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‘In-Conversation’ with Ms. Shivangi Kanaujia: Literature, Arts, and Reading Your Favourite Books!(I)

Welcome to the next edition of ‘In-Conversation’. For this edition, we have Ms. Shivangi Kanaujia a student of English Literature Honours at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, in New Delhi. You can find us discussing and exploring the domains of literary thought and educations systems in India, while also reading about societal inclinations and political imprints on literature. With a critical analysis of multiple challenges pursuing a Literature degree, and also with an in-depth analysis of various intricacies, the interview is filled with fun facts, information, and details about literature, studying literature, the media, and more!

Definitely, an engaging and conversive interview, without adieu do read on!

(You can find Part Two here)


(Kaushik) Hello Shivangi, Glad to have you with us for this edition, of ‘In-Conversation’. Could you tell us a bit about yourself, and about what you do?

(Shivangi) Hello Kaushik, really glad to be here. So, I am Shivangi Kanaujia and I am currently a third-year student of English Literature Hons. at Lady Shri Ram College for women, New Delhi. Apart from being really passionate about literature and books, I am also someone who has quite a great interest in International Relations and World Affairs. Often I have seen the literature come alive in front of me, sometimes in the form of lessons, sometimes in the form of an escape from the reality and thus, the stark and fascinating link between the literature and things happening around is something worth exploring. Apart from being a student and full-time dreamer, I have worked in the research field both at college and outside college, mainly in International Relations and policy and have contributed in the education of underprivileged children through several associations with NGOs. Adding to this, you will always find me juggling with books and soaking all the magical ideas sprouting out of them for books have always been my soul. Thus, I am looking forward to someday putting together my own library wherein like the Alice I could explore my Wonderland.

(Kaushik) So currently you are pursuing a literature degree, could you tell us more about your academic experiences in relation to your degree?

(Shivangi) Well, to be honest when I stepped into my first lecture of graduation, I was like a confused stage performer who had just stepped on stage without any prior knowledge of what they are supposed to perform. To put it simply, coming to a degree which was the total antithesis of what I had been learning all through my school life was both challenging and exciting for me. Being a student with a science background, I was totally unaware about what this journey is going to expect from me. But, my professors and seniors at LSR have been really really supportive all throughout, always pushing us out of our comfort zones and at the same time being there for us in the backstage. The course of this degree is pretty diverse (however, I have my own concerns with the syllabus which I shall not delve deeper into at this point) and it gives you the opportunity to not just understand whatever text you are dealing with but also everything else beyond it, including economics, society, psychology, politics, history etc. Academically, this degree has given me an opinion of myself and has opened my perspectives pushing me to the point of both self-awareness and awareness of what lies around me.

(Kaushik) The degree you are currently pursuing in the swarm of students opting for say engineering and medical degrees in India is niche in itself. So, what exactly drew your interest towards pursuing a degree in literature?

(Shivangi) As I already mentioned that I have been a part of this very swarm with plans to take up engineering after my school. But alongside that, I have always treated myself with reading and explorations in literature since my childhood which undoubtedly provided me the initiation into the world of literature. Thus, when I was juggling with what to take up next, I had literature as an option back in my mind, albeit all the stereotypes regarding a career in humanities around me.

(Kaushik) You are currently studying in LSR, in Delhi. Could you tell us a bit more about your college?

(Shivangi) Well, to begin with I want to confess that LSR has been the best decision of my life so far. It is this very place where I have witnessed dreams taking space and eventually becoming a reality. In addition to a very well-learned and extremely supportive faculty, the LSR campus bombards you with a lot of extra-curricular activities of which you can be a part of, thus gaining a wide exposure and also gaining so many good people who are going to be with you even after this chapter of LSR gets over for you.

(Kaushik) Studying in the Capital City (Delhi), is in itself a unique experience, also allowing you much more exposure and faculties. What are your experiences and views in relation to this?

(Shivangi) To be honest, Delhi, at first has been really a harsh experience for me, owing to my introvert self and the habit of living in my own shell till my schooling. However, Delhi is a place which is very subjective and you can witness it moulding as per your expectations. In these two and half years, Delhi has taught me to live on the edges, sometimes accepting me with open arms and sometimes pushing me beyond my comfort zones. It has undoubtedly, graced me with the most memorable of moments, be it in terms of academics or flux within myself.

(Kaushik) You must have your own take, and definitely as many of us are unaware, could you tell us a bit more about literature and what it is?

(Shivangi) To begin with, Literature is more of a universe than a subject which can be prescribed in few pages or taught in four-walled classrooms. It has various strands in itself, deeply intertwined and profoundly influential, such as politics, sociology, psychology, philosophy, economics etc. While you are dealing with a literary text academically, you are not just reading what the author has mentioned in those few pages but it has a story before and after that too. Honestly, I was completely unaware of this side of literature before taking up this course as I used to mainly indulge in leisure reading rather than a critical dealing with the text. However, this is completely my personal take on this subject and that literature can have as many faces as many numbers of brains and hearts.

