Centre for Internet & Society

The man behind Mumbai’s most original ideas space on being a cross-pollinator

The following interview was published in LiveMint on January 4, 2013.


The Vikhroli catalyst

Parmesh Shahani, a former editorial director of Verve magazine, thought up the Godrej India Culture Lab, a cultural ideas platform, after becoming a TED Fellow in 2009, realizing then that Mumbai, or India, has no space that encourages cross-pollination of ideas around contemporary society, anthropology and culture.

Shahani, the author of Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love And (Be)Longing in Contemporary India, has earlier managed research for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) think tank related to media convergence.

Ever since Godrej’s Nisa Godrej took up his idea, the Godrej India Culture Lab has hosted a conference called Urban (Re)imagination—which it launched in 2011—talks by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, and MIT economist Abhijit Banerjee, film screenings and book readings on themes as diverse as Calcutta jazz and jugaad. Shahani says he works on weekends and looks forward to Monday mornings. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What exactly does your work involve?
My work involves identifying interesting people and ideas and then connecting them to each other—either through public talks, conferences, salons or other means of interaction. There are certain themes I am interested in exploring, such as what it means to be modern and Indian today, what it means to be young or urban, and to be connected through technology. My work often feeds directly into the larger Godrej group efforts. We have a campaign called Godrej LOUD—Live Out Ur Dreams—on MBA campuses across India with excellent results.

What is the best part of your job?
It doesn’t feel like a job. It feels like a calling, a mission, and is an incredible adventure. Each day is different—and fun. It enables me to use all the different aspects of my mind, and tap into my global networks to focus on how we are looking at the changes taking place in contemporary India. I love meeting other people who are on the same mission—the people at Gateway House, India’s first foreign policy think tank, or the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, or people like Rikin Gandhi from Digital Green that trains farmers to use cameras to record their best practices and share it with each other.

What are your challenges and what more do you want to bring into the Lab?
At this moment we are more of a sandbox and catalyst. I’d like us to start producing original research soon by having full-time experts on board. We have recorded videos of all our talks of the past two years; they will go up on our website, which is under development. Finally, I’d like to attract more audiences to our events and efforts. We’ve already put our Godrej campus at Vikhroli, Mumbai, on the cultural map of the city.

What has been your favourite project here?
My favourite project has got to be the recent Museum of Memories that I curated in an abandoned 60,000 sq. ft Godrej warehouse on 15 December 2012, in collaboration with other city organizations like Junoon, Visual Disobedience, Brown Paper Bag, as well as loads of performers, artists and musicians from the city. It was a pop-up one-day only event with performances, music, theatre, tea, yoga, live art, graffiti, videos, dance, robots, alternate reality games, and more. The event bridged different spaces and it will remain very special.
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