It is hard to believe the kind of perseverance and foolhardiness that you have as a 19 year old. A decade ago, during the final year of my degree, I decided to run for the President of the Students Union at the University of Essex. The circumstances that led to this particular decision are several and there was definitely an element of foolish bravado involved. But looking back, I think it was one of the best decisions that I made in my life. My mentor at that point, Chris Saul, had unsuccessfully run for President the previous year and in some way, his loss pushed us to work fervently towards winning, as an act of retribution.
Running for President is not easy. First, you need to put together a team of similar minded people who are willing to run with you. My confidante in putting together this motley crew, was Tom Corner. The legendary Top Bar was our choice of hangout spot. It had this beautiful panoramic view of the main university squares and we spent several hours there, sipping coke, people watching while exchanging ideas and brainstorming. After many phone calls, secret meetings in underground computer labs and some amount of convincing, we finalized our team. Ashley Rudge, Zoe Lester, Alex Reily & Jevanni Letford. Together, we called ourselves ‘Mission Essex’, a name that was suggested by Fatik Khan.
Once we had the team together, we realized that we were going to have to sacrifice some part of our academic life if we were to genuinely succeed in our mission. While it was still possible to attend a few classes, we needed to divert a large part of our time towards planning campaigns, building networks, organizing events, and meeting potential supporters. All this doesn’t come easy, nor cheap but we were in it for the long run. Our unofficial campaign started from the very first day of our 3rd year and the sheer amount of planning we did amazes me even today. I designed the posters myself, and we all sat in Alex’s flat, making the t-shirts, banners, etc. We attended countless society and sports meetings, partied with literally thousands of people, and stood out to campaign, be it rain or snow.
I miss that time of my life. It was easy to have a measurable goal to work towards – winning the election – and channeling all my efforts in that direction. The wider world became irrelevant. Everything I worked towards was within the University campus. As a grown up today, there is no particular goal that life has. You have to create them yourself, while also realizing that you constantly have to juggle multiple responsibilities in life and that is in itself a never ending goal. I feel financial and material goals are too petty. The moment you achieve them, you start craving for more. They won’t let you be satisfied, nor make you into a better human being. Creative goals, social goals and personal goals will allow you to mould yourself into becoming a better person, that benefits yourself and the wider world around you.
But enough of that. Lets look back at Feb 2010, the run up to the final days of voting. Every single day, we were out campaigning in the squares, meeting people at their accommodations and making sure we were visible EVERYWHERE. I distinctly recall one morning, when we woke up at a ridiculously early hour so that we could write our slate name ‘Mission Essex’ on all the steps in the main square. This was before the days of smartphones and I wish we had photographed it. The look on the opposing team’s face when they saw it all, was priceless. We had taken official permission for it the previous week itself, and were always one step ahead of the opposition.
I was predictably nervous on the night of the election results. When we went into SubZero, someone called me to the bar and gave me a free shot, to calm the nerves. We were surrounded by friends who told us that regardless of the result, our hard work and participation should keep us happy. But I knew that nothing but a outright victory would keep me happy. The President was the last result to be announced. But I was already over the moon when I saw that all the four Vice President positions had been won by us, each with a significant margin. When I went on stage for my result, it was almost a no brainer. We won. With a margin that was never seen before. The party that night was unforgettable, everyone kept buying us drinks and shots, and we danced till sunrise. At that age, our bodies could cope with ludicrous amounts of alcohol without much repercussions. I remember being in the corridor of Top Bar and calling up my parents, to tell them we had won. I could barely hear their voices over the din of the music and the chattering of the crowd around me but the message was conveyed and I knew they were ecstatic about the result. Being a typical Indian son, more than anything, I was glad that I was able to make my parents proud.
Our landslide victory was a result of devout teamwork, an innate belief in ourselves, and a massive dedicated fan base who worked tirelessly towards the common cause. I will never forget that day. It was a testament of what one can achieve when you apply yourself. There I was, a little boy in a foreign country, who had arrived only 3 years prior without a single contact or friend. Every thing I had achieved, was my own effort and willpower. Everyone who had voted for us, did it because they believed in us. And I am still thankful to all the countless people who volunteered for us, helped us in any little way and ensured that we won.