To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

Sunday, October 23, 2016
I have got a lot boiling in my head right now and lest it pour over, I thought I should make a quick dish with it! ;) It’s been close to three weeks since I landed in the UK, Lancaster to be precise (read earlier blog for context :)), and there are times when I feel like in another life I had sort of prayed for or wished for to be a part of just such a setting… and I have somehow been transported there! There are moments when I am hit with a “Is this a dream?” Like yesterday in a class when we were discussing “philosophers” and “objectivity vs. subjectivity” and “world views” and “what is reality” and “how do we interpret reality” and “how does our philosophical view influence research”. It felt like suddenly it was okay to eat chocolates for breakfast or something ;)

What do I say about Lancaster itself? If you’re from Mumbai like me you might find it quiet and modest but if you are like me you would find it just the kind of place where you are in communion with yourself. There is plenty of nature and fresh air, of course, and there is a “city centre” where you can go off for shopping or eating or whatever else you want to do. But, the best part is, you don’t have to if you’re living in the humungous and gorgeous campus, like I am, at least this year. It is, what shall I say? made to feel like a haven for the intelligent, culture-loving university goer and by extension anyone who is those things (I hate sounding conceited but to say anything else would be inaccurate). Ever since I stepped into this campus, I feel surrounded by communication about learning spaces or study spaces, and actual spaces that are designed to make me feel comfortable to read and think in my own space! As if there aren’t dozens and more spaces for one to choose from within the campus, they also have a space in the city centre that you can go off to, to read or work on your research! It is a novel thing for me because back home in India I feel there isn’t enough emphasis on the concept of “space” and how the very availability or non-availability of “comfort space” could contribute or be detrimental to your output. And the icing on the cake is perhaps that study is not the only area where choices are galore… my first week here which was called “welcome week” for all arriving students, was actually nothing short of a carnival week! One could choose to go to live music sessions or society fairs (university students pitching to join their respective societies which ranged from the usual “music” to the rather quaint “Lego playing” to the bizarre even!) or ghost story readings in the library over cocoa and cookies (I went for that, no prizes for guessing!) or take a free bus ride for shopping to the city centre or a barbecue party or poster art exhibitions in the square…. Yes, Lancaster is rather quiet as my city-loving flat mate from Egypt insists (and that’s another delicious character of this place that you could hit at least 5-6 nationalities with a stone’s throw…more about that next!) but I disagree with her that “It is not alive”… to me life is at its most throbbing intensity when the mind is continuously stimulated by books and ideas and illuminating conversations and art!

The cultural diversity is another interesting aspect of life here. I live with people from Ghana, London, Egypt, Bahrain. I was part of a group activity in class today where my group mates were from Russia, Greece, UK, China. I was part of another group activity yesterday with folks from Pakistan and Iran. See what I mean? Crossing with so many cultures adds new horizons to one’s thinking, and to me being in a cultural hot-pot is stimulating too. Add to that trying to learn the ways of the host culture. Back in India, we are used to things being “done” for us be it the cook who comes home to cook, or the maid who does sweeping and swabbing or the communal cleaner who takes away trash. I was of course completely prepared to do my own cooking, which in a way I enjoy too if it doesn’t get in the way of other priorities, but what surprised me was that here flat mates need to carry all the trash to the bins around the campus, appropriately divided for recycling—at first it jolted me a bit because I had never “personally” bothered so much with the entire journey of the trash in my house, but come to think of it, after the event, I felt a certain satisfaction. I felt like the whole recycling theory made so much sense when I actually practised it. And on the subject of sustainability, another thing that took some time for me to wrap my head around, was how “paper” is made to seem as a precious as real money. One gets a certain “amount of credit” in one’s university card and one can print off any machine on the campus, be it the library or in any building whatsoever, by simply swiping one’s card. But whenever you print something, the appropriate amount for that quantity of print (say 5 pennies for a page) gets deducted from your credit. You could of course personally “top up” your card with money if you exhaust the amount you’re allocated… but I noticed that the very act of seeing the money vanish from my card after printing or knowing that the credit would get reduced made me so much more conscious of my printing habits! I am, unfortunately, someone who loves to read on paper and maybe so used to it with so many years of habituated reading off paper, that I just cannot read as effectively on the screen nor can I make as effective notes as I tend to make on the sides of the paper copy. So I guess I will be printing more than most… but the good part is… not as much as I would have earlier. I think this also made me realise what embedding sustainability into business practice meant. I could be conscious of how paper reduction helps the environment but if the systems also embed that thinking or institutionalise it in some way, it could probably have a deeper effect? And yes, thinking of another cultural thing and how can it not be about food! Back home, formal lunches tended to be multi-course affairs; here, they tend to be light sandwiches, chips, and queerly “whole fruits”! I am used to seeing chopped fruits on the dessert stalls but seeing whole fruits like bananas, apples, pears, oranges in a bowl together was quite new to me. I haven’t ventured to take a go at the fruits yet being a bit diffident about exposing my way of monstrous munching, but again I think I like the idea of whole fruits. You don’t end up wasting as much fruit I guess. I also notice not feeling quite so heavy and drowsy after lunchtime so those “wakeup” tactics aren’t quite necessary. Oh, another thing (I mean to finish this para but new things keep popping into the head), the arrangement of tables and chairs in each class aren’t what I am used to seeing in India in a typical class setting, that is, straight lines or long semi circles (unless things have changed). Here, usually, a class includes no more than 20 people and you have say 4-5 circular or rectangular tables with 4-5 chairs around each in a class, almost like a restaurant or wedding reception seating in India. The arrangement is not just a design feature though; it actually follows the teaching principle of getting groups to work amongst themselves. Personally, I am not a fan of group work so guess the Indian method worked for me ;) but the fact is I find myself participating a lot more.
And talking about England, weather can be last but not in the slightest the least! I was under the impression we were well into winter when I arrived here and almost laughed that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. A 10 degree didn’t feel so cold and most of the time one is indoors one way or the other. I am a bit worried about the circular that we received yesterday about the change of time on October 30 and associated winter related injunctions. “Keep yourself warm by having a warm shower or hot drink before going to bed”, it said in the end. Not trying to sound grim, are we? :(
I’ll keep bombarding this space as I go along because I am told I need to keep practising my writing every day even if I am writing rubbish ;) And who else but you, dear reader, could I impose upon? :)