For twenty years, the University of California at Berkeley has had a thriving Tamil program, training students in one of the richest languages and Hindu literary traditions in the world. Its Tamil studies have been complemented by full programs in Sanskrit and Hindi, making it one of the major centers for South Asian languages and South Asian studies in North America. When it started, there were very few South Asians in the USA – the occasional sari still brought stares even on the streets of Berkeley. Now things have changed radically. Dr. George Hart, Professor of Tamil at Berkeley remarks. "It used to be we hail tiny enrollments, all students of European origin who wanted to learn about India. But we've seen that change. Now the majority of our students are from homes where Tamil was spoken. They've come to us to learn to read and write. We find that the different kinds of students we get all benefit from the presence of one another. This year our enrollment in elementary Tamil was twenty, the highest ever."
"We must not forget that we are living in a Eurocentric culture," says Hart. "Unfortunately, the administration at Berkeley seems to see Tamil as marginal, especially in these times of budget shortfalls. We must act to ensure that Tamil continues to be taught after I leave."
Because of the way Berkeley is set up, a chair can be created for only $400,000, much less than at the major private universities. The money does not actually pay anyone's salary: rather, it earns interest that can be used for purposes to be determined by the donors and the faculty. The Tamil Chair money would generate about $20,000 a year, and Hart says he would like to see it used to hold a conference once a year. "We could bring several scholars from India, invite the entire Tamil community from North America, along with the American and Canadian scholars. This way, everyone would benefit," explains Hart. The Chair would also serve to give the subject of Tamil considerable prestige.
To donate to the chair: make check payable to "U.C. Regents" and note "For Tamil Endowment" on the check. Mail to: Center for South Asian Studies, Moses Hall, University of California. Berkeley, California, 94720, USA For further information, write Dr. George Hart at Moses Hall or phone 510/525-1793.
Article copyright Himalayan Academy.