“500 & 5” at the Spurlock Museum


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.

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Chai Wai Series: Gender-Based Violence in the Global South—South Asia and Beyond

by Katrina Spencer

November 12, 2014


The Chai Wai Series Tackles Gender-Based Violence

  • Had Jyoti Singh Pandey, victim of a fatal attack in 2012, been a poor woman, would the media have given the same attention to her case?

These were some of the questions addressed Wednesday of last week at the second meeting of the Chai Wai Series. Envisioned by South Asian Librarian Mara Thacker and doctoral candidate in history and instructor Julie Laut, this discussion was a direct offshoot of the History 365 course, “Gendering War, Migration and Memory: Fact and Fiction in Modern South Asia”. The research collected around the theme “Gender-based violence in the Global South: South Asia and Beyond” formed part of Laut’s students’ culminating project for class. Largely structured around South Asian literature, the course allowed students to create a lib guide, a rich compilation of relevant resources organized in one space that is informative, collaborative, public and enduring.


The diverse group of panelists was moderated by Laut who has specialized in gender, women’s and South Asian studies. Together, they expanded the discussion to wide regions of the world. Speakers included UIUC’s law professor Margareth Etienne, doctoral student of human resource development Anne Namatsi Lutomia and comparative literature professor Dr. Rini Mehta. Etienne’s voice was unique and valuable as she explored how laws are constructed to criminalize gender-based violence; Lutomia’s contributions educated attendees with regard to African attitudes surrounding gender-based violence; and Mehta revealed how sociocultural systems like castes can impact the degree of targeting and the protection victims of gender-based violence experience in India.

Mindfully nuancing the discussion, Etienne, author of “Addressing Gender Based Violence in an International Context,” commented that gender-based violence has a broad definition as it does not strictly identify women as victims; it also encompasses crimes carried out against people who do not exhibit gender in the ways their societies expect them to, as seen, for example, in the 1999 film “Boys Don’t Cry.” Many hate crimes are committed not around the idea that a man is a man or a woman is a woman, but rather that a man isn’t masculine enough or a woman isn’t feminine enough to satisfy his/her society’s and peers’ expectations.

Lutomia, recipient of the Maria Pia Gratton Award, a fellowship meant to honor the memory of a victim of gender-based violence, shared that the practice of polygamy in Africa can make wives especially susceptible to gender-based violence. “We don’t have a law that is categorically against domestic violence,” she said, speaking of her native Kenya. Corrective rape, too, she intoned, carried out frequently within severely homophobic societies, is a damaging practice meant to punish, intimidate and terrorize people exhibiting sexual identity that falls outside of societal norms. Much of this violence, she highlighted, must be viewed through a post-colonial lens.

Mehta, whose academic work includes the 2011 documentary Post 498: Shades of Domestic Violence, introduced a variety of aggressions lesser known to the Western world, including the concept of “Love Jihad,” allegedly a deceptive practice of emotional manipulation designed to win converts to Islam. She also stated that “rape is more than a crime in South Asia. It is more of a phenomenon.” Calling this tendency a “pogrom,” Mehta pointed out that it is commonplace for one ethnic or religious group to target another and systematically murder its men or rape its women in an effort to humiliate, intimidate and demoralize. She, too, iterated that the legacy of colonialism colors the gender-based violence discourse.

Amid the brave, terrifying and undeniably contemporary comments, it was perhaps an audience member’s question that was the most compelling of all: “What is the origin of the need to control women that seems to cross borders, cultures and even time?” While gender-based violence is, again, not restricted to women, there is obvious, cross-cultural investment in a certain degree of conformity when it comes to the performance of one’s sexual identity. When people across the globe step outside of these norms, they frequently enter violently charged and threatening spaces. What is it, indeed, that makes us hurt each other in such deeply violent ways and what can we do about it? Please join our discussion by leaving a reply to this post. Visit the Chai Wai event lib guide and look for the International and Area Studies Library’s next event in the Chai Wai Series on conflicts in the Ukraine in February 2015.


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Chai Wai Series: Migrants, Immigrants & Refugees

The Chai Wai Series Launches with “Migrants, Immigrants and Refugees”

by Katrina Spencer


“What does it take for someone to leave what they’ve worked for their whole life?” he asked. In one of the more provocative statements made at the International and Area Studies Library’s (IASL) first Chai Wai event, Ricardo Díaz of the C-U Immigration Forum boldly affirmed that “Mexicans don’t want to come to the USA,” openly challenging a common premonition existing about the U.S. being an immigrant’s ‘paradise.’ “Immigration is a natural human process,” Díaz said, adding that “It’s not just liberty” that attracts people from other countries to seek lives within the U.S. borders: “it’s the economic opportunity”. Díaz passionately suggested that many people of both working and professional class love their home countries but make deliberate choices of sacrifice in order to provide secure futures for their families. They were statements like these that constructed the framework in which push and pull factors regarding immigration were visited Tuesday of last week.

