Peter Havholm June 21st, 2008
Top row, l. to r.: John Rudisill (Philosophy), Peter Havholm (English), Mark Weaver (Political Science), Mark Wilson (Geology), Lee McBride (Philosophy), Peter Pozefsky (History), Gregory Shaya (History), Henry Kreuzman (Philosophy).
Peter Havholm June 2nd, 2008
In the capacious, perfectly sprung College of Wooster bus on the way from Cleveland Airport, one melted back into miles of smooth pavement stretching out ahead, wide shoulders empty of cyclists, walkers, pedlars, families engaged in construction, and sleepers curled into patches of shade—and with orderly, spaced, manageable traffic. At the airport, one drank from a public water fountain. One did not think to bargain at the trinket booths in the terminal.
What else marks the luxury of being a middle-class citizen of the United States? No need to monitor CNN to learn whether or not the Gujjars have blocked the road to the airport. Elevators are not stopped and darkened between floors by power outages. The homeless are tidied away, and eleven-year-old girls carrying their baby sisters are not allowed to plead that you give them a little money. Nor are parents allowed to send their children to touch your arm and urge you to buy a necklace or a postcard. No one holding up a monkey to the bus window at the traffic light in Burbank (as a subject to be paid for any photographs taken). No need to look to Shila for permission before eating a piece of fruit.
Lee McBride May 29th, 2008
Indian public intellectual, Vandana Shiva, argues that large corporate farming practices ultimately do violence to farmers and the land. It is implied that we should model our agri-culture upon the small organic agrarian village, for these communities have lived sustainably for centuries. Having read such things, I was naively led to believe that India is an environmental Shangri-La; a country with a population dispositionally attuned to the land. But, one must resist such romantic visions. Arriving in urban Delhi, I was struck by the smog, the garbage in the streets, the syrupy nature of the standing water in the puddles and drainage troughs, and the bits and pieces of plastic that are strewn everywhere. Such perceptions were only exacerbated by our travel to and from the small towns of Haridwar and Devprayag. And yet, Indian scholars that we met stress that, environmentally speaking, India is a much greener nation when compared with other nations with comparable population size. We were told that India is a recycling nation; apparently, the byproducts/garbage in India is so picked through, that little waste is left for landfills. It has been challenging for me to square these claims with my brief experiences in these regions, but until I have better evidence I will defer to judgments of my Indian colleagues.
Fortunately, we were treated to a three-day foray into Chennai (Madras). The main streets and thoroughfares of Chennai seemed noticeably cleaner and tidier, though pieces of plastic bags and bottles still littered the open lots and alleyways. I’m not sure what to attribute this difference to, but I was intrigued to find signs around town that say: “Your Town, Your Pride; Keep it Clean, Keep it Green.” Perhaps those environmentalists are right who argue that the fostering of a sense of place is integral to the responsible management of ecological resources – perhaps people do take care of their towns when they have a sense of pride connected to their province.
Mark Wilson May 28th, 2008
Hank Kreuzman organized an afternoon trip by several of us to Old Delhi. We first toured the Red Fort (see above), which was the primary palace of the Mughal emperors until 1857 and a British and Indian administrative center since. It is a fascinating place, especially considering its long and complex history.
The capitol city of Delhi is under high alert this week because of demonstrations across the region by the Gujjars, a nomadic group of people agitating for a change in their official government status. They held a protest in Delhi today and have blockaded several railway lines passing from the city to the west and south. The army and police thus had high visibility at sites of national interest like the Red Fort. You can see from the photo below that part of the security system involves keeping automatic rifles aimed at the crowd at all times.
We also had an adventurous walk through the streets of Old Delhi (see below).
Our goal was to visit the most famous mosque in India, the Jama Masjid (pictured below). This mosque was completed in 1656 by Shah Jahan, the same emperor who commissioned the Taj Mahal. It can hold up to 25,000 worshippers in its courtyard. We could only go to the northeast steps, but this was close enough to see the huge minarets and see the domes. We were fortunate to be there to hear a haunting call to prayer.
Mark Wilson May 28th, 2008
It is not the most exciting topic, but one close to the lives of rural Indians. The new town of Wooster Nagar had the rare opportunity to devise a water management plan from scratch as they built the infrastructure of their village. Finding and managing fresh water for drinking, cooking and other household uses is an issue all over the world, and it is especially difficult in southern India. The people of Wooster Nagar have installed a “gray water” system for each home. The black tanks you see in the photo above are for holding water which was used in washing and other non-sewage applications. This water is then applied to gardens and used for other applications which do not require pure water. The ditch below is for a sewage pipe which will soon empty into a miniature treatment plant with filtration and settling ponds. The inhabitants of Wooster Nagar will thus have their own efficient clean water and sanitary systems.
Peter Havholm May 27th, 2008
When we visited Wooster Nagar, a village built with major support from the people of Wooster, the villagers welcomed us with music, drawings on the pavement, and great warmth. They were grateful, they said, for Wooster’s help in making new homes for them after the tsunami wiped out their old ones. The clip below shows how the new homes for 26 families are laid out along Noble Street.
