Monday, June 30, 2008

Our First Dinner!

First Photos Online

Please check out my Mac Web Gallery for photos of our first day. As you'll see, I love to take pictures of people, but that off course includes many from our group, and there are some shots as well of streets and buildings in the city. Enjoy.

Our First Day in Delhi

We started the morning at the Fulbright House where we were welcomed by a Fulbright official, Adam Grotsky, and heard from three Fulbright scholars who are studying in India. Together they provided a wonderful introduction to Delhi, and talked glowingly about their research opportunities in India. Then we heard a brilliantly incisive discussion of “Gandhi” by the scholar Vinay Lal. I put “Gandhi” in quotation marks because one of the points implicit in his talk was that there are many versions of Gandhi and that those of us interested in studying him ought to be wary of the standard-issue Gandhis currently in circulation. He insisted that in spite of the voluminous amount of writing we have about Gandhi we have little in the way of interpretations of Gandhi, critical analyses of his thought that move beyond celebration or condemnation, question traditional ways of categorizing Gandhi, and develop what he called a new hermeneutic approach to Gandhi. It was a stimulating and challenging talk, and we had lots of lively discussion afterward. These presentations were a great way to start the trip.

After lunch at Fulbright House a few of us took our first foray out into New Delhi. My little group walked down a large boulevard to Connaught Place, a huge traffic circle and park with one of the central shopping districts of Delhi. Shops ring the roundabout which is teeming with people, and street vendors are everywhere (selling roasted corn, chewing tobacco, sweets, jewelry, fabrics, and books). Busses, cars, and scooters whiz by in a deafening roar. I’ve seen chaotic traffic in lots of places but nothing like here. There is an elaborate culture of honking in New Delhi, not just “watch out” or “get out of my way” but much more subtle, honking that seems obligatory. The lights turn red and immediately everyone starts honking. If you don’t, it seems you’re a whimp. Any way, at Connaught Place young men began to swarm around us, trying to make friends on some pretext or another and then directing us to shop at some particular place. They were our constant companions, partly because we really stood out as tourists, of course. There are very few, if any, American or European tourists in the city right now, so we really stand out. People gawk at as and take our pictures. Here, we are the Other.

In the late afternoon we toured some of the public buildings of New Delhi, including the Parliament building and the President’s palace. These are at the head of a long mall (as in Washington, D.C.), and at the other end is a monument called India Gate. We headed there next. The Gate is the center of a huge public park with ponds and fountains. Even on a Monday afternoon it was packed with people, and the diversity of India was clear, for Sikhs and Muslims mingled with Hindi, some people dressed traditionally, others in western clothes. For dinner we all hopped in four cabs for a chaotic ride through traffic and construction to an absolutely fantastic restaurant that serves Thali, Rajasthan style. This is a traditional style of food consisting of a dizzying array of small dishes, dals, pastes, bread, rice, etc. (think Dim Sum or Tapas). Truly outstanding. And we got to tour the kitchen at the end of our meal, the hottest place on earth and absolutely teeming with workers. We all walked home together and agreed this first day exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

We've Arrived!

I'm just writing a quick note to let everyone know that our group has arrived safely in Delhi. We had a great flight, very smooth, and we were excited to meet up with Madhuri and Mr. Henry, our travel agent. We're staying at the Hans Hotel in New Delhi. The drive in from the airport took us through a relatively prosperous part of New Delhi lined with embassies and the homes of government ministers. A very wide boulevard built by the British. It used to be the neighborhood where colonial administrators lived but has long since been taken over by Indian government officials and the embassies. There were beautiful parks lining the road and in the traffic circles, with many Indian families out to enjoy the sultry evening.

Tomorrow we have some welcoming lectures in the a.m. and then a chance to see Delhi on our own in the afternoon. The adventure begins!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

India's Moderate Muslims See Peril In Growth of Stricter Form of Islam

Wouldn't you know it. I'm just about to head to the airport when this article pops up on the Washington Post website. I've just had a chance to skim it, but it obviously reports on a significant problem.
More later, perhaps, but gotta call the taxi!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two Indias, Again

