India – A Trip to my Ancestral Roots

Being Indo-Caribbean, India has always been on my bucket list to visit. Growing up in the Caribbean, we had great influence of India in our lives and consciousness in our heritage, culture, religion, and social structures.  My ancestors and parents were proud of our Indian heritage and there are so many ways we carried on traditions and stories almost 175 years after Indians arrived in the Caribbean.

As SLA President, I have been asked over a few years to present to SLA Asia and I remember telling Past President Tara Murray-Grove that this is one of the best aspects of making connections with the library and information community in India.  In the last few years this relationship has grown stronger and I was able to meet a few contacts in Charlotte in 2022.  It was only a few months ago, I was invited by Galgotias University to participate in the 11th International-Library and Information Professional (I-LIPS) Summit 2023 in Greater Noida, India.  I was invited to participate and therefore the cost of me attending and presenting at the conference was a lot less than if I was to self-fund on a holiday.  I knew this was an opportunity that I could not miss, and it was a dream come through to visit India – the land of my roots and ancestors. 

One of the first steps to get to India with a British Passport, was to obtain a visa.  This took a few weeks to sort out but it made me realised that although my great or great-grandparents were from India – it does not give me an automatic right to visit. Therefore, I would suggest that you give yourself time to arrange this if you plan on visiting.  After my third visit trying to arrange the paperwork for the visa – I got it.  I felt both happy and sad for my ancestors who perhaps went to the Caribbean, and never made it back to India.

My first task to India was the I-LIPS 2023 conference at Galgotias University based in the Greater Noida region of Delhi.  It is a private university and is one of the most accessible and affordable for students. The grounds were spread across few sites – with the conference held in the conference hall and other seminar and training rooms.  It was great to spend the first day with the students buzzing around, and meeting so many amazing library and information professionals from across India and internationally. We met the Chancellor of the university who told us the plans for the new site as well as the international insights we can share on many issues.

One of the most beneficial aspects of this trip for me is to spend time with the British Library’s Chief Librarian Liz Jolly, and IFLA President Barbara Lison. I know this was an opportunity to learn from champions and great role models in the library and information field.  It was also great to meet the highly qualified and professional library and information community in India – these include SLA Asia leaders and respected professionals such as Dr P K Jain, Dr Debal C Kar (our host) and his team, Dr Nabi Hasan and his team, Dr Parveen Babbar and other professionals who are driving forces and collaborative in the Asian community.  As SLA President, I am proud of what they do as for the information and knowledge ecosystem in their regions and internationally. It was my honour to meet and thank them personally.  I hope this close and special friendship will continue for many years to come. 

The conference was great in terms of content and subject areas on Partnerships, Sustainable Development Goals, Entrepreneurial Empowerment, Networks of Library and Information, new Digital Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Skills and Competencies of Library and Information Professionals, etc. I was able to meet SLA volunteers and leaders and it was great to meet in person.  I will be in touch soon with those who expressed interest on how we can continue to work together and collaborate, at least virtually, on the many aspects of professionalism and leadership in the sector.

It was great to see the cultural and social aspect of hosting an event in India.  The inaugural lighting of a light and the symbolism of this really sets occasional for enlightenment and clarity.  I was also so impressed with traditional India dress and the beautiful sarees being worn as working attire.  I love sarees and as I am only used to wearing them at weddings and prayers – I wasn’t brave enough to wear one on this occasion but if I meet me SLA Asia or India community again – I will make an extra effort to wear a saree or Asian wear.  I am also pleased that Dr Kar arranged a cultural evening with music, dance and song for us to experience the rich culture of India.  I felt totally at home in many aspects, and proud that the Indian diaspora still celebrate this culture outside of India.

On the third day of the conference, it was great to make the trip to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in Agra.  The bus and the conference group who went on the trip made it fun and interesting with song and lunch on the way there and back – it was the first day to see life in India outside the conference.  The Taj Mahal itself was magnificent and visually appealing, especially as it was built in the 17th century.  The area around the site was splendid and the love story of Shah Jahan and his third wife Momtaz makes it truly one of rarest monuments to love on Earth.  The surrounding garden, buildings and architecture with the use of scientific, artistic and international design at the time is a must-see – and I thank our official tour guide for sharing his knowledge and insight with us. 

