Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Assignment topics for I MA/II MA Classes are HERE

Negotiating the 'betweens n betwixts' of the Third Space

Postcolonial Film Review of Unseen by Perivi Katjavivi


Unfolding more like a conversation than a narrative, 'The Unseen' follows the story of three wandering souls as they navigate the emotional and physical realities of post-colonial Namibia. First there is Marcus, an African American actor tasked with portraying one of Namibia’s historical leaders. Seeking authenticity in his craft, he embarks on an earnest research mission to unveil the true history of his character. Then there is Anu, a talented local musician who is having trouble negotiating between his influences and identity. Lastly, there is Sara, a depressed young woman uncertain of whether or not her environment provides anything worth living for.


“The Unseen is an entirely new kind of cinema, inventing for itself a new language, refusing to be trapped in the past or shaped by white or western film models the way many South African films still are.  It’s one of the most exciting and visually beautiful films you’ll see this year.“ – Charles Blignaut, CityPress, South Africa

“Brilliant and refreshing. …. [Katjavivi’s] characters negotiate forces of neoimperial homogeneity in the present, while trying to make sense of the past. … This portrayal of life in the impact zone of post-colonialism and post-modernity has real substance and weight.“ – Sarah Dawson, Mail & Guardian, South Africa

“The Unseen is a powerful commentary on what it means to be a young person in modern-day Africa.” – Screen Africa

Monday, 26 September 2016

MIDS Invites you!

Topic: Nationalising Bharati: The State, the Public and the Battle for Copyright, 1948–1963
Speaker: A.R. Venkatachalapathy, Professor, MIDS
Chair: Santhosh Abraham, Assistant Professor
Dept. of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT-M
Date & Time: Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 3:30 p.m.
Venue: Adiseshiah Auditorium, MIDS
All are Invited!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Dear Students of I MA English, 
Please find HERE your 'book-selection' as part of the Book Review Programme for your class. 
Go ahead! Enjoy your reading!
With best wishes, 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Culture and the Real

What do we mean by culture? How extensive is its terrain? Has culture limits? Can it tell us anything important about ourselves? And what pleasures does it have to offer?

There was a time when all cultural phenomena were traceable to human nature. This foundational concept provided an effective bulwark against change: the new was doomed to fail because it was, by definition, contrary to human nature. A generation ago, cultural critics overthrew the tyranny of human nature, and put culture in its place.

Culture had the virtue of allowing for difference, acknowledging the diversity of cultural values and practices. But it rapidly came to occupy all the available space. Now it was culture that explained everything, specifying what existed, defining our identities, ‘materialising’ our bodies. Culture became foundational. A thoroughgoing attribution of primacy to ideas, to the cultural script, has installed a new kind of tyranny. This version of culture allows itself no limits, no alterity, no resistances to speak of – and no place for desire.

It was the nineteenth century that specialized in theories of everything, centred on a single determining cause: the economy, for example, or sex… Since then, without necessarily abandoning their insights, we have reread these theories to develop more relational accounts of causation. Not just the economy, say, but the economy in relation to politics and ideology; not simply sex, but sex in relation to death, and each in relation to the conventions obtaining at any particular time.

Institute Seminar Series

Topic: New Horizons of Rural Development 
and Gandhian Perspectives
Speaker: Professor Dilip R. Shah [Formerly with South Gujarat University, Surat]
Chair: Professor Ananta Kumar Giri, MIDS
Date & Time: September 21, 2016     Wednesday     3:30 p.m.
Venue: Adiseshiah Auditorium, MIDS
All are Invited!

Monday, 19 September 2016

The Schedule of Events

click on pic to enlarge

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Derrida on 'Levinas' & Levinas on 'Ethics'

Jacques Derrida’s moving funeral speech on the death of his close friend Emmanuel Levinas, at his cemetery in Pantin on December 27, 1995 has gone down in history as one of the finest eulogies ever.

Levinas, a great French intellectual, had a great influence on the young Jacques Derrida, a fellow French Jew whose immensely popular book Writing and Difference contains an essay, "Violence and Metaphysics", on Levinas.

To Derrida, ‘Levinas does not want to propose laws or moral rules… it is a matter of [writing] an ethics of ethics.’ An ethics of ethics means, here, the exploration of conditions of possibility of any interest in good actions or lives. In light of that, it can be said that Levinas is exploring the meaning of intersubjectivity and lived immediacy in the light of three themes: transcendence, existence, and the human other. In short, His work is based on the ‘ethics of the Other’.  

