What does a literary society do? Others have their task easily cut out: debaters debate, musicians sing, the dramatically inclined act. What do members of a literary society do? Pursue that rare commodity, that most rarefied of entities, literature? Indulge in literary stuff?
But what precisely constitutes literary stuff? Reading and writing? Yes, undoubtedly, but anything more? Is literature all about reading and writing and so should the scope of a literary society be just the encouragement of these activities, reading and writing? But in that case, how different would such an organisation be from a library that houses books and lends them out and, further, encourages borrowers to write about them? And where indeed are these books to be stacked if a literary society was really to function like this?
No, a literary society cannot be just this. Reading and writing should be an important component of what constitutes a literary society, but such an organisation cannot function on that alone. Literature cannot just be about reading and writing – there must be more to it…
Like, for instance, discussions. Talks. Arguments. The interchange of ideas, the flow of ideologies. However much some of us might want it to, literature’s not really isolated from the material conditions which produce it so that an organisation dedicated to literature and so-called literary pursuits should focus on this as well. Apart from encouraging reading and writing, a literary society should also generate discourse on issues topical and otherwise. ‘Topical and otherwise’ because to focus just on what’s contemporary would be to ignore totally all that has been written in previous ages whereas to remain stuck in the past would be to become socially irrelevant. Such a society must strike a balance between that which was and that which is and so determine, or at the very least predict, that which will be.
Which is precisely what we as the Ramjas College Literary Society have endeavoured to do. As publishers of monthly journals we have worked to provide members as well as the student community at large in Ramjas a free and fully unbiased forum for the creative articulation of opinions general and subjective. As organisers of inter-college seminars, workshops and panel discussions we’ve attempted to generate discourse on a wide range of issues.
We started off this year with a three day seminar on Politics in DU. Our own internal elections had already been held earlier in August and the point behind this event, organised as it was in the first week of September, was to reflect on the nature and scope of politics within this University and particularly within this college. Our speakers included Mr. Debraj Mookerjee, ex-Election Officer, Ramjas, Mr. Safwan Amir and Mr. Nayanjyoti, both former Secretaries of the Ramjas Students’ Union and Mr. Manu Pande, then Presidential candidate for the Union elections and now, of course, our successful and much-beloved Union President. Each day concluded with screening of episodes from the series Yes Prime Minister!.
This was followed by a two day in-house seminar on music. Organised in late October and titled Music in Context, this event saw a spectrum of Society members analyse a wide range of genres from a variety of perspectives. Again, the idea here was to see how different types of music reflect, uphold and subvert different types of societal norms and institutions and in critiquing such genres as Country Folk, 80s Rock, Tibetan Folk, 50s and 60s Hindi Cinema, Gothic and Contemporary Bollywood members sought to relate music to the forces which produce it without completely stripping it of the pan-civilisational appeal that it undoubtedly possesses.
Our third major event of the year was a panel discussion organised on the 19th of November. With the overarching theme as The Future of Theatre in India, the panel consisting of Mr Arvind Gaur (Founder, ASMITA), Ms Misha Singh (Director, Black Cow Company) and Ms Kaustubhi Shukla (Member, Lakshya, Kamla Nehru College) deliberated upon theatre’s pertinence as a medium for entertainment as well as social change in twenty-first century India.
The culmination of all our efforts was, of course, our annual festival WORDSMITH. The three-day fest was held from the 3rd to the 5th of February. In addition to competitive events like Creative Writing (bilingual; prose and poetry), Elocution (bilingual) and Literary Quiz that were held over the course of the three days, the fest also saw a Paper Presentation on the theme of Literature and Cities. Additionally, a Panel Discussion and Interactive Discussion on the theme Experiencing Delhi was organised on the second day; the former, a session chaired by Mr. Mukul Manglik, saw Mr Yousuf Sayeed (independent film maker), Mr Anand Taneja (a student perusing his PhD from Colombia University) and Ms Kanika Singh (research scholar in history) put into context the diverse experiences a city with a cultural heritage as rich as Delhi’s provides to those who interact with it.
Of course, in giving this catalogue of events we cannot forget the innumerable meetings and reading sessions we’ve had over the year. Much of what we do and stand for lies not as much as in these inter-college events and competitions as in these simple meetings wherein we just thrash out issues from almost all possible angles. After all, literary criticism is not just the reserve of high brow seminars and panels and in decentring it so we’ve only sought to further democratise the way everyday people conceptualise, encounter and, so, finally produce literature. Our blog (http://ramjaslitsoc.blogspot.com/) is a particularly emphatic step in this direction.
The journey has been particularly remarkable so far. In the four short years of its existence, this Society has seen umpteen changes and reforms. While we got a more or less stable structure last year, this session saw us get orphaned in face of the Staff Council’s inability to get together a functional ECAC. Internally, the problem of language also remains: while we are undoubtedly bilingual, we speak and write the way we do because this is the language of our lived experience, the language we’re most comfortable in. This perhaps is symptomatic of a larger misconception, that as a Society we’re a branch of the Department of English – while we undoubtedly owe a lot to that in terms of both origin and infrastructure, yet we cater to a bigger audience than that limited by it. That this audience is not as forthcoming as we’d like it to be is a fallout both of the way we’re generally conceived as well as the way we work.
What is needed, therefore, is further decentralisation and democratisation of the way we function. We already have a precedent of office bearers from non-language departments so at that basic level our Staff Advisor in the years to come too can be any enthusiastic person from any other department. Then again, considering the recent spurt in creative writing magazines in Ramjas our successors will have to innovate in order to keep this Society relevant to as much of this college as possible. Just as literature and literary norms keep changing, so do we as a literary society need to constantly redefine the way in which literature is produced and explored in Ramjas College.
What had started off grandly as a group of fifty members has come down to a small yet efficient team of twenty. In this, if we were to look for it, none of us would really qualify as an imagined literary archetype: be it painting, singing, debating or dancing, all of us have something or the other which keeps us from the ideal. The way we look at it, this is more a cause of celebration than dismay: in the ultimate analysis, instead of being the fruition of the narrow pursuit of some Holy Grail literature in this increasingly fragmented world is the culmination of engagement with life in all its multiplicity. As a Society with no specific talent than the painstakingly cultivated power to write, spell and speak, we revel in this multiplicity and hope that it will continue to characterise the way we function in the years to come.