The link with Agra Fort in Agra was new knowledge to me too. The building again was impressive for the size of the site and initially seemed very much like a fort but once you get inside – the living quarters, social areas, the pavilions, views, harem, garden and emperor’s areas are exceptional.  The architecture was great and hearing how it was used at the time made it interesting. The British Army was also based there, and you can see where the gold once decorated the ceiling and towers.  The saddest part is knowing that Shah Jahan was held as a prisoner there by his ow son. The fact that you can actually see the Taj Mahal from Red Fort is heart-warming, as well as live connectivity of the story and era of the Mughals.

On a Sunday morning, we had a great drive from Noida to Delhi.  It was good seeing Delhi from the aircraft when I flew in, but I know it would be a lot bigger than I anticipated once we got inside the city.  The topic of a lot of the discussion a lot of the time as how India has overtaken China as the country with the most population in the world.  Going into any city – it became more urban, busy and crowded.  It was fabulous to see the buildings, the street traders, the various types of transport and the people.  It was Sunday and was not too busy in parts but as we got closer to Red Fort Delhi, it was busy as it was a public holiday weekend and lots of Indians were sightseeing too.  Red Fort in Delhi was on a large site and the building was so impressive.  It was great to see the colours but also the white marble of the some of the other buildings in contrast.  It was also reminded of some of the items I saw in the British Library’s Asian Collection on the Red Fort. We spent a couple of hours walking around and you probably need a whole day to take in all the surrounding gardens, but we were on a tight schedule. 

We also went to have lunch in Old Delhi, and this is where we saw more people going about their lives – selling, buying, socialising, dinning and going to the mosque.  It was very busy on the ground and we had to stick together just in case we got lost.  It was really great that we had Mr Bose accompany us and tell us all the facts on the local sights.  We also went for a drive around New Delhi and at this point of the day – it was extremely hot to be walking around.  So we took photos of India Gate and other parts of Delhi with just a brief stop. 

I hadn’t much time to work out my areas of interest before going to Delhi and really saw it as a work-related trip rather than a holiday.  So the second visit to the Humayun Tomb in Delhi was a great treat, and very much worth visiting.  It was not as busy was the Taj Mahal was very much linked to it as the tomb of the Mughal grandparent Humayun.  The design was Turkish and Persian in design with red hues, and the surrounding gardens and building was an oasis of calm and green in a bustling city.  It is one of the sites visited by Barrack Obama when he visited India and President of the USA. 

We saw the many old and new parts of Delhi and it was interested to see how planning and new areas were added to this ancient city.  My mind could not help thinking of history and how civilisations have developed over time.  There were really pretty parts with trees and gardens, but perhaps having more time as a tourist will give you more time to explore this great city!

On the Sunday evening we had an amazing dinner hosted by SLA Asia at the India International Centre in Delhi.  It was a great diplomatic area with dinner and social areas.  I was able to talk to our best supporters and sample of more of the delicious food.  I have grown so fond of people who truly are grateful to show appreciation for what IFLA and SLA are doing – I feel a real sense of responsibility and representation for my role at the conference and being in India.  I do intend to nurture these relationships and make sure we continue to support each other and the next generations in our common goals and ambitions for the profession, libraries and information services. 

