Detailed Course Description

This subject is an introduction to modern Indian culture and society through films, documentaries, short-stories, memoirs, ethnographies, novels, poems, academic essays and journalistic pieces. We use a few key events from the last sixty years in order to enter and understand some of the major debates in contemporary India. The principal focus is on understanding how and why literary and visual texts represent political and social events the way they do, as we attempt to locate our texts within their larger cultural and historical contexts. We study topics such as border tensions and terrorism, issues of language, caste and religion, poverty and inequality, and the status of women. Particular emphasis is placed on the IT revolution, the question of outsourcing, regional cultural differences in India, the effects of globalization on popular and folk cultures, and the emergence of the ideology of a "new Indian." The ultimate goal is to provide a general exposure to broader questions of India's history and civilization through our carefully selected "modern" entry points and, in the process, explore the "other Indias" that lurk beneath our constructed notion of a homogenous India. Authors read include Bipan Chandra, Ismat Chugtai, Mahasweta Devi, Nayantara Sahgal and Amartya Sen and directors include leading parallel film makers like Shyam Benegal, Shekhar Kapoor, Govind Nihalani and Satyajit Ray.

Experts working on India as well as eminent social and cultural critics will visit the class and participate in discussions with students. There will also be a few "lab sessions" at the end of the course to expose students to practical matters of health care concerns, cultural codes as played out in social practices and taboos, food and entertainment options in Indian cities and strategies for negotiating the "system" in India on a day to day basis. The lab sessions are mandatory for students traveling on the MIT India program, but optional for other students.

Class is taught in English. All texts are in English.


This is an introductory subject, aimed at exposing students to modern Indian culture and society through a variety of material. While this class is primarily for students who have no previous familiarity with this subject, those with some experience of it will find and articulate new ways of approaching and interpreting the culture. In addition, this should prepare students for the other subjects offered on Indian Literature, Cinema and Culture for many of the themes raised here are covered in greater detail in 21F.011: Topics in Indian Popular Culture and 21F.041: Topics in South Asian Literature and Culture. It is also aimed to serve as a preparatory course for students planning to travel to India on the MIT India program. No prerequisites.

Special Lab Sessions

Towards the end of the semester, there will be four brief "lab sessions" offered to prepare students traveling to India on the MIT India program. These are optional for other students.

Course Requirements

  1. Students are expected to attend all classes, as class discussion is crucial. Any unexcused absence will automatically lower your grade.

  2. Our emphasis is on class discussion. The class will be divided into small groups and each group will be responsible for leading a class discussion: that is to say, they will (with the help of the instructor, if needed) choose questions raised by the weekly readings to present to the class and moderate the discussion. The group will meet to discuss a teaching plan, and prepare "thought questions" on the assigned reading and visual material the course will cover. This will count as your "oral presentation" and will be graded by the instructor.

  3. Students will be required to write two papers of five pages each. Late submissions will be penalized with a lowered grade. In addition, students will write one page every week in the form of a journal they will maintain on all the reading and visual material before coming to class. These will be your first reactions to the subject we shall discuss, and the writing can be relatively informal. These "responses" will not be graded; these are simply aimed to assist students in organizing their thoughts for the class discussion to follow.

  4. Students will be expected to come to class fully prepared to discuss that week's material: that is, they will have read the day's assigned text, and/or seen the assigned visual material, before coming to class. Assignments will be posted very clearly on the syllabus. Any change in the syllabus during the course of the semester will be duly announced in class. If you are absent that day it is your responsibility to make sure you are aware of what you need to prepare.

  5. Readings will include poems, short-stories, novels, extracts from newspapers and magazines, and films will include documentaries, television clips, and films chosen from mainstream and alternative cinema.

  6. The films for this course will be available a week before the film is discussed in class. Short excerpts from other visual and audio material may be presented in class.


Essays submitted late without prior permission from the instructor will be penalized by one full letter grade. Acceptance of late papers will remain subject to instructor's discretion. Always keep an extra printed copy of your essay.

If at any point, you should feel the need for further discussion to clarify any issue, the instructor will be available to meet with you outside class.

Attendance, Punctuality and Response Papers 20%
Class Discussion and Oral Presentation 40%
Papers 40%