[lg policy] Calcutta: ‘Time to rediscover India’

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 6 19:45:02 UTC 2011

‘Time to rediscover India’

The newly appointed British Council director, Robert Lynes, who was in
the city recently, spoke to Metro about the council’s plans for the
country, India-UK relationship in the 21st century and more

How has your stay in India been so far?

I have been in India for just over a month and I am already in the
midst of exciting things. I came here at the beginning of the third
edition of the India Art Summit that provided me with an insight into
the vibrant art scene here.

Immediately after that was the Jaipur Literature Festival that I
attended. The British Council had a tent there that served as a
reading room. People would come there and relax, read a book, join the
British Council Library online.

We were delighted to launch Patrick French’s new book India: A
Portrait. We also had Ian Jack over. There have been many exciting
events in the past weeks.

What kind of cultural exchange will India and the UK have in the coming years?

Art is an area that the British Council is keen to develop and build
on working with partners in India. The question we are asking is what
is going to be the cultural relationship between India and the UK in
the 21st century. The UK has had a long relationship with India and it
is time now to take it to another level of engagement.

Recently, 10 directors of the Edinburgh Festival were visiting India.
India is a key partner in the Edinburgh festival.

Museum directors from India, including the Indian Museum director,
toured the UK recently and visited 15 museums there and saw how they
operated. It was a great learning experience both for them and us.

The British Museum director, Neil MacGregor, was here to deliver the
Nathaniel Wallich Memorial Lecture at the Indian Museum in February.
Art is an area which holds great interest both for India and us.

Apart from cultural exchanges, what are the other areas that excite you?

The centre of gravity has shifted to the East and everyone’s looking
at India. There is a certain excitement in this part of the globe.
There are new expectations. An entire new generation is emerging in
India. With that comes a new confidence. There is the emerging
middle-class with high disposable income. It is time for the UK to
rediscover India and India to rediscover the UK.

Do you think the Council’s presence in the country is adequate?

We have nine offices across India, including the four metros. Besides,
we have offices in Pune, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and
Hyderabad. We have nine libraries and 100,000 active library members.
British Council has a larger library network in India than in any
other country and this is a testimony to the huge thirst for knowledge
and literature here.

Do you have any plan of extending this presence or network?

We do not have any plan of physical expansion. That means, we will not
be opening any more offices. But we plan to reach out to the 1.2
billion people digitally, through our website, which we are making
more interactive. The new social media, Facebook and Twitter, are also
powerful tools as we can see in the Arab world. We have a Facebook

We also plan to reach out to many more people here through our working
partners in the country.

What will be the focus areas of your operation?

The key area of our operation is education. There is a real appetite
in India and in the UK for greater exchange of knowledge, ideas and
expertise. We are working on that along with the Centre, universities
and state agencies.

Higher education is important for us and we aim for closer
partnerships in medicine, science and technology research.

Currently, there are 50,000 Indian students in the UK. We would like
to see British students coming to India. We would like our
professionals to come for internships in Indian companies.

What are your plans on English Language Teaching?

There is a thirst for learning English in India. In fact, it is a
country where English is the second language for most. We are looking
to increase the level of English language penetration here.

Strategically, India’s advantage over China lies in its language
ability, that English is spoken and written here. India’s
attractiveness to other countries as an investment destination is
because of the wide use of the English language, which is very
important in the service industry.

How will the British Council support the government in English studies?

We are working with the state governments in formulation of English
language policy, curriculum reforms and training of master trainers in
English language. We have 3,500 master trainers here. In Bengal, we
are helping the state government to develop text books and train
teachers. We have teaching centres in Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad and
Calcutta as well.

We are also working with the corporate sector. There is a demand for
high level of English skills there. English is now a basic skill in
the corporate sector. Our centres also teach communication methodology
and share our skills with schools here.

You are a linguist yourself and you know several languages…

(Laughs) Yes, I know Russian and Polish. My wife is Hungarian, so I
know that language too. I have an affinity for languages and like to
learn as many as I can. In fact, here I am engaged in finding a Hindi
teacher for myself.

How do you find Calcutta on your first visit?

In Calcutta, I am fascinated by Tagore. I find Tagore quite inspiring.
In fact, knowing that he started painting when he was 60, gives me
hope (laughs). To have started painting so late and then produced such
an amazing body of work is truly the mark of a genius.

We are helping the culture ministry to showcase a Tagore collection in
the UK at the end of the year. This is going to be a significant event
to mark the poet’s 150th birth anniversary.


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