Polytechnic School’s Inaugural Course Explores Modern India
This week brought to a close Upper School’s first semester and subsequently wrapped up Poly’s first World Cultures course focusing on Modern India. Conceived and taught by Upper School faculty member Grace Hamilton, the freshman course aimed to develop among students an understanding and appreciation of India’s significance, cultural diversity, political and religious traditions, social customs, and artistic distinctiveness. Poly’s World Cultures program immerses freshmen in the study of the political, social, economic, and cultural traditions of a single geographic unit to develop among them a sense of understanding and appreciation for these traditions and to refine students’ organized and analytical writing, as well as historical skills of inquiry and research.
In addition to studying about the geography of India, students also learned about the Sultanate, Mughals, and precolonial Indian society. They looked at the rise of the East India Company and the transfer of power to the British Raj and the structures of a colonized India, raising questions such as how a trading company transitioned to a full political modern state with colonized subjects. The unit titled “Resistance, Rebellion, and Change” focused on the rising discontent with and active rebellion against the British colonial government and the difficult emergence of India’s new state, along with the rise of Pakistan. They also discussed some of the famous Indians involved in the movement, including the father of Modern India, Gandhi.
“Something I already knew before taking this class was that India asserted its independence from Britain, but what I didn’t know about was how insidiously Britain came into India,” shared student Phillip Z. “They came in to trade resources, but eventually ended up staying as a superpower that gained control of the entire subcontinent.”
In an effort to bring an authentic feel to her class, Hamilton took her students to Bhanu’s Indian Grocery & Cuisine in San Gabriel, where they enjoyed an authentic Indian lunch. The restaurant staff explained each dish they presented, including samosas, palek paneer, Bhindi masala, naan, and the traditional Tandoori and Tikka chicken. After eagerly exploring the new flavors, the students perused the racks of Indian groceries and goods.
“Everything is relatively new to me … Eating lunch at Bhanu’s was an incredible experience,” shared Megan K., explaining that she did not know much about India prior to this course. “I was really eager to try anything and everything I could.”
In December, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Catherine Masud spoke to the class about the history of Bangladesh and her work as a filmmaker. Masud has more than 25 years of experience in producing, directing and editing, working in both documentary and fictional genres. Thematically many of her films address social justice issues and the conflict between religious and cultural identity. An American citizen by birth, Masud spent much of her adult life in Bangladesh, working together with her late husband and filmmaking partner, Tareque Masud. At the conclusion of the course, the class gathered at a student’s home to watch a viewing of the film “Gandhi.”
The course inspired in some students a deeper interest in India: “Ms. Hamilton and her course opened my eyes to trying and learning new things, and it continued to intrigue me every day,” shared Megan. After the lunch, students said they wanted to bring their families back to Bhanu to share with them the experience of an Indian meal. For others, the idea of exploring the country itself piqued their interest: “I haven’t really thought about the prospect of a trip to India, but if that was a possibility, I would definitely consider it,” Phillip reflected. Hamilton hopes to be able to offer the course again in the future.
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