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Abhimanyu Lele ‘16 – Bangalore, India

<ong>What’s Bangalore like?

It’s pretty big, like 9 million people. It’s kind of hard not having friends close by and stuff. Getting any place in the city is like an hour’s drive. It’s also a lot of fun because everything you could possibly need is in town.

It’s not really globalized. India has a fairly large native English speaking population because it was a British colony. So there’s also a lot of speakers of native languages. I grew up learning both. My parents speak different languages of their own. I grew up speaking four languages. My education was in English, so it’s more or less my first language, but not quite.

The town itself is interesting because there is something of a divide (that I wasn’t really conscious of as a kid) between the English-speaking population and the non-English speaking population.

Why’d you decide to come to Carleton?

India doesn’t really have the concept of the liberal arts college. Students are divided into hard science or humanities or social science. You choose your stream in high school and are stuck with it the rest of your life. I really liked a whole bunch of subjects and even if I didn’t like them I thought there was a certain value to having breadth, which is why I wanted to come to the US.

Carleton, because I felt politically and socially it was a place I could be comfortable in. It’s much more accepting of international students than, say, Oklahoma. It’s a small place, they’re no fraternities here. My parents both studied in the US thirty years ago and said that was a big problem. Also a strong science department. There social aspect was pretty important.

What did you think about Salman Rushdie’s speech last fall?

I’ve read a couple of his books and some of his speeches. I had somewhat mixed feelings about him, actually. I liked a lot of what he had to say about free speech and so on. At the same time, that there’s something qualitatively different about Islam that makes it have violent tendencies made me uncomfortable. I’m not a Muslim, I’m an atheist and my family is of Hindu origins, but it still made me pretty uncomfortable. I mean, considering what his experience was, it’s understandable.

Also, he came out in support of very absolutist free speech, which again I had some doubts about. Okay, free speech is a human right. Fine. But at some point that starts intruding on other peoples’ ability to live in peace, then it becomes a problem that he didn’t really acknowledge.

He made some statements about politics in India in passing about appeasement of Muslims that made me uncomfortable. India has a population of maybe fifteen or twenty percent Muslim but because of the violence in 1947 with the partition of India and Pakistan there’s a history of strong violence and because Muslims are the minority they get targeted. And so if “appeasement” happens, it’s very necessary because they are getting the sharp end of the stick, so to speak. He wasn’t really acknowledging that. But I liked the talk in general.

How does American democracy and Indian democracy differ?

The major different is that it’s a multi-party democracy. People think of American politics as very polarized, which it is because people are always at each others’ throats. But on a global spectrum the two parties are really not very far apart.

In India, there is a functioning communist party. They actually rule a couple of states. At the other end, there’s a very right wing Hindu-nationalist part. There’s several hundred parties in India. The whole dynamic of coalition politics just doesn’t exist in the United States.

In some ways, the conversation in India is more left wing in general. Things like state intervention in the market is just accepted. Major “social issues” in America just aren’t relevant there. Abortion is a non issue. It is legal for the first three months of pregnancy. Gay rights is a non issue in totally the opposite direction. That’s a problem I think.

I think gay sex is still criminal, which is ridiculous. It’s not enforced, but the law is on the books. It was a law created by the British like 100 years ago. It doesn’t generate the sort of passion that it does here.

Were there any cultural differences that have surprised you?

Ways of interacting with people are subtly different. Among my friends at home I’d still speak English, but it’s a slightly different English. I can still understand you perfectly well, but humor can sound slightly off. Sometimes people think you’re being sarcastic when you’re being serious.

Notions of personal space and privacy are slightly different. People’s sex lives, for instance. In India, you would not talk about that except with the closest of your friends. Here, it’s much more open. On the other hand, I feel like the nature of relationships with just normal friends are discussed less than they would back at home. If I have a friend who is, say, dating some guy, it would be a lot less acceptable for me to question that decision here than back home. There, I could be very forthright, ‘this is a bad decision, don’t do this.’ Of course, that’s not really Indian culture, that’s the culture of English educated Indians.

Are there aspects of Indian culture that you think Americans ought to be more attuned to?

It’d be pretty cool if obvious aspects like food and music were appreciated more. Individualism is sort of cliché to talk about but there’s a very big degree of independence here that is good at times but can turn into loneliness, which I don’t see that back at home.

Consumerism, which India is importing wholesale from America. There’s slightly more of a tendency to ask whether you need something, rather than a do you want something.

Is there any mark in particular you want to leave on campus in the next two years?

Yes and no, I’m active with CORAL. I’d like to leave a mark raising cultural awareness. But being here will do that. Raising awareness about political issues generally. I feel like a lot of Carleton, while relatively politically aware, is sort of well off enough to not care about the nitty gritty of politics, which is problematic.

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