Monday, June 30, 2008

Cosmic Harmonies

Fish swimming to the harmonies of divine kirtan in the Sarovar, Gurudwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib, Patiala

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Current Concerns and Forms of Expression

On Literature Today

By V. V. B. Rama Rao

From Saraswata and Sahitya, Literature has come a long way today. The journey in itself takes us to the subject of Current Concerns and Forms of Expression. We have had a fabulous oral tradition, which subsumes literature, as we understand it, notwithstanding the OED defining it as written works valued for form and style. There have been literary works with different kinds of appeal, topical, historical, enduring and everlasting. All the time literature has been eminently related with human concerns, artistic, entertaining, ethical, enlightening and ennobling.

Current concerns are important when we live in troubled times. The spirit of the times is permeated with thoughtlessness and an author's job it is to provoke, promote and motivate thinking with the fond hope of leading readers into new vistas, of light and understanding, of charity, tolerance and compassion. Even Adi Sankara thought it fit to sing his Kankadharastawam not being content with Saunaryalahari and Anandalahari and Bhajagovindam slokas.

The current concerns relate to social justice and condition of certain classes of individuals, which are too striking to brook neglect. Establishment of an egalitarian society by enriching the content of the present democratic set up has received great attention in our literary works. In recent times especially with the struggle for freedom every author worth his salt has been dealing with these vehemently and persuasively every time he took up the pen or sat before his writing machine. Most of the literary works produced during the struggle for our political freedom and later during the fifty odd years are sociological discourses. Surprisingly enough, even poetry and song have been used as devices for social transformation. There has been an exploration for new forms of expression in the genre, in the lexical, stylistic and even grammatical modes. Most of the writing has been intended for persuasion or proselytizing, even in creative writing. There has been an extension of the very purpose of literature. Ancient Lakshana Grandhas and prosodic canons have been given the go by. Literature has come to be tool, a device, and a powerful engine. Newer and newer ways of expression have been put to harness by individual writers deliberately. Among the genres, the most popular have come to be fiction (short and long), biography and travelogue all with themes relating to social change. Even novellas and novelettes ceased to be mere romances by packing powerful messages for social uplift, women's emancipation and constant and sometimes aggressive striving towards real social and economic equality.


Writing has always been undertaken with a view to bringing about a change in how so ever small a quantity or with whatever degree of intensity or, for conveying a bit of information or disseminating knowledge. Then, writing is always against a background, political, economic, social etc., a context, and produced at a point of time. The reader goes to writing for a variety of purposes, some times for sheer pleasure of getting into the writer's imagination, the point of view, the philosophy of life, a possible message and so on. The writer today has his target reader clearly in his mind. The writer in the present day context is a product of his own times, his own upbringing, equipment and exposure. His ultimate message could be just personal or imaginative, or a plea to attract attention to his cause, point of view etc, to provoke readers to exercise their minds to modify their individual attitudes. To some extent, a social purpose, an intention to bring about some kind of social change has been there in many writers. Of these some have importance historically for the enduring effect of their work during their own times and even much later. From the writing of the 20th Century, we can easily isolate the powerful strains of social reform and social reconstruction and transformation. After 1947, the focus is on individual, social equality, elimination of exploitation of all kinds, gender- equality, economic independence and so on. The thrust is on enlightening our people, for the nation to emerge as powerful in the comity of nations.

Even before independence writers focussed on social awakening and change, whetting the yearning for new ways of thinking whish led to an enlightened fight for political freedom. The preoccupation of the writers, to begin with, was not political freedom but emancipation from social evils and economic, administrative malaise. It was only during the second quarter of the 20th century that the preoccupation of litterateurs was, to a large extent, shifted to addressing the political need with several degrees of urgency and fervour.

The current concerns are more humanitarian than artistic. Ways are devised to eradicate evil practices like child labour, sexual discrimination, to augment facilities for the care of the old and the handicapped, the visually handicapped and under privileged sections of society. The forms of expression relate as much to the genres opted for by the individual writer, the particular concern in the discourse he is at work on as well as his mood and his tone and attitude towards the reader. In almost all genres new forms are expression are being experimented: Magic Realism and Critical Realism in fiction, new poetic forms like Haiku and Free Verse in poetry, to name a prominent few.

While appreciating the need for the current social concerns, which have been receiving the attention of authors in all genres, I take this opportunity to place before this learned assembly a couple of points for consideration. We have concentrated all our attention on immediate utilitarian goals. Literature down the ages has been catering to satisfying the imaginative explorations of an enduring nature also: for example the urge to know about the nature and goals of human existence, the relation between Man and God, the physical and the abstract and so on. In other words, a kind of other-worldliness needs to permeate new writing where aesthetic enjoyment for its own sake is the goal. Literature has several purposes other than being an instrument for social change. Litterateurs of the distant past have kept in their mind far reaching and sustainable goals: to enlighten and ennoble, to impart spiritual and universal human values to help their fellow men order lives in laudable ways. Here I come to the ennobling spiritual values of far reaching significance. I am bothered by the persistent thought that that we seem to be spending all our energies on things immediate without spending even a fraction of them on the enduring, everlasting values. It is not my intention to suggest that social values are not important. Political Freedom was of paramount importance till we won it. Now we are rightly worried about social and economic equality. But it is time to look back again and go beyond immediate saamajika spruha, social awareness, to a more abstract artistic awareness. Literary excellence has the capacity to satisfy higher yearnings too.

