Planning your Research Trip to India

Are you planning your research trip to India? If it is your first research trip to India, you will definitely have a lot of questions. Is there a list of libraries that would suit your research? Which cities to tour for the best possible research material? How will you communicate with the locals? How do you carry yourself in a foreign country? How safe is the city you are touring? There are a couple of steps to follow in order to make the best of your trip. Let’s begin!

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

National Library of India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It is extremely crucial to do some basic research about the country and specifically the cities you have planned to visit in your itinerary. The city and the library/institution you will want to visit will depend on the topic of your research. If your research is about North India, then the best cities to tour would be Delhi, Jaipur, Lucknow, Kanpur, Patna and Gwalior. If your research is about the financial conditions in India, then the best cities to visit would be Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai.

For researchers touring Delhi, there is an interesting archive review blog on “Twenty Libraries in Delhi You’ve never visited.” Being the capital region and also one of the largest metropolis cities in India, most researchers would like to cover New Delhi in their first trip to India.

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi would interest some of you. Please note that you will need a letter from your home institution and a letter from the U.S Embassy.

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

Fatehpuri Library. Courtesy of SAGAR: A South Asia Research Journal

If who would like to focus your research on the Southern parts of India, then the Tamil Nadu State Archives would be an excellent source for your research material. For more details on location and directions or working hours and admission procedure, you may visit this post. At the bottom of the webpage, there is a list of all the TNSA official websites that could lead you to the right source for your study.

If you are planning to visit Kolkata (metropolis in East India), the West Bengal State Archives and the National Library are great sources with in depth study material.

For first timers, India may not be an easy country to travel around in. The country is known for diversity in its culture and that might prove to be difficult for some and interesting for others. It is important to remember that every country has its own charm and any foreign visitor will have to make some basic adjustments to make their travel easy and enjoyable.

In India, every state speaks a different language so communicating with the locals might be a tedious task. I would advise you to learn some basic Hindi (national language) words like “Haan” (Yes), “Na/Nahi” (No), “Namaste” (Hello), “Shukriya” (Thank You) and try to carry a pocket dictionary with you. Although, down South, people are fluent in English more than Hindi.

Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Taj Mahal. Photo Courtesy of Mariellen Ward via BreatheDreamGo

Not all parts of India might be safe, especially for women. Always be agile and cautious especially if you are traveling alone during late evenings. It is advisable to wear appropriate clothing (preferably salwar kameez or jeans and a simple top/kurta) to avoid teasing. India is far more traditional in comparison to the West and hence, it is better to play safe. Try not to be over friendly with strangers, especially men. Use public transport during business hours and avoid exploring secluded streets during late nights and/or alone. Also, if you are on a short trip for a specific research purpose,avoid traveling during festivals like Diwali, Navratri, Holi as most public libraries and institutions will be closed during holiday season.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Insitute of Asian Studies

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies. Photo Courtesy of Mara Thacker

India is most definitely a vibrant country with warm and welcoming people. Don’t let that overwhelm you. Instead, enjoy the differences in the cultures and try to be a part of the Indian culture as much as possible. The historic landmarks, scenic beauty, and the amazingly diverse culture of India are all worth experiencing without having to worry about any of the negative possibilities. Keeping my tips in mind as you travel should guarantee you a safe and pleasurable research trip. Happy research!

 

 

 

Book Review: A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS

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James, Marlon. 2014A Brief History of Seven Killings. New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin Group.

UIUC Library Catalog Listing: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_7584554.

They think my mind is a ship that sail far away. Some of those people in my own district. I see them in the corner of my eye. After I help them grow, they thinking me is the one now blocking progress. So they treat me like old man already, and think I don’t notice when a sentence cut short because the rest of it not meant for me. That I don’t notice that phones come to the ghetto for talking, but not to me. That I don’t notice they leave me alone. (p. 86)

A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of those stories that, due to mainstream trends and Hollywood politics, may not ever be adapted into a film. But it’s so compelling as a book that it won’t matter.

