Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who is your favorite author?

When people ask me inane questions like, 'Who's your favorite author?'--my first reaction, which is muted, is to gasp! Interestingly, I have seen a number of people in my life, which include so-called intellectuals, intelligentsia, 'educated' people such as academics as well as all sorts of sundry people, ask me this question.

The problem with a majority of people that I meet in my daily life is that they are exceptionally ignorant about most things in their lives, including what constitutes the bedrock of their professional lives. The second problem that a number of people suffer from is a tremendous lack of reading. I have seen senior professors in Indian universities getting along with their lives without a word of reading for a number of years. For many educated, and certainly highly literate people, reading in an anathema that is best avoided.

Now, I don't want any of you to think that this is a rant or a complaint against any particular individual because it is not. And I don't want you to think that I'm trying to disguise personal angst in a general discourse. That is also untrue.

This post is, in fact, a comment on the state of the profession as it exists in the academia and is in some ways, also a comment on the declining reading public in urban centers such as New Delhi, the Indian capital, where I reside.

By the way, before you folks start getting ideas about any element of disillusionment in my words, let me throw light on the fact that issues regarding the profession of academia are quite current in the western world. For instance, I am a member of the Modern Language Association and they publish an annual journal, called Profession, which is given to the members as part of their membership dues. I have been a member of the MLA for a number of years and I really look forward to reading Profession because it has a number of studies that are quite eye-opening.

OK. Let us give you a recent example. I met a student today. She is twenty years old and she has stayed all her life in New Delhi, which is the capital of the country. She has studied here and she failed in her 'compulsory English' papers in first and second year of her BA degree. [Here, in India, we have a three year BA program.] 'Compulsory English' is usually English grammar with a reader thrown in, which has some poems [including sonnets by Wordsworth and Shakespeare--you might object to the methodology, but that is another matter]. The idea is that this is a compulsory course that students must pass, they should secure 33 marks out of 100. And the philosophy behind this course is that the students would get to learn 'some English', by which it is assumed that they would learn communicative English or would enhance language skills that would help them in an ESL (English as a Second Language) situation. I do agree that the methodology of the course materials might be faulty because you cannot expect anyone to learn language if they had to study a sonnet.

Anyway, let us not detract from the main theme. So, this girl who has studied all her life in New Delhi failed those two papers. I asked her about the newspapers that she got at her house. She told me that she got two newspapers, a national Hindi daily, Hindustan, and a national English daily, The Times of India. I asked her if she read The Times of India, and she replied that she flipped it sometimes. Now, this is someone who is 20 or 21 years old.

Isn't it a bit shocking?

OK, to conclude, I must confess that I didn't write much about the title of my post. But I'll keep on posting small write-ups about a number of authors who have been my favorites. I don't have a single favorite author in my life. There have been so many, who have exerted their influences in their small ways.

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