The Fulbright Outreach Lecturing Fund Through a Student’s Eyes

Editor’s Note: High school student Benjamin Gerhardt recounts his experience of attending an Outreach Lecturing Fund lecture by Gargi Sen, an artistic director at Magic Lantern Movies in India and 2016-2017 Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Davis.  

I first met Gargi Sen, a Fulbright Scholar from India, when I saw her meditating on a stone bench outside of Cobb Hall at the University of Chicago, where I was taking a summer class. The class, "Collegiate Writing: Awakening into Consciousness,” was designed for high school students from across the world and involved discussions of individual, spiritual, and political consciousness. Naturally, I mused over what this meditating woman was thinking about. I did not know she was the Fulbright scholar who would be joining our class, possibly lecturing on her intellectual film, but her stillness and introspection struck me as unique and sincere. She embodied a type of sternness, underlined by her closed eyes. I was already inspired by Gargi, and, in that moment, I did not even know her name.

Later that day, I introduced myself to her. The two of us began talking about films, and soon our conversation gravitated towards the Bhagavad-Gita, the text we were discussing in class. She had read it many times, subsequently coming up with her own interpretations. However, she was keen to hear what I thought of the text. I still wanted to know what she was thinking. I said, bluntly, that it was an interesting spiritual text because it is rooted in motivating someone to kill. She paused, nodding, and said, “that is what I think.”

After sharing our favorite movies and music, it was time to watch her own film, Maya’s Musings. Surprisingly, she presented a rough cut of the film, which she had been editing for months using the input from studentsMy classmates and I were immediately captivated by the film’s contemplative tone and the surreal nature of the cinematography, stitched into the sharp fractures of the fourth wall, all of which resembled Jazz—the most democratic music. In Jazz, everyone has an equal voice and an equal opportunity to share it. I felt that her film paralleled Jazz by devoting equal time to the different thoughts that occupied her mind. Now I was starting to understand what exactly she was thinking. She then compared her film to a guitar riff in order to explain that she wants her film to be transparent and inclusive. As Gargi said, “sound is the most primordial” sense, and I believe she captured this feeling through the thoughtful inclusion of modern cultural and religious music. She featured Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne at the end of her film to accentuate motifs of persecution and religious impact.

My friend John asked about one particular scene, in which a block of text was superimposed over the moon, which was darting back and forth. John asked if the moon symbolized the false reality and the distractions from thoughts or truths. Gargi was extremely thankful for the question, and dove immediately into explaining her motives. Following this, another classmate asked about Gargi’s journey for this film. Gargi explained that, “honestly, honestly, honestly, it was the last class… and this class because sometimes you should see the rough cuts before this. You would see all that the students have contributed to this.” She dedicated the film’s “confidence” and “fearlessness” to the students she worked with. And I finally knew what she was thinking. Like Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, like ourselves, she is a student, looking within, trying to block all distractions so she could discover where her voice belongs in the music of the world.

As both a musician and a lifelong student, eager to embark on a University education, I am grateful to Gargi. Her personal philosophy influences the way I tackle my musical, educational, and personal projects. The way she is able to incorporate music into her work intellectually is brilliant. The power of music is native to her, and, like her, I hope to help spread this power. During the span of my summer course, my classmates and I continually circled back to Maya’s Musings, Gargi Sen, and her insights, discovering more about her film and the texts we were analyzing. I still remain in touch with Gargi. Occasionally, we send each other emails, and I am always learning more about her and the way she thinks. She is truly inspirational, and I am grateful to say that I have worked with her.