About the Author: Atul Keshap is the Director of the Office of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Maldives in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.Editor's Note: Atul Keshap visited India in early December. Over the next few days, we'll be bringing you his reflections on his trip.
Even in India, where intellectual debate is a favorite pastime, West Bengal's capital city of Kolkata stands out as an epicenter for intellectual discussions, where students, journalists and faculty debate the finer points of political theory and public policy.
During a short visit to Kolkata to visit our wonderful team at the U.S. Consulate General, I was happy to accept an invitation to discuss foreign affairs with students from the University of Calcutta, but knew I would face some tough questions from a serious group.
There were no cartoon t-shirts at this “Cal U”; the walls were lined with political posters touching on hot-button economic issues, and students in the hallways argued perspectives of justice and conflict. The questions were as engaging and thoughtful as I had hoped, and I enjoyed the lively exchange.
We focused much of our time discussing the shared interests at the heart of the U.S.-India relationship, and flagged some of the areas where we will need to work more closely to build on the foundation of trust that owes so much to our long history of cultural and economic exchange. I urged the students to begin thinking now about how they want to shape the future they will inherit, how they want to position India in its neighborhood and as a global leader, and challenged them to develop their own vision for what they want to have accomplished as they look back on their lives toward the end of the century.
As we chatted more informally over a traditionally Bengali meal of rice and dal, many of the students told me they were interested in pursuing higher level studies at American universities, citing the top-notch resources and academic environment in the U.S. as strong attractions.
My interaction with these students left me more certain that, although we certainly have more to gain from continued exchanges of ideas and perspectives, the U.S.-India relationship is built to last and grow from strength to strength. I can't wait to return to Kolkata, which is without a doubt one of India's most colorful and dynamic cities, whose students are eager to play their role in India's economic renaissance.