IMT Campus, Hyderabad, December 16, 2012
After a day of doing market research in a local village and collaborating on public service campaigns, tonight the Institute of Management Technology cultural club staged a multicultural talent show for us. They went all-out. A sand painting with candles as a centerpiece welcomed us at the entrance to the assembly hall. The walls were decorated with fresh carnations and roses. The program showcased music and dance performances from four different Indian states, and featured a 45 minute long adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, complete with sari fabric togas, tinfoil-coated cardboard daggers, recorded voice-overs and sound effects. Their performances were earnest, practiced and joyful and, while some of the students exhibited deep and special talents, everyone brought their full hearts to the stage. While most of the students at IMT are in their early twenties, their youthful excitement at dressing up and performing for us and for each other reminded me more of a middle school talent show. “In India, even for older students this kind of activity is very important to them,” shared Archana, our faculty host.
In the village, mixed teams of American and Indian students researched a range of social problems from contaminated water to street litter to dengue fever. During the evening’s performance, however, as a classically trained Indian singer performed a raw and passionate rendition of The Cranberry’s “Zombie,” to solo guitar accompaniment, I was moved to tears, both by the beauty of her voice and by another social problem about which I care deeply: the erosion of arts education in the US school system.
In his opening remarks to our class, Verghese reminded us of Gandhi’s quote, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” If poverty – not having access to food, clean water and shelter – is a form of physical violence, then cultural poverty is a form of spiritual violence. The physical solutions to world hunger, water scarcity, climate change and other mounting issues will be scientific, but inspiring people to care, to get involved and to change behaviors — this is emotional territory. This is the realm of the arts.
Shakespeare’s tragedies were written, in part, to teach moral lessons and to inspire change. By play-acting conspiracy and conflict we gain insights into collaboration and conflict resolution. In Mark Antony’s eulogy for Caesar, he cautions that “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” The way in which IMT’s students have fully integrated the arts into their business learning is both an inspiring call to action and a chilling prophecy of what we have to lose if we fail to rise up against those conspiring to make arts education expendable rather than essential. Let us not bury the arts in Caesar’s coffin.