As South Asian Studies Librarian Mara Thacker’s brainchild, the Chai Wai Series was launched to much acclaim. This series seeks to provide a forum for conversations regarding global issues that need space for development, debate and discussion. More than forty people gathered in the Main Library’s room 321 to hear four panelists speak on the topic of “migrants, immigrants and refugees.” The event was moderated by Steve Witt, head of the IAS Department. Three panelists in addition to Díaz, University of Illinois anthropology professor Ellen Moodie, Ha Ho of the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) and Gai Nyok, a current master student in economics and former refugee, shared their personal narratives, highlights of their research and general postures that encouraged, as Moodie phrased it, “compassionate policy in a country that can absorb immigrants.”


One valuable feature of the event was the diversity of voices and experience represented by the panel. Too often issues of immigration are reduced to discussions of U.S.-Mexico relations. This panel, by its very nature, infused identities that spring from war-torn areas like the Sudans, persecuted minorities like the Hmong of Vietnam and Central American narratives of post-war reformation. In addition to the varied faces on the panel, some insights were particularly compelling. Moodie, for example, affirmed that “violence actually increased” following armed conflicts as countries entered into new instabilities and reconstruction. The post-war period, then, while largely interpreted as one of peace, may in fact see more human mobility than when fighting is active. Moreover, some internally displaced people choose not to seek refuge in places like the U.S. even when a protected status is available to them. When asked if his mother could join him in the United States, Nyok, a former Lost Boy of Sudan who found a second family in a foster home in Virginia, affirmed that yes, she could. However, he supposed that her experience in the West might indeed be of an inferior quality than that which she is experiencing in East Africa, citing the language barriers she would encounter, the cultural isolation, the laborious work she would take on, and the lack of respect and promotion she would likely experience in trying to integrate into a foreign society and its job workforce at an advanced age.

Despite all of this, Ho, speaking from experience, affirmed with great confidence that “the United States is a very generous country.” As someone whose immigrant status has seen a variety of classifications—visitor, resident and citizen—Ho acknowledges that “immigration law is very complex,” yet also that the U.S. offers a wealth of possibilities for mobile persons. The discussion implied that there are significant varieties of meaning indeed between migrants, immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced people, exiles and even expatriates, and that the variety of their experiences merit the richness of the vocabulary used to describe them. While the opportunities are numerous once a migrant obtains a certain status, before then, immigration policy can appear hostile. “I don’t expect the system to change without a struggle,” Díaz concluded, and for that reason, Díaz lives out his passion and encourages others towards advocacy. He is currently promoting José Toledo’s documentary “Unfreedom: Latino Immigrants in a Midwestern Town.”

For more on the Chai Wai Series, follow the International and Area Studies Library on Facebook, access our lib guide which addresses our first event and be sure to join us Wednesday, November 5, 2014 from 2:00-3:30pm when we will discuss gender-based violence in the global South.


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Tagore: The Rebel from the East


International and Area Studies Library
321, Main Library, 1408 W. Gregory

November 15-December 15, 2013

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

“Sir Rabindranath Tagore has written the scenario for a film to be made at his residence, Santi Niketan, Bolpur, Bengal. He will play the leading part in this film version of his latest drama, entitled Tapati. It will be produced by British Dominion films Limited, and will be ready early in the New Year” – The TIMES (December 30, 1929, P 8, Col 4)

Not many know this aspect of Rabindranath Tagore’s creative spirit. A newspaper entry of this incidence has been recorded on page 138 of the book “Rabindranath and the British Press, 1912-1941,” which is a meticulous compilation of several such unknown events of Tagore’s life.

The International and Area Studies Library (IASL) has curated some of those rare moments from the life and works of Rabindranath Tagore and brought them together in a small display. The exhibit is designed as part of the Tagore Festival 2013, an annual event organized at UIUC to commemorate Tagore’s contribution to education and social progress.

The IASL has also designed a Rabindranath Tagore Research Guide. This LibGuide is a curation of Tagore’s works as a poet, painter, educator and philosopher. His major works in Bengali and in-translation have been hand-picked for those scholars who would like to introduce themselves to the vast collection of his works, available at UIUC.

