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  • My student bedroom in Cambridge may have been Spartan by contemporary standards, but to me it was the most beautiful space in the world. To me it spelled freedom and the plunge into the eternal adventure of the mind.

    My Cambridge was not the one of medieval courts and toga parties, nor of rowing at dawn and wild student pranks. It had nothing to do with class system or privilege or money. It was not even the Cambridge of sustained intellectual debate and lifelong friendships. Although I encountered all this and more, Cambridge was one of the major life-changing moments I ever experienced.

    You have to remember where I came from. I had grown up in a culture that venerated its intelligentsia, even as it locked them up for insubordination and for asking questions. To me, Oxford and Cambridge had always seemed the pinnacle of intellectual achievement... and completely out of reach. Why, I could not even leave the country! And for a while I dared not even borrow books from the British Council, for fear of my family being blacklisted for its 'foreign connections'.

    In 1989 walls came tumbling down across Europe and I was young enough and lucky enough to have the opportunity to experience Cambridge for myself. And this is what I saw: that there were fantastic and mediocre brains there, as everywhere else. But also that the world of rich ideas and interdisciplinary connections is so powerful in its beauty, so endlessly inspiring, that I wanted to wrap myself up in its cocoon forever.

    It did not quite work out like that and I did not become an academic. But this little bedroom was witness to the opening of my mind, a change of career, the breakdown of a marriage, a brief seduction into love and heartbreak, as well as the centrepoint for many wonderful discussions with people who have become lifelong friends.

    This room contained worlds.
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