By Deep Vakil
The student community of Ashoka is a petri-dish of experiences. Batches come and go, infusing this campus with a distinct culture. As the class of 2020 graduates – some topping it off with another year of ASP, and others moving on to the “real” world – I cannot help but ponder what this batch leaves behind. Perhaps owing to an unhealthy obsession with the notion of legacy, I ask myself for what shall future Ashokans remember us.
Will it be for the fact that our batch’s story could not reach its crescendo, owing to a global public health crisis? The fact that our batch witnessed the now fabled SSP from its inception to demise? Or that no batch after ours will have the opportunity to hear nostalgic stories from the founding batch about Ashoka in its earliest days? All of these may be true, but it leaves me wanting for more. I am reminded of when Nishant Kauntia of the Class of 2018 marked the departure of the founding batch by writing about the death of an Ashokan ethos, characterised by resounding doubt and Philosophia.
It is more true of our batch than of those preceding, that coming to Ashoka was a gamble. When we accepted our admission offers in 2017, we did not have access to placement figures or postgraduate prospects. Most of the founding batch were still on campus for their ASP. All we knew was that there was this up-and-coming liberal arts college in NCR that promised an ‘Ivy League’ education, with academic rigour and a student-driven campus culture. Implicit in the solicitations of the outreach department was the promise of Ashoka: a chance to play an active role in shaping the future of this soon-to-be-glorious institution.
And shape the future we did. Think of all the self-sustaining student associations our batchmates set up, that are now succeeded by new leadership every year. Aashlesh Pai and Kanishk Devgan were instrumental in starting our first satire publication, Kalinga. A defunct film society was turned into the bustling Navrang, under the leadership of Srijan Sinha, Kanishk Devgan, and Maitreyi Mittal. The society went on to organise the historic Endgame screening that filled an entire local cinema hall with Ashokans. Kumaraaditya Rao initiated the comedy club that we today adore for performing our memorable senior week roast: The Comic Relief.
Siddharth Goyal, Dimpy Nandwani, and Piyush Mishra started Club Atlas which organises frequent off-campus trips for students. The popular gaming club Eeshto was the fruit of the energy spent by Mukesh Sharma. The reinvigoration of clubs like Mad Batter for baking, Farm Fresh for gardening, and Respawn for e-games, could not have happened without the tireless efforts of Nivedita Nandakumar, Yashant Sharma, and Archit Checker and Shivam Agarwal, respectively.
One cannot miss the transformation undergone by fitness and sports activities at Ashoka. There are Srinidhi Pithani, Ayush Kukreja, and Rithvik URS who turned their passion for cycling into the Ashoka Cycling Club. Who knows what was to be of the Basketball Association without Vyoma Vijai and Vedika Jogani. Anand Waghmare made contributions to the badminton tournament, as did Arnav Mohan Gupta, to setting up the cricket league. Ashoka’s name and standing in competitive shooting were unmistakably cemented by Trisha Mukherjee’s gold medal at the international level. And how do we forget Abdul MM’s time as a stalwart sports minister, who started the annual marathon and swimming competitions. I cannot help but smile when I imagine how these student associations and traditions will grow in the coming years, as they take root in the rich history of our campus culture.
It would be an understatement to say that we fought tooth and nail to get those in Ashoka’s ivory tower to uphold the promise of Ashoka. Most memorable to me is the role we played in transforming Ashoka’s political sphere. Several of us remember the townhall in Takshila as the moment that redefined our expectations from the Student Government and our relationship with the administration. But our journey to this place started even before we came to campus, when Sumedha B Suresh rose in disobedience against the “dictatorship” of the erstwhile admin of our batch Whatsapp group.
We have held the mantle of having the highest voter turnout longer than any other batch- from the election in February 2018 up until the referendum in November 2019. No batch after ours has come up with any new political parties, so far. The advent of Moksh was in and of itself pivotal in breaking the bipolarity of Dhamma and Prakrit. Even LIBER.AND.U reminded us of the performativity and self aggrandisation that tends to pervade our politics. Most crucially, there was the landslide election of the first openly non-binary and independent candidate Esther Larisa David to the House. The Feminist Collective, a socio-political student organisation, was integral to the improved representation of womxn in student politics. This is owed to the impassioned praxis of our batchmates like Aditi Mishra and Tara Rai.
If the promise of Ashoka to the Class of 2020 was a seat at the table that builds up this institution, then we have outdone ourselves. Not only did we zealously fight for that seat but also set our own terms in the process. We turned clubs and societies from being shelf pieces to be displayed on the website, into our very own spaces carved out in the social fabric of Ashoka. From more standard activities like dance, music, and debating, we went on to set up clubs for more niche interests like baking, e-games, and improv comedy.
We turned the SG from being an intermediary body used as the admin’s advocacy to the students, to an efficient vehicle for voicing our grievances and demands. We refused to comply with the paternalism and tokenistic stake afforded to students in decision-making. The most recent results of this paradigm shift were apparent in our victory in the fight for fairer grading in the midst of a global pandemic.
By no means is the above list exhaustive. There are more places where our batchmates have invested their time and sweat. Many of these would be impossible without the role played by students from other batches and programmes. Still, where we are today makes me reconsider whether the Ashokan ethos is dead, or just reincarnated with every incoming batch.
For the Class of 2020, this ethos was characterised by a collaborative outlook, entrepreneurial ingenuity, and fighting spirit. It was an ethos shaped partly by the sense of betrayal we felt when denied a campus, visions of which our seniors painted for us; also in part by our unrelenting drive to get the fair share promised by this university, when it sold to us the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in the bottom-up creation of India’s Harvard.
Perhaps the sentiment won’t be shared by later batches, as the brand and reputation of Ashoka get consolidated over the years. Now when I talk to those considering Ashoka as a prospect, it is unlike when I myself was applying. Instead of the child pleading with parents to let them join this unheard-of institution, I often find parents trying to convince the child to work diligently so they can get into Ashoka. Maybe this is our legacy, to borrow words from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.”
One thing is certain. As future batches further write the symphony that is the Ashokan ethos, they will find some notes already scribbled at the beginning by the Class of 2020. They will have to engage with the historical outcomes of our actions, and they will have to contend with the institutions that we leave behind. With every departing batch, the next batch will enter a space that is more and more shaped by the actions of those that preceded them. It is a travesty that they will not enjoy the opportunity to leave their mark on as blank a slate as the one on which we etched our song.
The author is a rising fourth year, who majored in Politics and Society. He was the President of the 5th HoR, and the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs in the 4th HoR. Views are personal.
Correction : An earlier version of the article wrongly attributed the ‘Endgame’ screening to the Navrang’s First Board of Directors, whose tenure had come to an end before the screening was organised.