Integrating Ideas, Integrating Communities
I hope everyone has been taking full advantage of the warm sunshine the last two days.
Last weekend, I attended Destination South Asia, hosted by the Pakistani Student Association. There was harmonious collaboration between student organizations, the presence of faculty from various fields of expertise, refreshments, and networking breaks all afternoon. Although small scaled, the conference could not have been organized better. My only feedback was that they keep the conversation and engagement going.
It was one of those rare times when I was actually certain of why I was there. It was simple, really. I’m very much South Asian, despite never living there. I was curious and eager to understand the darker complexities of the region.
The definition of what South Asia comprises was discussed in the opening key note by Nabila Pirani (@selfistani). It can be defined geographically, by its historic turmoils, or its culture, which has integrated, mingled and transformed over our planet. It can also be defined by one’s perception at various time periods, which implies that we’ll all have a different definition.
South Asia to me is the smell of incense, the movements of my grandmother praying early in the morning, daal fresh out of the pot. South Asia to me is honey sweet Bollywood love songs, of the Shah Rukh Khan legend, watching the rick-shaw drivers drinking tea from the verandah.
Before I was fully able to marinate in my nostalgia, I was quickly warped into a discussion by Dr. John Harriss. In the session, he outlined the correlation between economic growth and human development. The discussion demonstrated how although there was successful economic growth happening in India, human development was not progressing. My limited knowledge in politics and economics was evident by now – but what I learnt was that the right questions need to be asked. This means that the GDP, the literacy rate, the birth/death rate, poverty line estimate, etc is useful to know. However, it is the accumulation of the right information from the right questions being asked, that allows for a deeper understanding of the issues at hand. The understanding needs to occur on various levels, through various lenses.
This concept of asking the right questions was highlighted by Dr. Kishor Wasan. He is the co-founder of NGDI (Neglected Global Disease Initiative) which aims improve the access of medicine. This involves the discovery of medicine, its development in low cost, and the delivery in these inaccessible regions. When I asked him to outline the potential hurdles involved in the delivery, he joked about the answer being a whole lecture on its own. Although each disease, each drug, each region can only be tackled on a case by case basis – the trend is the same. The issue of public health, like the issue of our heavy carbon footprint – do not have solutions that can arise from science and technology. The issue at its core can only be improved via social change.
Change that can happen, although painstakingly, one step at a time.
I sound optimistically naive right now, I’m aware.
I think it’s possible. It’s not going to be easy.
I think individuals will eventually begin to realize that cooperation will enhance the livelihood (and hopefully quality of life) of the community as a whole. This has been shown in both interspecific (between two species) and intraspecific competition (individuals within a specie). All examples demonstrate that competition is the last resort to survival, and that organisms would rather live a poorer quality of life. Maybe the human species mental capacities are so advanced that we fail to realize the fundamentals of our evolutionary behavior. Cooperation is beneficial to all individuals, on a collective level. This is why I think altruistic behavior needs to be emphasized in education; it needs to be emphasized in all sectors of our economic arenas.
But even here, I’m aware that I’m barely grazing on the depths of the social change that need to happen. For the case of India alone, the main issues that were repeated throughout the day were: agriculture and food safety, strengthening of our infrastructure, and enhancement of our education system. These flaws in the systems are engrained in our culture, in the societal hierarchy of the community, in the daily normalcy of lives. These flaws are engrained in India’s painful history.
I feel like I’ve talked about everything under the sun – starting with the sun, to bengali tea, to evolution, politics, development. I definitely have a lot more to learn and understand – but this was my attempt to integrate what I already know to what I was exposed to today.
Yes, it was a very refreshing day.