March Spotlight: Visiting Fulbright, M. Sadiqur Rahman
Fri, February 29, 2008
2005, Calcutta, India: I am a huge sports fan, and I enjoy watching every kind of sports .American Football is not an exception. It was the year 2005 and I was watching the Big 12 championship game on ESPN in Calcutta. It was a game between the University of Southern California Trojans and the Texas Longhorns football team of The University of Texas at Austin. The Longhorns finished with thirteen wins and no losses and emerged as the National Champions of that year. After their victory,which was arguably called the greatest performance in the college football history, I saw a few clippings of the great celebration that the students had in UT on my TV set. To learn more about this University I did a little google search.I was really taken aback by the life on campus and the students. I read the interviews of Football coach Mark Brown and quarter back Vince Young and learnt a lot about Longhorns and the University of Texas. I had actually started liking this place and fallen in love with the Texas tower. I had a strong feeling in my heart of hearts that someday if I ever visit USA, I must visit Austin, at least for a day
2007,January,Austin,United States: I was one of the several candidates who had sent applications to the Fulbright House in New Delhi for the Foreign Language teaching program. After the Entrance Exam, interview and rigorous training ,I found myself to be one of the few candidates who were selected to teach in USA. But it was only a primary selection ,we had not yet got our placements or the terms of appointment. In March 2007 I got my appointment letter from the International Institute of Education stating that the University of Texas would be my host institution.Though I was very excited about the whole life changing experience that I was about to encounter ,many impediments came my way. The biggest of them was Visa! When a few of my Fulbrighter friends had already left India, I was still hoping against hopes that I would get a Visa! Some day! My joy knew no bounds when I finally got my Visa ,(three weeks before my date of departure to USA), but it was short lived.
On reaching Calcutta ,I was hospitalized for two weeks .There was a cancerous stone in my gall bladder which was spreading all around my body and that had to be operated. All my hopes of going to USA were crushed! But I believe in the power of dreams, that if our dreams are honest God himself comes down on earth to make them come true. Though all my family members, friends and my personal doctor were very much against my going abroad in this physical condition- I convinced them and braved myself to a new world full of challenges. I landed in USA on the 19th of August 2007. After a brief orientation in Madison, Wisconsin, I came to Austin, Texas on the 25th of August . A few days later I went to the University campus one evening . I was humming Bryan Adam’s “ Here I am”. I saw the Texas tower , ‘she’ looked exactly the way I had seen her ,two years back, illuminated, beautiful- like a bride….My American dream had just began!
You are visiting UT this semester as a Fulbright scholar. What is your home University and program of study?
Yes, I am a Fulbright Fellow from India visiting the University of Texas ,Austin for the academic year 2007-2008.
I Graduated from Calcutta University in the year 2005 with English (Honors). I completed my Masters in English from Jamia Millia Islamia ,New Delhi, in the year 2007.
What is your area of research?
From my childhood ,I was deeply inclined towards English Literature. As a teenager I completed most of the works of William Shakespeare ,George Bernard Shaw and the Romantic poets. So it did not come as great surprise to my family when I told my parents that I would want to continue my further studies in English Literature. Thus, deep reading of the Queen’s language which was my passion ,almost became my profession in a way. During my graduation I had realized that I had a soft corner for Post Modern and Diaspora Literature. It slowly became my area of research . I read post modern literature indiscriminately and it included – plays, novels, short stories and most importantly my first love-poetry. I wrote poetry and it made me realize that I could have a long lasting relationship with literature and a stronger marriage with English Language. So post modern literature , became my area of research and I plan to continue doing so in future.
What made you decide to teach Bengal I in America?
I had come to know about the Fulbright Fellowship when I was in India and the Idea of teaching Bengali fired my imagination. I think it’s a huge challenge to teach Bengali Literature in the West .
Bengali has one of the richest languages in the world and Calcutta is considered the Mecca of Indian art and culture. Writers like Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Sharat Chandra Chatterjee, Nazrul Islam, Jevananda Das, Sunil Ganguly, Maheshweta Devi have made Bengali literature famous all around the world. Oscar award winning film maker Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak, Goutam Ghose’s film are renouned all over . And if this is not enough Bengali culture , festivals, traditions , music, food and the rural beauty of Bengal speaks volumes.
