Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

The Group

June 21st, 2008

The Group -  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). 2nd row,l. to r.: Shirley Huston-Finley (Theater), Shila Garg (Dean of Faculty, Physics), Elizabeth Schiltz (Philosophy), Katherine Holt (History).
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).
2nd row, l. to r.: Shirley Huston-Finley (Theater), Shila Garg (Dean of Faculty, Physics), Elizabeth Schiltz (Philosophy), Katherine Holt (History).

Keep it Clean, Keep it Green

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.

Caste Violence

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

Education in India

May 26th, 2008

One of the central themes of Nussbaum’s book is the failure of state education in India. She takes it to task for rote learning and a total absence of critical thinking.

What is interesting is that private education in India is booming. In fact, it’s a thriving industry. The signs are everywhere. On the streets, next to the mobile phone ads, are billboards advertising private schools (known, thanks to the British, as “public schools”), private institutes, private academies. Indian newspapers and magazines have been featuring rankings and reviews of schools. This week’s India Today centers on the best schools in India.

Nonetheless, Nussbaum’s larger point seems to hold. The billboards on the street promise technical training, American English, business and science education. It is hard to see how Tagore’s emphasis on the cultivation of the imagination fits in to this boom in education.

No doubt there are exceptions. Here’s a billboard from the street in Haridwar that caught my eye a few days ago. Whizzkid International School

Arts in Chennai, Part II

May 26th, 2008

On the outskirts of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu we met up with Sashi Ananth, a local architect with a degree from Madras University, who treated us to a day of touring ancient architecture, beginning in Mahabalipuram.

Our lesson began with a description of the ways in which temples originated as a representation of the divine and a location for individual experiences in prayer. As we were reminded in an earlier lecture, Hinduism is not a communal religion, and the temples merely provide a sanctum in which the macrocosm or paramathma, meaning Brahman, is in dialogue with the microcosm or jeevathma, meaning individual. In the 5th and 6th centuries, temples, such as The Shore Temple we witnessed began to represent a complex or precinct reminiscent of a Buddhist shrine. Most face toward the east, and this particular temple housed Shiva on one end and Vishnu on the other.


Vishnu, we discovered, is lying in tranquility, while Shiva is represented by a column of light. Sashi explained that this column extended from the top of the head to the base of the body and signified the act of creation–husband, wife and child–as the masculine and feminine integrate and reflect the aspiration to become Brahman, who is formless and genderless and divine. Unfortunately, westerners have interpreted the column as phallic and, therefore, too explicit in nature.



From here we traveled to the 5 Rathas, or chariots: a series of sculptures carved into the existing rocks, demonstrating various types of architecture.


Our final destination was to meet V. Vedanthan, a local sculptor. We toured his facility where we witnessed the various artists at work on their marble creations. Of course, we spent the conclusion of our time shopping in his store, sorting through the many marble and iron statues, bowls, and various pieces of craftsmanship, most far too large to bring back to the states (and believe me if we could we would!).


Cultural Similarities

May 20th, 2008

IIT Visit 5/16

What a surprise!! The Dean of Students at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) receives complaints from students. The culture of colleges and universities are remarkably similar in the range of issues and problems that need to be addressed from budget constraints, course planning, and student motivation. What actually surprised me was the degree to which we shared a common conception of philosophy with the faculty at IIT. Professor Tomy’s primary research is on Jerry Fodor’s philosophy of mind and his course in the philosophy of science is analogous to mine.

Immersion in Ritual

May 20th, 2008

We’ve been travelling now without internet access. This video is from a couple of days ago in Haridwar.

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Our one evening in Haridwar was the most dramatic, bustling, exciting, claustrophobic, sharing, participatory of our experiences to date. We walked from our hotel through narrow, vendor lined streets to the temple site on the banks of the Ganges where an estimated 15-30,000 people gathered for an evening Hindu ceremony. The streets were crowded with people, sounds, and (perhaps most striking) smells. An intermingling of the smell of trash and waste, a nearby river, a crowed population of people and urban wildlife, and food. These different odors took turns in dominance as we passed along our way, at times none stood out. For me, there were moments when I found it actually stomach turning.

