This article was published originally in Livemint.
Mumbai’s National Gallery of Modern Art will host a series of talks, events and exhibitions on contemporary architecture in India and South Asia early next year, organized by Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), an independent think tank based in the city. The exhibition has been co-curated by architect Rahul Mehrotra, cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote and architecture critic Kaiwan Mehta, with the objective of bringing the discussion on architecture back to the centre stage.
Mehrotra juggles many roles—he is the founder of Mumbai-based RMA Architects, a trustee of UDRI, and over the past decade, professor of urban design and planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He is also on the steering committee of the South Asia Institute at Harvard University. His latest collaboration with a team of researchers and students from the institute led to the book Kumbh Mela: Mapping The Ephemeral Mega City, which was released in New Delhi earlier this week. The book looks at the way the Kumbh Mela operates quite successfully as a temporary city.
Mehrotra’s firm, which has worked closely with the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (formerly the Prince of Wales museum), will be creating a children’s museum within the precincts of the historic monument that dates back to the early 1900s. This underlines the architect’s concern with public infrastructure and institutional patronage—themes that will also inform the exhibition that will take place from 6 January to 27 March 2016.
Mehrotra, who splits his time between Mumbai and Boston, speaks about the crisis facing contemporary architecture in India today, and why debate is vital if architecture is to be a language of our democracy. Edited excerpts:
You are spearheading an exhibition that will be held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai next year, which will provide an overview of public architecture in post-Independence India and initiate discussions on contemporary architecture in our country. Why do you think it’s important to hold this exhibition now?
I am co-curating this exhibition, The State of Architecture: Practices and Processes in India, with art critic Ranjit Hoskote and architectural critic Kaiwan Mehta. We felt that many curatorial hands would represent the gamut and pluralism of architecture in India better than one curator. We also felt that while the debates on urbanism have got really mature, because the cities had some real problems and people have galvanized around those issues, there is very little discussion on contemporary Indian architecture. We felt that for schools, students and the profession more broadly and even the general public, we needed to bring this discourse back to the centre stage. We hope to tease out the issues surrounding our lived environment today. Are we facing a crisis of patronage, capacity, education or institutional structures? The exhibition will have two components. The actual physical exhibition—with photographs, projections and infographics—will offer an overview of practices since independence and projects by younger practices, and will emphasize architecture in the public realm, like institutional buildings. We will also have a bunch of events and conferences. We will do a two-day symposium with architects from neighbouring countries including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Afghanistan. The big questions we wish to ask are: What is the agency of design? What is the role of the architect in society? Why don’t architects have more of a public voice?
Charles Correa, who passed away in June, was an architect with a public voice, and a vision for Indian architecture. He famously said that in India, climate is the progenitor of architecture. Is there anyone who can fill the gap he has left behind?
To put it briefly, the times are different. Charles Correa, B.V. Doshi, Raj Rewal—they are the first generation of post-independence architects. In their time, the profession was very young and they took up an amazing leadership role, which is not to say that we don’t need leadership roles now. But I think it’s a much more complex situation now. It’s more varied and plural. India, at independence, had a focused, single-minded agenda of nation-building and (of creating a) national identity. At that point, architecture was used as a very powerful instrument to weld ourselves as a nation. That is not the agenda today—the built environment is a localized concern. In this condition of contemporary India, the need is for plural voices and devolvement of forms of leadership to local levels.
There can’t be one solution for India like the Corbusian model was for Nehru. The trajectory of architects in the 1960s and 1970s was clearer than it is now, because they had state patronage. Now the only architecture that the state talks about is GDP (gross domestic product)—it’s a statistical architecture by which the state defines its identity. All state projects now are of infrastructure, telecommunications, highways, freeways, rapid trains, etc. Even smart cities are never talked about in terms of their architecture, but only in terms of their infrastructure. So, of course, there is a crisis for young architects.
For me, personally, I do believe that architecture is always of a place. My aspiration is to take global programmes like corporate offices and information technology centres, and root them in the place through material, climate and the way that people in that city use a building. We are now trying to reconcile fundamental values that make good architecture with a new form of patronage and that opens up its own sets of problems.
The big plan, and you alluded to it, is the smart city—100 over the next five years. The central government has allocated Rs. 98,000 crore for this. What do you make of the idea of smart cities?
I have no idea what a smart city means because this is a universal term that has no real value except for the people who are sloshing capital around. The problem with smart cities is that they are founded on capital and investment, but don’t consider the human being as part of this equation. I fear these will end up being gated communities for an elite, skilled, upper middle-class population. People say a smart city is one that uses technology to create connectivity and efficiencies. So I can stand at a bus stop and know that the bus is going to arrive in 10 minutes, and that’ll save me 10 minutes, but if it’s an inhuman city then I’m not interested in saving those 10 minutes.
The first time the idea was articulated was by IBM during the depth of the recession in the West, when companies like that were looking to export their goods and politicians like Narendra Modi and others picked this up, because it becomes a justification (for foreign companies) to invest huge amounts, acquire lots of land, emulate in a fascile way, Dubai and Shanghai, which are autocracies. Those are architectural expressions of autocracies, not of democracies. The architectural expression of democracy will naturally be messier, more pluralistic.
If I had to make an agenda for India, I’d say by the time we are 75 years old as a nation, let’s have 100 great cities. More specifically, let’s make small towns more efficient in terms of sanitation, education and other parameters. Of course we can use technology in how we network these different aspects. Technology needs to be the instrument that facilitates this. We can’t put it before the cart.
Your new book is on the Kumbh Mela as an ephemeral city, and your new research delves into small towns of India. Tell us a bit about this.
The Kumbh Mela is the smartest city I have seen. The government should start by saying we will create more smart cities like the Kumbh Mela. Mapping The Ephemeral Mega City was a mega project, involving many researchers and students. My interest in the Kumbh Mela is looking at it as a temporary mega city. How does one build in six weeks a mega city, which lasts for 55 days, and is then dismantled? It is the cleanest mega city I’ve lived in and what we have celebrated in the book is the efficiency. We found that governance is a key aspect. In the planning stage, the mela has a structure which is top-down (chief ministers, chief secretaries, etc.), but in the implementation stage, it flips and the adhikari gets the power of a district magistrate and he sets up the whole structure. Here the flip led to empowerment. In a lot of our cities, we take for granted that the policymakers supervise the implementers, but this is highly problematic.
I’m also researching smaller towns in India to see how one can develop a different kind of discussion that is more appropriate for them, and not apply the taxonomies and categorizations we use generally, like tier I and tier II. We need another set of categories that point to their uniqueness. So, for example, Dharmasthala is a small town in Karnataka where there is a temple, and 100,000 people live there. But when they have festivals six times a year, four million come there. Now, how can you not make the temple trust a part of governance? Temple towns can be a whole category. Now, why make a town like this a smart city, with a cookie-cutter approach? Similarly, market towns like Erode are a category in itself—they have their own DNA. Their governance structure should be different from a temple town, and an urban city. We shouldn’t replicate the same system. This universalization of the way we live is something we should resist as a society.
On Monday, August 17, the Harvard South Asia Institute launched the Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book and exhibition in Delhi, India. Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, was on hand to launch the book with Harvard faculty, to a crowd of over 250 people at the Oberoi Hotel.
Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serves as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard.
Meena Hewett, Executive Director, SAI, gave the introductory remarks, stating the book has produced a set of teaching tools, useful across the disciplines of public health, data science, architecture, urban planning, business, religion and culture. This was followed by a welcome address by Mr. Vikram Gandhi, a member of the SAI Advisory Council and the managing director and global head of the Financial Institutions Group at Credit Suisse.
Following the introduction was a panel discussion featuring Jyoti Malhrotra, Sr. Reporter, India Today, Professor Rahul Mehrotra from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Mr. Javed Usmani, Chief Information Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh, and Dr. Satchit Balsari, Attending Physician, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital Emergency Department, Assistant Professor Weill Cornell Medical College and Fellow, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and Harvard FXB Center.
Professor Mehrotra explained the methodology of the project, which examined religion, urbanism, business, technology, health, governance, and engineering. The Harvard team working at the Kumbh Mela geographically mapped and extensively covered the emergence of the city that is three times as densely populated as Manhattan and 2/3 times its size. The entire city, made of only using canvas, bamboo, screws, rope and corrugated metal is constructed on the land that emerges where the rivers Ganga and Yamuna meet. He further explained that the success of the city lies in the excellent system of accountability and that the purpose of the visit is singular, limiting friction and keeping expectations minimal.
