The COIVD-19 epidemic is obviously terrible on many levels: people are getting sick, people are dying, some have lost loved ones, some have lost their jobs; for too many, there has been really suffering. Rich or poor, powerful or humble, no one is safe.
The pandemic has also had a heavy toll on mental health, not only because of the stress that almost everyone feels, or the loneliness that too have endured during the lockdown, but also because of the uncertainty that everybody must endure: what does the future hold for us? What will life be like in tomorrow’s world? In these circumstances, it is difficult to make plans, to focus on goals, to keep following the trajectory we had mapped out when the World was “normal”.
Why is this? It is because we have a natural tendency to become conservative when we want to protect our loved ones, and when we want to preserve our time, our money, and our energy for the Future, especially when we don’t have any idea what form this Future will take. This is normal because it is human and natural. But we should also take this opportunity to reflect on the Past, the Present, and indeed on the Future; this health crisis will not last forever, and we need to be ready to show resilience, and we need to be prepared.
Education is the universal key to a better future, perhaps even more so in India. It is the ultimate, and sometimes painful, investment in tomorrow. The lockdown saw the closure of all schools and universities, and has forced students to adopt a new way of studying, sometimes unsupported, because along with everyone else, parents, teachers, and administrators were not ready.
For those who have chosen to study French and particularly for those who are planning to go to France to pursue higher education, this is perhaps the moment to act. The Alliance, in common with every other institution, has had to adapt very quickly because the responsibility was huge: we had earned the trust of so many people in teaching them the French language, and we could not let them down.
The governing body, the executive team, the administrative team, and especially all the teachers have risen to the challenge and have labored hard to ensure that classes continue. And the results are in: thousands of students have continued to learn French with us, because you trusted us, and we have continued to provide courses online because we trust you.
We don’t know when we will be able to reopen classes on our premises in Delhi and in Gurgaon, but the time will come, and we know that while some of you will continue to join us online, some will find their way back to our Library, our café, and our auditorium, not today, not even this month, but soon: because we are human, and humans are social animals.
While we wait for the time when we social animals can be together again, I would like to conclude this message by wishing our Hindu friends happiness on the occasion of the festival of Navratras this month: have a joyous celebration of the Goddess Durga, and all her avatars, and her message of hope and rebirth. For our Muslim friends, I wish you joy on the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday, and in celebration of his message of peace.
One last word: if I may reformulate the great slogan Keep Calm and Carry On, Stay Safe and Keep Busy… until we meet again.
September in France is traditionally marked by a few recurring events: French schoolchildren and students find their way back to their desks, political parties organize their ‘universities’ and some Alliance françaises all around the world get a new Director.
Delhi is no exception: Jean-François Ramon, the previous Director, has left the Indian capital (in his case, to embrace a new life of leisure and personal journeys: he has officially retired), and here I am, Stephane Amalir, the new Director, happy and grateful, even lucky, to be starting this New Adventure with you all.
New Adventure indeed as can be seen by the superlatives: the Alliance française de Delhi is the third biggest among the 800 other Alliances all over the world, in terms of the number of students and teaching hours, from a country that is soon to have the largest population in the world.
But the Alliance française de Delhi is yours before all else: it is the place where you come to learn French for a multitude of reasons, ranging from the desire to be able to order a “baguette de pain avec du fromage, s’il vous plait” to the aim of studying at a “grande école”; it is the place where you can come to browse through tens of thousands of documents in the French language on a huge variety of subjects; it is a place where you can come and listen to a live piano concert, admire an exhibition that you cannot see anywhere else, to watch a classic francophone movie or the latest film from a famous French director.
And when I say “a place”, you understand of course that I mean both a physical address and a virtual space: the Alliance has truly reached universality and is present on earth as well as in the cloud.
The COVID-19 pandemic is here as it is everywhere, and we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but we also need to continue to work, to entertain, to live, and the Alliance française de Delhi is full of Life. I can only repeat that I feel honored that the executive Direction has been offered to me, and I am certain that with the help of the Governing Body, the administrative staff, and the teachers, we will be able not only to maintain its excellence and its position, but to go further, and to offer more.