I headed to Varanasi for yet another PDP boot camp aimed at the young bright aspirants who have received calls from the best of the Business schools of India. I usually board a train to Varanasi, as it is only a overnight journey. After my wonderful experience (it was a 72-hour ride for an usual 12-hour schedule!) with the last week’s Shahisnan (the important bath day) rush on the Indian railroad heading to and out of the Kumbh mela, I decided to fly over the Kumbh during the next shahisnan that was scheduled on Feb 15.
I boarded the flight a day before the PDP boot camp so that I could start off the boot camp early morning, on the following day. That gave me a clear evening to go about in Varanasi, one of my favorite cities of India. The sky had opened up. It was pouring and was so cloudy that the pilot had a challenge on his hand – he could not spot the runway when he almost came to the landing altitude. All of a sudden, the captain revved up the engine, the wheels folded in, the flight gained altitude. There were moments of anxiety as the revving up looked like an emergency. A few like me sensed there was something wrong. After gaining considerably, the captain announced the challenge that was. Finally, after an hour of hovering, the flight landed on the Tarmac, skidding on the puddles of water as the rain was pouring.
The pouring continued, destabilizing my scheduled of going around the ghats and covering the evening harati at dashswamedh ghat. But there was a surprise in store – a musical concert that, Baglaji, a good friend and CL champion in Varanasi, had planned to take me too. I will talk about the concert story in another posting of mine, though would like to say it was by Paul Livingstone, a young disciple of Pt. Ravi Shankar. After the concert at the peshwa haveli, on the raja ghat, still raining, I stepped out of the ghats to head my way back to the hotel. As I was famished and, was passing by the Shiva German bakery, in the alleys close by, my curiosity overtook me and I entered the bakery to experience the favorite jaunt of all visiting expats.
German bakery was overflowing with foreigners. Thankfully three friends who were occupying a table next to the door got up and walked out after their meals. As I was standing next to the door, I quickly occupied one of the chairs, placed my camera on the table, and took a deep breath. As I was drenched, I made myself comfortable in the cozy corner. Four more entered, immediately after me and I offered them the table, and thought will move to a smaller space. But a young couple moved towards me while the other two moved to another table. We smiled at each other while they settled.
Both of them apologized for encroaching upon my table. But I was delighted to have them, and I did tell them why I stepped into the restaurant, that had no other south Asian! We introduced to one another and I got to know that both of them are artists – painters – from Germany, fresh out of their arts school!
While the tall gentleman, Michel, with a long matted hair tied into a bun on his head, is visiting India for the third time, his companion Meike, was visiting India for the first time. Both of them, in their mid twenties, were also excited to interact with me as I was asking about their journey through India, their impressions of India, what has been their fascinating encounters etc.
Michel was innured to the contrasts that India, as a destination, offers, since it is his third visit; while Meike, shared the emotional swings that India has been triggering in her, as this was her first encounter with the stark disparities. They have travelled through Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Delhi, Allahabad during the kumbh and now in awe inspiring varanasi. The contrast of rich and poor, developed and those left behind, clean and dirty, spiritual and materialistic, concerned and apathetic…. The list I am sure is endless for the young Meike to come to terms with. Nevertheless, both were excited to be traveling and experiencing, especially one week that they spent with the sadhus of Juna-Akhada during the Mahakumbh in Allahabad. We discussed the art scene of Germany, especially Berlin and that of Delhi in India; possibilities of their paintings evoking their feelings of the experiences and that they could display in Delhi before they wind up their tour of India. At the end of our dinner, we parted with the promise of meeting soon, when they are in Delhi.
The very next morning I was there at the ghats again, capturing the dawn and the rush of pilgrims to have their morning bath in The Ganges and Pooja. While capturing, I noticed a young lady, of a different nationality, in a traditional Indian dress and a bindi on her forehead, who was fascinated of the happenings around the Kedar ghat. She was trying to have a closer look at the action around her, and also was clicking a few photos.
