Dr. Nita Kumar and Irfana Majumdar are leading us in our academic pursuits. The fact that they are mother and daughter is not particularly relevant, but becomes immediately apparent when they—individually or collectively—light up a room with their radiant warmth and drop-dead smiles. I won’t attempt to capture the depth of the material we’re covering that ranges from Hinduism and Islam, gender and class issues, art, theater and music and, (most importantly from my point of view) to education. You get some idea of the complexity and depth of our curriculum from the schedule I posted.
We couldn’t ask for a better tutor in matters of Indian education than Nita Kumar. She and her late husband formed the school—Nirman or Vidyashram—Southpoint—some years back and have devoted their lives to developing a “post-colonial” model of education. She has convinced me that absent a radical approach to education reform (and a commitment by the government to support this approach) that India’s education will continue to be driven by values, curricula, administrators and teachers who are simply not providing Indian youth with the kinds of knowledge, skills and mindset they need to move beyond the colonial past with its soul-sucking approach to teaching/learning/organizing/energizing. I hope to write more about this before and after I return to the states, however, for the time being I’ll simply report that Carol and I have decided that we will work to try and help secure financial support for expanding the work being done here as well as creating more models like Vidyashram—Southpoint once we return and have more time and energy to devote. We have been discussing working with Nita and Irfana to help draft a strategic plan for the organization and working to set up a 501c3 in the states for the Friends of Nirman.
Two weekends ago we took a “field trip” to Lucknow. It became the students’ new “best experience in India” trip and their only complaint was we didn’t spend enough time there. I encourage you to Google it and learn about the siege of the British Residency during the 1857 “Mutiny” (as the British call it—Indians tend to characterize it as a revolt). We went to the Residency and toured the museum and adjoining ruins. We also met with an NGO whose mission is to work or women’s rights and counter sexual violence. Finally we had a chance to meet Sunil and Nita’s mother and spend a splendid evening in her bungalow.
We have had more than our share of illnesses. Two students spent more than 3 days in a private hospital with acute gastrointestinal distress. (I did not post a picture Carol took of a plaque they proudly display with their ISO 9001 certification—an award granted for quality service—and which I can now say categorically is absolutely worthless). If you truly want to go through the looking glass, spend time in one of these places. The students came out OK, but I’m not sure I can say the same thing for Carol. She basically lived there for the entire time dealing with an unimaginably arcane and inefficient system that tested her brilliant organizational and interpersonal skills. At one time or another, over the past three weeks, every one of the 24 students have had some kind of medical issue but they have forged ahead with their home-stays and projects and classes and field trips, never wavering from their twin objectives of having fun while eating India, problems and all.
Our new Diwali Kurtas made quite a fashion statement. We got different colors to avoid the confusion people have in telling us apart.
A whole bunch of beautiful women with their new Sarees
The crowd noise was so loud we could barely hear each other. Suddenly it grew even louder and the throng started backing into us, causing Carol to fall into me and me to nearly fall to the pavement. We struggled to get our footing and then looked up and there, no more than 2 feet away, was the cause of all the commotion.
Children playing gods
Alex and Rosie with David. David teaches at Columbia and is here at the school to study Indian theatre.
Richie and Thomas heading off to the event
One of Lucknow's rulers. We thought he looked quite postmodern with his pleased look and exposed nipple
Richie and Nita
While in Lucknow, we visited Saajhi Duniya--an NGO which works for women's rights and is especially active in working against violence against women. Pictured are Roop Rekha Verma and her staff of dedicated workers. The students were very impressed with their work.
On day two of our Lucknow visit we toured two ImamBaras. We've seen a number of mosques and Muslim community buildings during our stay--none have impressed me more than these two.