Scientific sharing: an Indian way of thinking about Comparative Literature (E.V. Ramakrishnan)

« Is There an Indian Way of Thinking about Comparative Literature? » E. V. Ramakrishnan argue in his paper (read it here) that Comparative Literature has to be reinvented in India. His question echoes that of A.K. Ramanujan who asked in 1989 about an Indian way of thinking (read his paper here). In the continuity of Ramanujan, he emphasizes the urgency to debate the question of « Indianness » and more precisely he questions « the very idea of India » as he puts it. As a discipline based on concern for the other, Comparative Literature in India can not ignore the plurality of Indian literary traditions and has to recognize that « Indian cannot be conceived merely in terms of nation or nation-state ». But Western modernity, imported by colonialism, favoured a thought free of any context and a standardization of theoretical categories such as the text or the reader. It has thus reinforced the eagerness to homogenize the Indian literature. E.V. Ramakrishnan gives us and compares some examples of bhasha literatures (Fakir Mohan Senapati, Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer) which are simultaneously the site of indigenous modernities as well as what Toni Morrison calls « the shareable imaginative worlds ». He concludes that « even when their modes and models came from outside they answered a need in the native socio-political context. » In the last issue of the Comparative Literature Review of 2015, Laetitia Zecchini ends her article on a similar conclusion: « G. N. Devy opposed two universal paradigms of knowledge: The figure of the « native » or « naive » (the one who is attached to his place and his land) and the figure of « picaro ». But like Kolatkar, who lived all his life in a room in Bombay, while bringing the whole world to him, first of all by books, these writers are rooted cosmopolitans, « naive picaros », who have chosen to fit into a transnational, even « improper » literary history, and to live in an open place, crossed by all the voices of the world. » (« Crisis in Literary History » ? Du « nativisme » et du provincialisme, et de quelques autres débats intellectuels en Inde », RLC, « Problèmes d’histoire littéraire indienne », 4-2015) Thus these Indian literatures reveal the emergence of alternative modernities or, to repeat the wordplay suggested in the title of a collective book edited by E.V. Ramakrishnan, Harish Trivedi and Chandra Mohan (Interdisciplinary alter-natives in Comparative Literature, 2013) « alter-native » modernities embodied by « naive picaros ». In this book, E.V. Ramakrishnan opens the discussion by recalling the need to reinvent Comparative Literature and to demystify the idea of literature. But, in a recent publication edited by M. Sridhar and Sunita Misra (Language Policy and Education in India: Documents, Texts and Debates, London and New York: Routledge, 2017) we can find an enlarged reflection on this issue which he entitled « Language, power and ideology: the changing contexts of bhasha in India ».

E.V.Ramakrishnan is a bilingual writer who has published poetry and literary criticism, in Malayalam, his first language and English. He is also a well-known translator. He has published three volumes of poetry in English: Being Elsewhere in Myself (1980), A Python in a Snake Park (1994), and Terms of Seeing: New and Selected Poems (2006). Among his critical books in English are Interdisciplinary Alter-natives in Comparative Literature (Co-edited, Sage, New Delhi, 2013), Locating Indian Literature: Texts, Traditions and Translations (Orient Blackswan, 2011) and Making It New: Modernism in Malayalam, Marathi and Hindi Poetry (IIAS, Shimla, 1995). He  is presently UGC Professor Emeritus at Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. (Read his bio-note here).