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Launch Of “India Discovery Center” (IDC) In Greater Boston

Sanjeev Tripathy and Krishna Gazula

It was a bright, sunny early spring day in the Town of Lexington. The residents were busy with the Patriot’s Day activities to reminisce the America’s struggle for freedom two hundred years ago. Inside Cary Memorial Public Library, Lexington, MA, it was the day of the first public meeting to introduce a special project “India Discovery Center”.   The gathering on Saturday began with the invocation of spirit and prayer for the peace of humanity from different religions offered by Mr. Subhash Sehgal for Hindu, Mr Syed Ali Rizvi for Islam and Ms Veena Teli for Jaina.

“India Discovery Center, IDC,” a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, is a hands-on interactive Museum and Education Center that will aim to encapsulate the cultural, social and economic growth of the Indic civilization over the past five thousand year period.  First of its kind in the USA, the Center will celebrate the cultural legacy of India through the prisms of history, innovation, diversity and inspiration, and through the history of classical scholars, great epics, cultural pioneers, and the evolution of science and arts.  The Center will serve as an educational and instructional facility, a research hub, and also a performance center for visiting and resident artists.  It will also engage in activities designed to promote the understanding and assimilation of Indian culture.  The Center will have a particular emphasis on educating younger generations, and will therefore endeavor to create an immersive and interactive experience for the visitors.    

The Center is the brainchild of Dr. Bijoy Misra, who brings his decades of experience in studying India at Harvard University and through his own scholarly efforts in education and teaching.  The project idea developed while organizing the educational lectures for the volunteers for the Festival of India celebrations in the ‘80s, which was a multi-year effort of cultural exchange between India and the US.  He created the map for a possible Educational Center undertaking by discussing with various groups at Harvard University and other institutions.  Dr. Misra, who serves as the President of IDC, opened the meeting by sharing where the journey began.  He added that most countries have established their identity in the USA, but there is inadequate understanding of India, though it is one of the oldest civilizations.  There is an urgent need for a place where people of Indian origin can connect to their roots while giving an opportunity for all to learn more about India beyond Mahatma Gandhi and Buddha, and to discover how India taught the world the spirit of hospitality and the meaning of truth through respect.  He ended with a quote from the renowned poet Tulasi Das highlighting the diversity and plurality of India.  

Mr. Praveen Sahay, who has helped Dr. Misra in streamlining the contents for this elaborate undertaking, presented the detailed features of the project, including estimated budget, and the timelines.  The cost is projected to be ~ $100M for the center that would, besides the exhibit space, include a performance center, library and cafeteria serving a variety of food from the entire Indian sub-continent.  The finance for setting up the center and its operational cost will be sought from the general public, corporations and international organizations in the form of donations, memberships and partnerships. The first phase of the Center is expected to open in 2021.  In the meantime, activities are ongoing among its numerous volunteers to research and refine the concepts, design and curation.   In addition, the center would plan to organize international conferences on topics of interest for the scholars, students and the general public.

IDC consists of interactive galleries and exhibitions where visitors can discover the essence of India’s history and culture, its influence over the ages, and its evolving identity. It aims to encapsulate this journey in human history over several thousand years in ways that will encourage today’s youth to appreciate its rich diversity, and study its relevance to their own times.  The center will include a hundred exhibition rooms staggered through five floors.  Each floor will focus on one of five periods, spanning from pre-Vedic to Buddhist Era, Hindu and Moghul Eras, and the most recent British/Modern India.

Each floor will be connected to the other four floors through color coded tracks featuring various themes.  Examples of the themes include Geography and People, Arts and Culture, Language and Literature, Religion and Philosophy, Science and Technology, Politics and Economics, etc.  The important thrust of the Center would be its hands-on activity centers where the visitors, following these themes, can sample objects, play instruments, apply dyes, weave textiles, learn metallurgy, try phonemes, and create musical compositions.  Resident and visiting master teachers would offer courses on aspects of arts, culture, sciences and philosophy as an ongoing activity.  Research activity on wellness living, nutrition, herbal cures, yoga would be sponsored through scholarships and guided field trips.  Language and literature discussion of the world culture would be sponsored with a view toward cultural exchange.  Regular lectures and performance events would be sponsored to create awareness on ideas and their impact on the world.

IDC museum content planning has been a continuous process for the last five years.  The selection is done from an educator’s perspective to help teachers plan modules on India in world history and social studies curriculum for the high school and college students.  About a dozen parents and professionals in various fields have been gathering every two weeks for the last year to help create the exhibits that would be set for interactive displays.  Through such efforts and discussions by different individuals, IDC’s mission has evolved.

The mission elements were presented by Mr. Jaspal Singh, Mrs. Chandrika Govardhan, Mr. Praveen Sahay, Mrs. Hardeep Mann and Dr. Pradeep Shukla (Dr. Misra spoke on behalf of Dr. Shukla who could not be present at the event).   The elements included, Connect our Past to Present (Dr Shukla), Problem Solving (Mr. Singh), Global Citizenship (Ms. Govardhan), Intellectual Catalysis (Mr. Sahay), and Humaneness of Being (Ms. Mann).  Every speaker outlined the mission statement in their own words presenting their respective vision for the center.  The center is more than an exhibition on India; it can help the world learn about wisdom and humanity, giving a cultural identity to the people of Indian subcontinent.

The Center is expected to be a forum to discover it as an educational resource.   The audience had a chance to interact with Dr. Misra and the rest of the presenters during the question and answer session.  A question and answer session followed with broad coverage.  The following is a sample.

Question - Is this center targeting only for kids from Indian origin?

Answer - This center is not limited to people of Indian origin, but open to citizens of all faiths, countries, and ages.

Question – How would be exhibits be organized?

Answer – The exhibits would be activity-centered for the children.  Efforts would be taken to simulate hands-on cultural experience, and seek design input from the children. 

Question – Is there any initial funding to support this initiative?

Answer – Initially, it is based on volunteer efforts.  Fundraising activities with membership drive and donations will commence in the Fall.

Question – How would India’s poor infrastructure be reflected in the Center?

Answer – The center will honestly present all facets of India. In addition to presenting facts, it will strive to provide full context so that viewers can connect past to present, and derive cause-and-effect links flowing through the ups and downs of India’s past and present.

Dr. Krishna Gazula concluded the meeting with a word of thanks to Lexington Public Library, to the participants at the event and to all the volunteers who are at the heart of the project.  Dr. Gazula promised there will be more such events to come and asked participants to look out to be a part and join IDC in building this center together.   A social hour followed with hospitality coordinated by Mrs. Chandrika Govardhan and Mrs. Radha Jalan.

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