Life at university is almost surreal. But the other day, as I sauntered into the second term, I had a nagging suspicion that the fantasy was finally fading away. Morbid realism was nibbling the edges as people returned from home, reminded of parts of themselves that had been lost, or left behind, in the intensity of the first term.
Initially, I tried to dismiss my thoughts as nothing more than a consequence of the depressing weather, but last night when a friend remarked that 'everybody's come back strange', the true nuances of a lurking realism began to bother my mind.
University is also about uncertainty, though for the yet uninitiated the early days come carefully camouflaged. The confident countenances of the first few carefree months belie a sense of foreboding; and now the masks are crumbling in the cold. Labouring under the pressure of stereotypes, most had forgotten themselves, and many even flourished in that fantasy world.
The excesses had numbed us, and we walked boldly, but now as feeling returns everyone is uneasy. It's not necessarily bad though. To cross a frontier is to be transformed, and perhaps this is it – here we are then, being transformed. Beset by doubts we're learning to live. Slowly, sometimes painfully, we're becoming aware; fulfilling Henry Miller's prescription for life – becoming joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.
There's also nostalgia. A poignant sense of all that's been left behind becomes a part of everyone who takes a step forward.
And UB40 plays in the background: Every hour, every day I'm learning more/The more I learn, the less I know about before.
It's the unhinging pace of change that elicits this nostalgia; for in the madness only memories lend a sense of continuity. There's both an inner urge to hold on to and a prudent decisive resolve to move on.
London is the perfect companion for such an experience. There's a sense of oneness, for the city isn't very different in character than us - a façade of strength, smartness, and sophistication struggling to hide a soul still searching for truth. As someone once said, here the crowds are without company, and dissipation without pleasure. Perhaps it was in recognition of this parallel between the city and us that the universities here don't have high walls.
The city becomes a microcosm for the university, or is it the other way round? Internals and externals; illusions and reality - they mingle in an eternal flux, a constant transformation. Perhaps that's what we're here for. The less I know, the more I wanna look around/Digging deep for clues on higher ground.
(Nikhil Kumar is an undergraduate student at University College London)