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Special Articles on Translation as Conversation Sankalapuram Nagarajan (1929 – 2014)

Journal of Contemporary Thought

2013 (Winter)


Published By

Forum on Contemporary Theory, Baroda &

Frank W. and sue mayborn school oF Journalism,

University of North Texas, Denton

in collaboration With International Lincoln Center,

Louisiana State University, Shreveport, USA

Global South Cultural Dialogue Project


Edited by

PraFulla C. Kar

Special Articles on Translation as Conversation

Sankalapuram Nagarajan (1929 – 2014)

And we forget because we must

And not because we will.

– Matthew Arnold, “Absence.”

One feature of the modern sensibility is... the idea that what has

been forgotten is what forms our character, our personality, our


– Ian Hacking, “Memory Sciences, Memory Politics” (70)


Educated at Mysore, Nagpur, and Harvard, S. Nagarajan began teaching

English at an early age. His career started in Amravati and Bangalore (1948–

1953) but he later became an Assistant Professor in Jabalpur (? 1953–1961).

The then-Madhya Pradesh government insisted that all its employees pass

a basic literacy test in Hindi, a directive that caused him some hardship.

Nagarajan was however happy to leave his job for higher studies in the

United States. The US Fellowship, again, was hard-won, considering

Nagarajan’s insistence that he would accept it on condition that he be

permitted to work on a topic of his choice, viz., Shakespeare’s Problem

Plays, an insistence the Fulbright Foundation found rather difficult to

respect initially, given their commitment to promoting the study of

American literature and culture in India. Nagarajan’s repeated appearance

before the Foundation to explain his ideas not only won him the coveted

Smith-Mundt-Fulbright Scholarship (1958–60) and the Harvard University

Fellowship (1959– 60) but strengthened his life-long commitment to the

profession of English and American Studies in India, both specialties which

he pioneered and propagated in at least two leading Indian Universities for

more than three decades.

On his return from the US, Nagarajan joined the Poona University

English Department (Reader, 1961–64; Professor, 1964–77). He laid the

foundation for a full-fledged postgraduate research Department of English

at Poona and continued to be the ex officio Chair of its Board of Studies until

1977 and coordinated the English-teaching activities of its affiliated centres

and colleges for well over a decade. He was also the first Coordinator of

Summer Intensive Courses for English teachers (that somewhat forerun

the present Refresher Courses in the Academic Staff Colleges) for which

he sought funding from the American and British cultural agencies in

India. Among his other memorable contributions of those years include the

introduction of research in American, Indian-English, and Commonwealth

Literatures and Critical Theory; and the regular monitoring of updated

catalogues in the Humanities and the acquisition of cutting-edge books and

journals for the Jayakar Library. Very few students in India know that the

first dissertation on an Indian English topic and the most influential first

book on Indian English fiction were written under his supervision (in the

late 60’s/early 70’s) in Poona by Paul C. Verghese and Meenakshi Mukherjee

respectively. C. D. Narasimhaiah of Mysore University and Nagarajan

organized the first conference on Indian and Australian literatures under

the auspices of the ICSSR and edited its papers. They were also the

founding directors of the American Studies Research Centre in Hyderabad

(now called the Osmania University Centre for International Programmes).

Among his many academic honours, Nagarajan prized most his Clare

Hall Visiting Fellowship at Cambridge University (1987). The following

year, Clare Hall elected him a Life Member, a rare honour because the

membership was sponsored by the Estate of Professor I. A. Richards whose

special lectures Nagarajan had attended during the professor’s Harvard

visit in the early 60’s. Other honours had preceded Clare Hall – the

Fellowship of Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington D.C.; Leverhulme

Fellowship at the Australian National University, Canberra; Staff Fellowship

of the Association of Commonwealth Universities at the University of

Edinburgh; and the National Fellowship of the UGC, India. An unusually

incisive scholar and commentator, Nagarajan excelled in philological and

interpretive scholarship at once, a sampling of which would include his

masterful Signet Classic edition of Measure for Measure (1964; rev. 1990), and

his essays and notes in such esteemed journals as Shakespeare Quarterly,

Essays in Criticism, Ariel, The Sewanee Review, Modern Fiction Studies,

Comparative Literature, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, College English,

Notes & Queries, American Transcendental Quarterly, World Literature Today,

The Arnoldian, etc. His papers have been widely cited and indexed in all the

Humanities Indices and reviews of English scholarship across the world.



Long before the English-in-India hands got going on its polemical

history, traditions and practice, Nagarajan wrote and lectured on

this subject through the mid-70’s, culminating in his much-cited and

controversial valedictory address at Poona University while relinquishing

his Chair in 1977. That address became the draft of his “Decline of English

in India: Some Historical Notes” (1981) excerpts and versions of which

later appeared in several Indian periodicals, and has ever since remained

central to our arguments for and against its thesis. To have initiated such

a discussion, and sustained it for well over three decades, is no vanity. He

was writing at a time when English was being reconfigured as a language,

discipline of thought, and an academic subject proffering supple confusions

of commitment to its students in most postcolonial centres and Englishspeaking

countries. Apart from enabling us to see that our departments

still do not seem to have reasons more compelling than T. B. Macaulay’s

to fashion an English curriculum for a country that badly needs courses

and programmes that would prepare young people to meet the challenges

of a new world and century, Nagarajan’s “Historical Notes” also gestured

toward possibilities within English that contextualized the ideological and

methodological biases it harbours. Wouldn’t the latter, by itself, form the

basis for a new course for advanced students of English? That question

probably prompted him to offer a compulsory course on “The Teaching of

English in India” for the fresh batches of M. Phil./ Ph. D. students at the

University of Hyderabad (UoH), 1986– ’89.




