Showing posts with label Me. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Me. Show all posts

Thoughts on Turning 40: Two Stories of Survival

Internet friends, I'm turning 40. 

I decided not to confine myself today to the brief announcement and smiling picture combo that's kind of the thing to do these days. Part of what's so annoying about social media is how shallow it can be; the need to always project a positive image means we are sometimes just being false.

Today I want to share two stories about two difficult moments I have faced in the past decade. One is my experience with cancer in 2007. The other is the challenge I faced in my bid for academic tenure in 2006-2008. There are morals in both stories that I will give away up-front.

What I took from my experience with cancer is simply this: don’t take your life for granted, it could change radically at any moment. Love the life you have and, as much as you can, the people who are in it.

What I took from my tenure experience was also pretty simple: you can’t go it alone. Your career is definitely your own, and you have to sit down and do real work to succeed (in academia, this is work you often have to do by yourself). But there may be times when you need to ask for help – and depend upon what might turn out to be pretty extraordinary generosity of professional friends, colleagues, and maybe even a few anonymous strangers. That is what I had to learn to accept about academic life: you need to do the work, but you need other people to read it, appreciate it, and vouch for you. To paraphrase the Beatles: you get by with a little help from your friends, colleagues, and advice from the Dean.

Both stories have happy endings. I have been cancer-free for six and a half years, which means I am as close to “cured” as it gets. I received tenure at Lehigh, and continue to enjoy contributing to a department and humanities culture at the university that only seems to get better every year. However, it hasn't always been so sunny on my end of things -- as we'll see.

On "The Essential Tagore"

Just a quick note to say Happy New Year, and announce that I have a medium-length essay reviewing the new Harvard UP anthology of Tagore, The Essential Tagore.

The essay is up at Open Letters Monthly, and you can read it here.

Besides the usual reviewing and synopsis of Tagore's life and career I make a particular kind of argument regarding how I think Tagore should be read -- as someone who used three literary voices, (1) that of a lyric poet, (2) novelistic realism, and (3) satire. Some of his most interesting stories, poems, and plays are the ones where he shifts voices within the work, or uses more than one voice. The story "The Broken Nest" is one such example.  I also talk about a particular poem by Tagore called "The Poet," which isn't widely cited in English. And finally, I look briefly at one of the satirical Tagore plays included in the anthology, "The Kindgom of Cards."

A Few Scattered Notes after Visiting Trinidad

Our visit to Trinidad coincided (purely by chance) with the national T&T holiday known as Indian Arrival Day, as well as a 20/20 Cricket match between India and the West Indies in Port of Spain, and we were able to experience a bit of both. My son also really enjoyed seeing nesting Leatherback Turtles (in Tobago), as well as various rainforest snakes and birds (Tree boas! Scarlet Ibises!). And we had a superlative experience staying at Pax Guest House for three days in the foothills of the northern range.

The conference I attended seemed to be very well-organized, with some snafus here and there –- the keynote by Leela Sarup, for one thing, wasn’t announced on the web version of the program, so I didn’t learn of it until after it had already happened.

The quality of the presentations was also a little uneven, with non-academic rants and reflections mixed in with traditional academic papers. Sometimes this led to intriguing chemistry, other times it just made for wasted space. While the conference did describe itself as focused on “Global South Asian Diasporas,” the most interesting discussions really had to do with the Indo-Caribbean diaspora – but of course that’s perfectly fine.

Literature. This was not really a literature conference, but there was at least one panel on Naipaul, and I was fortunate to meet two Indo-Caribbean writers, Cyril Dabydeen (who is from Guyana originally, and lives in Canada) and Raymond Ramcharitar (who is from Trinidad and continues to live there), in person.

At the Naipaul panel, I enjoyed papers by Nivedita Misra (a recent immigrant to Trinidad from Delhi) and Kevin Baldeosingh. Misra did a helpful survey of Naipaul’s various writings on India, arguing that his Trinidadian / diasporic background remains the central lens through which he sees the “homeland.” And Kevin Baldeosingh helpfully mentioned and quoted from some Indo-Caribbean writers besides Naipaul – including Harold Sunny Ladoo (“Yesterdays”) and Raymond Ramcharitar (“The Island Quintet”).

At another panel, I was happy to see the poetry of my friend Christian Campbell cited as part of a paper on Indian women and Chutney music. The poem cited was “Curry Powder,” which is about Campbell’s Indo-Caribbean grandmother – who married an Afro-Caribbean man, and left her Indo-Caribbean / Hindu heritage behind. The full text of Christian’s (remarkable) poem can be found here: link; here is an excerpt:

Coolies and niggers fighting these days
But great-grandmummy Nita did not fight
When she found herself facing the West
Instead, touching the Negro face of a Bajan,
Manny. She did not wear saris no more.
Calypso she liked and could wind down
With the best of them. She became deaf
To the ethereal ballad of Krishna’s flute.
She chose Manny, not Lord Rama in her
Hindu epic gone wrong. At her wedding
She never once uttered Ganesh'sname
And she loosened the grasp of Vishnu’s
Four hands from round her waist.
So her sisters disowned her in the holy
Name of Mother India. But she made
Dougla babies anyway and did not give
Them the sacred names of gods: Brahma,
Shiva, Gauri. She named Grandaddy
Leon, a good English name, like all the other
Rootless Negroes. And so Trinidad became herself.

Race Relations. One of the deficiencies of the conference was a seeming reluctance to engage with the issue of the sometimes vexed relations between Afro- and Indo-Trinidadians. There were Afro-Caribbean presenters, moderators, and audience members around, but people generally didn’t seem that interested in talking about some of the problems between the two commuinities. By contrast, if you look at the writings of Raymond Ramcharitar at the TT Guardian, you see an enthusiasm for tackling this sticky subject -– and not shying away from the seamy underbelly of Trinidadian history in the interest of an anodyne multiculturalism. See Raymond’s blog, archiving his TT Guardian columns here: Trinidad Media Arts and Culture. I don't know if everything Raymond says is correct or verifiable -- there is a fair amount of bitterness in his writing that makes me wonder -- but it's at least interesting reading. Here's a bit of one of Raymond's recent columns, outlining the history of racial conflict between Indo- and Afro-Trinidadians in the 1990s:

All this was allowable in the name of Ken Gordon’s “press freedom” —which also allowed Indian Review Committee agents (Anil Mahabir, Rajnie Ramlakhan etc) into the daily press to spew Hindu fascist rage and racial contempt for AfroTrinidadians. This was exactly what the Creole world believed all Indians were like, so (in their minds) justified talk radio’s filth. “Indian” talk radio content was a stream of bewildered rage that this was happening in daylight.

