From 2 to 11 March 2006 I had the pleasure of staying at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi; http://www.jnu.ac.in/), as a Visiting Professor by the kind invitation of the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. The more academic side of my stay is charted elsewhere on this blog (entry: 15 March). Here I talk about some aspects of my day-to-day life there. ** JNU was founded in 1969 and takes as its founding ideal Pandit Nehru’s vision of a university. The great man’s statue is there at the entrance to the faculties, flanked by a plaque quoting his words: ‘A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth’. JNU is a mostly postgraduate institution which also offers courses in the language, literature and culture field for 17 language areas, European and Asian. Both staff and students come from all over India (those looking Chinese are in fact from the north-eastern states): there are also some 100 foreign students at any given time. JNU’s intensive activity in the conference field was evident from the endless numbers of posters on display while I was there. The campus was also plastered with anti-American propaganda coinciding with George W. Bush’s visit to India: among the slogans were the historically resonant ‘Bush Quit India’ and the wittily creative ‘When Bush comes to shove resist!’. ** The JNU campus is beautifully landscaped, with exotic trees and, at this time of year, a riot of bougainvilleas and other flowers, red, pink and purple. Its abundant wildlife includes green parakeets, peacocks, squirrels and – though I never saw one – elusive antelopes. I stayed in the Aravali Guest House, where I took most of my meals. The quality of the food was generally high and I was able to relish puri sabzi (bread fritters with chickpeas) at breakfast-time, fish curry, and varied vegetable thalis. The campus has its own bank, post office, dry cleaners, bookshop and mini-shopping centre. Many of the staff live in purpose-built, on-site accommodation. It is also a relative haven of peace in bustling Delhi, even though I was kept awake some nights by the peacocks’ call-and-response (their cry sounds like a loud cat’s meow) or by the noise of planes from the nearby Indira Gandhi International Airport (one night a convoy of six aircraft in quick succession announced Bush’s departure). ** Located in south Delhi, the campus is about half-an-hour’s rickshaw ride from the centre. The main road opposite the principal gate leads to a modern hotel and shopping centre (the latter complete with McDonald’s and other emblems of globalisation). I sent emails from the Hilltop Cybercafé, perched on a height just opposite the gate and looking down on the vehicles, and donkeys, stray dogs and sacred cows that pass on the highway below. The campus buzzes in its intellectual ferment, yet something in the cows’ unruffled eyes declares that in her heart Mother India never changes. I enormously enjoyed my stay at JNU – not just the academic activity but the day-to-day feel of the place – and it is my hope that before too long Mother India will call me back there, back to the bougainvilleas and the peacocks’ cry! ** Added are photos of: the Nehru plaque and statue; the School of Languages; Aravali Guest House; the park; my friend Dr Jaydeep Sarangi outside the Guest House; and the Hilltop Cybercafé.
Ten days at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) (Delhi)