‘Don’t think India can afford not to study the liberal arts’ | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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‘Don’t think India can afford not to study the liberal arts’

Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman and MD of Mahindra and Mahindra, has offered his alma mater, Harvard University, a $10- million endowment for its humanities centre.

mumbai Updated: Oct 05, 2010 02:23 IST

Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman and MD of Mahindra and Mahindra, has offered his alma mater, Harvard University, a $10- million endowment for its humanities centre. Mahindra, who graduated from the university with a degree in visual and environmental studies in 1977 and later from the Harvard Business School, told HT that in India, too, the focus of his philanthropy will to bolster the study of liberal arts.

Why did you decide on this endowment for Harvard? And why now?
I have always been looking for a way to give back to the university. When I went as an undergraduate, I was not permitted any foreign exchange by the RBI so Harvard gave me a full scholarship. I have never forgotten that. To me, the undergraduate liberal arts degree was perhaps the most important part of my education.
My mother passed away last year, and I was looking for some way to respect her memory. She was the quintessential Renaissance woman. I feel everyone needs a grounding in the humanities.

What does the centre plan to do with the grant?
One way of giving is to be very focused on a specific India-related cause. However, I have intentionally chosen to contribute to a field that is universal, and which all students, regardless of their area of study, will benefit from. I would therefore hope that this gift will help show that India is not just concerned with parochial issues, but can give back, globally.

Why is a liberal arts education important?
The humanities encompass a spectrum of disciplines. What it does is teach you not a particular skill or technology but to think and question. Conflict resolution and creating a better world do not come from an improved piece of software or a better engine or technology but from people who can break free from their rigid points of view.

Can a developing country like India afford to invest in the liberal arts over, say, vocational or job-oriented courses?
I don’t think India can afford not to study the liberal arts. My greatest fear is that we will get carried away by India’s economic success and focus on those disciplines that have immediate financial returns. That’s why I’m glad there are benefactors planning to put up liberal arts universities. That is going to be the focus of my personal giving in India in the future: to bolster the study of liberal arts.

Some might say that instead of this kind of high-profile grant you could contributed to strengthening primary education in India.
The Mahindra family and companies have given far more than this to education in India. I personally funded the Nanhi Kali programme when I came back to India, which has been giving for the underprivileged girl child for years now and has become one of our strongest CSI programmes. We also created United World College in India, and other private schools. So we do give in India.

Second, why do people believe you can't do both?
Nobody asked, why did you buy companies abroad instead of investing only in India? Doesn't it seem terribly parochial to ask that question today? You do both. If India wants to take its place on the global stage a good cause is a good cause whether it's here or in Cambridge Massachusetts.