The PNM still lost the 2000 election, but when they were “let back in” by Ramesh Maharaj and PNM stalwarts ANR Robinson and Abu Bakr, in 2001, they mobilized their police, judicial, and media arms. The media spread the gospel: the UNC (Indians) were all corrupt, evil, and tiefed from “real” Trinidadians. The judiciary and police initiated lengthy, public prosecutions of the Indo Chief Justice, Sat Sharma, the Indo chief doctor, Vijay Naraynsingh, and Indo voter padders (all acquitted).

The disengagement with race-relations issues was particularly awkward at the Naipaul panel near the end of the conference. It seemed that no one on the panel really seemed to have noticed that Naipaul’s early novels, including the canonical House for Mr. Biswas, are often contemptuous in their engagement with the Afro-Trinidadian community. (Enough so that Walcott famously wrote a rejoinder in “The Fortunate Traveler, mocking Naipaul as “V.S. Nightfall”). The black characters are subservient (like “Blackie” in Mr Biswas), and there’s generally little reference to the class of upwardly-mobile and ambitious black Trinidadians Naipaul would have met at Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain. (Some of these figures do appear in later books like A Way in the World, but they are often hysterical figures or desperate showmen. It is difficult to think of even one affirmative portrayal of a black character anywhere in Naipaul's writing...)

Dance and Music. If race-relations was a bit of a blind spot at this conference, the discussion of music in particular was much more satisfying. A book that seems to have been influential for people doing cultural studies of Indo-Caribbean musical culture is Tejaswini Niranjana’s “Mobilising India” (Duke, 2006). It was cited in both of the papers I saw that dealt with Chutney Soca music. It’s available on Amazon via Kindle ($13) or more for the regular book.

One presenter, Ananya Kabir, was working on the phenomenon of Indo-Caribbean women engaging in “wining,” which is a highly suggestive kind of dancing. It’s normally associated with Afro-Caribbean women dancing to reggae, rapso, or soca, but it’s also quite common with Indo-Caribbean music, especially around Carnival time. You can see the trailer for Jahaji Music here:

Jahaji Music from surabhi sharma on Vimeo.

Pichkaree Music. Another presenter gave a very interesting paper on a kind of music called “Pichkaree” music after the tube that is used to spray color at Holi (known as Phagwah in Trinidad). Pichkaree music could be defined as “conscious Chutney” – equivalent perhaps to “conscious” reggae and hip hop in black diaspora music. One major veteran of Pichakaree music, Ravi Ji was actually in the audience. I spoke to him after the panel briefly and asked him where I could find his music: “We didn’t have money to record much of it.” This is sad, though Ravi Ji did assure me that more recent generations of Pichkaree performers have been recording their music.

Meanwhile, you can read some columns by Ravi Ji at the TT Guardian if interested.

The same presenter, Sharda Patesar (a graduate student at the University of Trinidad and Tobago) also mentioned that the emergence of Pichkaree music had something to do with the apparent rise of anti-Indian lyrics in Calypso music beginning in the 1970s. (I tried to confirm this online with examples, but couldn’t find too many. At the Trinidad and Tobago News, there is even a discussion disputing the basic premise that there are in fact Calypso songs with anti-Indian lyrics. In his recent column, Raymond Ramcharitar does mentino two songs from the 2000s, “Kidnap Dem” by Cro Cro and Singing Sandra’s “Genocide,” as having lyrics along these lines.)

More Music: neo-traditionalism and Tassa. By far the most comprehensive discussion of Indo-Trinidadian music was Peter Manuel’s presentation, which focused more on the evidence of traditional Bhojpuri musical forms in Indo-Trinidadian musical culture than on the newer, hybrid Chutney Soca genre.

Manuel pointed out that you can find Trinidadians who still practice very traditional Bhojpuri folk forms, such as “Chautal” and “Birha”.

He also had some interesting comments on the style of drumming called Tassa – that is prevalent in Trinidad but not so common in India itself. Manuel seemed to suggest that in Trinidad that Tassa drumming has become something more complex and “virtuosic” than it is anywhere in India.
Manuel has produced a documentary called “Tassa Thunder,” which is excerpted on YouTube here:

Language. There’s a fair amount of Hindi in Chutney soca music, mostly derived from Hindi film songs, but it seems the vast majority of Indo-Trinidadians have lost access to Bhojpuri or Hindi. Hindi has been introduced in many Trinidadian public schools, but it’s not clear whether that will lead to a substantive increase in the number of functional Hindi speakers in Trinidad.
It was curious at first to hear the Pujari at the Mandir at Waterloo doing interpretation in English (in between hymns sung in Hindi). But of course it makes perfect sense – and it probably won’t be long before we start seeing Hindu and Sikh services that resemble this approach in the U.S.

Jhandis. One of the things you notice around Trinidad are the “jhande” – little colored flags. (Trinidadians call them Jhandis.) There is of course a tradition of using Jhande at specifically Hanuman mandirs in India, but in Trinidad (and other parts of the Indo-Caribbean world), the “jhandi “ has become much more widespread than that –- many Hindu households use them to mark their houses at the font gate.

Jhandi flags

Off to Trinidad

I am going to Trinidad next week with family. The ostensible reason is to attend, and present, at a conference at UWI on Global South Asian Diasporas (see the conference program here).

But I am also very much looking forward to exploring in person an island that has figured large in my thinking for years (largely because of V.S. Naipaul). I feel I already know Trinidad, but what I know is a series of representations and abstractions; I am looking forward to replacing those abstractions with at least a brief glimpse of the reality.

Apropos of the trip, I am posting a chapter of my 2006 book, Literary Secularism, online in case anyone wants to have a look at it: here.

The chapter is first and foremost on Naipaul's evolving relationship to religious communalism in India; I am perhaps predictably critical of his extremist statements, though I find that they are quite different from the more even-handed tone of Naipaul's earlier writing (where he was critical of all forms of religious or ideological fanaticism).

Naipaul has had an outsize influence on subsequent generations of postcolonial writers and critics, especially South Asian diasporic writers. In the second half of the chapter then, I look at how Amitav Ghosh and Amitava Kumar, both of whom are self-consciously Naipaulian in their approach to mixed-genre travel writing, have critiqued Naipaul's posture of detachment regarding specifically religious fanaticism. Both writers have written movingly about the difficulty in standing up to religious extremism at different historical moments (Ghosh, during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, and Kumar, in response to Ayodhya and the riots that followed in 1992).

