Chapter 23


A Promising Beginning

The earth, the air, the land, and the waterAre not an inheritance from our forefathersBut a loan from our children.

Mahatma Gandhi

Centennial Hall was a nondescript, red-brick building on Delaware Street in Minneapolis. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, I used to live on the sixth floor, which was reserved for international graduate students. While unpacking on my first day there, I left the door open and hoped that another graduate student would stumble by and say hello. Nobody did.

The room was small and felt solitary, so I wandered to the dining room in the basement, hoping to enjoy a good meal. The food was served cafeteria-style and was very bland. Another disappointment.

I journeyed back to my room. The sixth floor was now filled with students moving into their rooms and milling around in the hallway. The floor turned out to be an international cornucopia of culture, with students from the United States living alongside others from Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. It was there that I met my Indian friend, Sanjib Mukherji. He carried himself with great elegance. He was somewhat soft-spoken and shy, but this did not conceal his regal bearing. We quickly became friends, and therein began my real education of the Indian subcontinent.

Brahmins and Katyas

My picture of India had been framed by early childhood memories of American-made movies like the 1942 film adaption of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, an action ...

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