“There is no neutral or natural place in teaching”
“There are times when personal experience keeps us from reaching the mountain top and so we let it go because the weight of it is too heavy. And sometimes the mountain top is difficult to reach with all our resources, factual and confessional, so we are just there, collectively grasping, feeling the limitations of knowledge, longing together, yearning for a way to reach that highest point. Even this yearning is a way to know.”
– bell hooks, “Teaching to Transgress”
Mannarakal Dasan is a familiar name all over the world now with his recent Oxford Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing. He is one of the senior-most professors of English in Kerala today and one of the leading exponents of Dalit studies in Indian higher academia. He came to the English department at the Tirur regional centre of S S University of Sanskrit to deliver a key-speech on African American literature on 26 September 2012. The one hour lecture was followed by two hours of intense interactive critical engagement with the first semester M A English students.
He is currently Professor and Head of the Department of Studies in English at Kannur University. He has successfully led English studies in Kerala into a radical soulful discipline that addresses regional and local issues of culture and society in an engaging academic way with an ethical thrust. Deconstructing and critically rejecting the colonial canon English studies are moving towards little englishes and new minor literatures, histories and subjectivities towards the margins of the modern world. His identification with and addressing the key issues of inequality and cultural difference in our society are crucial for the epistemological and academic development and just contextualization of English studies in Kerala in the present and in the times to come.
Prof Dasan began by elaborating that all literatures are not the same and there is great deal of difference and diversity in human experience, culture and history. He theoretically critiqued the dogmas of universal aesthetics and eternal values. He explained the difference in the socio political contexts that gave birth to African American literature in the U S under the conditions of colonialism, slavery and racism.
From literary history he moved to cultural and political history and contemporary reality. As a learned scholar and orator Prof Dasan is able to connect the black reality in America with the dalit realities in India and Kerala. His comparative reading and analysis of race, gender and caste are illuminating and enlightening. He proves after Derrida and hooks that pedagogy, teaching and education are not coldblooded musings or neutral academic exercises but inevitably political and part of our life-struggles. Pedagogy is deeply indebted and engaged with the life and acts of the people at the bottom.
His clear language and brilliant delivery are excellent models for young teachers and researchers who are interested in pedagogy and the art of the possible. Prof Dasan’s passion for teaching and his eagerness in addressing diverse audiences in various locations in and out of India are remarkable and educating. The kind of energy and enthusiasm that is transmitted to the audience during his talks are simply motivating and recharging. M Dasan teaches us not just for getting degrees but to become new politicized subjects in a changing world. As Raymond Williams has reminded us we cant be neutral on a moving train.
His oratory and rhetoric not to mention about his pitch variations and apt gestures; make it a total organic experience. Teaching and learning are new acts of discovery and change for Prof Dasan and his students. He instills self-respect, courage and confidence in the listeners and prepare them to face the world with a difference and new vision. In simple terms he empowers the students especially those coming from the contested sections of the society in a liberating way. He is a possibility and pointer for a student who aspires to become an academic, writer, researcher or activist in future. He is for future and for change. He teaches for transformation; epistemological, human, academic and democratic transformations.