Levinas himself describes ‘ethics as first philosophy’, and according to him, ‘the Other is not knowable and cannot be made into an object of the self, as is done by traditional metaphysics’ (which Levinas called "ontology"). He prefers to think of philosophy as the ‘wisdom of love’ rather than the ‘love of wisdom’. In his view, responsibility precedes any "objective searching after truth".

More on Levinas from the 'Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy' for you -

The Impact of the Other on Me

Descriptions of the encounter with another person lies at the core of Levinas’ thought. That encounter evinces a particular feature: the other impacts me unlike any worldly object or force. I can constitute the other person cognitively, on the basis of vision, as an alter ego. I can see that another human being is “like me,” acts like me, appears to be the master of her conscious life. That was Edmund Husserl's basic phenomenological approach to constituting other people within a shared social universe.

A Case for An Intersubjective Ethos

But Husserl's constitution lacks, Levinas argues, the core element of intersubjective life: the other person addresses me, calls to me. He does not even have to utter words in order for me to feel the summons implicit in his approach. It is this encounter that Levinas describes and approaches from multiple perspectives (e.g., internal and external). He will present it as fully as it is possible to introduce an affective event into everyday language without turning it into an intellectual theme. Beyond any other philosophical concerns, the fundamental intuition of Levinas's philosophy is the non-reciprocal relation of responsibility.

Intersubjectivity as Lived Immediacy: Language as Response/Dialogue

For Levinas, an ‘I’ lives out its embodied existence according to modalities. It consumes the fruits of the world. It enjoys and suffers from the natural elements. It constructs shelters and dwellings. It carries on the social and economic transactions of its daily life. Yet, no event is as affectively

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Come on...! Take a wild guess...

At last... the Man Booker announces its 2016 Shortlist. Go ahead! take a wild guess on the prospective winner... and wait till Tuesday, 25 October to tally your take! :-)

About the Booker: The Man Booker Prize was established in 1969. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus an increase in book sales.

Commonly known as the Booker Prize - The Man Booker [that includes Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul, Ondaatje, Nadine Gordimer, Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel, Aravind Adiga among its illustrious past winners] - is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel, written in the English language, and published in the UK.

2016 Key Dates

Longlist: 27 July
Shortlist: 13 September
Winner: 25 October

The 'Shortlisted Six' for this year's Booker 

US - Paul Beatty - The Sellout
US - Ottessa Moshfegh - Eileen

UK - Deborah Levy - Hot Milk
UK - Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project

Canada - David Szalay - All That Man Is
Canada - Madeleine Thien - Do Not Say We Have Nothing

2016 is the third year that writers of any nationality can be nominated for the prize, and nominees include two Canadian, two British and two US writers.

Last year Jamaican author Marlon James won the prize for his second novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. 2016s Winner will be announced on October 25 at a ceremony in London.

The immortal Oompa-Loompas and Willy Wonkas of yore!

Say ‘Oompa-Loompas’ and hey presto Roald Dahl comes to your mind.

This month being Dahl’s centenary year, let’s have a look at some of his astounding literary sensibilities. As Adrienne Raphel points out, ‘It is his poetry, as embedded in his prose, that brings out the quintessence of Dahl’.

How can one forget Willy Wonka, the ‘bright-eyed’, ‘flutey’ voiced prosperous chocolate factory owner, or greedy Gloop, or the selfless Charlie Bucket or Prince Pondicherry, a prince who lives in India, for whom Willy Wonka makes a chocolate palace right here in India!!! And the list goes on…

Revolting Rhymes is one of the most delightful yet shortest collections of Roald Dahl’s poems. Taking off from the familiar tropes, Dahl in his inimitable style, delights in giving these familiar fables, what Adrienne calls, ‘brutal twists’. In other words, it’s a parody of traditional folk tales in verse, featuring surprise denouments in place of the traditional happily-ever-after. This book is quite a fascinating read, because of the way in which he plays with words. Moreover, it’s not only the most comical of his books, but also the shortest of the lot!!!

There are a total of six poems in the book.

