Recently, I oversaw a cultural exchange between two schools in India and Germany. At the outset, few selected Indian children went to Germany to live with their hosts for two weeks. After some interval, those German families, in reciprocation, sent their children for first-hand experience of staying at Indian homes for the same period.
What I closely witnessed was that all Indian children participating in the such cultural exchange were from traditional Hindu families and that all Germans were Christians. But nowhere and at no point of time, religion, caste or class became a questioning point among the participating families.
During the period the German children were in India, I especially noticed two incredible effects – 1. Everyone in the Indian families suddenly started looking younger. May be the teenage guests inspired them to such level. Even I returned to denims after a hiatus. 2. The children experienced how different family units operate in two different countries.
My observation revolved around the fact that this cultural exchange exposed the children of hitherto unknown families to different cultural values, food, expectations, rules, discipline, authority, attitudes to education and parenting. I was very alarmed to these key points, having myself experienced a certain degree of culture exchange, being a roving student during school days.
Some years ago, BBC did try to film documentaries on different cultural approaches to parenting around the world during which process British teenagers were required to live with Indian families for two weeks and play the role of anthropologists. Through this documentary, BBC intended to show how a British teenager adapts to new surroundings by taking on the household chores, the local school and community life.
Now, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi has once again launched ‘Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat’ initiative whereby he is trying to showcase what Unity means and how India finds Unity in Diversity. This is important in the present context when the countrymen are debating religious bigotry and intolerance in India.
Coming back to the Indo-German exchange, can we not experiment and explore such exchanges within the country, wherein children from one State would visit families in another State and live there for two weeks to understand the heart of every Indian, even in farthest corner of our vast nation. In the process, the children would also be able to analyse how their host’s conditions are different to their own lives at home in their own community.