Center for South Asian Studies | University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa


Sep 9, 2014
Congrats to CSAS Graduate Student Rajiv Mohabir!
Congratulations to UH CSAS Student, Rajiv Mohabir, for winning the 2014 Four Way Books Intro Prize for his poetry manuscript “The Taxidermist’s Cut.” Four Wars Books has announced that his book will be published in 2016.

Here is a sample poem of his, titled ‘Preface,’ featured here

Let’s pretend you are going hunting.
You pack your gear: a buck knife, a bow
and arrows cleft from the straight weeds, wild
in my front yard. You perch in a red oak, yearning
for those chilly mornings that signal harvest.
The copper of pine needles falling; whether
you catch me or not is not the point. You look first
at the wandering deer, the bigger prize,
full of meat and bone, with a skin to cure,
but you keep an eye peeled for upland birds too,
smaller, easier to mount once ensnared. You don’t need a guide
to hollow lungs of song. Yes, I said,
birds are easy to work with, their refugee bones
hollowed for flight, so small and delicate,
they may as well not be there. I have always
made myself invisible. I mean to say
I am still—the trembling breath of a comma,
the coincidental object of your want.

Essay by UH PhD student and J. Watumull Scholarship awardee

This essay appears in the Frontier Psychiatrist


Taj Dad Donovan and me 1024x915 Mixed in India


I grew up in southern California and was continually mistaken for Chicana. During college in New York City, I was also confused for Latina, Greek, or even Egyptian. In Hawai‘i, where I’m now a graduate student, a Korean boy I tutored asked me if I was Filipina, tracing his seven-year-old finger down my brown arm. When I was younger and people asked “what” I was, I would say that I was white. I’d watch embarrassed clouds of confusion cross their faces. “And Indian,” I’d add, eventually.

To clarify: I wasn’t trying to pass for white; in fact, I’m pretty obsessed with my ancestry, as might be obvious from my blog,Fatherland. I just hate the casual way that (usually white) folks ask about ethnicity, as if it were no big deal, as if any person who deviates from the unmarked (white) race must surrender racial identity on demand. As if I was making them ask me. As if I should have told them already. Ultimately, these questions felt like barriers to community.

So, when I was awarded a two-month scholarship to uncover my family history in India, I hoped to glimpse a feeling of belonging. I wanted to uncover and preserve the story of my great grandfather who fought for India’s independence from the British, who my family both in the US and in India were in danger of forgetting. I wanted to learn about my thakurda, my grandfather who was a famous mathematician and died long before I was born. I wanted to see if I could fit my feet into my father’s childhood footprints. He’d left India when he was eight, but had vivid memories of life with his beloved family in Kolkata and of his boarding school in the mountains of West Bengal. Finally, I wanted to spend time with this side of my family, who I had last seen nearly two decades before, at age 11, when I visited India for the first time for a tiny two weeks. While I have dedicated a good portion of my graduate work at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa to studying South Asia, I knew the trip to India would reveal how little I actually knew.

I don’t speak a South Asian language. I was raised largely without South Asian cultural traditions. My dad left India when he was eight in 1950 and my momma is white. Much of what I “know” about the subcontinent I learned in classrooms. Still I was hoping to blend in. After all, I am Indian. Or half. Whatever that means.

“You are looking so much like your mother!” my cousin Piyali-didi said to me almost immediately upon my arrival to Kolkata.

I thought it might be my recent haircut, a sloppy bob that looks a little like mom’s short, permed hair from her last visit to India back in the 80s. Or maybe it was ombre thing I’d done to lighten the tips.

“It’s in your shoulders,” she clarified. “Joya-didi is so tiny,” she said of my eldest sister. “She is obviously Indian, an Indian beauty. You are all beautiful. You and Maya, you two are mixed.”

Later, on a flight from Delhi to Bagdogra, the security officer in the “ladies” screening line stopped me. She looked at my passport, at my face, and then back at my passport, trying to reconcile my appearance with the markers embedded in my name.

“Is your husband Bengali, madam?”

“No. My father is, I said, most likely sounding like a child. “I am.”

Racial confusion became a lasting motif in our journey, and not just for me. I was traveling with my dad, who is recognizably Indian, and my partner, Donovan, who is Kanaka Maoli, Chinese, Filipino, white, and Cherokee. Donovan experienced his fair share of racial confusion in India, mostly in humorous and loving ways. So few people who we encountered could even find Hawai‘i on a map.

“Is that near Cuba?” our guide in Delhi asked me when Donovan was out of earshot.

