The Crimson Brigade



The halls of Harvard are much like the halls of Hogwarts, steeped in legend and full of wonder. Whether marching across the corridors of Gund Hall or sitting around in the Harvard Yard, or even sipping a tumbler of warm melted dark chocolate at Burdics, the Harvard University casts a spell to behold.

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Riding the swift and neat Acela Express operated by Amtrak, one is treated to gorgeous fall colours in the month of September as the train pulls through the precincts of Connecticut. New York, New Haven and Providence are few of the stops before reaching the Boston South Station. At the South station, one can easily swap to the Boston Metro and ride straight to the world’s most prestigious and inspiring institutions ever, the Harvard University! Covering an area of roughly 5000 acres, Harvard is home to about 7000 undergraduate students and 15000 post-graduate students. Just like any blue-blooded college its the Undergraduate years that are prided upon!! When one enters the portals as a naive 18 year old and leaves a moulded 22 year-old! In fact in the Harvard yard, the students are very careful to not cross one of the 4 gates leading in, superstitious about not being able to graduate if they do cross that portal!

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A very chirpy 20 year old, in her second year of Biotechnology guided us through the university, as she affably noted tales of the institution, belting out lesser known facts such as, the statue in the yard isnt that of John Harvard as is popularly believed, but of his nephew, since he wasnt alive when the statue was made, or how rubbing his toe would ensure a few years at Harvard for everyone! Or even how the Library was donated by a couple who’s son tragically died in the Titanic sink, or even how the buildings of Harvard also served as army barracks during the war, how women were never allowed to study there, until the war caused men to be pulled up to fight leaving all the educational institutions empty, thereby forcing Harvard to let in women! Never a dull moment at Harvard, I say, since it was established in 1636!!

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What impressed me the most at Harvard is how the institution looks as churning out well-rounded women and men, not focussing on any one aspect alone, and the vast array of resources that is offered, encouraging each and every person to think independently, never scorning or criticising but mostly suggesting and encouraging. The richness of its past is truly over-whelming, one that is even visible today, whether its at the architecture school or the med school or the business school. An absolute wonder. After walking all over the MIT campus, the longest corridor, Microsoft’s Frank O Gehry building, the MIT Design school, I was spell-bound by the sheer innovation in projects and the precise technology they all have access to. Kritika, a brilliant ‘Harvard beet’, studying at the GSD, and taking courses from MIT, chipped me in on some ideas and needless to say I was hooked!

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Every building on campus, whether Harvard or MIT or the host of other colleges in Boston is an architect’s delight! From the red-brick structure, with white trims of the Harvard Business school or the Stone-clad medical school, or the stunning glass and concrete extrusion of the Design school, the old and new architecture styles are blended in effortlessly, almost musically to form a cohesive whole. The Church on water, by Tadao Ando is another spectacular contemporary building on campus. If architecture shapes us, as Churchill famously remarked, I can only imagine what good it could do to the knowledge seekers in the vicinity!

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Ve-ri-tas is the university’s motto, translating from latin to truth, simple and stunning, truth. The under-graduate halls are the oldest buildings of the university, the dining hall inspiring Rowling’s Hogwarts one, truly befitting. After a healthy dose of glorious buildings, we walked down to the shimmering Charles River, watched the Boston skyline reflect in the shiny waters of twilight and crossed many a students walking about, a healthy mind can only reside in a healthy body after all! Holding on to that thought I quickly fished out my phone to note the number of kilometres we walked that day, it said 22!!! Knowing that fact, I was instantly hungry, hence proved that its all in the mind, hunger notwithstanding! Kritika and I then headed towards the most awesome hot chocolate place on campus, via a pit-stop at the student run bar(!) on campus. The usher or so, sat at the entrance reading a thick fat book on physics, taking a break she showed us in! And while some students ate, some drank, a few even sat filling out assignments, all in that den-like atmosphere, that shouted out, total chill! Crossing as we went, tennis courts, outdoor and indoor in pneumatic structures. The importance given to sports in Harvard is unfathomable, while rowing is the most popular in ivy leagues, tennis I saw comes close, as does running too! Moreover, a sporting body holds together a sporting mind! The library too is spectacular, I spent the next morning getting my hands on a couple of hard-bounds, finding it hard to put my nose in a book(?) in the majestic reading room. I found myself staring at the decor, the chair, the massive size of space and every other architectural detail employed in the library. Stunning as ever.

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The classes at the Gund Hall, the school of Design are crisp, well-drafted and informative, igniting countless minds. The design of the Gund hall, is definitely not exactly quaint or even good-looking, but the inside spaces are well-crafted and functional. The studio bonhomie felt in all architectural practices is instantly felt here. At the Gund hall on a Friday evening, it was time for the weekly beer and hot-dogs, well for a vegetarian teetotaller it meant some Apple juice and salty pretzel buns! But the atmosphere was electric and buzzing, considering that the practice lasts only in the design school across Harvard! The same evening, Kritika and her house-mates, a bunch of girls from different parts of the world, threw a house-party, including absolutely delicious food, warm scents from the oven, foot-tapping music, fun hosts and even funner guests. As the party wore on, we had a fortune-teller amidst us who watched us gaze into the crystal ball and told the bravest of us our fortunes! Well one does need some nerve to hear the future sometimes. Think of your question Kristine said, then gaze into the ball, she tossed a few coins around me, mumbled some mumbo-jumbo and waited. When I looked into the crystal ball I was told about how the oyster transforms a grain of sand into something spectacular as a pearl, transform your experiences she said. I blinked twice, obviously asking for clarity, the oyster she repeated is irked by the grain of sand but then it builds upon it, eventually turning it into something priceless, a pearl!! Ah I said, while I thought, oh ho, another grain of sand (irk!). But well then, the oyster wouldn’t have a reason to make the pearl if not for the sand, so well well. While I asked for answers to a multitude of life changing questions looking into the ball, mostly ranging from why and when, all the others apparently just wanted to know if their thesis would be accepted! Phd students I tell you 😀 So in the house-warming party, the roomies entertained their guests with their own respective skills, while one became the fortune-teller, one played the tabla flawlessly, another got the guests grooving to some desi beats and my dear friend played the bar-tender. What fun! The conversation varied from Quantico, which everyone loved, to the latest lab device procured, the living conditions of Zimbabwe, drugs which could be incorporated into chocolate bars (oh wow), river-rafting in Rishikesh and Shah Rukh Khan’s latest move! The quaint party was obviously a huge success and a whole lot of fun. I could almost imagine why one wouldn’t want to leave Harvard, also the thick dark hot chocolate at Burdics(!), a memory I will always treasure, the belgian waffle at Zinneken’s, and the mind-blowing Korean food in BonChon, the Bibimbap, the cannoli from Mike’s pastry, absolutely stunning, no wonder the commencements are made all fancy, to encourage the super-minds to graduate!

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A couple of days later as I settled in to read on my extra luxurious seat on the Amtrak, I was joined in by a crowd of Columbia University med-school students, returning to New York after a week-long conference at Harvard. Stylish as ever, they could easily pass off as fashion models than doctors!! Needless to say the carriage was buzzing with high IQ conversations and deep imprints of laughter. They shared stories of match-box apartments, wonders of existence, the latest fashion week tales and the fragility of the human body, down to the smallest atom! So real and yet so magical. Ivy Leagues I note, Harvard or Columbia or Yale, are worlds in themselves, inspiring architecture, legendary ladders, wondrous alumni, jaw-dropping credentials and more than ever, real, intelligent and well-rounded students who can flip an omelette and just as readily save the world, all with focus and a huge heart!

#a huge thanks to Kritika and Kiran!



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