Mr. Javed Usmani, the Chief Secretary during 2013 Kumbh Mela, gave a brief summary of the efforts and logistical expertise that was required to create the event, which was the largest congregation of humanity in one place in the world. Bringing over 7 to 8 crore people in one space, the temporary infrastructure of the ephemeral city was constructed in less than 3 months and was designed as a grid and super imposed in the context of a shifting site.
Dr. Satchit Balsari talked about monitoring pubic health during the Kumbh as there was the constant threat of epidemics, water borne diseases, and infection. The team from Harvard was able to do real time disease surveillance using local capacity and simple technology by examining medical records from doctors in the area and digitizing the data on I-pads.
The event concluded with remarks from the Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who unveiled the book and answered questions from the audience.
Media coverage of the event:
Maha Kumbh much better organized than Fifa World Cup, says Harvard book
Times of India
“The way a tent township — much larger than the size of Manhattan in terms of population – pops up in a very short time-frame is an example and a project for planners, urban bodies and policy researchers.“
The inspiring Kumbh lesson
“A few of us speaking after the inspiring presentation couldn’t help wondering why the experience of the Kumbh Mela in 2013 could not be carried over to government programmes such as Swachh Bharat. Even the pilgrims departing left behind just a few rectangles of woven rattan matting and not the garbage one might have expected.”
Harvard book chronicles Maha Kumbh success saga
“The book, right from its preamble, lists how the spade work on the mega event started, from laying the grid of the sprawling Mela premises, to the logistics and the massive sanitation, sewage disposal and mass vaccination campaigns that were taken care of by the government agencies.”
In book, Harvard chronicles success of Maha Kumbh
The Asian Age
“It appreciates the chief minister’s efforts to celebrate the mega event as a Green Kumbh by banning the use of plastic materials and other pollutants at the Sangam in Allahabad.”
Harvard pats Kumbh
“’It was fascinating the way such a mega city popped up within months and then disappeared. We thought it would give us a unique opportunity to develop teaching tools in urban planning, disease surveillance and business risk management,’ said Meena Hewett, executive director of the Harvard South Asia Institute and a senior member of the team.”
Harvard, MIT touch to Kumbh planning
Times of India
The experience of the Harvard University teams during the Allahabad Kumbh in 2013 is proving handy for effective public health management in Nashik. The state government and health ministry were aware of the effective data of disease control gathered and used during the Allahabad Kumbh.
— Felipe Vera (@FelipeVera_) August 18, 2015
— Rachna Sharma (@RachnaCoco) August 17, 2015
— Ankur Paliwal (@Ankur_pali) August 17, 2015
I am fortunate, I hv got Chance to Organise a Mega “Kumbh Mela” : UP CM during Launching of Harvard University’s Book pic.twitter.com/GbiwHlsMvb
— Manoj TibrewalAakash (@Manoj_Tibrewal) August 17, 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015, The Oberoi Hotel, Dr Zakir Hussain Marg, Delhi, India
Over fifty Harvard professors, students, administrative staff, and medical practitioners made the pilgrimage to Allahabad, India, to the Kumbh Mela site in 2013, to analyze issues that emerge in any large-scale human gathering. The Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral Megacity book consolidates research findings and serve as an example of interdisciplinary research conducted at Harvard. Please join Harvard faculty and Shri Akhilesh Yadav, Honorable Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, at the launch event.
High tea reception followed by a panel discussion.
The exhibition will be on display following the event at the India Habitat Centre, Experimental art gallery, from August 18th to August 23rd.
Please RSVP to Namrata Arora, email@example.com.
Cosponsored with the Harvard Club of India
By Tarun Khanna, Director of the South Asia Institute & Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School
This post was originally published on Linkedin.
The passing of the 11th President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, has triggered an outpouring of affection. The so-called “missile man,” named after his former career as a scientist and researcher involved with India’s space and missile programs, was popularly also called the People’s President.
This outpouring prompted me to reflect on the two recent occasions I had to meet the man. The first was in the fall of 2011 at Harvard, when the South Asia Institute invited him to give our annual Mahindra Lecture to the community. Above is a photograph of the President meeting Professor Drew Faust, the President of Harvard (and I’m, rightly, in the background!).
During this visit, I remember several interactions between President Kalam and varied audiences at Harvard. We had asked whether he’d be willing to speak more than once, and I remember that he accepted with alacrity, none of the fuss that seems to come with celebrities. There was a public talk to the Cambridge community, the highlight of the visit available here.
He also gave a talk to gathered scientists from Harvard and MIT, including several world-leading lights, and held another evening discussion with the community of the Harvard Law School to which I took my then 11 and 9 year old kids. I remember my kids asking why there was no security. There was, but for an easily approachable person like President Kalam, the security somehow seemed to be an unobtrusive presence.
The second occasion I saw him was earlier this year at the 2015 Jaipur Literature Festival. I was sitting in yet another of his audiences, amongst lovers of the written word, where several hundreds, perhaps a thousand, were in raptures hearing him, more so than any other writer or celebrity gathered there.
Now, why did everyone respond to him thus – physicists and mathematicians, lawyers, writers, indeed everyman-and-everywoman? What accounts for this disarming ease of communication?
Mostly, his message was simple. In his Harvard talk, entitled “Empowering Three Billion,” he emphasized the importance of leadership, and kept returning to the idea that leadership was about being magnanimous, being compassionate, and creating an atmosphere where there was a win-win approach to problem solving. Not rocket science, this, even from the missile man. Yet, coming from someone who had accomplished so much, it did not degenerate into maudlin sentimentality. There was an air of authenticity.
He ended his public speech with a collection of statements. After each sentence, he made every Harvard eminence gathered there raise their hand - “repeat after me” echoing through the room – and take these vows: “Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is harmony in the home, there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world.”
Only Kalam could deliver such theatre; only he could leave us transfixed. Rest in peace!
The Fellows of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA) concluded their year at Harvard with a one week trip to India in May 2015. As the largest research center within Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Weatherhead Center annually invites outstanding senior-level practitioners of international affairs to the University.
While at Harvard, Fellows pursue a research project, among other scholarly activities. As part of their experience, the Fellows Program occasionally organizes an international study trip for the purposes of introducing the Fellows to an important and influential country. This year’s choice of India was a logical one, given the presence of a Fellow from India, Shreyas Navare. Harvard’s South Asia Institute and the Mumbai-based Harvard India Research Center helped plan the trip.
The official meetings in Mumbai and New Delhi included a briefing on US-India relations with Walter Douglas, head of public affairs for the US Mission India; a conversation with Mr. Vinay Mohan Kwatra, Joint Secretary (Americas) Ministry of External Affairs; and a briefing from UK High Commissioner to India and 2006-2007 WCFIA Fellow Sir James Bevan.
The Fellows also participated in several roundtable discussions including discussions at the Harvard Business School India Research Center; with scholars at The Gateway House and at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; with civil servants at Lok Sabha, and with current and former diplomats at India International Centre.
The roundtable at India International Centre was organized by 2007-2008 Fellow Ambassador Sudhir Devare and also included the participation of 1998-1999 Fellow Ambassador Jayant Prasad. The Fellows also had the opportunity to tour the lower house of Parliament, Lok Sabha, and to visit Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.
The Fellows were grateful for this opportunity to learn about India. India, they learned, is a country that is taking a gradualist approach as it emerges more onto the world stage. While it still has many challenges ahead, many of them related to the fact that it has a huge population that is growing rapidly and which has many needs that must be met – jobs, education, and so on – the general assessment of the country’s future seems to be one of moderate optimism.In the words of one Mumbai-based scholar, India in 2015 is an inward country looking outward.
Below are some reflections from the Fellows about India’s future:
“India is very aware of its rising prominence in regional and international affairs and will insist on being taken account of in the Asia-Pacific. It looks to itself as the most important power in the Indian Ocean and views not only the Chinese, but also the United States intentions with deep interest … I found it very interesting that a country that comes from a tradition of non-violence and non-alignment looks to increase its military power and align its interests with Western powers.”
- Thomas O’Steen, US Army Colonel
“In the field of foreign relations, Mr. Modi has certainly broken with the past as far as style is concerned, having met with the President of the United States on three separate occasions and having conducted a number of other high profile meetings with the leaders of, inter alia, China, Japan and Australia. India is moving from being inward-looking to adopting a role in regional and world affairs which is more commensurate to its size and potential. More particularly, it seems to be moving from what is termed as a balancing power to being a leading power.”
