Eshan Arya is the face of the Indian students’ movement at La Trobe University with an impressive list of accomplishments.
One can say Eshan Arya was born with a passport in his mouth. He was less than a year old when his parents moved to the United Kingdom as his father was completing his Merchant Navy exams from London. So having a decorated Merchant Navy officer father, Upendra Gogate, meant travelling around the world in his ship. His mother, Uttara Gogate, a well-known social entrepreneur and philanthropist, made sure he took his studies along. With this arrangement, Arya travelled many countries, seeing the world right from a very young age.
As the only child to his parents, Arya led a privileged life. He attended kindergarten in London and when he reached the school going age, his parents moved back to Mumbai. But to keep him grounded, Arya’s parents enrolled him in a “simple school popular with the fisherman community” as opposed to the prestigious Bombay Scottish School where children of his similar background went to. “My parents wanted me to experience the challenges faced by underprivileged children on a day to day basis so that I would learn to respect people across all walks of life,” reflects Arya.
However, at the St. Anthony’s High School in Malad, Mumbai, Arya’s background was also a cause of wrath for some. “I faced bullying and harassment at the hands of my schoolmates and teachers. They made fun of my distinct lighter skin as compared to the other children and they made fun of the healthy tiffin box I carried. Some of my teachers also harassed me because I belonged to a Brahmin (higher caste) family.” For someone at an impressionable age, it is a lot to tackle. But Arya says his mother’s constant support ensured he got stronger with each experience.
The Gogates made choices that would carve out their son’s future. Indeed he was very proud of the family environment he grew up in. “My father would be away from home on sea voyages, but my mum never let me be distant from my father from a relationship point of view. At the same time I was taught to respect all types of work people, including our maids, do. I used to be on a roster to clean the furniture and also the toilets once every fortnight so I could appreciate the work done by our domestic helpers.”
Besides being inculcated with the principles of tolerance and secularism, Arya had a great love for animals and did welfare work in the same from a young age. He used to adopt injured stray dogs and cats and bring them home. Although he belongs to a vegetarian community, the Chitpavan Koknasta Brahmin family with a proud maternal lineage of being a descendant of Vasudev Balwant Phadke, the father of arms revolution in India against the British Raj, Arya says he was not forced to adapt to a vegetarian lifestyle. “I turned vegetarian at the age of nine as I couldn’t eat the animals I loved so much.” In 2000, after his Year 10 results, Arya’s father gifted him a Great Dane puppy who he fondly called Amu or Cyrus. “He became my brother for life.”
It was also Arya’s well-round development that would shape his life as an exemplary student. Inspired by his parents – his father a good boxer and his mother a black belt holder of Judo – he began training for Karate at the age of four to become the youngest senior category black belt in India at age 15, breaking many records along the way. Later he would also start his first business venture – a Karate School in Mumbai.
However, such an ideal life was not shorn of the ill-effects of living in a political and casteist society. Arya was not allowed to complete his double degree in Bachelor’s of Physics and Maths in Mumbai due to his marks being tampered by jealous relatives. Upon re-evaluation of his papers, he discovered that his answer sheets were torn. “The fight against injustice was tiring on our entire family. From being a high achiever to not being allowed to complete my degree I changed my focus to the world of business.”
So he started working in his uncle’s accounting firm as a land broker and through dint of his hard work started his own inward bound call centre firm with two local and one international client. But in 2008, Arya felt he had enough real work experience and needed to equip himself with education in the relevant sector.
Choosing to stay away from relatives who did not wish him well, he came to study in Australia in 2008. “It was a perfect place for me to spread my wings and be myself.” At La Trobe University he went on to complete a diploma in Business Administration and a Bachelor’s in Economics followed by a Master’s and Honours in International Relations. At the moment he is six months away from submitting my PhD thesis in Politics.
Life in Australia began on a pretty smooth note. That, says Arya, is because he has always approached challenges in such a way that he would learn from them and evolve as a person through new experiences. One of the major reasons why he has not faced any problems on arrival is due to his conditioning to adapt to new environments, he says with a hint of pride. “I do not have any hardships to tell because I always approached my challenges with resilience. I give my parents credit for helping me develop this positive approach.”
