If I begin to narrate my initial one month at South Asian University, the thread connects me to the time when I began to learn the ABC of social sciences and developed the interest to pursue a post graduate course in social sciences which is global in its features yet having strong footing with the local. Therefore, the choice was obvious: South Asian University for its unique feature in the South Asian region.
November – Dec 2011, the end and the beginning
It is safe to start this narration from Dec 2011 which for me is both the completion of a formal Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences (GDSS) at Nepā School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Kathmandu and entry to social science research for I was graduated on second of Dec 2011 and one of my teacher who taught me sociology offered me to work with him some weeks before my graduation.
January 2011, the orientation
I was completely in different terrain then, if one looks at my career path and disciplinary training. But I was also in some way trying my luck in one area on which I can truly enjoy both texts and pedagogy. The school was promising and it fulfilled its promise for me. I still remember the first day of the class when Wayne and Charlotte made us to interact in such a way that we, all students, get introduced with each other in less than half an hour. Recalling what Wayne used to say, here things come into mind- CAT (critical, analytical, and theoretical), the acronym I made for what he wanted us to have as the course progresses. His aim as he used to say was to make us equals by equipping the linguistic skills which social scientists require. Wayne and Charlotte taught us the necessary skills to survive academically in a new environment which was geographically in Nepal but in its essence, it was a replication of the western universities.
February – June 2011, the first innings
After the 3 weeks of orientation in Academic English, a cohort of students were taken into first semester with the courses in Sociological Theories from Classical to Contemporary Era, Research Methods, Modern Political Thought accompanied with Academic English I. The faculties had their own reputations in Nepal. It was the time when I learnt the essence of managing time differently and many other academic skills like reading the primary texts and writing reflection papers for the first time.
21st May 2011, South Asian University (SAU) Entrance Test for the first batch of MA Sociology, the seed of interest
The first semester was about to end and the second semester was yet to be started, there was an admission announcement for MA Sociology at South Asian University for its first batch on which I did not apply even after browsing the University website and departmental status including the course curriculum, faculties and the methodology. It was because I did not want to terminate the course midway for two reasons: firstly, the courses in the second semester were also equally promising – Anthropological Theories, Gender Studies, Comparative Social Sciences, and Academic English II and secondly, it was in a sense the preparation for the course that I am currently enrolled in SAU.
July – November 2011, the second innings
The second semester was more demanding than the first because of volumes of readings and number of assignments. In many instances, I felt like to leave the course because of the academic pressure but I had no other options than to complete. I must not forget to mention one thing during his semester that the course on Gender studies became a litmus test in many ways. With such volume of reading materials and weekly reflection paper it was really a game of alchemy. However, I found this “grinding machine” approach beneficial to me at this stage of my life. Besides this, the course on Anthropology; Comparative Social Sciences; and Academic English II made me able to think differently than before.
Dec 2011 – May 2012 (25th and 27th May 2012, Entrance at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and SAU, and Nepal’s deadline to draft the Constitution)
As I began to work, I felt that I need some substantive course at Masters which could add some meaning to my work experience. Therefore, I applied to two different Universities in India because I wanted to see India and the countries of South Asia not just through maps, atlases, newspapers, Bollywood, and television etc. but through my eyes and ears in addition to my study. As I began to review the readings that I did during the Diploma, I felt I utterly lack the time because I was working full time and getting time to prepare for the test was virtually impossible for the duty I was associated with that time. JNU Entrance was on 25th of May 2012 which was on Friday and on 27th May; I had to appear for SAU entrance. 27th May was also the final deadline for Nepali politicians to draft the constitution of New Nepal and because I was working as a member to assess the relevance and efficacy of informal dialogue space created by for the second tier leaders representing major political parties to bring in their bottom line and discussing about the possible way out for consensus. I had to assist senior researchers to interview some of these politicians and highly regarded journalists/editors and political analysts. To find the time of these people during this time itself was scarce. In such circumstances, I was not able to ask for the leave to prepare for the entrance.
Choosing one between the two when both are good in their own ways
I was offered admission at both South Asian University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. For some reasons, I was already hooked with SAU instead of many of my seniors advising me to enroll at JNU. I wished to be in a new one reflecting my habit of making wild decision for others but it was a conscious decision because my happiness always comes with my decision. This also reflects my long term career objective to study the comparative political history of South Asia which is incomplete without the study of Pakistan and there are no students from Pakistan at JNU, I guess, which is not the case of SAU because of easy SAU visa scheme. Sociology at SAU is one of the nuanced courses in sociology in the region that has two papers on Sociology of South Asia examining the social science scholarship across the region. The course also includes some forums like – Cinema and Society, Sociology Lecture Series, Student run blog, Dissertation option etc.
Arriving in India and at SAU, the actual day counts from today
I came to India for the first time in the monsoon of 2012 i.e. 29th of July 2012. On the day I arrived at Indira Gandhi International Airport, I realized the infrastructure that India has. I took a trolley at the airport and moved to the nearest station where I could find the taxi or auto. I took the taxi and moved to the place called Dwaraka Sector 13 where one of my friends was staying for a few months. On the first day, I could not find anything different than Nepal except the Indira Gandhi International Airport and the wider roads. Two days later, I experienced the Delhi Metro while I was coming to the University. “Agala Station is Race Course. Darbaja Baai Taraf Se Khulegi. Kripaya Sabdhani Se Utare.” This is what this new form of means of transport said to me which was introduced in Delhi some years back.
At the University
I met with Admission Officers at the University and completed necessary formalities. The University assigned me the temporary room where I was staying with a matured student from Srilanka for whom I began to teach basic communicative Hindi because Hindi was essential for him to communicate in market place. Until the course began, I was introduced with some new and existing students from the countries across South Asia. If I have to recall the first month at SAU, I am worried about the upcoming months because I got chance to visit many institutions, places and meet many persons of importance with some beautiful hearts. About the days to come on which I am not sure about the God’s plan for me; however, I hope only good things in his store house for me.
I met and talked with my Dean, Dr. Sasanka Perera which was facilitated by one of my seniors. I also met with all my Professors and talked about the academic issues. I replied the email to Meena maiju, emailed to thulo mama, my teachers, supervisors and colleagues at work. The cultural life at SAU, as I feel, is something that is beyond the academic life inside classroom and library that truly reflects the South Asian sensibility in the University as evidenced in the celebration of independence days of Pakistan and India jointly. The President of the University, Prof. G.K. Chadha who attended the event until the end, and other South Asian witnessed the same. For me, this was a historical moment because if one talks about the prosperity of entire regions, the countries representing the region have to work harmoniously. If we can raise such event to the state level, many common anxieties of South Asia can be solved. Being here, I’ve already begun to see myself as South Asian no just Nepali.
Having explained all these, I am happy to be in a University which has a multipronged approach in teaching. The only thing that I want to change in the University if someone asks me would be further addition of informal and continuous assessment but the removal of written examination that would, in my opinion, sustains the patterns of memory race even if the questions are innovative, the preparation by the students seem much similar as they used to do before.
To conclude, I have got some beautiful experience at India because of being at SAU which if put in Hellen Keller’s words: The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.