Saturday, March 15, 2014

Slash that divides and bridges: Rajesh Sharma on his ‘in/disciplines’

1. How How did you get to write these essays? What motivated you?
I believe I am also responsible for the world in which we find ourselves. I have tried to respond to this world from time to time. As a person who teaches – and who can read and write – I think I have an obligation to make some sense of it and to share the resulting attempts with others, and so contribute to the dialogues that are the motors of civilization.

2. Rajesh, why in/disciplines for a title?
Though the title is explained in the Introduction towards the end, let me add (and repeat) that education, culture and politics are ‘in/disciplines’. That they nevertheless require a disciplined effort to study them. That they demand that the disciplinary boundaries between them be challenged in order to reveal how none of them is self-constituted and self-limited/limiting. The slash is an enabling line that divides and bridges at the same time.

3. There is so much of Punjab in it. What is your take on the search for a Punjabi identity? What do you think of its (Punjab’s) multiple divisions and existing fissures? By the way I notice there is a painting on the cover by the great Punjabi abstractionist Rajinder Singh Dhawan.
Punjab today badly needs critical reflexivity. The discourse of Punjabiyat has progressively regressed over the decades. It has been turning on ethnocentrism, sectarianism, jatt-centred casteism, linguistic fanaticism, religious fundamentalism. Also, the actual Punjab is transforming ‘terribly’, but songs continue to be sung of a stereotyped, mythical Punjab of unmatched glory. These might be signs of a nascent fascism.
Punjabi identity, even after the partition, remains Punj-abi, where the fifth ab/river/current is the principle of dynamism as against stasis. Punjabi identity, to me, is essentially anti-essentialist. Freedom, love, quest – these define the adventure called Punjabiyat. And this Punjabiyat needs voices more than ever today.

4. At what angle the Punjabi intellectual stand in relation to the power structure?
The Punjabi intellectual, in Punjab particularly, has been largely (not wholly) coopted by the dominant power structures. Dissent has been reduced to a bargaining tool for profit and self-promotion.

5. As an intellectual on the campus, how do you you see yourself and the role you play?
I am a student and teacher, not an intellectual. I believe we have the task of building critical capabilities, of creating and guarding over spaces for criticism and critique, of linking our expertise with the lay person’s discourse. We must believe in a better world and write and speak for making it possible. The young are amazingly receptive to the challenge of thinking; we must not fail them ‘any more’.

6. What next (after this book)?
I am working on Blood Flowers, a translation of Harbhajan Singh Hundal’s selected poetry. The translation of Sohan Qadri-Amarjit Chandan conversatiions – The Now Moment – is in press. Another book of essays – on literature and theory – should be ready before the end of this year.

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