-Margarida Afonso, senior civil servant with the European Commission, on how India, under Prime Minister Modi in particular, sees itself as a major global player
“India has to make education a top priority in the national agenda by offering access and good quality of education at all levels, from basic primary to vocational training and higher education. India has to eliminate the barriers that exist for attracting private and highly qualified foreign universities.”
-Maria Fernanda Campo, former Colombian education minister
During this 8-week summer program in India, Harvard College students are exploring the potential of mobile technology to enable economic and social mobility. They spent the first few weeks of the summer program in Ahmedabad and Delhi, where they visited organizations that are using the technology in innovative ways, and learning from experts from a variety of fields.
About: The Harvard University South Asia Institute’s Arts Initiative welcomes applications from emerging artists in South Asia to come to Harvard University to participate in discourse with students and faculty on critical issues.
The Harvard University South Asia Institute (SAI) engages faculty and students through interdisciplinary programs to advance and deepen the teaching and research on global issues relevant to South Asia. SAI’s Arts Initiative serves as a resource across all disciplines to explore critical issues of South Asia through the lens of art and design.
Two artists will be selected for the academic year, including one fall artist and one spring artist. Selected artists will be invited to Harvard University in Cambridge, Ma for four days (a mutually convenient time will be decided upon by the selected artist and SAI). While our visiting emerging artists are on campus, SAI will support events and exhibits organized in collaboration with specific Harvard departments and faculty, and aligned with undergraduate course-content within Harvard.
In addition of $1,000 USD of discretionary funds for the artist’s exhibit related costs, the costs of each artist’s economy travel, accommodation for 4 nights, and meals will be provided.
Eligibility: To apply, you must be a South Asian artist of any medium who uses your work to draw attention to the areas of economic, policy, and social issues of your particular context. Particular attention will be paid to artists whose work is related to SAI’s ongoing research projects: http://southasiainstitute.harvard.edu/projects/.
Your country of residence must be within South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka), with particular preference for artists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, or Sri Lanka, as SAI seeks to create unique opportunities for to engage with artists from countries that have less representation at Harvard.
This opportunity is to meant to recognize and showcase the artwork of up-and-coming artists who would greatly benefit from facilitated connections with Harvard faculty and students, the opportunity to show their work at Harvard University, and strengthen their continued work in their country of origin.
The deadline for Fall 2015 is August 15, 2015. Fall term is September – Early December.
The deadline for Spring 2016 is December 15, 2015. Spring term is February – Early May.
Cover Letter: Complete this cover letter and include it with your application.
Narrative: This written statement should describe how you use your work to draw attention to the areas of economic, policy, and social issues of your particular context. Your statement should address how you intend to utilize your time at Harvard to shape your work. This statement should be no more than two pages.
Work Samples: Samples of work may be submitted to SAI, and should consist of no more than 25 images, 15 minutes of video, and/or 15 pages of text, or whatever medium best represents your work. Work samples should be sent as either: (1) website links (ensure that the links remain active for the entirety of our review period); (2) one CD or DVD mailed to the SAI office; or (3) an email (for materials smaller than 5MB only).
Reference Letters: You will be requested to find two references to write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Their letters should address the following questions (as well as any other relevant information): (1) How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant? and (2) Assess the candidate’s qualification’s and previous achievements, and evaluate the potential impact/contribution of his or her project. Reference letters should be emailed directly to firstname.lastname@example.org by your references.
Please submit your application materials to email@example.com by 11:59 pm EST of the deadline date. For questions about the application process, please email Diana Nguyen, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Applications will be reviewed by the SAI Arts Council, an interdisciplinary panel of faculty and senior administrators.
This opportunity is made possible with the generous support from the Dean of the Division of Social Science’s Donald T. Regan Lecture Fund.
This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette.
Grants help faculty shape study-abroad opportunities
By Alvin Powell, Harvard Staff Writer
New Delhi, Bangalore, Paris, Tblisi, Vienna, Dakar, Freiburg.
Harvard summer students will have the option of classes on three continents through six new summer-abroad programs being developed and implemented by Harvard faculty, thanks to grants from a fund designed to expand study-abroad opportunities and encourage innovation in those experiences.
“They’ll get immersion in a completely different context, exposure to a different society,” said Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School, director of Harvard’s South Asia Institute, and the architect of a summer study-abroad class that places students in Indian nonprofits that are leveraging the promise of mobile phone technology. “I believe the immersion into a combination of library readings and real-world settings will be very instructive.”
The grants were awarded from the President’s Innovation Fund for International Experiences (PIFIE), which was created to provide seed funding to faculty members to develop academic experiences abroad for Harvard undergraduates. The fund was created as part of David Rockefeller’s donation to support student international experiences, and seeks to encourage participation by faculty members at the graduate schools as well as Harvard College.
In addition to Khanna, this year’s grantees include Emmanuel Akyeampong andOusmane Kane for programs in Accra, Ghana, and Dakar, Senegal; Sven Beckertfor a program in Freiburg, Germany; John Hamilton and Lisa Parkes for a program in Vienna; Robert Lue and Alain Viel for a program in Paris; andSteven Clancy for a program in Tblisi, Georgia.
The India program, Khanna said, will run from mid-June through mid-August. The heart of the program will occur in Bangalore, one of the centers of India’s high-tech industry, with a side trip to New Delhi. In Bangalore, students will spend several weeks working at one of two organizations that are using mobile phone technology to improve either health care or education. They will meet regularly as a group, led by Harvard instructors, to discuss their experiences and go over related academic content, such as advances in mobile phone technology, regulatory and legal issues, and user behavior. The program includes a debriefing and presentation in the final week in India and a campus debriefing in Cambridge.
Akyeampong, a professor of history and of African and African American Studies, sees this summer’s inaugural program in Dakar as part of a Harvard expansion into four key West African countries. A summer study-abroad program already exists in Ghana and he’d like to see programs established in Nigeria and the Ivory Coast.
“These are four countries that are too important to ignore,” Akyeampong said.
This summer, students will study language, history, and culture in Dakar, with field trips outside the city. The course, to alternate summers with the Ghana program, will be led by Kane, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Contemporary Islamic Religion and Society.
In Paris, students will embark on a course that Lue, a professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, and Alain Viel, a senior lecturer on molecular and cellular biology, described in a proposal “as wildly creative and diverse as the imaginations of the student teams.” Students will study biological evolutionary principles and apply them to the evolution of technology and society in Paris. Students will develop projects that seek to take advantage of the opportunities presented by technology to more fully engage residents in improving urban life.
“The idea of collective contributions to an improved living environment shares many features with the evolution of populations, be they bacteria in a colony, cells in a tissue, or animals in an ecosystem,” Lue wrote. “This project-based program uses the principles of evolution at the molecular, cellular, and population level to innovate new models for engaging the citizens of Paris in meeting the urban challenges of their city.”
In Freiburg, Summer School students will be able to share the experiences that Harvard College students have enjoyed in a semester-long program since 2012, according to Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of History. The program, to begin in 2016, will explore European answers to questions of the modern world, Beckert said. Support from the President’s Fund, Beckert said, has been critical to the planning process.
“[The program] blends the global and the local to give students an introduction to Europe and a deep international experienced in one of its most beautiful, centrally located cities,” Beckert said. “International experience is an essential part of education today. Students in our program will gain not only an understanding of foreign societies and cultures, but also a better understanding of their home societies and themselves.”
Looking ahead, students will gather in Tblisi in the summer of 2016 for a nine-week program that will combine Russian language classes with instruction about Georgia and about Russia-Georgia literary and cultural ties, said Clancy, a senior lecturer on Slavic languages and literatures and director of the Slavic Language Program.
“Georgia’s long history, fertile culture, intricate and beautiful language, rich folklore, unique choral and dance traditions, outstanding literary and cinematic history, and major archaeological discoveries will make for a unique international experience for our students,” Clancy said. “Quite simply, the President’s Fund will make this program possible. Support will enable us to explore the region, establish ties, and lay the infrastructure for the program in summer 2016 and beyond.”
SAI offers a variety of learning opportunities in South Asia for Harvard students through its grants program. Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply for research grants to support independent research and thesis field work. SAI has partnered with over 50 organizations in South Asia to offer internships to Harvard students.
