Hakki’s Tattoo, and What I Saw in India

by David Gitomer

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Last month I had the opportunity to slip away to India for three weeks.  I had been invited to give a paper at Delhi University on the hero of a Sanskrit drama whose title is actually the name of the heroine, Shakuntala.  So I was thinking about how a culture assigns hero status. I took the opportunity to visit in old friends and see familiar places from the several times that I lived there.

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I also visited some places that I had never seen before, like the pilgrimage sites of Hardwar and Rishikesh. I made a big triangle:  From Delhi I went to Chennai (Madras) and Bangalore, both places where the new, globalized technologized India is in evidence.  I saw tall glass towers with windows that don’t open and thought:  What happens when it’s hot and the power fails?  Each building needs its own generator, given the unreliable electrical infrastructure in many places in India.  I saw men and women rushing to appointments, poking at their Blackberries or talking while negotiating the swarms of foot traffic.

Perhaps it’s in part the social dislocation that feeds the Hindu nationalist impulse–wanting to assert a fixed identity of “us” in “our place” against the non-Hindu peoples that have shared the subcontinent for more than a thousand years, and in the case of the Muslims, ruled much of it for nearly half a millennium.  Of course it doesn’t help that groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in neighboring Pakistan are even more mistrustful of Hindus than the nominally “tolerant” Hindus are of them.  The dream of a utopian Ram-raj, “rule of Ram,” fuels nationalist fantasies of Hindu hegemony in which other groups “know their place.”  But what of Lord Rama himself, a convenient god-hero?

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In Bangalore I visited with my friend and former student Arshia Sattar.  A secular Muslim, she is accomplished Sanskrit translator–of the Ramayana, no less.  We talked about different translations of the Ramayana and my ongoing search for the perfect teaching translation.  We talked about heroes, and the discomfort that many academics now feel with the figure of Rama because of his adoption as the poster-god for the Hindu right, the hero-god who defends the holy Indian soil against demonic others.  Scholars have shown that this appropriation of Rama did not begin with the Hindu nationalists of the 20th century.  But Arshia, a woman of Muslim background, defended Rama, suggesting that as scholars we should be able to see Rama in many contexts, especially the oldest ones, where Rama is a prince whose wife has been stolen from him, a defender of Dharma (the right) who is himself not perfect, but flawed.

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This conversation made me eager to teach the Ramayana again, which I’ll do in Autumn of 2010 in “Exploring Other Cultures: India.”  If you’ve read the “About” of this blog, you know that the banner is Hakki’s bicep, encircled with images of Ramayana characters he became familiar with when he took my course the last time it was offered.  Hakki, a Turkish-American (and Muslim) student, is a Chicago police officer who has seen duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, a fine student, a great guy, and a defender of dharma.

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Why I love our gatherings

by David Gitomer

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Last year with the encouragement, support and deft management of our Associate Director, Susan Jacobs, we began to have gatherings of students and staff.  MALS and IDS students live very busy lives.  Some work full-time, some have families, and they all struggle to give their studies ample attention.  MALS students see each other in their Core Courses [link to Core listings] and in elective courses they conspire to take together, but often, with their diverse interests–and in the absence of a fixed cohort–they are challenged to find a sense of community within the program they are all so committed to.  And each IDS student’s program is so individualized that they rarely run across other IDS students in their classes.  Our first two gatherings, Spring 09 and Autumn 09, combined conviviality with academic stuff:  We ate and drank and heard students talk about their final projects.  This winter, we held a Winter Tune-Up on research practices.  Courtney Greene of the DePaul Library showed us cool stuff on searching and retrieving materials (even the faculty were amazed to learn about some of these new tools), and Javaria and Margaret from the Center for Writing-based Learning talked about the ways that the Writing Center (as we persist in calling it) can work with graduate students.  I’ve taken lots of pictures at these gatherings, because I wanted to capture the excitement of our students as they talk about their projects, as they learn about what their fellow students are up to, and just enjoy spending time together.

