Munk One

Of unsaid goodbyes, unfinished business, and happy memories: musings amidst a global pandemic

March 13th was meant to be just a regular Friday. I had been sitting in the dining hall since 7:30 AM, trying to make progress on aAtharv Agrawal standing in front of a green background. 2,500 word political science essay. However, the only progress I had made was in finding the bottoms of bowlfuls of peach yogurt (yes, I might have a yogurt problem) ––like I said, just a regular Friday morning. Or so I thought, until my procrastination took me to Twitter and I saw a tweet by the university that read, “Important COVID-19 announcement from President Meric Gertler regarding cancellation of classes...The official announcement is attached below.” I dropped my spoonful of yogurt while trying to open the attached link, waiting in jittery anticipation...only to realise that I was on university Wi-Fi. I hastily switched to cellular data and the entire announcement finally popped up. As I finished reading the announcement, I finally relieved the spoon of its burden and slumped into my chair. 

I did not quite know how to feel. Just the previous night, we had received a rather reassuring email stating that the term shall proceed normally and there was nothing to worry about. The thought of what prompted this drastic change in a matter of less than 12 hours was puzzling and worrying, though for a moment I was jubilant that I would not have to sit for a 2-hour lecture in Con Hall again for the rest of the semester. However, the possibility of never being in a class again with my fellow “Munkeys” (yes, that is what we called ourselves, fully aware of the consequent eyerolls we would be at the receiving end of) or our Munk One professors, Donald Kingsbury and Darius Ornston, really pinched me. When I walked into Don’s class the day before, I had no idea that it was going to be my last Munk One class, let alone my last class of my first year in university. 

Munk One students meeting former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.However, that the academic year would come to an end soon was an eventuality that I was aware of, although whether I was emotionally ready for it or not is another question altogether. What really hurt was that I never got the chance to properly say goodbye. So many things that I had planned to do at the end –– sappily and nostalgically reminisce about our time together in our last Munk One class, get class T-shirts with one of Don’s many legendary quotes on it –– would just never materialise the way I imagined them. Friends I was hoping to meet over the weekend were now hastily making their way home. The practice with my swim team that I was looking forward to was now cancelled indefinitely. Much like toilet paper, although closure was the need of the hour, it was a commodity nowhere to be found. 

The only constant in life is, admittedly, change. Never before had that hit so close to home though. As somebody who obsessively plans ahead (too much for my own good, sometimes) I tend to function on an expansive timeline. However, with new information constantly springing at me, my time horizon had now been reduced to a mere hour. To put things in perspective, as of Friday, I was going to be in Toronto till the end of June. By Tuesday, my family decided to call me back home, and I was scheduled to leave on Sunday. I woke up on Thursday morning to my parents’ call telling me that I was now leaving the next day because of a newly imposed travel ban issued by India that very moment. But in these times, I truly appreciated the value of being able to function and live in the present –– walking into the dining hall with our Highball dresses on and eating at the High Table with plastic cutlery was funnily very empowering. 

As somebody who has a fairly stable sleep schedule (you may take that as a brag if you wish), I would be lying if I said that I was not occasionally annoyed during the year by 3 AM shenanigans that are a staple in any university residence. However, as more and more people started heading home with every new update, it dawned upon me how much I had gotten used to just being around people. As the dining hall got emptier with every meal and campus became increasingly deserted, my innate identity as a social animal never rang more true. 

It might sound cliché to say that it is the people who are the defining factor of a place. In the packing entourages we formed whenever everybody was moving out, professors and advisors sending me notes of support, the active effort everybody took to check-in on those around them, and just dropping everything and being there for each other when the need arose, my belief only grew stronger. As beautiful as the hallowed halls around me were, they were nothing without all the lovely people that graced them with their presence. 

When I was leaving Toronto, although I was relieved to be going home and –– more than anything –– to finally have some certainty in life, something felt off. Even though I was physically prepared to leave, I was not so mentally. I could not bid adieu to a lot of people and things, and the ones I could were rushed. Although I do not know when I will be back, I will do so eventually because I have unfinished business there. There are still so many people to meet, friends to make, communities to form, and things to learn.  

Speaking of unfinished business––as aforementioned, my need to plan things led me to plan out my four-month summer down to effectively every week. Arguably the part I was most excited about was my trip to Israel! I was selected to be a part of the annual Munk One cohort for the Coexistence in the Middle East program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I was particularly sad when I found out that our trip was cancelled, not knowing what to do with the gaping, seven week-long hole burnt into my summer and unsure what could possibly make up for such an adventure. The fact that I was trapped in my house indefinitely due to a nationwide lockdown did not help lift my spirits either. However, a cursory glance at my newsfeed made me realise how ungrateful I was being. I had the privilege of being sad in the comforts of my home, alongside my supportive and healthy family, without having to worry about whether this would affect the roof over my head.

More than anything, these past few months have made me more grateful than ever about the little things I took granted for in my lifeMunk One students at a CBC News event. before––friends, family, mentors, teachers, and home. I realise now how painfully easy it is to do so, despite the glaring dearth of such gifts all around me. However, as we start afresh in the aftermath of this global pandemic, I am reminded of Calvin’s iconic words from Calvin and Hobbes, “That is one of the remarkable things about life. It’s never so bad that it can’t get worse.” That is very much the cycle of life. Although we may not always have control over what happens, we always have control over our response. I sincerely hope that we ponder reflexively over this collective memory that we are all creating right now to build a world that is built on the foundations of empathy and understanding and a society that is more appreciative of its most important asset––its people.