University Express caught up with Mayanka Mukherji, one of the recipients of the coveted Rhodes Scholarship and a student of Lady Shri Ram College for Women, New Delhi.
Mayanka completes her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in May 2015. She is a spoken word poet, and uses this medium to deal with ideas of gender, communalism and misconstrued notions of development, simultaneously experimenting with rhythm, pace, volume, repetition and other vocal devices, thereby allowing the form and the content to shape one another. She has also been involved in theatre through directing, scriptwriting and acting, focusing on a corporeal dialogue with spaces. Her research projects, while dealing with themes of liminality, material culture, graffiti, have explored several mediums such as film, urban-mapping, role-play and self-created board games. Though her MPhil in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology at Oxford, she wants to study ideas of visual literacy and object-centred narratives to be able to innovate newer methodologies within anthropology.
Our editorial team got candid with Mayanka and asked this latest induction to the Hall of Fame a few questions about her inspiration, future plans and her slam poetry group, .
1. Give us an insight into the process – applications, interviews and all sidelined details. How did you go about it and what, according to you, made you a strong contender for the Scholarship?
Well, the application is as tedious as any other, and to be honest there is no real trick to crack it. I think one should sincerely present themselves as much as one really can on a sheet of paper in the form of their personal essay, which could be about anything – idiosyncrasies of your family, personal experiences, places you’ve travelled or things that you’ve learnt from small, odd, daily adventures, something that I discussed in my essay. The CV was a bit of a tough cookie for me, because around me I’d hear people talking about ‘enterprising’ oneself, a word that just didn’t gel with me. So I formatted it the CV in a framework I innovated, based on my formal as well as informal sources of learning and knowing the world. With excitement and a tinge of skepticism, I sent it all in sometime around July. My first interview was purely academic while the final interview was a creative mix of academic questions as well as questions about my beliefs, opinions and experiences. I was pretty open about education systems in India, and it was well received by the panel. Finally, they asked me to perform one of my slams, and I think that did the trick. I performed a piece on my family and all the other animals and things and nests and furniture that lives inside my house, and their strange channels of communication between them.
2. What course are you planning to pursue at Oxford University and what forms the basis of the said choice?
I’m planning to pursue Visual, Material and Museum anthropology, a choice shaped by my interest in languages, films and object-based narratives.
3. What prompted you to apply for Rhodes Scholarship? Who was your inspiration?
I think my inspiration would be my mother. She studied at Oxford, and I grew up listening to all her stories about quaint buildings and entwining rivers, which shaped my dream. However, it was too expensive a dream given my budget, and my decision to not let my parents pay for the education. So, with all these romantic imageries and practical considerations, I applied for the Rhodes Scholarship.
4. Being addressed as a Rhodes Scholar evokes enormous amounts of awe and reverence. How have things changed for you since the day of result?
Haha! Things haven’t changed in any drastic manner. In fact, the very next day after my result, I began preparing for my exams, and I think that’s a good thing. Its a funny and nice feeling to come back to the mundane, the unchanged everyday, with a sense of unusual happiness.
5. To most of us, you are known as one of the faces of Mildly Offensive Content. Has your involvement in Slam Poetry shaped your thoughts or in anyway, contributed to your success during any phase of the application? What happens to the group after you leave for Oxford?
For me, slam poetry is one of my biggest strengths, and at the same time, my biggest vulnerability. It would be devastating to leave behind a group of the most talented people I’ve known, but I am sure they’ll keep it going, because MOC is one of the biggest reasons for me to come back. Not just for the Scholarship, but in every aspect of my life, slam poetry has shaped me, by making me do and say things that I’d never dream of. It helped me merge the personal with the political, with an aim of documenting several repressed histories and side tracked narratives through my poetry.
6. What piece of advice would you lend to your juniors / future applicants ?
My advice would be to work towards the scholarship, but not let it preoccupy your mind, because it must be treated as a learning experience more than anything else. On a practical level, it is really important to start finding a course that excites you before thinking about the scholarship itself, because its best if it is your academic interest or a set of goals that drive you, with the scholarship being the means and not the end.
(Introduction courtesy: rhodeshouse.ox.ac.uk)