Dhar gift names India Studies Program

Dhar India Studies Program naming

Dr. Sisir Dhar, left, and IUB Provost Karen Hanson unveiled the Madhusudan and Kiran C. Dhar India Studies Program.

On April 1, 2011, Dr. Sisir Dhar, left, and IUB Provost Karen Hanson unveiled the Madhusudan and Kiran C. Dhar India Studies Program. The program’s new name honoring the Dhars is the result of a significant endowment gift provided by their son, Dr. Sisir Dhar, and his wife, Heather Dhar. Dr. Dhar is a retired nephrologist; he and his wife lived for many years in Terre Haute.

Hanson said, “As a subject of academic study, India is important for many reasons. It is the second most populous country in the world and the largest democracy.  It has the world’s eleventh largest economy.  It has an ancient culture and a large, rich body of literature that dates back 3000 years. Between India’s states there are 22 official languages. The number of languages that are spoken by at least one million people in India is closer to 40.

“Of course, two of the world’s major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, originated in India, and it has the third-largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. The extraordinarily generous gift from Dr. and Mrs. Dhar will allow the program to build on its many accomplishments, and the opportunities their gift will provide to future generations of students and scholars are beyond calculation.  We are enormously grateful”

Dr. and Mrs. Dhar have been involved with the IU India Studies Program for years. "Our daughter studied at IU in Bloomington, and that is when we first became interested in the university," Dr. Dhar said. "The India Studies Program is one of the few programs in the U.S. dedicated to the study of Indian civilization and modern India, and India's relationship to the U.S. My parents were simple people, brought up in an Indian village, with deep regard for Indian culture and education. My hope is that the program will fill the gap of understanding between India, the USA and the world."

Madhusudan Dhar and Kiran Bala Dhar (née Chowdhury), were born in different rural villages in Chittagong, Bengal, British India, now Bangladesh. Madhusudan Dhar died when Sisir was only 2 years old. During the 1947 War of Partition that preceded the establishment of the modern states of India and Pakistan, the remaining young family was separated; Kiran Dhar died in Bangladesh while Sisir and his three siblings were staying with family in West Bengal. Sisir was 7 at the time; he and his siblings were brought up by their uncles and aunts in India and Bangladesh.

After completing medical school in India, Sisir came to the U.S. in 1972 to do a nephrology fellowship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago. He and Heather, a nurse, met while they were both working on a medical teaching ward in a Canadian hospital. In 1978, Dr. Dhar joined the medical staff of Union Hospital in Terre Haute. He started the hospital's dialysis unit and served as its director.

"My husband's father was a teacher in the local village and his mother was a homemaker with an intense interest in old Indian literature," Mrs. Dhar said. "Sisir was so young that he has no personal memory of either of them. His aunts and uncles always told him that his parents always stressed higher education."

David Zaret, interim dean of the IU College of Arts and Sciences, said, "By all accounts Dr. Dhar's father was an excellent student. His mother was largely self-taught. She studied the Mahabharata, Ramayana and other Indian classics, committing long passages to memory. The family always encouraged higher education. Given his parents' commitment to the importance of higher education, it is especially fitting that the Dhars have chosen to honor them in this fashion. The College is deeply appreciative of their vision and their generosity."

Why do we walk this way?

Juvenile Chimp DeimelMany of us do not think about the accepted norms of human behaviour, such as walking upright, but Kevin Hunt has been fascinated with bi-pedalism since he was young. “It seems natural to most people, but I was always struck by how peculiar it is that we walk the way we do,” says Hunt, professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Human Origins and Primate Evolution Laboratory at Indiana University Bloomington. “I find bipedalism bizarre.”

This curiosity led Hunt to Africa to study our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees. By studying chimp behavior, Hunt began to disagree with several of the popular theories of bipedalism at the time and began to formulate his own theory.

Although Hunt logged thousand of observations, and only a small fraction of those involved chimps standing up on their back legs, those incidents showed a clear pattern. Whenever chimps were standing up on two legs, they were feeding. They were either on the ground reaching up to pick fruits, or balancing on slender branches while hanging onto an overhanging limb with one hand and gathering fruit with the other.

