'India is going through a massive change'

EXPAT SPEAK

When one meets this gentleman with a distinct Indian appearance, the urge to initiate the conversation in Hindi is tempting. 

“Sorry, I don’t speak Hindi. I do speak Bangla but with a Manchester accent which confuses everybody,” says Dr Nafees Meah, director of Research Councils UK (RCUK) India with a light-hearted laugh.

 Born in Manchester, United Kingdom in a Sylheti (also one of the Bengali dialects, primarily spoken in the Sylhet Division of northeast Bangladesh) family, Dr Meah’s upbringing was in a traditional Indian set up in the Britain of 60s and 70s. 

“There were not many Asian families where we lived at that time,” he recollects in a conversation with Metrolife sharing that Chemistry was his first choice when it came to higher education. 

“I found it easy. I was curious to know how things work and so took up the subject and didn’t decide consciously to become a chemist,” says this alumna of Universities of Manchester, Toronto, London and Cambridge. 

Having been part of research programmes on issues such as food safety, nutrition and environmental contamination of food in the UK, he decided to shift to India in 2012. “One of my friends told me about his experience in India and I spoke to my wife about working in this country.

She agreed excitedly and we sold the house and came here. It is interesting for me, a second or third generation of an Indian family to be brought up in the UK and then represent UK in India which is my ancestral territory.”    
 The same, however, has provided him with ample opportunity to explore this land. 

“My nine-year-old son Hanif is good at making friends,” he says showing a picture from an album describing his family’s recent trip to Nepal. 

“We have been to most of the places and the latest was Ajanta and Ellora caves. As a scientist, I think about the engineering aspect of these historical places. Look at the Taj Mahal. Even though it’s clichéd, every time you look at it, it is breathtaking!”

“I look at the new buildings being constructed and wonder where has all this ability to work vanished? India has a rich heritage but most of it is maintained in the crafts and textiles only,” says the scholar who finds the present social change remarkable. 

“India is going through a massive change which makes it a fascinating time for me to be here. The society is changing due to inter-state migration. What happened in Britain in the 19th century in a matter of 100 years, a lot of it is happening in India in a span of just 20 or 30 years.”

This can be noticed even in the change in approach of Indian filmmakers. Dr Meah reveals his love for old Hindi films and comments, “The poetry and refined language of old Hindi films is missing in the contemporary ones. But a few modern Hindi films are good such as the 3 Idiots and Lootera. Many others are vulgar or maybe I am just too old to like them.”

He, however, doesn’t look old at all prompting Metrolife to ask him the secret behind his fitness. 

“When people have to travel to a nearby market or to the doctor’s place, they hire an auto or take public transport. I walk. Others find it weird when they see me walking.” No wonder it is difficult to believe that he is only 54!    

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