By the time Nagarajan retired from active teaching in 1989, a small

revolution in taste and address was already under way both within the

departments of English and universities across the country. Who hadn’t

either heard, written, or spoken about the university in ruins, inhospitable

academies, and the contest of faculties before they moved on to matters

more pedestrian that cried for urgent attention such as the incrementally

larger student intake every year, poor quality of the intake, faculty attrition

levels, career advancement, ‘functional’ and ‘remedial’ English modules,

API scores, etc.? Even when nothing actually changed the constitution and

constituency of English in India, there always were harbingers of revolution

who imagined communities and were surprised by sin. No one I know

however was disillusioned by English to be fooled even by the illusion of

being disillusioned. Even so, Nagarajan’s view that English in India showed

signs of decline ruffled feathers. Roughly, his decline was taken to mean poor

business, or no business at all, in showrooms where English was displayed

as an exclusive commodity. He was however speaking only for himself, as

one who belonged to a class and generation, to a hyper-degree oral and

literate in equal measure, now unimaginable to most of us. His peers began

reading young, and were nourished by the unusually wide indigenous folk

wisdom, the local narrative traditions, some classical lore, and English – a

heady cocktail of the marga and desi that made A. K. Ramanujan wonder

whether there is (still?) an Indian way of thinking, a uniform civil code of

‘historical sense’ to which the Indians could complacently defer. Nagarajan

was so familiar with the unfamiliar (even of the most bizarre kind) in

cultures so unlike his that, like Ramanujan, he was perfectly at home in the

translated (and so ‘lost’) worlds of demons and gods, supernatural legends

and heroic exploits, spectral and spectatorial objects.1 The mythological rock

upon which such readers built their huts and castles with equal aplomb is

virtually lost to those of us who grew up reading Robert Graves and Joseph

Campbell, and perhaps completely lost now to the later and younger

Wikipedists. Nagarajan’s contemporaries benefited from reading what they

loved reading, or would have read anyway. In the culture of books they

grew up, they sought minimal but generous help from their ever-obliging

mentors who prescribed texts they had always loved for the ‘knowledge’

found essential for “a literary education.” In contrast, our students now

might be building on loose sand, when they are building at all, for if they

do not so much as glance at Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf (2000) in order to

take their spare minds off the Harry Potter series, they will, I hope, realize

in time that a limited imagination is certainly a limitation even for a SAT or




At the UoH, Nagarajan left lasting imprint on systems and matters as

various and demanding as administrative reforms, university governance,

welfare schemes, library management, the professional advancement

and training of teaching and non-teaching employees, bringing within

the ambit of university administration the Campus School, the Day-care

and Health Centres. Equality meant for him, equality of opportunity, a

fair chance to succeed and even excel (for everyone, the teachers and the

taught) in a system that makes human and material resources accessible at

affordable costs for every stakeholder of the university. Equality however

meant nothing, he used to insist, unless quality was pursued by individuals

with equal and sustained rigour. If it was the academy that was responsible

for ensuring equal opportunity for all within its fold, quality ought to be the

prime concern of those of us who would “gladly teach and gladly learn.”2

The Humanities curricular reforms, always uppermost in his mind, were

guided by this principle. So were matters pertaining to such fledgling

centres as the Centre for Comparative Literature (CCL) which he helped

build and nurture through his very last years in the UoH.

Even during the most exacting days he had served as the Dean of the

School of Humanities and Vice Chancellor of the University, Nagarajan was

never known to have reneged on his teaching, missed crucial academic

assignments such as giving lectures as the first UGC National Lecturer in

English, Wilson Philological Lectures at Bombay, the Nag Memorial Lectures

at Banaras Hindu University, the Malegaonkar Lectures on Shakespeare at

Poona besides sending quarterly reports and annual bibliographical input

from India to the International Society of Shakespeare of which he was an

honorary life-member.




It is not unusual for a largely uneducated bureaucracy to wonder

why the English-Philosophy buildings should occupy so much floor-space

and who should pay for their recurrent up-keep costs. The Humanities

are poor earners anyway and ought not to ask for more at least until the

newer Plan period. From what I could gather, Dean Nagarajan had fought

some pitched battles with the UoH administration but never had had to

hurtfully trim his budget or cut back the Humanities spending on books

and periodicals. The advantage, Nagarajan once confided in me, was that

crucial budgetary matters finally ended up on a sensible Scientist’s desk

(as all our Vice Chancellors with the exception of one have been scientists)

where costs will be compared and found still to be on the lower side. After

all, the ‘Unassigned Grants’ upon which so much of our slender Humanities

Wheelbarrow depends bespeak woefully unprofessional planning and

budgeting of precious public money. Good Science/ Sense will not let the

Humanities down, and ask that it play the anachronistically entertaining

clown, unless the Humanists volunteer, as some of them regrettably do,

to play such roles. Who doesn’t love, he used to ask smilingly, a wellcrafted

sentence?3 The one time he seemed to have real trouble as I recall

was in convincing a Humanist Vice Chancellor who asked him why English

continued to subscribe to series that no one read – for example, The Dickensian.

