India's Cultural Heritage/Representational
India's Cultural Heritage/RepresentationalTuli Research Centre

Beyond Books: Here's Why Tuli Research Centre Can Be "India's Oxford"

Nevile Tuli's extensive travels across India have culminated in the creation of the Tuli Research Centre, helping him redefine education through the country's rich cultural heritage

Imagine embarking on a journey through the very heart of India, where every step unearths layers of history, every sight reveals a story, and every experience deepens your connection to a vast heritage. This is the essence of the Tuli Research Centre for India Studies (T.R.I.S.), a research-space-cum-institution opening its doors on August 14, 2024.

Inspired by the vision of author, curator and archivist Nevile Tuli, T.R.I.S. aspires to be the "Oxford for India" in arts, humanities, and social sciences, a place of learning and discovery free from external economic or political influence.

For three decades, Tuli journeyed across India, from the grand monuments of Srirangam to the hidden gems of Bishnupur, from the magnificent Palitana to the valleys of Kangra. These travels were more than mere visits; they were immersive experiences into the very soul of India's architectural and cultural heritage. Whether a celebrated landmark or a neglected relic, each site became a chapter in a vast repository of knowledge that now forms the cornerstone of T.R.I.S.

Nevile Tuli
Nevile TuliTuli Research Centre

OT interviewed Tuli to delve into T.R.I.S., his vision for free and accessible education, and a learning experience beyond textbooks and lectures. Excerpts from the interview here.

Q

Tell us about your upcoming research centre and how it aligns with your experience of dealing with the cultural scenes in India.

A

The Tuli Research Centre for India Studies (T.R.I.S.) has been in the making, visualising, planning, and implementing for thirty years as part of my cultural infrastructure-building journey. It finally opens on 14 August 2024 with the public launch of tuliresearchcentre.org.

In 1994, I wrote my thirty-year plan on one piece of paper and shared it with a few friends. The main objective was building an "Oxford for India,"" especially for the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and most critically, without accepting economic or political patronage from another value system. Thus, it has been a rollercoaster of a pioneering journey, with many successes and failures, ups and downs.

Naturally, the iterations over three decades of building an "Oxford for India", itself a semi-metaphor, semi-haqeeqat, have witnessed the progress of one's understanding of the learning, educational, and self-discovery requirements for a vast spectrum of humanity, for no one is not a student. No one is not creative.

In that regard, when building one's sanctuary and hospice for canine and feline children, the non-human education systems really helped one understand the fluid nature and joy that educational institutions require. Hence, many varied learning platforms need to seamlessly cohere into an integrated institution. Experiencing the injustice all around me and the immense privileges granted to myself added another important principle: that education must be a birthright, that it must be free at every level.

India's Cultural Heritage/Representational
India's Cultural Heritage/RepresentationalTuli Research Centre

Thus, tuliresearchcentre.org is my long overdue gift to the public, with deep love and hope that the Indian finds new freedom and confidence by gaining access to the single greatest knowledge base ever shared publicly on India, as seen through the lens of cinema, arts, photography, architectural and travel heritage, poetry, among other important subjects.

Q

What should our readers expect in terms of travel? Do you plan to give them a comprehensive understanding of India's tourism heritage? If yes, kindly elaborate.

A

Travel is pivotal and should be critical to all educational curricula at all stages of human learning. It is one of the sixteen research categories that comprise the whole India Studies framework at T.R.I.S.

Even for my journey back home, the first years (1994-2002) were obsessive with travelling across India to experience, study, collect, witness her glorious architectural heritage and supporting art forms, thousands of monuments, crafts, artefacts, related books, dotted in every corner, from little Gadag to Roda to Belavadi, from the hidden Bishnupur to Orchha, from the magnificent Palitana to Kumbhalgarh to Abaneri, from a neglected Junagadh and Ambarnath to a celebrated Srirangam or Puri, from Nalanda to Sasaram, Masrur to Chamba, from Kangra to Modhera, Bijapur to Aihole to Madurai to Ajanta, hundreds more sites. Every corner of India. Naturally, there are still many places I have not been able to explore, from Kashmir to Kerala to Leh. I pray for time.

Q

Do you also plan to incorporate A.I. tools to make your website more interactive?

