|Saturday, August 11, 2001||
one talks to students of the Summer Program in Punjab Studies, one is
struck by their deep commitment and a heightened level of involvement.
One can not help wondering about the reasons that spurred on these 16
odd students to come to Punjab and learn about the culture and history.
For Caroline Sawyer, it is the second time that she has come to India. A
scholar of Persian with a specific interest in the cultural history of
Islam, she teaches a course titled"An Introduction to Religions
of the World". Travelling has given her a different perspective
and she feels as if "she knew nothing about Punjab". Because
this trip combines academic study and concrete experience, Caroline
feels she will be able to teach her discipline better. She plans to do
research on Sirhind and cherishes the visit to Naina Devi and Anandpur
Sahib. Most of her students are South Asians and now, after her visit,
she would not lump them all together and treat them as a homogenous
group since she has a better sense of variations. Nothing can beat the
experiential reality because just reading standard descriptions robs
teaching of authenticity. Caroline's conviction is that academics have
to show to the USA the complexity of Indian culture.
For Ed Maldenado or SpearIt as he prefers to call himself, doing his Masters in religion at Harvard. When he arrived in Delhi, it was overwhelming because so many sounds, sights and flavours assault one.A Mexican who is married to a Gujarati, whose parents are pujaris in the Isckon temple at Houston, his life changed when he came across a copy of the Bhagavadgita. "My life was a shambles and the philosophy of the Gita pulled me out. I can't leave it behind… I can now accept everything. Punjab, feels SpirIt, is India's best kept secret. The I in his name is supposed to denote Aham Brahmasmi. The scholarship in the West has focused on Bengal, Banaras and Pune and Punjab has been ignored. It is, after al,l a major juncture—where there is a confluence of major religions of the world — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. If serious scholars start taking an interest in research that is vital to understanding the region, it can help create a fund of information.
For Emilee Myrick,doing her Masters in music at Santa Barbara, enrolling for the course was a travel opportunity. With an avid interest in different kinds of music, she was fascinated by the young girls performing the giddha at a wedding. She plans to return with her husband and share the experience with him because even though she got married three days before coming to Punjab, she did not postpone her visit. The same enthusiasm is echoed by Timothy Dobe who is doing his Ph.D. in religion at Harvard and is working on Saints of the Punjab. Fascinated by Sadhu Sundar Singh, a saint-poet who was born and lived in Rampur in 1929, Timothy wants to learn more about him and other saints. What really interests him is how in India old buildings are still functioning as places of worship, unlike ancient cathedrals in Europe which are almost always only of tourist interest and otherwise empty.
Jennifer Dobe, doing her P.hd in philosophy and studying aesthetics of art, Western philosophy is very biased and unidimensional. She found the trip around Punjab an intensive and stimulating learning experience. The Golden Temple, with its magical ornateness and the music at Durgiana Temple is something that will always linger on in her mind.
Pippa Virdee or Prithpal was born in Ludhiana in 1976. Her parents migrated first to Kenya and then to the UK. As a child of immigrants with two sisters living in India, she would come to India more often. Her perception is more like that of a native for whom India is an imaginary homeland . She is doing research on the Partition of Punjab: Violence, migration and resettlement. For the purpose of her study, Pippa is comparing East and West Punjab and is examining the impact of development on Ludhiana and Malerkotla in East Punjab and Lyallpur and Jhang in Pakistan.She is planning to record first- hand accounts or oral history.Pippa feels Indian culture has more of a presence in the UK because the Indians there are not shy of espousing their cultural differences.
Speedy development, a network and an infrastructure of roads, more consumer goods and raised levels of prosperity is what she found during her visit to India from Coventry, where she lives. Twentyone-year-old Pawan Rehill from Calgary is one of the youngest members of the group. What really excited her was the temples at Masroor, Kangra and the Golden Temple where they slept by the Sarovar on the marble floor at night. It was indeed a memorable experience. As she recounts: "One doesn't realise one is learning, until one has actually learnt. You actually see culture being created".
Born in Sweden of a Punjabi father and Swedish mother, Naila Kabeer freelances for Swedish television and newspapers. According to her, India is not covered adequately in the Swedish media because the perception is that of a poor country. All set to correct that flawed image, Naila is off to Bangalore to do research on the IT boom in India. She has enjoyed the intensive Punjab Studies Program, though she does feel that:"It is not like being in real India, it is so insulated. I would have liked to live in a village and be thrown straight into the thick of things."
Allison Willits, a graduate from Santa Barbara, who is interested in global studies, women's issues and the environment finds Punjab so very interesting and also a little strange. The way women are looked at, stared and objectified, spills over into the interaction, feels Allison. What really upsets her are the commercials for fair and lovely. Another student who is pursuing graduation in religion at Harvard is Jeff Albanese. He was motivated into religious studies by his interaction with a close Hindu friend and SpearIt, who was his teaching fellow. The Bhagavadgita fascinates Jeff, who is doing research on the different names that Arjuna addressed Krishna as. As he says: When my teacher said they were just fillers, I knew she was wrong. Everything has a meaning and I wanted to discover it.
One can not help wishing that someone in India could replicate the programme at a regional level and initiate Indian students to the wonders of a multidimensional nation. If foreigners can come so far to study our land, why can’t we do the same?