Office of the President

March 26, 2007

Mumbai – Bustle and Bollywood

Office of the President

I love music—all kinds of music. So I have been delighted by the absolutely wonderful sounds and cadences of urban India. The fusion of Eastern and Western, ancient and contemporary, classical and pop is unlike anything I have heard. Ravi Shankar on steroids comes to mind. And music is everywhere. Even the constant toots and blasts of car horns in the notorious (and deservedly so) Mumbai traffic seems to fit in. Great sounds.

I now have a better sense of why Bollywood movies are so immensely popular. They fit the pace, the rhythms, even the melodrama of Mumbai. One factoid puts the bustle and scurry into perspective: Seven million people ride the train into Mumbai daily. Think of moving all of greater Chicago by train each morning and evening. New York is actually calming compared to the constant movement of Mumbai.Â

In a single day one can get only the quickest of snapshots of a city as complex and massive as Mumbai. But it is quite a snapshot. And it has a great soundtrack.

Education: The Holy Grail

In our first day of meetings, we joined Indian university presidents, business leaders, and some government officials for general discussions about the state of education here. I was quite taken by public opinion poll data presented to us. When asked to rank priorities, Indians listed food first and education second. Behind education came housing, health, and the environment. They are hungry indeed for educational opportunities. I heard stories of families that make the decision to skip one meal a day to afford education for their children.

The first impression one gets is of a society that rightly sees education as the great equalizer and the ladder out of poverty. Their Horatio Alger stories all begin with education. Millions of people live on the streets of Mumbai. They have come for a chance at a job and a chance at education. That is the story of the president of the University of Pune. He grew up on the streets, was given a chance to start school, and years later, with a PhD from Indiana University, he now leads one of India’s prominent universities.

Paradoxically, for a nation that understands the transforming impact of education, India has staggering educational needs and under-investment. In the state of Washington, we are wrestling with the question of whether to add a new campus in Snohomish County. In India they estimate that they need 1,500 new universities and colleges. K-12 education is also in very short supply, especially in the rural areas. Teachers, books, and buildings are all scarce. The only thing in abundance is potential students.