SAI has awarded 35 grants for summer and research, internship, and language study in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Graduate Language Study
Joshua Ehrlich, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Mughal Persian language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Lucknow
Neelam Khoja, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Punjabi language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Chandigarh
Jason Smith, Religion, ThD, Harvard Divinity School
Tamil language study, American Institute of Indian Studies, Madurai
Tyler Richard, South Asian Studies, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Tamil language study, Field Study, Tamil Nadu
Graduate Research Grants
Mou Banerjee, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Subaltern Bengali Muslims and Christian Conversion Controversies in the 19th Century
Rohit Chandra, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Evolution of India’s Coal Sector
Fletcher Coleman, History of Art and Architecture, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Issues in Indian Ascetics: Early Chinese Buddhist Visual Programming through the Lens of Central Asian and Gandharan Religious Practice
Sutopa Dasgupta, Religion, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The Annandmangal: Religion and Court in an Early Modern Epic from Bengal
Hardeep Dhillon, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Archival research in Delhi related to Maulana Abul Kalam
Madiha Irfan, MTS, Harvard Divinity School
Divorce Law and Religious Authority in Pakistan
Asad Liaqat, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
What drives elite behavior in Pakistan? Testing Knowledge and Inter-Elite Obligation
Maung Nyeu, PhD, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Lost in Translation: Evidence from Oral Narratives in Mother Tongue and Written Narratives in the Language of Instruction
Mircea Raianu, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The TATA Business Empire and the Ethics of Capital in Modern India, ca. 1870-1960
Jigyasa Sharma, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Evaluation of the Effectiveness of WHO’s Safe Childbirth Checklist in Reducing Prenatal Mortality in Rural Rajasthan
Niharika Singh, Public Policy, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Understanding Patterns of High Educational Attainment but Low Labor Participation of South Asian Women
Lydia Walker, History, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Self-Determination for Whom? Nationalism, Internationalism and 1960’s Decolonization
Graduate Internship Grants
Madhav Khosla, Political Theory, PhD, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Modern Constitutionalism and the Indian Founding
Muhammad Zia Mehmood, Harvard Kennedy School
Understanding Mechanisms Underlying Extremist Influence: Peer Effects in the Presence of Extremists
Shweta Suresh, Harvard Kennedy School
Evidence for Policy Design – Confederation of Indian Industries Compliance
Angela Thurston, Harvard Divinity School
Empowering Girls and Strengthening Communities in the Slums of Mumbai
Undergraduate Internship Grants
Joanne Koong, Computer Science & Economics, 2017
Jana Care, Software Engineering Internship, India
Eleni Apostolatos, 2018
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Tamara Fernando, History of Art and Architecture & Economics, 2016
Chunkikuli Ladies College, Internship, Sri Lanka
Kavya Pathak, Neurobiology and Health Policy
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Leena Raza, Organismic & Evolutionary Biology and Health Policy, 2016
PUKAR, Internship, India
Julia Versel, Neurobiology, 2017
Harvard-Bangalore Science Initiative, Internship, India
Diane Jung, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, 2017
Kais Khimji, Social Studies, 2017
Pradeep Niroula, Computer Science and Physics, 2018
Eshaan Patheria, Social Studies, 2017
This article was originally published in the Harvard Gazette
By Corydon Ireland, Harvard Staff Writer
In the spring of 2009, Sheldon Pollock ’71, Ph.D. ’75, the Arvind Raghunathan Professor of South Asian Studies at Columbia, was sitting in a Cambridge café with Sharmila Sen ’92, executive editor at large at theHarvard University Press. “I took out the proverbial napkin,” said Pollock. The two sketched out what would be needed to publish his longtime dream: a series of volumes on classical Indian literature.
Why not 500 books over the next century, they thought: poetry, prose, philosophy, and literary criticism — and later science and mathematics? These largely unseen works, some of which date back more than two millennia, had in the last century shrunk to a canon available almost solely in Sanskrit.
Such a visionary series could bring to light again the heart of the longest continuous multilanguage literary tradition in the world, one that represents the most languages, at least 20 of them. The many languages of the Indian subcontinent, both living and dead, are a musical linguistic litany that includes Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Marathi, Sindhi, Hindi, Tamil, Persian, Telugu, Urdu, Panjabi, and Bangla.
Why not a new series? A model format was already in place. The Loeb Classical Library, launched at Harvard University Press in 1911, now comprises more than 525 handsome volumes in Latin and Greek, along with solid English translations on facing pages. “Back when I was 19 or 20,” said Pollock during a phone conversation, “I very much thought a classical library for India along the lines of the Loeb was a terrific idea.” He called the series an object of “wishing and longing” for decades.
Wishing, longing on a napkin
Sen remembers the same day, when wishing and longing was sketched out on that café napkin. “Shelly told me about the idea,” she said. “I liked it very much. It was exciting to us both.” Sen, who was raised in Kolkata and has a Ph.D. in English from Yale, was aware of a publishing precedent, the Clay Sanskrit Library published by New York University Press, which stopped at 56 volumes.
Its benefactor, investment banker John P. Clay, a onetime honors student at Oxford who studied Avestan, Sanskrit, and Old Persian, died in 2013. (Pollock was co-editor and then editor of the Clay Library.)
A new library of Indian classics, Sen said, would represent all the old languages, including Sanskrit. It would feature attractive and literary translations into English. And it would use the appropriate Indic script on the left-hand page. (The Clay series uses transliterations in Latin script.)
The napkin was full. The idea was good. But where might the money come from to bring it to life? The project, which Pollock described as “the most ambitious ever taken on by an American university press,” needed an endowment, said Sen. “The marketplace doesn’t support these kinds of books.”
Enter Rohan Narayana Murty, with whom Sen and Pollock met in the fall of 2009, when Murty was a Harvard Ph.D. student in computer science. “We had one meeting,” she said. It was enough to convey the series idea and the money it would require. Immediately apparent, she said, was that “this was something very important to Rohan.”
Murty is the scion of a wealthy business family in Bangalore, India, with a history of educational philanthropy. His father is the information technology industrialist N.R. Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. His mother is the polymath computer scientist, social worker, and author Sudha Murty, India’s best-selling female author, with 136 titles to her credit.
Rohan Murty, now on leave as a junior fellow in the Society of Fellows, knew about the Loeb series, of course, said Sen, and wondered why there wasn’t a version for Indian literature. During his graduate studies at Harvard, Murty took a break from distributed computing and opportunistic wireless networks to delve into courses in the Department of South Asian Studies with Parimal G. Patil, professor of religion and Indian philosophy.
Then came the conclusion of what Sen called “a series of happy accidents,” beginning with that napkin sketch. In 2010, Murty founded the Murty Classical Library of India with a gift of $5.2 million to Harvard.
How should we plan and perceive the urban?
In this podcast, Namita Dharia, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University, and Graduate Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study, talks about the life of a migrant worker in urban India and how the construction industry is addressing issues of child labor and women’s safety.
Namita spent over a year at a construction site in India working on an ethnography of the real estate and construction industry in India’s National Capital Region, and is the author of “The Season of Migration in the City” in SAI’s publication The City and South Asia.
Read the full article: issuu.com/sainit/docs/thecityandsouthasia_final/9
Emerging demographic, economic and dietary factors suggest that a large burden of preventable illness is poised to develop in India requiring training for a new cadre of Indian nutrition scientists. There is a great need for nutrition researchers in the country, but few training programs exist.
In response to this critical gap in training, the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC), a collaboration between St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore (SJRI), Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and Tufts University, was initiated in 2009 to build capacity and to provide research training for young professionals in the fields of nutrition and global health from India and other countries in the region.
SAI supports the project, as its goals align with SAI’s own vision of interdisciplinary collaboration to seek innovative solutions to critical issues in South Asia.
The Collaborative recently wrapped up its sixth annual course in January2015 in Bangalore. The intensive 2 week course provided up and coming Indian faculty and graduate students with skills needed for research careers in public health and nutrition.
Faculty included Christopher Duggan, HSPH, Rebecca Raj, Head of Clinical Nutrition Unit at St. John’s Research Institute, Richard Cash, senior lecturer on global health, HSPH, Ronald Bosch, senior research scientist in biostatistics, HSPH, Anuraj Shankar, senior research scientist in nutrition, HSPH, and SV Subramanian, professor of population health and geography.
“The eye opener was the biochemistry session. I learned so many new things about lipids.”
“I liked how the course connected people from various backgrounds and ethnicities to mingle and share their knowledge with each other.”
“We were able to attend the lectures of some of the most eminent scientists who shared their knowledge and expertise with us.”
“Overall, the course was a very high quality, technologically innovative, motivating, and encouraging course to enhance my knowledge in nutrition and research. Thanks for inspiring such budding scientists like me!”
