I had the chance to travel to Bangalore, India on business in October (from Oct 13 to Oct 20, 2007). As part of the trip, I had planned to meet with the families of Apoorva and Rohit (the two Indian students in the film).
After spending over 24 hours traveling, I could not wait to meet with the two students and their families/friends to preview the film for the first time. We finally got together on Sunday, October 14th at 11am.
I had participated in the filming of these two students in November 2006 - a lot has taken place since my last meeting with them. Both have successfully graduated from high school and both have enrolled in Engineering programs in Bangalore. Needless to say, they were very excited to preview the film.
After a quick two minute introduction, we started to watch the film (and the excitement started as well!). What was planned as a 90 minute meeting, was running well past the 3 hour mark - my good friend Jai, who had let us use his office for the screening, ordered in lunch and the discussion was under way.
Apoorva and Rohit were clearly impressed and awed by this experience - seeing themselves next to the students from China and US clearly provided a broader perspective. As they say in the film, they continue to believe that children in India spend more time in school and by necessity and priority, they set aside their extra-curricular activities in favor of their education.
I heard many things (questions, comments, observations) in the course of the screening - here are some key points that were made:
- Both the students felt they work VERY hard and competition is ONLY RISING - not slowing down
- They were surprised that the Chinese students actually work harder than Indian students
- Their parents feel fortunate that their children have better opportunities when compared to their generation (Apoorva's dad is a chemical engineer and he is the generation that was born right after India's independence)
- They were all PUZZLED by the somewhat 'casual' nature of American schools (they still admit Americans are fortunate to have an environment that fosters risk-taking and pursuing your 'dreams')
- One observation that is close to my heart - the parents, relatives, and teachers in India make SIGNIFICANT sacrifices to ensure that children excel in their academics. I heard one of the parents remark that they would avoid social gatherings such as marriages or hindu holidays to make sure that there was no distraction to their children when preparing for exams. [this was true in my family some 25 years ago - some things have not changed!]
- They all admired the American student's 'self-confidence'
- There were very LIVELY debates amongst the families - this highlights an important trend that I see in India - where children are growing up with SIGNIFICANT independence and pursuing their ambitions. [Of course, Apoorva's dad was quick to point out that 'as long as she completes her 4-year degree, she can pursue any career she wishes to' !]
Apoorva's sister was full of questions for me - to the point where we agreed to screen the film one more time for her friends. And we did just that on October 16th, 2007.
One of the key questions that was raised - how do we (this generation of Indian children) overcome the barrier of 'failure' and take risks just the way Americans do?
While we as Americans can take comfort in the fact that India lags behind in its ability to take risk (and risk it all), I must admit that India is not far behind. There is a serious transition taking place - students in high school are planning to start companies; more and more universities are setting up 'new venture' incubation centers; parents in their late 40s and early 50s are 'coming out of the shell' and investing in their children with the idea of them taking risks; 'failure' is not being viewed as a social stigma.
In conclusion, the feedback from India was very positive, generated lots of questions and observations and more importantly created a dialog amongst the viewers on the opportunities that lie ahead of students such as Rohit and Apoorva. I came away with the feeling that Indians' are hungry and fundamentally believe that they have to compete GLOBALLY.