Reading for reading’s sake

The fourth season of the World Literature Workshop is all set to commence this Saturday. It is a good opportunity for all those interested in literature.
Representative Image
Representative Image

HYDERABAD: Delving into literature might have been a solitary pursuit in the past but in the event of the pandemic that forcibly put us in confinement reminded us of the goodness of interactions, the thrill of discussing our favourite works, authors and characters and the connections forged based on these discussions.

Dr Surendra Singh Negi, Assistant Professor at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) has been running a ‘social experiment’ of sorts for the past three years, with his ‘World Literature Workshop’. He brings together people from different backgrounds who have an interest in Latin American literature and provides them with a platform to read and share their thoughts with other literature enthusiasts.

The fourth season of the workshop will kick off on Saturday, May 18 at 6:30 pm, with a focus on significant but not very popular texts in Latin American literature. The previous three seasons were online. This one is even more interesting as each session will be planned at a different venue across the city.

The most interesting part of this 12-week-long workshop is the anonymity, where the participants neither know the real names and professions of other people in the group, nor the titles and authors of the texts they discuss.

“The whole idea started sometime during the pandemic. Once a group is formed, I share the texts with them without revealing the name of the author or the country, so that the reading is not biased and doesn’t come with any baggage. When you look at the cover page of any important work, the moment you see that a big name, it affects your perspective.

When we remove all of that and simply engage with the text, people come up with so many original ideas and thoughts. It’s a close reading kind of experience where people do not have any preconceived notions about the reading. They express their views freely. It’s a thrilling experience for the participants, I must say,” Dr Negi said.

It’s only towards the end of the workshop, i.e. on the last day, that the names of the authors and the titles of the works are shared with the group. Dr Negi also observed when people don’t know the names or professions of the participants, they express themselves without hesitation. The plurality of the group is kept intact by enrolling participants from different walks of life like doctors, lawyers, teachers, poets, novelists, and even bureaucrats.

“We were a small group of 11 members, meeting every Saturday evening, discussing pieces of Latin American literature, its culture, recurrent themes, form and its native sensibilities. We were an assorted group comprising people from Hyderabad, Chennai, Trichy, Vizag, New York, etc. We understood what it meant to have that zest for literature, regardless of our disciplines. As an English language and literature major and an English tutor, I got inspiration from my co-participants from other fields—script writing, dentistry, government bureaucracy, etc,” said Srivarshini, a writer from Trichy.

She highlighted that the anonymity helped her in her writing process. “I was working on my novel then—The Surreal Surrender, which got published sometime after the workshop. This helped with the characterisation of my novel because anonymity prods you further. When you don’t know who the person is, it helps you come up with your own version of who the character can be and it worked for me in the process of my writing,” she said.

In the past three seasons, the number of applicants has varied, at times even touching as high as 150. However, for this season, the idea is to have a group of 20 people.

“It was around June 2021 that we had this workshop. Amidst the claustrophobia of the lockdown, starving for some human interactions, I decided to participate in it. I registered via mail and one fine evening Prof Negi called me up, asking a few questions regarding my concept of world literature. It was more of an intellectual interaction than a formal interview.

I had a great experience and loved how we all took up different authors’ names and Prof Negi himself was Manto. We still call him Manto. It was an impersonal space, with no fear of judgment, where we could share our understandings and opinions of different literary texts,” said Ria Munshi, a lecturer of English Literature in Kolkata, while sharing her experience of the workshop.

Concluding, Dr Negi emphasised that the objective of the workshop is not to provide a theoretical framework or an academic reading, but “to share the idea that reading is not always a solitary activity. One can also read and talk about it with fellow readers and see how the perspective evolves. In the last few years, reading has become an important activity in India.

This whole phenomenon of bestsellers has been there for many years now. Several authors are projected as big-time best-sellers and writers despite the poor quality of their writing. This community experiment is a world beyond these bestsellers, books which are there on the shelves at the airport and fancy stores.”

Those interested in the workshop can register through this link:

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The New Indian Express