Dad and me reflecting on Down Hill school 1024x745 Mixed in IndiaWhen we arrived to Kurseong, the mountain town that cradles hard secrets from my father’s boarding school past, we walked single file as we were used to doing to avoid cars on sidewalk-less roads. A mother cloud had wrapped herself around rain-soaked, green hills, and we were so dazed and grateful to have escaped Delhi’s dusty 118-degree heat that I didn’t notice when an uncle flew out of his house and was all over Donovan, exclaiming in an unfamiliar language that might have been Tibetan or Nepali, smiling and hugging him tight and rubbing his hand all over Donovan’s belly and chest, the way that men sometimes do when they’re teasing each other. When I turned toward the commotion, the man spoke to me in probably Bengali, emphatically trying to communicate. He must have realized that we didn’t understand, because he eventually just smiled at us, and we, stunned, laughed and caught back up with Dad.

“Maybe he was saying that you looked like his son,” I said. “Maybe he’s part Chinese too?” I resisted the urge to take Donovan’s hand—we’d agreed that PDA on this trip was a no-no—and instead flashed him a big smile. Donovan looked confused.

Jaipur Traffic 2 1024x604 Mixed in IndiaFor me, the most pronounced moment of racial confusion came at Amer Fort in Jaipur, which we visited before seeing the Taj Mahal on another short break from our family-research work in the Delhi archives. As we crossed the car to the queue for the elephant rides through the sun gate, we saw a thick of hawkers, selling sandalwood figurines, postcards, and garnet necklaces.

“Don’t talk to them,” our guide had warned us in the car. “They are like honeybees. More will only come if you do.”

The problem is, I’m not really good at ignoring people, walking blithely past them as if they aren’t there, as if they aren’t human, all those things that capitalism tells tourists to think when they visit countries that force them to check their privilege.

“No, thank you,” I said to the man handing me a wood carving of Ganesh. Perhaps because of my foreigner’s voice, or an American tell in my walk, or my lack of confidence in how I wore my salwar, dollar signs flashed above my head and a fleet of hawkers clustered around me, as the guide had warned. Up ahead, I saw similar clusters around Donovan and Dad, who walked with their heads down, their hands saying no.

The Ganesh figurine seller asked me in English if I spoke Hindi. I shook my head, embarrassed as I am whenever someone asks me about speaking a South Asian language, especially Bengali, the language of my ancestors.

My father, who grew up in the segregated U.S. South, never spoke Bengali to us and even now speaks it like an eight-year-old. Still, I felt that niggling at the back of my head. Why have I still not studied South Asian language? What does it mean to write my family’s history in English? How can I tell decolonizing stories when my own mouth is still colonized? How can I claim an Indian identity at all when I’m only half, when my closest connection to Indian is my father’s macher jhol, dahl, papadum? How could I think that in coming to India I’d feel like anything other than a tourist?

“200 rupees!” called the man with the necklaces, holding out a blue stone strand. “150!”

“¿Español?” the Ganesh figurine vendor asked.

I smirked at being asked this familiar question in India of all places. “Poquito,” I muttered over my shoulder. Donovan and I climbed onto an elephant that started ambling away from the vendors. I was just shy of a minor in Spanish at NYU. Do elephants sweat? I wondered, wiping my forehead.

“¡Español!” the hawker cried loud enough for the other hawkers around him. The exclamation carried through the crowd and the hawkers started exclaiming in Spanish, with the same fluidity as they had in English plus newfound enthusiasm, as if someone had flipped the channel to Spanish-language television.


“¡Un regalo para tu madre!”


“¡Ven! ¡Ven!”

“¡Algo especial!”

Amer Fort elephant driver 246x300 Mixed in India

I focused on Moata Lake, which curbed the fort, and the patterned green gardens at the water’s edge. As our elephant eased up the incline to the fort, I read a sign that said that there used to be banyan trees all along the shore. Donovan and I took turns taking pictures of the painted elephants heading back down the hill. I noticed that the Indian woman and her son, presumably, who were on the elephant in front of us, had been spared the swarm of hawkers. I noticed that said hawkers had given up on us as well and we had a moment of quiet now too.

As we turned a switchback to the sun gate, we talked a bit—us asking questions, the driver answering in single syllables—as a photographer who had stationed himself on a craggy hill to take tourist photos and identified himself as Ali Baba, implored us to “Kiss kiss! Look here! Remember my face! I will meet you after!”

We gave up on conversation as we edged to the entrance. I wondered how many times the elephants had to make this slow, hot stretch up and down the hill to the entrance to the fort, before they finished, mercifully, before the midday heat. I felt bad for looking forward to this elephant ride, for mistaking tourism for connection.

