By Christabelle Coutinho
By the time you read this, Doordarshan-1 will have finished screening a 30-minute documentary by Jyoti Kunkolienkar on one of Goa's better-kept secrets - The International Centre Goa, in Dona Paula. And viewers across India will have enjoyed a stroll across its serene and positively-charged 14 acres, if only in virtual reality.
For some time now though, there's been nothing secretive about the ICG: last week the Centre threw open its doors to a wide swath of people who attended workshops with themes as intriguing and disparate as ‘Grief therapy’, ‘Revitalising Indian Democracy’ and ‘Good Governance’ to ‘Bird Watching in the Andaman’ and ‘Organic Gardening’. This weekend there's a health talk planned and somewhere in the immediate future, a lecture by Anil Kakodkar – India’s celebrated nuclear scientist - on developing a ‘Green Economy’.
There are few places in Goa today that celebrate the cultural, social and intellectual spirit as vigorously as the ICG. In the last three years, the Centre has hosted a number of eminent speakers to discuss and impart knowledge on a wide variety of topics like RTI, Women’s Reservation Bill, Global Terrorism, Goa Regional Plan, Pottery & Origami, Acting and Scriptwriting etcetera.
The ICG’s website highlights its vision - To bring together thinkers, scholars and academics, achievers, sociologists, industrialists and creative people from India and around the world, to look at the larger issues before the New World and to develop new techniques and perspectives for handling them.
Fortunately, the responsibility for bringing this grand vision to life rests in the hands of the Centre’s formidable director – Ms Nandini Sahai, who not only possesses the credentials to initiate and oversee such intellectual exchange, but is also personally avowed to the idea of creating revolutionary change. As a developmental journalist for the last thirty years, Nandini Sahai has been at the forefront of raising uncomfortable questions about the status quo whether as editor of three magazines at the Press Institute of India, as the Founder of MICCI (Media Information and Communication Centre of India)or as the Country Manager for AMIC (Asian Media and Information Centre) India, a subsidiary of AMIC, a Singapore-based international NGO working in media-related issues.
In her past roles, Nandini has also been a member of the Select Committee in formulating the RTI Act for the Delhi Government: at the ICG she consciously promotes education about the Act through a series of repeated workshops. The RTI may be one of her pet causes but she has a ready, blistering and voluble commentary on a number of issues that plague Indian society. A crusader; romantic idealist; whatever you may label her, there’s no escaping the fact that the ICG’s initiatives have actually impacted the intellectual landscape of Goa.
When Nandini took over the reins of the ICG in 2009, a blueprint for its future was already etched in her mind. “I wanted the ICG to be a world-class centre for intellectual debate; a place where neighbouring countries would love to gather for a conference.” In setting the scene for a world-class centre at the ICG, Nandini began first with the installation of a water fountain and fish pond “to create positive vibes”; she redesigned the reception, planted flowering trees and bushes and set up a library. The Centre today has 42 comfortable rooms, a restaurant, three conference rooms, two open-air amphitheatres, a gym, swimming pool and several beautiful lawns. It harnesses solar energy, has a water harvesting unit, recycling and composting unit, organic vegetable garden and an orchard. “Guess what?” grins Nandini “We’ll also be ISO 9001:2008 certified soon.”
If you live in Goa, you can’t have missed the pleasant hum of activity emanating from the ICG, and there’s a good chance you’ve attended a film screening, book launch or art workshop here. The Centre encourages and invites sophisticated debate on “issues that concern people and development at a national, international and local level,” and because the Centre is based in Goa, is concerned with “issues that are unique to Goans.”
“We offer a neutral platform where all stakeholders can participate equally, talk, discuss and get their recommendations carried forward,” explains Nandini. The benefits of debate have been real: the Laadli Lakshmi Scheme and Lokayukta Bills gained momentum in Goa after serious dialogue at the ICG.
Next week, Nandini is off to Kathmandu where she will hold centre stage at the South Asian Women’s Media Network (SWAN) to discuss women in media and their role in sustainable development. Nandini delivers a sharp critique on the state of journalism today and rues the fact that Media is losing its credibility. The women journalists at the 4thSWAN seminar are definitely in for an earful.
When she gets back it will be time to look forward to the most exciting event of the year – The Arts and Literary Festival in December. A ‘homegrown’ festival conceived by Nandini, the Arts and Literary Festival is a sweet, unpretentious and charming zeitgeist of the art and culture movement in India and abroad. At the festival, 50 per cent of the participants are from Goa and the event celebrates English, Hindi, Marathi and Konkani literature with equal zest. Registrations for the festival have already been filled up and Nandini joyously reads out the list of authors who will be here, come December. Goa is a much better venue than Jaipur for a Literary Festival, she asserts, “There’s more space, no chaos and considerable natural beauty to stir the creative juices.”
Before December rolls around though, there will be enough events to feed the hungry mind; for the soul there’s an Ayurvedic Spa opening shortly. On my way out, Nandini laments softly about the fate of the ‘content Goan’.
“Goans need to be more aware of global issues in today’s highly competitive world.” She touches a nerve somewhere obviously because as I pass the main notice board I make a mental note of the ICG programmes I must attend. And yes, I give the afternoon siesta a miss.