Amish Tripathi is a bestselling Indian author and until recently headed up the Nehru Centre – the cultural wing of the High Commission of India in London – as one of its longest-serving directors.
As his tenure as Minister, Culture & Education, at the Indian High Commission came to a close last week and before he left for Mumbai, Tripathi shared some of his highlights from an eventful four-year term and reflections from the hundreds of Indian cultural events he oversaw in the heart of the UK capital.
How does it feel as you complete your diplomatic tenure in London?
I feel very honoured that my work was well received by the government of India because they gave me an extension into a second term. My gratefulness to the government and to the artists and the audiences is here for all their support.
India after many centuries of decline is re-emerging as a powerful country. To give a sense of perspective, just 30 years ago India's GDP was smaller than three US car companies combined. And, within 30 years, our GDP has now crossed the GDP of former colonial master the UK. Against this backdrop, India's cultural influence will also rise.
India is increasingly becoming more and more visible culturally and it's a result of our increasing heft – economically, geopolitically, educationally, scientifically. We are among the few countries that have actually landed a craft on the moon, for example, and at a cheaper cost than a Hollywood movie production.
How do you view the role of the Nehru Centre in this growing heft?
London as a city punches way above its weight culturally. There are a few cities which impact the cultural means of the world – London, New York, Washington DC, LA, San Francisco – are disproportionately influential in the cultural space.
If India wants to influence the world culturally and take our way of thinking a lot more seriously – the Nehru Centre can play a part. It's not just that we look at issues differently, we look at different issues themselves. The way India approaches what is an ideal way of life is very different from the western approach of worshipping at the altar of GDP.
India sees things very differently and we can influence the world. And one of the best places to do that is London because London is culturally extremely influential as a city across the world, which is what makes the Nehru Centre important as well.
So, I really hope that we keep leveraging this base in London to influence the rest of the world on the India way.
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How do you view the pandemic-induced changes to its functioning?
At a time when the world had also become much more comfortable with online, the Nehru Centre rather than just remaining a London brand became much more of a national brand with our slick online programming.
We started getting audiences from across the country and indeed from other parts of the world as well. That strengthened our pitch to artists here because we could give them a much bigger audience, which meant that we started getting top notch artists and personalities.
So, I think that worked out very well for us. We're getting many more audiences because I guess we'd reached out to many new people through our online pitch. Now, the hybrid model of physical and online events expands the scope a lot more and I think that’s here to stay.
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What are some of your personal highlights from the hundreds of events?
At a book event of Sudha Murty-ji, we had the entire Murthy family join in – her husband Narayana Murthy, daughter Akshata Murty – the wife of the UK Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak) – and her two daughters. We had Smriti Irani, Indian Cabinet minister, (bestselling British author) Jeffrey Archer and (England cricket captain) Kevin Pieterson – so really some top of the line guests, to name just a few.
Many Indian students come to the Nehru Centre too. We have a very successful internship programme and I would encourage them to keep applying, they will be given opportunities to work out here and to engage with other interns to build their network.
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Finally, what’s in store as you head back to your home city of Mumbai?
I am an Indian and I am a complete India boy. I love India to the depths of my soul, so there's no other place I'd rather live. There's no other place I'd like to die in. Even in my next life, I want to be born in India. My main work is in India and it's in the creative space – books, documentaries and films.
But London has a very important place in my heart as well. It’s been a good four years out here. I’ve pulled out of a lot of my emotional pain that I was in when I arrived. My wife Shivani is a British citizen, so we will keep coming back. I have made a lot of very good friends here and various project ideas as well which will keep pulling me back.
Meanwhile, my main work is my writing and that's what I'm getting back to. There are other projects coming up, including a documentary film on the Ram Janmabhoomi temple (in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh) which we aim to release in January.