I watched two men mount a motorcycle at the entrance to the gate. The second one hopped on behind his friend and asked us where we were you from.

“California,” I said.


I shook my head this time, knowing better.

“You have an Indian face,” he said over his shoulder as his motorcycle revved down the hill.

The zing of this recognition ran through me.

“I like you!” he added.

The zing dissipated.

As my two-month trip to the fatherland came to a close, Donovan returned to Hawaiʻi  and my dad and I visited family in Kolkata. In talking with my cousin Ranabir-dada, I mentioned that I was worried about making uncomfortable the introverted schoolchildren to whom his wife gave evening lessons in my bedroom. I was a stranger, after all.

“You are fair and beautiful,” Ranabir-dada said matter-of-factly. “They’ll love you.”

The recognition clanked around in my mind of how I would have been received differently in India had my mother been, say, black instead of white, if I had been darker. Images of the onslaught of “fairness” creams, including armpit-whitening deodorants that played on repeat during sleepy, monsoon afternoons, to the “intimate washes” that demand that even your vulva be pale, crowded my vision. From my cousins’ air-conditioned car on the way to and from Gariahat market, I saw more keenly the larger-than-life advertisements of impossibly moon-faced, smiling women lording over the brown-skinned folks who gathered on the sidewalk for the next Tata non-AC bus.

Ultimately, I realized that my desire to blend in racially had been on the surface of a deeper dream. The depth was in spending with family, cracking jokes and telling stories. It was plumbing carefully my father’s forested, mountain-town boarding school with him and my love, talking story with open-hearted people about India’s independence from colonial rule, the heartbreak of Partition and the painful legacy of communalism. It was these visions for the future. It was learning what folks my age are doing on the ground to make connections and bridge tribal and urban communities in mindful, reciprocal ways, and having conversations about parallels between independence movements in India and South Africa. It was the privilege to dig through the Delhi and Chandigarh archives and find my inspiring, freedom-fighting great grandfather who might have otherwise been lost to our family, to time.

On my last night in the fatherland, I sat with the eldest of our family, 92-year-old Moni-kaka, who had just finished tracing our family genealogy six generations back, telling stories from half a century ago with clarity and verve like it had been yesterday. He laid these stories out with generosity and openness, as if the people he was talking about were his family, and mine too. Which, of course, they are.

I was stationed on the far end of the room in my cousin’s South City Garden apartment, whose white curtains danced into the room with a late afternoon breeze. Shallow puddles on the tenth-floor balcony feathered. On the street below, outside the apartment compound, chanting from a religious celebration wafted up to us as hollow voices. The video camera in my hand shook weakly.

I was lobbing into the room persistent questions about my family that the archives hadn’t been able to answer. My dad translated these questions into his ever-improving Bengali, which Moni-kaka responded to, and then my dad or my cousins translated the answers back to me in English. Nearly a dozen members of our family were gathered all around.

Two hours later, when he tired, Moni-kaka stood up beside me and made me promise that I would return in eight years for his centenary.

“Will you tell your sisters everything I’ve told you?” he asked.

I nodded, water clipping my vision.

After a thirty-hour combination of flights and layovers, I arrived home to Hawai‘i with three overweight bags containing hours of tape I’d recorded of Moni-kaka, countless piles of paper I’d amassed from the archives, tangles of family photographs, and so many gifts. It would take a long time to know all that I’d been told, before I could retell these stories with intelligence and care. Somewhere amid my bursting suitcases, I carried with gratitude the recognition that I had found more pieces of myself on this trip than I’d ever imagined existed. My work to honor this knowledge is laid out before me.

Anjoli Roy is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her last piece for Frontier Psychiatrist was the personal essay Bald Woman. She is grateful for the support of the J. Watumull Scholarship for the Study of India, Prof. Craig Howes,Prof. Caroline Sinavaiana, and her advisor, S. ShankarShe is also thankful for feedback from Nikki Rosenblatt, Aiko Yamashiro, DKC, and FP Editor-in-Chief Keith Meatto. Finally, she thanks her amazing adventure-partners Donovan Kūhiō Colleps and Subir Roy.

Sep 4, 2014
RWCLS Call for Proposals – Deadline: 9/26/13

The Center for South Asian Studies invites applications to bring scholars to UHM with an expertise in South Asian studies or South Asia related topics as part of the Rama Watumull Collaborative Lecture Series. The award is aimed at supporting the interest in departments across the UHM campus in South Asia-related topics and perspectives.

The deadline to submit the application is September 26, 2014. If you are applying to bring a speaker in early fall, contact the director at

However, we will continue to accept applications after the deadline on a rolling basis to bring speakers in the spring of 2015.