Equal parts fictionalized (yet remarkably realistic) primer on the complex and fraught Jamaica of the 1970s, Cold War narco-thriller, and cautionary tale of the dark sides of immigration and globalization, Marlon James has, in stark detail, brought an oft-misunderstood corner of the world to the fore.

Himself a native of Kingston, James writes from the first-person perspectives of a slew of recurring characters – from the white American hippie journalist with his finger on the pulse of Jamaica’s powder keg scene; to the ghost of a murdered, Jamaican politician of the old guard; to a former lover of “the Singer” (read: Bob Marley), who wants nothing more than to escape the mayhem of her native island; to the head of one of Kingston’s two rival gangs, allied with both Marley and the opposition party leader. Just to name a few.

Amazingly, unidentified gunmen did in fact invade the home of Bob Marley on the night of December 3rd, 1976. No one was killed, but Bob suffered a gunshot wound to his upper arm and his wife Rita Marley sustained a graze wound to the scalp. Marley’s manager Don Taylor suffered more considerable gunshot wounds but survived. Considering the multiple rounds fired, it’s a miracle that no one perished. But who exactly were the gunmen and why would anyone want to kill one of the most beloved artists of both then and now?

Well, you’ll have to read the book for the details. But suffice it to say, Jamaica after its independence from Great Britain in 1962 was a tumultuous place. Journalist Vivien Goldman (2006) elucidates:

Less than two decades after Jamaican independence, the system left behind by the British had frayed, and the infrastructure was crumbling. I remember arriving in Jamaica from Los Angeles once, having been shopping earlier that day, and how obscene it was to compare LA supermarkets’ towering stacks of produce with the island supermarkets, with shelves so empty they seemed to sell air. There was music, style and creativity in abundance, but shortages of everything else from rice to rolling papers. Driving anywhere was an adventure, as the ancient taxis seemed to be held together with rubber bands and hope, and the roads all over the island had potholes like craters. Power cuts were as regular as police roadblocks.

The Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP) divided the populace along party strict party lines. The former, led by Edward Seaga, promised no-nonsense economic development with stronger ties to the USA. And the latter, with their eloquent leader Michael Manley, promised a new order of socialist reform with the support of Cuba and other communist-leaning states in the region. Understandably, both parties sought an alliance with Jamaica’s most charismatic and electrifying native son: Robert Nesta Marley.

James takes full advantage of the cloudiness of the details of this case to flesh out almost 700 pages of gripping narrative, skipping back and forth from Jamaica to New York City between the years 1976 and 1991. Employing Standard American English, Black American English, Standard Jamaican English, Jamiacan Patois, and even a smattering of Caribbean Spanish, the linguistics involved are also captivating, exhibiting James’ deep cultural dynamism.

This book is not for the faint of heart, however: Violence (both domestic and gang-related), drug abuse, strong sexual content, and graphic language pervade the text. James certainly doesn’t flee from the darker sides of the pursuit of human survival in the modern age and takes it upon himself to show how and why people do what they do to stay alive. He leaves it up to us, the readers, to decide if each character is justified in their actions.

As Publishers Weekly observes in their own review on the book’s dust jacket, “Upon finishing, the reader will have completed an indispensable and essential history of Jamaica’s troubled years. This novel should be required reading.” While there might not yet be a college course for which it’s made the reading list, I highly recommend A Brief History of Seven Killings for any student of reggae music, Jamaica, the African diaspora, the Caribbean, or the Cold War era.

 References

Goldman, Vivien. 2006. “Dread, beat and blood.” The Guardian. 16 July 2006. Online: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2006/jul/16/urban.worldmusic.

“500 & 5” at the Spurlock Museum

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Autorickshaws. Curry. Hijra. Tamil. Bindis. And rupees. Guess that country.

If you guessed India, you were right. This is the country that “500 & 5” highlighted at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library’s screening on Sunday, December 14th at the Spurlock Museum, organized by South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker. Wanting to take advantage of one of the film creator’s presence in Urbana-Champaign, 40 people gathered to view the Tamil-language piece, which was followed by a question and answer session with Kousalya Jeganathan.

