A group of Black Hills State University humanities students recently spent a day discussing Indian history, politics and other elements of the Southeast Asian culture including the traditional celebratory henna painting. 

Last week, as thousands of people dressed in green and ate corned beef and cabbage to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day, a group of Black Hills State University humanities students discussed Indian history, politics and other elements of the Southeast Asian culture.

The University Center-Rapid City humanities class shared the Indian experience as part of their participation in the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read. Since last fall, BHSU and the Spearfish community has been bringing the culture of India to the Black Hills through exhibits, foreign films, lectures, demonstrations and book discussions as part of the year-long nationwide literature program.

Spearfish was one of 77 communities throughout the nation selected to participate in The Big Read, a program designed to revitalize the role of literature in American culture and to encourage citizens to read for pleasure and enlightenment. The community-wide celebration kicked off last September with the introduction of “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri.

The UC-RC students are currently reading the novel which examines the nuances of being caught between two conflicting cultures. As an introduction to the novel, Dr. Bobbi Looney, assistant professor of management and communications, organized a series of activities focusing on elements of Indian life.

Dr. Parthasarathi Nag, BHSU associate professor of mathematics from India, started last week’s event by sharing an overview of Indian history and politics highlighting the complex political challenges of India with its shared borders in a politically restless region. He also called attention to the mix of languages and faiths that bring complexity to governance in a parliamentary democracy with more than 20 political parties and 1.2 billion people.

“Following the lecture, Dr. Nag encourageds tudents to enjoy cups of hot Darjeeling sweet tea and to discuss geo-politics, just as is popular in the late afternoon of an Indian day,” Looney said noting that the students also ate curried chaat, a traditional Indian snack, instead of the usual Irish fare on St. Patrick’s Day. They also listened to sitar concert videos.

After the meal and music, students wore latex gloves and painted their hands in intricate Mehndi designs. The celebratory henna painting is especially popular with Indian women on their wedding day.

Last week’s class was just one of several Big Read events held throughout the past several months that focused on Lahiri, her novel, and its various themes including immigration, coming of age and acquisition of cultural norms.

For a full schedule of local Big Read events go to matthewsopera.com/the-big-read.html