Ashoka University hosts Author Annie Zaidi and Academic Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan this summer to deliver two versatile talks on writing
The events were part of a series linked to Professor Saikat Majumdar’s foundation course, “The Global Life of English,” which explores English as a language of world literature.
By Team Ashoka
It has been a summer of delights for the Programme in English and Creative Writing. Two events of very different flavor took place on campus, both before a crowd of over a hundred people. The first event was a screening of a film by Annie Zaidi on literature by Indian women from the ancient period to the present. The second event was a talk by Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan on New India and World Literature. The events were part of a series linked to Professor Saikat Majumdar’s foundation course, “The Global Life of English,” which explores English as a language of world literature, where many of Ashoka’s summer session students are enrolled.
On Wednesday July 12, the Mumbai-based writer and filmmaker Annie Zaidi came to Ashoka to screen her documentary film, In Her Words: The Journey of Indian Women. Annie, who has also edited Unbound: 2000 Years of Indian Women’s Writing, put together a film of epic range, going back to women writers, scribes and storytellers from ancient India, such as the Vedic figures of Maitreyee and Gargi, and extending to thinkers, writers and editors of the present, such as Urvashi Butalia and Arundhati Subramaniam. The screening was followed by a discussion between Annie and Professor Madhavi Menon, the Director of the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality. The discussion really got the audience involved, as the stakes in the subject felt high. Questions ranged from oral vs written traditions of literature to the gender implications of Haryana’s wrestling culture to the debate over reservations in electoral representation as well as coaches in the Delhi Metro. The event went on for over two hours. Annie continued to talk to enthusiastic members of the audience well after that, and left campus after donating a DVD copy of the film to be archived at the University Library.
Ragini Tharoor Srinivasan, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona, visited Ashoka on Tuesday, July 25, to give a talk with an intriguing title: “Salman Rushdie, Chetan Bhagat, and the Call Center Agent: New India and World Literature.” Srinivasan, an up-and-coming academic, is an interesting figure on the global horizon of English literature: not only does she straddle the diverse academic fields of literature, anthropology, philosophy and cultural study, but she intervenes in the field of global literary and cultural studies as a journalist-editor as well as an academic scholar. Srinivasan’s talk centered on the varieties of English as traceable through points as diverse as Salman Rushdie’s chutnefied language, the simulated accents of call-centre agents, and the kind of Hinglish vernacular used by Chetan Bhagat. The talk was stimulating and provocative and students and visitors simmered with questions afterwards, ranging from the complexity of translation between Indian languages to the cultural politics behind the formation of canons and archives of literature.
The final speaker in this summer series will be Shovon Chowdhury, humorist and fiction-writer, who will speak on campus on August 11.
Together, the events go a long way to show that India offers a revealing microcosm of the world literature archive, not only between the teeming plurality of its indigenous languages, but also through the diverse and malleable kinds of English it offers, both through individual literary imagination and popular reality.