Jack and the Beanstalk,
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,
Goldilocks and the Three Bears,
Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf,
The Three Little Pigs

Giving you one of his poems gleamed from this shortest book of Dahl’s –

 I guess you think you know this story.
You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.
The phoney one, the one you know,
Was cooked up years and years ago,
And made to sound all soft and sappy
Just to keep the children happy.
Mind you, they got the first bit right,
The bit where, in the dead of night,

Friday, 16 September 2016

Prioritising National/Regional Narratives

Meet young and dynamic writer Emma Dawson Varughese, from the ‘Postcolonial Studies Association’ family, who has come up with her latest book Genre Fiction of New India: Post-millennial receptions of "weird" narratives, published  by Routledge. Her writings reveal her immense love for regional narratives in the Indian context. 

I sincerely hope Suneetha's interview with Emma would be an inspiration for my students who are presently doing their Paper on Postcolonial Studies in their MA English Programme at MCC.

An independent scholar, who works around language, culture and literature, and looks into ‘World Englishes’, Emma’s first project was ‘Beyond the Post-Colonial’, an interdisciplinary study challenging the orthodoxy of post-colonial literary theory. Her interest in Indian writing in English is a long-standing one. In her book Reading New India (2013) which is a cultural studies enquiry into post-millennial Indian Writing in English, she largely approaches the topic with an emphasis on the sort of writing that's being sold and read, irrespective of the reputation among the literary elite. This work brings together Indian Englishes, the changing socio-culture dynamics and the role of literature in English post-2000.

In a candid chat, Emma Varughese opens up to Suneetha Balakrishnan on her latest book and her love for Indian writing in English.

Suneetha: How did you go about powering your interest in IWE to the point of a project on post-millennial Indian fiction in English?

Emma: I could see from spending time in India, in particular, in leaving and returning to more and more change that the fiction I was buying was somewhat in sync with these changes. It was as I left Mumbai in 2009, that I knew that a book was needed to capture this growing body of new writing in English from India. I also knew that it needed to be a book which was settled as much as possible in India whilst remaining accessible for readers outside of that market, to learn of new trends in post-millennial writing. Reading New India is published by Bloomsbury which has offices in the U.K. and India and this arrangement has always been important to me as the book deals with many authors known within India but not necessarily known outside of India. This book challenges the idea that Indian literature is only that which is known within the U.S., U.K. (or Australia), I think that it is time and more, that awareness of this body of new writing is cultivated as widely as possible.

Suneetha: Could you talk a bit about your concluded projects and forthcoming ones too?

Before Reading New India, I completed and published an international, fieldwork-based literary/cultural studies enquiry into the post-millennial literary scene in English in Africa, Malaysia, Singapore and India (Beyond The Postcolonial, Palgrave, 2012). This publication took many years to complete given that my fieldwork covered Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda and Kenya in Africa alone. In this project, I was driven by the idea of ‘literature as data’. The fieldwork involved sourcing new writing in the form of short stories in English(es) and many of these were published in a series of anthologies of new writing. The title story of the Ugandan collection is entitled ‘Butterfly Dreams’ and this story made the shortlist of the Caine Prize in 2011. As a global cultural studies scholar, I’m always interested in the conversations between literary works (and their production) and society, most specifically contemporary society and where the role of Englishes is at play, Beyond the Postcolonial really engaged with this agenda and used empirical methods and grounded theory to explore this literary scene.

SCILET Welcomes you...

II BA English Class – Assignment Topic

Dear Students of II BA English Class, 

Kindly make a note of your assignment topic - 

Representations of the various women characters in Jane Eyre

With all best wishes, 
Course Teacher

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Literature, Form & Meaning

Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.
- Ezra Pound

We all know why we value a newspaper or a textbook or an atlas, but why do we value a verbal work that doesn't give us the latest news or important information about business cycles or the names of the capitals of nations? About a thousand years ago a Japanese woman, Lady Murasaki, offered an answer in The Tale of Genji, a book often called the world’s first novel. During a discussion about reading fiction, one of the characters offers an opinion as to why a writer tells a story.

Again and again something in one’s own life, or in the life around one, will seem so important that one cannot bear to let it pass into oblivion. There must never come a time, the writer feels, when people do not know about this.