No one but Nagarajan could explain with such astonishing scholarly acuity

the value of this journal in the study of Victorian and Modern societies,

the one continuing well into the other as was evident in the uniformed

query about The Dickensian. The single-author/ single-themed journals, he

reminded us, “were not only on this author or that theme but on a world

in which they lived and flourished, on the circumambient relations and

receptions of which readers would otherwise be unaware.” I am not sure

the Benthamite obstructionists ever understand the simple logic that while

it might be smart to make the academy account for what it spends, it is plain

silly to give it nothing to account for. Students of English at Hyderabad are

still brought up to deal with such stringent conditions but yield first-rate

work, comparable in quality and scope to the best of other disciplines.



Nagarajan has written on his first exposure to comparative studies

involving literatures, societies and religious matters in Daniel Ingalls’s

Sanskrit classes at Harvard during the late 1950s. “It was not only nostalgia

but a natural inclination that prompted me to take courses on Religion

and Literature in Sixteenth-century England,” observes Nagarajan in fond

reminiscence, “Meditative Poetry (with David Perkins), Burke and Johnson

(with Walter Jackson Bate), Nature and Grace in English Poetry (with

Herschel Baker) and of course Shakespeare (with Alfred Harbage).”4 In an

official record of his curricular life he had once submitted to the Personnel

Section of the UoH, Nagarajan mentions no modern Indian language as

his, but counts Sanskrit among the “classical” languages known to him. I

have often been intrigued by the isolated superiority of this comparatist

who spoke at least two South Indian languages with ease (Kannada and

Telugu) and managed to speak some Hindi, but never feeling comfortable

enough to read or write any of the modern Indian languages, and still

seemed quite at home in pursuing comparative studies in English. The CCL

at the UoH owes its first reading list and courses to Nagarajan’s enviable

command of the discipline and his vision of its progress in the present

century. Was he not in some sense anticipating and functioning within the

translation zone of Emily Apter’s formulation where failure, disruption, and

the misery of communication affects those who have either no language of

their own or the languages of translation do not reach them in good time?

Did not this zonal habitus of sorts make him somewhat of the unassimilable

stranger (in such radically dissimilar locales as Mysore, Amravati, Jabalpur,

Harvard, Poona, Hyderabad, Mauritius...) that he was? I have known no

other teacher of comparative literature in India evolve as critically sensitive

a curriculum as Nagarajan’s – a curriculum for the initiates that sought to

pre-empt groundless comparisons, those predictable equations between

South Asian modes and genres that ground the figures in an English

vacuum. At any rate, Nagarajan’s courses served as a prophylactic against

sloppy reading and sloppier conclusions cub-comparatists are prone to

upon first looking into a translation. In the initial round of CCL Board

of Studies meetings to which I was a reluctant conscript in the late ’80s, I

recall Nagarajan explain patiently to his colleagues from the departments

of Hindi, Telugu, Urdu, Applied Linguistics and Translation Studies (whose

help he had solicited every semester to run the Centre’s programmes) that

the grounds of comparison (pace Harry Levin) ought to be transparent in

the methods and materials we harnessed in comparison. Stationed among

the Indian languages of great discrepancy, he was the only full-time teacher

at the Centre wholly responsible for the pre-doctoral M. Phil. and Ph. D.

programmes to which annual admissions had been mandatory. I do not

think anyone appreciated his single-minded devotion to the task at hand

– designing and managing to keep the coursework going semester after

semester; teaching English-in-Comparison-and-Comparison-in-English to

students whose basic skills in their languages (and English in particular)

were quite below par. In one of those meetings, I once distinctly heard

him say, for want of a plainer word, nirddaksinya (without the faintest

compunction) that epitomised both his vexation and commitment, hardly

ever appreciated by his colleagues in English or the bhasa. As it happened,

his Sanskrit, not his learned English, effortlessly crossed difficult borders

and closed wide gulfs of incomprehension.




