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Thursday, December 27, 2012

* Shoptodina

Call-for-contributions for the inaugural issue
(Coming Soon - Hurry!)

Shoptodina Magazine (English)

Vision: Shoptodina is a magazine of creative writing and literature with focus on Bengal. Its main objective is to channelize creative talent to showcase Bengal. In order to do so the magazine will explore and exploit the creative talent in Bengal as well as encourage people living outside Bengal to give creative output to their experiences of Bengal. The magazine will have sections on poetry, drama, fiction, essays, memoir, travelogue, interviews and translations from Bengali to English apart from regular columns and features. The magazine intends to have bi-monthly publication that is six issues every year. The language of the magazine will be English. There will also be a sister magazine in Bengali of the same name, though not twins since the content will be different. Both the magazines will be published online as webzines on the website and will have print avatars if and when adequate funding is available.

Nomenclature: Shoptodina refers to a grand fleet of merchant ships from ancient and early medieval Bengal. “Shopto” means seven in Bengali. There are also reasons to believe that Shoptodina could have been named after Shoptogram, the ancient harbour of Bengal. “Dina”, as in Shoptodina, is an Austric word, and it refers to the most ancient group of native inhabitants of Bengal. All we know is that we really don’t know how far “dina” goes back in history. Shoptodina thus stands as a symbol for the Bengali identity as well as the global reach and spread of the Bengalis and their culture.
Submission guidelines: We solicit contributions from everyone and our only eligibility criterion is that the piece submitted has to be related in some way to Bengal and its people, history, geography, culture, literature, art, etc. Since the magazine is in English, the contributions must be in English. All contributions must be original and must not have been previously published in any form. The contributions will be subject to editorial approval for maintaining literary quality and focus of the magazine but the views expressed in them will be solely that of the writers themselves. The copyright of every contribution will remain with the writer but the writer will grant Shoptodina the first publication, archiving and subsequent non-exclusive publication rights. If later on the same piece is to be published elsewhere then Shoptodina has to be acknowledged as its first publisher. Though no prior permission is needed it is courteous for the writer to inform Shoptodina of it. Shoptodina is unable to pay contributors any monetary compensation but will always be grateful for their patronage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Call For Papers
Bengali Theatre: Bengalis and Theatre
"The really conspicuous talent for histrionic art possessed by the Bengali, cannot be seen to better advantage than in this drama." -The Englishman (1873)
7th December 1872 was a historic day for Bengali Theatre as well as the socio-cultural spectrum of India as the nation witnessed the inception of a public theatre with the staging of Nildorpon. It was the first time that a public space was thrown wide open to the common masses in lieu of ticket and not on the basis of class, caste, creed, race, religion or gender. Every inhabitant of Bengal was welcome in the playhouse, which would now be the site of mass agitation, nationalist revolutionary awakening and cultural-spiritual cultivation in the coming decades.
Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nildorpon (translated by Michael Madhusudan Dutt as Indigo Mirror) signaled a new herald of nationalism that swept the Bengali stage to evolve into a potent weapon of protest against the British colonialism. The legacy of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay in Bengali literature was carried on by the likes of the "Shakespeare of India", Girish Chandra Ghosh who pioneered modern play writing in Bengali. Soon, the Bengali stage acquired importance beyond socio-economic and cultural boundaries as spiritual leaders like Ramakrishna Paramhamsa patronized it and the British rulers despised it by drafting one coercive legislation after another.
The immortal words of Ramkrishna,"Theatre e lokshikkhe hoi" (Theatre provides mass enlightenment) catapult theatre from the mud of rich man’s entertainment and forced prostitution of actresses like Binodini by patrons to an aesthetic art form with an immense potential to influence people, that was evident in case of Binodini playing Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Girish Ghosh's theatre. As time progressed, better technology, innovation and indigenous features and an imminent Bengaliness characterized Bengali theatre with the likes of Notosurjo Ahindra Choudhury and Natyacharjo Sisir Kumar Bhaduri coming to the forefront. Tagore's contribution to Bengali theatre was noteworthy too.
During the 1940s, with the advent of Leftist ideology in theatre, nationalism took a back-seat; anti imperial struggle was displaced and sabotaged under the name of class struggle in renowned plays like Nobanno. IPTA became the buzzword and Bengali theatre appeared in new avatars like Gononatyo, Nobonatyo and finally to the present form of Group Theatre. It has changed parallel to the change in Bengali society, values, norms, ideologies.
The present issue would like to throw open arguments, broadly regarding the change in Bengali theatre from its glorious nationalistic beginnings to the domination of leftist ideology and to what extent this has affected Bengali theatre and its environment.
The topics for contribution will include the following sub-themes but will not be exclusively limited to the same:
Sub themes
1. Bengali theatre and society.
2. Nationalist/Revolutionary awakening & Bengali theatre.
3. Bengali drama and Bengali language, culture, politics and history.
4. Bengali literature and Bengali theatre: Bankim, Sharat, Tagore et al.
5. Economics, publicity and stagecraft of Bengali theatre.
6. Issues & subjects of Bengali theatre.
7. Bengali influence on Indian and world theatre (on the plays in languages other than Bengali).
8. Leftist ideology in Bengali theatre.
9. The legendary commercial-popular theatre of Bengal. Group theatre movement.
10. Contemporary Bengali theatre.
11. Women in Bengali theatre.
12. The relation of Bengali theatre to the traditional performing arts of Bengal, like dance, Jatra, Kobigaan etc.
(the authors are encouraged to extend beyond the given theme and sub themes)
General details about submissions to Journal of Bengali Studies:

