Portfolio Reflection Letter – “This Place Called India”

Dear Members of the Portfolio Assessment Committee,

Before this class, I dreaded writing assignments. They always took me a lot of time, and I often had trouble coming up with interesting ideas for my work. Moreover, the writing process I followed was quite rigid: I mostly composed five-paragraph essays in high school. Throughout this course, however, I became more insightful with my expression and development of ideas in my writing. “This Place Called India” has challenged me not only to learn more about India by composing pieces in a variety of genres, but also to become more focused in my writing and more efficient with the writing process. Branching off of the goals mentioned in the syllabus, I used India as a lens through which to improve my overall skills as a writer across multiple modes of composition.

Through the British Raj Photo Essay assignment (https://dylanfrankeng101.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/british-raj-photo-essay/), I learned the importance of selecting the most appropriate genre to accomplish a given task. While the compositional mode of “photo essay” was not chosen for us, it proved to be an effective way to communicate information to a target audience that would not know much about India’s history under British colonialism. This assignment challenged me to express an argument around a controlling idea while working in an unconventional genre. To do this, I realized that I needed to choose photographs relating to a central theme. Initially, I could not think of a direction to go in, as the collection of photos we were provided with seemed disparate to me. The only connection I originally saw between the photos was that they were taken during the same period. Upon further inspection, however, I noticed that many of the photos explored the ideas of entitlement and spaces. Therefore, I decided to make the central theme of my photo essay “Permission and Space.” When choosing photos in line with this theme, I looked for ones which showcased various spaces. I then talked about who occupied these spaces (or would be allowed to occupy them).

PhotoEssayExcerpt

Ultimately, my project highlighted major disparities between the spaces British colonial officials and common Indian citizens were permitted to occupy. In doing so, my photo essay advanced the claim that during the time of the British Raj, British officials and their families lived lifestyles of opulence that were inaccessible to and exploitative of Indian citizens. The British Raj Photo Essay assignment made me realize that one can employ a variety of compositional modes to effectively advance a meaningful argument. By forcing me to substantiate a meaningful claim with pictures and few words, this assignment helped develop my creativity, critical thinking, and organizational skills while also allowing me to practice composing in a multimodal form.

The essay on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies (https://dylanfrankeng101.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/the-indian-diaspora-through-objects-and-experiences-in-interpreter-of-maladies/) proved to be one of the most challenging assignments for me. It took me a long time to finish it because I had to write multiple iterations of the piece. In high school, I did not conduct multiple revisions of my work. Moreover, writing a serious college-level analytical essay made me realize the importance of structuring my writing and evidence to ensure good flow. To accomplish these goals, I decided to create an outline for my paper, something I had never done in high school. In my outline, I first wrote my topic sentences for each paragraph, and then wrote my transition sentences. After doing this, I placed my evidence in between my topic and transition sentences on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. This process greatly sped up my writing process, and allowed me to maintain good structure and flow on the paragraph-wide and paper-wide levels. Additionally, I used to view the writing process as a solitary endeavor. For this essay, I ended up getting stuck when I was just working by myself. To move forward, I decided to go to the Writing Center for some advice. After doing so, I decided to change my introduction and thesis to create a more interesting argument. (Note: First Draft is on the Left, Final Draft is on the Right).

For my first draft, the introduction was quite general and the thesis statement was a fact. For my final draft, however, I redeveloped my introduction to have a more specific focus. Additionally, I made sure that my thesis contained an arguable assertion: Lahiri’s strategic use of objects and sensory experiences highlight her characters’ struggles in Interpreter of Maladies makes it a realistic portrayal of the Indian diasporic experience. I selected suitable evidence from the text to substantiate this claim. When reading “Interpreter of Maladies,” I noticed that Lahiri’s description of the Das family’s attire (“brightly colored clothing,” “caps with translucent visors,” etc.) heightened the divide between the Das family and their Indian culture, given their upbringing in America (Lahiri, 44). In “The Third and Final Continent,” Lahiri describes the Boston city “noise” as having a “suffocating” effect on the Indian immigrant narrator that further exacerbated his feelings of isolation in America (Lahiri, 175).

Because I had to revise my Interpreter of Maladies essay many times, it also helped me realize that writing is a process. This assignment, as well as the later Interview Article, taught me that flexibility is a key trait for successful college writers: In both cases, I had to be willing to go back to my thesis and reconstruct my piece when my original plans were not working out. Taking these actions allowed me to write a strong final draft.

For the Interview Project (https://dylanfrankeng101.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/integration-over-assimilation-kala-and-pathys-experience-of-maintaining-their-indian-cultural-identity-while-living-in-the-united-states/), I had trouble identifying a central theme initially. Additionally, the interviews I conducted had taken a different direction from what I had originally planned to write about. While I had wanted my Interview Article to focus on my interviewees’ opinions concerning our current political climate, my conversation with my interviewees took a different direction. Based on my interview footage, I decided to focus on “preserving cultural heritage” as the central theme of my article. I titled my piece “Integration Over Assimilation: Kala and Pathy’s Experience of Maintaining their Indian Cultural Identity While Living in the United States” because it showcases the extent of Kala and Pathy’s efforts to preserve Tamil culture in their family.

InterviewProjectExcerpt

In summary, learning more about India has been deeply enlightening for me, and taking this course has helped me to improve as a writer across multiple dimensions. By requiring me to compose in multiple genres, it taught me to move away from the rigidity of a five-paragraph essay. Additionally, each assignment challenged me to think critically and bring well-developed interpretations of evidence into my writing. Lastly, because the assignments highlighted here were complex, they required me to conduct multiple revisions. The skills I have developed in this course along with the more positive outlook I have developed concerning the writing process will go on to serve me well in college and afterwards.

 

Sincerely,

Dylan Z. Frank

Emory University Class of 2020

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