Friday, October 26, 2007

Another Cross-Cultural Similarity: Students Like Free Food

Gulzar (yes, that Gulzar) visited our campus this week. It was the university’s Founders’ Day celebration, and so Gulzar was there to give a lecture on “Language and the Evolution of Indian Cinema.”

The auditorium was packed. We waited with bated breath through three introductions (the introduction of the person who would give the introduction of the person who would introduce Gulzar, etc.) and a forty-five minute PowerPoint presentation on the fiscal achievements of the university, including its recent upgrade from a “National University With Potential For Excellence” to a “National University of Excellence.”

And then, at last, Gulzar spoke.

In Hindi.

There were a few murmurs of consternation in the largely Telugu- and English-speaking audience. And then we settled back and started practicing the art of listening attentively, and laughing/clapping along with the ten percent of the audience who understood what he was saying.

(Actually, truth be told, even I was able to get the gist of the lecture, thanks to a few key words like “Independence” and “Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit,” etc. He was telling the story of how language developed post-Independence, and how Hindi began to dominate over Urdu, and how the popularity of Hindi-language films helped to speed this process. The lecture ended, of course, with a nod to the film industry’s role in popularizing Hinglish.)

About halfway through the lecture, there was a power outage. The lights popped back on a moment later to reveal the aisles packed with students trying to leave the auditorium. However, the majority of us stuck it out to the end, including a lengthy Q&A and the presentation of the thank-you certificate and the introduction of the person chosen to escort Gulzar off of the stage.

And then it was announced that high tea would be served in the garden.

We went to the garden and began to form a queue. I was actually close to the front because I had been sitting in the back row of the auditorium and was right next to the door. They had piles of sweets and snacks; samosas, gulab jamuns, cake, biscuits, etc.

But before I could make it to the sweets table, the rest of the 500+ crowd descended. Ignoring queues, students pressed themselves towards the table like ants swarming jelly. Meanwhile, the people who had been queued began to push back. University par Excellence, indeed. It was clear, both by the way I was being shoved around and by the handfuls of sweets being grabbed by those closest to the table that – well, first of all that there might be nothing left in a few moments, and second that I was in serious danger of being crushed in the stampede.

I’d had plenty of lovely sweets in Bangalore, and so I didn’t need to risk my neck for any of these. I ducked underneath the swinging arms and escaped the melee.

I think we made Gulzar proud, don’t you?


Anonymous said...

Heh - universal truisms indeed - and it is not just students - it is all "young" folks...young being anyone younger than me!

BUT - and this is a vent - it really bugs me, when people like Gulzar, who are perfectly able to make themselves understood in English, insist on speaking in Hindi at an event in S.India - especially people of his age, who can hardly have been unaware of the animosity Hindi faces in some places in the South. That said, he *might* have assumed that since Hyderabad has long spoken Hindi, that the audience there would understand him.


Anonymous said...

This is really a failure of organization, happens often in universities and large organizations. Why invite Gulzar who is a Hindi/Urdu poet when the majority of the audience are not likely to understand him? Better to perhaps organize a seminar about Gulzar, where local scholars and poets can talk about his poetry. Or get in touch with Gulzar *before* the event and let him know about the language issue (surely the faculty is aware of the student demographic and that the majority of students at the University of Hyderabad come from small towns, not from Hyderabad itself).

Nanga Fakir said...

To Blue:

Too bad you don't know Hindi/Urdu. Ditch poetry, simply listening to Gulzar talk in his deep, beautiful voice is worth killing for...listening to his poetry, worth dying for.