Teaching ideas for your classroom
I found that the poem Representation is extremely rich in ideas and resources for teaching and doing some research about the things mentioned has also opened my eyes more for how little I know about Indian culture still. So we decided to include it in our Journal for its quality and beauty, but also because it raises some key questions about unconscious bias, how to approach people from other cultures and story-telling and story-listening. Key questions which are at the heart of intercultural discourse and training as well.
How can we use a poem like this in the classroom?
I have recently provided an online workshop to intercultural trainers in India, and we discussed how India is portrayed in the Western media. When I read the poem, a lot of the cultural references Shahare made rang home, from the exotic backdrop of Hollywood movies to the copious reports on rape on television.
So my first idea for the classroom would be to ask students to identify the references made and to group them. They could even make a collage with pictures from movie scenes or of the people and books mentioned. This would be a huge tapestry not of India, but of how people outside India, westerners in particular, perceive this country.
From there, you could follow some of the demystification and disentanglement that is going on – the difference between language and religion, for example, or the fact that India is a multi-religious country and also the question of cultural appropriation (e.g. chai tea). You can also steer the lesson towards a deconstruction of the media-shaped gaze and on unconscious bias: Why do we see India in this way? What is typically Indian for us? How is India constructed as an exotic culture like from a western perspective?
The reactions that she puts in to break between the parts make us share how she feels; they invite the reader to change perspectives and put ourselves in her shoes, at the receiving end of (unconscious) bias.
In the last part of her poem, Sharare suggests some things that are more important for her when it comes to Indian culture and identity. Again, students would have to research what these references are about. Then, these could be contrasted against the stereotypes that are mentioned earlier, e.g. the home-made series on Netflix like Ghoul or Sairat versus US-American products like Wild, Wild Country and Temple of Doom, challenging the story-telling of the inside gaze and the outside view. As a follow up, you can also ask your students to find other examples.
Sharare also talks about problems in Indian society and it might be worth exploring those – not the sensationalist ones that make news on prime-time TV, but the ones like caste-based oppression that really shape the society but are more complex to delve into.
by Kirsten Wächter