Finally, I return to Naipaul's own early autobiographical writings, which reflect a highly anxious, even tortured personal relationship to his family's religious practices. My larger argument is that Naipaul's posture of secular, writerly detachment is an attempt to counter a version of religious experience and identity, inherited from his father, that threatens to fundamentally undermine his sense of personhood.

A long time ago I also posted chapter one of Literary Secularism as an HTML file. You can read that here.

In Delhi, at the Library

For the past few days I've been ensconced in south Delhi, mainly visiting the city's research libraries as well as friends and family. It's winter in Delhi, which basically means the high is about 70 degrees F in the daytime -- and still quite sunny. In short, quite a pleasant change after Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, where the high was just about the freezing mark.

I was able to spend a fair number of hours at three different libraries in the city, the library at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), the Sahitya Akademi library, and the Nehru Memorial Library (NML). This is just a brief report on what I found there, in case anyone is interested in visiting India for their own research.

First off, I should say that doing library research in Delhi is not actually that hard if you're coming from outside India. The main libraries are all housed in stately South Delhi, full of wide boulevards, government buildings, and Mughal-era tourist attractions (like Humayun's Tomb, Safdarjung, and Khan-e-Khanan). You are not in the busy markets (though there are plenty of markets and malls not far away), nor are you in amidst the throngs of humanity in Old Delhi or Connaught Place.

The second thing to know is that online/electronic search only takes you so far at these libraries, at least as of the present moment. You need to go and browse the stacks and actually talk to librarians in all cases to find out about the collections. In all three libraries I found that books also weren't resehelved especially carefully -- you sometimes have to poke around adjoining shelves and really look if you want to find particular things.

At JNU library, there was a nominal security presence, but I just said I was coming from a university in the U.S. and the guard let me in. The central library building is housed in a rather formidable 10 story structure.  As far as I could tell, the building does not have climate control, so the windows are kept open throughout the stacks (presumably year-round?). This means that the books are all quite dusty, and in various states of degradation. The collection is large, but the literature stacks are pretty spotty (the social sciences stacks actually looked much more impressive). I also couldn't find any of the old Hindi and English-language periodicals I was looking for in the stacks, so I asked the periodicals librarian. She sent me to one 'deputy', who then called on another, and they opened up a huge locked (!) room full of decaying bound periodicals, which as far as I could see were not actually "organized." After about 20 minutes of sleuthing, the three of us found a few volumes of one of the journals I wanted ("Indian Literature"), but at this point the Deputy apologetically told me that if I really wanted to do research on literature I should go to another library, such as the Sahitya Akademi.

As a side note, the JNU campus is an interesting place to visit. The university is known as a hub for the Indian left, and you see evidence of this in spades, as huge murals painted by the various left-leaning student parties have pride of place on many campus buildings. (I do not think many American colleges would allow this level of student club dominance.) You see much shrill denunciation of U.S. Imperialism, religious Communalism, as well as the policies of the center-left Congress Party currently in power. I briefly visited some of the bookstalls outside the library, and found one eager bookseller who was full of gossip about former JNU professors who now have posh teaching appointments in the U.S.

I followed the JNU Deputy Librarian's advice, and the next day went to the Sahitya Akademi library at Rabindra Bhawan. Here I found a collection much better maintained, with really extensive (virtually unparalleled) collections of literature in Indian languages. The materials related to English were perhaps less extensive, but still had quite a bit that I found helpful. I also found some great stuff in the Sahitya Akademi's collections of manuscripts from the Akademi's own prestigious International Seminars, including a talk by Aijaz Ahmad ("Times of the Modern") from 1996, that I think has never been formally published.

Finally, I was able to visit the Nehru Memorial Library at Teen Murti Bhawan. Here the star of the collection is clearly the material (in History, Political Science, and Economics) related to modern Indian history (starting with five extensive shelves marked "Gandhiana"). Also outstanding is the collection of old newspapers on microfilm. I did spend a few hours looking through some of these -- as far as I know, British Indian newspapers like the Civil and Military Gazette (from Lahore) or The Statesman (Calcutta) are not available like this at American university libraries. I will have to come back here and stay longer (for maybe two or three weeks) to do more digging for a certain side-project I want to do at some point.

Literature is somewhat besides the point at NML, but again I did find some helpful material for my project. My one warning for visitors from abroad is to make sure to get a "letter of reference" from your supervisor or chair. In this case the Librarian (who was very much not a Deputy) gave me a hard time about not having such a letter before letting me in anyway. (I would expect that you would want the letter on stationary -- I'm not sure that a printed-out email would suffice.)

At all three libraries I visited, the photocopying works like this: you give your materials to a man at the photocopy center for copying, and he does it for you. The rates are either 50 paisa or 1 Rupee (1 cent or 2 cents) per page. At first I found it a little odd -- for me, photocopying has always been one of the necessary miseries of library research -- but the nice thing about the arrangement is that it gives you a little more time to stay focused on your work. On this brief trip, having a few minutes more to explore the library was appreciated.

Another thing: you might want to pack a lunch if you are visiting these places -- no in-library cafes.

Now -- on to see family in Punjab and Himachal Pradesh.

Changing Blog Host:

Hi folks,

As you've already seen, I've not been blogging actively much over the last few months. It's a mix of being busy and also not feeling the pull in the same way I once did.

Blogger, the service I've used to publish this blog from the beginning, has recently announced that they're discontinuing FTP support for Blogger in the next few weeks. That means I won't be able to have this blog hosted at my Lehigh webspace while also using their service. The stated reason is that FTP and SFTP create a large number of technical problems -- which rings true, since I've never quite been able to get Blogger to update my blog templates right.

It turns out it's fairly easy to move Blogger-based blogs to a custom domain name hosted by Google. I used to own, but I let it go, and now some parasite company owns the domain.

As a result, for now I'm going to be using WWW.ELECTROSTANI.COM, which is also my Twitter name. The entire blog should already be available there, though most of the links will point back to posts at Lehigh. All new posts will appear there.

Please update your bookmarks.

Nose-Piercing, Utah, and a Big Oops (Not Mine) [Updated]

On Thursday, I spoke to an AP reporter about a story in Utah last week, expressing some views about a girl in middle school in Utah who got suspended from her school for violating dress code, after getting her nose pierced. She and her family said she did it to get in touch with her Indian cultural identity -- she had the piercing done on Diwali just a couple of weeks ago. The school, however, had a strict "ear pierces only" policy, and was only willing to allow her to have a "transparent" stud in her nose, not the more obviously Indian nose ring she wore to school initially.

