Edition 8: August 2010


Amitabh Bose is professor of mathematical sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. He was a 2009-10 Fulbright-Nehru Scholar affiliated with the School of Physical Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi where he completed mathematical modeling of the dynamics of neuronal networks.

"Aap kahain se hai?" (Where are you from?) was a question that cropped up over and over as my wife Tudy, son Avinash, daughter Simrun and I traveled throughout India. The answer, however, was not so straightforward. Both Tudy and I are of Indian origin, but each of our sets of parents moved to the US between 40 and 50 years ago. Upon telling this to people, the standard response was, "Indian tho hain, na?" (But you are Indian, right?) Well, you get the idea; the need to establish connections is part of what makes us human.

When I learned that the Fulbright program was giving me the chance to spend a year in India I was thrilled! It provided me with an opportunity to build new research collaborations with scientists in India. It gave my family a chance to experience living life in the country of our parents’ origin. Finally, and quite importantly, it allowed us to share with the local population some insights about life in America, especially for those of us who are first generation Americans.

My research in India focused on how mathematics is used to describe electrical activity in the brain. I started two collaborative projects with scientists at my affiliating university during my research. The first investigated how the structure of randomly connected neuronal networks affects their ability to produce periodic electrical activity; and the second studied mechanisms for the onset and offset of rapid eye movement sleep. I also developed and taught a graduate course on computational neuroscience. Apart from this, I was invited for talks and lectures throughout India. One of the highlights was the five days I lectured on non-linear dynamics at the SERC School, Department of Physics, Delhi University. The audience consisted of bright and eager graduate students from across India who had been chosen to attend this school. Personally, this experience was emotionally relevant as both my parents had graduated from this very department in the late 1950's. I taught in the same lecture hall where my parents had sat as students 50 years prior!

My Fulbright year in India proved to be beneficial for my entire family. While I was busy with my research, my wife became involved with developing educational programs at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library at Teen Murti Bhavan in New Delhi. In the US, she is a middle and high school teacher, so this opportunity allowed her to remain close to her field. Our children, Avinash and Simrun, loved attending the American Embassy School. Getting a chance to attend an international school, they thrived in this international setting, interacting with kids from all over the world and learning Hindi along with other subjects. They also soaked in everything they could from their surroundings, becoming experts on Delhi roads and instructing us on the best ways to navigate the city! This was a year of learning and growth for our entire family.

Taking full advantage of the luxury of time, we traveled extensively over the course of the year. Places we visited included Pushkar in Rajasthan for the camel fair, Hampi in Karnataka to see the ruins of Vijaynagar, Udaipur in Rajasthan for the Fulbright conference, Pelling in Sikkim to see Mount Kanchenjunga and Bodh Gaya in Bihar where the Buddha achieved enlightenment. These special places allowed us to experience the diversity of Indian culture as well as share our stories of life in America. A particularly fond memory of mine is seeing the Theyyam dance ritual while at Kannur in Kerala. Having adorned himself elaborately to take on the persona of a particular god, the dancer put himself into a trance. After the performance each audience member had a chance to directly converse with the dancer. What struck me as I watched these discussions was the sincerity and depth of interaction between dancer and audience. It gradually became clear that each viewer believed that they were having a direct conversation with the deity personified by the dancer. Interestingly, while some left the conversation with a smile, others left brooding over what they had been told. This was one of countless experiences, during which our notions were challenged and our horizons broadened.

Sadly, the year in India came to a close. As we boarded the plane to go back to the US, we looked back fondly on our time in India. Being under the auspices of the Fulbright program had added valuably to our stay. Interacting with the USIEF staff, professors and students at my affiliating university, people in our neighborhood in Delhi and many more while traveling in India was very rewarding. I thank the Fulbright program for making this a truly special year for my family and me.
Amitabh and his son at the Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan

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