Archives for category: Kerala University students

Nate Sprague:

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Now that I have had some time to relax and recover from the jetlag, I find myself already missing India.  I am still full of excitement from the feelings that I got from the trip, and recounting the story to so many people has helped me solidify my feelings about it more and more.  I still can’t believe that it’s over, the whole two and a half weeks seem to have just flew by.  But all in all, here are my reactions now that I’m back.  India to me is a place that is absolutely loaded with potential – potential to grow, potential to develop, create, and expand, but also huge potential to destroy.  During our time in Kerala we studied many different aspects of the development that has occurred there.  There have been tremendous strides made in social movements (equal pay for similar jobs as in Tata, free health-care for all, free education, etc.) which have made it a truly remarkable place.  However, I also saw many of the tremendous side effects that development, as well as globalization, had on the place at large.  I mentioned the huge levels of pollution in my last blog, and there also seems to be a unanimous turning of the other cheek to these issues.  During one of our group discussions, we recognized that India, being so young in her development, really has the chance to do things right, and to set a global example of how development should be brought about.  I hope that people like the fishermen win their struggle to retain their traditional, sustainable ways of life, and that if development does continue, the four elements of successful development are followed – sustainability, equitability, participation, and transparency.  I have been truly touched by a people so giving, willing to share so much even when so little is had.  Also so intelligent, the students we came in contact with were tremendously dedicated to their studies.  Overall, Kerala was an experience that has changed me for forever.

Arun Zacharaiah:  Submitted Ph.D thesis.Post graduate in History and Education. Postgraduate diploma in Journalism and Counselling/Psychology. Numerous publications. Most recent: Chengannur Riot case 1938-   a warfront in India’s nationalist movement  that overcame the tactics  to divide minority and majority communities.Published in Malayalam by National Book House,which is the first publishing house in India founded and owned by writers (its a writers cooperative – under the cooperative ministry of Kerala. Freelance  researcher, coordinator.

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Hey shall we call this Mission “KFC global,” Kerala Finds Connecticut. I’m sure most might find the analogy (only in sound or pun) little distasteful as anthropologists go for preserving tradition and local values, and you guys are against negative impacts of capitalism and neoliberalism. Not West versus other model but rather mutual cooperation in this connected world to make it a better place than we got it.

First day walking in we met the group. I saw Dr. K in his usual cap, a bearded active guy (Nathan), and the Jr K. Then met Dr. Tom Hazuka and Mrs. Hazuka (Christine), April, and met everyone except tired Mike and Jeremy. What followed was ice-breaking and we discussed the schedule, going over each itinerary item, one at a time as many things in a day Dr K says. Made some phone calls, arranged auto rickshaws and left.

Next day met at 7;30 left for Velayani lake protection. On the way there was some slight confusion as I got a phone call from Biju, of the Aquatic Biology dept, saying he thought his talk was the next day. But he came and we had a boat ride. Collected floating coconuts (first natural souvenir). Intellectual discussion was followed up with philanthrophy-helping the little boy with kidney disorder, of the family who greeted us on shore.

Sorry I didn’t follow the whole interactive process (busy rescheduling on the phone owing to last hour cancellation). Next day we hopped on to Thanal zero waste centre and had a lively discussion with Usha and Jayakumar. Students bought recyled goodies sold at their office. In the afternoon they marched like soldiers and ate like commandos. Then we reached Kerala University to listen and discuss with Reghu, the Kerala encyclopedia director, a compendium of knowledge. The KFC’s behaved maturely in front of a God of Knowledge’ who has the power to give you more knowledge if you show patience on return. Then it was Puthen Malika royal museum (housed in an old royal house within the city – wherein royal family didn’t live long due to a bad omen. Dr. K and I drank tea while the group went on a short trip through Chalai, the oldest market in Trivandrum. We helped you catch a bus and there was rain and you guys realized the importance of wiper blades.

Last day of last year and first day of this was also hectic and meticulously planned and executed . Can we call it some kind of “utilitarian tourism”, i.e. visiting the maximum number of places in a minimal amount of time, and also getting the maximum benefit. Striking balance with touristic needs and local cultural needs, with care taken to maintain ethics.

