help and comfort me despite their own schedules who’ve stood behind me and been a source of support and strength. To my mentors who have provided me a safe space to voice my concerns, who have supported me and helped me through some of the more difficult parts of my journey in insti and who’ve taught me to find joy in my work while working towards approaching results with equanimity, I owe an immense debt of gratitude. I came to insti feeling thoroughly out of place and wondering if I would ever get over being awkward and get around to making friends. I graduated with a sense of warmth (not referring to the poorly air conditioned SAC on Convocation Day), camaraderie and love.

Finally, I must thank insti, its winding roads, monkey filled corridors, bureaucratic procedures and banyan trees for teaching me, for challenging me, for pushing me to reconfigure my personal, political and academic boundaries, for helping me find my people and for giving me a space to explore and discover, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow.

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