Literature is about human experiences, but the experiences embodied in literature are not simply the shapeless experiences-the chaotic passing scene – captured by a mindless, unselective camcorder. Poets, dramatists, storytellers find or impose a shape on scenes (for instance, the history of two lovers), giving readers things to value – written or spoken accounts that are memorable not only for their content but also for their form-the shape of the speeches, of the scenes, of the plots.  (In a little while, we will see that form and content are inseparable, but for the moment, we can talk about them separately.)

Ezra Pound said that ‘literature is news that stays news’. Now, ‘John loves Mary’ written on a wall, or on the front page of a newspaper, is news, but it is not news that stays news. It may be of momentary interest to the friends of John and Mary, but it’s not much more than simple information, and there is no particular reason to value it.

Literature is something else. The Johns and Marys in poems, plays, and stories – even though they usually are fairly ordinary individuals, in many ways often rather like us – somehow become significant as we perceive them through the writer’s eye and ear. The writer selects what is essential, and makes us care about the characters. Their doings stay in our minds.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Agrarian Economy in Crisis


Topic: New Horizons of Rural Development and Gandhian Perspectives
Speaker: Professor Dilip R. Shah [Formerly with South Gujarat University, Surat]
Chair: Professor Ananta Kumar Giri, MIDS
Venue: Adiseshiah Auditorium, MIDS
Date & Time: Wednesday,  21 September, 2016,  3:30 p.m.

Abstract: Our agrarian economy is in terrible crises and so is our rural life world. The farm sector is in crises and there are important challenges for the non-farm sectors as well. There are also challenges of rural-urban transformations in contemporary India in the context of depressed economies in the countryside and urban migration. The lecture discusses these issues as well as challenges of rural development and globalization and explores Gandhian pathways towards alternatives.

This invite is on behalf of: Dr. Shashanka Bhide, Director

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A Foucault Primer

Dear II MA Class, 
This is one of the 'must-reads' on Foucault. 
Get yourself a copy of this Foucault Primer and start reading right away!
Best wishes, 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Writing About an Author in Depth

‘A poem is best read in the light of all the other poems ever written. We read A the better to read B (we have to start somewhere; we may get very little out of A). We read B the better to read C, C the better to read D, D the better to go back and get something more out of A. Progress is not the aim, but circulation. The thing is to get among the poems where they hold each other apart in their places as the stars do’ - Robert Frost

If you have read several works by an author, whether tragedies by Shakespeare or detective stories about Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you know that authors return again and again to certain genres and themes (tragedy for Shakespeare, crime for Conan Doyle), yet each treatment is different. Hamlet, Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet are all tragedies and share certain qualities that we think of as Shakespearean, yet each is highly distinctive.

When we read several works by an author, we find ourselves thinking about resemblances and differences. We enjoy seeing the author take up again a theme (nature, or love, or immortality, for example), or explore once more the possibilities of a literary form (the sonnet, blank verse, the short story). We may find that the author has handled things differently and that we are getting a sense of the writer’s variety and development.

Sometimes we speak of the shape or the design of the author’s career, meaning that the careful study of the writings has led us to an understanding of the narrative – with its beginning, middle and end – that the writings tell across a period of time. Often, once we read one poem by an author and find it intriguing or compelling, we are enthusiastic about reading more: Are there other poems like this one? What kinds of poems were written before or after this one? Our enjoyment and understanding of one poem impel us to enjoy and understand other poems and make us curious about the place that each one occupies in a larger structure, the shape or design of the author’s career.

Frost’s words, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, imply a good strategy to follow when you are assigned to write about an author in depth. Begin with a single work and then move outward from it, making connections to works that show interesting similarities to or differences from it. With Frost, for example, you might begin with “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and explore his use of woods in other poems. You will find that he sometimes sets them  (as in his poem) against the village or city, and that he sometimes sets their darkness against the light of the stars. Each poem is a work in itself, but it is also part of a larger whole.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Comparative Linguistics and the Dravidian Connect!

As part of an adventurous project on Comparative Linguistics, a few of us, - linguaphiles, have been doing some original and quite adventurous research on the ‘interconnectedness’ that exists between the major Dravidian languages in various aspects, especially as regards their Grammar, Phonological features, Syntax, Etymological Derivations, etc. Four of us – from our respective places, - we set out on an exploratory journey towards the same. In this interesting journey, of over fifteen months now, we have so far compiled a good working bibliography of some rare and precious books… and counting! Among them, some books are as old as 70 years, some 40 years, - some neatly bound, while some with covers in tatters, yet content intact! 

too close a call, ain't it?
We also came across a host of foreign scholars who have done extensive work in Comparative Linguistics – like R. E. Asher from Edinburgh, Scotland, who specializes in Dravidian linguistics (with particular focus on Tamil and Malayalam), and the history of prose fiction in Malayalam and Tamil.

