For the inaugural programme of the Policy Dialogue at the British Council office in New Delhi, we had set up a lounging space for the speakers to meet and chat before they went on stage. This was the VC suite in our library. When Nandan Nilekani arrived last evening he was welcomed by Ruth Gee and Chris Gibson. As we were ushering him through our lively library, there was a minor stampede among our young members rushing to Nandan, asking for his autograph and requesting him to pose with them for a snapshot on their mobile cameras. Nandan obliged one and all.
It brought home the point what an iconic figure Nandan is for millions of young Indians across the length and breadth of the country. So it’s not just the cricket and Bollywood film stars that capture young India’s imagination.
Inside the lounge, Martin Davidson, our Chief Executive, met Nandan and said how grateful he was to him for giving British Council his time. What Nandan said to Martin deserves to be framed in gold and put up somewhere. He said, ”I am here to pay back my debt to the British Council. As a child, I was very privileged to be a member of the British Council library in Bangalore.” Cannot think of a better compliment than that on the occasion of our 75th anniversary!!
It also got me thinking about the chance meeting that some of our young library members had with Nandan. Some of them will probably go onto become similar successes and icons in their own right, in their own time. Will they then remember this fortuitous encounter? If they do, I think British Council will have justified the raison de etre of our existence several times over.
Cultural relations, perhaps, at the end of the day, boils down to encounters such as these. One can only create a space and context where such chance meetings can take place and destinies altered.