What do you want to be when you grow up?
Me? Oh, I’m going to be an architect!

I had my life mapped out at a mere eight years of age. Complete my schooling, get into a good architecture school, become an architect, and build something that would outlive me. I was to be the first architect in a family dominated by engineers and bankers. A little over a year ago, I graduated from architecture school, having concluded phase two of my life plan. I’ll always remember the look in my parents’ eyes – pride intermingled with a little exasperation that the tassel on my graduation hat was facing the wrong way. Back then, little did I know that I would be undertaking a massive detour from my childhood dream, with no intention of a return. 

But looking back, the seeds for the change were sown long before. It was a slow realisation rather than a lightbulb moment but I knew I wasn’t going to be a practising architect during fourth year of college itself. I still planned on staying in the field, but either as a conservation architect or as an architectural journalist. Maybe both? Who knows! The only thing I was sure of was the fact that I wanted my work to make a change. The sheer arrogance of the thought is amusing now, but expressing it that way makes my jump into the social sector a less of a stretch. 

Like millions of other people, the turning point in my life was in early 2020. I had returned home having left my job just before the pandemic and the lockdown that accompanied it forced us to adapt to an unprecedented situation. For the first time in my life, I had no plan. I had a lot of time to reflect and think about some fundamental questions – who am I, what do I want to do, and is the work I’m doing now a fundamental need for anyone? While I’m still looking for answers to the first two, after months of conflict my answer to the last question was a resounding no. A friend did ask me whether I thought it was impossible to make a difference without leaving the field. That made me realise that it wasn’t that one cannot make a difference as an architect, it’s just that I was unable to picture myself doing so. That led to my applying for a fellowship as I knew it would be an incredible learning experience as well as allowing me to gain an understanding of the social sector. 

That finally brings me to the Bhumi fellowship. To be honest, I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I was when I got accepted as a Bhumi fellow. It’s been less than four months since then, but there is a tangible shift within me already. Think about it this way, it can take ten to fifteen years for a tree to grow before it can provide shade, but it is considered young even then. That pretty much summarizes my experience so far. I’ve finally accepted that I have a lot of change and growth to undergo first and that has been very liberating. I think that actually helps you grow more. It is a roller-coaster as it isn’t easy to make things happen, especially while working remotely. But that makes the results that much more satisfying. However, the best part for me has been embracing what I learnt, connecting it to what I’m learning and working on now, and planning my life all over again having rediscovered myself.

I’ve realised that the small things like a parent telling me it means a lot to have someone listen to them, or a student drawing an incredible lion, is what keeps me going. The fellowship has offered immense insights into the field of education and has given me an incredible opportunity to work with all of the stakeholders in a school. Moving forward, I hope to take my architectural background and use it to make inroads in the education sector. Whether it is enabling creative thinking in the next generation or finding cost-effective solutions for upgrading infrastructure, the possibilities are limitless. And I’m looking forward to exploring all of them.

WordSmith:: Anjali Sarmah – Bhumi Fellow

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