“500 & 5” tells the tale of a 500 rupee note of Indian currency that travels through the hands of five different people in South India. While only valued at about $8 US, the bill’s impact is immeasurable in deciding the fates of many, including those of a gangster, a chauffeur and a woman suffering from mental illness and drug addiction. Filmed in modern-day India, the piece evokes a variety of themes like organized crime, divorce and the illicit use of narcotics. The theme connecting the various stories is the overwhelming influence of money in a variety of social situations. While the rupees solve no problems in the film, they certainly increase the tensions in relationships based on authority and subservience.

The film has had some difficulty finding distribution, Jeganathan mentioned in the talkback afterwards. Some of the tropes reject the conventions of the traditional feature film. For example, the film is split into five shorts as opposed to films with one major story line. Women are featured as prominent characters and are not merely the object of amorous pursuits as is a pattern in many parts of the world, including the East and the West. And, more than anything else, the film is explicitly anti-consumerist and anti-capitalistic, frequently criticizing the power that money represents. Distributors have therefore been reluctant to risk supporting a film they are unsure will succeed at the box office.

The audience’s response to the film was inquisitive and its questions revealed some unique details about the film making process. In order to dedicate themselves fully to the task, Jenganthan and other “500 & 5” creators quit their jobs, truly manifesting the idea that provoking thought was a higher priority than monetary gain. Certain scenes were filmed in Jeganathan’s home. Many of the actors came from a theater background, and the role of the hijra character opened new discussions of a third gender that is widely accepted in Indian culture. Jeganathan shared that envisioning a moneyless culture was new and challenging for many audiences, but was perhaps still a worthy exercise, even if momentary and fleeting.

Calmly accepting the fate of the film, Jeganathan stated that “whenever the universe wants it, it will come out.” “500 & 5” is recommended to audiences interested in the cinematic representation of South Asia. It offers a visually rich tapestry of several socioeconomic classes of Indian society, from the very poor and illiterate to the exaggeratedly rich figures of the entertainment industry. For more information on the film, visit accessiblehorizonfilms.com and be on the lookout for more events from the International and Area Studies Library by liking our Facebook page.

Winter Break: Reader’s Advisory

Finals week is among us and we’re all rushing to get everything done. Fret not. Winter break is almost here, and like most people, we’ll spend a lot of our time in front of our laptop, browsing through movies and shows on Netflix. However, you might have to reconsider that. How about snuggling with a good book and some hot cocoa? Here are some books that are sure to keep you entertained this winter break.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons

“The Terror” by Dan Simmons is a fictional  story about the 1845 Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The men find themselves cold and starving as their ship gets trapped in the ice. Soon, mutiny arises and they find that someone…or something is killing them off one by one. This book is perfect for reading on a snowy night.

 

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder is a children’s book, but hey, no reason why you can’t take a stroll down memory lane. As the town is covered in a blizzard, contact from the outside is very limited. Almanzo Wilder and his friends decide to make a risky journey to the prairies to try and find some wheat. Follow them on their adventure!

 

The Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

The Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

“The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe” by Edgar Allan Poe is the perfect set of stories to read aloud to your friends and family, or yourself. Classics like “The Raven” or “The Fall of the House of Usher” are sure to raise the hairs on your arms. After reading a couple of stories, you’ll probably want to keep your hallway light on, just in case.

 

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

“A Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin. Winter is coming….I’m sure by now you’ve heard of the ever popular show on HBO, “Game of Thrones”. Yes, based on the this very book. What better way to spend your winter than by imagining another world where war, romance, and the battle for the throne is happening right at your fingertips.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. A classic book and a great read, especially on Christmas Day. In this story, a grumpy old man receives a visit from 3 ghosts to look at his past and his future. With these visits, old Ebenezer Scrooge learns the true meaning of Christmas.

Hopefully these books will last you through the winter, but if not, there’s always more at the library!