Studies at Stony Brook University was established, to promote a better appreciation of Indian thought, culture, and civilization, by developing expertise and resources for studying India, for the benefit of the university and the community. Nurtured by the dedicated efforts of students and faculty, university administration and the Indian American community, the Center has evolved rapidly to become an academic success story, a proud community asset, and a major national resource center on India.
The Road Taken and the Road Ahead: Reflections by Directors
T he journey that we celebrate today started in January 1995 with some students - officers of the student organization Club India, asking us why there were no courses on India at Stony Brook that they could take. At that time, it was almost literally true. We had started the India Society at Stony Brook, a community organization, in October of 1989, and we had been asking ourselves the same question. There were one or two occasional special topics type of course dealing with India, but no regular offerings, let alone a program. We offered to help them if they could prove that they were serious by showing that there was student demand for courses on India. They did so by writing a petition to President Kenny - we helped a little - and submitted it with, to our amazement, 700 signatures. President Kenny, who had recently joined Stony Brook, and was a champion of multi-culturalism, was very impressed and encouraging in her response. With that blessing, we announced India Studies Program, with two courses to be taught by us, as overload, in the Fall of 1995: an introduction to Indian Civilization course taught (as a special topic!) by S.N. Sridhar, and Elementary Hindi course taught by Meena. The students got busy, spreading the word and mobilizing their cohorts. We organized our colleagues in various departments who were interested in India, and also in the India Society, and the latter even pledged some $2,000 at a meeting to help the students realize their dream. Word of this student-initiated movement reached Newsday, and Somini Sen Gupta, who has gone on to become the New Delhi bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote a half-page story in Newsday on April 19,1995, titled "India Studies mulled at SUNY."
The courses were very well enrolled; about 75 students each. Encouraged by the success of these courses, students demanded more and we offered two more courses, on Hindi and Indian Literature, all taught as overload. As we thought about the demand and the needs of a basic India Studies program, it was clear that it could not be sustained by two professors teaching courses as overload.
However, these were lean times for the university and we feared the fledgling program would be shot down if we asked for money. So we decided to form a campus committee with Professors Viswanath Prasad (Engineering), Farley Richmond (Theatre), and Prateek Mishra (Computer Science), Subir Maitra (Emergency Medicine), N.S. Ramamurthy (Oral Biology) as leading members. We met with the President and explained our goals and also decided to enlist the support of the community. Sridhar made a cold call on Dr. Azad Anand, who had been
active in the India Association of Long Island, whose name was in the papers. He was excited to hear about this and a delegation of faculty and community leaders met several times with President Kenny and then Associate Provost Robert McGrath, and the idea of a Center for India Studies began to take shape. We also enlisted the help of the then Consul General of India in New York, Hon. Harsh Bhasin, who met with the President the community leaders and pledged the support of the Government of India.
Dr. Anand and friends at the volunteer active in the India Association of Long Island, whose name was in the papers. He was excited to hear about this and a delegation of faculty and community leaders met several times with President Kenny and then Associate Provost Robert McGrath, and the idea of a Center for India Studies began to take shape. We also enlisted the help of the then Consul General of India in New York, Hon. Harsh Bhasin, who met with the President the community leaders and pledged the support of the Government of India.
Dr. Anand and friends at the volunteer organization, Shanti Fund, Dr. Anoop and Urvashi Kapoor, Sudesh and Sudha Mukhi, Surinder Rametra and, especially Arvind Vora, organized an elegant Breakfast under the auspices of Shanti Fund in May of 1996 to inform the larger community of the India Studies Program at Stony Brook. President Kenny and Consul General Bhasin were the main guests. Although it was not intended as a fundraiser, people were so excited about the vision, energy, and momentum of the movement that Dr. Anand collected pledges of up to $100,000 for the program. It was an electrifying moment for everyone.
From the beginning, we were conscious that isolated initiatives without a structure have a short life. The administration agreed to establish a Center for India Studies for coordinating India-related activities, allotted a suite of rooms in the Library, in the heart of the campus, and the Center was inaugurated on April 27, 1997. Dr. V.S. Arunachalam, Scientific Advisor to three Prime Ministers of India, was the Keynote Speaker. In his speech, he wished the Center a future as bright and distinguished as that of the great world-class universities of India, Nalanda and Takshashila. The event in the Staller Center was attended by over 700 people and was covered in The New York Times with the caption, Asians Making an Impact on Long Island. It is the 10th anniversary of that event that we are celebrating today.
The support that we saw at the Inauguration has only grown with time, thanks to the untiring energy of the members of the Board of Directors of the India Studies Foundation, an institution that we set up to raise funds for the Center for India Studies at Stony Brook. The Foundation has done well, first under the Chairmanship of Dr. Azad Anand and then under Dr Nirmal K. Mattoo. Year after year, they have raised funds for the programs of the Center through its annual Benefit Dinners, major donations, and through sponsorships in the thematic Journals. We have become the model and the envy of the campus because of (we hope only in part because of) our fundraising which is, of course a glory that in truth belongs to our dedicated Board of Directors, many of whom have been Major Donors themselves.