In an inconclusive discussion I had once begun with Nagarajan in

the mid-90’s, I discovered that he never thought of Culture as Anarchy’s

simplistic antithesis, or as the inevitable alternative in Matthew Arnold’s

fancy, but as one feeding the other by way of routine subsistence, or even

sustenance. Read in that shrewdly dialectical light, Culture and Anarchy has

sometimes struck me as a prose-villanelle of sorts, somewhat recursive

and iterative of the Culture whose loss it mourns, while denying the loss it

mourns by confronting the Anarchy that affirms it.5 This Arnoldian classic

was not to be seen for the putative elitism it canvasses in a stingy monistic

view (one which Nagarajan was so keen to correct and I would readily

endorse by citing close parallels from Ezra Pound’s Guide to Kulchur) but for

seriously debating and reformulating its assumptions in cultures that must

not only tolerate but welcome and protect strangers’ explicit minoritarian

or native regionalisms. This discussion in some ways explained Nagarajan’s

interest in the Kathakali Shakespeares of which he grew so fond during

our conversations. Indeed his curiosity even extended to chutti, the highly

Sankalapuram Nagarajan (1929 – 2014) 119

intricate and complicated make-up of the Kathakali artistes whose facial

interpretation of the rasas fascinated him to no end. Would he care to

travel with me to Kerala to watch the Margi or Kalamandalam shows?

He wouldn’t commit but he seemed curious about the Kathakali artistes’

faces, gestures and poses that effortlessly interpreted a whole gamut of

emotions in lengthy silent sequences of dialogue, description, explanation,

and commentary. I would hazard weird guesses in parallels to which he

might easily connect – such as Gordon Craig’s masks – in order to distract

him but he would still be intrigued by Kathakali Shakespeares of which he

had read about in journals. Probably he came very near to admiring the

‘comfort’ the Kathakali actors felt playing Othello and Iago, or, strangely,

the Fool and Poor Tom (in King Lear), a bold step indeed for a ‘small’ culture

to take in order to consort with a ‘big’ one, interpreting anarchy in ways

unforeseen by Arnold. To all this he might have given a tolerant nod, but he

seemed agreeable somehow to the idea that Kathakali parodied the English

stage (in a radical postcolonial gesture?) when I once mentioned to him

that John Russell Brown and Ralph Yarrow among others were great fans

of the Malayali temple-arts and that they marvelled at our native ‘readings’

of the Western stage. One never came away from Nagarajan without seeing

how literature ‘knows,’ and knows deeply – rather, seeing that he had been

there long before we have ever known it.6

In a way this also allowed me to see why Nagarajan worried about

the mismatch between the English curriculum and the postgraduate scene

in India. While his rectitude in such matters restrained him from publicly

airing unpopular views, it certainly commended him to a few of us in the

profession. Nagarajan’s views however were often not heard for what they

really were, or were misheard as betraying his disapproval of, or apathy

towards, the latest fads in pedagogical and cultural theory. No one however

needed to ever seriously doubt where he lived and what he lived for in

matters of serious academic business; he made himself clear in the most

decent ways imaginable in scenarios where it was not uncommon for his

high-minded colleagues to become unrecognizable travesties of themselves.

An earnest questioner and an astute analyst of reasoned arguments,

Nagarajan attended seminars and workshops where an interlocutor’s

elegance and dignity showed most favourably during discussions. I clearly

recall one such at an open forum on Orientalism, probably to mark its tenth

year of publication, organized jointly by the Schools of Humanities and

Social Sciences at the University of Hyderabad. After listening to a handful

of disputatious papers by the younger faculty, he put matters in most

helpful perspective by saying that Edward Said’s book is only beginning to

study the polemics it had then inaugurated, and if one were to go by Said’s

‘political’ scholarship, the rumblings of the debate are unlikely to die away

soon. The Middle East will always be in turmoil for some more decades, and

as long as the turmoil is the politics that gets played out on the various fora

of international relations and cultural studies, the Orientalist theme will

engage literary scholars for a long time indeed. Nagarajan insisted however

that Said, whom he knew personally as his contemporary at Harvard, was

not as radically anti-canonical a scholar as was projected by some panelists

there. His point, unless mistaken once again, was not that Said was not

radical or anti-canonical enough but that his ‘radicalism’ was surely not

of a kind that would remain as such forever to be potentially canonical,

as some discussants seemed dangerously close to suggesting. Of course

anyone who cared to understand Said’s contrapuntal reading beyond mere

glossary descriptions will know from Culture and Imperialism (1994) that

Nagarajan couldn’t have been any fairer or more prescient than that in 1988.




On committees where Nagarajan and I happened to work together, I

had probably been remiss sometimes by keenly observing his ways rather

than attending to our business at hand. He was a peculiar delight to watch

and listen to at interviews (especially when I was not the interviewee)

when he directed some remark or the other, an after-thought perhaps,

at the candidates, when everyone would think that the session had

practically ended. As far as I could recall, his questions were hardly ever

of the information-seeking or superficially-probing kind. They always had

had the ring of observations that relegated simple-minded questions to the

irrelevant margins of future dissertations. For us, at any rate, they afforded

some glimpse of his pedagogical gestures and Socratic poses for which he

was renowned, his ‘strategy’ rather of neither giving away nor holding

back too much by way of ‘guidance’ that he guessed the young scholars

would find anyway on their own. His observations either opened up

stunningly new possibilities or likelier alternatives for all of us to ponder,

or at least enabled us to see the ‘problem’ in a new light altogether. One

example: to a brilliant applicant for M. Phil. whose proposal for collecting

appropriate English texts for working-class children, Nagarajan wondered

what the Bible – better still, the Biblical Blake – thought of children, what

passages from the Wisdom Books she might pick, were she to be offered

that choice. Of course she had not considered this, but she acknowledged

the world of difference the teasing pertinacity of this suggestion had made

to her working habits ever since as a college teacher and a devout Christian.