Suggestions and ideas from language enthusiasts are most welcome. You may also consider joining our team of linguaphiles, and thereby join us in our extensive tours across the country as part of our Comparative Linguistics project! Write rightaway to rufusonline@gmail.com

Asher & Kumari’s book titled, Malayalam [as part of the 'Descriptive Grammar' series], is a scholarly 500 page treatise on the nuances and intricacies of Malayalam grammar with descriptive chapters on Morphology, Syntax, Phonology, Ideophones, Lexicon, etc.

And this...!
Interestingly, Asher acknowledges the origins of this book to the early 1960s, when Joseph Minatturt in London had introduced him to written Malayalam by working through primary school readers with him. Asher’s first of many visits to Kerala followed in 1964, when K. M. Prabhakara Variar made arrangements for his stay in Ernakulam and V. I. Subramoniam for a subsequent stay in Trivandrum. Under the tutelage of C. K. Nalina Babu and N. Unnikrishnan who also acted as fieldwork assistants in Ernakulam, he learnt spoken Malayalam and P. Somasekharan Nair provided similar help in Trivandrum. His education was further advanced at summer schools in the United States in 1967 and 1968, when Achamma Coilparampil acted as his teaching assistant. With this foregrounding in the language, he has proceeded to come out with a thoroughly descriptive rendering of the various aspects of Malayalam grammar. More from his Prefatorial acknowledgements.

It was during the 1960s, too, that I had the good fortune to get to know many of Kerala's great contemporary writers, prominent among whom have been Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. Sukumar Azhicode gave me an appreciation of Malayalam as a vehicle for critical studies and for oratory. In the course of my efforts to deepen my understanding of the language and of twentieth-century literature, I have received constant and unstinting advice and encouragement from such distinguished scholars as Suranad Kunjan Pillai, K. M. George and K. Ayyappa Paniker, and from one of India's great publishers, D. C. Kizhakemuri. I have learnt much from former doctoral students, whether as supervisor, as in the case of Elias Valentine, or as examiner, as in the case of V. R. Prabodhachandran Nayar. My debt to all these and to many other Malayali friends, including those who welcomed me in Kottayam when I was at the Mahatma Gandhi University in 1995 as first occupant of the Vaikom Muhammed Basheer Chair, is incalculable.

Well, the first person whom he acknowledges in the Preface to his book is, K. M. Prabhakara Variar, who was a Professor of Malayalam with the University of Madras. Ke Em as he is known, has contributed immensely to the study of Malayalam Grammar with a Malayalam Series to his credit.

One such book that attracted our attention was a 1977 book, written by Ke. Em [K. M. Prabhakar Variar] on Studies in Malayalam Grammar. Through eleven chapters, Ke. Em has come out with a ‘re-examining’ of certain grammatical notions pertaining to Malayalam language, that have already been codified in the vernacular grammars, in the light of recent advancements in the study of language.

This series is for those of you who love studying languages and its nuances…

Friday, 9 September 2016

Comparativists from All Walks of Life - Glimpses

for the Love of Literature!

Yes… this is the ‘Spivak’ian or rather ‘Wellek’ian Era of Comparative Literature!
Last month, I had the great opportunity of reading and reviewing the ‘maiden manuscript’ of an IAS Officer – Shri K. Rajaraman, Principal Secretary/Director, to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Chennai.

What surprised me greatly while going through each and every page of the scholarly manuscript - was his passion for literature – Comparative Literature – to be precise!

He has made a wonderful comparison between the Bard of the West and the Sage of the East – Shakespeare and Thiruvalluvar, respectively.

It was, to put it shortly, ‘A Fascinating and amazing Intersection of Thoughts between the Sage of Tamil Nadu Thiruvalluvar and the Bard of Avon William Shakespeare’.  Be it on Adversity or Anger, Beauty or Chastity, Duty or Fame, Forgetfulness or Forgiveness, Money or Health, Frailty or Innocence, love or friendship, men or women, prayers or repentance, society or government, suspicion or jealousy, success or failure, gratitude or thanklessness, vice or virtue, etc., the analogies are strikingly similar in their appeal, especially in the treatment of the thought, in the choice of words, and in the felicity of expression.

