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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA Profiles: Prof. draws parallels to UA and Sri Lanka

    Naganathan Gnanakumaran, who led a perilous life in the civil war-torn country of Sri Lanka, recently received a Fulbright scholarship that allowed him to come to the UA to teach.

    New to the UA’s religious studies department, Gnanakumaran, known around campus as Gnana, is teaching Introduction to Hinduism this semester.

    Since Hinduism is new to most students at the UA, he has noticed students are showing more interest in learning what he has to teach, Gnana said.

    Despite the increased enthusiasm, thoughts of home and the differences between Sri Lanka, a third-world country, and the United States, are still a big concern for him.

    In Sri Lanka, for example, a professor usually makes around $450 in U.S. dollars per month, he said.

    If a family makes $1,000 a month in Sri Lanka, they live a comfortable life.

    Compared with UA students, students in Sri Lanka never have a fixed schedule because of an ongoing civil war that has lasted 30 years. Likewise, in Sri Lanka, books are only suggested, not required, to students because they are not able to afford them and handouts are not possible because of the cost of paper.

    “”A professor in my university is only allowed to take 10 books at a time for a class,”” Gnana said.

    Although Gnana lived in Sri Lanka during the civil war, he does not discuss his first-hand experiences in his class, although he is willing to share certain facts that hit close to home.

    More than 70,000 people have died over the last 30 years and more than one million people have left the country because of the war, Gnana said.

    His family was forced to leave their home and belongings several times because of the war. In one incident, the army burnt his house down.

    “”We have to face these things,”” Gnana said. “”I can’t talk about that experience in words because it is very difficult. The sound of bombing and firing – in our country we are hearing about bad things about the war. We don’t have freedom at all.””

    Soon, along with continuing to teach at the UA and Pima Community College, Gnana will start a joint honors seminar next semester with other professors to teach about ethnic and other problems within the culture of Sri Lanka and India at the UA and PCC .

    Adele Barker, a friend and colleague of Gnana, applied for the Fulbright scholarship to bring Gnana to the UA. She said it was ultimately a joint proposal between the UA and PCC.

    Barker thinks having Gnana teaching will give people a better idea of what the civil war is.

    “”They have lived under conditions which for us is very hard to imagine,”” she said. “”A lot of that war doesn’t get reported in the United States press. The seminar will enable students to get a sense of ethnicity and really play into people’s sense of nationalism.””

    Although most people who have the opportunity to leave Sri Lanka try to never return, Gnana said he will eventually return to his country.

    “”I came here to get experience and I get pleasure when I teach, and I will try to implement those experiences,”” he said. “”I am going to implement a good American system there.””

    Although Gnana would like to see the foreign government find a solution to the civil war in Sri Lanka, he said he is fortunate to have this experience at the UA.

    “”We want to have peace (at home) because we are peace-loving people,”” Gnana said. “”I am fortunate to come from my country for one year. I am having peace here and I don’t have that at home.””

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