I wasn’t brought up to be a culture junkie who enjoys traipsing around galleries, museums, and art shows commenting on the significance of the treasures and sensory delights that may be displayed. I was brought up in a working class environment by loving parents who wanted me to do the best that I could, and it’s this sense that I try to inculcate in my kids, also.
But, as I’ve grown older, my appreciation of all things considered ‘elitist’ by some circles has increased as a result of being exposed to a very different world after I started my business. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and discuss all types of subjects with some fairly serious figures from the arts, business, and politics, some of whom I have forged fairly strong associations with.
The one moment I’d like to recall is a discussion I had with a much respected Jain businessman, who’d called me over to his home one Sunday for a lovely Gujarati breakfast, who I’d helped to organise an event in the House of Commons, and as a result became aware of their significant achievements.
For those unaware, the Institute of Jainology is currently engaged in digitising ancient Jain manuscripts that will be made available to all using the internet. Naturally, all of this work is extremely expensive to do, so I questioned their wisdom in embarking on such an ambitious and resource intensive project.
His response sticks out because it marked a turning point in my thinking. He explained, in brief, that history teaches us that our world will be characterised by the decimation of various civilisations that have come and gone. His understanding on the subject was quite extensive and he went to great detail to identify critical events that contributed to such decline.
Whilst today it seems that what he said was so obvious, at that time my thinking was somewhat uninitiated on such topics. He elaborated that one of the critical aspects that can save civilisations is the preservation and protection of its arts, high culture, language, wisdom materials & traditions, as when these are destroyed, the trickle-down effect of their loss is a major contributory factor in these civilisations being wiped out.
My reason for explaining the above is that earlier this week, I was invited to the Annual Governors Dinner of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (OCHS), which is an institution that was created to promote the further study of Hindu studies at the most acclaimed Oxford University. From what I understand, this is the only such centre of its kind that exists anywhere in the world.
Dixit Joshi, Head of European Equities at Barclays Capital was invited to deliver the keynote address, and he made some fairly sensible points, of which he affirmed:
1. How the centre provides a deeper understanding of the Hindu traditions, which are complex.
2. How the centre provides a connection between Hindu thinking and the challenges we face as a global society.
3. How the centre is helping to strengthen a sense of Hindu identity and a better understanding of what it means to be a Hindu today.
He concluded his speech by stating: “And for every text collected and preserved, for every new insight into our past, and for every new parallel drawn to the present; there will be a stronger foundation and greater relevance for our Hindu traditions.”
“We have an opportunity to ignite a spark in people’s minds. To help the centre reach across our society and light the fires of knowledge in all that it touches. And to build the traditions of our past into the foundations of our future.”
“I believe that we have before us an opportunity to invest not just in the Centre for Hindu Studies but in the quality of thought and debate that will help to shape our future.
And, for me, that’s an investment opportunity too good to turn down.”
Given the importance of the subject and the manner the OCHS has gone on to building itself, it struck me how they’re so massively underfunded, which is surprising given the material strength of Britain’s Hindu community.
To me such a situation definitely points to (i) a lack of confidence in Hindu values, which should be a major concern for all of us, and also (ii) for a need to create a centre that is fit for attracting investment by philanthropists, trusts, and other major benefactors, which must be addressed by the OCHS, which it’s not currently in the best shape to do.
We may be a god fearing, temple going, enterprising community, but if we seek to stem the decline in the practice our traditions and the applicability of our values in the post recession world, then we ought to take the lead from Dixit Joshi and Harish Patel who I salute and give them the credit they deserve in firstly, recognising the need and secondly, for raising the profile of a promising institution like the OCHS.
I’m not here to bat for the OCHS, so rather than argue that we ought to support them for our own selfish interest, I believe that we owe it to humanity to provide a sensible and balanced alternative view on how to tackle some of the biggest challenges humanity faces.
I sincerely believe such institutions can play a pivotal role in doing so, but it’s important that they ask themselves and understand fully whether they’re truly fit & equipped for purpose before embarking on such a journey.