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Vikram Somaya is  a quiet, educated member of startupia. He makes his way through the nooks and crannies of Silicon Alley with charm, verve and some small order of wit and resides in the UWS with the wife, the dog and the Turkindian peanut-boy.

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Tuesday
Mar252008

2 Million Minutes: My Big Fat Indian Life

A couple of weeks ago, a  friend sent me the link to 2 Million Minutes, a fascinating documentary about the differences in the educational systems of India, China and the US. I immediately bought the DVD and finally got to watching it this weekend.

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Produced by Robert A. Compton, a venture capitalist, entrepreneur and generally enlightened soul, the movie is described in their release thusly:

  This film takes a deeper look at how the three super powers of the 21st Century - China, India and the United  States - are preparing their students for the future. As we follow two students - a boy and a girl - from each of these countries, we compose a global snapshot of education, from the viewpoint of kids preparing for their future.

The 2 million minutes of the title refers to the 4 years these kids spend in high school and simply and elegantly walks through the lives of kids from these three very different part of the world. I thought this was a very brave work and one that will inevitably not get as much interest or kudos as it deserves. I would encourage you to find a screening or buy a DVD and make up your own mind. I thought it both interesting and compelling.

I went to school in India. I started at the Cathedral and John Connon School when I was 5 and graduated in 1994 at the age of 17 feeling like I had been given an incredible start to the rest of my life. Cathedral was academically extremely rigorous, but encouraged intramural sport, the arts, calligraphy, the baking of ...the burning of cheese straws and the building of some of my most oldest and strongest relationships.

 When i first came to college in America, (Cathedral sends ~90% of its graduating class to universities outside India), one of the first things that amazed me about some of the undergraduates who surrounded me were how many had difficult high school experiences. When I delved a little deeper into some of these stories, they often had a common thread. The difficulty came not from the academics or indeed the school itself, but most often from their social interactions - the cliques, the crews, the groups and drawn lines.

At the time it just confused me. Years later, I've had a lot of time to dwell upon some of the reasons I might have misinterpreted these stories or indeed overestimated myself.

 My school was easy in so many ways because it was almost entirely homogenous. Most every child who went there, was socio-economically very similar to the other 50 kids in our graduating class. Our parents knew each other, we travelled to the same places, went to the same places, were member of the same clubs and did not have a lot of interaction with the wide world outside our walls - physical or virtual. If one was to equate this back to our biological origins, there was very little reason for any xenophobia at all and it gave our little society a wonderful bubble-like comfort.

College was for was exactly what my parents hoped it would be. A place where I was exposed to a world wholly different from the one in which I was raised and one that both opened my eyes as well as bared my soul in so many unexpected ways. More than ever before, I was exposed to brilliance, pettiness, difference, racism, love and indeed the wide wide world itself. it was a tremendously humbling experience and one I treasure beyond all telling.

I now live in New York City with my lovely Turkish wife and it seems that our unborn children will be raised in the United States. Sometimes I have moments when I wish I could give my offspring exactly the same childhood that I went through. There was not one minute I would have changed. Then I think about how the world has changed and how my perception of myself has evolved and all I can wish for my children is that they live life, wherever it may be, surrounded with just as many people who loved, cherished and nurtured them as those that held me in the palms of their hands.

I will be looking for schools in this country that cherishes kids as much as I was cherished at Cathedral. I hope documentaries like 2 million minutes will make that an easy search. 

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