In about 3 months I’ll be in India. I’m trying to a do my best to learn as much as I can before the journey by reading — a lot. Most of the things I’m reading about have to do with education and culture, but I’m also learning a lot about the arts in Tamil Nadu. One of focuses of my project for the Fulbright is to learn about the arts and crafts that are typical in this part of India and then create some curriculum and lessons around what I learn. The hard part will be trying to find classes or workshops where I can learn about these arts because many of the techniques and styles are passed down from generation to generation, by apprenticeship, or from guru to shishya (teacher to pupil). Many of the techniques and styles are very specific to small villages and local communities of Tamil Nadu, and the same traditions may be practiced in a variety of ways.
There is a great book I’m reading now which shares some of those stories and how people are trying to keep local culture and arts alive within their own communities and villages. Usually it’s from help outside, like philanthropists. With globalization happening at a very quick rate, the traditional arts and crafts in India are disappearing rapidly. If they are lost for good that would mean a loss of culture and identity for those communities.
Not only do I want to find some ways to learn some of these traditions, I want to learn about why and how they are implemented. In many western cultures, art is often seen as something very separate from everyday life. Sometimes there is a belief that art is not something everyone does or can do. There is a sort of separateness of art and real life in some parts of the western culture. In India, I’ve been learning, that is not necessarily the case. A lot of the arts and crafts that people do are because of the way they live their daily lives.
So, this may mean, I will get to learn just by being open to experiences that come my way. If art is life, then there will be no need for me to take a class, but just make myself be an active participant in what is in front of me on a daily basis. Although I will be an outsider looking in, I can prepare myself to be present and see what “art” looks like, or doesn’t look like, in India. The only thing I can do is keep reading, collect information, and just remember that these are only a few examples of what is possible to see and experience while I’m in India.
If you think about it, the land size of India is about as large as half of the continental United States. When you factor in population, you can’t even really compare the two! There are at least three times as many people in India than the entire United States. Just imagine how many variations of local arts there are! I think what I’ll have to keep in perspective is that I’ll be there for a short amount of time. I will not be coming to India as an expert in anything, and I will not be leaving as an expert in anything. One thing I know for sure is that I will be given new perspectives, new ideas, and a little bit more knowledge on how arts impact life in India.