Rosheen Dhar, Class of 2020 The latest Ashokan venture on the block is Otto Eats-a meal
Sindhoora Ganesh and Siddhant Sachdeva, Class of 2019
“Life is as much about planning as it is about chance. Perhaps it is much more chance than planning, and it might be entirely by chance that I got into Economics”, says Professor Hemanshu Kumar, Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka. Having taught at Ashoka for almost a year now, he chose this institution as it was his first choice to teach in India. He has taught in the US before, and also in India in a study abroad program. He was always on the lookout for a place where he could exercise the freedom to decide his own course and teach something that excited him. Finding Ashoka a “nice combination of a place where I could look forward to teaching as well as a place that takes research very seriously”, it suited his needs perfectly.
Although the reason of liberal arts is a cliche, Professor feels it really helps broaden one’s perspective to have interdisciplinarity within one’s college by interacting with people from other disciplines and learning from them. He believes that Ashoka combines the best of interdisciplinaria and an ideal teaching methodology, and also takes research very seriously; all of which were important for it being his ideal preference. Professor Hemanshu had a mainly economics-based education right from his college-days. At Ashoka, he takes a course in Econometrics because he says that the subject is not just something he uses himself in his research, but also something he feels is an important tool for students in today’s world, a world where a lot more data is becoming available. His preferred area of study is that of identity, specifically caste-based studies. He feels people often generalize and conflate the different categories of castes, instead of delving deeper into the actual, various castes that exist. Being an under-researched topic under the scope of economics, caste really interests Prof. Kumar and he feels drawn to studying it. Another reason he is drawn to this topic can be traced back to a year of his life after returning from the US. At the time, he was certain about pursuing economics, but wasn’t sure what exactly to do within the discipline. At around the same time, a lot of civil societies were struggling to obtain the right to work. Through some friends, he got drawn into this project which required him to go on a yatra, stepping into the ‘field’ for the very first time. Going to actual villages really helped give him the perspective he needed and shaped his current research interest. He says, “there is a certain vitality to spending time in the field and really seeing with fresh eyes the world as is, rather than just through the lens of other people”. Despite his vast educational background, he still feels the “spaces between your education are really what educate you the most”.
Prof. Hemanshu has fond memories of his school days, being one of those students who genuinely enjoyed studying and whose interest in a subject was affected greatly by how well it was taught by a particular teacher. His school had a certain discipline and moral code to it, promoting inclusion and equality, which really helped form his personality and give him values that he incorporates not only in his life in general but in his research as well. Despite not having studied economics in school at all, he believes his choice of studying it was influenced mostly by the onset of 1991 liberalization in India and its increased appearance in the news at the time. A public speaker since childhood, Professor Hemanshu was also the Convener of the Conservation Club of his school. He used to enjoy learning Indian Classical Music and continues to be an avid listener of music today. He is drawn towards music from the ’60s, and the movies he likes and dislikes are mostly based on the kind of music produced in them. His only regret has been that he did not continue music and did not learn a musical instrument.
After spending four years abroad, where he constantly missed desi food, he spent almost a year going to high-end restaurants of Delhi with one of his friends on coming back to India. In this process, he felt something was missing. It dawned on him that he missed the authentic street food of Delhi, and that marked the beginning of a new Food Critic Phase in his life for almost 5–6 years. He started a group on Orkut where he found people with similar interests and passion for food. Professor Hemanshu had an active blog from 2006–2009 where he wrote about the food in offbeat places and streets of Delhi. He does not have any particular favorite dish, but according to him, there is always a sense of nostalgia that is associated with home food and dishes eaten during one’s childhood. He has this feeling with regard to North Indian food because he grew up in North India, and he is extremely fond of the food served in the original Moti Mahal in Darya Ganj.
Professor Hemanshu also likes binge-watching Netflix and following documentaries. He binges on one show, like how he did for the Game of Thrones series, and then moves on to another show. He follows The Crown, Designated Survivor, and Mozart in the Jungle, the music of which he appreciates. Jean Drèze has been an inspiration and ideal for Professor Hemanshu. He recalls the time spent he with Drèze during a campaign around 2005, when the National Rural Employment Act was passed. He recommends Drèze’s book “Sense and Solidarity” to all. New Zealand is one place he wants to visit and explore, which he thinks is the ‘Lord of The Rings’ effect on him. He also loves trekking and being in the mountains, be it in India or in Europe. When we asked him where he saw himself ten years down the life, he said that he doesn’t really want to get anywhere specific. He enjoys where he is and does not need any big transformation in life. He wants to be able to teach, do good research, and have a leisurely time.
Professor Hemanshu strongly believes in inclusion in the context of Ashoka. He feels that there are a lot of unaddressed aspects of exclusion which needs to be taken up by both the faculty and students of Ashoka. He is of the belief that it will definitely make the University richer since Ashoka has already managed to put together some great students and faculty. He says that intellectual life gets handicapped without inclusion. He also thinks that Ashoka is a very promising place at an incubation stage, transforming every year. When we asked him what message he would like to give students, he said, “Don’t over-plan.” He observes a very similar hyperactivity in students here at Ashoka as he saw in the students during his time in the US, which he feels is a great thing since it provides a chance to push oneself, but also has the risk of getting the student over-stressed. He underscored the necessity of taking time out for oneself, saying that this was a unique time in life, not only with freedom and independence but also as the time for brain development. He strongly feels that sometimes it is best to leave things unplanned and just let things happen. After all, he says, “Life is a series of short-runs.”
Professor Hemanshu Kumar is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Ashoka University.