John Muthyala talks about the need for dialogue on humanities through his book ‘Dwelling in American’

On a balmy August morning, John Muthyala is addressing students of M.Phil and Ph.D in one of the lecture halls of the sprawling English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) campus. The guest lecture on globalisation, as an off shoot of his new book Dwelling in American: Dissent, Empire and Globalization, marks his return to the campus after 22 years.

John Muthyala pursued his M.Phil from Osmania University and had many friends at the time in EFLU (formerly CIEFL) campus. He moved to Chicago in 1992 to pursue a Ph.D programme and is now a professor of English at the University of Southern Maine. Dwelling in American is his second book, following Reworlding America: Myth, History and Narrative.

During his brief visit to Hyderabad, he engages the students in a dialogue quite effortlessly, sharing his observations on IT and ITES (IT Enabled Service) sectors. Post the session, in an interview with MetroPlus, the author confesses, “Put me in a classroom and I am happy. I thrive in discussions with students. But now, I am going to be entering a risky territory.” The risky territory, here, is a scheduled session with employees of Hitachi.

If you wonder why an academician, that too from the English department, is drawn towards humanities and discusses identity conflicts of call centre employees in his book, he says, “Humanities — which broadly includes arts, language, history, religion, philosophy, anthropology and literature — has been marginalised.” This book is his effort at making the humanities relevant in public arena.

Dwelling in American is a product of seven-year long research. The book was born out of the need to firmly establish his worth in academic circles but the author hopes that his work reaches out to public domain. Explaining why the book was necessary for his academic progress, Muthyala says, “In the US, one gets hired as an assistant professor and is due for assessment after six to seven years, by which time one has to prove his/her worthiness. My first book was during my first tenure and then I began work on my second one.”

He wanted to move beyond the traditional sub disciplines of English literature — composition, critical theory, creative writing etc — and look at humanities. “My university gives me a lot of flexibility to explore new areas. I have had the chance to observe the IT sector and call centres quite closely to analyse their impact on society,” he says. The book also examines the writings of Arundhati Roy, Azar Nafisi and Thomas L. Friedman among others.

During his visit to Hyderabad a few years ago, Muthyala and late professor Isaac Sequeira drew up a proposal for a UGC grant, so that they could arrange a series of workshops on IT sector. Unfortunately that didn’t materialise after the demise of Sequeira.

Dwelling in American released barely a couple of weeks ago and Muthyala is awaiting the rigorous reviews of his peers. Meanwhile, he also travelled to Bangalore and observed to his surprise that most IT employees in Bangalore had read Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat unlike their counterparts in North East America.