The day began with environment versus development debate. Both speakers were passionate. Elias George, pro-commercial port lobbyist and Vizhinjam harbor protection group drawn from independent fisherman federation of Kerala; profit versus basic existence. According to Elias George, it was a question of how the new port would help society and people to realize their essential needs or, without the port, the hand-to-mouth existence of many would remain. But the fisherfolk would be directly impacted by the Vizhinjam International Port.  Fisher folk were happy with what they have and can not depend on promises of government, which has not even delivered pure drinking water to all fisher folk on seaside even after 60 years after independence. Both sides presented their arguments. We voted on the argument and in the end the concern for maintaining the cultural conditions of the fishermenthe prevailed over well prepared presentation in international language with real statistics. The independents who abstained from voting said if the fisherfolk had more scientific data, they would have voted for them. Returning from Vizhniam port we had lunch at Ammachiveedu (grandmas house) Thampurans (the  Royal), the second part of the name showing respect to royalty, yet an irony considering the facilities available were housed in a tin roofed shack. Don’t know how many have studied it from a gender empowerment perspective. The owner and “CEO” of the hotel who yells out expletives, is a widow who lost everything. Yet she is running the single room, one fifty square foot restaurant that is also her home at night. Then we had an elephant ride. Bit scary at times. But man conquered the nature / beast or man conquered his fear.

After… a new year party sponsored by Dr K  (kudos to your generosity), Next day shifted to city and had a ciy tour with things explained by Malayinkeezh, a retired ciy editor of leading Malayalam daily. Evening spent at Thozhuvankod devi temple. On the second of Jan the group visited Kerala university and interacted with faculty and students . The discussion of teaching versus lecture method in Kerala university was good. Lauren hit nail on the head with question on Socratic method vs Critical Thinking approach in education.

Dr. K, your ability at initiating discussion was, as usual,electric. But beware not to get small shocks, if you’re not prepared. I feel some Kerala students didn’t expect it.  But as you can see, there are some brave hearts (planted and spontaneous) everywhere (you saw that in the questions from Kerala students. Some would like to work in USA and the other extreme my family and immediate society would find it stressful / disapprove of a girl studying in Delhi or abroad India. Cultural aspects and Johnleia Lambert your observation at this point set up greater meaning that one could relate to. As expected, or was it surprising, to have convergence on issues or financial difference in purchasing power of people in two nations, difference in value systems and accepting it. Hazuka brought it up the homogenization of USA and how masses were misled on the wars. Jeremy, Kristen Frenis talked about being broke as students.

Thoughts on the group: 1) Elora stylish expressive dancing through the corridors of US power. Fastest on and off the elephant; 2) Stephanie-sensitive mind has lots of challenging questions. Queen’s English;  3) Zoila – stong willed. The elephant ride revealed it ; you are child like. 4) Lauren–culturally sensible. Sticks to the command. Very responsible. Always on time; 5) April – soft spoken. Your name shows your blooming nature. Good for anyone near you. Never knew you work full time. Your answers to Dr. K at interaction with Kerala university students were short, quick, and sensible; 6) Kristin- in search of things with a difference. Good communicator.  Good at negotiating Indian roads. Only one who remembered to carry bananas for the elephant; 7) Christine- multi talented. Down to earth. Great entertainer, she knows Indian dance. Adaptive. First to give compliments; 8) Johnleia-strong words flowing to Caribbean music. Cool customer. She is also a rugby player. Went through lots of cultural transformations in her life.  9) Becky – sprightly pecking. At times, she fires unexpected, insightful questions. 10) Raluca – the hardcore academic, excellent manager. The family dance with David and Daavid was very graceful; 11) Daavid – strong-willed little guy. Your smile is electric.  Cool that you shared your biscuits with the elephant. You will be strong like an elephant of the ipad generation; 12) Nathan – Dr K in-making. Not many would believe that you are taekwondo 4th degree black belt. Bundle of energy. Very friendly and funny. He loves freedom in being single. Great style, uppa gangnam style. Wants to bridge gaps and misunderstandings  between cultures -east and west. 13) Teige – baby of the group. Quite courageous to try the curry in grandma’s hotel. Slow to start. But then you get going when the going gets tough. You got some smart dance moves. Would like some partner. 14) Jeremy – big guy with equally big heart. I feel like a rugby ball when I’m in front of you.  Quite a “history” guy. Loves talking history.  You speak slow and clear makes it easier for the listener. Asking short direct statements or questions; 15) Mike – conversant in many things. There’s an entrepreneur in you. Wise like your second name. Tells he is fortunate to get the last minute entry in the group to India. Talks on anything can make you feel at home. 16) Tom Hazuka – fiction writer , reserved. scholarly, patient, professor. And Christine helped you on to the dance floor  and you danced well.  Good at getting details especially on camera; 17) David Kideckel – Dr K your students call you. An eternal student . Young-at heart, Very active. A heart of gold . You got to mine / go deep to get  it though. Forgives fast. Master organiser and task-master. I don’t know how he can memorize and retrieve past knowledge the way he does. Interesting, his brain wiring. Things just flash.

