Just like the flower she is named after, willowy and graceful, Nwe ni Kyaw walks in for her appointment with me on a bright November morning. I had requested a meeting with her to acquaint myself with this student from Myanmar who had just joined IIT Kharagpur as a doctoral research scholar in, ‘Image Processing and Machine Learning’ at the Dept. of Computer Science and Engg. So we get to chatting. Little had I known that the brief conversation would leave me in considerable appreciation of the spirit that was burning bright within a delicate exterior.
Born in 1988 in Shwebo, Myanmar in a Buddhist family of five, to a goldsmith father and a mother who traded in rice, Nwe Ni loved listening to music and playing badminton. She was enjoying a normal childhood when by a slight of fate, both her father as well as a younger sister were tragically taken away by death in rapid succession of one another. Her mother became the rock she never thought she had.
After passing the Matriculation Exam with a major in Chemistry, Nwe Ni shifted focus to studying Computers. Yet, the decision was not an easy one, for Shwebo did not have an institution specializing in computer studies. The choice was difficult. On one hand her mother needed her support to run the rice business but on the other hand, she felt her calling to be elsewhere; and that calling would essentially take her away from home and travel to unknown destinations. She decided to travel to the Monywa Computer University and study computers. After her Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from Monywa, she took to her filial piety and returned home to help her mother in the rice business. Two years passed.
In 2013, Nwe Ni passed the entrance exam for the position of a university teacher- a government job and was appointed a Tutor at the University of Computer Studies, Kengtung-East Shan State of Myanmar. Kengtung is a very cold mountain town inhabited by Shan people and Nwe Ni took a plane there. At Kengtung, she taught courses in Operation Research, System Analysis and Design and Database Management System to undergraduate students. Three years later she transferred to the Myanmar Institute of Information Technology (MIIT) in 2016.
While at MIIT, Nwe Ni’s life was again rudely shaken up by the demise of her mother, who had up until then supported her in her every life-decision. Recalling the event clearly wasn’t easy for Nwe Ni as tears streamed down her eyes as she still struggled to come to terms with this most intimate loss in her life. All the family she was left with now, was her elder brother Kyaw Kyaw Naing.
Nwe Ni’s first tryst with India came in 2018 when she attended the Faculty Development Program at International Institute of Information Technology- Bangalore, for a duration of 5 months. During this training, she studied Machine Learning, Database Management System, System Programming and Software Engineering. It was an educational as well as a cultural immersive experience to visit Bodh Gaya, the monuments in Agra and soak in the history and culture of Delhi. This experience opened up new avenues for Nwe Ni and soon after her return to Myanmar, she applied for the 1000 Fellowship Ph.D. for ASEAN students at IITs. She had applied to 3 other IITS but decided to choose IIT Kharagpur as soon as she received the offer letter. She wanted to return to India immediately but due to the shut-down in Myanmar Nwe Ni had no other alternative but to remain in her country and register as an international online student. Her status as an online student continued for a year until she took flight in October 2021 and reached IIT Kharagpur to start a fresh lease of life away from disruptive conditions back home.
Nwe Ni dotes on the education system in India and is acclimatizing to her hostel life at Sister Nivedita Hall of residence but reminisce of her home and country. She is slowly making friends with her hostel mates who is helping her acclimatize to life at IITKGP. She is unfailing in her expression of gratitude towards her mentor at CSE, Prof. Pabitra Mitra and to IITKGP for giving her a new beginning, where she is free to express her physical liberties as well as her aspirations for herself. “Ï hope to be able to pursue my career in academics and I want to be able to teach in India, Thailand, Singapore or any other ASEAN Countries”, she states.
I had almost lost track of time listening to Nwe Ni’s ‘story’ of herself. She needed to return to the General Software Lab and I had to resume my day’s work. So, I thanked her effusively for speaking to me and sharing with me a glimpse of her life thus far. I could say that recapitulating her journey was an emotional affair for herself, as she flashed a beaming smile at me along with the remnant tear-pearls in her eyes. It was a sight to behold. The sacred within the mundane, the assurance within the trepidation, the agony within the ecstasy of an apparently simple life led and a relentless, singular quest to immerse and emerge.
~Koushiki Mukherjee, Office of International Relations.