URI Honors Colloquium to spotlight India

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Goal is to ‘demystify’ complex global power,

its impact on business, culture

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 19, 2009 – Google’s Research and Development Center in Bangalore, India is one of the company’s newest engineering centers. Microsoft’s India Development Center started with 20 employees in 1998 and now employs more than 1,500.

In the U.S, Indra Nooyi is chairman and chief executive officer of PepsiCo. Here in Rhode Island, Shivan S. Subramanian heads FM Global, one of the world’s leading commercial and industrial property insurers. Nooyi and Subramaniam were born in India.

Despite such business leadership around the globe, and its people’s contributions to the arts, literature, and education, India remains for some a country of snake charmers and call centers.

University of Rhode Island business faculty couple Ruby Roy Dholakia and Nikhilesh Dholakia, and Engineering professor Arun Shukla, who were born and raised in India, aim to change those limited perceptions when they present URI’s 2009 Honors Colloquium, Demystifying India, a series of public lectures, performances and exhibits that begins Sept. 15 and ends Dec. 8. Read all news releases from the ongoing series from links below.

“We have found that many people, including college professors, don’t know much about India, the largest democracy in the world, home of many ancient religions, a new country, but an ancient civilization,” said Ruby Dholakia, professor of marketing in URI’s College of Business Administration. “You cannot be a successful student or professional if you are ill informed about other countries, especially ones that have so much influence on the world economy, like India and China.”

The colloquium will explore India’s history, culture, and society and their impact on literature, art, apparel, business, political and social movements and the environment.

Edward Luce, Washington bureau chief of the Financial Times and author of In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India kicks off the colloquium Sept. 15 by sharing his insights from his long and intimate knowledge of India. His book is an insightful look into contemporary India.

Jhumpa Lahiri, author of Pulitzer Prize-winner Interpreter of Maladies, as well as best-sellers Namesake and Unaccustomed Earth, will speak Nov. 10. Interpreter of Maladies has been chosen this year as a common reading assignment for all URI freshmen. Those participating have been invited to contribute to a blog about the book at http://www.uricommonreading.blogspot.com/.

There will be a number of talks about film and Bollywood, including John Jeffcoat, director of the movie ‘Outsourced’, discussing “Turbulent Romance: The Trials and Triumphs of Cultural Immersion” Sept. 22. The colloquium also includes a film festival and art and textile exhibits.

Business will also be a major theme, including a talk by Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, who will speak October 27 on “Indian Entrepreneurs Abroad – Business and Social Ventures.” The talk is sponsored by the Anthony J. Risica Endowed Lecture Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Indian Americans have been involved in business and social entrepreneurship in the United States and abroad,” Shukla said. “The U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 passed a resolution recognizing and honoring the contributions of Indian Americans to economic innovation and society generally. Dr. Deshpande is one of the leaders of this group of Indian Americans.”

For those interested in Indian sports, there will be a cricket match demonstration and food festival Saturday Oct. 3. Introduced by the British, cricket is India’s most popular sport and its national team has competed in many world tournaments. “Cricket is the fastest growing bat and ball game in the world. It is also one of the most watched,” Shukla said. “Cricket is like a second religion in India. Bollywood and cricket are national pastimes. Every kid dreams about playing cricket.”

Nik Dholakia, a professor of marketing and international business at URI, who met Ruby when they were pursuing their doctorates at Northwestern University, said India has become an economic powerhouse because of the high level of technical education in the country. India also has an advantage over major Asian competitors like China because its skilled workforce speaks English. “China has better roads and general infrastructure, but being fluent in English allows Indian workers to read manuals for complicated machinery,” Dholakia said. “With a workforce that can read directions in English, it’s easier to manage quality. Managers don’t have to train workers in a new language. Companies are willing to deal with poorer infrastructure because India’s people are more highly trained.”

But it’s not just at home where Indians are having a huge impact. According to the U.S. census, ethnic Indians are the most affluent group in the country. “You’ll notice in Rhode Island that there are many Indian doctors, professors and others who have earned the highest credentials in their fields,” Ruby Dholakia said.

In addition to the public events, the colloquium coordinators will teach an accompanying course for undergraduate honors students. Some of the colloquium speakers will meet with the students during their class time.

All programs are free and open to the public. The lectures will be held Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the Chafee Social Science Center, Room 271, 10 Chafee Road, Kingston. To listen to lecture podcasts or view the live or archived broadcasts online go to www.uri.edu/hc.

For the most updated schedule, go to www.uri.edu/hc.

Major sponsors are: URI Honors Program; Office of the Provost; and the URI colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business Administration and Engineering.

Sponsors: URI College of Human Science and Services, College of the Environment and Life Sciences, Division of University Advancement, Office of the Vice President for Administration, Office of the Vice Provost for Information Technology Services, University College; URI Diversity Week-Multicultural Center, URI Women’s Studies Program, and The Anthony J. Risica Lecture Series on Innovation & Entrepreneurship.

Additional sponsors: The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment, Kabob N Curry and The Village Inn and Professor G.S. Verma and Mrs. R. Verma.

Demystifying India News Releases

  • Nov. 3 “Doing Business in India, with India’
  • Oct. 27 ‘Indian Entrepreneurs Abroad’
  • Oct. 20 Women in Indian Society
  • Oct. 18 Cricket demonstration
  • Oct. 13 Expert on India’s emerging political power
  • Oct. 6 “What Would Gandhi Globalize?”
  • Exhibit ‘Indian Influence’ on Western Textile Design’
  • Oct. 12 ‘Surveillance hysteria’ in post 9/11 world
  • Sept. 25 India Film Festival part of Honors Colloquium
  • Sept. 29 India’s modernity: “Once Colonial, Now Global”
  • Sept. 22 Award-winning director of “Outsourced”
  • Sept. 15 British journalist to open URI colloquium
  • Aug. 19