(Kaushik) Writing is an art, and often a reflection to many things. This includes a writer, or poets’ perceptions, psyche, society to mention a few. How intersecting, and applicable do you find these notions?

(Shivangi) Oh, I absolutely agree with you. However, I would also like to mention that to give a written piece of art a life of its own, it is also very crucial to take into account the position of a reader as well in addition to the author. History is full of such examples wherein a particular piece is being reinterpreted and misinterpreted in many cases over centuries. So, it is both readers (listeners) and writer who mould writing in an experience which can be lived and felt.

(Kaushik) Do you recollect the first ever experience you had with books & literature as a child, which in turn to a certain extent engages with your career today?

(Shivangi) Well, as far I remember, it was a copy of Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tales which really hooked me up with this world of literature. I guess it was a birthday present or something, at the age of 6 or 7. I used to nag my mother to explain to me the meaning of all those tough words which I wasn’t able to get at that age. Later on, my school library became my all-time favourite go-to places where I got the first taste of Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Hardy and more.

(Kaushik) We all have certain preferences that we have with the genres and types of books that we prefer to read. Any favourites on your end and any interesting stories behind them?

(Shivangi) To put it very honestly, I am the sort of person who can read anything, literally anything, be it old newspaper clippings, random pamphlets or any genre of literature. However, if speaking in terms of academic interest, I really enjoy exploring Indian Writing in English or Translations of regional writings in India. Adding to this, I also enjoy works that come under Popular literature, that simply provides voice to the masses.

(Kaushik) Any books you would particularly suggest to some new readers, from the various genres and types of books?

(Shivangi) Well, that becomes a really tricky question for me personally. Nevertheless, for all those who are really into historical fiction, I would suggest works of Markus Zusak and Khalaed Hosseini. To all those who are willing to explore the world of Indian Literature, I would suggest them to pick up works of Premchand, Manto and Ismat Chughtai. To all those who wish to go into thriller, works of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle are a good option to begin with. In terms of poetry, I would suggest Kamala Das, Sylvia Plath and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. I have mentioned names of all the writers who have written both in English originally or in their regional languages and the English Translations of their works can be easily found.

(Kaushik) Often we know that certain texts leave a deep imprint on us, even if we may consciously realise this or not. Do you ever recollect this happening to you?

(Shivangi) Oh, it happens always with me, especially since I have taken literature in my graduation. And I believe that this experience is an integral part of reading literature. It should definitely shake your thought and push you to think and form an opinion of your own.

(Kaushik) While reading is definitely an exploration of the varied, some authors are like connections you build from what you read in their works. Which are some of the authors you are particularly fond of, and any specific books which you recommend from these authors?

(Shivangi) In terms of the deep personal connections, I think the first name that comes to my mind is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for his Baker Street Boys characters having been an indispensable part of my childhood. Apart from this, Charles Dickens, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Khalaed Hosseini and Jhumpa Lahiri are some other authors who have shaped me as a person at various stages of my life.

(Kaushik) We certainly do perceive things differently at the different stages of our life. Certainly, our likes and dislikes change as well! What would you say is currently your favourite books and why? How do you see yourself evolving over the year as a reader?

(Shivangi) I quite agree with your statement and in this context, I think at present I am very inclined towards exploring feminist works and subaltern literature, current favourite being The Color Purple by Alice Walker. As a reader, in the future, I am hoping to explore the rich regional literature of India and Postcolonial writings situated mainly around Commonwealth. My focus, however, will be definitely on enriching my critical understanding of the works I am dealing with.

(Kaushik) In an observation that I have often seen happening in India, arts are misunderstood and devalued in our education system and as a subject of choice. What are your thoughts on this?

(Shivangi) Oh, I can go on ranting on this subject for a good length of time because this is something that I have very closely experienced in my life. The Education System in India is unfortunately plagued with rigid, water-tight compartmentalization of subjects that one can choose to study, especially in higher studies. In a country like ours, where the idea of success is very stereotypically measured with the number of zeroes in one’s salary, this kind of prejudice against arts and creative studies doesn’t come as a surprise to me. This problem, in my opinion, is very much psychological and until and unless we start giving arts the same respect and importance as a career choice as has been given to science and commerce subjects since ages this will persist.

(Kaushik) Similarly, it can also be said that families are reluctant to let their children pursue arts subjects. In your experience how do you see this situation and did you face anything similar?

(Shivangi) Absolutely, I am a product of the same categorical mindset which treats Humanities as a not-so-serious and futile stream of study when it comes to a successful career. To me, this situation is quite sad and concerning as it definitely puts children under extreme pressure, giving them a mere mechanic existence than a meaningful life where they can indulge in the creative release of any kind.


- Continued in Part 2.


You can find Shivangi here:

LinkedIn: Shivangi’s LinkedIn


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