India and Africa: New Engagements by Brian Jackson

Brian Jackson obtained a B.A. in Latin American and Latino Studies combined with Politics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he conducted research on national and quotidian constructs of race in Latin America, specifically El Salvador. He is currently interested in the history and legacies of diplomatic relations between Zanzibar and Oman in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Brian was recently in India to present a paper at the India and Africa: And Afro-Asian Perspective Conference organised by Jamia Millia Islamia Academy of International Studies. Here he talks about his experience:

“As a student in the University of Pennsylvania African Studies Department, my research usually focuses on 19th and 20th century trade and identity between Oman and Zanzibar. Recently, however, I have expanded my interests to cover the Indian Ocean more broadly. I have taken a course on Medieval India, and wrote a paper which I recently presented at a conference in New Delhi at the Jamia Millia Islamia Academy of International Studies. Being able to realize this opportunity wasn’t just an achievement in terms of my research, but a long-awaited experience in terms of my personal interests.

For so long, I have been watching Bollywood movies, teaching Bollywood dance classes and cultivating my interests in India. The opportunity to travel to India did not disappoint. I have been able to visit the Taj Mahal and Jaipur, two amazing places in India, as well as eat Indian food everyday (as I am a huge fan of Indian food). I must admit, I was a bit nervous before coming as India has a reputation in some places for sub-par treatment of Afro-descendants. Though, my experience in India as an Afro-descendant, thankfully, has not been negative and has actually resulted in the improvement of my Hindi. Because walking through the streets, people stare at me, I have learned to say, “Kya hoa? Koh Mushkila hai?” to which they reply “Kuchnay”.

As an avid admirer of Indian culture and history, my time in India has made me even more curious to explore India, both academically and culturally. I hope to next time visit places like Mumbai and Kashmir, as well as continue research on the Indian Siddi communities of Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, etc. I am grateful for my experiences in India and even more grateful for the help and support of the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Advanced Study of India and the Institute of the Advanced Study of India, particularly Aparna Wilder and Tishya Sethi. Without you two, my trip to India and the experiences here would not have been possible. I sincerely hope to continue being a part of CASI and UPIASI in the future and meeting students and alum from these centers.”