(Also posted on my main blog - Jacob's Blog, where I am posting all the entries during this extended trip around India.)
Lunch yesterday at the India International Centre in New Delhi was a most pleasant experience. (Not just the Thali meal!)
I renewed contact with another of my dearest St. Stephen's College friends - Niranjan Desai (also know as Heap 1: Ajay was Heap 2: I was Heap 3 - meaning a Heap of TROUBLE!). Niranjan was a year senior to me and was studying English Honours. He was from East Africa. He was and is still is a thorough gentleman with a great sense of humour.
In college, we were a group who lived between 1960 amnd 1963 in Mukerji East residential block. (Mukerji West did not exist in our time.)
Even though I say it myself, we were a great crowd. Besides Niranjan and myself, Ajay (Sweden), Badri (Switzerland, youngest every Padma Shiri), Choppy, Daisy (London), Norval, late Rajen, Rajiv, Ramani, Ravi, Rijwhani, Sujit (Kolkotta), Titch, etc., were just a few of our very happy and lively bunch. We were like one family.
The group consisted of Eco, English, Chemistry, History, Maths, Physics, and General Science students - but that did not make a difference, as we were all on the same wavelength.
When I met Niranjan this time, it was not as if a day had passed since our college days. He was looking trim, and except for his white hair, like mine, he was still the same smiling jovial self.
He has seen much of the world as he took up Indian citizenship, joined the Foreign Service and after being declared persona non grata in Uganda, when Idi Amin was on the rampage, he has served in various capacities including his Ambassadorship to Egypt, Switzerland and senior appointments in London and USA (both New York and Washington D. C.). He organised the Festival of India in both London and the USA, both of which received wonderful international coverage.
Of course, I did not know all this, but learnt a lot during our lunch together when time just passed quicker than one wanted.
Niranjan now works for an interesting organisation run by a brilliant young NRI presently based in Mumbai, who was described by Niranjan as a talented workaholic, Neville Tuli. Known as the OSIAN's, their contribution to Indian Culture is something which takes the breath away. They could not have found a better Ambassador than Niranjan.
Among the many things that have been established, two stick out. They have attempted and succeeded in launching the first serious Auction House in India, much on the lines of Sotheby's, Christies and Philips.
Niranjan gave me the Catalogue they had prepared for the first auction which took place on 29th October 2009. It is a publication which can be treasured as it is of the quality that one expects only from the large international auction houses. And Osian's has built up the in-house expert group which is the only way such an enterprise can succeed over the long term.
The second interesting avenue that this group has organised is film festivals covering a range of subjects. This is something which is different from the film festivals which used to be the attraction for those interested in seeing flesh exposure in the old days!
Anyone who is serious about buying genuine Indian Antiquities and Modern Art, may I suggest that they get in touch with this group. They know what they are doing. Their catalogue explains all the laws and procedures in the simplest of terms, so anyone following their guidelines will hardly fall foul of the "laws" as they are practiced in India!
Niranjan was a bit sceptical about the future of India. Like me, he is of the opinion that the country is fast moving into a state of terminal decline. He agrees with me that civic society has collapsed and the only driving force is the bottom line, which is neither Indian culture or heritage. Corruption has increased to such an extent, in his opinion, there is no meaning in the rule of law. He too is of the opinion that the Naxals will wait and make their move at the appropriate time, resulting in horrific bloodshed.
Having been a diplomat and a civil servant almost all his working life, his assessment coinciding with mine was indeed very strange.
We also agreed that what is happening in our alma mater is a sign that that too is in terminal decline. The college is not about education any longer, but persons in the "administration" jockeying for more power as they file suits and counter suits in the law courts. Even today, the High Court chided the Principal for his misuse of power. Further, the battle between the Bishop and the teachers has hotted up!
Is this what one wants appearing in the Press day-in day-out?
Are these the examples to set for the students of this august institution?
And, is all this "Christian"?
My visit to the college certainly demonstrated that what is important in the college is being forgotten, while all these external battles are in progress. As I had already mentioned, it appears that no one cares about the state of the college.
The Junior Common Room (JCR) is in shambles. That pained me immensely, as when I was the JCR President, it was my close work with the then Principal, Mr. Sircar and the Vice Principal, Mr. Shanklund, that had driven the JCR to become something of a force in the college for the college residents. The students earned the respect of the staff by the way they organised all the different events and finally the JCR Evening.
The beautiful lawn and rose garden which stood in front of Mukerji East is no longer there - it is just a barren piece of brown earth. The lawns have not been swept of the fallen leaves.
The white interior walls of the college are dirty.
The pictures in many places do not hang straight.
It feels like one is in a third rate institution.
Where is the order and pride in the alma mater that had existed in our time?
It is obvious that people are more concerned of their own political ambitions rather than the state of the college.
Niranjan also expressed that many of our friends had changed over time with their own priorities weighing in their lives. Natural, but unfortunate.
What values we shared when we were in college are those that are worth standing for, even today. A strong alumni can influence the happenings of the alma mater.
Thank you, Niranjan, for showing me that we can still hold our principles, whatever we have been through in the intervening years.