A letter about the recent events in Mumbai

December 5, 2008

Dear friends of the Brandeis-India Initiative,

I am writing to you, in the wake of the Mumbai tragedy of last week, to express our shock and sadness at these events, and to let you know how we at Brandeis have responded in their aftermath.

First of all, our hearts go out to all of those who have suffered:  to the friends and families of victims of the attacks, to the members of our community who hail from Bombay, and whose friends and family members live there, to all of those whose sense of peace and well-being has been riven asunder.

Although the Brandeis-India Initiative is only a few months old, Bombay already has a special place in our work. We have a strong, vital and dedicated community of students, families, and alumni in the city, and our ties go back thirty years and more. Brandeis alumnus Arjun Appadurai '70, a native of Bombay, has placed the city's vitality and challenges at the heart of his path-breaking work as an anthropologist and theorist of globalization. Through his work, readers around the world have come to understand how the residents of this great city have made and re-made urban spaces, combining tradition and modernity, and the clash of cultures to create new forms of communities that are both highly local and intricately global in nature. Sadly, Arjun's book Fear of Small Numbers provides crucial insights into the roots of contemporary terrorism and violence that shed light on the Mumbai attacks.

In Mumbai today, Brandeis alumni and parents are active as leaders of non-governmental organizations serving the urban poor, as well as business and media leaders. Just two weeks before the attacks, on November 10, Professor Harleen Singh and I met with approximately 25 alumni, parents, and friends of Brandeis at the home of Zia Mody, mother of Aarti Mody, '10. That gathering was notable for the energy and passion that these Brandeis "family members" bring to their work in Mumbai, as well as the warmth of feeling that they have for Brandeis. It was a special occasion.

The next morning, Harleen and I visited a construction site in Bombay, where Devika Mahadevan '00 gave us a tour of a temporary schoolhouse that she established there for the children of migrant construction workers. Devika runs an organization called Mumbai Mobile Creches, which has set up dozens of such settings where children who otherwise would receive no services at all have access to schooling and health care.

One of the goals of the Brandeis-India Initiative is to provide opportunities for Brandeis undergraduate and graduate students to work in organizations in Bombay that are run by alumni and friends of Brandeis University. In recent years, some Brandeis students have found their way to important experiences in the city (Hannah Janoowalla '10 spent the summer of 2008 there as an Ethics Center Student Fellow working for Population Services International), but we hope to make more such opportunities accessible and available.  Indeed, at the moment the attacks broke out on November 26, I was meeting with two staff members to work out the details of announcing a "Brandeis in Bombay" program that would provide precisely such opportunities to Brandeis students. In the wake of current events, we will have to put those plans on hold, but I hope to revive this project once we have had time to assess the full ramifications of the attacks.

On Wednesday, November 26, I wrote to the Brandeis friends and alumni with whom we had met in Bombay, to express my sadness and to let them know that I was thinking about them. Many wrote back. Their own family members and closest friends were all okay, but everyone knew of others who had experienced loss.

In addition, the attack on Nariman house, the home of the Chabad community in Mumbai, has a special resonance on our campus.  The deaths of the spiritual leaders of that vital Jewish community, as well as several others, make for a tragic bond between Indian and Jewish members of the Brandeis family.

On the Brandeis campus, there has been an outpouring of grief and support. The South Asian Students Association took the lead in organizing a first vigil on Monday, December 1, and the university chaplains organized a second memorial event on Wednesday, December 3, including moving comments by Brandeis students and Mumbai residents Naman Pugalia '09 and Sidak Pannu '12. In fact, Naman and other students have already taken the lead in forming an admirable new initiative, "Revive Mumbai," that is seeking to raise money for reconstruction and scholarships in the name of the Chabad House. The Revive Mumbai team hosted a dinner last night to raise initial funds. You can find more information at http://www.revivemumbai.blogspot.com/.

In addition, Professor Harleen Singh has taken a lead in organizing a reflective conversation about the causes and consequences of the attacks, scheduled for this coming Tuesday, December 9 at 5:00 p.m. in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium. The discussion will feature Naman, other students, and faculty. We hope those located in Waltham can find the opportunity during this busy time of the semester to come together as a community and begin a difficult set of dialogues.

Beyond these first activities, I believe that the attacks should be cause for us at Brandeis to redouble our commitment to strengthening our connections in India. The Brandeis-India Initiative aims to provide more opportunities for Brandeis students to work and study in the country, for more partnerships between our faculty and counterparts at Indian institutions, and for strengthening the study of India and South Asia more generally at Brandeis.  We also have a number of ongoing programs at Brandeis whose faculty leaders will doubtless be shedding light on understanding and responding to the attacks through the lenses of their disciplines:  Sustainable International Development, Coexistence and Conflict, Cultural Productions, to name but a few.

Below, you can download a report that recaps our recent trip to India. The trip was undertaken and this report was written before the events in Mumbai, but I'm sending this to you now in the spirit of redoubling our efforts -- in hopes of forging stronger connections of understanding and knowledge.

I am writing our extended Brandeis community because I am sure that you share my concern, and because I welcome your thoughts and ideas about how we at Brandeis might further respond in the weeks and months to come. "A mad, mad world," one of my Bombay correspondents wrote to me while the attacks were still going on. I hope that we at Brandeis can redouble our efforts to make that world a little less mad.



Daniel Terris
Associate Vice President for Global Affairs

Download the recent report: The Brandeis-India Initiative - Developing the Foundation