I’ve been lucky enough to have had 3 Fulbrights: to India, Uzbekistan, & Ukraine. Apart from 30 years teaching at Rutgers, I’ve been an incurable traveler, with other long-term assignments in Saudi & Turkey, Afghanistan & India, China & Indonesia. These things become part of your identity. When doing my website, I had to ask myself for the first time: What is my identity or identities? My answer was: Writer, editor, and interculturalist.
And of course interculturalism––is the core of the Fulbright experience. It is without doubt, a many-faceted word. It involves adding to your institution, adding to your host country, and expanding your understanding of yourself and the world.
My Fulbright to India (along with several other stays in-country), enabled me to write the book I had always dreamed of writing––A Ganges of the Mind––a popular book on the river and people I met while traveling from its source in the high Himalayas, to the Bay of Bengal: beggars and pilgrims, scoundrels and scholars.
Plus a scholarly book on the river, as well. It was a time when the journey to the East was in full spate. It seemed almost everyone was going to India for something; yoga and meditation, philosophy, theosophy; you name it. I also connected up with several colleagues from the University of Calcutta, and was later able to mentor several of their students who later traveled to America to study.
The Fulbright to Uzbekistan pulled me into the world of Islamic history and culture, and led me to write a historical novel set in 14th century Samarkand––one of the greatest centers of culture & learning of the Islamic world. I called the book The Illuminator, and spent the following two years studying the Islamic tradition, as background for the book, and for my studies in comparative religion.
The Fulbright to Ukraine resulted in a collaboration on two books with a Ukrainian colleague––Dr. Olga Ilchenko––of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. It was a collaboration that has lasted a lifetime, and also resulted in my currently serving on the editorial board of a Ukrainian journal. My stay also resulted in meeting my wife.
Two years of teaching in China also yielded a collaboration on two books, with a Chinese colleague. And finally, two years teaching in Turkey, that gave me some insights into that amazing part of the world, whose history disappears into the mists of time. My travels have enabled me to visit the ancient sites: Borobudur in Indonesia; stations on the Silk Road; the Buddhas of Bamiyan, before they were dynamited by the Taliban. Gaur: once one the greatest cities of India; and today, the haunt of birds and monkeys. As well as the clay soldiers of X’ian––probably the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, and to imagine the last days of the emperor’s retinue, who were buried alive with his dead body, beneath the giant mound of earth.
From these wayward journeys, I’ve been able to cobble together a book of my wanderings; called, ça va sans dire, The Wanderer: Travels & Adventures Beyond the Pale, that pulls together my experiences from 9-10 countries I’ve lived and worked and studied in; and with a cast of characters you can’t forget: swinging swamis, At the Lama’s Table (Sikkim), A Jewish-Christian-Moslem, Sasha and the Maharaja (Pakistan), and Drinking with the Russian Second Secretary (Kabul); to name but a few.
There are great travelers from all lands & all times: Ibn Battuta and al-Muqaddasi, Marco Polo and Magellan, Xuanzang & Zheng He. Here is a wonderful piece of advice from Chuang-tze, on The Inner and Outer Journey:
Lieh Tzu was fond of traveling.
The adept Hu-chiu Tzu said to him: “I hear you are
fond of travel. What is it about traveling that pleases you so?”
“I travel,” replied Lieh Tzu, “in order to observe the endless
variety of things, and in this way come to understand the universal.”
“When people travel,” replied Hu, “they see merely the outside—the
husk, the shell. They learn little about the essence of things, which
is only learned from the inward journey.”
After that, Lieh Tzu never went anywhere.
“Now that you understand this,” said Hu, “you may become
a traveler again; realizing that the greatest traveler does not know
where he is going, and so is open to all experience.”
In a way, the most important thing to pack with you for the journey is––the diary. Keep it under your pillow at night, and try to write something in it every day; about people, places, experiences. And of course, your reflections. Remembering always that: life is people, whether you’re a poet or a physicist. Let me leave you with a parting thought; something I’ve learned from several aeons of travel, umpteen years of writing, and 10 years as a professional editor: Connect with the heart…and the head will follow. Whether you’re a poet, or a physicist.
Fulbright to India: 1992-1993
Fulbright to Uzbekistan: 1997-1998
Fulbright to Ukraine: 2001-2002