Nagarajan, to my mind, was that unusual teacher who was capable of

instantly defamiliarizing the scriptures – his style, if you like, of calling

essentialist thinking into question – while still keeping us deeply engaged

with them. At the very least, he might persuade you to revise a lazy thought

or hold it within the firm brackets of clear sense.




Most of us can only marvel at Nagarajan’s scholarly acumen and

pedagogical intent that met each other on perfectly equitable grounds. He

chose for example not to offer tiresome interpretations of Shakespearean

moments and patterns or seek sources far away and long ago to establish

the age of Chaucer’s Clerk. In a deceptively modest (even pedestrian,

if misleadingly titled) essay, “The Teaching of Shakespeare in India,”

Nagarajan once played the proverbial eiron to (what would now appear

to us) the postcolonial alazons by looking at two old colonial ‘projects’ of

oversimplifying and retelling Shakespeare for the benefit of nineteenthcentury

Indian students. The ever-obliging publishers who executed these

‘projects’ were Srinivasa Varadachary and Blackie & Sons. Nagarajan

wouldn’t tell us in so many words that the roots of our “Postcolonial

Melancholia” 7 may be traced to such ‘projects’ of the English teachers of

yore who also set questions for our students that made Shakespeare Indiafriendly

in mind and art. But his painstaking collection and collation of

student-editions of Shakespeare annotated by J. S. Armour and J. H. Stone,

as well as the questions on major Shakespeare texts for the three Presidency,

and the Punjab and Allahabad universities in the nineteenth century are

worth consulting once again if only to reassure ourselves that, pace Auden,

“About suffering they were never wrong/ The Old Masters...”. For the fault

with such benign gestures of colonialism, according to Nagarajan, was not

that some do-gooder editor/publisher had watered down Shakespeare for

our ancestors whose low intellectual equipment was blithely presumed

by them, but that they killed the Indian subjects with too much kindness,

as bombs overkill when dropped. Nagarajan’s essay cites some passages,

among illuminating asides on the profession, to show us that those

English teachers who supplied paraphrases and practically rewrote all

of the well-edited Warwick Shakespeare texts were poor in scholarship

and imagination, pretty much the same thing when it comes to editing

textbooks or setting questions for examinations. “In hundreds of classrooms

in India today,” begins Nagarajan ruefully, “Shakespeare... is perishing –

... for not being understood. But because he is Shakespeare... and we are

Indians – ‘the Hindoo,’ reads the title of a Ramanujan poem, ‘does not hurt

a Fly or a Spider, either’ – he will never wholly die and we shall never kill

him” (1978: 239). He might have equally been outraged by the American

seminars on Othello that drift off inevitably toward the O. J. Simpson case,

a ‘tragedy’ involving a black villain-hero. The essay also reflects on the

harm such models of textbook writing have done to the current crop of

Indian editions that supply us with reach-me-down solutions, not so much

because anyone requires them as because once begun, such practices are

hard to leave undone. No badly edited Shakespeare, alas, was ever banned

in independent India by a Board of Studies on the left or right.

Long before the masks of conquest were ripped off the colonial faces,

Nagarajan had shown us the way to unmask ideologies that purveyed

intellectual nutrition to the Indians at affordable costs, especially to those

who were not quite starving. Only that his example was Shakespeare,

not always considered ‘safe’ by the conformists and rebels alike because

122 Journal of Contemporary Thought

canonical drama, as some of them wrongly believe, cannot always be

harnessed to retail chloroforming ideologies. To Nagarajan this belief

mattered the least, for he was only interested in showing that the Indians

were not compelled to acquire any other education in life or literature than

they wanted, or to acquire it for any other reason than they wanted it. Quite

simply, the intellectual independence of India had very little to do with the

political, a proposition at least as arguable as its opposite. Wouldn’t it be

senseless to count the conspiracies before they are hatched?8




It was indeed a matter of deep regret for him (and huge disappointment

for many scholars oriented towards bibliographical and textual criticism)

that two of Nagarajan’s cherished projects had to be abandoned either

because of official apathy or unavailability of continued financial and

logistical support on which much of his later work depended. The first was

the Union Catalogue Project funded initially by the Government of India’s

Ministry of Education and Culture. At least three years of unremitting hard

work by way of coordinating, monitoring, and chasing fugitive books and

monographs in English and American Literatures catalogued in the three

Presidency Universities yielded some bibliographically rich fascicles and

files of cyclostyled correspondence but no complete, usable, and accessible

record of materials students could reliably consult from afar, the prime

objective of the Project. The core idea here (to publish what Nagarajan

called “a Finding List” of research materials in English available in locations

unknown to a seeker who, presumably, has had access to an international

bibliography such as New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature) is

believed to have tantalized Jadavpur and Delhi, comparably equipped

Departments of English like ours, to take it up from where Nagarajan had

left off, but few scholars today would dare to rush in there, their e-knowhow

and material resources notwithstanding.9 The other project that Nagarajan

had to abandon on account of intermittent ill-health and poor connectivity

was a study of I. A. Richards’s unpublished papers deposited at Houghton

Library, Harvard and Magdalene College, Cambridge.10 Here, again, he had

made some headway, but he was no longer the good old researcher, at once

“a hedgehog and a fox” among the archival records and memorabilia.11 He

made notes in longhand, kept old filing cabinets and vertical files, wrote and

rewrote his work, and slow-mailed his letters, tirelessly and conscientiously.