Some rare books selected for this exhibition, highlighting Tagore’s life and works-in-translation, are merely a glimpse of the vast expanse of his creative career. The exhibit includes:

Bhattacharya, Sakti; Sircar, Kalyan; Kundu, Kalyan; eds. Rabindranath and the British Press, 1912-1941. London: Tagore Centre, U.K. 1990.

This annotated compilation, based on wide-ranging British dailies and other periodicals, is a record of how the media viewed Tagore, his travels, writings, paintings and other activities. Tagore’s appearance on the British literary scene and in the press inaugurated the first modern recognition of a living Indian writer. The responses of the British press suggest reasons for his initial appeal and also for the subsequent decline in his popularity, after the first World War. Tagore rejected the West’s stereotyping of him as the “Wise Man” of the “Spiritual East,” and that outraged many in the West. This book records some of those press comments that were an outcome of that outrage against him, and in that we get a glimpse of his rebellious side.


Chaudhuri, Sukanta; Ghosha, Sankha. Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Poems. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004.

This is a collection of poetic pieces arranged according to the date of composition. The intention of doing so was to reflect the flux of thought in his mind, changing over days, weeks or years. Thus, this book neatly records an interesting play of themes, styles, and emotional associations that emerge from a chronological study of Tagore’s poems.


Ghosha, Nityapriya. Rabindranath Tagore: A Pictorial Biography. New Delhi: Niyogi Books. 2011.

This book chronicles Tagore’s contributions to his times and beyond. It colorfully displays anecdotes from his life – his role as a son, brother, husband, father; his accomplishments as a poet, philosopher, writer, painter, choreographer, actor; his relations with his family, friends, contemporary writers and poets, as well as predecessors; his correspondences with the political leaders of his time within the nation as well as abroad; and, above all, his interpretations about life, revealing his quest for love, unity, and his deep-rooted trust in truth.


Pal, Pratapaditya; Benson, Timothy O., eds. Something Old, Something New: Rabindranath Tagore, 150th Birth Anniversary Volume. Mumbai: Marg Foundation. 2011.

This book is a collection of essays that highlight Tagore’s rejection of classical forms of arts and the traditional expectation of the artist to imitate old forms. One essay highlights his contribution in reviving classical Manipuri dance and bringing that into the modernist discourse that relies less on narratives and more on expression. Another essay describes how his restlessness and his constant desire for new forms led him to indulge in multiple creative activities, not to mention the numerous houses he built for himself at various times of his life.


Tagore, Rabindranath. Chitralipi. Calcutta: Visva-Bharati. 1962.

The title translates to roughly mean “pictographic script.” This compilation is significant as it establishes Tagore as a rebel artist. His aesthetic ideals transcended the realms of both poetry and imagery. Yet, his poems and songs corresponded in a synesthetic sense with his paintings. In his own words,

When I write a poem I have a vision before my eyes, a mental representation. My verses attempt to communicate images seen or created. But when I draw I do not know what I am going to make, I have no preconceived scheme in my mind. I take my pen and begin to draw and suddenly I see a head or a flower or a cloud.

This book, with Rabindranath Tagore’s Bengali initials as its cover art, is a compilation of his paintings and drawings. Each illustration corresponds to one of his Bengali verses accompanied by its English translation.


Tagore, Rabindranath. The Broken Nest (Nashtanir). Translated by Mary M. Lago and Supriya Sen. Columbia: University of Missouri Press. 1971.

This novella first appeared in 1901 as a serialized work in the Calcutta journal Bhārati. It is considered to belong to modernist genre of writing as it asks searching questions without necessarily providing the reader with answers. Such form of writing was a relatively new concept in both India and the West. Tagore in this story brings out the readers empathy for the educated but lonely woman, who seeks liberation from the expectations of her context of an upper middle class family. The attention to psychological details of its characters was one of the reasons why Satyajit Ray picked this story for his movie adaptation Chārulatā (1964).


Tagore, Rabindranath. The Hungry Stones: The Story in Multiple Translations. Bhubaneswar: Four Corners, 2008.

This includes translation by Tagore himself, followed by William Radice, Amitav Ghosh, Sinjita Gupta, Malobika Chaudhari. The strength of this book is that it not only makes the translator visible, it makes the adaptability and hence, the vitality of the original story visible. Each translation is an act of writing itself occurring at a particular time and within a particular social context. The same story retold five times, in the same language, brings out the richness and the newness of the story, each time it is told. The Hungry Stones is a frame tale. In such a story, there are two narrators. The first narrator presents a scene with characters. The second narrator—who is one of the characters introduced by the first narrator—then tells a story in the first person. In this story, Tagore speaks of the gullibility of a human mind which accepts only that version of reality which appeals to it.


