Taif Altaf is an alumnus of Delhi Public School Srinagar and currently studies at Sciences Po, France. He is a voracious reader and an adept writer. He has worked as a Lead Editor for Gaash, and has made major contribution in content research for the publication.
Q1. What plan of action did you adopt for course selection while applying to universities after high school? Do commonly acclaimed strategies like elimination and reverse engineering offer fruitful results?
Even though I did not have a very clear cut strategy for choosing my universities or courses, I had a broad idea of what interested me and how the different course outlines provided by different universities could possibly align with my personal interests. At the same time, financial aid, scholarships and living costs were some of the major issues that made me move beyond just the basic academic aspects of choosing a university. During my university selection, Sciences Po seemed like a good option to me because it provided some foundational courses during the first semester after which students could choose different courses based on their interests. So, in a sense, during that time, I had enough leeway to take into consideration what subjects interested me and how I could possibly take my interests forward.
In other words, I do think that the process of elimination works better than reverse engineering because interests change and analysing everything from a futuristic perspective can become confusing after a point of time. At the same time, I do think that having a broad idea of where one wants to end up helps one filter out things that might make us lose focus in one way or another. So, I think that if and only if there is one acclaimed strategy that can help students choose universities after high school, it might be a mean between reverse engineering and elimination; taken as two ends of a thread, it is perhaps better to be somewhere in between; to have a broad idea in mind and try to move towards it by choosing from the repertoire of choices you are offered, given your circumstances.
Q2. In addition to your degree in Political science, what are the academic and non – academic projects that you are currently working on?
Besides my major, Sciences Po has minor workshops which include fiction writing and other creative writing courses. To contextualize, my academic projects are usually somewhere under the broad umbrella of political philosophy, law and political sciences; these include studying comparative constitutionalism, doing an introductory course on political sciences while simultaneously referring to political philosophy for a better understanding of the two. Beyond these two main interests, my non-academic activities include my work as the editor of my college magazine named Le Dragon Dechaine, or the LDD. At the start of 2021, I worked with them as a columnist under the column title “Letters to a Friend”. I have written three pieces, most of which I have shared with Gaash as well. As of now, I am working as the English editor of the magazine while simultaneously doing my work as the columnist. To add to this, and I realize that this may sound like a CV, but that is not my intention, I am working on a few short stories that I wish to complete by the end of this academic year. The first draft of one of my short stories, I have shared with Gaash and your editorial team. Hopefully, I can look into publishing once I have crafted my final draft.
Q3. If given a chance to relive your high school years, would there be any calculated changes or intentions you would want to set for yourself that could have possibly translated into better choices?
When I look back on my high school years, I can only create low resolution images of everything that passed me by, my classes, the walk up the ramps to the classroom, and everything that happened in between these moments. It seems almost surreal that in those moments beside a friend, or listening to a lecture in the classroom, there was no sense of loss whatsoever but just the same as everyone around me, each moment looked over in the present piles up as the unknown in the past; everything undermined now is never to be known again, to be re-lived or felt, and that understanding, is something I lacked on a personal level. There has to be a sense of urgency in observation, in learning and everything that entails our school life; as I recall my high school, I feel that I lacked that understanding, or that level of mindfulness. I understand that we cannot always be calculative and sometimes all we desire is just to live like any other student in India but being Kashmiris, we carry the baggage of history. Whether we like it or not, we are the sum total of our history, we are the culmination of countless individuals who have worked and sacrificed a lot for us to be here now, and it is that consciousness and that understanding that makes us want to stay strong in the face of this world. I think I should have internalized this during my high school–perhaps because I think there is no other way out of this.
Q4. You are the perfect example of how one indeed has only one life but does not necessarily need to be only one person – your interests range from history & politics to the works of Kafka and Faiz. How do you manage to host these multiple versions of yourself in a single being? Does it ever land you in conflict?
I think I chase a feeling when I read; it’s this sort of connection between you and the person you are reading and if the work is good, it seems like someone, if only for a second, someone is in your head and you are reading them and they are reading you—in ways that perhaps few ever do, and it’s something that I wish happens every time I open a book. Similarly, when I listen to music, I love how a bunch of people get together and create something that makes people want to dance, to sing along, to cry or just to lose themselves a bit. I love art—whatever it means, because I find it to be the only way to walk in someone else’s shoes, to crawl through their skin and possibly be in their mind and find that one place which makes us feel truly equal and yet truly different from everyone else. So there is no conflict, there is conflict in ideology; in how I perceive events, how I have a certain idea of something which differs from others but at a deeper level, in that emotional state where I connect with Kafka or Faiz or Kundera, I know the feeling I have—I am being read and I am reading at the same time. So to finally answer your question, the multiplicity comes from me trying whatever ways I can find to get to that state of mind and I reconcile with it because I know that at the very base of me, I am just a seeker.
Q5. You have recently won the LH Short Story Competition and it is certainly not the first time you’ve shined the brightest in a contest. In the said context, what is your take on competition? As a sprightly, young student, do you consider competition a catalyst of growth?
I just wanted to write a story—and it was written more out of necessity than choice. As in, it felt like something that I could not be comfortable without writing and yet could not bring myself to write. For a very long time, I had to sort of get through this feeling and finally write it down. In one way or another, the LH Short Story Competition became a hard deadline for me to bring myself to write the story down and commit to it. I think this context is important to understand why I even participated in the competition in the first place. I don’t really look up to competition, as corny as it sounds, I will not participate in something where I don’t see myself growing or possibly pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I have found competitions to be useful for me in that manner, but anything beyond that, as in all the perks, the medals and everything that competitions really do not matter to me. To answer your question, yes, I do think competitions are catalysts for growth but then again, all competitions do not make us grow and all growth isn’t competition.
Q6. What are the professional / career milestones that you have set for yourself as of now?
I am as clueless now as I was back in my high school. I think it’s the modern day dilemma of having too much to choose from; however, I do have a broad idea of where I would like to be–of what interests me. What interests me is all that I have written in your previous questions, but how that translates into a professional milestone, I do not know. However, I do know that there is so much to read, so much to experience and I want to keep doing that–day in and day out.
Q7. Do you consider your school life to be a rite of passage? Which are some of the most significant memories (of people and events) that you will always carry with yourself?
Although I believe that each individual has a unique learning and growing passage that they come to imbibe over time, the experience schools offer students has a significant impact in our lives. From making friends to sitting at the end of the classroom, having an earlier than usual lunch break and in the process, experiencing joy, stress and everything in between these feelings, my school has blessed me with some of the fondest memories I have ever made.
I think there is one event that comes to my memory–I feel like this question wants a small story and so I shall give it to you. In 2018, we had the bookaroo and before the start of the event, a couple of us were asked to join the authors in a bonfire the night before. So, I remember that time—all of us were huddled in a circle with the light of the fire blazing red in our eyes, while some students were singing, some laughing and some writing—it was one of those moments where everything rushes by and yet seems fixed in due time.