Interestingly, another IAS Officer Venkatachalam Irai Anbu, [Currently Principal Secretary], who has an MA in English Literature, has also done a Comparative Study on Thiruvalluvar and Shakespeare. A complete collection of all his best sellers are available HERE on Amazon. He has authored 30 books so far, and counting...!

Reminds me yet again of our own illustrious alumnus Mr. T. Radhakrishnan, Addl. Director General of Police, Chennai, who was with us on 29 August 2012, to inaugurate the activities of the English Literary Association. Radhakrishnan, who did his MA in English Literature in MCC, was a student of Dr. Francis Sounderraj. He has authored six books on literature to his credit, and all the books celebrate Comparative Literature! Speaking on the occasion, he said that his passion of literature is something that keeps him going even today. Click HERE to access the event in MCC.

Well, this must be a tad bit too much of a coincidence, but, there is yet another Retired Director with Reserve Bank of India, Mr. V. K. Vasudevan, who had the alacrity and the zest to do his PhD with the Dept of English at Madras Christian College, when he was 69 years old!

At an age when people his age start enjoying their retirement, reclining regally in an easy chair, grandchildren in hand, Mr. V. K. Vasudevan, a retired Officer with the Reserve Bank of India, at 69 years, has successfully completed his PhD, and his Viva voce examination which was held on Wednesday, 10 December at the Selaiyur Hall Guest Room, was a source of inspiration to most of the youngsters gathered there. Dr. Ms. Kadambari was the external examiner.

Yet again, his PhD thesis, which was later published as a book, was on Comparative Literature! - Reflections on the Mystical Vision in the great Tagore, Kabir, J.Krishnamurthi and Osho! Yes! His phenomenal sweep made everyone sit up and take notice of this great scholar! Do click HERE to access this event in Selaiyur Hall, MCC.

So much for their love of Literature!

These great minds involved themselves with alacrity and enthusiasm in the field of Comparative Literature – and how!

On a similar vein, yet another book that interested me very much is a thoughty treatise by a High Court Justice, of the Madras High Court.

He is Dr. Justice S. Maharajan.

The book that contains his collected works is titled, THE INNER MEANING OF HUMAN HISTORY, compiled and published by Mr. M. Chidambaram. Yet again, his chief works were on Comparative Literature!

What impressed me more about the book was the 'Foreword' by Dr. Prema Nandakumar, Trichy, a scholar of greattttt repute, whose post-doctoral research was [again] on comparative literature – between Dante and Sri Aurobindo.

Wonder who this Prema Nandakumar is?

She is the daughter of the legendary K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar who has authored the pioneering and trend-setting book Indian Writing in English. She has also co-authored many books with her father chiefly the famous, Introduction to the Study of English Literature.

From the Foreword by Prema Nandakumar for you…

Celebrating the birth centenary of Justice S. Maharajan is doubly blessed. He was not only eminent in his chosen field of service but was also a distinguished scholar, one who could write and speak with equal ease. He traversed the two worlds of Law and Literature independently. His legal career was precise and to the point for he did not allow his scholarship to weigh upon his arguments or judgements.
He takes up a Sessions Judge who had to deal with a case in which a son was accused of murdering his mother. Steeped in the best elements of Indian culture, Justice Maharajan does not reveal the name of the judge but points out how the judgement was stuffed with quotes from classics to point out how sons like Parasurama have killed their mothers. When the judge has to tackle a case of infanticide, he reels in matter like the Nallathangal story. None of them touch upon any vital point in the cases.
 Justice Maharajan was particularly generous and I felt at home in his presence as he knew my father well. His paper presented in the Conference-Seminar was of deep interest to me as a translator, as if he were holding a class for my benefit. He was listing some of the problems that one faced when translating Shakespeare into Tamil. I am glad this important essay is in this collection.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Remembering a Professor

For those of you who love the City of Temples - Madurai, its awesome people, its lovely culture, and its delicious halwah, its thriving social life, and above all, the resourceful SCILET!!! - the one-of-its-kind Library in the whole of India that houses everything under the sun (literally!!!) as far as Indian Literatures in English and Translation are concerned!