The Rama Watumull Collaborative Lecture Series awards will not exceed $1,500. This grant may be combined with other awards, if necessary.

The funds provided by the Center will cover reasonable costs of travel, lodging, and honorarium for invited speakers.  The responsibility for organizing and making arrangements for the visit and associated events as well as for hosting the visiting scholar(s) will be that of the faculty/department receiving funds.

The invited speaker will:

-  Deliver a lecture on South Asia related research or material for a departmental colloquium series, and

-  Participate in a workshop with faculty and graduate students on the relationship between South Asia and or South Asian studies and the specific concerns of the discipline.

Departments and programs interested in making use of this opportunity should submit:

  • the name of the prospective invitee
  • a brief rationale for choosing the speaker and possibilities of co-sponsorship.  Include dates for the visit and topics proposed for the talk and workshop.
  • a CV or other biographical information a budget.

We ask that you please submit materials to Akta Kaushal, the CSAS Coordinator by email ( by September 26, 2014.

2014 Winners for the J. Watumull Scholarship

Tamara Luthy is a PhD student in anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, pursuing a concurrent Master’s Degree in Botany to prepare her for dissertation research on the topic of the intersection between traditional resource management systems, sacred groves, and conservation. She will embark on her field research in Vrindavan in the summer of 2105. Tamara is also the secretary of the UH Manoa chapter of the Ethnobiology Society of America, and enjoys service learning trips oriented towards habitat restoration.

Samantha Schaeffer is an undergraduate at UHM who is using the scholarship for a semester-long study abroad at the Ambedkar University in Delhi.  She left for the program in July.  Originally from Alaska, Samantha has developed a keen interest in Indian history, arts and religions.  At the Ambedkar University, Samatha will be taking courses in Social Change and Development, Gender and Society, Early India and an Asian Studies course focussing on South Asia with the resident director, Prof. Mimi Sharma.  She also plans on volunteering for a non-profit organization during her stay.

Benjamin Zenk is a PhD student in the department of Philosophy.  He has started an intensive language training at the American Institute of Indian Studies’ Sanskrit Language Program in Pune for the 2014-2015 academic year. Ben is working on his dissertation on philosophical approaches to peer disagreement.  The language program will help him with close readings of texts in  Madhyamaka Buddhist thought, Jaina meta-philosophical speculation, and the tradition of hermeneutics. 

Aug 27, 2014
CSAS faculty and UHM MFA work with Hawaii Theatre of Youth

CSAS faculty – Sai B. and Cheri V. and UHM MFA — Rohini A. — worked with Hawaii Theatre of Youth on their production of ‘A Bollywood Robinhood’. Read further about the production here

Jun 4, 2014
Article on the Watumull Family in The Hindu

Here is a wonderful article on the Watumull family, “A century in Hawaii” which was recently featured in The Hindu. 

Apr 28, 2014
Three CSAS Faculty Members Win UH Manoa Teaching Awards

Congratulations to the following CSAS faculty members for winning these UH Manoa 2014 teaching awards: 

Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching: Paul Lavy, Associate Professor of Art, and Kavita Rao, Assistant Professor of Special Education. 

Chancellor’s Citation for Meritorious Teaching: Priyam Das, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning. 


CSAS Faculty Member To Receive The WAEA Distinguished Scholar Award

Dr. Chennat Gopalakrishnan, Professor Emeritus of Natural Resource and Environmental Economics and Policy and CSAS Affiliate Faculty member, was awarded the Western Agricultural Economics Association Distinguished Scholar Award. He will receive the award at the association’s annual meeting June 23 and 24 in Colorado Springs. The Distinguished Scholar award is to grant the highest recognition to members making an enduring contribution over their career to agricultural or other type of applied, resource, and/or environmental economics in the Western states and the WAEA.

Nov 8, 2013
Prof. Sankaran Krishna’s article in The Hindustan Times

Prof. Sankaran Krishna comments in the Hindustan Times on the protests against the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Colombo.  A political scientist, who is a postcolonial scholar, he has written extensively on ethnic identity and conflict and identity politics in India and Sri Lanka.  He is the author of Postcolonial Insecurities: India, Sri Lanka and the Question of Nationhood, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999. (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000) and Globalization and Postcolonialism: Hegemony and Resistance in the 21st Century, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.

Aug 28, 2013
Article by CSAS Director Monisha Das Gupta

Here is CSAS Director Professor Das Gupta’s recently published article in The Telegraph titled “Heart beats, gives courage,” on the rallies in Calcutta in protest of violence against women. 

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