“It struck me, even based on such a small sample, that bipedalism may have had something to do with the ability of early humans to reach food,” Hunt says. “Our earliest ancestors’ short legs and wide hips, which weren’t good for walking long distances, also meant they had a lower center of gravity, which would have helped them balance while moving around on two legs in trees with thin branches.”

Hunt’s theory, now known as the “postural feeding hypothesis,” was also supported by the fact that Lucy and her ilk — known as Australopithecus afarensis — (remains found in Africa of a possible early human ancestor) had ape-like long arms and curved fingers and toes specially adapted for gripping.

Hunt’s theory suggests that bipedalism evolved when a particular species of ancient ape found itself stranded in a relatively dry habitat with smaller trees and discovered it was advantageous to be able to balance on fragile branches while foraging for food. Apes better able to stand tall while balancing found more food and thus had a higher likelihood of surviving and passing on their genes to the next generation. Apes that weren’t as good at standing and balancing got less food, and so eventually died out.

One problem with Hunt’s hypothesis was that it was based on relatively few direct observations. To shore up the postural feeding theory, he needed to observe chimps in dry, lightly wooded habitats. In 1996, Hunt found a promising spot in east Africa, set up camp, and began studying chimps there. Unfortunately, Hunt has made limited progress due to ongoing terrorism and other regional problems. However, he remains hopeful that he’ll soon be able to spend more time with the chimps.

“I’m still compelled by the fact that somehow, at some point in our long history, we stood up and began walking around on two legs,” Hunt says. “The more I watch chimps in the wild, the closer I feel I come to understanding how and why that happened.”

Adapted by Aimee Miller from a recent story in Research & Creative Activity magazine.

Sweet 16! Esther Uduehi joins the ranks of IU's Rhodes Scholars

By Aimee Miller

Esther Uduehi with her STARS mentor, Prof. Amar Flood

Esther Uduehi, a senior majoring in chemistry and mathematics, has been named a Rhodes Scholar for 2011, with her STARS mentor, Prof. Amar Flood

Senior Esther Uduehi has accomplished much during her short time at IU. She has received numerous scholarships and awards, is vice president of the Board of Aeons, participates in the Science, Technology, and Research Scholars program (STARS), and co-founded the IU Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS).

“MAPS brings different persons into medicine. There is a better need for doctors and a better need for minorities in health care. MAPS is essentially a support system,” Uduehi says. “There are specific challenges that many minorities face when pursuing medicine. Many of the minority students are first generation students and could use assistance navigating the system.”

Uduehi has contributed much to IU, but she feels that IU has given much more to her. When asked about what she loves about the campus, Uduehi jokingly replied, “The weather,” but then answered seriously.

“It is such a big campus with so many tremendous opportunities. There is every facet of college life. IU is very diverse and it is really important to interact with students from across the world. For a state school we have the advantage of both small and large classes, which is a nice contrast. I like both experiences and have been able to take advantage of both sides.”

“I remember seeing Meryl Streep last year and I remember when President Obama came my freshman year. I was standing a mere 50 feet away from him,” Uduehi says.

First Lady Michelle Obama also happens to be one of the people that Uduehi reveres.

“Michelle Obama and Oprah are my role models. They worked really hard and were trail blazers. They set good standards for black women in this country and that shows how far we’ve come in the past century,” Uduehi says.

Looking back, not only to the history of black women but to the more personal history of her family, motivates Uduehi to take advantage of every opportunity. “My parents emigrated from Nigeria the year before I was born. They had to work very hard to get by and went back to school. I learned to not take my education for granted. I learned to look at the resources around me and make the most of them,” Uduehi says.

Uduehi, a chemistry and mathematics major, is one of only 32 Americans to be named a Rhodes Scholar for 2011.  

“It feels great. It is such an honor and so humbling to be able to represent IU internationally. It is a great opportunity. It allows me to reflect on my journey and all the people who helped me get here,” Uduehi says.

The Rhodes Scholarship provides all expenses for three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

“I am very excited about Oxford. I will be able to study science in a different environment while applying what I’ve learned at IU. I will also be able to think about what I will be doing with my life after IU,” Uduehi says.

Uduehi has many plans on what to do with her life post-IU. “I plan on pursuing my graduate degree in Chemistry at Oxford and then come back for medical school. I want to do cancer research. It affects so many people and is so pervasive in our society. Also, the problems in cancer are problems in other diseases,” she says. “I want to do some good in the world.”