“Life Is Sheer Brilliance, Always”

Avantika is from India. She is a journalist by training, she started her career at Indian news agency PTI. As her job responsibilities grew in recognition of her performance, she learned a valuable lesson. She realised that public awareness was not an end in itself but was rather part of a larger and more significant process of knowledge creation, which drove social change. Her GTF Mentor is Geraldine Sharpe-Newton.

Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life's story! 

A: I was born into a family where early on I was taught the value of education and its place in my life. Both my grandfathers were educators and scholars in their day and I think this had a big impact on the outlook of my parents while raising their children. So that our learning was more rounded, my mother also ensured we had thoughtful discussions on issues almost every day.

My formative years too are tied to India’s liberalisation effort when our economy opened up, and in this respect, I am quintessentially the child of a new era. It became easier to access information and knowledge, for instance, the internet came to Indian homes like mine. My father was by this point travelling abroad extensively and he encouraged my interest in knowing about different cultures. Both experiences brought me closer to considering stark social realities thereby informing my professional vision later. In many ways, my family (extended as well) was an example of the new Indian dream – well-educated, established in popular professions. So when I chose to start my career as a journalist, I was breaking away from the mould. However, I was the first journalist in generations and that was enough to keep me going! 

Q: What is your view of the world as it is today? And how do you define the concept of a better world?

A: These are incredibly tough questions! I am still forming my view of the world so to speak, yet from whatever I have experienced till now, we are in a time of massive flux. In other words, crises on multiple fronts seem to be the order of the day. Since I’m working on the issue, I can point to the unprecedented increase in humanitarian needs which we are seeing currently as an example of a crisis. While it may be innocent to assume that we can stop crises from taking place altogether, in my view, it is perhaps needed that we note and understand the complexities that fuel them. The next step would be actively engaging with these root causes. I have always been interested in how political power, broadly conceived, reshapes societies. A better world will thus not only recognise the power structures that operate within societies – be it incorporates or at the community-level – but do something to weaken the concentration of power when it exists only in the hands of a few.

Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society?

A: From my perspective, identifying the various forms of inequality is a key challenge that my society faces. I understand inequality to not only be economic or in terms of the disparity in wealth among people but also in terms of social opportunities. My view is somewhat informed by Dr Amartya Sen’s work on how, even as opportunities may be present, individuals may not be able to make use of these and which will mean that they are unable to realise their full potential. Although mine is a simplified account of a complex phenomenon, we should now be able to prioritise such issues as a society.

Q: As a young individual what are a few of the hurdles that you had to overcome up until today?

A: Some personal and professional challenges have been unique to me, yet others I have shared with my peers. The effort many of us make as young adults to form our identity best captures this thought. In other words, I have consistently negotiated and renegotiated with my constraints through gaining new experiences and knowledge. To find spaces which push my thinking to be able to do so has not been easy. For one, in my experience, the value of social sciences is not considered enough in my society even as the social sciences seek to make sense of the human experience. A mild example is receiving advice about how my choices of study were not ‘mainstream’ or financially lucrative! While such suggestions were made for my benefit, and I have since successfully followed my own path, these indicated that silos had already been placed on what the society saw as desirable thereby having an impact on my learning.

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

A: A mentor brings clarity of thought to a mentee. They help you articulate your views by introducing you to new perspectives, and even ideological horizons which may be radically different from a mentee’s. Together with a mentee, they reflect on issues. Such engagement with the mentee helps encourage fresh analysis – whether it be on professional trends or something as complex as perhaps theoretical concepts. Their practical experience of life is unique to them, and in this sense, they also pass on learning which is immensely valuable. To me, therefore, the chance to develop a vision and achieve nuanced understanding can only be provided by a mentor.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?

A: Life is sheer brilliance, always.

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that you love or you find interesting!

A: I really like this poem by Sarojini Naidu, who was an Indian poetess, freedom fighter and one of the country’s foremost politicians. Victor Hugo is another poet, author I often go back to. The Indian Gypsy In tattered robes that hoard a glittering trace Of bygone colours, broidered to the knee, Behold her, daughter of a wandering race, Tameless, with the bold falcon's agile grace, And the lithe tiger's sinuous majesty. With frugal skill her simple wants she tends, She folds her tawny heifers and her sheep On lonely meadows when the daylight ends, Ere the quick night upon her flock descends Like a black panther from the caves of sleep. Time's river winds in foaming centuries Its changing, swift, irrevocable course To far off and incalculable seas; She is twin-born with primal mysteries, And drinks of life at time's forgotten source.