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Portrait of an Indian education

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Chipping away at layers of nostalgia solidified by time, distance and the compromises of adulthood, my memories of school life in Bombay come back, fleeting and episodic at times, but increasingly clear and not particularly benign. What I recreate here is therefore not meant to be representative of every Indian educational encounter. On the contrary, the educational experiences of rich and poor, rural and urban children in India are so vastly different that to claim to talk about them all would be folly. However, in the course of this past decade I have interviewed young people in Bombay who are at school now, as I write, and some who were at school during the 1980s and 1990s. I found that my recollections, of secondary school in particular, were both comfortingly and alarmingly familiar to all of them. So, although the perspective and inflection is mine, some of this account is not simply my individual story either. It is probably similar to the experience of several hundred million lower-middle-class school students of this generation in urban India.

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