On Sunday I did a post under the title, "Two Indias" (see below), about the collapse of the agricultural sector and the rise of bling culture in Mumbai. Today's New York Times has another set of articles underscoring the diversity of cultural production in India. "Town in India Rocks (No Use to Wonder Why, Babe") discusses the popularity of Bob Dylan and American rock music in Shillong, an area of northern India that's predominantly Christian. Here, culture is getting transformed from the bottom up among a rag-tag group of Indian rock musicians inspired by Dylan and Pink Floyd. The other article, "Bollywood Goes to Hollywood, Seeking Bargains," reports that "Reliance Entertainment, part of an Indian conglomerate controlled by the telecommunications and finance mogul Anil Ambani, is in talks to finance Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in a new venture. The company has also recently signed production deals with several Hollywood directors like Jay Roach and Chris Columbus and stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Jim Carrey." The article about rock music charts the conventional flow of culture from the "center" to the "periphery," from the west to the rest, but the second article suggests that flow is about to reverse as Bollywood moguls begin to invest in Hollywood. These two articles suggest that musical culture in India continues to be influenced by western culture, but that in the world of film Bollywood is just beginning to exert power on film in the west. Add to this the fact that at the Tribal Arts Academy (see post, below) indigenous cultural forms and practices are being recovered and taught and you can see how rich and diverse the cultural flows in India are.
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Adivasi/Tribal Academy & Bhasha Research Centre, Tejgadh

Thanks to Madhurai Deshmukh, co-leader of our trip, for sending around "Here, Literacy is Unimportant," an article about Ganesh Devy and the Tribal Academy we'll be visiting in Gujarat. The Academy is part of the Adivasi Academy and is associated with the Bhasha Research Center (see their "India Together" website for more information and news). "Tribal" populations in India are officially recognized by the constitution (as "Scheduled Tribes") and given special support to overcome the effects of past discrimination. According to the article the syllabus at the Academy is an "improbable grouping of nature studies, tribal culture, language and history, art and craft, dance and music, drama and farming. This is the empirical portion of their education that receives no attention in government schools, and one that is valiantly working to reinstate the children's fast-falling indigenous identity."

You might want to take a look at Devy's 2005 article, "Nomads Together," for a discussion of his specific interest in working with nomadic communities, historically designated as "criminal communities" under colonialism. According to Devy, these are "denotified communities," and they "think of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as far more fortunate."

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two Indias

Two articles in today's New York Times remind us once again of the economic and social divide defining India. A front page story, In Fertile India, Growth Outstrips Agriculture, reports on the steep drop-off in agricultural production in the wake of the so-called "Green Revolution," a movement critiqued by Vandana Shiva in India Divided (alas, she isn't mentioned in the Times article). The second story, 36 Hours in Mumbai, appears in the travel section. Here you can read about a "populous metropolis . . . bursting with stock-market money, a shimmering art scene" that "has a growing global presence, and young people . . . exploiting their newfound freedoms in dim bars until the wee hours. Indeed, in the city’s more rarefied circles, Champagne is sipped every night and everyone knows everyone, darling." But don't worry, the article features a "Reality Check" tour of the city's slum in case you start feeling guilty about how much you're enjoying Mumbai's bling. I know. How cynical can you get?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ahmedabad Live In Action

I've been asked to do a short presentation when we are in India on contemporary life in the city of Ahmedabad (pronounced "emdahbahd"). I couldn't do better than this great video, full of information with a Bollywood frame and just a bit of kitsch.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A few days ago I posted an article about the film "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" winning an award in India as the best popular film. Today I was perusing The Times of India and I came across a headline that included the word "Gandhigiri," a term I'd never heard of (the article is about a former convict on a hunger strike to retrieve his passport and visa--you can read the article here).

It turns out the term "Gandhigiri," used in the film "Lage Raho Munna Bhai," has become something of a phenomenon in India and is routinely linked to the resurgence of Gandhian ideals. I guess I missed this since I don't speak Hindi. The film contrasts the concept of "dadagiri," which is apparently used in India to refer to the use of bullying or force, with "Gandhigiri," which is now regularly used to refer to the use of moral persuasion and non-violence. There's a long entry on "Gandhigiri" in Wikipedia and a host of sites and news reports about this (not uncontroversial) phenomenon. Follow the link below if you're interested in a more in-depth discussion of the "Gandhigiri" phenomenon.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Murder and the Politics of Class (Or is it Class and the Politics of Murder?)

With less than two weeks before we leave, I've started to read the Indian newspapers (they are linked in the menu to the right). If you've been visiting this blog you've seen a few postings. I'm trying to follow the political news but for the last week no one reading these papers has been able to miss the media frenzy surrounding the murder a girl named Aarushi, the daughter of a dentist. It's everywhere. I got intrigued with the case because it reminded me of elements of the plot of The White Tiger, a new novel by Aravind Adiga about a driver in Bangalore who cuts the throat of his boss. More about that in a minute. Today Eric Schuster, Katherine's husband, sent me the link to an excellent article on the politics of class in India as it relates to the case. You can read the article, "India's dirty laundry: The murder tearing Indian society apart," by Andrew Buncombe, at the online version of London's The Independent. The article briefly notes the way Adiga's novel intersects with the prejudices surrounding the case.

