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A labour of love

Kalyani Vallath: the enclyopaedia can be used by anybody interested in English literature. Photo: H. Vibhu  

Dr. Kalyani Vallath has already spent over 5,000 hours of her life on her passion. More hours are lined up, she says. The English teacher who runs her institute, Total English Solutions in Thiruvananthapuram, which offers coaching for advanced studies in English literature, embarked on an unusual mission a little after she started her institute in 1998—bring out an encyclopaedia of English literature.

The first two of the seven-volume Contemporary Encyclopaedia of British Literature are ready, the first one all set for printing. The 250-page volume can be used not just by students of English literature, but anybody who is interested in the history of English literature. Kalyani’s encyclopaedia does not intimidate with unending paragraphs of grey text. It is interspersed with pictures and subject, neatly divided into sections, has been presented as points with subheads. “I call it a post-modernist approach to an encyclopaedia,” says Kalyani, who wants to question the traditional teaching methodology by making the learning process more interactive.

Designed in a condensed, fragmentary form, Kalyani says, the encyclopaedia would empower ordinary students to learn on their own. It includes relevant pictures, references to pop culture, film adaptations, jokes, gossip and even YouTube links. “I believe active learning happens in this way,” she says.

A chunk of the material came from the compilation of Kalyani’s own power-point presentations she used for her regular classes at the institute. “These presentations were put together by a collective effort. I usually invite suggestions from my students during such presentations.” The work for the encyclopaedia had to be done after class hours, as Kalyani would be at the institute for five to six hours.

“I would sit through the night and write. And the editing process was continuous.” Then there were technical niggles such as copyright issues, concerning the pictures, to be sorted. But such things did not deter her as the ultimate objective was to reach out to as many people as possible. “This is only a beginning. I want to bring it out as a multimedia package, which will be useful for students all over the world,” she says.

While working on the encyclopaedia, Kalyani was thinking like a student. She spent hours in the library and even made a big library of her own. “It was not enough to just get information and compile it. I had to cross check some of the information taken from the Internet. I can say I have spent quite a few sleepless nights,” she says.

She plans to bring out one volume every year; the skeleton of all the books is ready. Every edition that is released will be revised. Kalyani plans to reach out to all the colleges and the book will also be available on Flipkart.

A recipient of the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute Doctoral Fellowship for research at the University of British Columbia, Canada, Kalyani is the associate editor of Littcrit, a literary journal and has authored over 25 books for students of literature. Kalyani says her dream is to make English Literature studies professional. “There is huge potential in humanities. English literature has now developed into cultural studies and it has grown to be a platform to discuss cultural issues. There are still a considerable number of students who join BA and MA in English, so that means there is still demand for the subject. I feel we should integrate other subjects of humanities into the study of English literature.”

Apart from completing the encyclopaedia (7 volumes), Kalyani plans to work on a dictionary of academic words and bring out books on ‘English for special purposes’ and ‘how to write English literature essays and articles.’ She hopes to open centres of her institute in other parts of the country, too, as many of her students are from outside Kerala.

“My ultimate aim is to start employment schemes for my own students,” she says. The way in which English literature is taught in some States is deplorable, she says, as many students who have MA degrees are not proficient in English.

A Contemporary Encyclopaedia of British Literature is published by Kalyani’s Bodhi Tree Books and Publications and the first volume is expected to be out in the market by August.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 12:20:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/a-labour-of-love/article7361538.ece

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