Come! be a part of the first Paul Linder Love Endowment Lecture at the American College, Madurai on Wednesday, 14 September 2016.

The Paul Linder Love Endowment Lecture is SCILET's tribute to her founder - Professor Paul Love - who established SCILET at the American College, Madurai.

Insightful and passionate...

A legend in ‘Indian Writing in English’ reviews the book of yet another legend
K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar reviews K. Chellappan's renowned book

In an era of globalised exchange, transcending the boundaries of place, period and language becomes all the more important; and as Gayatri Spivak rightly avers, ‘this is indeed the era of comparative literature!’ Indeed, Dr. K. Chellappan, is an authority on Comparative Literature. Now in his early eighties, he still roars like a lion when it comes to giving a talk in any literary forum. The last time we met up with him was at the International Seminar in Pondicherry University, in honour of his sishya Dr. Natarajan, Head, Dept of English, Pondicherry University, who happened to be Dr. KC’s first PhD candidate too. [Interestingly, Dr. S. Armstrong, Head, Dept of English, University of Madras, happens to be his last PhD candidate!] 

While reading K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar’s review of K. Chellappan’s famous book Shakespeare and Ilango as Tragedians: A Comparative Study, I couldn’t stop marveling at his mightily panoramic and comparative sweep that beautifully and skillfully slices every idea and domains them coherently in perspectival order!

Given below are excerpts from K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar’s review of K.C’s wonderful book.

So… here we go…!

Searching for the Common Grounds

Comparative Criticism has its lure as also its limitations. When, in a burst of enthusiasm, Valmiki was called our Homer, Kalidasa our Shakespeare, and Michael Madhusudan Dutt the Bengali Milton, and when Bharati described himself Shelley’s heir (Shelley-itösan), there was some implied comparative evaluation. And so Hari Narayan Apte became the Marathi Sir Walter Scott, and it was inevitable Beowulf should be teamed with the Ramayana (and the Mahabharata), Milton with Kamban, and Bacon with Tiruvalluvar. With American and Commonwealth Literatures being lately studied along with English Literature, comparative studies have come to embrace Bharati and Whitman, Savitri and The Divine Comedy, Raja Rao and Patrick White, Arun Joshi and Armah.

It is gratifying there are flourishing schools of comparative criticism in some of our universities: notably, Jadhavpur, Madurai and Bombay. The monograph under review had its origins in a research project completed at Madurai under the  late Prof. T.P. Minakshisundaran’s sage direction, and has since received careful revision and updating: it is now almost a new  work, mature in its comprehension and presentation. Although small in bulk, there is nevertheless a density of subject-matter and a closeness in the developing argument that ask for more than one reading.

Shakespeare was a dramatist, a master of Tragedy, Comedy and History alike; and Ilango was the supreme epic poet of classical Tamil literature. The reader’s initial reaction can very well be: ‘What’s the common ground between the two?’ Chellappan has, however, been able to sustain convincingly his thesis that there is a recognizable consanguinity between the ‘tragic’ in Shakespeare and in Ilango. Also, although divided by perhaps a thousand years, great poetry like Shakespeare’s tragic dramas and Ilango’s epic is at once contemporaneous and universal.

Chellappan’s thesis is set forth in seven well-planned chapters that carry the burden of his argument towards a statement of the synthesis of the Shakespearean and Ilangoist tragic insights and illuminations Recognizing the obvious differences between Shakespearean Tragedy and the ‘tragic’ in Ilango’s poetic testament, Chellappan’s aim is to “see how far the two apparently different genres in the two divergent cultures fulfil similar artistic purposes”.

The human predicament is doubtless a web of human error and mysterious fate, whose relative emphasis varies from age to age. But “we have,” says Chellappan, “more of the sense of guilt in Shakespeare and more of the sense of fate in Ilango” (as also in Greek tragedy). However, in whatever manner the tragic situation may arise, Love is the only answer; and being a spiritual power, Love alone can defy cruelty, fate, nay death itself. And it is peculiarly woman’s role—be it Cordelia’s or Desdemona’s, Kannagi’s or Kopperundevi’s—to incarnate Love, both love defiant and redeeming, and love that transcends  defeat and death. But even in the multi-splendoured gallery of great heroines in Shakespeare, there is none with the sheer all sufficing feminity and sublimity of Kannagi.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Sufi poetry in Punjabi - A Preview

Presently I am 'head over heels' into a wonderful book titled, Prominent Mystic Poets of Punjab by Lochan Singh Buxi. The book portrays the laudable role played by the Sufi saints and their valuable contribution towards the betterment of human society.