Journal of Bengali Studies is published in English and is an online journal. A Contribution must be electronic and in English language. It should consistently follow any one of these three scholarly styles of citation: MLA style, Chicago Manual of Style and APA style. Contributions must always be double spaced. An article, with notes and bibliography, should not be more than 10000 words. In case of reviews, the upper limit is 2000 words; we welcome reviews of new books as well as old and out of print ones, not necessarily of books written in English alone; we accept reviews of old and new plays alike, as well as reviews of theatre related books, new and old alike.
From our Cinema issue, we have started a section (in addition to articles and reviews) called Creative Workshop: Theory in Practice. This section features creative writings which are related to our theme. Any kind of creative writing that concerns the relationship between Bengalis and Theatre is welcome for this issue; a priority may be given to maiden theatre scripts, which may be originally written in Bengali, in which case it has to be in English translation, or it may be originally written in English. In either case, it should touch our theme and be relevant to the CFP; for example, a meta-theatrical play about Bengalis and theatre (immediately coming to mind is Utpal Dutt's Tiner Toloyar) would be very much welcome. So will be any play that explores the question of Bengaliness. Upper Limit of Creative Workshop: 10000 words.
We have no lower word limit for the contributions, the authors are free to use their discretion. Contributions should either be in MS Word, Open Office, or RTF format and should be emailed to, and

Before submission, please see our Submission Guidelines and Terms and Conditions for further details at For further ideas about the objectives of our journal, please see the JBS Manifesto at

Editor: Tamal Dasgupta
Editorial Board: Sourav Gupta , Rishi Ghosh, Sandeep Chatterjee, Mousumi Biswas Dasgupta, Sujay Chatterjee.
For this Theatre issue of JBS, Sourav Gupta (09938902001) and Rishi Ghosh (09804230995) will be Executive Editors.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

* The Garden

On 12th and 13th October, 2012, St. Anthony’s High School and St. Joseph Nursery and Kindergarten, in association with TTIS, presented their School Concert. Visit:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

* "Digital Humanities" at Presidency!

Beyond this point let no text be not hyperlinked. 

