This time last year, in the sweltering heat of Delhi summer, I was preparing for my graduation ceremony from the Young India Fellowship. Cars were crawling in through the Ashoka gates, parents were gathering in numbers, being met with delighted shouts from their sons and daughters. Fellows flapped around, borrowing pins for a sari here, helping with hair and makeup there. Despite the sun beating down, we donned our heavy green-and-red robes, perching our hats as best we could on our heads, and diligently filed to take our places for the ceremony. We snapped the cursory hat-throwing photos, grinning at each other with the knowledge that our hard work had paid off. We had made it to the finishing line and now was our moment to collect our well-deserved medals.
Each one of us walked with pride to receive our scroll, our new identity as graduates of the YIF program beginning to settle into our bones. We knew that the experience had changed us in some way, but in what ways we could not quite pinpoint yet. As dusk began to set over the beautiful Sonipat skies, the realization began to dawn that the time had come to re-enter the wider world, and what waited for us beyond the red-bricked walls of Ashoka, no one was entirely sure.
One year later, it is only now that I can truly reflect on what the YIF program has brought to me.
The intensity of one-year spent with close to 300 other fellows on a residential campus-compound forges bonds that run deeper than your average friendship. Even though the batch size can be a hindrance to true integration, there is a certain sense of collectivity that emerges which is difficult to explain. A bigger batch size means that there are pockets of fellows scattered all over India and, to a lesser extent, the world. Having stayed on for a further year in India, the fellows, faculty and Ashoka administration have been a constant source of support and guidance. Each time I move to a new city, be it Bengaluru, Hyderabad or Chennai, I somehow (and very mysteriously) get added to that city’s Ashoka Alumni WhatsApp group, where questions about anything and everything are asked and answered. The fellows have thrown open their homes to me, fed me, taken me on treks (I realize that this makes me sound more pet puppy than person) or just met for a catch-up. Myself and my YIF roommate-turned-best-friend, who picked me up from the airport the day that I arrived in India, speak almost daily. Professors have kept in contact, offering guidance to my queries whenever I need it. And the administration is always open to discussion whenever I make the trip to campus. This connection is carried within us and the homing pigeon alert was triggered when 120 from the 2018 batch returned for this year’s alumni event. It is something which I cherish and am grateful for.
The YIF program plunges you into the deep end of one discipline to the shallow end of the next, at such speed that it can leave you struggling to catch a breath. However, this kind of intense exposure to many subjects – subjects that you don’t know or have a foundation in – forces you to develop flexibility and a fearlessness to approaching the uncertain. The unknown is no longer a dark and frightening prospect, but a challenge worth pursuing. Having embarked on many different projects this year, including content writing, dance choreography, assisting professors, teaching yoga, project coordination of an international meditation program and website and brochure design, I can safely say that I’ve been putting this into practice!
The star faculty of Ashoka can have such a powerful impact on a student’s mind that the student undergoes a complete shift in their thinking and their life-path. Some such professors are the likes of Dwight Jaggard, Mihir Mankad, Madhavi Menon, Aseem Shrivastava, Jonathon Gill Harris, Dilip Simeon, Urvashi Butalia, Anunaya Chaubey, Kenwyn Smith, amongst others. Having recently attended the Ashoka Alumni Weekender event, I realized how much I sorely missed the intellectual stimulation of being in classes of the likes of Aseem and Dilip. Being their student is one thing but assisting professors with the delivery of their courses is a truly unique experience. I was fortunate to be selected as a teaching assistant for Dwight Jaggard’s course on the Foundations of Leadership and then again, for Mihir Mankad’s course on the Arts of Communication. Working behind the scenes, and engaging in the organisation, execution and grading of these courses gave me huge insight. Interacting with students from the current batch and being continuously inspired by the talent-pool was also an intensely rewarding experience. Because of my keen interest in meditation, I was also invited back to give a speech on the Role of the Human Being in Development Theory to one of the critical writing classes, which included a practical session on Heartfulness meditation!
There is rarely a day goes by that you don’t see a new job alert posted on the alumni portal. Entering into the 9th year of the YIF program, as fellows climb the career ladder and enter into more senior roles, or build their own start-ups, more job opportunities are emerging. As the era of one-track specialisations dies out, employers are waking up to the value of a liberal-arts, cross-disciplinary perspective and YIF graduates are becoming hot in demand. It is to one such job description, of a fellow from the founding batch, that I replied to. When we spoke over Skype, there was an instant common ground, an intrinsic understanding of the type of experience that we had been through, and the kind of skills, rigour and versatility that were developed over the course of this shared experience. More than anything, there was a basis of trust, a feeling that I don’t quite know you very well yet, but I trust you. Flowing from this, a potential job opportunity has emerged. We will see where the wind takes me next.
To the current graduating batch of YIF, I offer my heartfelt congratulations for making it to the end of what has, no doubt, been a roller coaster of a year. Rest assured that you have invested in yourselves in ways which may not be apparent to you now. The world is full of infinite possibilities and the Ashoka alumni community is here, with arms wide open, ready to welcome you into the fold.
Photo Credits: Geo (@podips)