Living Away

Studying in New Delhi is just a means to learn new skills for youngster Qazi Zaid. What matters is how you come back and apply those skills for your people

Zaid-and-others
Qazi Zaid on extreme right

It should start as most diaries start, with a sense of emotion. But there is no one particular emotion that I can attribute to my experience as a student in Delhi. Living away from home is an experience that teaches though lessons that are rough and smooth. I was in Delhi when 67 Kashmiri students were expelled from their university in Meerut. The students had been cheering for the win of the Pakistani cricket team. There was a mixed response in the media. Most Kashmiri students that I interacted with would advise each other to keep their emotions low. Not everyone needed this lesson.

Eight-years back when I first got to Delhi, for my education, I was confused. To be in the capital of the empire, I felt was occupying my homeland, I did not know what I would find. Being an average student, I got through classes at school and did fairly well. It was the social set up that seemed to have changed abruptly. From an environment where parents had tried to keep children indoors, I was in an environment where exposure was the key to doing well in life.

Growing up in Kashmir, I would see mothers waiting at bus stops, to get the children back home, as soon as they got down from the school bus. It seemed that their sense of protection would be at relative ease when children were at school.  It would puzzle me.  I had experienced more bombs exploding while on the way to school or while writing my exams.

Far away from all this, doing a design based course, I learnt to give expression to thoughts though design and art. Pencils were sharpened in different ways here. Shapes had meanings and lines were used to guide the eye. It was a stark contrast to the lines that I had seen on the roads in Kashmir, they were usually barbed and were used to divide or restrict.

Assignments were the priority that I had and college fests, a way to learn organizing skills. Each event would be an opportunity to learn something new. Whether it was playing the guitar for someone or making background posters, I would find myself participating in every way I could. Making trips to places around Delhi and visits to Gurudwaras with Sikh friends was as important as going to Jama Masjid for kebabs. The frequency of talking to old friends from Kashmir started to take a dip. Friends who did not share my beliefs became a part of my life. I learned that I was better accepted here in Delhi, because I could speak in Hindi and had the same accent, than the students from north-eastern part of India. It took me less time to adjust than them.

As I crossed my teens and moved into 20s, every visit home made me compare the fast paced life of the capital, with a stagnancy I felt at home. In 2008-2010, when people my age were being massacred in the streets of Kashmir, I watched on television, the stories that were entirely different from what I would get to hear from people back home. The issues debated were different. The causes of concern were different. After a few political discussions with some friends and their parents, it felt that there was nothing that I could talk about, without being misunderstood. It was this feeling that made me rethink about my career as a designer, where I was making artwork so someone could convince their audience about their product.

After a friend helped me apply for a course in journalism in a reputed institute, I felt I could better shape my thoughts and words. It seemed like a good idea to use design as well as journalism skills to broaden my own understanding of what was happening around me.

Learning through experiences was better than being guided by someone. As a Kashmiri studying in New Delhi, the experiences were neither very easy, nor very tough. Although some Kashmiri friends had to make sure that they regularly sign an attendance register at the local police station, but they learned to ignore it and achieve their goals despite the obstacles.

The only tough decision after all this becomes the final homecoming, to learn and acquire skills and then come back and apply them in your homeland. The argument I would often give myself was that the struggle to do well professionally is challenging in any part of the world, but the dividends for this are much bigger back home. To give back to the society after taking so much from it, is a decision that feels like coming at the cost of a thriving professional life, but it is this decision which was partly responsible in making china overcome poverty and move towards prosperity.

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