Another special meeting was hosted by Dr Sangeeta Kaul from DelNet.  I heard Sangeeta present the work of DelNet at the I-LIPS 2023 Conference and was truly impressed with the vision, drive and dedication for serving their 7700 library members in 33 Indian states.  The meeting on Monday at DelNet headquarters in Delhi was fully of admiration and praise for the work they do for the last decades.  The organisation is built with great values and purpose, which has made it a success in many areas of leadership development, best practices, library and information knowledge sharing, and technological advancement.  DelNet whole-hearted seeks the best interest of the sector and the professionals who are central to this role.  After seeing the history, tour and work of DelNet – I have immense respect and admiration to the current leader Sangeeta, her staff and team.  They truly are carry on the great legacy of DelNet founder Dr H K Kaul.  I personally wanted to than Sangeeta for hosting us at The Grand Hotel for its convenience to their headquarters. Barbara and I were also part of a conference at DelNet, which was well attended by experience professionals and students in their network as well as 1000+ who logging in online on the webinar.  I hope I see Sangeeta and her team again, and would love to return the favour for what we do here in the field in the UK, or for SLA internationally.

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) hosted a talk to their staff and interns on Tuesday which was organised by their head librarian Dr Nabi Hasan.  I have known Nabi since 2020, and he has become a true friend and supporter as an information professional but also in my role in SLA.  Nabi is the Chair of SLA’s Education Committee and joint-chair of the SLA’s Annual Conference Committee 2023. I was able to give a talk on librarianship and information sector to student and staff who also inspired me with their great library, faculty and campus grounds.  It was nice to see how busy it can be and apparently some students stay up chatting to each other in the grounds late into the night.  Nabi pointed out that the interns got their places through a competitive process and that they are gifted and talented – I hope this ensures the future is in good hands.  I also thank the staff for showing me the study areas, and other parts of the university. 

I recently made contact with Indian artist and UN awarded winner Ihitashri at the British Library, and at her art exhibition at the Nehru Centre in London. Ihitashri was able to arrange visits to the Nationals Rail Museum and the National Museum in Delhi.  It was great to be greeted by staff and curators at both these museums.  I was welcomed and showed around by staff who had specialist curatorial knowledge of the collection and gave me insightful knowledge of the exhibition. 

The National Rail Museum asked me to open their new exhibition which linked historic sites to the rail network – and it truly was an honour to open the exhibition. The curators of the National Museum collections show me their permanent original exhibition, including Buddha’s relics and items from 2000-3000 years ago.  I was blown away by the items in the collection and the knowledge imparted on me by their staff.  I thank all of them for their time and efforts for making my impromptu visit very special.  I hope I can return the favour one day!

As part of my work, the British Council arranged a conference at Delhi Public Library (DPL) for World Copyright Day 2023.  I was able to Neeti Saxena (British Council) and meet again Dr R K Sharma (DPL) and his team.  The event was extremely well-organised and I was able to have a tour of the office and library areas.  The Delhi Public Library is responsible for 33 libraries across the city.  I admired the leadership and experience of Dr Sharma and thank him for his hospitality in having me spend the day at Delhi Public Library – and to see the role he has in doing this for DPL.

Dr Kar insisted that I spent my last free days visiting Jaipur and I certainly did not regret it! I was able to visit Jaipur with a train journey on one of their newly launched trains from Delhi Caant Station.  I felt safe travelling by train to Jaipur as Professor Dr Santosh Gupta from the University of Rajasthan was receiving me and showing me around this gorgeous ‘Pink City’. We visited the Amer Palace and City Palace – both of them were great at show Indian architecture and artwork.  We were able to see some of the items such as fabrics, jewellery and music that make this city special.  We had a great lunch with local dishes in one of their new eating areas.  At short notice, Dr Gupta was able to arrange for me to give a talk to staff and students for the Rajasthan Medical Library Association. It was truly nice to speak to 35 plus on issues in the profession and meet the attendees.

My last visit in Jaipur was also at an amazing temple overlooking the city.  It was beautifully made in marble and stained glass but we were unable to take photos of it.  I also visited a Ganesh temple near it as the sun was setting over the city. I was also surprise to see the more modern building of the city new the World Trade Shopping centre. I was truly pleased that I was able to see another area of India outside of Delhi. I do realised that India is a big country and there are some many diverse areas and regions to visit. Perhaps I can visit again another time.

I also wanted to repeat my deep appreciation and thanks to all who made my visit to India truly inspiring, heartwarming and special. As Nabi said to me – “it is like coming home”.


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