Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Event: Curious tidbits from "Science Fiction: Past, Present, & Future", Benaras, India - 10-14 November 2008

All from the event report by Professor Sagarmal Gupta [via Arvind Mishra]:

  1. "a puppet show on SF story of Zeashan H Zaidy was presented by Arshad Umar, a puppeteer from Lucknow." Updated 20 November 2008: Based on Zeashan's drama "बुड्ढा फ्यूचर" (tr "Aged Future").

    Now that would be an Indian twist. I still have vivid memories of the only one puppet show I ever saw live - an open air performance by a street performer who set up shop for an evening near my home when I was still a child. They are, of course, not uncommon on TV in India, & are supposed to be popular in rural areas. So here's a handle on taking science fiction to rural audiences!

    I don't recall having seen any other mentions of a puppet show based on science fiction stories. Is a video of the show available?
  2. 'Dr. Arvind Dubey, a pediatrician by profession and sf buff, ... rejected the view that Mary Shelley 's "Frankenstein" is the first SF in English. According to him Lucian's "True Story" (2nd Century A.D.) and Kepler's "Somnium" (1634) are the best contenders to be first S.F.'

    I'd heard of Lucian's story but not Kepler's; may be it's time to read them. Former was easy to locate online. I suppose later one would be online too, but its text didn't appear among the first few entries returned by google.
  3. "Amit Sarwal emphasized the need for curriculum development in SF in the literature classroom at undergraduate level by the UGC and hoped for grants to publish critical books on SF in order to equip teachers to teach this new subject."

    I was fortunate enough to never have to study in a university where UGC's centrally designed courses are mandatory, & actually have a low opinion of things central. But this view that center has experts to design things & the folks at local level can only follow is probably not uncommon through much of India; one of the cords we need to cut to up the level of many a university. Not likely anytime soon though, unless there is an education liberalization like the economic one.

    "grants to publish critical books on SF in order to equip teachers to teach this new subject.": Taxpayer's grants for this kind of activities is another thing that makes me see red. But its probably common throughout the world, & not just in India. May be I would see things differently if I were an academic stuck in some funless university...

    In any case, I think we probably want more writers & readers at grassroots level. University courses on the subject are probably less important. But that's a non-academic speaking.
  4. "Tom Stoppard's Hapgood and Arcadia": I'd never heard of this. Google search shows they're two plays rather than one story (my initial impression!) - "Arcadia" (1993) & "Hapgood". Because they're recent, neither seem to be available online.
Update 20 November 2008: Zeashan has a series of 3 (as of now) posts on the event (all in Hindi).


Arvind Mishra said...

A thought provoking good analysis Tinkoo !
I am afraid perhaps there was no recording of the show ...but let me enquire it with Zeashan .But we could have more of it since a beginning has been made ! Your stand is right that it could lure rural audience !

amit said...

A clarification:
The UGC does not design the syllabi of any university, central or otherwise. It is simply a fund giving agency, as is clear from its very name, and also carries out some other important responsibilities like quality control and maintaining a broad uniformity among the degree courses made available throughout the country. For example, it will make sure that no university starts awarding a graduation degree for a one year course instead of 3, 4 or 5 or whatever the requirements of that course. Each university makes its own decisions regarding what it wishes to teach. The flexibility or rigidity of the curriculum is also in the hands of the particular university (and as an academic it would be my dearest dream come true if there is an “education liberalization” as you call it, in Indian universities). Second, the UGC does not have any academic experts to force curricula on institutions. What it does have, is the power to make important decisions regarding which areas of research need to be supported, encouraged, and funded. So all I am saying is that if, for example, Delhi University has decided to include SF in its course, then its teachers should be equipped to teach the subject well (and that’s where UGC funds are needed) and other universities may be encouraged to follow suit (by the simple fact that UGC is supporting research in the field).

If you are suggesting that the Taxpayers’ money should not be used to run literature departments because literature has no utility for the public, well then one can only be thankful that the government doesn’t share this worldview. However, if you meant that it is alright to give out hundreds of grants for seminars on Shakespeare and Dickens but not for critical books on SF, then that’s exactly what I was arguing against in my paper.

And just for fun, try asking some SF writer, “Do you know that your story xyz has been prescribed in such and such school/university?” and the look on his/her face would be an interesting reply regarding readership.

Tinkoo said...

Amit - thanks for clarifying the role of UGC. I'll respond to other points in a day or two - for the moment, am too distracted by terror attacks in the city.