Invitation. Programme. Dr. Mark Bernstein: I build literary machines, Tinderbox6, Among Others by Jo Walton, The Victorian Web, Archimedes Palimpsest, Digital Humanities FAQ. Prof. Amlan Dasgupta: Stanley Fish, Digital Technology for Archivist, Peter Conrad reviews Walter Benjamin's Archive, Unpacking My Library. Prof Moinak Biswas: Sthaniyo Sambad, Graveyard of Memories - National Instruments Limited. Prof. Sue Thomas: Transliteracy Research Group, Transliteracy Lecture. Ms. Oyndrila Sarkar:,, GIS, Radhanath Sikdar, Dr. Simi Malhotra: Singularity, Vernon Vinge, Singularity, Raymond Kurzweil, Singularity, Singularity University. Prof. Barry Atkins: Super Mario 64, 87 Bazillion Guns, Excess. Prof. Saugata Bhaduri: MMORPGs, World of Warcraft. Dr. Souvik Mukherjee: Reading Games and Playing Books, Minor Literature, Brenda Braithwaite’s Train, Italo Calvino’s The Literature Machine. Dr. Abhijit Gupta: OCR, Diacritical marks, Collation, Bibliography System and Location Register of Bengali Books 1801-1867. Mr. Mahitosh Mondal: Love of books as objects, From Gutenberg to Google. Dr. Debaditya Bhattacharya: Epimetheus and Prometheus, Stiegler - Industrialization of the human mind.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

* Bright Star: Tapati Gupta & A Short Story

It is the year 1995 and I study in class twelve. The third of November is  Friday, the day when The Statesman newspaper has the “literary” section. I am reading an article titled “Bright Star” written by Tapati Gupta commemorating the bicentenary of John Keats’s birth on October 31. She analyses how Keats’s poetry becomes, as occasions demand, painting, sculpture and Gothic architecture. As I read the article, I recall Keats’s poems and realize how the readers of Keats’s poetry often become “viewers of sculpture and painting”. I cannot help but agree with the writer that it was the uniqueness of Keats “to be in empathy with artists working in different media.” I am overwhelmed and gratified on reading the article. I have an immense urge to put pen to paper. As a seventeen year old I dare not dream to recreate the myth of that magnum opus “Hyperion” but I can make a pauper’s attempt at myth-making, in a microcosm - a poem in writing, a sculpture in vision. I do not take any god but a cherub and compose on it -

I Met a Cherub in My Dream.

From the renascence of wonder
There came gliding a Greek sculpture,
Falling through the cascades of time
Bridging the chasm that did rupture
When I first got a glimpse of him-
A winged creature still in its flight,
Stilled by the sculptor's moving hands,
The Cherubim of my deep delight.

Between the pillars of slow curves
Crowned by the heroic arches,
I saw the flutter of those wings
Whose wide span of stony weight lurches
Heavy on the air beneath it,
Which had half blown the drapery
That was to conceal his body's
Well aligned, sinewy tapestry.

With both his legs lost in a leap
He stood frozen in his motion,
Like the sparkle of the lightning
Caught bursting into full proportion,
On the night sky brooding behind,
And a single star with wild gaze
Spreading through the wide firmament
Its mellowed twinkling beams in the haze.

And the broad pedestal of stone
Forming the ageless substratum
Unswelled and full of compactness
Bore the huge load of age-old tiresome,
Through the foot of that Cherubim,
With nerves heaving undulations
Like the soft, silent waves risen
In the calm of a sun-bathed ocean.

(First published in Muse India Issue 15, 2007)

 It is almost ten years later. I have almost forgotten the name “Tapati Gupta”. I am now doing PhD research work in the Department of English of Calcutta University. One day I came face-to-face with a professor bearing that same name. Soon memory starts to flood in and I am dumb-founded. I want to express my admiration for the person who wrote the article “Bright Star” but I find the blade of inhibition slicing my tongue. Speechless I struggle to express myself until one day I search her out in the  virtual world - Orkut. I divulge the contents of my heart in a scrap to her and Voila! soon comes her reply to this effect - “Your write-up is very touching. I am happy to know how that article touched your heart and may be your life because these revelations and the influence of literature do change our lives ... Thank you for your appreciation. That article came from my heart and I find lots of people remember it." In course of time I go on to find other articles - on the doodles of Tagore, on the impasto of Hopkins - by Professor Tapati Gupta in various books. But that newspaper article I still cherish and that old newsprint I still treasure.

