Chaudhuri wants more attention to be paid to discourse on the humanities across the country

He is a popular and critically acclaimed novelist and essayist, whose books have won him the Sahitya Akademi Award and Commonwealth Writers' Prize. In addition, he is an accomplished Hindustani classical singer, a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a professor of contemporary literature at the University of East Anglia, the U.K. Small wonder that the person who introduced Amit Chaudhuri at the launch of the Bangalore Ideas Forum (BIF) remarked, “It is amazing that a person can pack so much into one lifetime.”

An unassuming gentleman with a fine sense of humour, Chaudhuri, who abhors the title professor, delivered an illuminating and intriguing lecture, which lasted over an hour on ‘The origins of dislike: a genealogy of writerly discontent' at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) recently.

This was the inaugural BIF lecture.

Rooted in Indian cities

Responding to a question on how a person who grew up in a large and busy city such as Mumbai now lives in a relatively smaller and quieter town, Chaudhuri said, “While silence is necessary to think, listen and write, I also find it stifling. In India, the self does not concentrate on one thing completely.”

The author has visited Bangalore on previous occasions in connection with his musical concerts and lectures but has not penned anything on this city so far. Yet, he said he was fascinated by the metropolis and its transformation from a quiet Cantonment. “I envy this city for having spaces like the NGMA that promote the arts.”

Support for humanities

Earlier, Chaudhuri spoke about the dominance of subjects relevant to history and the social sciences in the anglophone discourse in India over the last three decades.

Reiterating the need to give importance to all aspects of the humanities, including literature and liberal arts, he observed that there was too much emphasis on the nation state. “Is it not possible to have a conversation about a work of art or piece of music created here without referring to India?” the author wondered.

Chaudhuri noted that Bangalore suffered from a lack of forums that respect the humanities. “But this happens in other parts of India too.” Initiatives such as BIF must address this problem, he said. According to the novelist, there is not enough discussion or writing about art or the history of art.

Musician and writer

When asked about why he did not refer much to his music during his talk, Chaudhuri replied, “Even though a lot of my writing is about sounds and listening, when I write, I do not remember that I am a musician and vice versa.”

As a trained classical vocalist, Chaudhuri continues to perform to great reception in India and abroad with his jazz band.

His book On Tagore: Reading The Poet Today was brought out recently.

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