Native Son Returns to Delhi

Native Son Returns to Delhi

Old Delhi. Photo courtesy of Mani Babbar on Filckr Creative Commons (c)

Historian Vinay Lal's sojourn will take him and his family away from their home at UCLA and back to Delhi, the city of his birth, where he will lead a UC-wide study abroad program.

They should grow up in a cosmopolitan environment.

UCLA historian Vinay Lal says that this is an extraordinary moment for India. It's also a rare opportunity for him to "get solidly reacquainted" with the city where he born.

With its emerging middle class and first-time consumer culture, India an exciting place to live, he says, particularly for a professor of history. Lal will spend the next 18 months at the helm of the University of California's Education Abroad Program (EAP) in Delhi.

"I feel like I'm going home," he says.

For now, he is busy packing and taking care of "all those details" with his wife Anju Relan, director of the Instructional Design and Technology Unit at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, and two children. All will be making the move with him.

When Lal (left) arrives in India near month's end, 44 UC students, including seven from UCLA, will be finishing a language immersion program at the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India.

EAP has been sending students to India for over 20 years, excepting a pause in 2002 during the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. The India program began at the University of Delhi and, seven years ago, began offering students the chance to spend a semester in the south of the country at the University of Hyderabad. During his tenure as the program's director, Lal hopes to explore the option of adding a third university to handle increasing student interest in India and to diversify EAP's offerings over the long run.

Undergraduates moving from one democracy to another will find some familiar things and some "cultural dissonance," as Lal puts it. The small habits and notions of foreign cultures are the ones you can understand only by seeing them for yourself, and only that way can they resonate.

And Lal should know. The son of an Indian diplomat, he grew up in India, Indonesia, Japan, and the United States and studied in England and Australia before settling in Los Angeles. Part of the allure of the EAP position, he says, is the chance to show his children, eight and six years old, what life is like outside of America.

"They should grow up in a cosmopolitan environment," Lal says, adding that it doesn't hurt that they can learn languages, in this case Hindi, much easier while they are young.

Lal hopes that cultural immersion will challenge the UC students to test their assumptions, and not only about India.

"Students should acquire a greater awareness of the complexity of Indian culture," Lal says, "and perhaps come away with a greater understanding of America."

Published: Friday, June 15, 2007