“I got an overview of topics such as the importance of epidemiological studies and infectious diseases. Another advantage of the course is the interaction with fellow students and faculty who come from different background of science to share their experiences.”
“The course has given me a global picture of nutrition and helped me understand the various aspects of nutrition-based researches better.”
The group has also worked to develop distance learning curricula in east Africa and India involving internet-based case discussions, shared curricula, and shared opportunities for discourse. With funding from USAID, NIH, and a private foundation, they have built a collection of online resources for nutrition education.
He has worked with teams exploring early Palaeolithic sites in the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia and in the Soan Valley of Pakistan.
Another project includes the documentation and preservation of the endangered archaeological heritage along the ancient Silk Roads network in Pakistan that ran along the Indus River.
He has also teamed up with Prof. David Reich of the Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, to develop a project to study ancient DNA from excavated graves in north-western Pakistan. If successful, the study would be instrumental in understanding modern and ancient ethnicities in South Asia.
Most recently, Zahir has worked with the Japanese Centre for South Asian Culture Heritage (an umbrella nonprofit organization of Japanese archaeologists, conservationists, and art historians) and the Department of Archaeology at Hazara University, Pakistan, to develop a project for mutual cooperation and development of research projects and the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage of Pakistan.
Along with Mr. Atsushi Noguchi of Meiji University in Japan, Zahir has launched a multidisciplinary project, the “Stable Society Project,” to promote peace and stability in modern Pakistani society by promoting the education, traditions, and culture of Pakistan.
NGO tries to save South Asian relics
By Yugo Hirano
From the ancient Indian city of Mohenjo-daro to Buddhist Gandhara art, South Asia is rich in cultural heritage but under threat from economic sprawl and a lack of restoration capabilities.
To help preserve cultural sites at risk, a group of Japanese archaeologists has set up a nonprofit organization to provide advanced equipment and pass on their know-how.
Pakistan and India, for example, have numerous cultural heritage sites. With the exception of a few famous ones, however, most are little known globally and international aid is limited. Local authorities face financial constraints and in some cases are neglecting or abandoning sites.
Fearing the loss of heritage to the surge in land development in recent years, the Japanese group and other experts launched the Japanese Centre for South Asian Cultural Heritage in October last year.
“Through our network of researchers, we want to provide meticulous support in areas that (local) governments and international organizations can’t get around to,” said Atsushi Noguchi, the NPO’s secretary-general.
The center plans to supply local researchers with such advanced equipment as infrared laser scanners and radio-controlled helicopters for metric documentation and teach them how to use it.
The first project under way involves saving Buddhist artifacts in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region that are expected to be submerged by dam construction.
Preservation of the sites, which include about 30,000 items comprising Buddha statues and pagodas, rock carvings and paintings dating from around 4,000 B.C. to the 10th century A.D., is a top priority as some of the murals have already been destroyed by the dam project. Experts believe there are also numerous cultural assets that haven’t even been identified yet.
In cooperation with Pakistan’s Hazara University, the group will use global positioning systems to record the locations of the cultural assets and document and survey the sites. The center in Tokyo will provide other assistance, such as data analysis.
While Pakistan is an Islamic nation, there are many enthusiastic scholars of Buddhist art.
“The Buddhism that was first introduced to Japan came from this region,” said Noguchi. “It is meaningful for us as Japanese to be involved in this.”
Congratulations to Gillian Slee, Harvard College ’16, and Sara Melissa Theiss, Harvard College ’15, who were chosen by SAI as winners for the Office of International Education’s Annual International Photo Contest. Each year, undergraduates submit photos from their summer travels around the world, whether from study programs, grants, or internships, and SAI selects winners for photos from South Asia.
First Place: “Jeweled Intensity” by Gillian Slee, Harvard College ’16, taken in Jaipur, India
Runner up: “Woman Making Pot of Food” by Sara Melissa Theiss, Harvard College ’15, taken in Sitapur, India
To present the greatest literary works of India from the past two millennia to the largest readership in the world is the mission of the Murty Classical Library of India. The series aims to reintroduce these works, a part of world literature’s treasured heritage, to a new generation.
Translated into English by world-class scholars, reflecting the highest standards of contemporary book design, and featuring elegant, newly commissioned typefaces, these volumes are a modern invitation to diverse pre-modern literary worlds in languages such as Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu. The series will provide English translations of classical works alongside the Indic originals in the appropriate regional script. New books will be added to the series annually.
This series is supported by a generous gift from Rohan Narayana Murty, computer scientist and true friend of the Indian classics.
The following is a list of works that have been printed so far:
The poetry of Bullhe Shah, which drew upon Sufi mysticism, is considered one of the glories of premodern Panjabi literature. His lyrics, famous for their vivid style and outspoken denunciation of artificial religious divisions, have been held in affection by Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and continue to win audiences today across national boundaries.
The History of Akbar, Volume 1
Thackston, Wheeler M.
The History of Akbar, by Abu’l-Fazl, is one of the most important works of Indo-Persian history and a touchstone of prose artistry. It is at once a biography of the Mughal emperor Akbar that includes descriptions of his political and martial feats and cultural achievements, and a chronicle of sixteenth-century India.
Therigatha: Poems of the First Buddhist Women
Therīgāthā is a poetry anthology in the Pali language by and about the first Buddhist women. The poems they left behind are arguably among the most ancient examples of women’s writing in the world and are unmatched for their quality of personal expression and the extraordinary insight they offer into women’s lives in the ancient Indian past.
The Story of Manu
Narayana Rao, Velcheru
The Story of Manu, by sixteenth-century poet Allasani Peddana, is the definitive literary monument of Telugu civilization and a powerful embodiment of the culture of Vijayanagara, the last of the great premodern south Indian states. It describes kingship and its exigencies at the time of Krishnadevaraya, Peddana’s close friend and patron.
Sur’s Ocean: Poems from the Early Tradition
Bryant, Kenneth E.
Hawley, John Stratton
Surdas, regarded as the epitome of artistry in Old Hindi religious poetry from the end of the sixteenth century to the present, refashioned the narrative of Krishna and his lover Radha into elegant, approachable lyrics. His popularity led to the proliferation, through an energetic oral tradition, of poems ascribed to him, the Sūrsāgar.
Read press coverage:
VIDEO: General Editor, Sheldon Pullock, speaks to Livemint
Livemint, Jan. 23, 2015
How to Design an Indian Classic
The New York Times, January. 8, 2015
The modern revivalists
Livemint, Jan. 24, 2015
Library of masterworks of Indian literature launched
Business Standard, January 15, 2015
New venture makes Indian literary classics accessible
The Times of India, January 16, 2015
First shelf filled in Murty Classical Library of India
The Higher Education, January 22, 2015
Where poetry meets math
The Hindu, January 22, 2015
The Books of Civilisation
Open Magazine, January 16, 2015
Narayana Murthy’s son Rohan Murty to take Indian lit classics global
The Financial Express, January 13, 2015
The Fifth Metro: Found in translation
The Indian Express, January 12, 2015
The Diplomat, December 12, 2014
This interview was originally published on Livemint.com.
Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann professor at Harvard Business School, where he has studied and worked with multinational and indigenous companies and investors in emerging markets worldwide. He is also Harvard University’s director of South Asia Institute. Khanna has led several courses on strategy, corporate governance, and international business over the years. He currently teaches in Harvard College’s General Education on entrepreneurship in South Asia.
Apart from teaching, Khanna is also actively involved in the start-up ecosystem. In November, Khanna co-founded a Bengaluru-based business incubator, Axilor Ventures. Khanna is also co-founder at Chaipoint, a chain of 70 tea stalls in Delhi and Bengaluru that he started with students about 18 months ago. On the third day of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), Khanna spoke in an interview about the Narendra Modi government’s engagement with scholars and about incubating start-ups in India. Edited excerpts:
You’ve been voicing concerns about India’s economic progress prior to the new government’s formation. Have your views changed after six months of the Modi government?
There is already a much more concerted attempt (by the new government) to solicit inputs from different people than I ever saw from the previous government, in a much more systematic way. My interpretation from the outside (I’m not part of this government in any way) is that policymakers are reaching out for thoughts from other people and trying to get diversity of views expressed as inputs of their policymaking process.
I would have personally been dismayed if they had come up with some grand pronouncements right off the bat because it would have indicated some degree of thoughtlessness. So I’m quite happy with the idea that they need a few months to think about the right direction and when to announce it. I agree that you will know more in 12-18 months. We are still in the honeymoon period and at some point the honeymoon expires and the results will be seen, but for the moment they appear to be taking a very systematic approach to soliciting inputs and it’s very encouraging.
