On November 12th 2021, the Department of English, University of Hyderabad organised the first Institution of Eminence (IoE) Open Lecture by Professor K. Narayana Chandran, the IoE Research Chair Professor in Literary and Cultural Theory in the Department. The lecture, “How Does Poetry Teach Us? What Does It Teach?”, was attended by an online audience of around 130 people, which included academics, students, and alumni from within and outside the University. Professor Anna Kurian, the Head of the Department, welcomed the audience and Professor Chandran. She observed that Professor Chandran has always worked on poetry through his career.

Professor Chandran began by observing that poetry cannot really be taught; by the time it is “taught” in a classroom, it undergoes a shape-shifting and becomes something else altogether. Here, within the often misunderstood concept of “teaching”, he distinguished between “tuition” and “intuition”, to suggest that poetry makes us recognise our inordinate powers of intuition, which gives us freedom, as well as the language of dissent “to articulate our unfreedom” (citing Slavoj Zizek). The freedom that poetry teaches us is the recognition of the self and the delightful experience of the self. Professor Chandran went on to relate the intuitive self to memory, to observe that poetry is that which is remembered; it is a link to our generational memory, which tells us who we are, where we live, and what we live for. Even though poetry teaches us to wonder at the world around us, it also tells us that there is nothing absolutely new in the world, helping us recognise what we already know. He made a special mention of Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of Memory. Through the course of his lecture, Professor Chandran illustrated his observations by referring to and reading from authors and poets as diverse as Rabindranath Tagore and G.M. Hopkins, Walt Whitman and Derek Walcott.

The lecture witnessed an enthusiastic response from the audience. Professor Bharati Harishankar of Madras University commented that the talk took her back to the 1990s when she audited Professor Chandran’s courses in the Department at UoH.  Particularly notable was an intervention by Professor Zahidul Haque of the Department of Urdu, UoH, who referred to classical Urdu poetry from Amir Khusro to Mirza Ghalib. Professor Chandran responded with his reflections on Faiz Ahmad Faiz and his profound influence on Salman Rushdie, and their shared concerns with freedom. This was followed by questions and comments from students, which were mainly concerned with issues like the teaching and learning of poetry in literature classrooms. In his responses Professor Chandran drew the etymological links between gyan and genre.

The event concluded with a vote of thanks by Professor Bhaskar Lama of the Department of English.

Contributed by Mr. Atul V. Nair, PhD Scholar at the Department of English