We arrived at the temple site and learned (what we should have anticipated but did not) that we would be required to leave our shoes at the entrance. The shoes were left at a kiosk and we were given a number to use to retrieve them. We walked along the black and white checkered marble flat surface to a similar marble set of stairs down to the river. A guide lead us to what were prime seats in terms of viewing and comfort. Out of the thousands there, we were among the few who were recognized as likely to pay handsomely for such privilege.

We sat and watched individuals and families immerse themselves in the Ganges, an act of spiritual cleansing. The body language and facial expressions were varied. One group, apparently a family, played and splashed about. An outside observer with a Missouri background (like me) would have thought this to be, for this group, like a trip to the Ozarks during summer break. Clearly it is more than that, but for this ceremony strict solemnity was not required.

Many of our group took an opportunity to purchase a “flower boat” (largish leaves molded and pinned together to form a cup in which was placed flower petals and a candle). We each individually took our boat to the river, accompanied by a priest-coach. Our priest would instruct us in the ceremony. It began with a hand washing in the river and bringing river water to our heads and a handful to the flower petals. We next repeated, one word at a time, a long list of words given to us by the priest. Our name was asked, and we were asked to give the names of our family members (spouse, children…) The priest would say a prayer, ask for a gift donation, and then we would light the candle and place it in the river where it would be carried away by the tide.

Just prior to the actual Aarti ceremony, a storm set in. The rain fell hard and we were placed, again due to the privilege of wealth, under the few stationary umbrellas. Once these went up the crowds squeezed, as many as possible, around us for protection from the rain. Those not able to find a spot under an umbrella covered themselves with large sheets of plastic candy bar wrappers (I saw a sheet of ‘Charleston Chews’ wrappers nearby).

Eventually the ceremonial lamps were set ablaze. The video above shows a set of nearby lamps. From my position, behind the camera, the heat of these lamps was clearly felt. The look you see on the faces of Shila and Elizabeth will give an indication of how hot these were from only three or four feet away. Flame dropped, sometimes on or near flammable clothing.

Noteworthy for me, was the spirit of openness. We were welcomed to participate and the prayers of the priest were there for us regardless of our religious affiliation. To be sure there was a monetary gain from our involvement, yet the genuineness of our welcome seemed undeniable.


May 19th, 2008

On May 16th we were fortunate to have Professor Dipankar Gupta of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) present a stimulating talk to us on the caste system in India. Caste, it is said, developed as an occupational social hierarchy. Roughly, priests were placed at the top, with rulers and warriors, farmers and traders, and servants and labors following in turn. Subsequently, caste developed into a system of oppression and exploitation based on metaphysical conceptions of heredity. Those at the bottom, “the untouchables,” are thought to be created of the basest substances, and it is thought that they should be treated as such. While caste has been a widely recognized social reality in India, the best explanatory model for the persistence of the caste system is still a contested matter. Many scholars have suggested that caste persists because those at the bottom of the caste system subjugate themselves, or, at least, play a part in their own subjugation. Prof. Gupta rejects this claim, insisting that no one in his extensive subject pool of untouchable Indians reports that he or she belongs to the lowest caste; none of them truly believes that their bones and flesh are created of the basest of materials. Rather, people of the lower castes attribute their position to (a) a past usurpation or (b) a fall from grace. Gupta argues that the hierarchy of caste is a social construction that has been reshuffled at various points in history. The Brahmins (i.e., priests) were not always on top; they fought/maneuvered their way to the top. Developing his position further, Gupta argues that, while the sanctioned institutions and policies of the caste system are only precariously alive, caste is “alive and kicking” as group identity. It is a sad fact that large numbers of modern-day Indians tend to choose their peers and spouses along caste lines.

It is important to note that Gupta wishes to move past caste and caste distinctions. Yet, he offers no “silver bullets.” This is a complex and deeply-ingrained problem that is not likely to go away quickly or easily. It will take time, careful thinking, and human effort.

Sights and Smells

May 19th, 2008

You will have to excuse us. We have been thrown into a country and culture jarringly different from our own, and we are still adapting, still forming our considered impressions, as thoughtful people do. But, you want first impressions, don’t you? Okay, here are a few first impressions.

