Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ms. Chapman Climbs Up a Mountain and Dances

This morning I climbed up a mountain to visit the Karla Caves ( ). Two thousand years ago the Buddhists created massive carvings to make this a holy space.

It just so happened that we arrived on the one day of the year that is the festival of the goddess Ekaveera. People everywhere were celebrating, so I thought I would join in on the fun.

Question to Consider:

1. What is the relationship between Buddhism and Hinduism? (Do some fast Internet research if you don't remember what you learned in World Cultures.) Why might these two different religions coexist harmoniously, when we just learned about interfaith conflicts in contemporary India?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ahmedabad - History and City Life

I’ve spent the past few days in the capital city of Gujarat, Ahmedabad. Gujarat is one of India’s most conservative states; it’s very difficult to buy liquor here, and many of the women go around in veils or burqas. The region has large Hindu and Muslim populations – in 2002, large-scale violence erupted between the two groups.

The people here are much less used to seeing Western visitors than the citizens of Delhi or Shimla; on the streets, we get a lot of stares. Some people even follow us and take photographs of us!

Ahmedabad is also a famous center for textiles. The region has a long history of fabric crafts. It was here that Gandhi launched his movement to make India independent of British cotton cloth by encouraging people to spin and weave their own material.

Yesterday, we visited a village to see a weaving family that makes some of the finest saris in all of India, called patolas. Their work is painstaking – they dye each of the threads to make a particular pattern, and THEN they weave it.

This patola costs $8,000! Saris like this take about six months to make; there is a waiting list of three to four years!

One of the most exciting things I saw in Ahmedabad was an organization called SEWA, or the Self-Employed Women’s Association. SEWA’s purpose is to help women in India become entrepreneurs so that they can become independent and self-reliant. Some of the over 12 million members grow and sell produce in the markets, while others produce beautiful handicrafts. Check out my video to see more of what they do!

In the evening, I had a traditional Gujarati meal called “thali.” Everyone sits on the floor, and you’re served enormous plates with samples of almost a dozen different kinds of curries and relishes. Most of the food is both sweet and spicy; it’s very different from the Indian food I have had in the United States.


Questions to Consider:

1. The history of violence between Hindus and Muslims in India during the second half of the twentieth century is an example of “escalation.” In class, we talked about escalation during the Cold War, as both the United States and the Soviet Union built up larger and larger stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Think of some other examples of escalation in history and the world today. (Extra credit – think of some example of escalation in your own life.) How can we stop the problem of escalation without sacrificing our own security?

2. The Hindi word for self-reliance is “swaraj.” Take a look at this explanation of swaraj (, and explain why self-reliance is important both for individuals and for communities.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Monkey Temple

I’ve really been missing you guys, my students, but I know there’s not much of a chance of us running into each other in the Himalayan Mountains. So I thought the next best thing would be to find a big group of wild, unruly monkeys. I was in luck – monkeys are all over the place in Shimla. Our hotel warned us to keep our windows closed, because otherwise we might have some unwelcome visitors, like the one I captured on camera.

The monkey goes in...

...and comes out.

For a more up-close-and-personal monkey encounter, I trekked up a mountain to the Jakhu Temple, a Hindu holy place dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman. Hanuman’s furry incarnations (rhesus macaques) live all around the temple grounds. They’re notoriously unafraid of humans – in fact, they seem to delight in harassing their more evolved cousins. Visitors to Hindu temples are required to take off their shoes before entering, but this poses a special problem at the Jakhu Temple, because the local celebrities like to steal footware to use as toys. They’re also known to be adept pickpockets, and will go after anything shiny – like a camera or a cell phone.

Schools in the State of Himachal Pradesh

I’ve spent the past few days in the Himalayas, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, in the capital city of Shimla. This was where the British government, which occupied India throughout the nineteenth century and into the first half of the twentieth century, moved all of their offices during the summer to escape from the heat of Delhi. And I can see why – not only is the weather cool and breezy, but the whole area is surrounded by stunning mountains.

This region of India is known for having one of the most successful public education systems in the country – the government estimates that 90% of the children in the region attend school, which is quite an accomplishment in India. I visited four schools, and captured three of them on tape. The first is a government-run boarding school for girls who live in villages that aren’t large enough for a local school. The second and third schools are a preschool and an elementary school which are also run by the government.