He continued with the “intolerable wrestle with words and meanings” – his

favourite phrase from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – “happily,” according to

him, until the very last conversation I have had with him on phone. Very

few among the English teachers I have known used to keep their erasers

in order as did Nagarajan. Fewer still would have known their uses, even if

they had them ready at hand.




Speaking of the ‘unfinished Nagarajan,’ one almost commits oneself to

certain errata of conscience, if one still believes in academic colleagueship,

the honour Humanities professedly afford those who embrace them. How

often do we pass each other by like ships in the night and still fancy that

we ‘know’ one another quite well? Have we not sometimes wondered

what Emily Dickinson made those dashes for before marking “internal

difference – Where Meanings, are – ”? I have often shared the sadness of

many students and colleagues of this distinguished teacher that he was not

publicly honoured even once by a state or the union government, or by

the Indian intellectual or cultural academies putatively devoted to sahitya,

education, or public service. The university communities that routinely

inflict encomiastic papers on us in order to mark the superannuation of

teachers undiscriminatingly, or signpost their three scores and four scores

for dubious reasons, did not think it decent to honour Nagarajan with a

handsome festschrift to which, I am sure, very distinguished colleagues

and students from the world over would have unreservedly and proudly

contributed. A grand felicitation on Nagarajan’s 75th year by a group of

his former students and colleagues at Poona was therefore somewhat of a

belated gesture but nonetheless decorous and appreciable for that – from

what I have heard of his fond recollection of that event. A related matter

of regret is the non-availability of a collection, a gathering of fugitives, as

Lionel Trilling once called his, of the essays and notes Nagarajan wrote with

as much devoted attention as he had given his lectures and addresses before

various audiences here and abroad. I have sometimes wondered what was it

that he had cared, if at all, to be remembered for – his scholarly work, or the

excitement his classes and public addresses generated. Above all, there was

that unofficial self of his, not easily discernible then but always returning

in memory to his admiring students and colleagues, a self of which even he

was only dimly aware, a brilliant and genial conversationalist best suited

for ‘table-talk,’ a dying art in the academy. (What preoccupied Nagarajan,

and how he conducted himself, beyond what the American lawyers call

the “billable hours” might interest those of us who believe that a teacher’s

work-audit must also count the time not taken to teach. That perhaps made

all the difference to most of his earnest students, by a curiously Frostian

logic?) While that part is uncollectible, what the UGC-funded Special

Assistance Project of the UoH English Department ought to do is to collect

Nagarajan’s fugitive pieces before long.12 (Certainly a digitized folder of

his papers would be a bonus, if younger students find the collection hard

copy indeed.) That would be, I believe, a modest tribute to his memory, an

acknowledgement of his distinguished colleagueship in the Department he

helped found and nurture in the dozen years he had remained its bestknown

and most respected teacher.

Perhaps it was Nagarajan’s considered judgement not to teach English

either to privilege a great tradition or to neglect a small one but to see that

those who read anything at all, read responsibly and never felt drawn to

politics of divisiveness and rancour. He knew that there would be nothing

comforting and easy for anyone in the scholarly pursuits they choose for

themselves. The trouble with habitually seeing the Humanities ‘in crisis,’

he once observed, was in deluding ourselves that the Humanities traded in

low-cost, easy-of-access goods and services for a largely benighted people

irretrievably lost to Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.” (To the Nabakovain

monkey, whose story is mockingly told in Lolita, the world is a cage, the

reason it chose to paint the bars of a cage when it was given an easel and

paints.) No wonder Nagarajan scorned the teacherly expression “covering

the portions in class,” wondering what it meant, pretty much like Said’s

remonstrance at covering Islam. The phrase probably had the vulgar ring

of a trade-off which he had rather not discuss in faculty meetings. Did it

mean redrawing the borders of excolonial spaces by leaving out the minds

of those who want to draw them? A teacher ought to uncover the portions,

he would say, not quite concealing his disapproval of readings and readers

that proffered solutions and settled disputes to everyone’s satisfaction, or

those that confirmed the (Oscar) Wilde’s Law that Wordsworth found the

sermons in stones he had already hidden there. What fascinated readers

most, he believed, were texts that opened up the abyss, and conducted them

through potentially violent and disruptive passages.13 To my mind, this

connects in some way with his early insistence on reading Shakespeare’s

Problem Plays for an advanced degree.