You’ll have to be patient on this clip the first time you click. It’s long, but it’s worth it.
Shila Garg May 27th, 2008
Kalakshetra is a school of fine arts (and part of a larger foundation of the same name) in Chennai. It reminded me very much of Shantiniketan, the school founded by Rabindranath Tagore, with its beautiful trees and serene setting. Leela Samson, the director of Kalakshetra and an accomplished Bharata Natyam dancer, started our session in the prayer space, under the huge banyon tree (an offspring of the famous banyon tree of Chennai). She gave us the history of the institution and an explanation of the vision of Rukmini Arundale, the founder.
Following the introduction, we went into a small auditorium, after removing our footwear. The space where Bharata Natyam is performed is often treated as a holy space. In fact, in India, arts, music and classical dance are closely linked with the divine; arts are always performed or created as devotional offerings to the Gods.
Leela Samson gave us a lecture demonstration on the art form of Indian classical dance, illustrated by two dancers, one a faculty member and the other an archivist. She had them demonstrate ten different postures or forms, footwork, over twenty ‘adavus’ that are hand gestures that portray animals or birds or simply actions, and facial expressions and eye movements that portray emotions. The very complex performance combines all these various pieces with a rhythm and pace that is precise and wonderfully graceful. The movements are fluid and convey stories. We were all mesmerized watching the dancers and marveling at the balance among the various aspects. The dancer in fact starts off with a prayer and a supplication to the earth goddess for the pounding she is about to receive. The footwork itself is gentle at times and powerfully loud at other times.
We also heard a little about change in the societal norms with respect to women’s performing the dance. Even a few decades ago, women of respected families were not allowed to perform in public, since the dance originated as an art of devadasis, women who had dedicated their lives to god as temple prostitutes. This form of dance started out as a very individual form of art, but has evolved now into group performances or duets.
Because both Leela Samson and her dancers are artists and teachers of the first rank (Samson has received the highest civilian award from the president of India), we were enormously privileged. The clips below (be patient the first time you click) show Leela Samson explaining and her dancers, Haripadman and Sarita. It’s worth watching the dancers more than once to see how the movements of upper and lower body combine. The lower body is often percussive; the upper body (head, eyes, arms, hands, torso) conveys a complex melody.
Peter Havholm May 27th, 2008
In Wooster Nagar (Wooster Town), the villagers (26 families) showed us their new homes built along Noble Street, with major funding from the people of Wooster. During our visit, Elizabeth Schiltz got the names of Porselvi and Anitha while we were on the roof of the National City Bank Community Center (which features a Gault Library) to see the view–and then tried out new playground equipment with Porselvi (in a still at the end of the video clip).
There will be more posts about this visit.
gshaya May 27th, 2008
We just got back from a very moving visit to Wooster Nagar (lit. Wooster Town), a village destroyed by the 2004 tsunami and rebuilt with the support of the Wooster community. I’m sure someone will be blogging on this soon.
Before we leave Chennai (we fly this afternoon back to Delhi), I just wanted to share a link for some photos. Yes, we’ve heard the cry for more photos loud and clear. Follow the link to a Flickr slideshow that includes selected photos from the trip so far. These include photos up to a couple days ago. You can find it at:
gcornwell May 26th, 2008
May 25, 2008
37 Killed in Caste Riots in India
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESSFiled at 3:14 a.m. ETJAIPUR, India (AP) — Authorities invited leaders of one of India’s lowest castes for talks as the death toll rose to 37 Sunday from three days of bloody demonstrations over caste classification.Police repeatedly opened fire on violent protests by the Gujjar community on Friday and Saturday in half a dozen villages and towns in western Rajasthan state.The Gujjars are seeking to reclassify their caste to a lower level, which would allow them to qualify for government jobs and university places reserved for such groups. The government has refused.The Hindu caste system — a hereditary social strata — was outlawed soon after India’s independence from Britain in 1947, but its influence remains powerful and the government awards aid packages to different groups.Police in Sikandra town fired at protesters who torched a police station and two buses Saturday and shot and wounded a policeman, said Amanjit Singh Gill, Rajasthan’s director-general of police.Protesters also burned down a police station in the nearby village of Chandra Guddaji, Gill said.Fifteen demonstrators died Friday when police fired live ammunition and tear gas to halt rioting, said Singh. A police officer was also beaten to death.At least 70 injured people were hospitalized in Jaipur, the state capital, and the town of Dosa.Demonstrators blocked a major highway linking Jaipur to Agra — site of the world famous Taj Mahal monument — stranding thousands of people. Thousands of army, police and paramilitary forces patrolled villages to control the violence.Gujjars took to the streets after a government panel set up to look into their demands recommended a $70 million aid package for their community, but ruled out caste reclassification.Gujjars are considered part of the second-lowest group, known as Other Backward Classes, a step up from the Scheduled Tribes and Castes.Twenty-six people died in Gujjar riots in the same area last year. Home