Foxtrot At The Bund, Shanghai – The Ministry Of Youth Affairs And Sports
It was a regular day at Moody’s, just like any other day that went by crunching numbers. It was late and I was engrossed with my work, with little shares of a laugh in between. Amidst the serenity of the work and the occasional chit-chat, my phone vibrated to the tone of an incoming e-mail. This email had come in from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, informing me that I had been selected to represent India for the India-China Youth Dialogue 2017. And that moment changed it all. I sprung up from my seat, declaring the news to my co-interns and my mentor. They all wished me the best for my first trip beyond the borders of India!
China is a double-edged sword who is a constant impediment to India in the global-political knockout framework but a close ally in the rally of ‘Make Asia Great Again.’ And I, Roop Pratim Dutta, was selected to represent my country in a delegation to The People’s Republic of China.
When I had filled up the application in January 2016, on the advice of Prof. Kampan Mukherjee, I had considered it to be a dream. The dream had just converted to reality. After Prateek Gaokar in the 2014-16 batch from IIM Kashipur, it was now my turn to represent my institute and my country.
The journey started on 6th of June, 2017, as I made my way towards the Vishwa Yuvak Kendra, the International Youth Centre (IYC) in Delhi where we would halt for two days before starting to China.
The relationships with other delegates (read excited students) forged so quickly, it seemed as if I had known them for so long. The day was spent in introducing ourselves to each other and settling down in our rooms. To make up for the missed time, we roamed the streets in Delhi at night – a simple start to the enthralling journey that lay ahead. The first day came to a close with candid memories of new friends in Delhi.
The next day we woke up early. It was an important day. We were chatting casually in our rooms when one of the lanky fellows burst into the room and announced, “The minister is coming! The minister is coming!” And with that, all hell broke loose, with students exalting in joy to meet a central minister for the first time in their lives. Like all students, we had already made strategies with utmost care as to how a ‘selfie’ with the minister could become a possibility.
The conference room at the IYC was filled with the chosen 200 students across India, all decked and dressed to impress, with the best of themselves at the display. Shortly, the undersecretary of the ministry of youth affairs and sports, Mr. I.B. Lenka arrived. He briefed us about the journey, the plan and introduced us to the representatives of the ministry, present in the room, who would be travelling with us. After the end of his talk, he made way for one of the most knowledgeable and enigmatic individuals I have ever met, Joint Secretary of the Ministry, IAS, Mr. A.K. Dubey. The bureaucrats, they do live up to the legacy they have carved for themselves in this subcontinent. The eloquence of his speech, the delivery and the conviction in his tone was impeccable.
The brief focused on our reason for the delegation to China, the expectations that the ministry had from us, and the value addition that we, the youth must find from this exposure.
By the time Mr. Dubey’s speech had come to a close, the minister of youth affairs and sports had arrived. Mr. Vijay Goel was in always befitting a minister at the centre. He started by congratulating the students who had been selected for the delegation, and also reminded about the onus that lay upon us. We had been selected with the expectation that a thin percentage amongst us will serve the Indian bureaucracy in the future, and in that future of ours, this exposure to China, the acquaintances that we were about to develop may equip us better to ensure global and national peace.
Finally, the time we were all waiting for in anticipation drew close. At exactly 22:47hrs, we left the ground of our motherland behind us. When I woke up after having fallen asleep, I realized that we had traversed a long way, and were about to land at Hong Kong. Having passed the check, I along with my fellow delegates made way towards the gate from where our new flight was bound to take us to Beijing! Au revoir Hong Kong!
And dream it was! Beijing was a wonderful package of surprise. We got our first chance to meet our friends from China. They were fellow students, just like us, in their universities. They volunteered to make our stay in China memorable.
Thus started the long string of adventures. We shifted to our warm and welcoming hotels, all that one could ask for. The day ended with a banquet where the Ministers of Youth Affairs from both the nations were present to address the confluence.
I had taken up the job of being the cultural representative for my batch and was busy attending the needs of the performers and helping in getting the act together. But to our dismay, the event was postponed till Shanghai!
Day two was all about visiting the only manmade structure visible from space- The Great Wall of China. By the time we reached the Great Wall, Hindi-Cheeni Bhai Bhai rung true. I got friends from beyond our boundaries.
The Great Wall was a testament of what human endeavour could achieve. The steep rise, the giant rocks, the thin profile and the prolific bucolic wild set the tone of the landscape. The wall seemed like a never-ending serpentine maze of human labour and natural girth. No wonder for centuries people has come to see the wall from all corners of the globe, so much so that the rocks that have thwarted the invasion of China have been grazed by the human foot enough to scrape out rocks.
On our return from the Wall, we paid a visit to the Indian Embassy in China. During my ride back to the hotel that day I noticed that there were no advertisements on the streets of China. For a country focused on consumerism, this was rather odd. I engrossed myself to keep my eyes fixated on the streets, the hoardings, the packages carried by Chinese folks, and every other piece of propaganda to see how companies communicated their value delivery to the market. The reality of the Chinese consumer market economy is the fact that it is nearly 1.3billion strong with comparatively higher savings/earnings at disposure. The market has not tested the Indian equivalent of propaganda of the form of hoardings, posters, newspaper ads and endorsements by popular faces of the entertainment industry. Propaganda was mainly restricted to digital platforms as few enquiries about marketplaces gave a common reply of, “I buy things from Alibaba.” This helped in concluding the fact that Indian marketing and Chinese marketing are quite different with market influence being dictated by two different paths. While Shah Rukh and Alia are common faces for Indian marketing ads, the same cannot be found for the Chinese market.
