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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Devahuti and Damodar [Part 2]

[continued from part 1]

1965. My second year of Teacher’s College and second year of evening units at the University of Queensland. The first year under Devahuti had taught me a great deal – mainly how NOT to do a university course, but I have always been a slow learner. When I learn, I do reach a take-off point, but it takes me a while to get there.
   I looked at the offerings for advanced units in History. Devahuti’s unit was a first year one, and passing it opened up the field a little, as I could now take Advanced Units in history. Still, nothing appealed a great deal. Then I saw this subject, Contemporary Southern Asia, and there was something about it that struck a chord. In reality, it was more contemporary political science than history, and the Course Coordinator, D P Singhal, was as much a political scientist as an historian. I hadn’t realised what a pivotal role India had played in world politics in the modern era, surrounded by great powers and interacting with them.
   I am not sure when I became aware that Damodar [pronounced ‘Da-MODE-ar’] was Devahuti’s husband, but it made sense of course. Universities in India were then, in 1965, as now, enmeshed in politics which wasted time and energy and could ruin careers. The trouble could come from the political right, or left, or both. When the UQ wisely decided to offer more courses in Asian history, Damodar and Devahuti decided to get out of the destructive politics in Indian universities and make a fresh start away from the subcontinent itself. Both of them had distinguished themselves at the University of London and UQ got itself an extraordinary bargain when they both applied for positions.
  So, I studied Damodar’s course in 1965. I was bowled over by his knowledge of the world’s history and the interlocking of cultural, historical and political forces. 1965 was still the Menzies era in Australia politics, and Vietnam was looming. War between India and Pakistan was also inevitable. The cold war was at its height (though was it ever NOT, until the Iron Curtain came tumbling down thirty years later?)
   Damodar's clarity of vision helped me make sense of what was happening in the world I was about to enter as an adult. I had grown up in the country, where a conservative political landscape was the norm, and Menzies had god-like status. Unions, by this view, were evil and by controlling the Labor Party would destroy the country if it ever fell into their hands.
   I never questioned any of this. Why would I? We had had conservative governments all my life so nothing was tested, challenged or even considered on a basis of balance or understanding. We tend to inherit our political views and it takes a bombshell to force us back from what we have inherited in that respect.
   Damodar's teaching challenged every preconception I had, though I was not then old enough to even appreciate how much the world was a far more complicated place than I had imagined. Devahuti gave me a chance to view life through oriental philosophies; Damodar gave me a different window to view everything that was happening around me. But I resisted much of this novelty because it would have shattered the illusions I had, and removed me too far from my comfort zone.
   In April of 1965, a few weeks before my 18th birthday, my father died. Another illusion shattered; that one’s parents will be there forever - that life will go on in other places exactly as before, and be picked up again on end of term visits home.
   Now that I look back, I didn’t realise at the time just how radically my world would be changed by the events of that year. Yet I would not see either Devahuti or Damodar for another couple of years, during which I would be teaching primary school children at Gladstone and Calliope. For that time, until 1968, they disappeared from my life entirely, or so I thought. But their influence did not wane, I now realise, and it would, from 1968 onwards, become far more powerful than I could ever have imagined.
[NOTE:  I would like to have been able to say that Damodar Singhal recognised me as some bright star on the horizon of academia as a result of my brilliance in his classes, but that is completely untrue. I was at that stage at least quite indistinguishable from the dozens of other students just wanting to get another two credit points towards my degree for the year-long course.] 


  1. Oh - so Damodar is the DP Singhal who wrote a book I have called 'India and World Civilisation (vol II) which I bought 2nd hand(perhaps it was yours!
    You were fortunate to have someone to help you make sense of the world's history at that age. Arriving from a little coastal village into the radical student politics around the Vietnam war and Whitlam's era in the metropolis of Armidale I was pretty overwhelmed, swept up and failed my exams :) Too innocent.

    At that age for me also, when you had the shock of your dad's death, my uncle suddenly died and my dad ran off with a young woman, so my mum and aunt were both left in dire straits. It was such a difficult time and the boyfriend I loved intensely left me too! Oh life and its complexities, tragedies, learnings.

    More please (yes, of your writing AND of life..)
    PS I love YOUR story which so pleasingly lets us know you better as well as the times, but can't help identifying with my own life - hope you don't mind!

  2. Yes indeed - Damodar wrote that 2 volume book that set off such controversy when it was written. He gave me a copy and I made him sign it, and I wouldn't ever give up that set! He asked me to go over the drafts before it went to the publishers. But that fits in with later events - as, I suspect, are my full-time uni days more parallel to yours than this phase you've been reading about. Hey but I never failed a subject though! Too conchy....
    You certainly had your tragedies. And life is all about comparisons. How could we make judgments without them?


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