Read promiscuously. Read everything you can get your hands on, everything you would anyway read, and especially everything you would not.
This is one of the best advice I have ever received, and paid forward. (For elucidation, see this comment below.)
People have many teary-eyed stories about their alma mater, I’m sure, but I am absolutely, stubbornly and staunchly convinced that few places are as miraculously wonderful for the young, curious mind (and soul) as the department I spent my undergraduate years in.
JUDE, or the Jadavpur University Department of English, is a bit of a cultural phenomenon in India — and I choose my nouns advisedly. It has perhaps single-handedly contributed more people to academics, journalism, publishing, advertising, and the creative fields hereabouts, than most other universities put together.
What this implies is that JUDE, down the years, has had a fantastic set of fabulous teachers, who epitomise a charming, old-world approach to education in general, and scholarship in particular. Diversity and depth, that was the JUDE keyword — a quaint and miraculous delight in the age of narrow over-specialisation in the social sciences. Plus persistent curiosity; humour, with generous dollops of self-effacing irony; a streak of healthy irreverence for most sociopolitical institutions; and an off-hand nurturing of young sparks, aimed at creating intellectual independence and critical thinking, rather than the manufacturing of tenure-ready clones (although the best amongst them also instilled a sense of practicality in us).
One of the most important things we learnt from this apparent epitome of the ivory tower, however, was how not to be snob. JUDE cured most of us of the prejudices we carried into it, and in its stead, instilled in us, subliminally, a contempt for name-dropping little frogs puffed-up on hot air (and frequently misused jargon), clamouring for the smallest toeholds in stagnant little ponds. It is a lesson that has stood me in both good stead and bad, but even when it’s brought home worldly harm, enormous relief at not being pitched head-first into such tiny, seething pools of back-stabbing and petty politics has followed soon behind.
I was reminded of it all in a sudden rush this morning, when Facebook threw up an old post by S. Boxling, who was a year or two behind me at college and is an adorable fluffball (with a delicious amount of bite).
Here is what she wrote, re-posted without permission. The original comments, many very JUDE-centric, will be posted in the comments’ below.
Read this piece via somebody, can’t remember who, step up so that I can thank you. It would be presumptuous of me to say that I agree with this since I have never read Derrida, nor have I written a book or written for New Yorker. What I do agree with is the fact that people our age (whatever they choose to call themselves; students, scholars, academics) should read more fiction to explain the world and less theory. JNU sadly, is bereft of fiction readers (if you read books beyond your specific area of interest, course readings, bestseller lists and literary fiction, do contradict me). I have found that people who don’t read for fun have a scarily narrow worldview. In school I was the most widely read person I knew; in JUDE I was an insignificant git in a sea of people who read voraciously, who read everything they could lay their hands on and who did not care very much if reading the books they did helped them get better grades or sound smarter in conversations. I live in JNU (and have to live here for two more years) so I won’t rant anymore about reading habits here. I have always judged non-readers and I always will.
I don’t ‘judge’ non-readers, especially if their lack of reading is an inability to acquire or afford either an education or books, or the time to read, but it has been my experience that people who do not read widely or beyond the prescribed bestseller lists have quite terrifyingly limited worldviews, which can then be manipulated and the results applied to the ‘real’ political worlds they live in.
A better-read world, I think, would have more wonder, more understanding, more tolerance, and consequently more plain common sense than to revel in petty feuds and global bloodbaths, or cower in little burrows, terrified of the slightest differences. A richer world within goes a considerable way in ensuring a calmer, more sensible world without. So bring the book-love back on, is my advice to you. Do your bit for it. Read promiscuously!