If you want to read more about the case and how it relates to Adiga's novel (a wonderful book I highly recommend) just click here.

Updated Itinerary with Links

I've just posted an updated version of our itinerary with links to information about most of the sites and institutions we'll be visiting, and background information about some of our speakers. Click here to see the itinerary.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Thoughts on Vandana Shiva's India Divided: Diversity and Democracy Under Attack

I found Vandana Shiva’s opening stress on the historical diversity of India wonderfully helpful, particularly her quick historical overview of how the term “Hindu” has morphed from designating a geographical area of diverse populations into a religious and nationalist designation (and the role the British played in the transformation of this term). This puts the contemporary struggle between, in particular, Hindus and Muslims in a helpful historical perspective.
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Modi govt files case against Ashis Nandy

New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government on Sunday decided to file criminal cases against noted sociologist Ashis Nandy and the resident editor of a national daily in Ahmedabad. While Nandy has been charged for an article he wrote in January, the newspaper had published stories critical of the Ahmedabad commissioner of police. An irate Nandy told CNN-IBN that the state government is taking such steps to silence its critics. “I have been charged with creating animosity between communities for publishing a column. They want to threaten me but they also know that their case has cannot stand against me,” Nandy said.

Jump to News Article

Jump to Nandy Video Interview

Jump to Nandy Commentary that led to charges

Friday, June 13, 2008

Monsoon May Hit Deli Soon

From today's The Hindu:

NEW DELHI: There is some good news for Delhi and surrounding areas. The India Meteorological Department on Thursday announced that the monsoon could arrive over the Capital and other parts of North-West India well ahead of the normal date of June 29.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

'Lage Raho Munnabhai' Best Popular Film

From today's Hindu Times comes word that our favorite Bollywood film has just won a major award! Here's what they say about the film:

"Bollywood super-hit film “Lage Raho Munnabhai” by director Raj Kumar Hirani has been adjudged the best popular film providing wholesome entertainment. The film has won the award for revalidating the philosophy of non-violence in a strife-torn world and helping rediscover the Gandhi within the common man. The film also won awards in the best screenplay and best lyrics category."

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Dalit Women Crank Camera to Showcase Life

From today's online edition of The Hindu, one of India's leading newspapers, comes a wonderful story of how the kind of commitment to biodiversity advocated by Vandana Shiva has become linked to the imaginative use of video technology. Here's the opening two paragraphs:

NEW DELHI: What began as a means of sustenance for poor farmer women, many of them Dalits, in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh has over the years developed into a powerful tool for their empowerment to address the issues of sovereignty over land, traditional seeds, nutritious food, natural resources, traditional knowledge, education and health.

More importantly, the women from 80 villages in Medak district, who came together to form grass-roots Sanghams, stepped out of the shadow of ignorance and intimidation and carved for themselves a niche in the challenging area of multi-media. They now wield their own movie/video cameras to tell their stories in their own manner and language.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Inside Gate, India’s Good Life; Outside, the Slums

Today's New York Times contains yet another article about India, this one featuring the widening gulf between India's growing middle class and those mired in poverty. The article focuses on the emergence of gated high-rise communities with their own utilities, social services, and infrastructures.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Royal Care for Some of India’s Patients, Neglect for Others

Sunday's New York Times carried an interesting article on the unevenness of health care in India. On the one hand, Americans are going all the way to India for top-of-the-line surgery at a fraction of the cost in the U.S., but on the other, poor and working class Indians suffer with sub-par health care and hospital facilities.

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Red, White, Sultry: The Wines of India

Who knew? According to an article in today's New York Times India has a growing wine industry (Cabs, Sauvignon-Shiraz blends, peppery on the nose, etc.) located not far from two of our destinations, Pune and Bangalore. If you want a break from your seminar reading, take a look at the article (alas, not a word about Gandhian principles being applied to wine making, so perhaps a Satyagraha is in order).

Jump to article

Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts on Ashis Nandy's book, The Intimate Enemy

This is an intriguing and challenging work of postcolonial criticism, although Nandy doesn’t really invoke the term “postcolonial” (see below) and, indeed, has some scathing things to say about postcolonial criticism in the West (criticism he sees as elitist, critics who are in his view “ornamental dissenters” [p. 10] though he doesn’t name names). His focus on the psychology of colonialism is what sets this book apart and what I found most engaging about it. I think it begs the question of what relation there is, however, between the psychology and the politics of colonialism. It seems to me they’re intimately linked and the book could have stressed this more, i.e. the politics of colonialism produces a range of psychologies that feed back into political behavior, so the relation between the two is a little more symmetrical than he suggests. But all of this is implied and the value of the book is how it gets you to think about the relationship between the two.

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