Wednesday, 19 July 2017

This land is your land

-Brian Mendonça

The 4th of July passed by without any mention, it seems in the newspapers. Mastheads of local newspapers did not proclaim it with banner headlines. Even Google India - in a striking departure from standard practice - did not commemorate the day through its customary squiggle on its search page.

But for those for whom American Studies is taught as a subject at the undergraduate level, this was not just another day. It became an opportunity for students to showcase their otherwise hidden talents and widen their horizon about a country which would have otherwise remained only a name. This learning by doing method helped students to overcome their stage fright and build their confidence.

It was a virtual feast both literally and figuratively, as the commerce students organized a canteen which served up chow chow-chow, sausage rolls and lemonade. Baked beans in canapés were also up for grabs. After the eats were wiped out, the students ambled in to a classroom which was gaily decorated with red, white and blue balloons – the colours of the American flag.

In a first, students of English literature dramatized Edgar Allan Poe’s chilling story of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839), Though a deft handling of technical devices, like phone, mike, laptop and projector they cast a spell on the audience with sound effects and acting to bring alive the Gothic tale of a brother who buries his sister alive.

Around 15 charts were received on aspects of America. Some chose subjects like one of the 50 states of America, others were on the icons of America, food etc. Inspired by Demi Lovato’s song ‘I will survive’ (2016), students presented a power-point on how inspiring American singers and music are.

In the fancy dress competition, one student draped a bed sheet and appeared as the statue of liberty. Another came as Alice Cullen the vampire from the twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer. In the open mike category where a speaker is invited to speak for 60 seconds on America, a science student spoke on how America and American products pervade our lives from tooth paste to Facebook. Students of political science ushered by their professor gave a PPT on the political significance of the Declaration of Independence of 4th July 1776.

Students of previous batches of American Studies were invited to come forward to share their experience of the course. They spoke about their journey across America reading books like Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road (1957) and watching North Country (2005) - a film on sexual harassment in Minnesota. They also dabbled in the photography of Richard Avedon(1923-2004)

The programme ended with the audience singing along the anthems like ‘Hotel California’ (1976) by Eagles, ‘Country Roads, Take Me Home’ (1971) by John Denver and Woody Guthrie’s folksong ‘This land is your land’ (1940).

Prizes were books by classic American writers, viz. Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Henry James.
Published in Gomantak Times Weekender, St. Inez, Goa on 9 July 2017. Pix of the performance of Poe taken by the author on 4th July 2017.

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