Books; People; Ideas : These are few of my favourite things. As I live between day-to-day compromises and change-the-world aspirations, this is the chronicle of my journey, full of moments of occasional despair and opportune discoveries, of connections and creations, and, most of all, my quest of knowledge as conversations.
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
In The British Library
This is a part of the work I am doing on Learning environments. We looked at the British Library as a team, and I am tasked with writing about its service areas. I, as with other things I learn or think about, thought it appropriate to post the report here.
I looked at the Service Areas of the
British Library, the spaces that fill out the areas around the reading rooms.
They hold cafes and galleries, a shop that sells books and touristy trinkets,
as well as more functional areas, lockers, cloak rooms, and indeed, the reader
From the outside, the British Library
building seems to represent a purpose: That of reading. Hence, despite passing
it by many times, I would never dare enter it without the specific purpose of
reading. I have used the adjacent Novotel and paid for the expensive coffee
there for meeting people, but I would never cross the elaborate courtyard into
the Library for such a trivial purpose. This reverence, preserved by the
elaborate outside, seemed to contrast the more touristy feel of the reception,
for example, the shop that sells books and mementos, rather than the dusty
scholarly stuff I was almost expecting. The flashes of digital cameras, people
posing around an outsized desk-like statue chained with a mini-globe, sparse
seating arrangements and an all too recognizable hum give it a feel of
a railway station.
In a way, that may be appropriate, if the
function of this large open space is waiting. One can see an intricate
structure of stairs and balconies, and a very visible column of books, the
King’s Library, and a gallery, from the reception. It is as if one is looking
into a sacred area, shrouded by some complexity and privileged access. This
feeling is confirmed as one goes through the rituals of handing over the coats
in the cloakroom or store other possessions in the lockers, which, alongside
its strict instructions, have the feel of a secretive bank than a meeting
place. Finally, the Readers’ Registration Area, with customary queues,
confusing computer layouts, multiple layers of process and real interrogation
desks, completes the process of initiation: One is stripped off the
distractions of the outside and somewhat ready for heaviness of the inside.
The Open Cafes and galleries seem to
maintain this feeling. In its quietness, rows of people gazing into their
Macbooks, the severity of the reading rooms seemed to have overflowed outside.
There are reading spaces everywhere: Standing chairs and wide top railings
where we finally manage to keep our notebooks and write. This space, a floor
up, seems a world removed from the reception, as if the invisible walls of the
cloak room and the registration transformed everything.
Finally, an anomaly: As we walk into the
Friends Room for a final debrief, the order of the atmosphere breaks down.
Right inside the gut of the Library, here is a chaotic room, where people don’t
seem to mind laughing or raising voices, or rearranging chairs and tables to
convene talking groups. This was somewhat liberating from the very solitary
feeling of even the social spaces.
Looking at this, British Library seemed to
signify to me a slight confusion of what a Library meant to be: Inclusive or
exclusive, solitary or communal, a place to preserve knowledge or to create,
etc. May be, it is a continuum from the Kings Library to the Friends Room,
segmenting various kinds of learners automatically and representing the full
spectrum how people learn. Or, may be it is an unintended mix, a government
building purposed to become a place to learn, a somewhat middle point in knowledge’s
journey from British Museum to the Internet.
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation."
The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which appeared …
Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper etal, 1991). Arunthanesetal (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something).
The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive season, is …
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago.
Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so.
Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself.
Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as I …
There are two reasons why I am writing this post, which is really a retake of an earlier post - Should Britain Apologise? - which I recently shared on Social Media.
The first is that there is a renewal of this debate. The recent political twists and turns - Brexit and emergence of Hindu Nationalist India most importantly - have brought the question of British imperial folly to the forefront, engaged in animated debates and denials (see here).
The second is a renewal of interest in history itself, made possible by the deliberate wrecking of the Post-War world system by Conservatives in America and Britain. After being presumed dead, history has been regularly invoked in claims, particularly by British and American politicians who are good at pointing follies of other nations. Hollywood made a film about Holocaust denial, though the question of American imperialism in the Pacific was never deemed worthy of retelling. The British Secretary of International Trade, Dr Liam Fox, recently …
This has been the best and worst of the times for Higher and Professional Education. While people pursuing Higher and Professional Education has attained a new peak globally, new questions about its relevance and cost have arisen too. The expansion of formal education has crowded out the ecosystems of informal learning, in effect depriving societies with one of the tried-and-tested coping mechanisms for social and technical change (see my earlier post on this), but it has offered little in its space. Its claims on the territory, in various avatars of Lifelong Learning or Massive Open Online Courses, have underachieved, being too structured, too bureaucratic, too content driven and too top-down. Finally, its claims of being able to assess everything overshot its capability, and created dissonance with employers as they struggled to work out hard measures of the 'soft' skills.