We landed in Delhi in the evening. Leaving the terminal, I immediately noticed a fog or mist. “No,” Katie told me, “that’s smog.” Then, I recognized just how unlikely it would be for fog to form in 90-degree weather. Okay, so the point is that Delhi is a bit smoggy during the summer. Another thing, New Delhi has a system of roads and roundabouts that, at first glance, appear wide, well-kept, and British. Then, looking closer, you notice that the homes and buildings that line the street are walled- or fenced-off. Then, you notice the people living in makeshift shanties on or near the sidewalk. It’s hard to know what to think about this. Smells? In Delhi, the smell of car exhaust is ubiquitous. There is, of course, the alluring smell of tea, fruit lassies, and street food – sweet, spicy, and fried. Like New York or Atlanta in the summer, from time to time, you can catch the smell of hot garbage and urine. Then, you turn the corner and you are met with intense incense, oils, and perfume.

Please take these observations for what they are: first impressions. I’m still working on my considered impressions. And, given our recent, trip to the headwaters of the Ganges River (Haridwar and Rishikesh), it is awfully clear that I cannot judge India or Indian culture based on my first two days in Delhi. The people, the customs, the environment, the infrastructure are vastly different in different regions. I’ll unpack this when I can.

Globalization: Dale Carnegie in Bangalore

May 18th, 2008


Transnational tips on winning friends and influencing people.


Thursday, Apr. 24, 2008

Postcard: Bangalore

By Madhur Singh

Remember to touch a personal chord,” the instructor tells the class. “Make the other person feel important.” Thus advised, the first graduating class of Bangalore’s new Dale Carnegie Training center splits into pairs, each earnestly practicing a routine the students have spent four months learning. “Hi, my name is Gautam,” I’m told while my hand gets a vigorous shake. Dazzled by the bright smile and seemingly effortless eye contact, I barely manage to mumble my own name before my companion moves briskly along and I find myself being asked what I do for a living. All around me are similar smiling faces and heads nodding attentively in synch. Eventually the conversations take on a more relaxed tone, until a male voice blurts out, “Are you single? May I have your number?” Not exactly a professional business query, but it gets full marks for spontaneity and confidence.

Dale Carnegie Training–which teaches the self-improvement techniques in Carnegie’s landmark 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People–is one of several institutes that have opened shop in this high-tech hub to teach India’s legions of ambitious IT graduates the finer points of life in the modern workplace. “I was overwhelmed when I moved to Bangalore last year. I saw all these people who looked so smart and spoke perfect English,” says Pallavi Deshpande, 28. Her college in the central Indian city of Nagpur had given her a master’s degree in computer science, “but I didn’t have much self-confidence, and my English was a big problem.” Four months and a Certificate Program in Executive Excellence later, her speech is peppered with Carnegie-isms. “I learned that at an interview, you must talk in terms of the other person’s interest and show respect for the other person’s opinions,” she says, smiling.

The huge number of Indian workers staffing the world’s tech firms and call centers has given some employers the impression of India as a nation of 1.1 billion software engineers. But only 1 in 4 engineering graduates–and 1 in 10 graduates in other disciplines–is considered employable by multinational firms. While many graduates possess cutting-edge technical knowledge, their interpersonal and communications skills lag far behind. A study by the National Association of Software and Services Companies, India’s leading software and outsourcing industry organization, forecasts a shortage of half a million IT professionals by 2010, largely because of a lack of grads with the “soft skills” needed to fit into a cosmopolitan work environment.

Enter Bangalore’s finishing schools. “We spoke to companies, educational institutes and students across three states while preparing our course curriculum, and they all said there was a huge need to develop personal leadership and interpersonal and communication skills among graduates,” says Pallavi Jha, chair of Dale Carnegie Training’s Indian partner, Walchand PeopleFirst Ltd. A large part of the coursework is overcoming cultural differences. “The handshake, if you are a woman, is tricky,” says Neetika Verma, a Dale Carnegie instructor. “We tell our female students, ‘If a man doesn’t reach out to shake your hand, take the first step and shake his hand. Show confidence.'” Other tips include learning to address everyone by first name and networking over lunch and dinner.

In the long term, such self-improvement courses may not make or break a technology career. “No matter where you’re working in the IT industry, in three to four years’ time, everyone reaches a uniform level of sensitivity and an ability to communicate,” says C. Mahalingam, chief people officer at training firm Symphony Services. But the basic principles the classes teach can help many get their foot in the door. “Everyone picks up these skills along the way,” says Gerald Santiago, a Dale Carnegie student from Bangalore. “If you want to join the ranks, you must learn these too.”

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