It was something he learnt by the age of 19 in 2004 by which time he had already travelled around the world in comfort and luxury with his parents. But later he also decided to travel across India on a shoe-string budget like a local. It was a year-long tour he undertook traversing rural areas and living with locals to learn their ways of life. “Through this I learned about the core issues faced by the common man and the rural population within various parts of India. It was eye opener and made me appreciate what I had. Since then, I don’t think I have ever faced any hardship as I always see someone facing a tougher situation than myself and take life very positively.”
Living at an on campus student accommodation, he was surrounded by 300 residual students from 95 different countries around the world. Despite his teetotalism and vegetarian background, he says his floor mates accepted him wholeheartedly. “I let them enjoy their lifestyles around me without making it awkward for them. This way nobody felt weird to party with a guy who could enjoy and be crazy without consuming any alcohol. Instead of letting my lifestyle choices becoming barriers, I moulded them to polish my leadership skills.”
Within six months, Arya was a residential assistant and within a year-and-half he was appointed the residential assistants’ coordinator for Chisholm College. “These leadership roles acted like an express pass to my cultural engagements and learning about the various Australian ways of life without compromising on my principles.”
At La Trobe University, Arya brought back to life the almost defunct Indian Students’ Club. He was elected President of International Students’ Association for three straight years, became the postgraduate officer for two years straight, and founded the Marathi students’ Club. He also formed United and Peaceful Subcontinent (UPS), an incorporated not for profit association. The concept of UPS was to build a model of peace bringing together all south Asians with the hope to influence both people and politicians to focus on unity, away from conflicts based on borders. “This association aims to better the bilateral relations among all nations of south Asia over the long run.”
The main philosophy behind all these clubs was student welfare. “My family has inspired me to put others’ problems before my own, I am nowhere close to what they do for society. However, I keep striving to help out the new international students and support them in the best way I can. Sometimes student welfare needs a specialised focus and platform and hence forming these clubs or working for them as the president allowed me to give back to the communities I belonged to for all they had done for me.”
Thanks to his efforts, the Indian students club, postgraduate office of the union and International Students’ Association are now led by very passionate students who have been trained under his guidance to manage these organizations.
In the past Arya has worked as a volunteer at the Broadmeadows detention centre and formed close relationships with underage refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Tamil refugees suffering mental breakdowns. He plans to start a club at La Trobe University that would provide a platform and training to those students who would like to help refugees.
Asked what advice he would give new students, Arya reflects, “I see some new students and migrants trying hard to fit into the Australian way of life by drastically changing their lifestyles, habits and cultural norms. On the contrary I also see some migrants not willing to change a bit to adjust to the Australian society. One needs to find a balance in such a way that they do not make people around then uncomfortable. Students need to volunteer as much as possible as volunteering for no monetary returns gives one a unique perspective and understanding of the diverse communities around them. I would advise them to keep their nation’s politics back home and help maintain Australia a neutral and peaceful nation.”
His thoughts emerge from the background of a sudden influx of government-sponsored students from various countries “who are attempting to impress their governments by creating havoc among the communities here. Such acts should be avoided as we all come to Australia to lead a new life and to learn about various cultures; we learn to collaborate with opposing views and learn to handle a rational dialogue with people we disagree with. Acts of dividing communities for personal political gains should be avoided and people should not fall prey to such harmful political individuals.”
Arya is already working as a casual Lecturer in Remuneration and Performance Management and a tutor of Business Economics, Strategic Management and Business Foundations. He also takes maths tuitions. On completion of his PhD in Politics, he mulls being a full time academic in the future. “I’ve a flowchart of plans where certain decisions may lead to a very different future. Frankly I believe in being prepared to take life as it comes and accepting the rewards and challenges it brings along the way. Despite these thoughts I see myself building a career in diplomacy. I’d like to eventually be deployed for a UN peacekeeping mission or work for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I’m also interested in World Vision, Red Cross, and Child Rights and You (CRY).”
Also worthy of mention is the fact that he has published 33 articles on social issues and international politics and organised more than 20 special self-defence classes for women and presented at many conferences and at casual workplaces in Australia. Under the able guidance of his teachers, he wishes to focus on the study of Indian students in Australia, sea piracy in Somalia, terrorism in India, the Baha’i community in Iran and India-Pakistan bilateral relations.
A model student and teacher, Arya’s progressive outlook, qualities and extra-curricular activities should stand him in good stead.
By Indira Laisram