Rasaanubhava of a higher order, which enlivens, leavens and liberates us from the earthy and immediate, should also be among our present concerns. To provide this kind of writing a special set of skills, insights and an understanding of human existence in terms of the spiritual plane, solid inputs in terms of intuitive-imaginative efforts are necessary. Democratization of literature is fully achieved, thanks to the current political set up. It is time we as a brotherhood of authors turned our attention to the more enduring and for that reason more valuable concerns like aestheticism and spirituality. By dealing with artistic concerns constantly trying to fashion new forms of expression in writing, we can hope to contribute our mite to real happiness and joy, insightful understanding, more thoughtful compassion and wisdom by making life rich and meaningful. One effective way could be to reevaluate the classics with a large and open mind and reinterpret them in fresh creative works. The young, the uninitiated and newly educated classes should be given helpful exegeses of our time-tested pieces of literary excellence in the light of our aesthetic categories to enable them to draw inspiration and attempt writing with deeper nuances. This is be no means an easy task.

Dr V.V. B. Rama Rao C-7 New Township Badarpur New Delhi-44 Ph: 2697 5732


Monday, June 23, 2008

Time for a Paradigm Shift in Indian Higher Education

Rajesh Kumar Sharma

Ever since the process of economic reforms began in the 1990s, we have been hearing pious noises about the urgent need to reform education also. Obviously, the linkage is pragmatically motivated: economic growth cannot be sustained over a long period without a suitably reformed education system. This is good as far as it goes. If a concern for sustaining economic growth can trigger reforms in education, we should embrace the opportunity.

But it would be disastrous to hang education from the peg of economics, as seems to be happening, without considering the other larger reasons for restructuring it. The need to see the larger picture is urgent also because the dominant vision of economics in the country today is itself very narrow. This is a vision shaped predominantly by corporate interests and not inspired by a socially responsible economic philosophy.

A worthwhile exercise in educational reforms, on the contrary, must take into account the larger role that education plays in contemporary societies. Particularly, it must grapple with the changes that have swept the world during recent decades and anticipate the issues that are likely to seize the world in the coming times. Otherwise education will no more than subserviently reflect temporary business trends.

During a recent interaction with several educationists, I found very few responding to a simple question: Given complete freedom and every resource, how will you reorganize the classroom space? The silence of those who were otherwise even impressively aware and sharp was clearly not a sign of incompetence. It was the symptom of a deeper, systemic problem that we may understand if we consider the organizing rationality of our education system . . . .

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kureishi: writing courses are 'new mental hospitals'

Charlotte Higgins in Guardian


New Posts: Rushdie, Chinglish, Ebooks, world’s most expensive books

Salman Rushdie: Now He’s Only Hunted by Cameras

‘There’s a writing self which is not quite your ordinary social self and which you don’t really have access to except at the moment when you’re writing, and certainly in my view, I think of that as my best self. To be able to be that person feels good; it feels better than anything else.’

Quote of the day

Umberto Eco on other writers: ‘If they are different than me, I hate them, and if they are like me, I hate them.’ Quoted in a New York Times profile of Salman Rushdie.



Bits, Bands and Books


It’s a good enough package that my guess is that digital readers will soon become common, perhaps even the usual way we read books.

How will this affect the publishing business? Right now, publishers make as much from a Kindle download as they do from the sale of a physical book. But the experience of the music industry suggests that this won’t last: once digital downloads of books become standard, it will be hard for publishers to keep charging traditional prices.




In an insightful and acerbic essay in The New York Times Book Review, Matt Miller reflects upon teaching English in Beijing ahead of the Olympics. He scrutinizes the English manuals in a local bookstore: ‘So just what are Chinese people learning about the English-speaking world? For starters, we’re moody sluts.



The world’s most expensive books

For two hours on May 28 you could have spent £750 on a special, limited edition of The Devil May Care, the new James Bond Novel written by Sebastian Faulkes. Published by Penguin in collaboration with Bentley, Bond’s car manufacturer of choice, each book comes in a burnt oak leather case sourced from the tannery in Italy which supplies the hides for Bentley’s interiors.



Monday, June 2, 2008

A lament and a Protest: Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Petina Gappah

1. Ngugi wa Thiong’o


A disputed election, ethnic cleansing and widespread poverty – a lament for his homeland by one of Africa’s greatest writers.

Read here.

2. Petina Gappah

An Open Letter to Mbeki

Dear Mr Mbeki,

Something, call it instinct, tells me you won’t be poring over the Granta website any time soon, so I do not believe that you will read this letter.

And if by an accident of the mouse-click, you find yourself directed to this page, I do not flatter myself that my insignificant scribbling will make a dent in your legendary mulishness. But I write to you, Mr Mbeki, because I have to.

Read further.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

(Notes on) Politics, Theory & Photography

“What we need is a critique of visual culture that is alert to the power of images for good and evil and that is capable of discriminating the variety and historical specificity of their uses.” - W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory (1994).


Scholarship 2.0 : ThoughtMesh

ThoughtMesh is an unusual model for publishing and discovering scholarly papers online. It gives readers a tag-based navigation system that uses keywords to connect excerpts of essays published on different Web sites.

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