Have you been approached to pool in ideas for the new government?
Yes, that’s how I know about it. Presumably, and here I’m extrapolating from my conversations with people who are working with the government and in the government, that they are soliciting inputs on topics that supposedly I would know something about. Mine being entrepreneurship and how to re-shape and nudge the fabric of society, the ecosystems in a way that predisposes more young people to starting enterprises of sorts and that’s a game-changer for the country. I don’t see any other way to generate the tens of millions of jobs that we will need over the decades.
Considering there were plenty of bottlenecks carried forward from the previous government, have any of those been corrected so far?
There are, in almost any policy arena, some lower hanging fruits that can be addressed in a year or two and there are some longer-term systemic things that you need to start addressing that take multiple years or even a decade to show results. So, I think it’s a bit early…you should absolutely hold Mr Modi’s feet to the fire in 12-18 months. It’s a bit too soon to declare that there is nothing to be seen as yet, that’s my view at least for now.
So there is a sentimental shift?
Oh yes for sure, there has been a huge sentiment improvement. I think just an expectation of a “can-do” attitude as opposed to a “we can’t do it” attitude, can help the country move forward in a variety of ways. I’m enthused by the motion towards trying to get good policy articulated. There are some good people in the government, technocratic people in the government, and that’s quite reassuring, that’s not always been the case. Certainly watching some of the new appointments, it’s quite reassuring. I won’t agree with them on many things, but that’s not the point, the point is that they are professionally qualified, honest, hard-working people, with a point of view and that’s what we need.
A historic visit is due, with US President Barack Obama visiting India this weekend. What are your thoughts on diplomatic and economic relationships between the two countries?
It is a great sign, there are so many opportunities for joint problem solving that the two countries have. I have fairly extreme views on it, but for instance, a lot of the healthcare experiments that we are running in this country, like mobile healthcare or mobile diagnostics, those things, or things like Devi-Shetty’s hospital in Bangalore, I think those lessons are directly applicable to the US healthcare mess. Similarly, mobile-money and the experiments in the sector, not just in India but other poor countries, are very relevant to some of the areas to the US where we are technologically behind. And the best way to uncover these opportunities is to really open the floodgates and let people interact, engage and have people come up with all sorts of things. So I’m quite excited by the extent to which both administrations are going to signal focus not just on the geo-political issues of the countries, not just Afghanistan-Pakistan and China, because those have to be addressed, but more traction will come if we have economic engagement on the ground.
While you speak of policy changes and your specialization being skill development, what are your thoughts on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail?
There is no question that a big change in the country, like allowing FDI in retail, will trigger a fair amount of economic surplus and redistribution. Some of the traditional trading communities will, on occasion, be out-competed, but what the society and government need to realize is that the surplus created from organized retail, will be I think in order of magnitude—much greater, than any pain caused by this stress, so I’m hugely in favour of allowing FDI in retail. If you look at the history of any of the countries, a lot of modernization of infrastructure has happened as a result of modernization of the wholesale retail channel and we have tried to skip that step in some ways and that’s been a detriment to everybody other than the trading community. So it’s a challenge for this government.
What are the gaps that need to be plugged in skill development in the country?
There is a lot. I think of them as being three buckets, talent: capital and other enablers of entrepreneurs. In each of these gaps, I see some lower hanging fruit that can address within a year or so, we just need to have a streamlined approach to address these gaps. There are a lot of people in the country who are trying to think and do something this, there are a lot of industrial bodies, no shortage of people who are thinking of bits and pieces in the same things, but the government needs to somehow embrace this collective wisdom and channel it to this streamlined approach.
The place where the government is making some progress is the skill development, and they did a good job with the NSDC (National Skill Development Corporation).
But there are lots of other areas such as provision of debt capital, rationalization of intellectual property, there need to be exit and bankruptcy norms for failed start-ups—it’s very difficult to shut things down. The government should be looking at these issues too. Currently the problem is that different people are taking different shots at these bits and pieces, so we need someone to take a holistic approach of this.
Tell us more about your start-up Chaipoint. How has the journey from teaching entrepreneurship to being an entrepreneur been?
It’s early days, two years old and we’ve opened 70 stores in Bangalore and Delhi and we are opening in Pune soon. We hope to build about a 1,000 stores. It’s the most everyday business we have. We have decided we will use technology and streamline business processes to make it hygienic.
The first year was a year of experimenting, so we actually started small store in Bangalore in Koramangala and one in Pune. The Pune one we shut down pretty quickly because we made some basic mistakes. My student who runs it on a day to day basis, Amuleek Singh Bijral, originally from Patiala, had a career in technology and he and I and another student decided to start this. The experiment took 18 months and we got it angel funded through some colleagues of mine. Now it has some VC (venture capital) fund behind it and it’s scaling pretty nicely. It’s an example of how you can take the most mundane thing and soup it up.
I’ve also opened an incubator in Bangalore—Axilor Ventures—with four colleagues including two co-founders from Infosys. That is just started and it is going to start soliciting applications for students to be residents. We will do 3-4 different types of funds like zero start-ups, for college kids—we will give them small grants. We are also doing investments—decent size, large angel rounds. So right now we are approaching it like an entrepreneurial venture, we are going to struggle and iterate our way to the right model of an incubator. Axilor is my attempt to scale up what I’m doing with some like minded colleagues.
Another attempt by me is Aspiring Minds, which is an aspiring tech-software driven, talent assessment enterprise that started in Delhi (in Gurgaon) and now is the nation’s best talent assessment by far. It is used by 1,000 corporates now, we do a sweep of about 3000 colleges, we are in 6-7 countries, we just entered US and will enter China. It helps companies find talent they normally wouldn’t find and helps people with not-so-fancy degrees but who are smart, to find jobs.
What are your thoughts on liberal arts education?
I think it’s fabulous. People at HBS (Harvard Business School), lots of them who get in are from humanities, along with a mix of scientists, engineers and people from conventional economic backgrounds. I am a big fan of liberal arts education. I was to go to IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Madras, but I chose to go to Princeton partly because I thought it would be much more intellectually stimulating.
This opinion piece was originally published in The Boston Globe.
By Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School; SAI Steering Committee Member
THE UNITED STATES has a major opportunity this month to return to a close security and economic partnership with India — a priority of the last three American presidents. The new Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, signaled he wants to get beyond the problem-ridden last few years between Delhi and Washington by inviting President Obama to be the “chief guest” at India’s elaborate Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26. This simple but important symbolic gesture may kickstart the revival both countries have been looking for.
Modi is seeking expanded ties between the world’s two most powerful democracies with one, major purpose in mind. His electoral mandate is to rejuvenate India’s sluggish economy. With 1.2 billion people and a burgeoning middle class, Modi is going all out to raise India’s GDP growth rate from an anemic (for India) 4.5 percent to over 7 percent for the years ahead.
At an Aspen Strategy Group meeting in Delhi I attended this past weekend, Indian government and business leaders made a persistent pitch for greater US investment capital and trade to help India emerge from its economic doldrums. And, in the western Indian state of Gujarat on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry challenged both countries to increase trade fivefold in coming years. In his first year in office, Modi has launched a New Deal-type crusade to reform the top-heavy Indian economy, clear away burdensome state regulations, and free the entrepreneurial spirits of the Indian people.
Modi is also engineering a massive infrastructure renewal by financing major investments in railroads ($100 billion alone), ports, roads, energy, and education. Indian planners say they need to build a city the size of Chicago annually to accommodate a rapidly urbanizing population. But a new wave of foreign investment won’t happen unless Modi pushes real reform measures through Parliament.
India and the United States are also drawn together by a common interest in countering terrorist and cyber threats. They are also focused on a newly assertive China under Xi Jinping’s leadership. Indian leaders complain that China continues to contest their disputed land border and is executing a “string of pearls’’ naval strategy by establishing access rights to ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to hem in the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
This aggressive Chinese strategy has prompted India to seek closer naval and air cooperation with the United States as well as Japan, Australia, and the Philippines. Concerns about China will unite India and the United States in common cause for the decade to come. Both want to engage China economically and on issues such as climate change and proliferation. But neither is willing to see China dominate the critical sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and South China Sea through which a major share of the world’s energy and container traffic are shipped. India wants the US military to remain a major presence in the region. And many senior Indians argue that the United States should reconsider plans to remove its military from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 lest the Taliban be unleashed.
