Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teaching About India, Made Simple


Rashmi Sharma Singh


For many, India is a difficult topic to teach. It contains too many contradictions and it’s diversity in its geography, its people, its economic disparity, its multi-religious traditions, and long history are staggering. This part of the Vidya (two vowels, pronounced with a short I, Vid as in Bid, plus ya) Books website is meant to make this task easier. Taking one issue, and often, one story at a time, this can be made more comprehensible, and even fun.


I write from the perspective of one who has Indian heritage, and was born and raised in North India. The blood of teachers and historians, for over two thousand years, at least, is part of who I am; I have done countless workshops about India to teachers at professional groups[1]. Additionally, as an immigrant to the US, I humbly bring my heritage, experience and expertise (based solely in student reviews at Sonoma State University[2]) as a University lecturer to this task. The California State University, where I have taught for eleven years, trains more teachers than the UC system. I am also the founder of, and a part of the nonprofit For a complete bio/cv, see About the Founder.


India is famous for its oral tradition. From the guru-shishya tradition come these anecdotes about ‘thinking outside the box’:

Example 1: The three sons of a King were lazy, and did not want to attend school. Their father, the king, despaired of leaving his kingdom to them. He asked a guru for help. This guru told the princes that all they had to do was listen to stories for a short time each day. Before they knew it, many of the lessons they needed as future rulers had been learned. (From the Punchtuntra stories, the basis of many Aesop stories. See background to The Blue Jackal.

Example 2: A thirsty man gets to a fast- flowing river. He complains that there is too much water, and from a distance, he despairs, asking how can he get a just one drink? He hears this response: By simply going to the edge of the river, and if he has nothing else, by cupping his hands, drinking a couple of sips at a time.

[1] Including multiple presentations at the California Council for the Social Studies, and the National Council for the Social Studies and at some school districts. (

[2] From student reviews: “Excellent”, “Need more of this kind of a class for all students,” ‘gives meaning to my four years at the university,’ …

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