Bishop Cotton Boarding School, in Shimla.
The children of the country's elite attend school here.

The city of Shimla.

Girls from the government-run boarding school - all Indian school children who attend public school wear uniforms.

The school cafeteria at the government-run elementary school - all students receive a free lunch every day.

Questions to Consider:

1. Neither of the second two schools had electricity, which is the norm in India. (In fact, 50% of schools in India do not have toilets.) So needless to say, there are no computers, projectors, fancy art supplies, etc. The floors are bare concrete – some students get to sit on mats, and two lucky classrooms had desks. The teachers make all of their instructional materials themselves. On the other side of the world, our school has in comparison a wealth of material advantages and conveniences. So, my question is – why is this the case? Why does our school have so much, and theirs’ so little? Or to cut to the heart of the matter, why does our country have more than theirs?

2. What do you think the dance from the first school is about?


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Spooky Tomb

Hi again, to my favorite students in the world! It looks like I also have time to post what I did yesterday. Many of you know that when I'm not spending countless hours grading your memoirs, I like to play The Sims - World Adventures. (It counts as professional development for the video game design mini-course.) Well, today I got to play the game in real life! We visited the Tomb of Humayun, which was built in the sixteenth century to house the crypt of the Mughal Emperor Humayun (father of Akbar, who was thought to be the greatest of the Mughal's for his military accomplishments and his tolerance of other religions, and great-grandfather of Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal). The tomb was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal; today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Later in the day, we visited the Qutb Minar, also a World Heritage Site, and the oldest mosque in Delhi. To build it, Qutbuddin Aibak, the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, destroyed Hindu and Jain temples that were originally on the site, and used the materials to construct the new building.

This is the minar, or tower, of the mosque - it's a traditional kind of Islamic architecture.

Here is a close-up of one of the towers that Qutbuddin took from the Hindu and Jain temples. If you look carefully, you'll notice that some of the carvings appear to be missing. That's not because the artwork is over a thousand years old; Hindu temples often have images of gods and goddesses to help people pray. However, traditional Islamic art and architecture prohibits using images of human beings. (Think of all of the geometrical shapes you saw adorning the Tomb of Humayun.) So the Islamic carpenters chiseled off all of the images of people so they could still use these beautiful towers in their mosques.

And a larger shot of some of the towers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Look up the word "palimpsest." How do you think this term applies to culture and architecture in India? (Then consider - in what ways is this concept present in our lives in the United States?)

2. One of my favorite parts of learning about a new culture is seeing how they handle death. You can tell a lot about a group of people by the way that they treated the deceased members of their community. What can we learn about Mughal India from Humayan's tomb? (Then consider - what do our death rites in America say about us?)

Old Delhi - In Which Ms. Chapman Faces Death by Scooter

Hello, my wonderful students! I have missed you a great deal!

I've been in India for two days now. It was a 36 hour trip to get here from Madison, Wisconsin! We have been staying in New Delhi, the capital of India and one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of 16 million.

Yesterday, however, we visited OLD Delhi. This section of the city was where the Moguls, or Muslim rulers (who were descended from Genghis Khan) governed the city. Our visit was a little bit topsy-turvy - I've never seen so many people in one place! And apparently, the biggest danger in this city is the traffic - there's no such thing as a pedestrian right-of-way. Nevertheless, I thought our walk was beautiful. Shops were crammed next to one another, selling everything from beautiful cloth to electronics. Street vendors roasted all kinds of unfamiliar snacks. Motorcycles rode right into the middle of crowds of people - you had to be careful that your feet weren't run over! I even saw a few monkeys scurrying up and down the railings of apartment buildings, looking for bits of food to scavenge.

If you're interested, you can see a bit of my adventure for yourself!

A couple of links for more information:

And, because I still think of myself as your teacher, a few questions for you to consider (don't worry, you don't have to turn anything in!):

1. In what ways is day-to-day street life in Old Delhi different from what we experience in Houston? How is it the same?

2. What do you think the Red Fort means to the Indian people?

Until next time!

-Ms. Chapman