Widening Horizons: Chennai, India Programme
Blog Entry – Tuesday 18th August 2015
After a ‘flavoursome’ breakfast (perhaps ‘extremely spicy’ is the more apt term), we had our second series of lectures that were just as enthralling as the inaugural. Although most of us lack a background in fields like political science or sociology, I feel that we are all able to handle the material presented without great difficulty.
The first lecture was themed on the political, sociological and cultural facets of South Asia in relation to India’s relationship with its neighbours. The subsequent lecture focused on the role of religion in politics and society. I was especially impressed by the first speaker, Dr Suryanarayan, who appeared to be well-versed and experienced in the subject matter; he mentioned his role as a government advisor. I found both speakers eloquent and engaging in speech and in manner. Moreover, I was taken aback by their level of candour. This was particularly evident in their depiction of the more ‘unpleasant’ elements of Indian society, such as the prevalence of communal violence. This violence its origins in the emergence of right-wing ‘Hindutva’ politics, which sought to project its non-inclusive vision of India identity into the public and political mainstream. In 1984, it culminated in the destruction of the golden temple at Amritsar and the resultant assassination of the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi. Owing to our position as foreigners or ‘outsiders’, I felt that we had learnt more about India in that short expanse of time than we would have done by simply observing and interacting with people on the street.
Later in the day, we were privileged to attend a dance performance given by a student society at the University of Madras. The society specialised in tradition folk dance with the aim of preserving their cultural heritage and developing their ability to communicate in India’s ever-evolving, multilingual society. The performance was incredibly fast-paced, energetic, lively and rhythmical, not unlike a typical Scottish ceilidh in fact. Overall, I think we enjoyed our experience immensely and it provided a good induction into Tamil cultural practices through the medium of dance.
Elson Musenga, first year medic on his first trip to India.