Here is the AP story that resulted. It's been printed in a fair number of newspapers around the country. The reporter quotes Abhi (from Sepia Mutiny), Sandhya (also from Sepia Mutiny), and myself. But something goes wrong here:

"I wanted to feel more closer to my family in India because I really love my family," said Suzannah, who was born in Bountiful. Her father was born in India as a member of the Sikh religion.

"I just thought it would be OK to let her embrace her heritage and her culture," said Suzannah's mother, Shirley Pabla, a Mormon born in nearby Salt Lake City. "I didn't know it would be such a big deal."

It shouldn't have been, said Suzannah's father, Amardeep Singh, a Sikh who was raised in the United States and works as an English professor at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. "It's true that the nose ring is mainly a cultural thing for most Indians," Singh said. "Even if it is just culture, culture matters. And her right to express or explore it seems to me at least as important as her right to express her religious identity." (link)

Um, wait a minute. Did I read that right? Take a look at it again: "...said Suzannah's father, Amardeep Singh, a Sikh who was raised in the United States..."

[UPDATED: The error has been corrected in the online version of this article.]

This is a really bizarre and unfortunate error. Just to be clear, I have one kid, and he's three years old. I am annoyed on my own behalf, but I also feel bad for the Pablas. (Suzannah has a dad, who is a practicing Sikh. It just so happens that most of the coverage of this story in the local Utah newspapers doesn't mention his name: see the Salt Lake Tribune, for example)

When I spoke to the reporter who authored this story, he was 100% clear that I was in no way related to the Pablas. Somewhere between that conversation and the story that has now run in 200+ newspapers around the country, that important fact fell out. I don't know who's responsible for the error -- it appears it's an editor who might have come up with this.

In the end, it's not really that big a deal; the only people who will really think anything is amiss are people who know the Pablas and people who know me. Still, maybe the moral here is to JUST SAY NO when reporters call you for a quote for a story that doesn't really involve you directly.

If there is a bright side of this, it's that I got to be photographed by a professional photographer: here.

New and Forthcoming Publications

I was happy to see that an essay I wrote for the journal Symploke recently became available via Project Muse:

“Anonymity, Authorship, and Blogger Ethics.”

[If anyone who doesn't have access to Project Muse would like me to send you a copy, please let me know by email; I would be happy to send it to you.]

This was something I actually wrote more than two years ago, not long after a series of panels at MLA related to blogging and public intellectual activity. The paper actually began as an MLA presentation, for a panel with Michael Berube and Rita Felski, in December 2006. In the essay, I bring together literary theory relating to authorship (Barthes, Foucault, and critiques of French theory by scholars like Sean Burke), with context from literary history (the 18th century broadsheet as a predecssor to blogging as a genre), in order think about how the possibility of universal, instantaneous publishability is changing ideas of authorship (not destroying it, but changing it).

I was happy to see that it appears that a student at West Virginia University is already using the article in a paper she's writing: here. (It's part of this course)

I have some other publications coming out soon as well:

"Veiled Strangers: Rabindranath Tagore’s America, in Letters and Lectures." Forthcoming from Journeys: The International Journal of Travel & Travel Writing, 10:1, 2009.

"Animating a Postmodern Ramayana: Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues" Forthcoming from South Asian Review, 2010.

"More than 'Priestly Mumbo-Jumbo': Religion and Authorship in All About H. Hatterr." Forthcoming from Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 2009.

Of those, the Desani article was the most difficult to write; it actually had its start as a blog post I wrote all the way back in 2005. I had submitted it for publication in 2007, only to receive a "revise and resubmit" that seemed very challenging at the time. For various reasons, between 2007 and summer 2009 the paper was simply in limbo. I attacked it again this summer, and sent it off, this time successfully. The version that will be published is much shorter than the original version. Some of the materials I referred to, such as Desani's columns for The Illustrated Weekly in the 1960s, are not easily accessible, and I'm toying with the idea of having them scanned and OCRed for the web.

The Tagore essay goes back even further. It had its seeds in the very first blog post I wrote for Sepia Mutiny, back in 2005. I had given versions of it (in a more scholarly vein, of course) as a talk a couple of times. When the invitation came to send it to "Journeys," I was happy to finally finish it.

Finally, the essay on Nina Paley and the Ramayana was written quickly this past summer, almost on a lark. It brings together scholarship on the diversity of the Ramayana tradition (especially in the two important Paula Richman anthologies) with Nina Paley's animated, postmodern appropriation of the narrative.

In other news, the project I have been doing on Mira Nair is approaching completion; I'm hoping to send off the manuscript this fall. I'm also presenting a paper on the Hindi writer Nirmal Verma at the upcoming Modernist Studies Association Conference in Montreal (early November). Finally, I'm presenting at the MLA Convention in Philadelphia at the end of December (a paper on the "open letter" as a literary genre in the era of globalization -- from Sa'adat Hasan Manto to Mohsin Hamid and Aravind Adiga).

"Imagining South Asia" Special Issue Now Available

A long time ago, Prof. Kavita Daiya and I started working on a special issue of the journal South Asian Review, with the topic "Imagining South Asia." After several delays, the issue is finally out. Hopefully the cover should give you some idea of what we were after in the issue:

The source of the image is here.

Here is the table of contents:

Fakrul Alam: "Imagining South Asian Writing in English From Bangladesh"

Savitri Ashok, "Battering Ram, Bruised Nation: Postcolonial Nationalism and the Forsaken Promise of Secularism"

Rajini Srikanth, "South Asia and the Challenge of Intimacy in the Global War on Terror"

Alexandra Schultheis, "Reading tibet: Area Studies, Postcoloniality, and the Politics of Human rights"

Bidhan Roy, "From Brick Lane to Bradford: Contemporary Literature and the Production of Asian Identity in Britain"

Lavina Shankar and Rajini Srikanth, "From Multan to Maine: A Conversation with Ved Mehta"

Henry Schwarz, "Resolution, Revolution, Reaction: Reimagining Conflict Transformation Through Art"

Makarand Paranjape, "Imagining India: Aurobindo, Ambedkar, and After"

Kailash Baral, "Identity and Cultural Aporia: Globalization and the Tribes of Northeast India"

Amardeep Singh, "Names Can Wait: Misnaming the South Asian Diaspora in Theory and Practice"

I am putting my own essay online as a PDF if anyone is interested, here. (Needless to say, I would love to hear feedback on the essay if anyone has the time to read it.)

Also, if any of the contributors would like their essays also available online, please let me know.