Obama will be received warmly in this vast country whose people have a genuinely upbeat view of the United States. Still, Washington has significant differences to work out with India on global trade talks, climate change, the frozen civil nuclear deal, and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Crimea. Many here and in the United States also worry about Modi’s ties to the extremist Hindu nationalist movement the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). These are not insignificant problems in this unique but sometimes frustrating partnership. But the long-term trend lines are mostly positive, which gives Obama and Kerry an opening to refashion ties with this key Asian rising power.
Nicholas Burns will chair a SAI Special Event, titled ‘The Politickle Pickle: A Conversation on Indo-US Relations‘ with Tanvi Madan of the Brookings Institution, which will be rescheduled.
Broken Memory, Shining Dust, which was screened at a SAI event in December, is a documentary directed by Nilosree Biswas that depicts the extraordinary journey of Kashmiri women experiencing loss, separation, pain, anger, helplessness, faith, grit and determination amidst societal tragedies and circumstances.
Woven around the life of Parveena Ahanger, a Kashmiri mother and other women, the film is about “women in wait” for their loved ones, who went missing in the conflict ridden valley of Kashmir, India, in last two decades, and interweaves their memories of struggle and devotion into a resistance movement.
SAI recently spoke to Biswas from her base in Mumbai about the “women in wait,” as well as Kashmir’s unique culture, the effects of political conflict on women, and a filmmaker’s role in depicting a conflict area.
SAI: To start, can you give some context – what is going on in Kashmir, and why were you drawn to tell this story?
Nilosree Biswas: I had been making documentaries for a very long period of time, and in 2007 I was in a village in the northern part of Kashmir, which consisted of only widows who had lost their husbands to conflict, or had been picked up by the militants. In the process, I came across research about forced disappearances, which is something that has happened in Southeast Asia, and in our part of the world in India and Pakistan, and has had a big impact on society.
In the process, I also found out about Paraveena Ahanger, and over the next 4 years I repeatedly went back and forth to Kashmir and went to villages to meet many of these women, hundreds, who have lost either their husband or sons. This whole sense of trying to understand ‘wait’ from the women’s point of view was part of the process. More than the political aspect, it is understanding how women cope with the phenomenon of disappearances that appealed to me as a filmmaker
SAI: Can you talk more about Paraveena Ahanger – I found her to have so much strength and courage for the work that she is doing. Where does that come from for the women, after struggling for so long without their family members?
NB: When I first met her, I was completely astonished by the courage of this mother, and her journey of searching for her son Javed in all the detention camps and prisons and army outposts. It’s a huge journey. I think women like Paraveena have a sense of resilience in them.
On top of that, the Kashmiri society and geography is very closed off – it is surrounded by high mountain ranges; it is a Himalayan territory. I personally think that there is a connection between the geographical factors that impact people. The harsh winters, the hardships of life generally in the villages of Kashmir are what can make a person resolute.
Another most important thing that I realized after a number of visits is how the culture of this particular society in Kashmir has a huge Sufi influence and faith system, which is not so much practiced in Islam throughout the world – it is slightly deviant. Yet, it is a strong and peaceful belief system that the local society has followed for years. In the film, you see her [Paraveena] praying, and there are shots of her going to shrines, which she does on a regular basis.
I think there is a huge amount of spiritual and active faith system working within these women, because otherwise, if we take it on a regular day-to-day basis, we will never be able to cope with the fact that our young sons and husbands and brothers have been taken. Coping with this needs something extra, and I think the women of Kashmir are very faith-bound. The Sufism, which is practiced in Kashmir, gives them a huge amount of strength.
SAI: Were the women receptive to you telling their story? Do they want the world to know what has happened?
NB: There are two sections of women [in Kashmir]. One section is made of women like Paraveena, who had gone ahead and made it their mission in life to find out what happened to their sons, brothers, and husbands. Another section includes women who are getting drawn to the movement which Paraveena had started, so they are slowly becoming aware of the justice system, which they think can give them a solution or conclusion. If there is a third category, it is the women who do not have access to the justice system, or who are far away from the resources which would enable them a kind of justice.
It is a universal story, because when I see Paraveena, and I see her resilience, I easily equate the struggle with South American mothers, for example, or Indonesian mothers, or African mothers, or anyone in a conflict-ridden society.
SAI: One thing that is striking about the film is your use of poetry throughout the narrative.
NB: I used that technique because, as a filmmaker, whenever I had seen a film based on a conflict-ridden society, there was always a certain stereotyping in terms of the directorial narrative. For example, if there is a film about Congo, or Palestine, or Peru, there would be a certain kind of narrative. I wanted to avoid that. And because my perspective was entirely from a woman’s point of view, I wanted to use poetry that would bind the entire narrative.
SAI: As a filmmaker, what kind of role do you see film and documentaries, and more generally, art, playing in activism and social change?
NB: I have just completed a photographic book on Kashmir. What we have done as a team is we have tried to have an image of Kashmir which is beyond the conflict. There is life beyond the army outposts in any conflict-ridden area, be it Afghanistan, Iraq, or Palestine.
I have tried to capture that life in this photographic book. For example, how a small child going to school, or a woman who is out on the road to make a living, are going about their daily life. I have tried to capture the life of common people whose destiny is not associated with the larger conflict of the place. So this is what a filmmaker or photographer can do. Instead of continuously projecting the bloodshed or the gory war, or issues of crisis, one can also project life that is ongoing – a narrative of the daily life.
The culture of Kashmir is very distinct. There, every day, a small boy or girl goes out early in the morning and gets handmade bread and enjoys it with an early cup of tea. And while going to the baker from one’s home, one will cross five army outposts. Kashmir has one of the highest army to civilian ratios in a peace period of time, only ranking behind Afghanistan. Wherever they [the civilians] are, they can not avoid these army postings.
As a filmmaker, photographer, or artist, all of us have the responsibility to project these elements of life in conflict. There can be visuals of a conflict area that go beyond the bombing sites and scenes of destruction. Eventually, this can help inform public opinion that may draw the attention of policy makers, and result in a better understanding of the situation. In a country like India or China, it is very complex.
SAI: You said you made this film from a woman’s perspective – what are your thoughts on how men and women experience these types of conflicts differently?
NB: There is a difference in approach between men and women in Kashmir. For example, for Paraveena, she was the one who took up this battle [of justice for the disappeared]. Still today, she is the one who has continued. She has four children, and her youngest daughter has taken it upon herself to fulfill the mission. However, Javed’s [Paraveena’s son] father, who was equally sad and depressed about the situation, had moved on with life.
I think the attitude with which men generally have is that after a point, they would let it go. The sustaining of many advocacy groups [like Paraveena’s] is largely because they have a woman leader. This helped me understand, from a gender point of view, how the conflict impacted the women more.
While researching the conflict, I found that many movies, films, and documentaries prepared on the Kashmir conflict in India, are, either coincidentally or rationally, led by women. In many cases, women have taken an active role in disseminating the whole situation to the rest of the media.
SAI: What does the future hold for Kashmir, and these women?
NB: I think the future of Kashmir is a very complex scenario. In a way, the Kashmiri people are extremely resilient, that for the last decades they have battled the conflict and they have moved on in life. That is the future of Kashmir. Life has to go on in Kashmir – it shouldn’t be crippled under the pressure of the state. The filmmakers, the artist, the poets, and everyone involved in media, should have active participation in continuing the dialogue of Kashmir with state representatives and stakeholders in whatever form they can. The state should not forget about the crisis of Kashmir, and that it is integral to India.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On January 9 and 10, the Harvard US-India Initiative hosted is Annual Conference in New Delhi, with support from SAI.
Keynote speakers included Piyush Goyal, Hon’ble Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy in the Government of India, Mirai Chatterjee, Director of Social Security, SEWA, and Shri Jairam Ramesh, MP Rajya Sabha, former Cabinet Minister.
HUII is an undergraduate student-run organization at Harvard that aims to create dialogue between Indian and American youth to address some of India’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues today.
Below is an excerpt from a report on the conference:
“If yesterday’s events urged participants to immerse themselves in the world of ideas, today’s panelists gave us diverse and exceptional examples of how to apply these ideas in practice. We explored the treatment of women from the womb to the workplace on the Girl Child and Yes Ma’am panels. We discussed the ethics and efficacy of the nonprofit world in several of our afternoon sessions. Our keynote speaker this morning, Mirai Chatterjee, gave us an eye-opening presentation on the detail and planning that is involved in the roll out of universal healthcare. Our discourse today was characterized by representation from different areas of the public sphere, yet each of the panelists placed a certain conscious emphasis on creating value.