While at the discussion in Kerala university got a phone from the CEO of a small company with fewer than 20 employees to hear he is admitted in hospital. So had to contact other people. But we got something better.   Then we visited Technopark, the Silicon Valley of Kerala and had a fruitful discussion with Tata representative. Discussed international trade, labour laws, economic crisis competition, recruitment etc. At the Technopark foodcourt some submerged themselves in Subway and had a taste of home before heading back home – hotel. On the 3rd Jan, four groups and four topic-based site visits with cars. While in kovalam we had site visits on tuk tuks / autorickshaws, the 3 wheel wonders. Moved into the city and became contemporary in travel. Then in the evening we had a taste of traditional Kerala in the form of Theyyam. The perfomer, who turns god and gives blessings and foretells as well as observes, made both the foreign and indigenous in attendance to feel blessed.

Finally, Gopa Kumar’s critical look at Kerala model of development and migratio patterns of Kerala people. Then to politics, economics, society, development issues; howmigration stopped in India after Bangladesh. History: More than 655 independent kingdoms, federal linguistic nation with 22 languages constitutionally recognised, 159 sub dialects, 28 states and 6 union territories. India started with 16# states. 1:6j percent land area Kerala accommodates 4 percent population of India (34 million). How language unites Kerala. and that social development in Kerala is ahead of other states because of “the four Ms”: Monarchs, Missionaries, Movements, Marxism, and now Migration.

Nathan Sprague:

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My experience thus far in India has been one full of contradictions. The initial feelings of being in another country for the first time are now combined with familiarity that makes me feel right at home. The awe I feel at the incredible beauty of the Kerala landscape versus intense frustrations I feel about the garbage and pollution everywhere we travel. My general impression of Kerala state is most definitely a positive one, however. This is a place with a remarkable, albeit comparatively short history and an extremely rich culture. While no place is without its problems and challenges, I find it truly impressive that such a wide variety of religious groups have managed to live amongst each other in relative harmony. It is also amazing and really quite refreshing tio learn about the development this area has managed to bring about –health care, education, social movements, land reform, political decentralization, etc.—without ever going through an industrial revolution. Unfortunately, while there are many people struggling/fighting to maintain their traditional ways of life and to preserve the integrity of their land by never taking more than they need, I fear that the effects of globalization and capitalist commercialization seem almost inevitable to continue to grow here and become dominant. This would come at great expense to the land and local people (an example can be found in the commercial fishing port that proponents such as Elias John wish to develop). It is terribly upsetting to me because I feel this globalization has been caused, as have countless other world problems, by the United States.

For me personally, my favorite experiences that I have encountered here (apart from the Theyyam ceremony, which was just incredible) have been the chances we’ve had to meet and interact with the students of Kerala University. In particular, the class we shared with our group and larger group of Malayali students at the the University on the second of January is one I am most grateful for. I have to say, this was quite a humbling moment for me. These Malayalis are people who take their education and politics very seriously, something that US students tend to take for granted all too often. One memory that really stands out was when Dr. Kideckel asked which if any of our group could name the Prime Minister of India, which was followed by silence. When the Indians were asked about the president of the US, however, “Barack Obama” rang through the room immediately.

We also had the invaluable opportunity to bridge some of the gaps that exist between our two societies. As a collective unit we were able to realize and understand that as people we are not so different after all, as popular ideologies seem to maintain. The problem we learned is not on an individual level, but instead undoubtedly on an institutional one. These perceived differences and the distance/hatred that is born from them serve only to the purposes of those with power. Overall, I am just so grateful to have had my first chance to visit another culture and to learn these things. As a people, we are all one, and more efforts have to be made to end the great nationalistic divides that exist between us.