You can order just the special issue by sending $15 (payable to South Asian Review) to the office of the editor, Professor Kamal Verma, at the University of Pittsburgh. The address to send it to is at this page. For just a few dollars more, you can get an annual individual subscription.

Hello from Delhi (and Dehra Dun, and Chandigarh)

We'll be returning to Goa in a day or two, but meanwhile there was some family visiting to attend to in the north.

First up, Delhi. My dominant impression of Delhi this time around is of seeing construction everywhere for new Delhi Metro stations. In a couple of years (when Delhi hosts the Commonwealth Games), I'm sure it will all be wonderful, but right now it adds to the traffic headache. That said, I was impressed by the new domestic airport terminal (the old one was hopelessly insufficient), and by what I took to be preliminary attempts at revamping the central train station.

We were happy to get to meet Jai Arjun Singh at a Crossword book store (Jai, thanks for waiting for us) in Saket, south
Delhi. The bookstore was in a massive, opulent new mall called "Citywalk Select," which has designer boutiques everywhere (Indian, European, and American), and the general feel of the massive King of Prussia mall near our house in suburban Philadelphia. It was certainly surreal, after seeing continuing signs of poverty elsewhere in the city, and Samian wondered how there could be enough Delhi-ites who can afford to pay $500 for Kate Spade purses to support these stores. Also surreal in such a place was the presence of the writer Ruskin Bond, who I think of as an R.K. Narayan-type writer (simple, elegant, and compelling storytelling), not someone you would ever expect to see in this kind of place. In this case, he was doing a book-signing at the bookstore, which was surprisingly packed.

When you're traveling with a two-year old, you don't get to read quite as much as when you're either alone or with other grown-ups. Still, I've been reading bits and pieces of Carlo Levi's Essays on Delhi here and there, and I thought some passages from his essay "The Invisible Capital" (1957) might be of interest:

The city of New Delhi appears, as you drop suddenly down towards it out of the sky, as something unreal and abstract, an immense placeless space, a utopian place. It doesn't really seem like a city; there is no centre, no cluster of houses, only a vast expanse crisscrossed by immensely broad boulevards that seem to stretch out endlessly into the distance, and dotted here and there by monumental buildings, isolated in the greenery. Much as in the shapeless, amoeboid city of Los Angeles, the distances are so vast that you can only move around by car (this modern conveyance that ensures medieval isolation). It is also reminiscent of Washington, with its plan of an administrative capital, silent and reserved; to an even greater degree, it is reminiscent of London, in the attempt to blend a sense of power with a yearning for the earthly paradise prior to the original sin.

I think the comparison to Washington is probably the most apt (I don't see the comparisons to London or Los Angeles at all). More from Carlo Levi on Delhi below:

Construction began here in 1911, in the last few years of a wold that promised eternal progress and security, and New Delhi remains -- as if it were somehow separate from living reality -- as a perfect document of that time and that empire, of its rationale and the principles upon which it was founded. It is, first and foremost, a magnificent monument to an immense empire, the embodiment of an act of detached, prideful will, a will that celebrated and affirmed itself as eternal by projecting itself into the future. But this power chose not to touch, or roil, or modify nature: rather, it seemed to prefer to identify itself with a nature that existed before time itself, a paradisiacal nature, with an absolute naturalistic utopia . . . In this paradise of the viceroys, the detachment is absolute: remote from the real inhabitants, from life itself, and from all of life's muddled heat, pain, and movement. Everything matches a rigorous hierarchy of reason, a precise, age-old, meticulous ceremony.

The above seems like the point of view of someone who came to Delhi and spent a lot of time in government buildings. From the other point of view, one could say that it's those massive government structures that are detached; the rest of the city, even caked by dust and choked by suspended particulate matter, is very much alive.

One more paragraph from Carlo Levi:

In this gigantic hidey-hole, it is possible to avoid being seen, like gods, and to see nothing. Even today a foreigner who lives in a large hotel or a government building can entirely ignore the country in which he or she lives. Soviet writers, who scrupulously attend, with their interpreters, the sessions of the pan-Asiatic congress (the reason for my journey here), with the paternal grandeur and quasi-British detachment (though instead of whiskey they brought with them Armenian cognac), have waited a full week for the sessions to end before taking their first glances at India. It is possible to stay in New Delhi and see nothing, understand nothing: but it is not easy, because the other reality (to which the sole concessions are stylistic: the Mughal architecture of the viceroy's house and other buildings) filters through everywhere unstoppably, just as the tendrils of plant life work their way into the cracks in an old abandoned wall. The vast English lawns have become, through some unknown alchemy, though still bright green and perfectly trimmed, part of an Indian countryside. All that is needed is a woman washing her sari in front of the India Gate, or a begggar lying careless on the grass: all it takes is the trees, and the orange light of sunset.

Though it's now somewhat dated, and certainly bound up with Levi's particular experience of Delhi as an "official" visitor, much of what he says here seems to me to still apply.

A few more travel notes...

We went to attend a wedding in Dehra Dun, and were staying at a guest
house near the Doon School, the English-medium private school that has educated a shocking number of contemporary Indian writers. On a free afternoon, we walked over to the front gate, and tried negotiating with the rather imposing security team about seeing the campus, but no dice. (Samian made up some story about how we have a friend in America who went there, but it didn't fly.) We were left admiring the lush campus from outside the eight-foot walls, and walked back to our guest house, past local women carrying gigantic loads of felled tree branches on their heads. (Perhaps we saw enough.)

Meanwhile, the town of Dehra Dun is choked with traffic, and the streams that run through are heavily littered with trash and heaps of used plastic bags. (The government knows it's a problem. In several states we've passed through, we've seen state propaganda against the use of plastic bags: "We, the citizens of Uttarakhand, pledge not to use Plastic Bags." I don't know if it's working.)

The drive from Dehra Dun to Chandigarh was particularly scenic, though the views were marred by the fog (smog) that hangs heavily over much of northern India at this time of year. Our driver had some colorful stories, one about a place called Kala Amb (black mango), where, legend has it, there was a special tree that had a branch that only grew black mangoes. For years, the Panchayat of that town conducted its business near the tree, and whenever someone was to be hanged, they were hanged on the black mango branch.

Another intriguing story our driver told us was about the road from Dehra Dun to Rishikesh, where, according to him, wild elephants sometimes like to come out and sleep on the roads at night. You have to go around them, and not trouble them too much, lest they decide to uproot a tree, and smash your car with it. He said there was one particular case of a deranged elephant, who had been exiled from his herd, who went on a rampage and killed quite a number of people in this way (I have no idea if this is even remotely plausible, but it's an intriguing idea: the alienated, sociopathic elephant.)

