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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

* The 19th Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya Memorial Lecture

The 19th Mohini Mohan Bhattacharya Memorial Lecture was held at Darbhanga Hall (Calcutta University) on 13th February, 2015. The prestigious biennial endowment lecture has had luminaries like Prof. John Drakakis and Prof. Dipesh Chakraborty in recent years as speakers. This year too the lecture was delivered by an eminent personality, Prof. Shirley Chew (Professor Emeritus, Leeds, UK & Visiting Professor, NTU, Singapore). She spoke on the topic “Roots and Routes: Migration Stories Across the Indian Ocean.” Her lecture was divided into two parts: “Mint leaf, teak leaf, and a question of home in Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace” and “‘Just a condition without even a story’- Narrating selves in Abdulrazak Gurnah’s By the Sea.” 

In front of a motley audience comprising of professors, researchers, and students, Prof. Chew spoke on how the Indian ocean trade routes are filled with migrant stories and the likes of Amitav Ghosh have put the Indian perspective to such narratives. Prof. Krishna Sen rightly pointed out that such a discussion inaugurates an alternative postcoloniality - of globalization in the Indian ocean through trade routes. The Indian ocean narratives put focus on a phase of globalization that has been antecedent to the current phase. Prof. Chew also spoke about the importance of storytelling. Through the example of an asylum seeker as a storyteller in front of an immigration officer, Prof. Chew pointed out how a migrant’s condition predisposes him/her to become a storyteller. It is the stories by and about migrants that bring the different phases of globalization - be it the ancient silk route globalization, the colonial Indian ocean globalization or the modern trans air globalization - into comparison. Such comparative study may give a perspective to our understanding of the stakes of migration in diaspora formation. Prof. Chew took as a farewell gift a facsimile of Tagore’s Gitanjali manuscript - a notebook that was lost and found in the London Tube - as truly emblematic of the flux of words in a world of mobility.

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