The inevitable online class hit me last September.
Till then, I was working remotely for a project implementation agency of the Indian government. This was the case for most colleagues of mine since March 2020, when the national lockdown began. Remote working was not a major challenge as most of our workforce was dispersed across the country, working from field postings.
University was a different deal. Half an hour before the first seminar of my PhD, I was hastily picking the best-looking onions and beans for dinner. It was a rainy day; I struggled to close my umbrella and get into an auto-rickshaw (the three-wheeled, partly-open hiring vehicle ubiquitous to India) simultaneously. As I reached home, it was 10 minutes to class. I had set up a worktable with my laptop, screen, and study material. The laptop’s camera, though, looked into a shabby room with unfolded clothes, and books that were gathering dust. Horrified, I quickly rearranged the table to face an empty wall, and sat down for class.
18 new PhD students slowly began making introductions, thanks to the course organiser, who divided us into smaller breakout groups to chat. There were people whose time-zone ranged from 2pm to 8pm; some people were away from home for the first time, and others couldn’t wait to get back to Edinburgh again (after an earlier stint during Master’s). Each week’s guest faculty would bring something new to discuss. The course organiser had a look at common research themes and created smaller channels to prompt informal academic exchanges. Lasting friendships were formed.
I realised, after an eventful semester, that I was as ‘present’ in this online semester as I ever was, if not more.