Out of curiosity, as usual, I started talking to Her. She revealed that she was Gala from Argentina, a student of international relations, and was working in the developmental space. She came to India for Jagriti yatra, of all the things, with which I have had a long association. One led to the other and she started realizing that I knew quite a few people that she has met in the last few weeks. She has spent over the last two months, apart from being on the Jagriti train, a month with an NGO in Bangalore and then traveling through Udaipur, Jaisalmer and Jaipur before reaching Benaras.
I got to know that Gala is accompanied by another young lady, Gaelle, whom Gala met in Udaipur. Both are exploring India for the last one month. Gaelle hails from France and is a management graduate. She wanted to visit India, hence sought a one month assignment with an NGO in Udaipur. After her assignment, she wanted to explore India, when she met Gala who was visiting Udaipur.
I had the opportunity to meet both, Gala and Gaelle, over breakfast at shiva German Bakery. That interaction gave me a lot of insights about their journey. Gala shared that, “If I am able travel in India alone, I can go to anywhere in the world”, most probably alluding to the much publicised incidents involving the atrocities on young women, of late. Gaelle, shared that, “the social context in france discourages one from taking any breaks from education”; so she finished her B-school education before she started her journeys.
Both were delighted to travel around the world, exploring within and without. Coming from middle-class families, from Argentina and France respectively, their families have been of great support, encouraging them to take their decisions.Both of them, in their early twenties, have already travelled extensively, knowing more about the world, more so discovering oneself. Gaelle shared that her 14-year old kid sister is far more aware about the world at her age than herself, because of what Gaelle has gained from her travel, post her B-school education. Her mother too is now more proactive in every sense. These travels have made a big difference to her family.
In fact I happened to meet a host of youngsters who were visiting Varanasi from around the world and were good in music, playing one instrument or other. They all got together, created music and performed live for three consecutive nights on the banks of Ganges. Gala was sad that she was not carrying her Saxophone, else she would have joined in those music experiments.
A few years ago, I was in Melacca, a beautiful destination while driving across Malaysia, along with Mallika and Indira (family). We came across a young man, on a bicycle asking directions with a book on Malaysia in hand, and the knapsack of his firmly tied to the carriage of the bicycle. I interacted with him to discover that he was Chin, travelling from Gonjou province on his bicycle, and has already covered six countries before he met us at Melacca. He was heading to Singapore, Indonesia and Australian continent before he heads back to China… He shared about his learnings across the countries already travelled and that he was looking forward to the amazing learning in the subsequent months….
Whenever I interacted with such youngsters, I always thought what would they be after a few months of travel in alien lands… What a way to educate a young mind…
On the contrary, in every PDP Boot camp this year, conducted across the country, with the best of the Indian youth who have received calls from prestigious business schools of the Country, I had to really struggle to help them think about their purpose of doing MBA. With the interview calls in hand, they were looking for ‘spoon-fed’ answer to the questions like – why MBA? What is your plan for the next 4-5 years?
Imagine that is the state of affairs of the brightest 22-25 year-olds in our nation!! They are unaware about self, of their own surroundings, foreget about their city. Lack of curiosity and inquisitiveness, energy and enthusiasm.. where would they lead to?
Where does the fault lie? We all are responsible…. parents, educators and facilitators, the society…
The important questions for parents, teachers and schools to introspect are –
A. What do we want our children and youth to be?
B. How do we help them to be inquisitive and learners for life?
C. How do we instill self belief?
D. What should the ‘education’ process be?
E. What is the measure of success?
F. Can we as parents enable our children excel in life rather than push them to get ‘coveted’ degrees?
G. Will our society and education community allow our children to take breaks to explore at least India, work and know more about themselves, before they pursue degrees and courses?
The questions are innumerable. I want to walk and show, than just talk…
wow Sreeni, the description and few photographs actually gives a complete picture of the Varanasi city .However coming to the moot point ,the future of youngsters : the Indian education system is all about clearing papers and exams, but wish it was more on Knowledge .
Infact whatever little bit i have been able to follow through the Indus schools, I am hoping ( and sure too ) that one day (soon) the system in India on education will bring in quite q few sweet surprises.cheers .
Thanks Umesh. More than schools, it all starts from home. Can each one of us excite and facilitate children around us. Then it would translate into many spaces, including schools, colleges and offices…