Monday, July 23, 2012

* The Poet as Match-Maker: R. K. Sen on "Mimesis"

Dr. Ramendra Kumar Sen, former Professor and Head of the Department of English, Calcutta University, had delivered the Eighth Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya Memorial Lecture on “Mimesis”. These lectures of the late professor were published by Syamaprasad College, Kolkata. I am grateful to Mr. Sudipta Munshi, who brought it to my notice. Prof. Sen takes the Platonic doctrine of eros as the background of mimesis, discussing the Aristotelian doctrine of “horme” and following it with its mythical treatment in the Latin Middle Ages, for his exposition of the differences between Plato and Aristotle in their attitudes to poetry.

Plato’s “burning denunciation” of poetry as an imitative art is found in his Republic. It has been seen that, for Plato, poetry belongs to the world of Sensibles, the world of ordinary human beings who strive for immortality by procreating their own kind. There is also the world of Ideas whose inhabitants have been the likes of Homer and Hesoid, who also strive for immortality, though not by being pregnant in body but by being pregnant in soul. According to Prof Sen, poetry belongs to the intermediate world of the Sensibles and the Ideas.

The concept of the intermediate has its mythic origin in Symposium, where Plato depicts Eros as the intermediate between man and God. Eros, who is neither purely divine nor purely human, who brings two people together, is the mediator between man and the Divine life, drawing imperfect towards the perfect, the mortal towards immortality. In fact, Plato’s Republic has “Allegory of the Cave”, where he depicts a man who has been living away from light, who presumes shadows of horses to be real but when he sees a statue of a horse he sees something “more real”. This something “more real” is the intermediate. Poetry and fine arts belong to this intermediate world of light and darkness.

Aristotle did have a Platonic period but “imitation” or “mimesis” is specifically a Platonic term. Aristotle distinguishes poetry from other arts because it is the modified forms of the words, the changes of language, and not what the words mean, which constitute poetry. Unlike Plato, he did not believe that form is independent of matter. Aristotle in his teleological outlook uses the term “horme” or “strive” as the substitute for Platonic eros (eggs strive to become chickens, acorns strive to become oak trees, heavy bodies strive to reach the centre of the earth). The means or lexis constantly strive to reach the Form or Idea. The union of the means and the Form is the result of the eros, which dominated Platonic dialogues. Thus, Aristotelian mimesis as imitation or a mere copy is farthest from truth.

In Martianus Capella’s mediaeval allegorical text The Marriage of Philology and Mercury, Philology (skill in the use of language) strives for union with Mercury, like the Aristotelian means, which strive for union with the Idea. Mimesis should better be interpreted as “birth” through the union of Idea and means, Mercury and Philology. In this sense, the poet is not the maker, the father, but only the match-maker in this marriage.

Sunday, June 24, 2012


My research article "The Indian Diaspora and Reading Desai, Mukherjee, Gupta and Lahiri" has been published in the latest issue of CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, Volume 14, Issue 2 (June 2012), ISSN 1481-4374, Purdue University, USA. Thematic Issue: New Work in Comparative Indian Literatures and Cultures, Eds. Mohan G. Ramanan and Tutun Mukherjee.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

* ORATIO 2012

On 5th May my almamater, St. Anthony's High School, hosted ORATIO 2012 - the Inter-School Elocution Competition. My supervisor Dr. Santanu Majumdar was one of the judges of the competition. The other judges were Prof. Salil Biswas and Prof. Buroshiva Dasgupta. The event was sponsored by Mr. Murli Punjabi, an ex-student of my school who had sponsored the first elocution contest way back in 1990 when I was in Class - 7 in the school. That year the topic was "Communal Harmony is the Need of the Hour" and I remember how I had prepared on the topic. This year's topic was "Does the Media Inform or Deform Young Minds?" The whole programme was organized and conducted by the inimitable Mr. Steve Menezes, who has been my teacher at school and taught me English. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

