From a village in Kalimpong to summer abroad in Paris
The story of a student from the founding undergraduate batch of Ashoka University
I am assuming that those of you who have heard or been to Darjeeling or Sikkim have probably heard of my town Kalimpong. But I am pretty positive that no one has heard of Durpin Gompa which is my village. It is about 60 households small and seated on a hilltop. In fact, my house sits right where the tip of the hill ends, next to a Buddhist monastery. Once a year that I get to go home, I witness a different world. I find a galaxy of time in a day to help my mother run errands and the small tuck shop that we’ve had since I was born, and stillhave plenty of time to staying idle. But that kind of laidback manner works for me because I have a two-way ticket. I am at home only for at best three months.
I grew content in the cradle of the mountains and the hills surrounding my village, in tune with the lullaby of my people, my friends, and my school close by. Moving out of that comfort unveiled the world for me. I came to see how I had grown too comfortable there. Too accustomed to it! It was 2006 when I was selected by an NGO to study in good schools at Dehradun, that I found an opportunity to be go further in my academic pursuit. I come from a place where going out of the town is still a significant deal, where schooling or even college for that matter risk being reduced to mere formalities – more out of routine than out of will. In fact, when I was in my 10th grade trying hard to make it to an International Baccalaureate school in Kolkata, I learnt that my best friend, whom I had fiercely competed with for the first position up to grade 3, failed his 10th grade because of bad company. Till day, I keep wondering how he would have turned out if he had received the same opportunities that I had started getting at the age of 11 – the year that I left for Dehradun for the first time. It’s not only him. It took my own sister two decades after I did, to leave home for the first time to go to Bengaluru.
Though I am four years younger than her, I had seen city life before her: Two years each of Kolkata and Delhi by college time. In fact, one of the reasons why Ashoka University appealed to me was its access to the city when my university guidance counselor first introduced it to me. A university close to city meant that my stories would still be of an interest back home like it was when I was in Kolkata. It meant that they could continue to imagine that my life here, close to the city, was telling of the fact that I was doing good and would eventually find more opportunities for even better things.
Fortunately, I did them proud. I was able to realize one of my aspirations last year. Around May, I met Vineet Gupta, former Pro Vice Chancellor of Ashoka University regarding the summer abroad programme. We met in his office and I told him I had got in to Sciences Po Paris summer school and had nearly all my visa procedures completed. But that I was one big step away from the making summer school happen – the fees. That was what the meeting had been for. My thoughts, before the start of the meeting, took me back to when I was applying for Ashoka and colleges abroad. I might have had an IB diploma with fair grades and CV to get into a decent US college, but I did not have the finances to take university education for granted. Two years ago, the full scholarship Ashoka offered me had made that seem possible. So, waiting outside his office that day, I was clinging onto a similar sense of hope for the university’s support.
The university kept its promise to me. On 29 June, 2016, I took off for Sciences Po, Paris. I attended the summer programme and shared a lively class with a Singaporean, a Master’s student working at PwC London from Brazil, a philosophical French Moroccan, a shy Indonesian and quite a significant number friendly Mexicans and diligent Chinese. And Professor Dr. Sharbanou Tadjbaksh, was simply put, inspirational.
People back home were proud and curious to enquire how I had spent my days, the places I visited, the transport system, the weather. In other words, things which may appear seemingly mundane to us but of great interest to them. But I knew why. They were living abroad through me, in those briefs minutes of our conversation. They were glad I was both living and surpassing what they had imagined for me.
Therefore, I am sharing this story of mine today for a special reason: I become the epitome of possibilities for youngsters from far off places and they start enquiring about liberal arts and why universities would even be interested in sending students abroad under full scholarship. They grow more confident about leaving the town with a purpose to study and succeed. They start to take away bits of my story to graft their own dreams on it.
The writer is an undergraduate student at Ashoka University.