However, among all these debates and questions, one that attracts maximum attention is the one about …
I remember this awkward dinner conversation. I was with my colleague in Northern Ireland, and a friend of his joined our table. After we were introduced, he wondered at my name and asked me what religion I belong to. I went for the simpler answer and kept my doubts aside: "I am Hindu", I said. That made him even more confused. "What's a Hindu?" he said, "Is that some kind of Muslim?"
When I tell this story to my friends in India, they are usually outraged. What an ignorant person, they would say. Particularly treating Hinduism as a branch of Islam, when Hindus love to believe that everyone was originally a Hindu, upsets them. I have also reflected upon this conversation later. It may indeed be that he did not know. He was particularly ignorant, just as ignorant as the lady, who, standing inside the Irish Bar at Mumbai's ITC Grand Central hotel, asked my colleague - the same person as it happened to be - where Ireland was. But the confusion about …
Seventy years on, the Republic of India is now at one of those crossroads when its foundational ideas are being questioned. Its middle classes, in the throes of an existential crisis as the globalisation that made them reverses, have found their demon in the idea of India itself. Nations, usually, consider their origin stories with a special fondness and deep reverence, enshrining the creation ideas as the basis of all new imagination: Despite the passing of the years, the British therefore looks at the Glorious Revolution, the French to French Revolution, the Italians to Risorgimento and the Americans revere their Founding generation. But, in India, as a newly-rich, recently disappointed middle class hunt for the ghosts, they find their Republic flawed, its democracy rickety, its people disunited, and above all, the idea that unites it all misdirected.
This makes a re-examination of the idea of India worthwhile. Surely, this is much discussed, but as the optimism turns to pessimism…
In an earlier post, I pointed out that the application of 'platform thinking' in education misses the mark, as it fails to understand how value is created in education. Since this apparently contradicts my earlier enthusiasm for the university as a 'user network', this statement needs further explanation.
To start with, Clayton Christiansen's idea that the universities of the Twentieth Century needs to evolve from its current 'value chain' model - wherein its value lies in its processes - to a form of User Network, where its value emanates from its community, still resonates with me. The Value Chain model, with departments, examinations, textbooks and degrees, that we know the university for, is very much a late Nineteenth/ early Twentieth century formulation. And, indeed, one can claim that the universities were always communities, and its value came from being a member of that community rather than its end product - the degrees - for much of history. It …
University making in India is entering a new phase. The rushed expansion of the Higher Education system is perhaps over, with many of those new colleges and universities in crisis. There is a definitive shift in the regulatory environment: The unrestrained and often useless Distance Learning Study Centre business has been effectively shut down, the unregulated institutions have been challenged and there is greater clarity and order. However, university making in India has not stopped - there are new institutions being built and planned every day - and more and more serious philanthropists and entrepreneurs are entering the fray. I see these developments with some optimism, and believe that we are at an inflexion point, from which a new Higher Education system would emerge.
This may be overtly optimistic and there are a number of things that can go wrong in India. For a start, we now have a nationalist turn, and the 'not-invented-here' syndrome has become all pervasive. That r…
The inspiration behind this post comes from several conversations with my colleague Pratik Dattani, the former UK Director of FICCI, an Indian trade body. Pratik, in a regular column he writes for Dainik Bhaskar, pointed out India's meagre tally of 30,000 odd foreign students, against 450,000 in China (which is growing at 10% annually), is a huge missed opportunity, in terms of foreign currency earnings, 'soft power' and diffusion of foreign cultures and ideas. And, besides, number of foreign students in India may be going down rather than up, and several factors, not least anti-African sentiments in some Indian cities, are contributing to it.
Pratik and I have collaborated on a number of projects over the years and I have been closely involved in a Conference, now in its fifth edition, that he organises on Education Innovation in London and in India. We both agreed that India's continuing weaknesses in attracting foreign students is something we want to put on the a…