That's "Associate Professor" To You

For the past few weeks there was a glitch in my Blogger FTP settings, which prevented me from putting up new posts here (though I have still been putting things up at Sepia Mutiny on occasion). I finally fixed the problem this afternoon, which means I can start posting a bit again.

One nice announcement -- I was formally granted tenure at Lehigh this year, ending the long uncertainty that every academic has to deal with.

How does it feel? Well, it feels good, though there is suddenly more administrative work and committee work to deal with.

The idea of tenure is, you're supposed to use the academic freedom you've earned to do serious and original research without worrying about your job prospects. You can spend ten years researching a monumental project, if you want. Or, you can go off and write a novel instead of doing criticism. You can become a hard core academic blogger, bypassing traditional publishing venues. You can even, in theory, do nothing at all, though that would be a waste.

In my case, I am in the middle of a short book-length project on Mira Nair that I am supposed to finish in the next few months. I am also nearly done with at least three separate articles, on 1) Tagore's Travel Writing, 2) Sa'adat Hasan Manto, and 3) a revised version of the "Secular Sikh Writers" essay I mentioned back in April. I'm also still sitting on an only partially revised essay on G.V. Desani, which was actually written nearly two years ago.

So -- a lot to get done before I "go off and write my novel."

Upcoming Talk at U-Penn

I am mining some of my experiences at Sepia Mutiny in a talk for the Asian American Studies program at U-Penn this coming week. If any readers are in the area, it would be nice to see you.

Asian American Studies Program
University of Pennsylvania

Amardeep Singh

Identity Politics and Diasporic Pragmatism: Debating South Asia in Online Communities

Date: Thursday, September 18, 2009
Time: 4:30 - 5:30 pm
Place: Grad Ed Bldg 203

The concept of a pan-South Asian identity has been of only limited success as a regional marker within the Indian subcontinent, but it has emerged as a widely-used, if still controversial term in the South Asian diaspora. Conceptual debates over the term have occurred in academia, as part of ongoing debates about interdisciplinarity and "Area Studies," as we see in arguments by Vijay Prashad, Nicholas Dirks, and others. Versions of these debates have also been circulating outside of academia, in online South Asia-oriented forums such as, and on the weblog This talk explores the ways in which debates in these online environments parallel academic debates, and in some cases challenge social theorists to reconsider their approach to terminology surrounding ethnic identity, geopolitical regionalism, and transnational political affiliation.

Desis Vote (And, Tooting My Own Horn)

SAMAR Magazine has a new issue up on its website on elections -- both within South Asia and here in the U.S. They have essays on the recent election in Gujarat, the Parliamentary elections in Pakistan, the upcoming elections in Nepal, a piece by an SAFO member, and a piece on the Desi vote in New York. There's also a short essay by myself, on "Skinny Candidates With Funny Names," which brings together points made in several of blog posts on Barack Obama and Bobby Jindal. In the piece I make reference to some Sepia Mutiny comment threads, and I actually quote directly from commenter Neal.

My own piece aside, I would recommend people start with the piece by Ali Najmi on the Desi vote in New York. It's informative, for one thing, and Najmi makes reference to a new organization called Desis Vote, which aims to mobilize participation in the South Asian community.

I would also recommend the piece by Luna Ranjit on the upcoming elections in Nepal. Ranjit explains why the planned elections last year were postponed, and explains why the upcoming elections will be historic for Nepal. In addition to addressing the Maoist question, she talks about some of Nepal's ethnic/tribal problems, with groups such as the Terai.

Writing Deadlines

Hi folks, I have been on a bit of a hiatus to meet some writing deadlines. Hopefully I will be back blogging somewhat regularly next week.

I find that whenever I'm finishing difficult projects -- going all the way back to my dissertation days, in 1999-2000 -- I end up listening to one particular song by Everything But The Girl. It's not a conscious thing; I just seem to always find it in my MP3 collection at the right moment:

Somehow the song always does the trick. (I don't know how I feel about the video, which I only watched for the first time just now).

1,000,000 Visitors

Sometime last night, my SiteMeter recorded my millionth visitor.

It's been nearly four years now since I started this blog (March 2004), so in fact that isn't all that impressive (blogs with larger numbers of readers might record the same number in much less time). But it is still a bit of a landmark, and maybe an opportunity for a little self-reflection.

Writing this blog has had a rather large impact on my life, mostly in positive ways. It's certainly been an asset professionally -- I meet quite a number of people at conferences who say, "oh, you're the Amardeep Singh whose blog I randomly came across when I googled [X subject]." Especially amongst people who are in my sub-field, the blog has become a kind of calling card (mostly because of Google, I find; the number of regular readers remains somewhat limited). It isn't magic, of course -- nowhere near as good as publishing, say, a really influential essay or a widely read academic book -- but it is sometimes nice to find that people know who you are.

There's also been the occasional media moment, though in the end getting quoted by a newspaper or two doesn't really make that much difference one way or the other (newspaper articles are quickly forgotten).

Perhaps most importantly, some of my longer blog posts have been the starting points for serious scholarly projects (including a couple of things I'm working on right now). Blogging has been a really effective testing ground for ideas, and a place to (publicly) jot down notes on an author or idea that could be developed into something more substantial later. It's also been good way to stave off intellectual stagnation: since I started doing this kind of writing, my sense of what might be worth writing about in a serious way has expanded quite a bit -- I've become much less "specialized," and much more prone to humor my broad, wandering curiosity. (I have always been more the kind of person who likes to know something about a large number of subjects than the other way around, which is probably why I've found blogging such a congenial medium.)

I've made a lot of friends through blogging, sometimes with people I've ended up getting to know in person, and sometimes with people who, because they're far away, I haven't yet met face to face. (One day I'd like to do a grand tour, and go and meet in person all the people I've corresponded with over the years via blogging... it would be quite a trip!)

I do sometimes regret that the blog isn't quite as dynamic or personal as it was during the first two years I was writing. For one thing, I simply have less time to blog than I used to. Having a baby means that your evenings and weekends are mostly computer-free, meaning that you really have to get everything (including "real" work and blog writing) done before 6pm on Friday afternoon. Another big culprit for that shift has admittedly been my participation in Sepia Mutiny, which has very active comment boards that tend to suck up attention.

