June 5, 2001

Keshani (Valerie Shore photo)


Medal-winning master’s research almost didn’t happen

As Husein Keshani was planning a trip to India to conduct his graduate research on a 14th-century Indian tomb complex, he got a big surprise.

He had already obtained a grant from the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, a funding agency operating in both India and Canada that promotes scholarly exchanges between the two countries. But the funding was withheld by the Indian government at the last minute.

It’s not uncommon for governments to review and regulate research funding, but this situation, says Keshani, was unusual. At the time, there were diplomatic tensions in Canada over India’s nuclear capability. “Refusing scholarly exchanges over some objectionable diplomatic position is one of the ways governments get at each other,” he says.

Fortunately, UVic’s faculty of graduate studies stepped in with the additional funding Keshani needed. He finished his MA thesis — a study of Nizamuddin, a Delhi Sultanate Sufi shrine tomb complex and its surrounding buildings — and for his efforts has won the Lieutenant Governor’s Silver Medal as the top master’s student for 2000–01.

“I’m really grateful to UVic for helping me out,” says Keshani. “This award really validates the effort and recognizes the people who helped along the way. Without them I could not have done it.”

With training in architectural design and an undergraduate degree in environmental studies from the University of Manitoba, Keshani became attracted to Muslim architecture after a trip through Spain and Morocco. “I was really interested in exploring a part of my cultural and spiritual heritage,” he says.

Born in Nairobi, Kenya, his family fled to England, then moved to Canada in the early ’70s. He came to UVic in 1995 to study with Dr. Anthony Welch, a faculty member in UVic’s history in art department. “My course work in Islamic art and architecture with Dr. Welch was really fascinating. He provided a lot of the inspiration behind my thesis.”

Keshani is now working on his PhD at UVic. “I’m interested in a monument in Lucknow, India called the Bara Imambara. It’s an 18th-century Shia Muslim ritual centre.”

With a master’s degree and silver medal under his belt, Keshani is optimistic about an academic career and future research opportunities in India. “I’ve got some independent sources of funding now, and assuming all is calm on the diplomatic front, I may not have the same difficulty with funding this time around.”

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