Yet, in every sphere— public and private, urban and rural, conservative and liberal—today’s presenters stressed the importance of assigning value to what we do. As our country enjoys greater importance on an international stage, we must look to development of our own social consciousness in every sphere. In India, a country that shelters one-fifth of humanity, the narrative that our generation crafts cannot be the narrative of our forefathers—we simply cannot afford it. The cost of moving forward without attention paid to our conscience and moral growth is too heavy for our society, government and even economy to bear.” - Zeenia Framroze, Harvard College’15
Highlights from Twitter:
Harvard US India Initiative was the best thing to happen to me !! pic.twitter.com/dY6HbDYGKh
— Archna Yadav (@archnaysblog) January 12, 2015
provocative and enlightening two days at HUII 2015, with accomplished personalities from all walks of life #harvard_us_india_initiative
— AAKANKSHA MIRDHA (@mirdhaaakanksha) January 12, 2015
Pearls of wisdom – integrity, competence and diversity – from Jayant Sinha’s at #HUII15.
— Aakash Aggarwal (@aakashsays1) January 10, 2015
— Sunit Jain (@Dhoklebaaz) January 10, 2015
“Change is the name of the game” Jairam Ramesh today at Harvard US India Initiative.
— Surbhi Arora (@surbheeee) January 9, 2015
Ideas are bullet proof says one of the speakers (Gautam Patel). Frees speech is not about comfort or conformity. #HUII15
— nikhil dey (@deydreaming) January 9, 2015
By Payal Narain, Program Consultant, SAI Delhi Office
On January 9, 2015, the Harvard South Asia Institute (SAI), Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and the Population Foundation of India (PFI) co-hosted a day-long seminar on “Addressing Gender Norms through Education: Developing and Implementing Adolescent Curriculum” in New Delhi.
The aim of the seminar was to formulate a research agenda and constitute a group of partners representing government, researchers, non-government organizations and academicians. Held at the PFI office, the seminar was well attended by representatives from the state and central government, civil society and the academic community. In all, there were 28 invited participants, including two who Skyped in from Boston.
Education is crucial to re-orienting gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles, and has the potential to address gender based discrimination and violence by altering patriarchal and repressive mindsets. Though there have been many attempts to create educational frameworks that address gender norms, a comprehensive nationwide program is yet to be implemented.
There is a need for a framework that promotes healthy attitudes about gender and sexual health, empowers young people with accurate, age appropriate and culturally relevant information that is accessible and engaging, and develops skills to enable them to respond to situations in a gender-sensitive manner.
The seminar explored these needs in three separate sessions, new developments and the implementation of middle school, high school and college curriculum. The fifth and final session of the seminar was devoted to discussions for the creation of a three-year action plan to develop and implement educational curriculum for adolescents to address gender norms.
The first session started with a welcome address by Meena Hewett, SAI Executive Director, followed by an introduction and background to the Harvard Gender Violence Project by Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research; Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health; Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Lecturer in Law, Harvard Law School; Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard Kennedy School. Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor, Harvard Business School, presented an overview of the current state of gender-relevant curriculum in middle school, high school, and college.
The first session ended with a presentation by Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India on the organization’s innovative developments in communicating gender roles and changing stereotypes.
During the conference, SAI reinforced its commitment to supporting faculty-lead programs to address gender issues, both in-region and at Harvard. Professor Bhabha outlined the history of the Harvard Gender Violence Project that came into being in the wake of the brutal rape that took place in Delhi in December 2012, which sent shock waves throughout the world. South Asian students influenced Harvard faculty to convene to discuss this issue.
In India, the three-member Justice Verma committee was set up to report on the case, and suggest amendments to the law to prevent and punish sexual offences. The committee reached out to Professor Diane Rosenfeld, Gender Violence Program, Harvard Law School, for her viewpoint and inputs on criminal laws on sexual assault.
Subsequently, SAI became involved, and in July 2013 the organized an interdisciplinary conference on ‘Gender Justice and Criminal Law Reform’ in Delhi which was attended by leading law-makers, including the two surviving members of the Verma committee, police officials, education specialists, researchers and gender activists. Professor Akshay Mangla of Harvard Business School also joined the Harvard Gender Violence team. A seminar was held at the Radcliffe Institute in August 2014 and a webinar on tackling gender based violence was held by Professor Bhabha in November 2013.
During the first session, Professor Mangla gave a brief overview of his research and other available data on the current state of gender-relevant curriculum in middle school, high school and college. Survey results showed that while there was a wide gap in the policy and delivery of sex education, there was a clear demand – not only from women, but from men, who also thought that sex education was necessary.
Professor Mangla presented statistical data regarding the appropriate age to initiate gender based education, and who should impart it: parents or teachers. However, due to deep-seated taboos on the subject, parent-child and teacher-child communication is often poor, so often awareness is lacking. Clearly, innovation is needed to address this issue.
Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, PFI, outlined the work of PFI, and highlighted the 2013 introduction of PFI’s very successful and innovative tool, entertainment education, in the form of a transmedia serial – Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (I, a Woman can Achieve Anything) to communicate gender roles and implement behaviour change. The success of the program in its first season was based on feedback from viewers, which showed that this medium could reach out to the masses on a large scale, both in urban and in rural India.
The second session, facilitated by Akshay Mangla, addressed Middle School Curriculum Development and obstacles to implementation.The panelists included Maninder Kaur Dwivedi, Executive Director (Transport), Food Corporation of India (FCI), Shantha Sinha, Professor, Former Chair, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Hyderabad and Prabha Nagaraja, Executive Director, Talking about Reproductive Health and Sexual Issues (TARSHI).
Government policy and adolescent education materiel in textbooks were also discussed. It was stated that much of the materiel available does not communicate the required gender values. While a number of government programs under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), like the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Program (KGBV), and the Mahila Samakhya Scheme (MS), focus on encouraging education for the girl child, some Indian states were currently showing a drop in enrollment of boys. Therefore, state policy should be formulated taking local concerns into account. Many girls in school are exposed to gender-based violence – from mental to actual physical assault.
The need to scale up good pilot projects was stressed during the session, since the schemes launched were not achieving the necessary targets. Programs for scholarships and residential spaces for girls need expansion. There was further discussion regarding a change in nomenclature – Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), instead of sex education, since many are apt to misinterpret this. It was also thought that CSE should start at the kindergarten level, to teach children about their body parts and sensitize them regarding ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’.
Session III of the event discussed the development of, and obstacles to implementation of Curriculum at the High School level and innovative practices. Jacqueline Bhabha facilitated the session with panelists Gurjot Kaur, Additional Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary, Women and Child Development, Rajasthan, Kanchan Mathur and Shobhita Rajagopal, Institute of Development Studies, and Ravi Verma, Director, International Center for Research on Women.
The panel discussed a male-centric approach to understanding the concept of masculinity through the Gender Equality Movement in Schools (GEMS) mainly related to HIV-AIDS awareness. This GEMS diary was inculcated into the school curriculum and provided a platform for parent-child interaction on gender sensitive issues. The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) and the Kishori Shakti Yojana (KSJ) are government schemes that focus on secondary education and their relevance was discussed. The KSJ seeks to empower adolescent girls through nutrition and informal education, through a girl-to-girl approach. Girls wanting to go for more advanced studies face several obstacles that cause them to quit, in spite of their aspirations. Therefore, it is important to highlight success stories.
Session IV discussed College Curriculum, with Akshay Mangla facilitating. Panelists included Keshav Desiraju, Secretary, Consumer Affairs, Government of India, Mary E. John, Professor and Senior Fellow, Centre for Women’s Development Studies, and Aparajita Gogoi, Executive Director, Centre for Catalyzing Change.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) Saksham Report on steps taken for women’s safety and gender sensitisation in colleges and its depressing results were discussed. Either the minimum, or none, of the safety requirements were in place. Reform in teacher curriculum was urgently required – primary and secondary school teachers had some training related to gender issues, whereas this was completely lacking at the college level. Some participants recommended that the curriculum be developed in tandem with parents and teachers.
The panel also perceived greater scope for safe residential spaces for girl students so that they can be distanced from the negative impact of the home, since even the home is not a particularly safe zone for young women. Parallels were also drawn between incidents of sexual violence in Indian colleges and those that took place on campuses overseas.
The final session discussed the Next Steps for addressing gender norms in education, facilitated by Professor Bhabha. The key recommendations were that interventions by key stakeholders, family, schools, government, and non- governmental interventions were necessary to formulate and implement curriculum for adolescent education. SAI is ideally placed to convene such programs and scale up partnerships moving forward.