Reflections by Manisha Singh – BABA fellow, Goa Retreat 08

Reflections by Manisha Singh – BABA fellow, Goa Retreat 08

My word…..

At the outset let me mention that this Retreat was one of the most meaningful and enjoyable programmes I have attended in a long time (I have been sharing this fact with all and sundry!). And for an experience as enriching and lovely as this, I cannot help but give a very personalised account – far from a regular, prosaic description of the programme. Credit goes to the organisers/selectors/academic council members (I really have no clue who else shares this credit – there could be many more!) who came up with the concept of this Retreat and selected such an “interesting bunch” of us – from diverse backgrounds (age/nationalities/academic training and orientation). Each one brought to the table their different perspectives, experiences and voices. Moreover, the best part was that underlying these diversities, the “core” of each of us was just the same – we were, by and large, equally enthused about and committed to the Programme.

The Retreat…..

Organised by the Information and Resource Center, Singapore at the International Centre, Goa from February 16–24, 2008, under the aegis of the Nippon Group of Foundations, Japan, the Retreat had twenty Fellows from thirteen Asian countries. As I see it through the eyes of a Fellow, the aim was to provide this group of “Young Asian Leaders” with the environment for an interaction among themselves and with the resource persons: learn from each other through sharing of country and/or region specific views and perspectives; to learn with each other from the resource persons; to articulate their views on the larger theme – “common good” for Asia; and then, concretise the same in the form of a communiqué.

From the e-mails that I received (from Information and Resource Centre, Singapore and International Centre, Goa) prior to the Retreat, the kind of work we were expected to do seemed very interesting and had me really excited. However, to be very frank I was slightly worried about this eight-day long programme as well – it seemed too long (at some points of my thought trajectory, though not always!). When I reached Goa and met the other participants, I realized that many shared similar thoughts; some were even “unsure” of the kind of work we were required to do. However, each one seemed to be very enthused by the concept of the Retreat!

The Goa Retreat was special as we had the Fantastic Four (henceforth, F4) from Musashino Art University, Japan to guide us through the weeklong activities during which we were to conceptualise and articulate our views on the common good for Asia. Their modus operandi was quite innovative and fun-filled. Well, frankly, I have gone through several fun-filled exercises in several programmes but the attempts to marry the fun with concrete output seldom meets success. This case was different – we were made to think with our hearts – child-like enthusiasm was generated in us through activities like enacting scenes, composing poems, singing rhymes, observing and feeling the soul of the field area (different parts of Goa), drawing, making charts and posters. The common good for Asia had to come through in each of our activities! (And, I was surprised it did emerge!!!) Also, Fellow Asians Henry and Cuong, from the previous two Retreats, made a significant contribution to this programme by guiding us through the serious as well as fun components so very unobtrusively.

The days progressed with the Fellows interacting with the resource persons, visiting the State Legislative Assembly and interacting with the Hon’ble Speaker who has been Goa’s Chief Minister for several terms (one of the highlights of the Retreat), the F4 making us feel and live through the spirit of common good through various activities, also – partying at the beach (on the designated free evening and sometimes post-dinner). Finally, we were poised – on the penultimate day – to draft a communiqué espousing our views on the vision the BABA Fellows have for Asia! The task seemed Herculean – but assisted by the keywords/phrases/concepts the Fellows had come up with during the F4’s group activities (these were arranged by the group in coherent categories) – the communiqué became quite possible! In fact, as I look back at it, that brain-rocking drafting session was quite interesting. And while eight Fellows worked on the communiqué, the others put together their ideas for future projects; some others got creative and arranged the exhibition showcasing our daily activities.

See the C…..

