Nov 17, 2015: A festschrift in honour of Prof Harish Trivedi

An engaging discussion on the book India and the World: Postcolonialism, Translation and Indian Literature (Essays in honour of Prof Harish Trivedi) edited by Ruth Vanita, published by Pencraft (2014), was held on 11th August 2015 in the seminar hall of the India International Centre, New Delhi.

The collection of 17 essays showcasing contributions by eminent scholars from four continents, including Gayatri Spivak, Rupert Snell, William Radice and Frances Pritchett, engages with contested questions and methodologies, while also demonstrating the transnational scale of scholarly conversations about Postcolonialism, Translation Studies, and Indian Literature.

Celebrated scholar and Chairperson, IGNCA, Kapila Vatsyayan chaired the enriching session in her trademark charismatic, witty and erudite style. The speakers on the occasion included distinguished academics like Malashri Lal (Dean of Colleges, University of Delhi), Indranath Chowdhuri (ICCR First Tagore Chair, Edinburgh Napier University), Prof Christel Devadawson (Dept of  English, Delhi University), apart from Ruth Vanita (University of Montana), SP Jain (the Publisher) and Harish Trivedi himself. The event was attended by many students and admirers of Trivedi cutting across age groups, as well as by colleagues from past and present including Rani Ray, RW Desai, Rajiva Verma, Sumanyu Satpathy and Tapan Basu.

The book-discussion ranged from many personal anecdotes relating to the life and times as it were of Trivedi, formerly Professor and Head, Department of English, University of Delhi; the landmarks of his professional and academic careers, in addition to his path breaking contribution to the relatively new disciplines of Postcolonialism, Translation, and Indian Literature.

Dr Vatsyayan initiated the proceedings by recounting what she called her ‘previous birth’ as a litterateur, and expressed her discomfort with the term Postcolonialism, a concern shared hereafter by all the discussants, including Trivedi himself.

Ruth Vanita briefly introduced the book and recounted her invigorating experience as a student of the Department of English, Delhi University, and as a doctoral student of Harish Trivedi in particular.

SP Jain, the Publisher of the book and proprietor of Pencraft touched upon his long association with Trivedi beginning at Ramjas College, before proceeding to describe the multifarious and interdisciplinary academic interests, and significant contributions of Trivedi.

Malashri Lal, also a long standing colleague of Trivedi at the Department of English, spoke about her personal experiences with Trivedi as a colleague. She described Trivedi as “a global intellectual, with India at the core of his thinking,” and appreciated the “beautiful tribute” by Ruth in the form of the festschrift, to “an eternal teacher” like Harish. Malashri engaged at length with William Radice’s essay on Tagore’s Gitanjali, touched upon the glaring differences in its translations by Tagore himself, by WB Yeats, and by Radice. She also highlighted the radical change that Trivedi had engineered in the syllabi taught by the Department of English, during his tenure as the Head of the Department.

Christel Devadawson discussed Jean Rhys’ concept of the “eternal immigrant” while elaborating upon her views on the essays by Spivak, Khair, Polezzi, Young and Dabydeen included in the volume. She emphasized upon and commended the inclusion of various sketches (by Gerhard Stilz) in the book, punctuating the thoughts and essays as it were, and providing angular visualisations of various iconic Indian moments, like the Konark Sun Temple, the ghats at Varanasi and so on, adding a layer of visual politics and modes of looking to the negotiation of the essays with Postcolonialism.

Indranath Chowdhuri, while agreeing with Malashri's observations, discussed some of the disastrous aspects of William Radice’s re-translation of Tagore's Gitanjali. He quoted what he called “prophetic statements” of Prof Sisir Kumar Das regarding the vital significance of Rabindranath Tagore’s writings in English. Chowdhuri went on to discuss in brief the essays on Indian literature in the book while focussing broadly on Gayatri Chakravarti Spivak’s “Teaching Literature Today,” Susan Bassnett’s “In Praise of Rereading and Rewriting,” Ruth Vanita’s “Hymn to the Intellect: A Reading of the Hanuman Chalisa,” Rupert Snell’s “On translating Bihari’s Satsai,” and David Damrosch’s “What Could a Message Mean to a Cloud?: Kalidasa Travels West,” and Anannya Dasgupta’s and Frances Pritchett’s respective papers on the Urdu Ghazal. Indranath Chowdhuri ended his presentation by dedicating to Harish Trivedi a couplet (She’r) of Bashir Badr: Ujaale apni yaadon ke hamaare saath rehne do, na jaane kis gali mein zindagi ki shaam ho jaaye.

Finally Harish Trivedi spoke about his appreciation for the book, his lifelong engagement with Postcolonialism, Translation, Indian Literature, adding to the list two other fields, those of Comparative Literature and World Literature which he was working on currently. He presented his observations in his trademark style peppered liberally with wit and humour, mentioning among others the Mahabharata, his varied teaching experiences, his sense of immense satisfaction at the sense of critical engagement which the book encapsulates. He spoke of his forthcoming ventures, An Anthology of Indian literature from 1500 BC to 2000 AD, and another on The History of World Literature. Harish concluded with a brief note of thanks, and quoted two famous couplets of Ghalib, to a thunderous applause by the enraptured audience: Ho chukeen ‘Ghalib’ balaa’en sab tama’am, ek marg-e-nagahani aur hai; and, Koi din gar zindagani aur hai, apne jee mein humne thaani aur hai.

(Report by: Kalyanee Rajan, New Delhi, Nov 17, 2015)

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