The one thing that Himani Dharshini never expected to learn about when she entered university was herself.
The self-professed introvert confessed that, prior to studying at the National University of Singapore (NUS), she never saw herself as a leader. But her journey with NUS has shaped her into a person she never knew she could become.
“Going into university was definitely a daunting experience,” Himani recalls, “because I was used to being ‘spoon-fed’ in school - we followed a strict curriculum, and didn’t get to try out new modules or take control of our own learning path. We just studied what we were told to study.”
Once she entered NUS, Himani was exposed to a whole new culture of freedom and flexibility. “It felt very liberating, like I didn’t have to restrict myself anymore,” Himani laughs shyly. “I could explore so many different options.”
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) student has found herself learning about an array of new and interesting topics. In addition to the plethora of FASS modules that she can choose from to explore her interests, there are also unrestricted electives – modules from other NUS departments – available for Himani to further enrich her learning.
Himani (fifth from the left) with her peers, tutor and professor during a computational thinking module offered at FASS.
After dabbling in modules from architecture to English Linguistics, she finally decided to major in economics, a topic she’s loved since her junior college days.
Himani’s desire to try something new has also led the third-year student into a leadership role she never thought she could fill: being the president of NUS Indian Dance.
The Indian dance enthusiast shares: “NUS Indian Dance is different from the clubs I joined in secondary school and junior college, because they place importance on teaching the actual art form instead of just the choreography: from theory, to the meaning behind each gesture and action, and more.”
As she speaks, Himani expertly weaves her hands into different shapes, each with its own unique meaning: an open, single-handed motion to represent a flower, three fingers to represent a trident, the preferred weapon of certain Hindu gods, and the index and little finger held up to evoke horns, representing the avatar of a half-lion, half-human god.
“It’s a beautiful art form; very intricate,” she says excitedly, as she moves her hands from the lion’s face into a delicate gesture that is meant to mimic the wings of swans. “Learning the meaning behind each move is very fulfilling.”
In addition to perfecting her dance technique, Himani also practises harmony, control, and even time management – the process of putting on her makeup and costume alone takes a jaw-dropping four hours.
As president, Himani hopes to raise the profile of the club and make Indian dance more accessible.
“We’re planning to put on more shows, to engage in regular community engagement, and hope that every NUS student will be able to see an Indian dance performance at least once,” she says.
Under Himani’s vision, NUS Indian Dance is also holding talks with organisations such as foster care centres, and hopes to plan events for the children there. “We hope to hold dance classes and teach them the art of storytelling,” Himani shares.
Although the club has been facing challenges presented by Covid-19, Himani remains undeterred, instead being spurred on to find creative solutions. “We couldn’t have a live dance production in February this year, as planned,” she says. “So we moved the production online, and filmed at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.”
Himani during the Dhi performance at Singapore Botanic Gardens, which was filmed and streamed online. (Photo was taken in September 2020.)
Wanting to catch the morning light, the dancers started filming their routine at 7am. “We had to wake up at 2am to do our makeup and costumes!” Himani recalls.
Juggling her leadership role with her studies is not easy, but Himani doesn’t mind: “I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like a burden,” she explains. “My interest in both Indian dance and economics motivates me to keep going and to manage my time well.”
In fact, last year, the hardworking student surpassed her own expectations and made it to the Dean’s List. “I would consider myself an average student,” she says humbly. “I just really love my subjects, so I’m always pushing myself to do better.”
These days, school life has changed dramatically due to Covid-19. But Himani explains that the thought and care shown by her professors has helped her cope.
“Lessons have all moved online, but the professors remain open and kind,” she says. “They will check in regularly with us, and ask for feedback in order to tailor their online classes and modules to fit their students’ needs.”
“We have open forums for students to share queries with each other, which helps because it’s harder to interact with each other when classes are all online,” she adds.
Although she still has a year left before graduating, Himani already has her eye on the future. Her goal is to work as an Economics teacher, drawing upon her knowledge and experiences to educate and inspire a new generation of students.
“University life is much better than what I expected,” she laughs. “I didn’t expect so many opportunities! I thought I would just stay in my shell, but I got to try things out and discover more about myself.”
(All photos in this story were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, unless otherwise stated.)