By Anahitha Sagar:
I can watch the dust particles collide with each other playfully as the sunlight streams in through the window, on an unusually warm Sunday afternoon. I vividly recollect the day I received my offer letter from Oxford University. It was a cold January evening, and as I opened the attachment in the email, I felt my initial trepidation turn to euphoria as I read the first line that began with the phrase, “we are pleased to inform you.” Everything that ensued in the next few months was a whirlwind. The day I received my visa is when things started to feel real.
It has now been nearly a year since I moved away from home to pursue my MPhil in Development Studies. The past few months have been replete with life altering experiences, immense learning and subsequent unlearning. Yes, there has been tremendous academic growth, but for me, Oxford has been a journey of self-discovery, where each and every day has taught me to push my boundaries, and question everything that I have ever known. My experiences here have been unlike any other and have shaped me as a person.
I’ve had many liberating experiences here, which include many ‘firsts’. It’s place where I built a home for myself- a space that I was completely in charge of and could call my own. It’s where I also got paid my first stipend while working as a conference assistant with a professor from my department. It’s here that I discovered the joy of walking back on an empty street at 2 am, without having to constantly check if I was being followed. I also came to terms with the ridiculously whimsical weather that changed by the second and learnt that sunny days could give way to hailstorms in a matter of minutes. Much like life, if you come to think of it. But most of all, it has made me acutely aware of my privileges. I remember a few concerned individuals offering unsolicited advice to my parents, asking them to ‘save the money’ and ‘throw me a grand wedding’ instead of sending me abroad to study. My parents politely requested them to keep their advice to themselves, laying emphasis on the fact that I had the liberty to take my own decisions. As a woman, I am constantly reminded by society that the freedom to make choices is for men only and that the power to makes choices comes with a certain privilege- one that is not freely offered to everybody. This privilege is something that I’ve constantly been questioning for the past few months, especially since studying in Oxford means sometimes living in a comfortable little bubble where everything seems perfect.
However, I am lucky to have found a diverse peer group consisting of people from all walks of life, and with inspiring stories to tell. Not one day has gone by where we don’t sit down and question the norms around us. From them, I’ve learnt not to be uncritical and to be unafraid of asking questions, even if they have been asked before.
I’d be lying if I said that there aren’t days where I question myself for leaving home and studying here. I recollect feeling helpless when the university I called home for three years was attacked. Each horrific account I’d read made me want to pack my bags and go back. Post Diwali last year, when the air pollution levels in Delhi were uncontrollable, messages from my friends and family saying that I was ‘lucky’ I wasn’t breathing the noxious air made me think how distant I was from the life I had lived for 21 long years. The feeling of isolation would only increase when people very curiously asked my Indian friends and me how we spoke good English or resorted to stereotypes like, “Oh, Indians like their curry.” Everything may look incredibly beautiful in social media posts, but truth be told, there are days when I miss the chaos of home and the semblance I find in the madness. The silence here can sometimes be deafening.
But, on all the other days, I often wish my mind were like a Polaroid camera, immortalising every second of every day. Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever feel this boundless and free forever? Maybe. Or maybe not. Only time will tell. I’m certain that a part of me will miss everything about Oxford when I graduate next year. But more than the place, I will miss the person I am right now. Because somewhere along the way, during one of my many walks from Linton Road to 3 Mansfield Road, I found myself.