A World CEO

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A pre-event to the Delhi Sustainability and Development Summit (DSDS) is the World CEO Forum, a high-level event focused on encouraging leaders in business, government, and education to work together to create strong solutions to the world’s environmental crisis.  Jehuda attends as a global leader in education.  With some of the most important conversations behind closed doors, we’ll have to wait for further accounts of this important meeting.

Inside the Lotus: Exile, journey, and oneness

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Later in the day, we squeeze in a visit to the remarkable Baha’i temple in Delhi, one of just seven Baha’i temples scattered around the globe.  Our tour has been arranged through the family of Aarti Mody ’10, and we are given a thorough and informative introduction by Shatrughun Jiwnani, the managing director of the temple.  The temple itself, completed approximately 20 years ago, is constructed in the shape of a lotus flower, an imposing yet gentle structure designed to build on traditions of harmony and oneness within Asia.  The temple has become famous as a tourist attraction in India, not only for the country’s 2 million Baha’is, but also for millions of other both inside and outside the country who come to admire its projection of spiritual calm.  The spacious sanctuary is filled with reverent silence as we walk through.  Mr. Jiwnani gives us a brief exposition of the early days of exile and journey of the faith.  For Jehuda, the Baha’i community has a special significance.  As a boy in Haifa, he and his friends used to use the grounds of the faith’s world center as their personal playground, and as an adult he has come to appreciate the intense feeling with which Baha’is from around the world make their pilgrimage to the city of his birth and his childhood.

Shatrughun Jiwnani and Jehuda Reinharz at the Baha'i Temple in Delhi

Brandeis, India, and the Middle East

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Arun Maira is a member of India’s Planning Commission, a senior government body with enormous influence on broad areas of policy within the Indian government.  He comes to the position from long experience in the world of business consultancy, including a longtime stint in the Boston area at Arthur D. Little.

We meet with him in his office, and the conversation begins slowly.  A lot of universities, says Mr. Maira, have been traipsing their way into India, trying to expand activities, recruit students, but without necessarily a clear idea about where they are going.  Jehuda emphasizes that India is not new for Brandeis, that we have had strong students from India since the early 1960s, and that we’re looking to build on strength, not to create artificial structures from scratch.

But the conversation takes a productive turn in a surprising way:  when we start to talk about the Middle East.   Maira starts by warning us that the Brandeis association with the Jewish community and by extension with Israel will not necessarily play well in all quarters in India.  But his tone changes considerably as we outline the deliberate and strategic way that Brandeis has developed a diversity of activities throughout the Middle East as a whole, in the context of working towards peace in that troubled region.   We mention the range of scholars associated with the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, including experts on Palestine, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and other parts of North Africa.  We describe the longstanding partnership with Al-Quds University, a Palestinian university in the West Bank.  And we highlight our Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, with its flagship master’s program in the area of coexistence and conflict.

Seeing Brandeis in this light, Maira suggests that we think seriously about building on these strengths in India, where political and economic contacts in the Middle East are on the rise, and where issues of conflict and coexistence are an internal issue as well.

Arun Maira

A Brandeis Parent’s Commitment

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We meet Atul Punj P ’12 for a brisk and lively breakfast.  Mr. Punj is one of India’s leading industrialists, the chairman of the global construction firm PunjLloyd, and the father of Shiv Punj, member of the Brandeis class of 2012.   Punj has strong opinions about Indian politics, the upbringing of children, and education, and the conversation is rapid and vigorous.  One of his valued projects is the establishment of a new branch of the Indian School of Business in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, where apparently ground will be broken in the next year.  Punj believes that traditional universities have not done enough to prepare young people for the complex management skills they need to work on major construction and infrastructure projects; as a result, PunjLloyd has set up its own training academies to provide those skills to its workers.

But liberal arts education matters a great deal to him as well, as a thinker who likes to push the boundaries of conventional thought and ideas.  He admires in Brandeis the nimbleness, the creativity, and the practicality that he considers strengths of his own company.  As such, though his experience at Brandeis extends back only a year, he has already become one of the University’s most active ambassadors in India, calling attention to the virtues of a Brandeis education to parents and educators in his circle.

At our breakfast,  Atul Punj makes a significant commitment to South Asian Studies at Brandeis, subject to approval of his company’s board later in 2010.    Tonight he will host a dinner at his home in President Reinharz’s honor.

Atul Punj P '12

A Brandeis Delhi Gathering

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Brandeis Delhi Gathering

In the evening, President Reinharz hosts an informal gathering of the Brandeis “family” in Delhi:  alumni, parents of current students, and even some parents of students who have graduated.  It’s a disparate group.  The alumni themselves include graduates of the undergraduate college, as well as Heller and IBS.  Some are Indians who have returned home after graduation; others are here for shorter stints.  Brian Botnick ‘06, for example, is on leave from his real estate work in Ohio to spend several months in India focusing on issues of rural development.

Narinder Lamba, the father of Ishita Lamba ’11, has made a special effort to meet us.  His family’s introduction to Brandeis was somewhat serendipitous.  His daughter’s high school, Delhi Public School, is a large institution, with nearly 400 students in its graduating class.  But until Ishita began doing her own homework, Brandeis barely registered among the DPS student body and the college counselors.  But Ishita found in Brandeis the combination of size and quality and location that she wanted, and once her own experience was so positive, her father went on a campaign to shed more light on Brandeis at the high school.  As a result, one of the counselors there has become a strong Brandeis supporter, and several DPS graduates have followed Ishita’s footsteps to Brandeis in the last two years.   It’s a reminder that – in places where Brandeis can’t physically reach more than once a year – we have the opportunity to use enthusiastic parents and alumni more effectively to spread the word.

