Professor Didier Coste of Bordeaux University, France, conducted the seminar on “Indian Literature as Comparative Literature” at Bharati College on 14th January, 2013. Comparative literature is the study of literature and other cultural expressions across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Dr. Chandra Mohan, Secretary General of Comparative Literature Association of India, chaired the seminar that was attended by Students and teachers of B.A. English Honours.
Dr. Promodini Varma, the principal of the college, briefly introduced Professor Coste and Dr. Chandra Mohan. Prof. Coste began by explaining how he came across Indian literature in 1974. He elaborated on how he “was a young man of the 1960s, the time of the hippies,” and supporting his statement was his psychedelic sweater that attracted many listeners’ attention. He was liked instantly by the young crowd.
He began his talk on Modern Indian literature being a heterogeneous literature due to the numerous languages in India. Professor Coste expressed concern over how Indian literature was considered modern only when written in English. According to him, Indian literature is all-embracing, non-specific and complex. It can also be confusing and contradictory due to the many traditions of different regions and their languages in India.
Prof. Coste points out that modern Indian literature uses old stories, myths, epics and fables, such as the conclusion of The Guide by R. K. Narayan. He states that the way to make sense of the mystical aspect of Indian writing is not the validity, but knowing the structure.
The talk was ended with a summary given by Dr. Mohan. He said that Indian literature is based on the concept of cultural plurality and comes naturally to us because of our multilingual aspect. He also said that translation is very important, as it goes very well with the inter-culturality.
In the end, teachers and students asked questions and gave their comments regarding the talk. As one of the answers, the speakers said that Indians usually know three languages, their mother tongue, the national language and an international language, while the citizens of most other countries are mono-linguistic. The seminar concluded with a vote of thanks to the speaker and chairperson.
Rajni Gupta, a student, felt that “The talk was intended to enlighten one and all, but Prof. Coste ended up striking a chord only with the teachers and as for the students, we ended up feeling obfuscate”.
Mrs. Mukti Sanyal, lecturer of English, commented that “It was surprising to know that trends in literature sometimes grow autonomously at the same time, in different places. Modern Indian writers are returning to historical novels, and there is a sense of continuity”. She also said that Prof. Coste was engaging and had such a vast amount of knowledge that the one hour was not enough for him to present all his views.