As I said a fond (and slightly emotional!) farewell to Mother India at the end of an intense but incredible nine week in-country volunteer program in 2011, I knew in my heart I’d be enjoying her warm embrace again. It seems however that, like any mother, she wanted me back sooner rather than later! My selection for the Australia India Student Experience was as much a satisfying surprise as the continuation of a lifelong connection with the country of countless languages, gods, and contradictions. This began in primary school with me donating one of my favourite books – ‘I is for India’ – to my school’s library.
India. The word itself evokes images to me of colours. Bright saris, the bright white of the Taj Mahal, the red fort, curries of red, green and yellow. People actually throw colour on each other once a year! Yet this idea of a magical colourful land with elephants and tigers and hundreds of animal gods is tainted with imagery of street children, pavement dwellers, sludge and that horrible scene in slumdog millionaire when he falls into the cesspit. Nothing compares to India when one wants to be faced with raw humanity. Countless travellers make pilgrimages to "find themselves", coming back declaring that they are done with consumerism and now refuse to wear shoes. But there is more to be found in India than yourself.
Here we are on the eve of what I expect to be a significantly rewarding, educational, multicultural and life-changing experience. I am very much looking forward to the journey to India which I am about to embark on; the smells and sights – both good and (I'm led to believe) some not so good, will all be a part of the cultivating global experience.
My name is Andrea and I am from Melbourne. I travelled extensively before knuckling down to study nursing at Australian Catholic University at 27 years of age. I have travelled alone, with others and in a volunteer capacity in Sri Lanka. I am lucky to be able to travel and use it to feed my brain and my heart. These days my focus has shifted and I don't want to continue wandering aimlessly. My fanciful idea for my future is to work internationally as a nurse and possibly go on to study international health. To achieve this I need not only an education, but an international and culturally diverse outlook. While Melbourne itself is such a diverse place, I can't truly become a global citizen until I've traversed Australia's boundaries and followed my passion overseas.
Last semester at university, my peers and I pondered the term ‘Global Citizen’ in a health and globalisation tutorial. The full definition was delivered to us by our professor as follows; ‘A person who is involved in his or her community, both at a local and global level, who understands and exercises their rights and responsibilities as a citizen. They are educated on issues that affect them as well as others and get involved in them. They practice innovative and effective ways of challenging oppression and are aware of how their actions affect others in their local and global community. They are respectful and honour others differences and similarities and recognise that all views and beliefs are significant and crucial to creating a just world.’
This week's blog is an excerpt from Kiran Nagarkar’s novel God’s Little Soldier. Through the story of an Indian boy’s journey from life as a young spirited child to a religious extremist, Kiran provides a unique insight into the perils of religious extremism and tackles critical problems of the present times.
In the Australia India Institute's recent conference The Argumentative Indian: Critical Debates in the World’s largest Democracy and Perspectives from Australia, Professor Amartya Sen said something which struck me whilst giving his opening remarks. He said of the Aii's use of the title of his book The Argumentative Indian “If it is arrogant to write a book, it is super arrogant to try to describe it to others.” In a day and age when writers and authors traverse the world in an effort to plug their works, Professor Sen’s words seemed out of touch with reality. Writing and talking about books is supposedly a virtuous enterprise. But is it really?
Professor Amitabh Mattoo, Director of the Aii, has returned from his trip to India, where he attended the launch of OzFest; an Australian cultural festival. Professor Mattoo speaks about one of the things at the festival that touched him most. You had only to hear Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu at the opening of Oz Fest - at New Delhi’s Purana Qila on 16 October - to recognise the wisdom of that old adage: music really is a universal language!
In preparing for this blog a friend advised me that I should write about the question "Should western women wear Saris?" His perspective was that they would look okay in Sari if they didn’t wear so much makeup! On reflection this topic just seems too fraught and I suspect in the end the answer will be; it is a personal choice.
I recently returned from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government to a month peppered with a series of significant moments in Australia India relations. Last week saw the launch of OzFest in New Delhi, a series of cultural expressions of things Australian that will travel India for the next 4 months. The highlight next week is the inaugural event at the mighty Purana Qil-ah at which Prime Minister Julia Gillard will attend the opening showcase, and perhaps, adjacent to this, will be inking the final steps to the sale of Uranium to India.