* A Poem

Not Yet Born Then

It is before my birth.
Past the emergency.
The wane of the naxals.
The waxing communists.
Jyoti Basu speaking.
Test matches at Eden.
Gavaskar on the crease.
Dalda - available.
Farex - out of the stock.
Load-shedding is common.
Trunk calls on telephones.
The tram to Khidderpore.
Rickshaws near Esplanade.
Nahoun in New Market.
Mughlai at Anadi's.
Night shows in cinemas.
The radio at home.
Black and white photographs.
My elders are youngsters.
The world before my birth.

Some things have changed since then,
Some things remain the same.
Except my perspective
On things that still remain.
It took aeons to get
The perfect condition
For my birth to take place.
I am now a part of
The aeon that gives birth 
To subsequent changes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

* Convocation of Calcutta University!

The Convocation of Calcutta University took place on 22nd March, 2012, in the Centenary Hall presided by the Chancellor, Shri M. K. Narayanan (Hon’ble Governor of West Bengal). The chief guest was Shri Shyam Benegal. Here are some photographs of the event where I was conferred the doctorate degree by the Vice-Chancellor. 

Being conferred the PhD degree
With Dr. Santanu Majumdar and Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta

Dignitaries on the dais

The Centenary Hall

In January my supervisor, Dr. Santanu Majumdar, made a paper presentation at a seminar in Bhubaneshwar. Here is a picture of him in panel discussion at the event.


My poems "At the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art" and "Not Yet Born Then" have been published in the latest issue of Kritya: Poetry Journal (VOL- VII / ISSUE -IX, March -2012). Read them here -

Sunday, February 26, 2012

* A Post on Post Postcolonialism

I start by acknowledging the goodness and kindness of Saptarshi Mallick, who informed me and registered my name for the UGC-assisted DRS SAP III Phase II National Seminar on Post Postcolonialism: Theory and Texts organized by the Department of English, University of Calcutta, at Chandramukhi-Kadambini Sabhagriha on 23rd and 24th February, 2012. I also thank Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta, the DRS co-ordinator, who reminded me to write about this seminar, which aimed at attracting young scholars. So I write. Each of my previous articles, covering the DRS seminars of 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2011, has a life of its own on this blog. The viewership statistics reveal the pattern of their relative popularity on the cyber space.

amit's DIARY Stats 2009 May – 2012 February 

Reflections (Breaking the Silence: Reading Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Ashapurna Devi)
Jan 19, 2009, 2 comments
373 Pageviews

The School of Athens (Connecting Cultures: Translation and Texts)
Mar 2, 2010, 6 comments
311 Pageviews

Tagore: Place and Space (Tagore: At Home in the World)
Feb 15, 2011, 2 comments
121 Pageviews

Report (Imperial Constructions and Indigenous Self-fashioning)
Jan 15, 2006, 3 comments
38 Pageviews

The reason for this statistical number crunching about my blog articles in cyber space is see how these write-ups have comparatively fared since being released in the digital world. The idea came to me from the seminar’s keynote address delivered by Prof. Pramod Nayar of the University of Hyderabad on digital race and cyber criticism. Prof. Nayar started in a light vein by stating that Bill Gates has difficulty in pronouncing the names of eight of the top ten of his employees. Prof. Nayar’s contention is that the virtual world is a window for a newer form of colonization. The internet is not an open space for the marginalized because it dissolves ethnic identities. Hence the need for ethnicization of the digital world. But the digital world has a characteristic of its own. It allows people of an ethnic diaspora to unite online and at the same time it diminishes the idea of territoriality. Moreover, cyber space is ephemeral and so are representations there, the online avatars. This was made more evident in Indrani Ray’s paper on the issue of identity in interactive video games designing. Just as prejudices are built into games in the real world too it is true. There is the neo-imperialist and racialized practice in call centers where Shyam becomes Sam by undergoing accent training. This is a kind of hybridity that Bhabha’s thoery does not address. This is not to indict only the capitalist first world of exploitation. There are cases such as the mushrooming of call centres in the by-lanes of India where with minimal establishment cost groups off individuals sell products and services, either genuine or spurious, to overseas clients posing as Westerners located overseas. Prof. Nayar then raised the issue of ownership of the data generated by the Human Genome Project and the vexed question of genetic determinism. These areas bring to the forefront the digital divide existing in the world. These newer problem areas of imbalances in contemporary cultural practices are what post postcolonialism addresses.

