Indian literature has much stronger sense of rain and dryness, says Harvard varsity academician

Writers in India are attuned to monsoons and their patterns, according to Sarah Dimick

September 27, 2022 09:56 pm | Updated September 28, 2022 01:48 am IST - Chennai

Sarah Dimick, Assistant Professor of English, Harvard University Centre for the Environment, during an interview on Tuesday.

Sarah Dimick, Assistant Professor of English, Harvard University Centre for the Environment, during an interview on Tuesday. | Photo Credit: S.R. RAGHUNATHAN

The subject of climate change gets invariably associated with scientists, economists and engineers. But, there are more questions regarding climate change which fall within the realm of humanities. People’s hopes and fears in this regard are better captured in literature, says Sarah Dimick, an academician from Harvard University.

Emphasising the importance of the role of literature in the larger area of environmental studies, Dr. Dimick, who is in Chennai as part of her book project on climate and literature, says there are creative works that throw light on how people navigate during moments of climatic stress. She also refers to the emergence of a new branch of work which is called “climate fiction” or “cli fi”.  

The academician, who is an assistant professor of English and affiliated with the Harvard University Centre for the Environment, has covered five Indian works - two novels of Amitav Ghosh, ‘The Great Derangement’ and ‘Gun Island’, ; Prayaag Akbar’s ‘Leila’ and Ashokamitran’s ‘Water’ (originally written in Tamil - Thanneer), apart from Abhay K.’s work of poetry, ‘Monsoon’ as part of her study.    

She has, in her research, generally chosen the works originally written in English, barring ‘Water’. Among works of other regions in the world being covered by her are those of the U.S., Australia and Pacific Islands.

Talking of Indian literature and writers, Dr. Dimick says that compared to literature of other regions, Indian literature has a “much stronger sense” of rain and dryness. “Writers here are attuned to monsoons and their patterns. A real awareness of climate comes through in Indian literature, and I think other regions in the world can learn a lot from Indian climate writing.”

Delving into the matter further, she points out that a lot of writing considered environmental in the U.S. is based in the countryside or at the woods or in the mountains. It is not about what the environment looks like in cities whereas, in India, there are so many stories that are set within large metropolitan areas. Writers and characters are really thinking about what the environment and climate look like and feel like within cities, “which is so crucial,” the academician observes. 

Broadly, there are two categories of writing on climate change. While one deals with terrible and dramatic events, another discusses adaptability and survival. Indicating her preference for the latter, she says she is more interested to know how writers are trying to figure out the best ways to live within climate change.

Acknowledging that each place is unique and its literature has its own sense of climate, Dr. Dimick says that, at the same time, there are interesting similarities such as fires in Australia and in the U.S. They require to be studied together and that is why a global scale study assumes importance, Dr Dimick adds.

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