One of the pleasures of being an academic teaching literature is that one gets to cultivate the lifelong love for literature as one’s professional responsibility. However, the constraints, quandaries and conundrums of academic life in various institutions are such that savouring the multidimensional wonders of literature often takes a backseat as staff-room discussions are dominated less by intellectual curiosity and more by CAS, NAAC, DA, transfer, promotion, attendance calculation and such other quasi-mythical monstrosities that are, however, entirely unavoidable.
It is equally alarming to note that even the budding minds of students and research scholars are also often mired in poison ivies of their own as teaching becomes replaced (and not supplemented) by PowerPoint presentations, online file-sharing, video-games etc., semesters keep curbing the time to thoroughly read a text, term papers become an excuse for innovative plagiarisation and the thirst for greater knowledge becomes replaced by a new-marks-ism where the student with the highest supply of butter and oil takes all.
Such a scenario leaves very little room for those wonderfully illuminating conversations of our college/university days when horizons were not limited by either syllabi or term papers or expected questions and answers or even research papers and doctoral dissertations. During my first year in Presidency College I was once asked by an elder relative, himself a teacher of English literature, whether I was frequenting the library or not. I replied that I was and then hesitantly added that much of what I read seemed to fly over my head. He chuckled and replied: “That’s normal. What matters are the glimmers of light, which would pass into the mind”. Whether my mind did receive those rays or remained as benighted as ever is debatable. But the attempt to absorb knowledge which apparently had no immediate utility did not stop. And there is a value in such intellectual sustenance which remains outside the purview of degrees, marks and API scores. A fact that few seem to understand.
Ironically, only a few decades ago, long before the institutionalised vogue of interdisciplinarity had come into being, students in Coffee House, Basanta Cabin or the canteen in Presidency College (that now-buried fountain of our past) would recurrently regale themselves with such sustenance and embark on varied intellectual journeys with the insouciant belief that the world was their oyster. And it is with the same weltenschaung that students in various colleges would flock to lecture theatres of other colleges and other departments to understand and assimilate theories, ideas and information that would never assail them in any university examinations. And poetry, films or theatre were objects of interest and avid participation for people who had no ties with departments of literature or performing arts. This online platform is dedicated to the cultivation and proliferation of such intellectual sustenance which may pique the interest, stir the intellect and incite the imagination. The promise of a generation lies in its audacity of hope. Let this be a site for such audacious explorations. Perhaps, through such endeavours we too, like Plato’s doomed Philosopher-King, can escape to our own desired sunshine.