Sowmyalakshmi RASIKA

Interview with the Director of the Maison de l’Inde

Tell us about your background and your arrival at the Cité internationale.

I am a neuroscience researcher by training, including botany and biotechnology. I completed my doctorate in the US at Rockefeller University in New York on the effects of hormones on the birth of new neurons in the adult brain and I then went to Pasadena to the California Institute of Technology, with a post-graduate grant to study the implication of these new neurons in neurological illnesses. I came to France in December 2001 as a foreign researcher at INSERM and 20 years later I’m still in France! From time to time, the riskiness of life has also pushed me to create a writer’s society and a scientific council in English, Gap Junction, and to hold several administrative posts as the coordinator of scientific or medical consortiums at a local, European or international level. I was appointed as the director of the Maison de l’Inde in 2018, just in time to celebrate the building’s 50th anniversary and I was the first woman to hold this position. In addition to the challenge of managing and progressing this magnificent establishment and being surrounded by young minds, I really enjoy Indian history and philosophy and the ability to be able to share the richness of Indian culture through the Maison de l’Inde’s activities is a true pleasure. At the same time, I am also a researcher in the Inserm team in Lille on the development and plasticity of the neuroendocrine brain. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been working on the mechanisms and consequences of SARS-CoV-2 (the causative virus of COVID-19) on the brain.

What do you think makes the Cité internationale a unique campus in the world?

There are thousands of university residences that welcome students and researchers from around the world, but only one Cité internationale. The defining feature of our Cité is that it is not only a place of accommodation but an institution with a unique vision of peace through living together and sharing knowledge, cultures and values.

How does living in your house allow residents to have a different outlook on the world and how is it a spring board for their futures?

Academic success is only one part of personal success. Thousands of students and young researchers, Indian or otherwise, come to France to profit from the excellent universities and research labs, but it is not always easy to integrate into a foreign country and build your future. At the Maison de l’Inde, the Indian residents can find a familiar place that allows them to discover this new world and their place within it without feeling homesick and, at the same time, to build strong connections and a personal and professional network that will last a lifetime. As for the non-Indian residents, the Maison de l’Inde serves as an introduction to this country that is both so old and so young and as complex as the entire of Europe with its languages, cultures and knowledge.

If you had to sum up the Cité internationale in one word, what would it be and why?

Fusion. The essence of the Cité internationale is mixing, which can be translated as a “melting pot” or, in other words, the fusion of nationalities, languages, traditions, but also residents’ aspirations from all over the world.

Jawed Ashraf, Indian Ambassador to France and President of the Foundation

Jawed Ashraf undertook the role of Indian Ambassador to France and the Principality of Monaco on the 13th of July 2020. A career Diplomat, Jawed Ashraf joined the Indian diplomatic service in 1991. He worked in Frankfurt and in Berlin from 1993 until 1999, in the Americas division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi from 1999 until 2004, as Councillor to the Indian Ambassador to Kathmandu in 2007, Councillor and Minister of Political Affairs to the Indian Ambassador to Washington DC from 2007 until 2010. He was then the Head of the Americas division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in New Delhi from 2010 until 2012. Assistant Secretary to the Prime Minister’s office, he was named as the High Commissioner of India in Singapore from 2016 until 2020. Jawed Ashraf studied economics at St. Stephone’s College of New Delhi and management at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.

The founders of the Cité   have shown extraordinary vision in a world where boundaries are increasing, creating a place that serves its lofty ideals and its intellectual purpose based on scholarship and innovation. It is my belief that there is no similar institution in the world.

Jawed Ashraf