Commencing with the “common good” for Asia at its core, and culminating in a communiqué, in this Third (A,B,C…3rd!!!) Retreat, the alphabet “C” was the most cited (and celebrated) letter!!! Well, this might just have been a co-incidence, which then snowballed! Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary General, ASEAN said in the Keynote Address that 3Cs: connectivity, culture and co-existence would lead to synergy that would, in turn, lead to the realization of the potential of each Asian country. Next day, Prof. Pang Eng Fong exhorted the participants to think of issues (good or bad; what “is” or what we “desire”…) related with globalisation and come-up with key words beginning with C. Capitalism, credit, cooperation, competition, conflict, collateral, commitment, care, collaboration, combination, communication, connection, contribution, coordination …..we drew-up an exhaustive list! It was interesting how an alliteration of “C” words summed-up the picture of globalisation. (Later, however, Prof.Tay Kheng Soon pointed out that we had forgotten few critical Cs – cash, consumerism, carbon dioxide and climate change, for instance!)

Then, one day, just before we were all set to step-into the more serious deliberations leading to communiqué drafting, the F4 asked the Fellows about how the activities had helped them in conceptualising the common good for Asia. One participant voiced his concern and said that he wasn’t quite convinced about this method. On the spur of the moment, truly yours chipped-in with (you guessed it right) an array of Cs to put things into perspective. I shared that we could visualize our reaction / response to (or, perhaps, relationship with) the larger issues that surround us in four subsequent steps: one, are we conscious / aware of the issues; two, are we concerned about them (and here I wondered aloud that the fact that we were the chosen twenty testifies that we meet conditions one and two!); three, are we really conversant with the problems (this is what I felt the F4 had done with their innovative techniques – made us conversant with the issues); and four, are we capable / competent enough to set right the wrongs! (I added this would have to stand the test of time!) Of course, there was one more C in my kitty – I felt that the F4s activities had removed the cobwebs that we let grow on our hearts, while only allowing our minds to function particularly for endeavours like this!

Proposing the vote of thanks on behalf of all the Fellows in the Closing Ceremony, Fellow Asian, Alwin also mentioned three Cs: chance – that we were all given a chance/opportunity to participate in the Retreat; chain – pertaining to the connections among our cultures and experiences and aspirations; also, to the network that we were able to build; and challenge – which now lies before us….that of maintaining this network of relationships developed on the BABA platform. (The Cs that were used in the Retreat are in bold, those that I’m adding to the write-up – to enrich the alliteration – are in italics!)

Another C from me: caveat (!)…..

Well, having said that I really connected with the other Fellows, learned much by sharing perspectives and arriving at commonalities in terms of our experiences as well as vision for the future, and also, had fun while going through this process, I felt that a few more sessions – not necessarily dry academics, but academic and serious nonetheless – would really have rounded-off our experience in the Retreat. Given the substantial sharing we had with the resource persons, I felt that more such ‘content-intensive’ sessions should have been included in the itinerary. Perhaps I am just being a bit too ‘greedy’ – having got so much from this Retreat and yet, yearning for more! Also, as senior Fellows Henry and Cuong suggested – and have already put in place by now – an interactive web page is just what the BABA fraternity needs to continue the meaningful and serious discussion.

The road ahead…..

All the twenty Fellows bonded so well through the programme that the first step – of building a better Asia through people to people contact and individual enterprise and sharing – has already been accomplished! Now what remains to be done – and I endorse the challenge referred to above – is the task of sustaining and nurturing these linkages and translating them into a relevant and meaningful plan for the future. Fuelled by a vision for, and commitment to, a bigger and better Asia, the participants have gone back to their respective Asian territories. (I think this is politically incorrect, but that’s how we, the BABA Fellows, now see ourselves – as people from different parts of a common land – Asia!) I would like to believe that we’re all ruminating on our lines-of action and shall soon spring into action as well.

Manisha Singh

Senior Lecturer (currently on leave)
Department of Geography / Department of Women’s Studies
Isabella Thoburn College
Lucknow – 226 001

Currently, Ph.D. Scholar and SYLFF Fellow
Centre for the Study of Regional Development
School of Social Sciences
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi – 110 067

Also See: Retreat Theme | Programme | Participants | Resource Persons | Facilitators | Communique |Reflections

Reports: Day1 | Day2 | Day3 | Day4 | Day 5 | Day 6