A

At present, we are old-fashioned. We have built the most significant digital and physical knowledge base from my research, study, experience, wisdom, and basic technology. This website is thirty years of one mind delving deep across many journeys with hundreds of people supporting, helping, and advising, allowing forward movement. A.I., in the narrow sense, has not been required.

Q

Does culture have a significant influence in shaping societal narratives? How does your research centre cater to that?

A

We must be clear on what we mean by culture. For myself and T.R.I.S., it is critical to create the openness of mind and heart to know and experience all the different creative and artistic cultures and their differences, to grasp the discernment between those more popular and those more refined and subtle, less able to have public support backing their engagement. Afterwards, it is critical to love and respect both with equanimity.

For example, today, the culture of our food habits can be as significant as our poetic cultures on one level to many. Yet there are substantial differences and hierarchies, and discernment between the two cultures is critical. It is so easy to get sucked into the food cultures, so much harder to live within the poetic sensibility.

Both have their place but are radically different to nurture and engage deeply with. The seriousness with which they engage with important questions of life varies radically. Still, society must provide fair and ample opportunities for the public to decide and engage. That fairness is minimal in India. That justice to access and support to be nurtured is deeply unjust. Rectifying that imbalance is one fundamental duty of T.R.I.S. and one's journey.

This injustice is also deep regarding understanding and experiencing human cultures and the cultures of non-human living souls. Bridging this gap is another primary objective, especially in understanding the lives and thoughts of our domesticated animals, whom we supposedly love but very superficially understand or respect.

India's Cultural Heritage/Representational
India's Cultural Heritage/RepresentationalTuli Research Centre
Q

 Has travel contributed to your vast research?

A

Travel has been fundamental. It is a constant inspiration for a particular stage of our lives. It should become a critical component of the educational systems, not just as an academic section but as a practical part of the regular learning and educational processes.

The fifth and seventh Research Categories in T.R.I.S.' India Studies framework are "India's Architectural Heritage as Inspiration" and "The Automobile, Transport and India's Travel Heritage", both manifesting the critical aspect of travel to grasping the nature of India and our relationship with her.

Humans are so little in the scheme of this great cosmos that we must travel. We must travel to search, pursue, find, and then come to our little corner, which we call home.

Yet, with the changing definition of home in a world with so many homeless, refugees, and migrants, where there's so much destruction, where we have destroyed so much of childhood, the very concept of home is now radically a different concept. And therefore, the concept of the nomad needs deeper revisiting, for the nomad is in all of us, and yet a nomad must have a home at some stage of life to return to when tired.

In the same way, the concept of where I can travel without a visa, where I can travel with love, where I can travel with some support, with other people who allow me to think that that is also my home, is very different in the research centre. It is a developing research subject within another nascent larger subject—India Studies.

Q

What impact does art have on our lives, especially today, when one has to choose one word wisely to ensure no one's sentiment or belief system becomes gossip bait?

A

Human creativity, its art, more than anything else, nurtures the resilience and honesty of your inner voice. A genuine inner voice demands and respects the counter-voice; it feeds off it. It recognises itself as credible and true when it absorbs all counterviews, assimilates, and recognises the need to accept and respect, yet still move on as one's compassionate voice demands. With this assimilation, the passion inevitably transforms into compassion.

Along with this essential emotional transit, the other critical aspect of true art is that it nurtures the fundamental compulsion, which finds a more profound question in each answer.

With this rhythm of every answer revealing a deeper question, the process of the ancient Upanishadic traditions, as with a few other remarkable philosophical frameworks, creates the energy of the fuller-full, which begins to respect the process of questioning, of searching beyond all else, there is only rest in this restlessness. With this attitude, you start seeing the value in loving and respecting the process and placing the consequences and results of your journey on a lower pedestal.

India's Cultural Heritage/Representational
India's Cultural Heritage/RepresentationalTuli Research Centre

The Bhagwad Gita has amply shared this, too, across centuries. Art, our inner creative energies, is the living catalyst provided to all of us to live this path, where no gossip then baits, no offence offends, and most importantly, you have the inner ethical resilience to stand up not just for your principles but the principles of others. In this joyous tussle of counter-voices, the last great boon of life reveals itself deeper—humour.

Humour must outlast even hope, and as I wrote nearly thirty years ago on returning home – India more than any other country- teaches you to respect your delusions more than your reasons.

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