That said, I'm fairly satisfied with the general direction I've followed with this blog, and not worried if the readership is no longer expanding by leaps and bounds. I'm now pretty comfortable doing what I'm doing here, and not particularly pressed to rustle up new readers. I've also said a lot of what I have to say on some glaring issues (like, say, communalism in India) and, after having debated back and forth with people on hot-button topics over months and years, I'm not in a big rush to re-open certain old debates out of the blue, unless something controversial occurs. (When it does, be assured that I will be there, if I have something to say about it...)

Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, or sent me feedback over the years.
I hope you stay with me through 2008, too; I'm not going anywhere.

Learning Urdu, Visiting Chicago (MLA/SALA)

For the past three days I was in Chicago, at the South Asian Literature Association conference and then MLA.

At the SALA conference (Narayan, I know, is chuckling every time I use that acronym!), I was presenting on Sa'adat Hasan Manto's "Letters to Uncle Sam" ("Chacha Sam Ke Nam-Ek Khat," Doosra Khat, etc.). Though I was mainly working with Khalid Hasan's translation, I didn't want it to be one of those papers about a writer that fails to look at the original text -- but to do that in Manto's case one needs to be able to read Urdu!

Therefore, I actually spent a couple of days early this week re-learning Urdu script. I had been taught it briefly in a Hindi class in college fifteen years ago, but since then I'd completely forgotten it. It turns out that one can (re)learn a script with a little work and (in Urdu's case) a lot of concentration. Luckily, Manto's particular vocabulary and style of writing seems to be fairly close to Hindustani, so I was actually able to make some use of the original text in the paper. I will have to do much more work with it if I want to publish the paper, though. (Incidentally, the seeds of the paper were planted in this blog post from last year. The academic paper is much more argument-driven and less informal, of course)

This time I'm going to keep practicing reading Urdu every so often (perhaps using the Urdu short stories at the excellent Annual of Urdu Studies journal as fodder), so hopefully I won't forget. If anyone wants to read along with me -- or indeed, help me out! -- please let me know by email or in comments. (I might take a stab at translating this short poem (PDF) next week.)

* * *

The conferences went fine on the whole. I missed Raji Sunder Rajan's keynote and the Hawley/Krishnaswamy plenary at SALA due to a professional appointment I had at the larger MLA conference, but on the whole it's nice to see SALA improve a little every year -- there were some great papers presented this year. Unfortunately, the audiences at some panels are still too small; it seems like very few people come to SALA just to hear papers, and that's too bad.

I also had a decent time at MLA, seeing a few panels, and also catching up with a number of grad school friends. Good luck to everyone on the job market, and congratulations to Candice on her book.

* * *

Wednesday night I got away from the conferences and went to the Indo-Pak shops and restaurants on Devon Avenue, which is Chicago's equivalent of New Jersey's Oak Tree Road (Iselin/Edison) or Jackson Heights, Queens. It happened to be the night Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated, and the restaurant where I ate (Zam Zam) was buzzing with talk about it -- not all of it intelligent, unfortunately. I overheard one Pakistani 'uncle' sarcastically telling his friends that he thought Benazir's death was effectively a kind of suicide (khudkushi), so what's the big deal, why get upset? ... sad.

* * *

On Friday, Sepoy braved heavy snow and drove into central Chicago to meet up for lunch. We went to a "Cabbie" restaurant called Kababish, where they serve *really* authentic, homestyle desi khana. (It's so homestyle, there aren't even menus -- you just tell them what you want!) Naturally, we discussed the situation in Pakistan (for analysis and links, you should really go to Sepoy's Chapati Mystery blog; as I've been traveling, I haven't really been keeping up)

Quoted Briefly in the Washington Post (more Jindal)

This time, I'm proud to have contributed some thoughts to what I think is a really well done piece on the Indian community's reaction to Bobby Jindal in the Washington Post:

Whatever their views, "absolutely everybody is talking about this," said Amardeep Singh, an English professor at Lehigh University and a contributor to Sepia Mutiny, one of several blogs serving South Asians that hosted discussions on the topic last week.

"It's a soul-searching moment because it raises all these questions about identity and the kind of public profile that Indian Americans have to cut in order to succeed in American life," Singh said.

As for himself, Singh, 33, who was born in New York and raised in Washington's Maryland suburbs, confessed to deep ambivalence. As someone who tried to fit in during college by taking the nickname Deep but who has since tried to resurrect his given first name, Singh is pained that the first Indian American to win a governorship did so using the name Bobby. But Singh is also certain that Louisiana voters were under no illusions about Jindal's ancestry. (link)

She also has some great quotes from our blog-friend Maitri.

One small clarification I should have made to Ms. Aizenman -- a lot of people still call me 'Deep'. But I'm 'Amardeep' in public and in print.

I talked about some of these naming issues in a short essay I wrote awhile ago (before the blog) on naming in Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. (Note to self: expand that piece & turn it into something publishable already!)

Briefly Quoted in "Outlook" (regarding Jindal)

There's a brief quote from me in the Indian news magazine Outlook, regarding Governor-elect Bobby Jindal:

"But Bobby is a conservative Republican, and most Indian Americans aren't, so there are a lot of mixed feelings about him," says Toby Chaudhuri, IALI spokesman. "It is hard to accept him when you scratch the surface. He has proved Indian Americans can achieve great things, but he doesn't represent our community." The ambivalence over Jindal was evident from comments posted on blogs including, which is devoted to the South Asian diaspora. Prof Amardeep Singh of Lehigh University, near Philadelphia, monitored responses to his post on Jindal's victory. Most people recognise its significance, but worry about the role of religion in Jindal's campaign, his name change, and his poor connect with the Black community in Louisiana. Only conservative Indians are enthusiastic about Jindal; the liberals are either apathetic or hostile. "If I was in Louisiana, I wouldn't vote for him," says Singh. "I disagree with him too strongly."(link)

Oh well. What's funny about being misquoted in this particular instance is that it wasn't even a spoken quote to begin with -- the reporter was simply quoting my blog post on Jindal from last week! (I actually wrote "If I lived in Louisiana," and obviously I didn't make that particular grammatical error.)

My Essay in Minnesota Review: "Republics of the Imagination"

I have an essay in the latest Minnesota Review. The journal has posted the entire issue online, not behind a subscription firewall (Why don't more journals do this?). There's also an interview with Noam Chomsky, and an essay by Lennard Davis on Edward Said.