1996 was a banner year in another sense, too: Dr. Nirmal K. Mattoo, then National President of the Association of Indians in America, decided to celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of India's Independence in a unique way: by publishing an accurate and reliable book on India and they asked the Center to do it. The idea was intriguing: it fit in nicely with the mission we had envisaged for the Center: to produce authentic knowledge on India and present it in a way that was accessible to educated public. Foolhardy as it was to design the book, solicit and edit the articles, and produce the book all within the incredibly short span of about 9 months, we took it up as a challenge and the result was Ananya: A Portrait of India, The book was edited by Dr Mattoo and Dr S.N. Sridhar and the faculty and students at the Center produced it. It was released at a glit¬tering function organized by the AIA at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel on August 15, 1997.
Ananya, with its stellar cast of contrib¬utors and vast scope and classy production value quickly got enthusiastic reviews and helped establish the reputation of the Center as a serious player in India Studies. We continued with our strategy of authentic but publicly accessible research in our annual thematic journals (edited with great help from N.S. Ramamurthy), each of which deals worth one theme about India, for example, India's Contribution to World Knowledge or Dances of India and presents it in an attractive format.
Other events that gave major exposure to the work of Center were the International Conference on South Asian Languages, the Stony Brook Conference on India Studies, and the Symposium on Vijayanagar. Two concerts Carnegie Hall organized by Dr Mattoo by India's premiere Sarod artist, Ustad Amjad Ali Kan were benefit concerts for the Center.
Dr. Nirmal Mattoo became Chair of the India Studies Foundation in 2001. Under his leadership, with the help of Drs. Buddhadev and Dolly Manvar; Mr Sudesh and Dr. Sudha Mukhi, Ravi and Jaya Bhooplapur, Dr. Chittimoorthy, Mr Dominick Gio, Dr. Kanwal Gupta, and others, the Foundation has launched an Endowment Campaign to give the Center financial security, so that its programs can be continued in perpetuity. With the help of a number of generous donors, we have made a good beginning toward our goal in the first phase of the endowment, $2 million.
A lot has happened since: We expand¬ed the number and range of courses offered, mainly by recruiting part-time adjunct faculty. This is one of the primary purposes for which the funds raised for the Center has been used. The courses have grown from almost none in 1995 to about 30 a year. The number of students taking India-based courses has grown, too: now, some 1500 students take India-relat¬ed courses per year. There is a popular Minor in India Studies and a Major in Asian Studies with South Asia as a possible concentration. The success of the Center was a catalyst in the establishment of the new Department of Asian and Asian American Studies in 2002, which resulted in a quasi change of guard at the Center. S.N. became Chair of the new department and Meena became Director of the Center.
We at the Center have always believed that in a public university, we have an obligation to make the fruits of our research and teaching available to the public. To this end, the Center launched a series of initiatives from the very beginning: a Lecture series, which brought a large number of the most distin¬guished authors, scholars, intellectuals, and social activists working on India to the campus; and a Performing Arts Series, under which we have arranged concerts and performances by some of India's finest artists in music and dance. The establishment of the Charles B. Wang Center has given an added boost to our programs, and the campus calendar is now chock-full of India-related programs. We are very proud to record that the speakers and per¬formers featured in our series are among the very best in the Indian intellectual, artistic and cultural arena. The Center has thus enriched the intellectual and cultural ambience of Stony Brook and Long Island.
In 2004, we were the principal advisor to the hour-long PBS documentary, program, Asian Indians in America, which has been aired in several cities around the nation. The pro¬gram features Stony Brook, the Center, its stu¬dents and faculty, and members of the India Studies Foundation Board prominently. We recently received a letter from a lawyer in Houston, offering to donate the original copy of a letter from Mahatma Gandhi to his father.
Another program we are proud of is the India Outreach Program. We started this even before the Center was formally established.
Under this program, we assist local, regional, and national organizations and institutions to educate their constituents about India. Among the hundreds of institutions we have assisted are schools and school districts; colleges and universities (including Harvard); museums and public libraries (including American Museum of Natural History); newspapers, magazines, publishers, (including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly), radio and television stations (including BBC and PBS); local governments, such as the City Hall in New York, the towns of Hempstead and Huntington; and ethnic organizations, such as the Association of Indians in America. Center faculty has also held briefing sessions for candidates for political office, such as Governor of New York and the President.
The activities of the Center have been featured frequently and prominently in main¬stream media outlets and in Indian American media. The Center has become one of the first resources that journalists and others writing on India turn to clarify information on India. The work of the Center has come to be regarded as something of a national model. We get requests from universities across the country - from Miami to Houston to Harvard - to address their students, faculty, and community leaders about the 'Stony Brook model for a Center for India Studies.'
The Center has thus come a long way. On this occasion, we would like to remember with deep gratitude and appreciation all the people whose vision, perseverance, dedication, and hard, hard work has made this possible. The university administrators, starting with President Kenny, through Provost McGrath and Dean Staros and many others; the Board of Directors of the India Studies Foundation, starting with Dr. Anand and Dr Mattoo and their friends and their wives; the faculty; the students; all the donors; and the many people who do not fall into any of these categories but have been of crucial help with their many acts of kindness and of love. To all of them we say: thank you. We are here because of you, and for you.