The works curated in this exhibit explore Tagore’s creative energy which refused to confine itself to one form of expression. Each work is indicative of his rebellious and free spirit of expression, and his unfailing commitment to not being tied down by any kind of rules – be it semantic, aesthetic, social or political.

For further information about the exhibit, please contact IASL@library.illinois.edu or call (217) 333-1501

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Global Food, Locally: Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine

“Global Food, Locally”  is a series designed to introduce you to the International and Area Studies Library’s new graduate assistants as well local dining options for food from around the world. In our second installment, Sveta Stoytcheva reviews Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Like Quetzalli, I am also new to Champaign-Urbana and am eager to try out the different restaurant options the area has to offer.  For this installment of Glocal Notes’ Global Food, Locally series, I visited Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine.  Middle Eastern food is some of my favorite and I was excited to find a go-to place in the neighborhood. I found out about the restaurant from a coworker, who included it among her list of local restaurants to try. This blog post provided me with the perfect opportunity to follow-up on her recommendation. The restaurant, located at 601 South Wright Street, is a short walk from campus and a great place to enjoy a weekday lunch.

The restaurant has a very casual atmosphere: there are two- and four-person diner style tables and the food served is on plastic cafeteria trays. The walls are minimally decorated and a row of plants lines the large windows on one side of the small restaurant. I went there around noon on a Wednesday afternoon and the place was busy with lunch hour customers –at least 20 patrons came through the restaurant as I finished my meal. Despite the traffic, it was quiet enough to read through lunch and the NPR News program playing quietly in the background seemed surprisingly appropriate. Although the décor isn’t exactly fitting for a special occasion, it is perfectly fine for a quick weekday meal. More importantly, the food itself is worth the trip.

Jerusalem has a pretty extensive menu and I had a hard time deciding what to order even after settling on a vegetarian dish. In addition to chicken and beef shawarma, kufta, and other meat entrees, the restaurant serves a variety of vegetarian options, including falafel, vegetable tagine, dolma, hummus, and lentil soup. Individually wrapped portions of baklava are for sale at the counter. (If you’d like to learn more about any of these foods, take a look at some of the Middle Eastern cookbooks available at the library.)

JerusalemFalafel sandwich special at Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine.

To simplify things, I decided on one of the reasonably priced lunch specials and got a falafel sandwich, fries, and a spiced tea for just six dollars. The delicious tea is available either hot or iced in a styrofoam cup and, despite the warm weather, I decided hot tea was the way to go.  Once you pay for your meal, you get a number and after a short wait (I waited about 15 minutes) your number is called and you pick up your order at the counter.  I enjoyed my food, especially the falafel sandwich.  In case you’re wondering, falafels are fritters made out of chickpeas (sometimes fava beans) and spices and often served with pita bread. In this case, warm falafels were served in a pita with diced tomatoes and cucumbers with a pleasant tahini and parsley dressing. In addition to lunch specials, Jerusalem offers several dinner specials after 4 p.m. I plan on coming back for a vegetarian platter with dolma and lentil soup!

Food is an important element of the various cultures of the Middle East. Although the region is very diverse, several common elements distinguish Middle Eastern food from other regional cuisines. Dishes are often cooked for a long time over low heat and feature a variety of spices, including cumin, sumac, saffron, and turmeric.  Chickpeas (the main ingredient of both falafel and hummus) are very common, as are certain vegetables, such as eggplants (“V.B.1.” 2000).  Apparently, there is a Middle Eastern saying that “to dream of three aubergines [eggplants] is a sign of happiness” (ibid).

If you are interested in learning more about the cultures of the Middle East, feel free to browse some of the International and Area Studies libraries offerings on the Middle East & North Africa Collections website or visit us in person. Additionally, you can attend the weekly brown bag lectures at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies. The lectures cover a variety of topics and are free and open to the public. For your brown bag, food from Jerusalem Middle Eastern cuisine is available for take-out and I recommend giving it a try.

Jerusalem Middle Eastern Cuisine
601 S Wright St
Champaign, IL 61820
(217) 398-9022

V.B.1. The Middle East and South Asia. (2000). In Cambridge World History of Food. Retrieved from http://proxy2.library.illinois.edu/login?url=/login?qurl=http://www.credoreference.com/entry/cupfood/v_b_1_the_middle_east_and_south_asia


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