Sunil and Nita Kumar’s son Tejas ’11 is now at Columbia University, as part of our 3-2 arrangement that allows students to receive an engineering degree.  His parents report that Tejas enjoys the study of engineering, but misses the warmth, the vibrancy, and the intimacy of the Brandeis campus.  But in a country that still desperately needs engineers and where so many bright young people see a future for themselves in engineering, Brandeis might do well to make this 3-2 program more prominent in our marketing.

The evening revives some old connections, and creates some new ones, as well as some momentum for starting a chapter for the Friends of Brandeis in the greater Delhi area.  A project to pursue!

In Old Delhi

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En route back to the hotel Harleen makes sure that Jehuda sees Old Delhi, the ancient warren of streets and shops adjacent to the area of the Red Fort and the Jama Masj

In Old Delhi

id, the Grand Mosque.  The pulsing life of the Indian metropolis is most vivid here, with its crowds of people, its bustling enterprise, and its stark contrasts poverty and wealth, squalor and grandeur.  Jehuda muses that his Vespa would come in handy amidst the chaos of Delhi traffic, but he settles for contributing to the local economy by riding a rickshaw with Harleen through the ancient streets.

The American Embassy School

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Jehuda with AES student Zeyn Shaw

Later that morning, we make our way to the American Embassy School, one of Delhi’s most exclusive.  Set on fourteen acres immediately across from the American Embassy itself, the school serves the sons and daughters of diplomats and other ex-patriates, both from the United States and around the world.  Our guide there is Oren Ridenour, an American whose career as a counselor mirror that of a diplomat:  postings in American schools in Cairo, Bolivia, Geneva, and what seems a dozen other locations around the world.   AES graduates around 75 students per year, and sent its first to Brandeis in 2008.   Now three students have applied for admission for fall 2010, and we meet with them, along with some interested juniors.

Clearly what resonates most with this group is the combination of Brandeis’s small size, in addition to students’ access to top-level research.   Two students are particularly interested in theater (AES has a very active program), and we give them a rundown of the extensive opportunities both within the theater department and in student-run organizations.

It’s clear from the conversation that Brandeis has a lot of the features that the bright cosmopolitan student body at AES is looking for in an American education.  But it’s also clear that it’s tough sledding for Brandeis to command attention with so many parents fixed on Ivy League names.  It would appear that what we need is some momentum – good experiences at Brandeis for some pioneering students, so that the word filters back to their peers, other parents, and the counselors.  This appears to be happening at other Indian high schools, and we can hope that we’ve broken the ice at AES as well.

Early Morning Perambulation

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In the Lodi Gardens

Harleen Singh and Meher

Professor Harleen Singh joins us on Wednesday morning, just a few hours after arriving in Delhi with her three-month old baby Meher, who is making her first visit to her mother’s native country.  Harleen has slept for less than four hours, but she insists on getting Jehuda and me up before 7:00 a.m. for morning exercise in the Lodi Gardens at the southern end of British New Delhi.  There we join hundreds of early-rising Delhi residents, walking briskly in pairs and groups, practicing various forms of yoga, and jogging along the park’s circular routes.  We wander in and out of 13th century Mughal tombs, and absorbing both the lush greenery of the garden and its riot of sound:  the screeching birds, and the raucous rumble of deep human laughter, an exercise that is integral to some practices of yoga.

At the Taj Mahal

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There is not much that can be said about the splendors of the Taj Mahal that have not been said before.  Jehuda and I savor its beauty and its mysteries, and we tour the nearby Agra Fort, seat of the the Mughals.

In the company of a human rights giant

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We are invited to dinner with Mr. Soli Sorabjee, former minister of justice, one of India’s great human rights champions, and grandfather of Aarti Mody ’10.   Brandeis established a lectureship in Soli Sorabjee’s nam

Jehuda with Soli and Zena Sorabjee

e in 2009, as part of the Brandeis-India Initiative.  Historian Sugata Bose gave the first lecture in November.  Filmmaker Paromitra Vohra will screen and discuss her pathbreaking work on February 25, 2010 Best of all Soli Sorabjee himself will travel to Brandeis to deliver an address on April 14, 2010.

At dinner we are joined by Mr. Sorabjee’s charming wife Zena, and by a distinguished roster of some of India’s leading legal lights, including P.P. Rao, a leading advocate before the Supreme Court, Upendra Baxi, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Delhi, and  Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist whose work has also encompassed business ethics.  (I discovered that my 2004 book, Ethics at Work: Creating Virture in an American Corporation was better known in this crowd than my recent work on international judges.)

The guests are eager to talk not only about Brandeis University, but about Louis Brandeis.  The concept of the “Brandeis brief,” with its emphasis on bringing sociological data and other facts to bear on legal cases, resonates deeply here.  Mr. Sorabjee quoted Brandeis opinions from memory.  For these men of the law, the name of Brandeis carries great weight.

On April 14, Soli Sorabjee will speak at Brandeis on Rule of Law: A Moral Imperative for South Asia and the World.


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