In spotlighting the lives of South Asians who have come to Oxford University, this book provides an intriguing journey through both space and time. Its geographical focuses are the small English city of Oxford in the West and the vast area of South Asia in the East. There are many connections between the two: it is even claimed that the first Englishman to set foot on Indian soil was Father Thomas Stephens, who landed in Goa in 1579 and was educated at New College, Oxford. The span of this book does not extend that far back in time, since the first Indian students did not arrive in Oxford until 1871. This account in fact begins with the arrival of the first woman student from India in 1889 and ends in 2018 with the appearance of a female fresher from Pakistan.
That first young student travelled by boat from Bombay (now Mumbai) and, because the Suez Canal had already been opened, her journey would have taken roughly three weeks. Before the opening of the canal, the voyage could last for six months. Nowadays, a flight from London to Mumbai takes less than nine hours! We are all getting closer.
Twelve stars of South Asia were selected primarily for this account, and they come from the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Deciding exactly who to include was very difficult, which is why the book also covers other deserving individuals in somewhat less detail. However, let’s start with the main star of the book, The University of Oxford.
Why Oxford University?
Oxford University has many claims to fame and has educated a long line of famous people from all over the world through the ages. However, Oxford is not as some claim the oldest university in Europe since it was preceded by Bologna in Italy and Paris in France. It began in the 12th century and though it was not the first then, it is the first now. Yes, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, at the time of writing (2018) Oxford was the top university in the world, followed by Cambridge, then Caltech in the United States as third. Surely, this is a propitious start for a book about the stars of South Asia who studied there, stars selected from a firmament of achievements: politicians, lawyers, doctors, cricketers, writers, actors and royalty.
The Times rating, based on a weighted sum of assessment categories including
teaching, citations, international mix, and industry income, is generally accepted
as a fair measure. Nevertheless, there will always be criticism of any scheme used
to rank the world’s universities. Oxford, however, holds a number one ranking that
is quite beyond reproach: it was the very first university in an English-