Realising a dream 

  • 12 January 2023

When Damni Kain (Modern South Asian Studies MPhil 2022) left India for the first time to study at Gonville & Caius College and the University of Cambridge, she packed spices in her suitcase. 

Damni says the spices will soon be exhausted, but she now knows where to restock. She likes Al Amin on Mill Road. 

“I come from a very conservative family and it wasn’t even a dream to come here when I was doing my undergrad and masters in India,” says Damni, who read Political Science at the University of Delhi and was an academic topper throughout and secured the nationwide third rank in the entrance exam for her masters.  

A woman in a red dress and black academic gownThe dream to study at the Centre for South Asian Studies has been realised in part due to the financial support offered by Damni’s status as a Cambridge Trust and Commonwealth Scholar. 

“It has been a huge shift in my life. It is the first time I’ve left India,” she says. 

“Coming from my background it was a big challenge to first convince my parents. Having a full scholarship helped me, because I didn’t have to worry about the finances, for which I’m very grateful. 

“It’s been a lot about emancipation for me.” 

Having a full scholarship helped me, because I didn’t have to worry about the finances, for which I’m very grateful.

Damni had been the leading earner for her family after her father, a grocer, had suffered a heart attack. He has recovered and her parents are proud of her journey to Cambridge. 

Damni thought she had missed her chance when she had not heard about the scholarship at the time of the announcements. Then she remembered to check her junk email folder. 

“The scholarship process has two stages and you get to know about it very late, sometime in June,” she says. 

“I did not know about it on the day it was announced. My friend told me not to worry, consoling me that they announced it in phases.  

“I checked my spam folder and found it there!” 

Years before, an academic suggested Damni apply to study abroad. She dismissed the prospect out of hand, not realising her own potential. 

Her confidence grew when she stood to be Delhi University Students’ Union president which is India’s largest elections on an academic campus, and which are a representative sample of national politics in India. Along with this, a friend who also came from a socially marginalised group like her made it to Oxford and inspired her to apply. 

She adds: “He told me I had the capability to at least apply, not to say no even before applying. That really motivated me. I wasn’t sure of it at all, but I just gave it a shot.” 

After completing her Master’s, Damni worked as a Legislative Assistant to a Member of India’s Parliament, Dr. T. Sumathy with whom she is currently co-authoring a book on the life history of Beatrice Webb. She then worked as a Research Associate at Fairwork, a foundation based at the University of Oxford which is committed to highlighting the best and worst practices in the emerging platform economy. 

It is in this area that Damni’s Cambridge research is focused on, in analysing the spatio-temporal changes of workspaces as they merge with public spaces in the ever-evolving sphere of the gig economy. 

“The expertise from scholars here is really helpful for my project,” says Damni, who plans to apply for a PhD.