“Life only avails,” remarked Emerson in utmost exasperation, “not the

having lived” (52). What we are sure to miss are not merely Nagarajan’s

acts of reading and teaching but this humane educator’s live colleagueship

for which he was remembered and revered. A complete faith in the human

idiom, and a culture that strengthened and sustained it, perhaps made his

generation of teachers quite distinct from others, made it less cynical and

more professionally generous than the best of ours. The problem has rarely

been with the lessons but with the teaching – the way we interpret the

lessons. We have perhaps forgotten to ask those exemplary interpreters

how they managed to execute such a difficult job so splendidly, effortlessly.

Perhaps, not unlike that not-waving-but-drowning chap in Stevie Smith’s

poem, they have been telling us only that, and all along, but we were not

quite listening.




I wish to thank Sachidananda Mohanty for lending me a copy of In Search of

Wonder. Vijaya Shankar, Leela Prasad and L. Rajendra Goud gave me on request

some crucial information for this essay. I regret of course my own errors of fact

and poor memory in most other details.


1 Given these shared affinities of temper and cultural background, it seems

odd that Nagarajan wrote on A. K. Ramanujan’s poetry with some reservations

Sankalapuram Nagarajan (1929 – 2014) 125

in Quest (1972), conceding however that the poet’s “real forte is translation” (18).

Although he has written on Indian English poets only sparingly, and the Quest

article is likely to be the only one of its kind, he had known most of The Striders

and some of Relations and occasionally referred to some lines or titles from them

in passing. I have known no other Indian English poet of whom he spoke with

at least this much regard.


2 “And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.” “Prologue,” The Canterbury

Tales, line 308.


3 Nagarajan, I discovered, was somewhat of a legend in the corridors of the

University secretariat for his very crisp notes and queries. The secret, as one of

his trusted lieutenants told me, was that he offered the most lucid summary of

a highly complicated ‘case’ under review, while he pronounced his verdict on

it in neatly phrased unambiguous paragraphs. The file-handlers down the line

had only to record their amen in some clerical code. His most favourite adjective,

though sparingly used, for reasonable claims, agreeable demands and such was



4 Nagarajan in Mohanty 1997: 79


5 To I. A. Richards’s course on poetics at Harvard, Nagarajan gained admission

despite its limited enrolment by writing an essay on William Empson’s “Missing

Dates.” The villanelle had since then caught his fancy as the gain a poem makes

by grieving loss. See Nagarajan in Mohanty 78.


6 Nagarajan’s curiosity about Kathakali Shakespeare productions was

probably ignited by a penetrating interpretive analysis of the highly imaginative

use to which the actors put very ordinary props in James Roose-Evans (1970)

besides the excellent articles by Phillip B. Zarrilli, especially those collected in his

Kathakali Dance -Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play (2000). Quite apart

from this, he seemed eager to watch Nalacaritam (the famous Kathakali drama

of Unnayi Varier) at my suggestion that Nala’s leave-taking scene is considered

the most heart-wrenching by the Malayali audience when seasoned actors

perform. Nagarajan’s “An Indian Allusion in Alun Lewis” (1980) had pointed

out how Lewis’s “Hospital in Poona” recalls the Nala-Damayanti episode of the

Mahabharata. A translated text of Nalacaritam Attakatha appeared in the Journal

of South Asian Literature in the mid-1970. Nagarajan was probably aware of this

as well.


7 I allude here to the discussion of this phrase in an eponymous article by Eli

Sorensen who credits Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks with this idea and argument (see

Sorensen 2007). Incidentally, Kalpana Seshadri wrote her M. Phil. dissertation

in Hyderabad under Nagarajan’s supervision.


8 It is interesting to read Nagarajan’s essay in a context specific to a minor

but once-fashionable genre of work by English teachers of the late 1960s who

periodically used to reflect on what D. J. Enright so pithily styled as “Eng. Lit.

Abroad.” “Shakespeare Overseas,” quite typical of this genre, by Enright himself,

is now collected in his Conspirators and Poets (1966: 229– 239). That the middleaged

Nagarajan was among the very few Indian teachers who had offered such

powerful and amusing counterstatements to balance Anglo-American views

and correct some perspectival errors, without grinding his ideological axes too

noisily, speaks for his scholarly maturity and sensitivity.


9 The advisory board for this Project consisted of one eminent librarian

(Arvind C. Tikekar) and two distinguished professors of English (Kitty Scoular

Datta and S. Viswanathan). “Dozens of fascicles have been published in

cyclostyled form,” wrote Nagarajan in an unpublished memorandum. “When

the fascicles are put together and published, the Finding List will help to locate

needed materials; identify gaps in the holdings; suggest acquisitions; bring out

the wealth of the country’s holdings of rare and scarce materials and encourage

a proper conservation policy.”


10I am sure that Nagarajan was familiar with John Paul Russo’s

Complementarities: Uncollected Essays of I. A. Richards (Carcanet, 1977) but he had

probably chanced upon other, as-yet-uncollected, or unpublished papers.


11A line from Archilochus’s fragments, made famous by Isaiah Berlin: “The

fox knows many little things. The hedgehog knows one big thing.”


