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Updated: April 6, 2010 18:28 IST

Notes to ourselves

Neeti Sarkar
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Know Dylan better. Photo: AP
AP Know Dylan better. Photo: AP

With Jamia Milia University all set to include rock legend Bob Dylan's writings in its M.A. English course, the debate rages on whether we should let popular culture into our textbooks

She walked into what we thought would be the average World Lit class until she played us Mark Knopfler's “Heart full of holes” and even had the lyrics projected on the LCD screen before she went on to delve into Jewish writer Elie Wiesel's “Night,” a book that deals with the author's personal account at the concentration camps in Auschwitz.

What Shobhana Mathews, English lecturer at Christ College did was on her own account but now institutions of higher education are actually attempting to bring in pop culture and what was once considered pulp fiction into mainstream literature.

Nationally-renowned Jamia Milia University is all set to include rock legend Bob Dylan's writings in its MA English course. The restructured syllabus will also comprise the works of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amartya Sen, amongst a host of other fiction and non-fiction writings of critically acclaimed authors and essayists.

Give me more

While most students are upbeat about having rock stars and musicians as part of their mundane textbooks, some of those involved in the process of education are wary.

Says Deepa Mathew, a student of literature: “It would be great to study Dylan's lyrics, poetry and life in depth. Though simple, his work is profound. Literature needs to include the work of new-age writers as well.” Priscilla Thomas, a corporate communication executive at Infosys believes: “The literature we studied in college needs some revising. We need to make space for people like Canadian recording artiste Daniel Powter simply because we can relate to people like him better.”

Copywriter and musician Vijay Isaac casts his vote in favour of Dream Theater's John Petrucci who he thinks is “one of the finest musicians the world has ever seen. As far as we're talking harmonies, techniques and proficiency – John Petrucci is someone you'll always want to look up to.

He can shift paradigms at the blink of an eye, one minute he's playing an extremely complex passage, the next an extremely simple one. He is a true genius!” Fifteen-year-old Joshua Samuel feels “It's good to study about great musicians because they have done a lot for the world just like any larger-than-life political leader. Apart from proving to be a source of inspiration for youngsters like us, studying anything related to music would make lessons more interesting and interactive.”

The refreshing change seems to be taking shape already with one of the popular autonomous colleges in the city including acceptance speeches of Nobel Laureates Albert Camus and Alexander Solzhenitsyn in their World Literature paper for those in the BA stream.

According to English teacher Suhasi Ratnam: “Including Dylan's works is a good move as we need to focus on widening the scope and appeal of literature. The only hitch is that lecturers need to do their homework for a change.”

Another professor, Tarana Mohsin, says: “The danger involved in making musicians' works a part of coursework is that other subjects might just get neglected. Our teaching methods would have to change quite drastically. Evaluation of such papers wouldn't be as easy either. Also, the way we see it now, not every university would be ready for a giant leap like this.”

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