Traveling Professor Signs off from India with Insight, Humor

February 29, 2012

In his final two travel missives from Madurai, India, Professor of Philosophy Roderic Owen sheds light on higher education in India , specifically the shortage of scientifically oriented positions for educated women in the Madurai region, and introduces us to “JD,” a man with a poignant story of rising above his circumstances to serve others .

Owen writes:

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… he was not only teased unmercifully by his peers and ostracized by adults in the village community but also rejected by his own family; he told me that he was poisoned twice by fellow villagers. He was taken away by government child welfare officials and placed in an orphanage in the nearby city of Madurai — where he grew up, went to school, learned to love the arts, and somehow (it seemed to me) overcame despair, anger, bitterness to become a teacher and kind of “social worker” for tribal boys and girls.

With a nod to the sentimental and ever true to his role as professor, Owen writes his eighth and final journal entry in the form of a pop quiz based on his previous seven accounts of life in Madurai, from the culinary to the sanitary. Hint: you won’t be “ragged” into taking the quiz, but if you don’t, you’re a weenie.

He asks:

Q. Where are my fork and knife and how am I supposed to eat my meal or cut my meat?

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A. If you sit down for a South Indian meal you will not be given a fork and knife — unless it is a “hotel” that caters to tourists and foreigners. Tamils and many other South Indians are quite adept at eating with their right hand, and if there is any meat it is likely to be a small portion included in a sauce or gravy. “Hotels” are actually what we Americans call “restaurants;” and to add to the confusion some hotels actually do provide lodging but most do not! By the way, most upscale hotels provide at least two public sinks with a shared towel provided to wash one’s hands before and after the meal.

Owen’s eight-part journal has provided insight during a 10-week sabbatical in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. His goal: to help strengthen ties between Mary Baldwin and the all-women Lady Doak College and to research and give presentations on ethics and conflict resolution. So far, Owen has addressed transportation, language, food, celebrations, and old vs. new India. Here are Owen’s past travelogues:

Lady Doak College

Have You Heard About Pongol?

Tamil, Language, Caste and Race, and The Hindu

Celebrating, Eating, and Rules of the Road

Student Life and … Sewage

Back to Caste and Tribal Peoples