A Truly Free Education – In Substance and Form
Two years back, I enrolled for my college undergrad degree, more out of habit, adhering to a convention perhaps, not paying much attention to the purpose of education and what to expect from it. I am twenty, and I come from an urban family with both parents in successful professions. I have two older brothers who are also doing well in their lives, I think.
I don’t have specific aspirations or any evolved ambition, and their conspicuous absence doesn’t make me bored with life either. I have lovely friends, and some are in the same undergrad program as me. I am not seeing anyone. I do like someone, and I have reasons to believe it is mutual, but we haven’t done anything about it; what’s there to do! Physical intimacy, desires, longings, committing to singular-attraction, an affair, then liking someone else, an affair outside the affair, this affair, and that affair. To me, the likelihood of an ‘it’s complicated’ social media status is hardly exciting. Predictive drama is inexcusably tiring. Scandals are surprisingly dull. I like to adore someone like a routine, a habit, and it is peaceful when the other person connects with that rhythm. There are no linear levels to progress in liking someone. It’s more about the time, space, and routines we happen to cover together. We both have common friends, and we meet sometimes. With all the ubiquity of communication, it is almost impossible to experience the pleasure of a random encounter with a person you like. However, with some determined defiance and resisting the temptation of knowing everyone’s every whereabout all the time (although I wonder how that is even tempting), we do run into each other just by chance sometimes. I cherish them so much. It is such a pleasant feeling.
This is not a personal essay as there is no extraordinary story to share, crisis to resolve, or voice to be heard. Yet, it is about me – the person I fleetingly look at, mostly through the corner of my eyes, living her everyday. Whenever I stop to cast a full gaze at my life, I always fancy seeing familiar faces, places, and things. The familiarity, the lack of intrigue or mystery, feeling safe, and yet remaining constantly aware of the monsters lurking in the dark corners, I find the normalcy of that fear innately natural than disturbing. The question is, how much is a society’s allowance for that ‘natural,’ beyond which it warrants serious attention.
I recall the last two years of high school were crucial with board exams, college applications, and of course, the all-pervading monstrosity of elite meritocracy that befalls mercilessly upon graduating high schoolers. As for me, two years ago, I was not subverting the paradoxical education system with iconoclastic life choices, like becoming a global influencer or social activist. I simply made a choice based on my aptitude and interest in a mainstream subject - mathematics. Later I will perhaps pursue a more advanced program in the same subject area or branch out. I don’t know yet. I do freelance copy editing for a children’s science magazine. I do not have the urgency of a career or financial independence with endless aspirations to fulfill, nor do I constantly get reminded of my privileges all the time. I rarely catch anyone’s attention with any foolish indulgence significant enough to invite parental lectures. It’s like I live this sheltered, universally agreeable life with zero conflicts.
It would be technically correct to say that my college education is mostly free. My college is in the same city where I live. Boarding on campus not being mandatory, for me, it is a twenty-minute scooter ride away and costing a nominal tuition fee. Living with parents during these undergrad years is perhaps the most convenient arrangement I could imagine. After spending the entire day on campus and even the weekends with friends, still having access to the comforts of home is pure luck. Students not from the city don’t have that privilege, although I am not sure if they envy that at all. I am reasonably hardworking, and just the experience of learning excites me. I did well enough in final board exams to secure a seat in the program of my choice. Apart from the essential assurance of some good faculty and library, for me, the criteria for choosing an education was the one that would least disrupt the pace, space, and routines of my everyday life. Whatever new everyday that will take shape in the later phase of my life can wait for now. I am not ready yet.
I ensure keeping the plants in my room alive. I don’t wear makeup, but I try and look neat. I mostly wear regular everyday wear, and my friends keep making this misguided claim that they have never seen me wear the same clothes twice, which is not true. I buy clothes often, made with durable fabrics and not too expensive, maintain some basic care, like laundered and pressed on time. That way, my closet has enough clothes to pick from without frequent repeats, and even though I am not any state leader, I keep ready the clothes I plan to wear the next morning. These unseen habits perhaps create the perception of newness in my everyday clothing. With my group of friends, I regularly eat out, watch movies, attend music festivals. On a good weather day, we take random walks through the city streets. In some parts, the city seems to belong to some other time, and to now, in some. The city sometimes looks as though it does not belong to us, or rather we don’t belong here. As if there were grand plans while building the city but was interrupted indefinitely and was thus left to us midway, unfinished. However, in some unquestioning deference to the modern, universal, and uniform aesthetics, the city continuously keeps growing into these shapes and forms that serve the civic necessities and the various structured forms of human leisure while simultaneously exhibiting a look of progress.
I admire mathematical function - the singular possibility of an outcome, and yet the freedom to define its domain. I have a few friends who enrolled in the philosophy course, and during my free hours, I sometimes accompany them during some of their lectures. In the beginning, I used to sneak in, but now I am a familiar face in the philosophy lecture rooms, and the professors allow this occasional trespassing, this free movement. As a subject of independent inquiry, I explore the philosophy of aesthetics, particularly of human environments. I realize aesthetics guides a lot of my everyday, like the constant attempts at writing the perfect notations, the neatest mathematical explanations. To me, it’s like demonstrating calligraphy with light painting.
So far, my everyday seems as if someone has handed over this blank journal, instructing me to fill in one and only one page every day, with anything - words, drawings, poems, songs. At the end of it, as a reward, I get to travel forward or back in time, for a day, my choice. Anybody else would have perhaps made it much more colorful and vibrant, but since the content doesn’t matter, I am filling it up with pallid doodles, timetables, to-do lists, formulae cheat sheets. As for the choice, in the end, traveling to the future or past, to me, even that is not tantalizing enough to devote any advance contemplation.
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Author: Staff Contributor
Illustration/Photograhy: TDLM Design Team
AdminNovember 30, 2020
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