Awakening the Historian Within: My First Year at Ashoka University
Ashaz Mohammed looks back on his first year at Ashoka University and recounts how he decided on his major
My first semester at Ashoka University was not only a self-discovery of my current interests and skills but also a process of uncovering parts of myself I had long forgotten about. As a kid, I just wanted to learn—it could be any source of information I got my hands on: Novels, Illustrated Encyclopedias, old National Geographic magazines, tourist pamphlets, the “Did You Know” columns behind classmate notebooks, you name it. However, my chief concern with learning any of these boiled down to one field of interest—History. What was the author’s world like when they wrote this? Which period does this encyclopedia cover, and why is it so important? Why does this pamphlet encourage tourists to only visit specific historical sites? I connected the dots between the most distant fields of information and found absolute joy in immersing myself in these newfound depths of History. Unfortunately, this venture ended when I reached my teenage years, and suddenly exploring what the world of knowledge had to offer was deemed inefficient and redundant. As I got exceedingly occupied with rote learning through textbooks, which was only more encouraged, memories of my profound love for history mottled down and eventually became history itself.
It is funny now that I had imagined my Ashoka experience to be more or less the continuation of these pesky learning methods in my life. Perhaps, I had completely lost hope in actual learning anymore. But I distinctly remember how my first lecture at Ashoka encouraged me to let go of that notion. It was a foundation course on environmental sciences, and the various topics we would cover—political ecology, ecological feminism, caste and environmentalism, and so on, were being discussed. Coming from an education where I viewed environmental sciences as the ‘optional’ subject in my school, and our tasks mainly revolved around ‘the 4 R’s of waste management’ and the three types of pollution, experiencing this kind of subject diversity was quite a shift. Throughout its duration, the course exposed me to the myriad issues linked to this seemingly ‘simple’ subject. I was encouraged to bring my own view into assignments and discussions, and somewhere along the way, I subconsciously found myself talking about historical events in relation to the environment in my discussion sessions.
During a session on political ecology in the context of India, I remembered reading this old book on modern Indian history as a kid. Suddenly, I could explain how certain political events after Indian independence shaped decisions made by the Ministry of Agriculture in the 1950s. Reflecting on it now, I realise that my argument was not too substantial or entirely correct, but it was still a personal revelation. It had been so long since I was encouraged to really think through something, connect the dots, and discover something new. Ever since that discussion session, I regained my childlike curiosity and looked forward to interacting with the course in ways that suited my interests and intellect. I applied this technique to other classes. With some help from the ‘Introduction to Critical Thinking’ module, I could make larger and larger connections in the field of history, even if I was not necessarily in a history course. Flash forward to now, where I am taking history courses, and I find myself using the information I learned from my environment studies course to understand the subject matter better! Ashoka not only helped me rediscover the subject I kept a strong interest in but also enabled me to find that interest in other subjects.
(Ashaz Mohammed is a second-year student pursuing a major in History at Ashoka University)