So here’s a kind of informal gallery of faces and profiles of some of our interesting students.  (By the way, if you click on any of the images, you’ll get nice, big gorgeous pictures.)  Let’s start with last spring’s (2009) gathering.  Here’s a montage banner I made from some photos you’ll see below.  We use the banner on our Blackboard site, which is where our students find information about what’s going on in the program:

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You see Michael, a “retired” actor and musical theater performer, who had just started the MALS Program that quarter, in the upper left talking with Donna, who had just finished the program.  Both were in my “Yoga and Tantra” course.  In the upper right is Rachel, informally presenting her thesis project on sexuality among the elderly.  Rachel is an occupational therapist; her project grew out of her work in an assisted living facility with the elderly.  Lower left you see another pair of starters and finishers.  Kiel had just finished an IDS program focusing on disability studies, and in fact we just received the great news that he has been accepted at a PhD program in that field.  Linda works for a company that publishes plays and has taken a number of courses related to drama.  In the bottom center is Kristen, our Program Assistant, who is a grad student herself in education.  Lower right is Megan, another person with a strong interest in theater.  Here we captured her as she discussed her thesis project, an updating of Molière’s satire “The Learned Ladies.”  Megan is also half of a two-person comedy troupe “Size Eight” that performs around Chicago.

At our Autumn 2009 gathering, there were new faces, students who hadn’t previously attended or had started more recently.

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Cristina teaches in a small private school for girls in an inner city neighborhood.  Her IDS program focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to counseling and education.  Here she takes the opportunity to catch up with Susan Jacobs, our Associate Director.

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Here I am in a group shot with some of the guys in the program.  From left to right are Hakki, a Chicago police officer and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Hakki’s tattoo from the Ramayana is the banner of this blog.  Then comes yours truly (I’m really not that short–just slouching here (!)).  Next is Johnny, a Latin dance instructor.  At the right end is Rodrigo, a graduate of DePaul’s Music School, and an accomplished pianist who is looking to pursue an academic career. Here are some of the graduates who presented at this gathering:  First is Tosha, discussing her work on a mysterious iconographic image from the Caribbean.

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Here’s Warren, discussing his project on memorials, comparing Holocaust memorials to the AIDS quilt.  Warren works in development at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Finally, Willie here talks about a project that originated in a political science course at DePaul.  It concerns the history of the Republican party and race in America.

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Here are a few more photos from that day.

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Jeff, an environmental activist in the MALS Program, is here interrupted from a conversation with Tosha.

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Hakki and Susan in conversation.   Because our students are adults, we generally have very relaxed interactions with them, but the gatherings give us a chance to socialize outside the context of advisement appointments.

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A group shot of our congenial, and apparently very happy staff:  Kristen, Program Assistant; Heath, Marketing & Communications Intern, and Susan Jacobs, Associate Director. For the Winter 2010 get-together, we organized a workshop on research.  The workshop was partly integrated with Randy Honold’s new Core Course on “Environment and Society”  (See the blog post “What’s a Core?”) but was created so that all MALS and IDS students would benefit.  As I mentioned above, even the faculty attending learned new things.  Here are some shots from the event:

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Courtney, the library’s wizard of search-and-retrieve, presents electronic incantations to find just the right article in that obscure scholarly journal.

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Isabel, a web designer, and Laura (speaking) a publicist, both IDS students looking to improve their professional skills and make contacts.

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Javaria, from DePaul’s Center for Writing-Based Learning.

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As always, even with a workshop focus, our gatherings are opportunities for students to connect socially.  Johnny here chats with Jiale, who’s from China.  Jiale has become fascinated with the religion and philosophy of his own culture, things are which difficult for young Chinese to study in their own land.

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Linda and Lisa share their experiences in the program.

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Nan, a MALS student, is a well-known theatrical costume designer in Chicago, and an instructor in DePaul’s Theatre School.

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Randy Honold, Assistant Dean, Instructor in Philosophy, and professor for our “Environment and Society” course showed up on a Saturday and was quite absorbed in the Workshop presentations. Finally, here’s Zellencia, Angelique and Michael, absorbing and improving their research skills by the minute!

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