On Immersion

Dr. Leela Prasad, Faculty Director, Duke INtense Global-Hyderabad
Associate Professor, Department of Religion, Duke University

It was just past 1 AM when we came out of the Yusufain darga in Nampally. I was still wrapped in the magic of the qawwali performance, still steeped in the intensity of the women who had emoted—in gesture and through dance—with the cadences and the words that had made the partition between the men’s side and women’s side melt. Back in our van, we tumbled into a discussion of language, of how Hindi and Urdu wrapped themselves in each other on such occasions. We tried conversing in Hindi during the quick ride home. But the music kept reverberating in my mind. It still is, three days after.

I finally had found the word: awake.

I want us—six committed Duke students and me—to be awake in India, to India. Not to India’s usual gateway images—deadly dull by sheer cliché—which don’t ask one to be in India at all. They provide only remote understanding: eyes of hunger, cheap plastic chairs, oozing kindness, cattle on city roads. India by Surfing.

But Duke INtense Global [DIG] – India is an experiment about depth. Immersion. A year-long study about India and its availability to the world, in the past and at present, through coursework, field research, travel, and civic work. Five months of the year spent in India straddling across the Fall and Spring semesters to provide a sense of learning that is not bound to the frame of one single semester or geography or medium of learning. We will turn to technology to shape this flow.

E-chatting with a Religion professor in Duke and separately with a History professor at the University of Minnesota, experts in areas we’ve wandered into: Islamic practice, Gandhian neighborliness. Conversation with a professor in neighboring IIIT about ahimsa and everyday life in Gandhi’s ashram. Deepavali at home, Guru Nanak jayanti (birthday) in a gurdwara. Field-based exploration of the ethos of sacred spaces in Hi-Tech city. Visiting Gandhi’s ashram (Sevagram) near Wardha, Maharashtra.Gurdwara MCME

Navigating the complexities of working at a school for children of migrant construction workers: how to build a curriculum? How to have a bathroom built? How to build partnerships with parents of the children, with construction management, with an NGO partner, and with university student groups? What approach would a Gandhian practicum suggest to overcome the challenges of education in the midst of migrancy and ethnic differences and institutional indifferences?

There is structure, spontaneity and sensitivity to immersion. It is my ambition that DIG-India discover this and live it.

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2 Responses to On Immersion

  1. ebrahimmoosa says:

    fantastic review of visit to darga. Thanks Leela.

    • Leela Prasad says:

      Thanks to you, Ebrahim, for skyping in to my class and leading us through a great introduction to Sufi orientations! -Leela

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