IV National Symposium: “What is Indian Knowledge Good for,” 25 October 2013

Sheldon at the Symposium

Sitanshu Yashaschandra

 The presentations in the Symposium used Professor Sheldon Pollock’s ideas expressed in the Lecture, “What is Indian Knowledge Good for” as a launch pad to explore the idea of Indian knowledge with reference to a wide variety of interlinked discursive domains of language, literature, disciplines, technology, pedagogy, and also life worlds involving social divisions and rituals. Professor Sitanshu Yashaschandra traced an epistemological trajectory from the regional to ‘Indian’ using the metaphors of dialogue, travel, and translation in his lecture, “Indian Modes of Memory: Focus on (Re)presentation of the Past(s) in Gujarati Literature.” He examined the complex historicity and socio-cultural implications of ‘texts’ and ‘contexts’ in the region of Gujarat . With a poet’ keen insight and sensitivity, Professor Yashaschandra spoke about the regional versions of Sanskrit texts, song traditions and spread of ideas to affirm how necessary it is to travel, translate and dialogue in and across cultures. The discussion after his presentation probed deep into these metaphors.

D. Venkat Rao

It is necessary to understand social divisions not merely as systems of oppression and exploitation, but also as micro systems facilitating specialized knowledges and skills, observed Dr. Venkat Rao from the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad in his erudite presentation “Mneme, Genos and the Formations of Indian Reflective Traditions: Towards Critical Humanities.” His interpretation of Indian knowledge in the context of critical humanities deftly incorporated a critique of prejudiced colonial projections and representations. The visuals used in the presentation illustrated the unique right and access to knowledge pertaining to certain jatis conventionally perceived as ‘downtrodden.’ Dr. Rao spoke at length about the projects undertaken by his students to locate and document art forms, songs, narrative practices, folklore and skills linked to jatis in Andhra Pradesh. His presentation gave rise to questions and deliberations on the issues related to curriculum, role of universities and research centres.

E.V. Ramakrishnan

In the post-lunch session, , Central University of Gujarat, explored social discourse and epistemological practices that could be undertaken by ‘public’ and ‘organic’ intellectuals. His views on the ‘intellectual’ expanded beyond the Gramscian, Sartrean and Foucauldian conceptual frameworks and challenged the familiar notions about what is understood as ‘academic’ or ‘scholarly’ in common parlance. Professor Ramakrishnan montaged the lives and works of Joseph Mundassery, Kuttikrishna Marar, Kesari Balakrishna Pillai, M. Govindan and Sukumar Azheekode from Kerala to construct a unique socio-discursive canvas on which ideology, activism, literary sensibilities and political power of the intellectual converge and disperse simultaneously. These Malayali scholars-activists-literary critics-political figures defy classification and that becomes the hallmark of their function as academic-organic-public intellectuals. Questions after the session titled “Problematics of Regional/ National in the Indian Context” hovered around the impossibility of defining and classifying an intellectual based on the narrow concerns of region, language and ideology.

Bharani Kollipara

Bharani Kollipara from Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar made a presentation that delved deep into the notions of tradition and discipline. He observed that in the last four decades, there has been a steady growth of interest in the Greek Antiquity, not so much as a period which can sustain extensive historical and philosophical interests, but as a period the intellectual resources of which are potentially capable of addressing the problems unleashed by modernity. In the light of this, he posed the following questions: what enabled the modern philosophical temperament to look toward the Greeks? And can similar reasons apply to any effort that we would make to reconnect with the Indian antiquity? His argument was that to be able to answer these questions, we need to understand that traditions and disciplines, which become embedded in a particular social order as repositories of rational inquiries, often share a largely commensurate vocabulary and substantive theoretical goals. He emphasized that any attempt to re-connect with a tradition, or traditions, which are either lost or on the wane, would amount to coming to terms with the remains of those traditions, in whatever the form they are obtained, i.e. robust or frayed.

Mandakini Jha

Mandakini Jha’s paper presentation, “‘Is There an Indian Way of Thinking’ Re-Visited” was a stimulating inquiry into the history of the attempts to define or confine ‘Indian Sociology.’ In the light of A. K. Ramanujan’s essay and contributions by Indian sociologists, she argued that ‘Indian Sociology’ has an ambivalent derivative-original approach to the knowledge about ‘Indian’ society. We cannot simplistically understand this issue based on cliché criticisms or unrealistic ambitions such as ‘it is not appropriate to use Western theory to understand Indian life worlds’ or ‘we must invent an indigenous theory.’ Disciplinarity is a much more complex epistemological phenomenon, concluded Ms. Jha, Department of Sociology, M. S. University , Baroda .

C.N. Ajith

Ajith C. N. from the Society for Innovation and Development, Indian Institute of Science, in his thought provoking presentation, “[Indian] Knowledge: Thoughts from a Technologist” spoke from the experience of working as an educationist with an Institute that focuses mainly on science and technology. With anecdotes and analysis of the views of educationists, he touched upon matters such as curriculum, and classroom practices. He reflected on the politics of determining ‘what is worth knowing’ and its association with ‘employability.’ Ajith opined that before we design a policy for facilitating studies and researches in “Indian knowledge,” such factors surrounding knowledge need to be taken into account. Knowledge and information do not exist in a state cut off from their context(s), he reminded.

Sheldon Pollock listened to all the papers and made several scholarly interventions. At the end of the Symposium, he remarked that he is fed full of the food for thought after listening to the scholars from India . According to Dr. Pollock, the Symposium acted as a catalyst for a reexamination of his own ideas on ‘Indian knowledge.

Bini B.S. Academic Fellow of the Centre