These noble sons of Punjab, used their mother tongue as a vehicle of enthusiasm for human beings in striving for the welfare of the people. The book introduces some of the prominent Sufi saints of Punjab along with the English rendering of their immortal poetry.

The poets included in the anthology are: Sheikh Farid, Shah Hussain, Ali Haider, Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah and Khwaja Ghulam Farid, whose poems are considered to be the finest gems of Sufi poetry available in Punjabi.

To call Thomas Gray to my rescue, 'Full many a gem of purest ray serene' lay in abundance in these ‘unfathomed caves!’

And so here goes...

Background to the Prominent Mystic Poets of Punjab

Sufism is the other name for Islamic mysticism. The theologians have traced its origin to a sect of pious people called Darveshs or Faqirs who formed themselves into a community, in as early as AD 623. According to the available sources on the subject, these ascetics said to be about 45 in number, were the dedicated followers of prophet Muhammad. Originating from Mecca and Medina they spread all over Central Asia. They followed practices of penitence strictly conforming to the written word. Poverty and austerity were their basic rules of life which they had derived from the traditional source saying Alfaqr Fakhri (poverty is my glory). This refers to groups of people known as Ashabe suffa. They were the companions of the prophet who used to live on a platform near the prophet’s house. The Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, referring to the origin of the word Sufi has also mentioned of this group as follows:

“People of the bench a title given to certain poor Muslims in the early days of Islam, who had no house or lodging and therefore used to take shelter on the covered bench outside the mosque built by the Prophet at Medina.”

So they purposely decided to lead a life of poverty, misery and deprivation as according to them riches lead to corruption. As such they renounced the world and took a vow to serve the Almighty by observing the prescribed exercises and practices. Like the traditional spiritualists in India, who called this world as May, the Sufis observed severe ascetic discipline and lived the life of recluses.

The members of this sect, used to wear cloths made of wool. It was a coarse, woolen sack cloth called ‘Suf’. Accordingly they were termed as Sufis. Muslim Saints and Mystics, A UNESCO collection of representative works says: In a time when silks and brocades, had become the fashion of the wealthy and mundane minded, this cult chose to wear ‘suf’ which was, symbolic of that renunciation of worldly values and their abhorrence for physical comforts.” In reality, this is the translation from Farid-ud-din (by A. J. Arberry), who is considered to be an authority on Islamic mysticism.

With the passage of time, the tiny group developed into larger groups and established their schools called Rabats and Khanqahs, all over Arabia and Persia. Later on they spread out to Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Maghrib, the expression used for Morocco.

Before we discuss the advent and development of Sufism in India, it would be worthwhile to acquaint the reader, with the doctrines of mysticism. Direct communion between God and man is the basic fibre which dominates the mantle of Sufism. They practice mystic exercises and stress upon the elevation of soul. However, Sufism, remained as a personal religion and stressed upon the individual pursuing his own way: mysticism thus becomes a system of training involving meditation and asceticism, through which one attains knowledge of the ultimate or a direct union with Him.

Mysticism is only a method of approach to reality. This is obtained by training the emotional and spiritual faculties. Like the images in a mirror, God exists in man but the veil of ego always keeps Him hidden. According to the Hindu philosophy this is the veil of Bhram or May, which hides the self from the real, the self has been given the name of Ahm in Hindu scriptures. The Muslims recognize it as Khudai. The first step in the sufi doctrine is to kill An or Nafs, before proceeding on the path of realization.

From Shah Hussain’s mighty lines –


Think of the journey ahead
Space of the humble grave is your mighty possession for all times.
Lofty buildings, golden balconies and in-built doors,
Pots and pots of money
All will be carried away by the angel of death.
Of what use is the worldly knowledge
Always have fear of the Lord.
When the order comes helplessly you have to leave with humility
And submission.
He will demand full account.
Says Hussain, hermit of the Lord,
Do something noble. Die before death (kill your desire).