Temples of Modernity: Dream Big for ‘New India’
Pratik Mathur is an Indian Foreign Service officer, currently posted as Counsellor at Permanent Mission of India to UN in New York.
This three day ‘long’ labour day weekend in the US gave me an opportunity to pay a quick visit to some ‘Temples’ of education en route to Boston- Harvard, Yale and MIT; the added incentive of the guided tour that I paid for being the overwhelming presence of Chinese ‘tiger’ moms and dads for company! So here we have it-US, India and China, engaged in a soft power dance in the 21st century-two democracies versus a one-party state on steroids. The rich anti-colonial traditions of Boston combined with a post-pandemic ‘opening up’ provided a rich texture of their own to these discussions in my mind.
1. First impressions; Yale in New Haven comes on way from New York to Boston. It boasts of some super achiever alumni like former Pepsi Co. CEO Indira Nooyi, Secretary Hilary Clinton and a rich overflowing corpus of over US$ 43 billion. For the movie trivia fans, the dorm and the campus scenes in Harry Potter the movie were shot here and it boasts of one of the best drama schools in the US by way of the David Geffen School of Dramatic Arts.
As we wandered ‘Google’ eyed through the verdant green campus, one is struck by how easily modernity and traditions co-exist in these surroundings. And don’t forget, the University is named after a former British colonial Administrator-a grim reminder of our own trials and tribulations with imperial rule.
2. Harvard University, with a super spread campus with 15 colleges and departments spread across Boston, was a Biblical ‘city on the hill’ to itself. The town is named Cambridge as an acknowledgement of founding roots across the Atlantic. By the way, the religious and theosophical underpinnings of the Ivy League biggies Harvard and Yale are hard to miss and remain very much ‘in your face’.
The private sector investments and philanthropy which has made Harvard the brand-name and juggernaut which attracts the best from across the world, were clear to see across the over two thousand acres of beautiful campus and prime real estate that the University boasts of. This year, over sixty-one thousand applied and only a fraction of that number were accepted, for a wide spectrum of courses and degrees.
The honour of delivering the passing out graduation remarks, delivered in the past by luminaries like the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa amongst others, was given this time by the Prime Minister of New Zealand Ms. Jacquinda Ardem.
3. Moving onto the epochal MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which, despite being younger by centuries to Harvard and Yale, many consider to be the toughest science and technology college to get admission to in the United States. The highlights remain the same-the scale, the investments and the open-door policy with regard to ensuring that the best of minds from across the world make this journey to these haloed portals.
4. So, as we rush back to the hum drum existence of our daily lives in the Big Apple, the abiding image that remains in our minds is one of the young minds with dreams in their eyes and how we, as the youngest country on the planet and now the fifth largest economy in the world after having overtaken the United Kingdom, need to re-affirm our resolve for making sure that our young get the best education possible at the best possible costs to price ratio.
WE, the PEOPLE, cannot afford to rest on our laurels and must work hard to ensure that the NEW EDUCATION POLICY 2020- a roadmap for India 2.0 is implemented in letter and in spirit. This will truly be the best possible gift to India@75! We just cannot afford to miss this bus.
5. Here at UN, where I have the proud privilege and honour to work at our Mission, we are getting ready to participate in the ‘Transforming Education Summit’ (17-19 September); which in the UN’s words, “provides a unique opportunity to elevate education to the top of the global political agenda”. Once again, India is uniquely placed in this regard, as we get ready to attract and retain the best of minds of Gen. Next back home.
6. Parting shot- So if a picture speaks a thousand words, an image with the competition next door at the sprawling Harvard College campus (in the background can be seen the image of a tortoise that was gifted to the University three hundred years ago by the Overseas Chinese Students Association)- let us see who has the final laugh.