I am a true Bengali at heart, and I am proud that I belong to a very illustrious family of poets and teachers. So representing the true ‘Bengali’ness of my family and culture in USA is a great honor and responsibility for me.
And in my classes too , I not only talk about Bengali Literature , but also films ,societies, habits and personal experiences and we have lots of debates, discussions and dialogues .I also encourage my students to participate in cultural programs . And I am trying my best to promote, preach and practice my language and culture in the best way.
Thus, teaching Bengali has been a very enriching and fulfilling experience for me so far.
How do you like Austin and the US. Do you think you will return to USA?
I had come to USA with a lot of pre conceived notions. But an incident changed everything. I was not fully fit when I had come to the US.I was returning from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago. I fell ill at the airport and missed my flight to Austin. I had to take the next flight .Some of the University representatives were supposed to come and pick me up at the air port. I could not get in touch with them, they thought that I would come the following day. So they went back.
It was 1am when I had landed in Austin. I did not know where to go. I could not even find a telephone to call anyone! There was a couple travelling in the same plane with me. They came up to me for help. I asked them if they could help me find a hotel. They offered me to stay with them for the night. I was moved(to tears) by their generosity at that helpless moment.
…and the rest is history. ’Like ‘ would be an understatement ,I fell in love with Austin- the warmth of the people, the beauty of the campus, the friendliness of the students, the clean roads, the buildings and last but not the least my life in Austin. I have an old relationship with the University tower. ‘She’ correctly reflects my mood .When I am happy she smiles with me, when I am sad or home sick, she participates in my grief.
I have been lucky enough to visit a few places in the US- I have been to Wisconsin, New York, Washington DC, Baltimore, Virginia, Houston. I was amazed by the greatness of the country. It is completely different from India. I love American food, music and diversity of Culture. I LOVED USA ,as a whole.
It was my mother’s dream that I teach in some reputed University like my father. I am glad it happened in US. I definitely plan to come back to USA.I have plans of completing my Ph.d from USA. The next time I plan to bring my mother. I want to make all her dreams come true.
If you could have dinner with any person living or dead who would it be and why?
I am a romantic at heart from my childhood.Stories of human explorations fascinate me a lot. Like any other child, the moon has always been an object of great wonder for me. My father used to tell me stories of human expedition to the space. As a child I used to find it really thrilling….the very concept of man out reaching the boundaries of human limitation was really remarkable.
Neil Armstrong ,the first man to reach moon has always been my greatest hero. I was inspired by his courage as a child. His first words on moon “That’s one step for(a) man one giant leap for mankind.”-these words were written down in my diary. My room was full of his posters. This admiration for him has increased all the more after visiting the NASA Space Centre at Houston and reading about him .I would love to have dinner with this former NFL player and coach, American astronaut, test pilot, University professor , Naval aviator and last but not the least …the first man on moon-NIEL ARMSTRONG.
Who is your favorite author and what is favorite book? Why?
On my tenth birthday my father gave me a little book called “The Little Prince”. It is written and illustrated by Antoine de Saint Exupery. As a child I loved the life of this little prince who lived on a planet of his own and visited many other planets. I did not know that this book would become a companion for me in the long journey. The book looks at the world from a child view point. I still love this book.The lines uttered by a fox echoes in my mind quite often “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eyes”
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Apart from teaching my hobbies are poetry ,films, stage shows and painting. My first book of poems THE DREAMSELLER was published in the year 2003.I love keeping myself involved in social work. In the year 2004, I led a team of social workers called “The ambassadors of peace “ and visited Bangladesh on behalf of India to research on the conditions of women there.
I host a talk show on KVRX 91.7 FM called ‘Nostalgic with Sadiq.’ This is a show dedicated to the senior citizens of the country who come to my show and talk about their experiences of life.
I love travelling in the US
But my biggest ‘day dream’ is to win the Oscars! Some day! Just another childhood dream!