Professor Stephen Arata and daughter, Emma, stand on a balcony
overlooking Shillong, India, where Arata taught as a Fulbright
Scholar last semester.
shares experiences as Fulbright in India
years English professor Stephen Arata would get the Fulbright
catalog and "drool over it," wishing he taught American
instead of British literature, the area of study typically in
demand by universities abroad. Then last year the publication
arrived, and amid the listings was a position for scholar of 19th-
and 20th-century British lit.
applied for the coveted post, a three-month-long professorship
in India, and much to his delight got it. "I'd always wanted
to visit the country," he said.
stayed in the city of Shillong in the northeast region of India
called Meghalaya. It was a closed state until recently, due to
civil instability. "I was only the second Fulbright to go
there," said Arata, who was visiting professor at North Eastern
Hill University from August through December. In India, "university˛
refers to graduate school and "college" signifies undergraduate
study. He taught a course in 20th-century British fiction and
was guest lecturer in three other M.A. classes.
canon "would be considered much more traditional -- Beowulf
to Virginia Woolf -- than ours." It doesn't take world literature
into account. Indian literature and other literary works throughout
the world aren't making their way into India's canon, not because
of an unwillingness to change or be inclusive, he said, but because
of limited resources. "Things we take for granted -- paper,
books, paper clips -- aren't plentiful there."
Amenities are wanting, too. At North Eastern Hill there was only
one telephone in the English department, which often didn't work,
and the electricity wasn't dependable, Arata said. "There
was no e-mail, no Xerox machines. The only way to communicate
was in person."
scarce supplies and equipment, scholarship thrives, he said. The
biggest difference he found between the students he taught in
India and those he instructs at U.Va. is that Indian students
are "excruciatingly deferential. Š They hold their professors
in high esteem, which was nice, but they thought it would be disrespectful
to challenge my lectures," he said. "It took a long
time to convince them that I really wanted them to talk to me.
There were days when I longed for some brash American student
to tell me I was terribly mistaken," Arata recalled smiling.
Hindu, Moslem and Sikh cultures are dominant in most of India,
in Shillong self-described "tribal" cultures indigenous
to that area, some Christian-based, are prevalent. The city is
located in the Khasi Hills at the base of the Himalayas. English
is the official language there as well as in all of India.
Arata's wife, Lisa Goff, and their daughters Emma, 7, and Haley,
4, accompanied him to India. When he wasn't teaching at the university,
he and his family spent most of their time together. "We
were able to have the nuclear family" experience, he said.
they ventured out, they were well-received. The people were warm
and gracious, Arata said. Not many from the U.S. visit Shillong.
"We were there three months before we saw another American."
As a result, "Our novelty value was quite high. We were the
recipients of many invitations to tea."
and his family made many friends in the Khasi neighborhood where
they lived. They even adjusted to the city's still-agrarian-based
workday. "Most go to bed at 9 p.m. and get up at 4:30 a.m.,"
serious problems facing Shillong and all of India are pollution
and overcrowding. "Indians are meticulously clean in their
person and in their homes," Arata said. However, there's
no system in place for managing waste. "The streets in Shillong
are filthy, and the rivers are choked with garbage," he said.
During his visit, India's population reached 1 billion. Shillong's
citizenry, alone, has tripled in the past 20 years, he noted.
"You were aware that the city had been planned for far fewer
with the crowded, littered landscape, however, was the lush, natural
beauty of the area. Although Arata visited the city during its
rainy season -- "I now have an experiential knowledge of
what monsoon means" -- the "amazing" flowers provided
a break in the dreary weather. "They were incredible,"
he said. "I was told that there are more orchids in Shillong
than any other place in the world."
back on Grounds, Arata said his time in India was a wonderful
experience professionally and personally. He is grateful to the
University, especially Arts & Sciences Dean Melvyn Leffler, for
adding financial support to the "modest Fulbright stipend"
he received to make his semester abroad possible.