If cyber criticism is one post postcolonial area of exploration another is ecocriticism. Samrat Laskar’s in his paper on “Ecological Imperialism and the Revenge of the Pastoral” explored J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Ring as a botanical version of nationalist struggle. He highlighted the neglected non-human elements of nature and life. Saptarshi Mallick gave an overview of theory from the Hegelian historiography of viewing colonizationa as a heroic adventure of spirit to the postcolonial writings of Cesaire, Fanon, Said, Bhabha, Spivak, Ashcroft, et. al. to the new directions of race, ethnicity and empire studies. It is exploring these new directions that Runa Chakravarty spoke of the journey of the Bengali Dalits after the partition of India, Somraj Basu spoke of the subjugated knowledge of Tibetan medicine, and Sreya Sarkar on the Obeah Dawta, the transformation of the snake woman into a respectable woman in Jamaica. In the field of gender discourse Srima Nandi delved into the narratives of Chinese women to show how the early capitalist America saw immigration as a masculinist enterprise. Trayee Sinha questioned the paradigms of postcolonial feminist historiography in her study of the new women in the fictions of Shashi Deshpande and Dr. Tania Chakraverty showed the resistance to patriarchy in the stories of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Debarati Maity explored gender identities in time and space in the backdrop of the political turmoils in Sri Lanka of the 1970s an 1980s in novels like Funny Boy and A Change of Skies.

The return of focus to texts was apparent in Dr. Arpa Ghosh’s interrogation of nation-concept in the novels of Amitav Ghosh, Dr. Naina Dey’s reading of Life of Pi as a survivalist text, Debanjali Roy’s study of cultural identities in Brick Lane, Ujjwal Panda’s examination of the concepts of de/re-territorialization in Seamus Heaney’s poetry, Anirban Guha Thakurta’s reading of Achebe’s poetic bricolage, Jashomati Ghose’s exploration of the bildungsroman of the new Nigerian diaspora and Sonal Kapur’s exposition of Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories as an amalgamation of east and west. It was not only the written word but also Ketan Mehta’s movie Mangal Pandey: The Rising, where the allegorization of the nation/al was shown by Gargi Talapatra. Kuntala Sengupta showed in the paintings of Jayasri Barman how postcolonialism share boundaries with cosmopolitanism, transnationalism and globalization.

From the wide area of theory to the specificity of textual analysis leads to post postcolonial reading of Gora by Anwar Hossain, who showed how Tagore, as an internationalist, has given importance to the individual. Sanghita Sanyal showed in her paper Tagore’s vision of a glocal identity for Visva Bharati. Nabaneeta Sengupta depicted how globalization was anticipated in the travel writings of nineteenth century Bengali travel writers. Mahitosh Mondal in his paper titled “World as a Single Nest: The Postcolonial, the European Dialectics and Beyond” questioned whether we are wasting our time reading Foucault, Lacan and Derrida instead of Chaitanya, Vivekananda and Aurobindo. Will it be too humanist a position to take if the concept of the world as a single nest is not only studied for its archival value but also put into practice as an alternative form of cosmopolitanism? These questions were perhaps anticipated in the inaugural address of the seminar given by the Head of the English Department, Dr. Tirtha Prasad Mukhopadhyay. He had made it clear that he is not in agreement with the postcolonial agenda because postcolonial binarism does not exist in history as it is accepted in the echelons of academia. According to him, colonialism is a misnomer for a hierarchical system of human existence where human beings have a natural tendency towards aggrandizement. In this context colonization appears as a phenomenon of about five hundred years old, etched in the history of civilized human beings, of more than five thousand years old, and postcolonialism is the theory and practice of territorial and ideological decolonization and its existence is subject to the presentism and topicality of the earlier phenomenon. Increasingly as the world is becoming transnational, accepting hybridity and asserting ethnicity, the rubric of colonizer/colonized designation is becoming indeterministic. In the future the exploiter will no longer remain of a particular class, caste, religion, etc. and neither the exploited remain so. Prof. Sanjukta Dasgupta commented that oppression was present everywhere and in all times and Prof. Jharna Sanyal added that one must not fall in the trap of categorizing oppression. So post postcolonialism has to confront the hideous cockatrice formed by the coalescing of a variety of potential oppressors who have control of the limited resources of the world. In order to domesticate such a terribly hybrid monster all the archival materials, which have survived elision, need to be articulated in such a manner that they are made universally significant. 

