The First Colloquium of the International Social Justice Network (ISJN) sets its scene at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad (IIM – A), India, from 27 to 29 October.
Part of British Council India’s Intercultural Dialogue programme, the colloquium hopes to establish the first international network of policy makers working in the area of social justice and equity in the middle income economies (India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa) and the UK, and facilitate South-North learning on critical issues such as education, livelihood, shelter, healthcare and civil rights.
Our partners, the IIM – A, is particularly apt as hosts for the colloquium. It is, without doubt, India’s premier business school and amongst the world’s best. The co-convener of the ISJN colloquium is the remarkable Prof Anil Gupta, who leads a team of students and researchers in documenting innovation, ideas and entrepreneurship in rural India.
The best and brightest usually sign up for Prof Gupta’s courses and usually accompany the iconic professor on his ‘shodhyatras’ – long treks that cover hundreds of miles in rural India. A business survey carried out sometime back said that over 50% of India’s CEO’s are IIM-A alumni. It is difficult to imagine better grooming ground of future corporate leaders.
The architecture of the IIM-A campus is stunning. Created by Louis Kahn, Balakrishna Doshi and Anant Raje, the exposed brickwork buildings with huge arches and open spaces give the 60 acre original campus a timeless, monumental look. This youtube clip captures a touching conversation between Kahn’s son Nathaniel and Balakrishna Doshi, part of Nataniel Kahn’s Oscar-nominated documentary My Architect: a Son’s Journey (2003).
The city of Ahmedabad has strong connections with Mahatma Gandhi, and much of his legacy is preserved at the Sabarmati Ashram. This makes Ahmedabad a fortuitous choice for the ISJN colloquium.
On our recent visit a few weeks back, Sujata, Sanjay and I dropped in at the Ashram, a tranquil heart in the middle of a bustling city. Schoolchildren bussed in from various parts of the state trooped around in relative silence, flakes of hushed conversation in various languages, Indian and foreign, swirled around and settled almost as silently as snow.
On the verandah of the house where the Mahatma lived from 1918 to 1930, sat an avuncular man, inviting visitors to try their hand at spinning the charkha, the wheel that spun a thousand revolutions in India under the Mahtama’s leadership.
I gave it an honest try, though Sujata and Sanjay were clearly not impressed!
After long discussions with Prof Gupta, and his students, Raju Mahana and Gautam Prateek on the programme and various aspects of managing the project, we were shown the colloquium venue by Mr Baskaran. The Blue Room, named after its famed blue carpet, now alas, replaced with standard beige, is a large hall, about 100 feet square, with plenty of natural light and all the accoutrements of an international conference room.
Late in the evening, directed by Moumita, our colleague in Ahmedabad (Sujata has named her Magic Moumita), we find ourselves in Manek Chowk , the market place in old town, now thick with crowds looking for the best deal on practically everything under the sun. Sujata heads for the spectacular “churan” shops that sell delectable natural digestives and mouth fresheners (never mind the unpalatable, unmanageable translation! If you are wondering why on earth digestives and mouth fresheners would go together, please post a comment.)
It is difficult to miss a certain innocence in Ahmedabad, however fragile it may be below the surface. Is it because there are ice-cream parlours where in other cityscapes thirsty eyes would seek out bars? Or could it be because we see in the Mahatma’s own backyard MontBlanc re-branding the messiah of anti-globalisation as a uber-cool khadi-clad fashion icon?
There’s lots to talk about Ahmedabad. And there’s a lot to talk in Ahmedabad – our next post will be live from the ISJN Colloquium.