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Encountering India: Where the twain shall meet? Topics in Literature/Topics in Race and Ethnic Studies


Block 1: Rashna B. Singh (Encountering India: Where the twain shall meet? Earlier encounters)

Block 2: Rashna B. Singh (Encountering India: Where the twain shall meet? Twenty-First Century encounters)

This course satisfies the Critical Perspectives: Global Cultures or the Critical Perspectives: Social Inequality requirement. 

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” Rudyard Kipling famously proclaimed, but from the time of Marco Polo, and even earlier, western travellers have written about the East, while travellers from the East have recorded their experiences of Europe. For the purposes of this course the Indian subcontinent will serve as emblematic of the East, as it was one the most coveted of all eastern destinations, both for its material riches and for its perceived exoticism. India, as meeting place, will be seen as a site of conflict but also of intimacy. The very discourse of East-West will be problematized through readings from Edward Said’s seminal book, Orientalism.

In Block 1 we will explore earlier encounters and examine the politics of representation. We will read short accounts by travellers in both directions and study their representations of the ‘Other.’ We will survey the presence of India in British literature, where it appears in Shakespeare’s plays and in Romantic poetry, but we will focus on novels by both British and Indian writers set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, for example, Bharati Mukherjee’s The Holder of the World, Anita Desai, Fire on the Mountain, Ruskin Bond’s A Flight of Pigeons, Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan, J.G. Farrell’s The Hill Station, Rumer Godden’s The Peacock Spring, Paul Scott’s Staying On, E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India and George Orwell’s Burmese Days. We will also take a brief look at nineteenth century children’s classics such as The Secret Garden and A Little Princess and examine their impact and influence. Non-fiction essays and accounts will supplement the literature.

In Block 2 we will examine twenty-first century encounters through recent novels by Anglophone writers from the Indian subcontinent such as Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and/or How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, Shobha Narayan's Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes, Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette and The Rainbow Sign and selections from Salman Rushdie’s short story collection, East,West and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s short story collection A Lovesong for India: Tales from the East and West, encounters engendered by globalism, migrations and conflict. Excerpts from Global Modernity by Arif Dirlik and other theoretical works will frame our discussions. Relevant films such as “Earth,” “East is East,” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will be screened on occasion in both blocks, and there will be a field trip in Block 1 and maybe in Block 2. In Block 2, filmmaker Jayasri Hart will visit and work with our class in conjunction with presenting her PBS documentary "Roots in the Sand."

A two-block course with one instructor; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


• A few of the film screenings will take place in the afternoon. The Block 1 field trip will occur in the afternoon. The Block 2 field trip, to be confirmed, will be in the morning during class time.

• There will be a field trip in Block 1 to Boulder, CO and possibly one in Block 2 to Denver, CO.