12 I would list the essays in the following journals/collections as likely to

be more inaccessible for future readers, given the disparate history of their

publication: The Literary Criterion (1978); The Aligarh Journal of English Studies

(1979); Journal of Literary Studies (1981); World Literature Today (1988); Mohanty

(1997); Chandran (2001). The fall of Hyderabad libraries is a topic on which I am

tempted to write, but the urgency of preserving valuable historical memorabilia

and documents in English India too serious a professional issue to be just

lamented, soon to be forgotten again. None of the items on this list was to

hand easily and assuredly in the libraries and special collections I consulted. If

someone finds this neglect of our precious resources to be symptomatic of our

cultural studies, that would indeed be a good beginning.


13 Again, a striking parallel in Edward Said: “In reading a text one must

open [the text] out to what went into it and what its author excluded. Each

cultural work is a vision of a moment, and we must juxtapose that vision with

the various visions it later provoked...” (67).


Works Cited


Apter, Emily. The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature. Princeton:

Princeton UP, 2006.


Enright, D. J. Conspirators and Poets. London: Chatto & Windus, 1966.


Emerson, R. W. Essays. Boston: A. L. Burt, n. d.


Hacking, Ian. “Memory Sciences, Memory Politics.” Tense Past: Cultural Essays in

Trauma and Memory. New York: Routledge, 1996: 67– 87.


Nagarajan, S. “A. K. Ramanujan.” Quest (Incorporating Humanist Review). 74.

1972:18– 21.


—. “The Teaching of Shakespeare in India.” Indian Writing in English: Papers...

The Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, July 1972.

Ed. Ramesh Mohan. Bombay & Madras: Orient Longman, 1978. 239– 251.

Sankalapuram Nagarajan (1929 – 2014) 127


—.“The Englishman as a Teacher of English Literature Abroad.” The Literary

Criterion, 14. 3. 1979: 64– 84.


—.“Macaulay’s Literary Theory and Shakespeare Criticism.” The Aligarh Journal

of English Studies, 4. 2. 1979: 142– 155.


—.“Shakespeare and the Nature of Politics: The Example of Coriolanus.” Journal

of Literary Studies, 4. 1. 1981: 11– 22.


—.“Decline of English in India: Some Historical Notes.” College English, 43. 7.

1981: 663–70.


—.“An Indian Allusion in Alun Lewis.” Notes & Queries, ns. 27. 3. 1980: 240-241.


—.“Little Mother in The Serpent and the Rope.” World Literature Today, 62. 4. 1988:

609– 611.


—.“Shakespeare at Harvard.” In Search of Wonder: Understanding Cultural

Exchange. Ed. Sachidananda Mohanty. New Delhi: USEFI/ Vision, 1997. 74–



—.“First Encounter with The Waste Land.” DA/ Datta: Teaching The Waste Land.

Ed. K. Narayana Chandran. Hyderabad: CIEFL Bulletin, 2001. 243– 248.


Roose-Evans, James. Experimental Theatre. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.


Said, Edward. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage, 1994.


Sorensen, Eli. “Postcolonial Melancholia.” Paragraph, 30. 2. 2007: 65– 81.


Varryar, Unnayi [sic]. Nala Caritam Attakatha. Trans. and Introd. V. Subramanya

Iyer, Journal of South Asian Literature, 10.2-4. 1975: 211-248.


Zarrilli, Phillip B. Kathakali Dance -Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play.

London: Routledge, 2000.


Notes on Contributors


Drew J. Thomases is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Religion at

Columbia University, studying the religious traditions of South Asia. (Email:


Fred Dallmayr is Emeritus Packey J. Dee Professor in Political Theory at

University of Notre Dame, USA. His recent publication is: In Search of the

Good Life: A Pedagogy for Troubled Times (2007). Email: (Fred.R.Dallmayr@1end.



Indrani Mukherjee is a Professor at the Center of Spanish, Portuguese,

Italian and Latin American Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New

Delhi. The last book which she authored is Latin American Narrative of the

Latter Half of the Twentieth Century: Beyond the Boom (New Delhi: Northern

Books, 2012). (Email:


K. Narayana Chandran is Professor of English in the School of Humanities,

the University of Hyderabad. His latest publication, Why Stories? (2014) is

a research monograph of the DRS-SAP Department of English, Sambalpur

University. (Email:


Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren, performance studies scholar and artist,

directs Folded Paper Dance. She will be joining the Theatre and Dance faculty

at Macalester College in Fall 2014. (Email:

Omendra Kumar Singh teaches English in Govt. P. G. College, Dausa,

Rajasthan, India. (Email:


Rana Nayar is Professor in the Department of English & Cultural Studies,

Panjab University, Chandigarh. A practising translator of repute (Charles

Wallace India Trust Fellow & Sahitya Akademi Prize Winner), he has

rendered around eleven modern classics of Punjabi into English. (Email:


Satu Ranta-Tyrkkö is a postdoctoral fellow affiliated with the social work

program of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, University of

Tampere, Finland. (Email:


Shonaleeka Kaul is Assistant Professor in the Department of History,

University of Delhi. She is the author of Imagining the Urban: Sanskrit and

the City in Early India and editor of Cultural History of Early South Asia.



Vipan Pal Singh is Assistant Professor of English at Govt. Brijindra College,

Faridkot, Punjab, India. (Email: