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Monday, 27th March 2017
 

GROWING THE MIND

Dr. Prakash Shah, Senior Lecturer at London University and Dr. Atul Shah in Dialogue (photo: Bhaviks Gallery)

We live in times of intense mental stress. Cultures which have travelled through time help us alleviate these stresses - that is one of the key reasons why they have survived. I spent today at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and at the London School of Economics, my alma mater.

Museums are repositories of heritage and in reknown international collections like the V&A, we can see first hand the intensity of culture and its expression and the huge global diversity, all in one place. The Nehru Gallery displays some of their best Indian art pieces. Objects can be admired but they really come to life when there is a living community connected to the objects - otherwise, the objects can be beautiful but remain lifeless. The V&A has a good record of community engagement, and Marilyn Greene and Eithne Nightingale both expressed clearly that the real 'ownership' of these objects is in the hands of these communities. In their unique community engagement work, they are improving the harmony between communities and their respect and acceptance. Art helps to stretch the mind, and challenge pre-conceptions. It can also soothe the mind and enable it to see the timelessness of life. The very fact that 'India in Britain' is preserving its cultural identity is a huge boost for the entire society as it adds to the mosaic, and helps build lasting peace.

At the museum, I profiled young Bhavik Haria, a Jain artist who was born in the UK, and at the age of eighteen, has launched his first debut music album - Hu Navik, Tu Bhavik. This is authentic Jain music in the Gujarati language, and the music and singing is outstanding. I interviewed and profiled him to show that the art is not frozen, but is very much alive in Britain in 2010 - and the culture has travelled through the arrow of time and its core values are still very vivid today.

We also interviewed Mr. Roy Clare CBE, CEO of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and an outstanding leader. I am on his Board and he explained why he personally developed a special scheme to improve the cultural diversity of its members and make it truly inclusive and representative of the diverse British population. Mr. Clare was critical of the mono-cultural leadership in the sector, and feels that changing the governance is one of may of making a lasting impact and ensuring fairness and inclusivity for all staff.

At the London School of Economics, I first landed thirty years ago, as an overseas student from Mombasa in Kenya. This was a vast new and different world, and  i came with lots of hope and excitement. I did extremely well and got a first class honours degree and later a Masters and a PhD all from the LSE. However, what my studies did not do is to connect with my culture and identity - I studied a particular set of theories and world-view, in the English language, and there was little mention or even acknowledgement of Eastern world-views and theories. Thus the education was not plural, but instead partial and based on western notions of science and objectivity, which pretended to be 'culturally neutral'. Also when overseas students come to Britain, they became agents for connecting us with the world and building global peace and harmony. This is a huge asset for Britain which often gets overlooked.

The India Society at the LSE started a unique cultural show called 'Timeless' which has now become a major cultural feature of the LSE calendar. It was very diverse and multi-cultural involving students from different parts of the world when I first saw it three years ago, and the founders Seeta Haria and Mikesh Vora wanted to use art and creativity to create a borderless world. We interviewed Nirav Shah, a founding member of this team. Many Indian minds are naturally open and borderless, and this is a unique asset to Britain as the world becomes ever smaller. On the tour, I am going to spend more time with these young pioneering leaders.

Dr. Prakash Shah, a graduate of the LSE and Senior Lecturer in Law at Queen Mary College, eloquently explained how pluralism is leading to a whole paradigm shift in law, and diversity is challenging the very core and basis of legal systems and thinking. His interest in this area was awakened by Prof. Werner Menski at SOAS, who is a world expert on Hindu Law and an advisor to Diverse Ethics.

I argue that culture is relevant and for education to be truly global and inclusive, it needs to interact with the identity of the student and their values and beliefs. Education is not culturally neutral, despite its claims of being 'objective'.