The School of Letters at Mahatma Gandhi University should have maintained the original vision of being a space for interdisciplinary research and learning, says U. R. Ananthamurthy, renowned author and former Vice-Chancellor of Mahatma Gandhi University, in a telephonic chat with The Hindu.
Could you elaborate on the vision plan for the School of Letters?
The original idea was to combine languages and develop an interdisciplinary agenda for literary and cultural studies. I wanted to project the rich streams of Kerala’s literature before the world through the school. The proposal was to offer M. Phil and PhD programmes. I never wanted to start with M.A. programmes, as there were many institutions offering similar courses. I wanted everything to go to a research degree.
What are your memories of the formative years of the school?
People like the late renowned poet K. Ayyappa Panicker helped me build the institution by contributing several ideas. I wanted K. Satchidanandan to lead the school. But he was not willing to take up any job at that time. G. Sankara Pillai, who was the first director, was a committed academic. I thought drama should be part of the interdisciplinary perspective of the school. Prof. Pillai suggested Prof. Narendra Prasad, who was vocal, intelligent. But he later left the school for television. Despite various constraints, I kept trying and was not defeated [in establishing the school].
Do you think that the school could not fulfil its original objectives, with the focus shifting to study of individual languages?
That should not have happened. My idea was to combine languages so that teachers could benefit out of this interdisciplinary approach. For instance, a Malayalam faculty member could do a paper on western aesthetics while a teacher of English could come up with a work on eastern aesthetics. People should have looked at the overall development of the school and its objectives rather than focussing on individual projects. But even then we did a good job. It’s a fact that universities in Kerala are often troubled by political interventions. Many of them are not for deeper purposes but built on flimsy grounds. Kerala is above average in its academic and literary capabilities and I feel that the school can still take off, as planned.