Don's diary: be-saried and bewitched

August 8, 2003

Monday

First day at Avinashilingam Women's University, India, where I am a visiting lecturer for two weeks as part of a British Council exchange.

Appropriately, the university is in the town of Coimbatore, known as the "Manchester of India" for its former textiles industry. All eyes are on me as I am flatteringly introduced by the vice-chancellor as a "distinguished visitor" at the daily morning staff assembly. A planning session follows to finalise my programme of lectures for the ten working days ahead, although in the event it changes daily. Afterwards, I sit down to lunch, a sumptuous feast of south Indian vegetarian fare that certainly beats a sandwich in front of the computer.

Tuesday

Deliver my first lecture on leisure management to 50 female, attentive, if shy, home science undergraduates. I find myself beginning with a familiar plea: "Can we fill up the front please?" Other rituals are less familiar. The two-hour slot ends with a vote of thanks and an a cappella rendition of the Indian national anthem from the students.

Later, in response to my request to see some student accommodation, I am taken to a suspiciously tidy room shared by six first-years. The general "lived-in" melee present in the dorm next door, however, seems much more what I would have expected from my own recent experience as an under-warden in Manchester.

Wednesday

Participate in a field trip to a Coimbatore village with a group of community studies postgraduates. Practical demonstrations of cloth dying and cooking take place. The gaggle of different tongues on the coach on our way back exemplifies India's unparallelled linguistic diversity - even if the language of instruction is English - and the fact that students from all over the country attend Avinashilingam.

In the evening, I address the Rotary Club of Coimbatore Metropolis, a jovial bunch of Anglophiles. My talk on the Indianisation of British popular culture has had a plug in The Hindu newspaper.

Thursday

A complimentary remark to some students on their attire yesterday, the weekly compulsory sari-wearing day at Avinashilingam, results in the arrival a mysterious package. Inside is a handsome purple sari with gold trim. Two students arrive to dress me. I conduct my morning lecture on mass media "be-saried" and it's my turn to receive compliments.

Friday

The day begins with a tripartite Hindu/ Christian/Muslim pooja (prayer) at the on-campus shrine to bless the new on-campus creche. Avinashilingam follows strict philanthropic values and provides education from pre-school right up to PhD.

I contribute to a tourism department conference where a lively debate on encouraging India as a tourist destination ensues. It seems that high travel insurance costs deter overseas visitors, while Indians prefer to holiday in America or Europe, or indeed to save their rupees for financing their children's weddings. It seems a crying shame. India has so much to offer in terms of attractions and natural beauty. At the end of my first week I've packed in lots and time seems to have flown by. Avinashilingam is oddly starting to feel like home.

Rupa Huq is a lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Manchester. Her stay at Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women, Deemed University, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadoo, India, was part of the British Council Higher Education Links Scheme run in partnership with the Department for International Development.

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