I went to Mumbai this past weekend at the invitation of a former (and perhaps future) Fulbrighter: Dean Uma Narain. Here she is back in the day with the man, William Fulbright, himself (shortly before he died):
She is the founder of the Joyti Dalal School of Liberal Arts (JDSoLA) within NMIMS University (not sure what the NM stands for, but the IMS at the end is “Institute of Management Studies). So it’s a business school that has recognized the value of liberal arts. That’s quite something, as the liberal arts aren’t nearly as highly valued in India as (what we would call in the US) the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) – and medicine. The school is pretty new, and feels more like a luxury hotel than a university.
Dr. Narain has an ambitious plan for the school, and its interdisciplinary nature is a big part of that. I was there, though, to present some good old-fashioned philosophy lectures and my topics were Descartes and Hume, as well as a brief overview of 20th century analytic philosophy. Here’s some pics of the class:
There’s one full-time philosopher (so far) at JDSoLA named Lalit Saraswat. With a background in engineering and neuroscience, he fits the school’s interdisciplinary needs to a T. It was his class that I was invited to guest lecture in. Other faculty members I met had similar interdisciplinary backgrounds. A very friendly, and interesting group:
The first day was Friday, and I talked about Descartes for a few hours – his Meditations and his arguments for mind/body dualism. It went well, although partway through, there was a noticeable stir among the students, who all started talking at once, with some getting up and leaving the room, even. I found out later that the school had chosen that particular moment to release last semester’s grades online (the students got instant phone alerts when that happened) – and apparently, not everyone was happy with them.
Things settled down, though, and I got some great questions and comments from the group of about 35 undergraduates. Aside from some worse-than-usual back pain, everything went well. Due to the back pain, I spent some time after the lectures laying (lying?) on the floor in Lalit’s office, doing some stretching exercises the physical therapist has taught me. Apparently, some of the administrators from the upper floors saw me (the office walls were glass) and thought I was perhaps having a medical emergency of some sort. They sent a security guy down to check on me!
The school put me up in a nice hotel nearby that had a great high-pressure, steaming-hot shower (that was the highlight, as I wasn’t there for too long, having arrived a bit late and left a bit early the next morning).
The next day, Saturday (yes, most colleges and universities in India have classes on Saturday), I met some more members of the faculty, including a woman who is married to an American from Ohio. They met as graduate students at UCLA – both archaeologists. So we had lots of notes to compare. Another faculty member I met had a background in social linguistics, and is teaching sociology for the school. Everyone I met had strong interdisciplinary credentials. And everyone was incredibly nice, and curious about how things are structured in US colleges/universities.
The lectures on Saturday were mostly on David Hume (thanks Pat Kenny!), with a bit on the history of analytic philosophy. Again, very interesting comments from the students. Also, my first Fulbright contact in India back in July, named Sachin, who’s also a philosopher, came by and sat in on the class. After the lecture on each day, Dean Narain had lunch brought up from the school’s cafeteria – I had biryani and naan each time (excellent) – and my back was much improved over the previous day.
The rides to and from Mumbai were pretty uneventful. The school rented me a car both ways, which was good, as I could lay down on the back seat when necessary.
The distance from Pune to Mumbai is a mere 90 miles or so. About the same distance from Syracuse to the PA border. However, the drive took about 4 hours each way! The bulk of that time, though, is spent in each of the cities. The highways between the two cities are quite new and modern, though they do have a lot of traffic. However, once you enter each city, the traffic becomes very congested and it took an hour in each to get from outskirts to destination.
Overall, it was a really great trip and I’m hoping to get back for another visit before we leave. I didn’t get to see much of Mumbai (or run into any Bollywood stars), so perhaps I can bring the whole family next time and do some sightseeing.
Local elections have finally come (and gone). The candidate who Farhana’s family voted for won his race, so that was good. And the city was all lit up, which was fun:
Rizwana recently turned 21 (again). We still have a surprise gift that we haven’t given her yet (don’t tell), but she did get a nice mug. And picture from Eli:
There’s a great philosophy podcast called The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. They’ve been doing a history of Indian philosophy and the most recent episode featured a couple named Ujjwala Jha and V.N. Jha – who, I was surprised to hear – teach in the Sanskrit department here at Pune University! I stopped in to introduce myself and had a nice chat with Prof. Jha (Ujjwala). She hadn’t heard that the podcast episode had been posted, so we spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out how to play it on her phone. Here’s the Sanskrit department, and a (terribly blurry) selfie I took (where’s Simmi when I need her?).
Ch ch ch ch changes
Apparently, OCC hasn’t stopped everything, anxiously awaiting my return. Things are changing including sadly (though happily for them) the departure of two of my favorite people – Mike Heise and Adam Prestopnik. I got to know each originally through their work with the distance learning department, but then was fortunate enough to serve on various committees with each. Mike was one of the first people I met outside of the social sciences department at OCC and he and Adam both really helped me to improve my online course offerings. Thank goodness Laura Matechak will still be around to put up with my pestering Blackboard questions.