South Asia may be the homeland of old favorites like spicy curries, Mount Everest and the Taj Mahal, but the South Asian Society wants students to realize that it is also the birthplace of a dynamic and complex culture.
The SAS is currently hosting South Asian Awareness Week in an effort to show a different side of contemporary South Asian culture. Unlike previous attempts to hold a similar program on a smaller scale, this year the society has put together a series of events that stretches over the course of nine days.
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The events began last Wednesday with an appearance by Raagapella, the Stanford University fusion a cappella group, and will end this coming Friday with an Awareness Week banquet. Other events include a performance by Salman Ahmad, lead guitarist of Pakistani rock band Junoon; a show with comedian Vidur Kapur; a panel with the consul generals of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; and a talk with Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney who works on human rights for Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Many of the events are accompanied by dinners or receptions with the guests.
The events are meant to portray facets of South Asian culture in a manner relevant to the world and Yalies today, organizers said.
“It is a microcosm of SAS as an organization,” SAS President Tarana Shivdasani ’08 said. “It fosters greater understanding of how South Asia relates to the world in cultural, political and economical spheres.”
SAS aims to increase awareness and understanding of South Asia at Yale, but members said it has often been perceived as dedicated to Bollywood than serious issues.
“We have been criticized in the past for being purely cultural and not responding well to political issues,” Shivdasani said. “Through South Asian Awareness Week, SAS is trying to reach out to the Yale community.”
SAS is known for hosting cultural shows, such as Roshni in the fall, that have attracted more than 400 students.
So far, the week’s events have been relatively successful, Shivdasani said, though organizers were unable to arrange for appearances by former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and novelist Salman Rushdie due to difficulties with University funding and scheduling.
Ariel hepherd-Oppenheim ’10 attended yesterday’s talk by Singh, who, in addition to working for the ACLU, is the daughter of the current prime minister of India.
“It was not what I was expecting,” Shepherd-Oppenheim said. “The panels are timely with the news … It’s a great way to get firsthand information that I haven’t been exposed to.”
The events are also meant to shed light on stereotypes associated with South Asians, some said.
“Chicken tikka masala and Bollywood dancing are not South Asia in a nutshell,” SAS Political Action Co-chair Kersi Shroff said.
SAS board member Janhavi Nilekani ’10 said each event so far has attracted more than 100 students. The audiences have been an equal mix of both South Asian and non-South Asian students, a fact comedian Vidur Kapur said he appreciated after his show this past Saturday.
“No matter what your interest is, you can get a lot out of this week,” Shivdasani said.
The final two events, a Women’s Night discussion on domestic violence among South Asian women and an Awareness Week Banquet, will be held this coming Thursday and Friday, respectively.