I am writing en route to Delhi, at the start of a two-week trip to India for Brandeis, accompanying President Jehuda Reinharz, as described in detail in Brandeis Now.

Why India?    Why India for Brandeis?

The Brandeis connections in Europe, in Israel, even in Latin America are more obvious and better-known.  The University’s faculty was populated by refugees from the war-torn continent in the 1950s.  Israel became a natural site for connections to an institution with strong and binding ties to the Jewish community.    And Brandeis students throng to Latin America to practice their Spanish and immerse themselves in organizations addressing issues of health, poverty, and human rights.

But in fact the Brandeis-India connection is deep and abiding.   The far-sighted Wien Scholarship Program, founded in 1959, brought talented students to Brandeis from around the world, and India proved to be a steady source of talented and engaged young people from as early as 1960.   Brandeis alumni from India include a senior government official (Vineeta Rai ‘66) , the editor of one of India’s most important journals of ideas (Tejbir Singh ‘70) , the leader of an NGO empowering the poor in Mumbai’s slums (Sundar Burra ’71), and an anthropologist who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on globalization (Arjun Appadurai ‘70).

In recent years, the numbers of students at Brandeis from India has been growing steadily, both at the undergraduate level, and in graduate programs in the sciences, in the International Business School, and the in Sustainable Development program, to the point that there are nearly 100 Indian students at Brandeis in 2009-10.

And our students have gotten more active in India as well, most notably through participation and even founding non-governmental organizations tackling issues of poverty, health, and social justice.  In the wake of the tragic attacks in Mumbai in November 2008, Brandeis students formed “Revive Mumbai,” and worked in the city in the summer of 2009 to support the work of a theater organization that serves some of the city’s poorest children.

Brandeis faculty have also been active in research and scholarship in India and the subcontinent more generally.  Aging in Bengal, public health policy across the country, film and mythology, entrepreneurship – these are just some of the areas our faculty are engaged in.   Our Women’s Studies Research Center organized a major exhibition by Indian artists, “Tiger by the Tail,” which captured the strengths and the plight of Indian women.

We started the Brandeis-India Initiative to build on these disparate strengths, with the goal of  building a more coherent and powerful set of connections.   My previous trips, taken with Professor Harleen Singh, co-chair of the South Asian Studies Program, have led directly to the creation of the Soli Sorabjee Lecture Series, as well as to a burgeoning relationship with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).   But we have the opportunity to do a great deal more.

Our trip will take us to Delhi, where President Reinharz will speak at TERI’s prestigious Delhi Sustainability and Development Summit next week. In Mumbai the following week, he will speak on globalization and higher education under the auspices of the Asia Society.   Between these talks . .  many conversations with alumni government officials, NGO leaders, heads of schools, and visits to some of the remarkable historical and cultural sites of the country.   Harleen Singh, co-chair of the South Asian Studies Program, will join us in two days.