3 Clayton is home coming. I love the stone buildings and the manicured inner lanes surrounded by ancient trees. When I walk these lanes, I go back in time when there were dirt roads, big cars and earlier the horse and wagon days; the fur trade and the slavery. The lanes look neat and washed though.
The inside walls of the stone building has fabulous hand paints, so rich in heritage that they need to be insured. The tree that I sit under with the French wine (the early St. Louis settlers it appears were French) is far taller than the building. I would love to find out if the kids at some point took it up as a challenge and touched the top branches.
Why was climbing a tree a growing-up ritual? A way to impress the neighbourhood girls? A mock competition with the local show-off hoodlums? Building an ambition?
So I sat and looked around at the insulated surroundings among the educational institutions which debated the real world happenings. I witnessed the debates and sharing of the practitioners, academicians, regulators, the economists and financiers trying to resolve human problems.
A place achieves prominence when its people achieve, contribute and share. In 1944 the university admitted first black students. A place declines when people build segregation walls. I walked the lonely segregated lanes many times. I learnt it was the sharing that mattered; I remembered the children and families by the roadside where I live and cycle every morning. I see their faces, their false hopes.
And I go back and look at Picket’s thesis on Inequality. I see many papers in the academic world. I teach a few in my classes but tell my students to show me what they will do with these lessons. I tell them how I saw people that day in St Louis, from all disciplines gathering to work out solutions on cancer research. I tell them, we should learn and do similar things for the street children.
The building of monument and arches matter for economic reasons and for binding the diverse humanity. The academic conferences matter too. A city should be proud of such achievements. But what builds is bending and leaning towards and not turning away.
I learnt that during this visit under the serenity of that tall tree.
Photograph by Devang Desai