The day ended with a flight that took us from the capital to Hefei, capital of Anhui province. While I was sure that Beijing and Shanghai would impress, I was sceptical about the impression that Hefei would have on me. But boy was it a splendid surprise! In the dark of the night, I found a city that wasn’t a capital or a financial hub or an industrial giant but it was a city where common Chinese people lived. It was a city with a soul.
The next morning greeted me with smiling faces of Chinese children going to school, people plying up for their work and the regular hustle of any small town. Our friends from China took us to an artificial park in the middle of the city- the striking feature was that a remnant of a long lost civilization that has embraced major western developmental principles is still desperately holding onto its intrinsic treasures.
While we in India have accepted the new world order of communicating in English, the Chinese have made an U-turn from it. They hold on to their baroque old world architecture, rock inscriptions, and classical calligraphy. I somehow felt the Chinese have effectively communicated their need for transition during the1950’s and the necessity to be distinct from the rest of the globe. While Indians judge a person by the knowledge of English and harbours a fragmented approach to the Indian civilization, the Chinese have been able to assimilate the varying opinions into a stronghold of Mandarin China. I am sure India with its immense human capital, literary heritage and a vast expanse of knowledge can be united in unison rather than in fragments.
The next place we visited was the history museum in Anhui. A small incident took place there, which reminded me of the need for discipline. While entering the premises of the museum, the Indian team rushed towards the gate. This caused the guards to panic and local enforcement had to be placed to restrict us from entering. Discipline is something that China had successfully imbibed in its civil population. There is drastic scope for the same in our country as well. One common method employed by the Chinese to imbibe this is the posters and festoons put in place by the government harping three distinct stories;
1. The armed struggle for independence
3. “Better city for better civilians.”
The last propaganda consistently harps on people’s need to be a better citizen. This strategy has surely been successful in China. There is much we can learn from similar strategy implementation in India.
The final visit for the day was to a man-made artificial forest on the fringes of Hefei. The forest spanned over 10 acres and was a popular fishing spot for families. It is at such places, you get to measure indices like happiness and lifestyle and by whatever I perceived, I have to give high scores for all of them.
The final day at Hefei was spent at the campus of University of Science and Technology, China. This was the only dimension where I felt India was far ahead. The infrastructure and academics in India are far superior to those in China.
Next up, Shanghai!
Shanghai was a city wrapped in dreams and as I pulled the wrapper, out came a city that was truly born in fantasy and structured in reality. Shanghai was what every city should be. It was truly cosmopolitan. People were rich, lively and stylish.There were big hotels and even bigger malls and the Shanghai experience would never be complete without the “Bund.”
Our journey in Shanghai started by a visit to two amazing incubation centres one of which is owned by Alibaba. The incubator provided the infrastructure facilities along with basic amenities to help every entrepreneur carb out their dreams.
Then, we visited the Tongji University. This university presented itself to be very good for some of the liberal arts subjects like English. We got to interact with some of the students. I specifically got a chance to speak with a student named Xang, with whom I had a discussion regarding the growth trajectories of India and China. He was a student of International politics and helped me understand some fundamental economic reforms that made way for the Chinese success story. It was surprising to see him admit the good and the bad of the Mao Dze Dong government. Following this, we got a chance to visit a small handiworks workshop where we got acquainted with the age-old art of plate carving using small chisels and hammers. It was a treat to see such wonderful pieces of art still surviving in the modern day. The following day, we got to visit the oriental pearl tower. We climbed to the 267m observatory from where all of Shanghai, with its busy ports and tall buildings, seemed to encapsulate the world. From the observatory, we headed to the glass floor room where everything under our feet was 250m away separated by just a glass floor. It seemed like we were walking on air.
The last trip of ours was a visit to a music school. I finally got the opportunity to play some guitar for my Indian folk and unleash the vibe of Indian music on the soil of China.
The journey came to a close with a final banquet dinner, where some really talented delegates performed to the tunes of Bharat Natyam and Marathi folk songs.
On17th of June, 2017, nearly ten days after the start of the journey, it was time for me to return home. As the wheels of my Air India flight kissed goodbye to China, I was resolute in my mind to employ all resources within my capacity to develop better models of India’s growth story.
I sincerely believe we have the capacity to script a better future for the forthcoming generations. We are capable of not only being a developed nation by ourselves but also to help our neighbours in Asia to grow as well.
The greatest learning that I take away from my trip to China would be their financial model. Their economy is firmly rooted in production rather than in services. While services are the blue ocean for Indian firms, they seem to be steeped in volatility. China has successfully recognized this and thus has invested the majority of its financial capacity in tangible asset producing industries. This subject has become close to my heart and I am sure I can get much guidance to develop models at IIM Kashipur on similar lines to help India’s economy.
Much has been learned from my trip to China, and much is yet to be unravelled as I employ my experience to build a better and brighter India.