'Ugly Ducklings' Kick Off Lecture Series

Photo by Greg Urman, Daily Bruin

UCLA Center for India and South Asia begins its programming.

Everything we do now is for the first time. —Jyoti Gulati, history graduate student.

This story was first published in the Daily Bruin.

By Shaudee Navid, Daily Bruin reporter

Referred to as the "ugly ducklings" of India, the historic cities of Delhi and Chennai were the topic of discussion at the UCLA Center for India and South Asia's inaugural event Thursday evening.

Titled "The Past of Unloved Cities," the two-hour lecture and reception marked the first event in a lecture series the center hopes to host annually.

"Everything we do now is for the first time," said Jyoti Gulati, a history graduate student.

Housed under the UCLA International Institute, the center officially opened this past July as a result of a student and faculty initiative created several years ago.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam, director of the center and an Indian history professor, helped make that initiative a reality when he joined the UCLA faculty last fall, "building on the momentum" that already existed, he said.

Faculty who are part of the center and graduate students agree that having such an entity on campus is crucial, not only because of the growing population of people from South Asia, but to create a certain visibility for the region.

"It's important because ... it can persuade other departments to pay close attention to South Asia," Subrahmanyam said.

While UCLA offers a plethora of classes relevant to different regions, classes focusing on South Asia are limited.

Subrahmanyam hopes that with the opening of the center, new classes can be created concentrating on important South Asian topics, such as politics, he said.

Originally from Delhi, Subrahmanyam entertained his diverse audience of graduate students, faculty and scholars with paintings, writings and poems from the cities in question, bringing to light their stereotypically unpopular reputations.

Ali Anooshahr, a recent graduate student from the history department, said he is excited about the direction of the center.

"(It) starts to make people pay attention to Mughal history," Anooshahr said.

The Indian history usually taught at UCLA has had a strong modern focus instead of an emphasis on Mughal history, which is the late medieval and pre-modern period.

Annoshahr said he is looking forward to seeing more concentration on this era, of which many are unaware.

"Now, hopefully, since the center has opened ... more classes that focus on pre-modern history will be offered," he said. "I hope it expands toward that direction."

Though the lecture was the center's first event, members anticipate many more events in the future, in addition to expanding the organization with new faculty members.

Enthusiastic about the potential of the center, Gulati said it is something UCLA definitely needed within the International Institute.

"It serves to concentrate on a particular region and bring research and work that's been done on India and South Asia together," Gulati said.

"Once you have this kind of organization, it's easier to interact with other centers that specialize in other regions."

Published: Friday, October 14, 2005