Dr. Shanti Auluck, a former LSR faculty member and now President and CEO, welcomed us to MUSKAAN. This NGO is the manifestation of a dream that started with a mother’s love coupled with knowledge and competencies learned from years of teaching. Parker Palmer talks about the importance of a leader to create and protect space for others to flourish. It is abundantly evident that Shanti’s passion and leadership has created a space in which over 100 intellectually disabled adults daily thrive and grow by experiencing a delicate balance of challenge and support in this community. The beautiful facility, built entirely with private funds, coupled with the caring and capable staff indeed provides an oasis for learning and growth of these special young adults. This working model of social entrepreneurship appears complex on one level and amazingly simple on another. I look forward to sharing more upon our return.
S.P. Devasahayam attended OWU from 1901-1908. Originally from Travancore, India (far southwestern corner of India on the coast), Davie, as he was affectionately called, was the first “Hindoo” student at OWU. He received two degrees from OWU, a BA and an MA. According to a correspondence to the university from his nephew, Davie was the first Indian student to complete a post-graduate degree from an American university at that time. Davie appears to have been quite the popular student who earned funds for his education in part by performing in cultural programs about Indian culture. He was a member of the OWU Prep club, the Cadet Band, the Volunteer Band (a service club), the Fortnightly Club, and the YMCA. He was also an Amphiltyonian. I do not know what that is. Upon returning to his native South India, he adopted the name of S.P. Devy and ministered to nineteen congregations throughout the land until his passing in 1942. According to correspondence received after his death, he apparently led a Gandhi-like existence practicing the values of simplicity and self-sacrifice in service to others.
The two men were exempt from the mandatory bag and person search behind a screen at the entrance of Dilli Haat on Sunday. Our delegation of OWU and LSR students quickly collected and mobilized themselves into what was to become a shopping machine. Although not privy to the tactical planning in the groups, I suspect it was thorough and focused. Imagine for a moment the excitement of the merchants as they gazed upon the fresh American shoppers with an abundance of crisp Rupees eager to be spent. Then imagine their disappointment when they realized OWU students were accompanied by LSR students equipped with the shopping expertise and language proficiency to “participate” in the commerce that was about to take place. So what was really happening here? We were exposed to various dimensions of Indian culture as expressed through a wide variety of handcrafts and products from every corner of the country. We engaged in conversations incidental to the bargaining with people trying to make a living for themselves and their families. We developed a comaraderie with our hosts that nurtured the seeds of community that were beginning to sprout. This is theory to practice in action. Oh, and by the way, some purchases were made as well.
Greetings from Delhi. Our students arrived last night and we look forward to beginning our programme, “Gandhi Today: Perspectives and Possibilities.” In the past months, I have been exploring OWU’s historical engagement with India and want to share some interesting findings.
October, 1895, the India Club was established at OWU. Records show the club was formed by “five wanderers from the distant shores of India who found themselves rather unexpectedly at OWU.” The circumstances of their arrival are not documented, however, this was a critical mass of Indian students at the university and they created the India Club. This was a “private” club that required all members “to have either resided or traveled in India.” Additionally, all members needed to have a thorough speaking knowledge of Hindustani. Perhaps it is time for us to restore the India Club to our current roster of student organizations.
It is wonderful to return to India for the third time. As I reflect on my initial emotions upon arriving in Mumbai I find the anxiety about entering a new country and culture for the first time is replaced by a deepened sense of appreciation and respect for the common bond that connects all of us despite our apparent differences. Most of us have comforted the crying infant or sick child on a plane full of strangers. We all find our unique ways of getting comfortable and finding sleep on a fourteen hour flight. We share the common experience of caring for each other and ourselves and trying to make the best of our circumstances. The frustrations and dreams of some are posted as grafitti on buildings and roadways. Others are expressed in animated discourse and intentional kindness. As I try to sort through the intense bombardment of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes, I am discovering a simple smile can create a connection and a shared, often fleeting experience that communicates acknowledgement, kindness, and respect in ways that are hopefully as meaningful to others as they are to me.