My essay is here; it was originally called "Republics of the Imagination: Afghan and Iranian Expatriate Writers," before being shortened (de-colonified?) to the less bulky "Republics of the Imagination." It incorporates some of the material I've used in talks on The Kite Runner at various colleges and universities over the past couple of years. It also contains a defense of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I think is a compelling and important book, that weaves together of memoir and literary criticism in some very original ways (it is also not at all some kind of pro-American sell-out, as some detractors have tried to suggest). Finally, I speculate on the fact that so many of the narratives coming out of both Iran and Afghanistan have been prose memoirs, not novels or poetry.

You might also check out the interview with the Iranian novelist Farnoosh Moshiri, one of the writers I talk about in the essay.

Any feedback?

Four Talks in Three Days: North Carolina, New Hampshire

This was a busy week for me, as I did four talks in three days, over the course of visits to two different campuses, Catawba College and St. Anselm College.

The first visit was to Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. Salisbury is a little town north of Charlotte, and Catawba is a small college with about 1200 students. It’s always nice to visit North Carolina in March, as the trees are already blossoming into life.

The main event was a talk on The Kite Runner, theoretically for the entire first-year class at the college. They put me up at an imposing guest house, which turned out to really be a small mansion decorated in fine southern style.

1. The talk on The Kite Runner is called “The Authenticity of The Kite Runner and the Problem of Cultural Translation.” It is a souped-up version of a general interest talk I’ve been doing at other places over the past year or so. The version I gave in Portland last year was perhaps still a little sketchy; this version was much closer to a fully-baked talk.

The students, generally, seemed to like it. But there's one thing I’ve noticed -- when you give talks about authenticity, even if you’re attacking the popular dependence on the concept of authenticity, people will wonder about your own ‘authenticity’ to speak. And every time I’ve talked about this, I’ve been asked something along the lines of “Are you an Afghan? Why are you doing this talk?”

On the one hand, as a literary critic I don’t feel any qualms whatsoever in saying, “well, I’ve studied it and thought about it, and that’s all the authority I need. Moreover, my point here is that authenticity is a value that readers cling to for the wrong reasons -– and insofar as they do cling to it, they’re probably going to be disappointed.” But even as I say that, I recognize that there is something to the idea that contemporary novelists are at their best when they’re writing about what they know, what they’ve personally lived through. (Interestingly, this wasn’t really true for writers like Dickens or Thackeray; perhaps “realism” has come to be defined in more exacting terms than it used to be.) Even if “authenticity” is a questionable concept for fiction, it is a concept that never entirely goes away. (Though it should still be said that the idea of an author's authenticity and a critic's connection to the subject she or he studies are two separate things.)

Critical authenticity or no, I am planning on rewriting this talk for one final time -- to turn it into a publishable (hopefully) essay –- on Afghan Expatriate Narratives (which will include a discussion of Nelofer Pazira’s book and films, Said Hyder Akbar, Saira Shah, Farah Ahmedi, and perhaps a couple of others).

2. At the same college I guest-lectured in a class on travel narratives, which was also fun. I could talk about my approach to teaching travel narratives at Lehigh, and build toward an argument that at the present moment of globalization it’s possible for writers to scramble the old codes and conventions of colonialist travel writing. As with much postcolonial literature in general, though, even as they aspire towards new forms, the legacy of the old forms is still in view. We’ve perhaps moved past the era of postcolonial revisions of colonialist classics (the Wide Sargasso Sea moment, if you will), but not entirely left it behind. One can’t entirely forget the Joseph Conrads and the Katherine Mayos even as one reads new work by people like Rattawut Lapcharoensap, whose Sightseeing is a form of ‘talking back’ to the conventions of western travel narratives, here with a focus on Thailand’s current status as a kind of sexual tourism destination.

I should also note that I enjoyed chatting with the faculty members I met at Catawba about diverse subjects, from the music Nitin Sawhney composed for the soundtrack of Mira Nair’s Namesake, to Lehigh’s famous advocate of Intelligent Design, Michael Behe. Despite the presence of superstar figures in the International Relations department and a top-ranked engineering college, the name most strongly associated with Lehigh –- especially down in Billy Graham country –- is still Dr. Behe’s.

3. On Friday morning I got on another plane and headed to St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire -– a state where the trees are still deep in winter mode, but the political season is fully in bloom. Here the college had arranged with a car service to take me to and from the college and a local hotel. And without exception, every driver I talked to had strong opinions on national politics, as well as specific political candidates. The college itself is also a bit of a political wonk’s paradise, which fairly regularly hosts debates amongst presidential candidates during the primaries. John Edwards, apparently, had come through last year, and in the same building where I gave my talk on Saturday morning (the New Hampshire Institute of Politics -– which has its own, in-house television studio), the New Hampshire Democratic Party was holding an internal election to determine its new leadership. Nearly every faculty member I talked to knew the names of the candidates for the internal leadership of the state Democratic Party. It’s a far cry from a state like Pennsylvania, where only hardcore wonks would really know the ins and outs of a political party’s internal structure.

Again, the main event was a talk on The Kite Runner, this time for a group of about 25 faculty members. Strangely, the talk I gave to first-year students, with only a few adjustments, seemed to work just as well for faculty. (Though it helped considerably that the faculty members were from a number of different disciplines –- everything from chemistry to theology to criminal justice. A talk just for the English Department would have needed to be entirely re-written.)

4. I also guest-lectured in a first-year composition class at St. Anselm. Here I was asked to talk about Sikhism, beginning with the early period, and including a perspective on the Sikh experience in the U.S., up to and after 9/11. And, since this talk was sponsored by the English department, I was also asked to give a brief discussion of modern, secular Sikh literature -– people like Khushwant Singh, Shauna Singh Baldwin, Ajeet Cour, and Kartar Singh Duggal.

Partly because my training is in literature rather than religion per se, I tend to find it awkward to discuss Sikhism in academic settings. Even simple questions like “what is the significance of the turban?” end up requiring rather complicated, nuanced answers. (The Sikh turban, or dastaar, is a central symbol of Sikhism that isn’t actually named in the Guru Granth Sahib, or the ‘Five Ks’ laid down by Guru Gobind Singh.)


Over the course of these various travels, several of my flights into and out of Philadelphia were delayed -– usually for purely administrative reasons –- and I was struck to find how many passengers around me were ready to recite their various travel horror stories. It seems the plague of delayed flights, long lines, non-working self check-in kiosks, and worst of all, missed connections, has made travel misery a central fact of life for anyone flying into and out of Philadelphia in recent months. The mood of air travel has gotten pretty grim; it makes me extremely glad that I’m not in a field like Consulting, which requires almost constant travel. How long before the hordes of disgruntled passengers start rebelling?


And that’s it -- back to daily life, grading papers and changing diapers.

(Not that I equate the two activities, not in the least…)