Also read my article on "The Calcutta Book Fair and Me" that covers Kolkata Literary Meet too in

Sunday, January 22, 2012

* Two Lectures at Netaji Bhavan

Picture courtesy: The Telegraph
On 5th January 2012, Prof. Diana Sorensen, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Harvard University, lectured on the topic “Humanities in Higher Education.” She spoke of the anti-utilitarian ethos of President Eliot whose goal of learning for its own sake was the cornerstone of liberal arts education in Harvard. But the present crisis that humanities face of diminishing grants has heralded the advent of multidisciplinary studies whereby a scholar will be free to pursue both humanities and science streams for a holistic education. The benefit of such education has to be made explicit so that grant-giving authorities are satisfied about the wisdom of such investment. The lecture was followed by a conversation between Prof. Sorensen and Prof. Malabika Sarkar, the Vice-Chancellor of Presidency University, moderated by Prof. Sugata Bose, the Gardiner Professor of History in Harvard University, and then a question and answer session with the audience. Both Prof. Sarkar and Prof. Bose were in agreement with Prof. Sorensen about encouraging students to take up multidisciplinary studies and convincing corporate houses to provide scope of employment to such students. Prof. Suranjan Das, the Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, who was in the audience, made a pertinent point that the effect of globalization is devaluing the importance of humanities studies, giving the example that when Calcutta University introduced a professional course in Management, the enrollment in Economics showed a sharp decline.

The cause of upholding the importance of Humanities education has been in discussion for quite some time now. Prof. Sorensen had expressed similar sentiments regarding humanities in her previous visit to Kolkata, about a year ago. Prof. Martha Nussbaum, of Chicago University, in her visit to Kolkata around the same time had also argued for Humanities. Earlier in 2010, Prof. Brinda Bose and Prof. Prasanta Chakravarty, both of Delhi University, had raised the alarm regarding the devaluing of humanities. Recently, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, has opened up streams for students to take up multidisciplinary studies. But the one question that remains unanswered is why not open up academics and employ faculty having multidisciplinary education. Being myself a science graduate with a doctorate in English, I feel like a time traveler, who has come from the future - a future of holistic multidisciplinary education as envisioned by the present lot of academics.

Picture courtesy: Netaji Research Bureau
On 17th January 2012, Netaji Research Bureau hosted the Sisir Kumar Bose Lecture 2012 delivered by Thant Myint U on the topic “Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.” Thant Myint U spoke on the geographical importance of Myanmar and the political situation in the country at present when the military rule is giving way to a quasi democratic setup. The positive steps taken by releasing Aung San Suu Kyi and declaring cease fire with many insurgent groups have raised hope of a better Myanmar. In the question and answer session that followed Rudrangshu Mukherjee raised skepticism about the speaker’s hopefulness. Thant Myint U answered that this time round the drive of globalization through information and technology is having its impact on the Myanmarese population at the micro level which gives ground for hope that the country will not relapse into turmoil as in the past.