Reflections August 29, 2012Posted by shonaliganguli in Re-Imagine: India-UK Cultural Relations in the 21st Century.
Tags: British Council, India, Re-Imagine, Summit, UK, Youth
Contributor: Rachit Sai Barak, participant at the Re-Imagine Edinburgh Youth Summit
A month and a half ago when I was informed that I was selected for Re-Imagine Edinburgh Youth Summit, I was elated that I would be visiting the city at the time of Fringe and Edinburgh International Book Festival. Yes, I had thoughts about my contribution in the summit and if it was possible for a group of 12 young people to define a vision for UK-India Cultural Relationship in just 4 days. But, mostly, I was excited about attending the festival. Over the course of the summit my expectations completely changed.
On the first day when I met the other 11 participants (Well, I met 2 of them on my way to Edinburgh), I was a little bit skeptical, because of the sheer fact that we came from 12 different backgrounds. Of Course we had similar interest and some of them were part of changemakers, but we all had different agendas or so to say issues that we were supporting. We were told that over the next three days we would try and envision UK-India Relationship and highlight the areas of possible partnership. On Day 4 we had to present these outcomes to various stakeholders.
By the end of day 1 my expectations had changed, I started absorbing a lot more about our shared cultural history. In the next four days I learnt a lot of things both consciously and sub-consciously.
One of the first exercises we did was to visually depict what we were proud about our country. A question that I hadn’t answered before, call it arrogance, ignorance or insecurity. I am proud of certain individuals and emerging sub-cultures but I am not a patriot. The summit actually motivated me to see beyond my experience and discover things that I love about my nation.
On the first day, we visited National Museum of Scotland. One of the most interestingly curated museums I have ever been to. The idea was not to segregate it by period/era but by themes. The museum is not just easy to navigate through, but it also creates an image that you can remember. They have used personal stories to highlight history, one that I particularly remember is that of Jean Jenkins (1922-1990), a renowned broadcaster and museum curator whose passion was capturing and sharing music traditions from across the world. The gallery allows you to learn more about Jenkins’ travels, listen to recordings, and even mix your own global music track using our World Music Composer.
In India we don’t have any academic course on art curation, it’s not a mainstream subject that we consider important. But clearly it’s something that needs attention. Museums are accessible but are not interesting for us as students, because what we are taught in our history books is remotely close to our day-to-day lives. One of the major points of discussions was that India and the UK share a diverse cultural history and the fact that British ruled India hardly holds any relevance in current times. Our education system doesn’t highlight how India’s culture has influenced the UK and vice-versa.
Museums play a vital role in providing information about the same. We all felt that it was important for us to strengthen documentation and curation in Indian museums as well as promote exchange of exhibitions between the two countries. In the past, curators from the both the countries have collaborated; but I believe that it is important, particularly in India to engage young people in that process to foster interest in cultural relationship.
As part of our presentation, me and another participant from India, Arpita Das decided to make a short video about what people from both the countries think about UK-India Cultural relationship, we went around in Edinburgh asking people what were they proud about their country, what they liked about the other country and if they thought UK-India cultural relationship was important to them.
While most of them were deeply interested in knowing about the other country and felt that it was important for the governments to invest in cultural initiatives, there were bunch of citizens from both the countries who weren’t really interested in cultural relationship. One of them even felt that we knew enough about each other’s culture and it might be irrelevant to invest further.
Going out and interviewing people was a reality check for us. We might feel passionately about investing in cultural relations but does it hold any importance for people who live in smaller cities and rural areas, who have bigger struggles and concerns? How can we become more curious about each other’s cultures? Currently, we don’t have answers to these questions and it might be impossible to find an absolute answer. Therefore, it’s important for us to start from somewhere. As one of the participants, Heather Kitt mentioned that we shouldn’t take UK and India’s cultural relationship for granted and that we should invest in innovative programmmes that creates an open environment for people from India and the UK to communicate and learn for each other. These are the values that we feel are important to create a quality relationship between the two countries.
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