It took me five years after I joined the Navy, to realise what years of dwelling upon the likes of Mutiny on the Bounty and Moby Dick inspired me towards, wasn’t really the rigours of life at sea, but a deep and lasting love for literature. It has been my diligent endeavour thereon, to pursue the subject as diligently and forthrightly as possible. Of course, knowledge or curiosity can’t be stagnated, neither can the mind. I majored in English followed by Psychology, while fulfilling the challenges arising from my profession and simultaneously negotiating, improvising, balancing the two disparate worlds of literature and naval warfare, that my passion and profession placed me in. It took me a while to see how one profoundly affected the other. Not surprisingly, my first Masters dissertation was a sustained argument involving the application of Roland Barthes’ principles of authorial autonomy to the political and military autobiography. My second Masters’ thesis was an attempt to study mental illnesses, with special emphasis on bipolar disorder and infanticide, through their representations in the 19th Century novel. It was fascinating to conduct an interdisciplinary study of a ‘difficult’ mental condition ie bipolar disorder, that had transformed as much in its therapeutic approaches as it had in its representation in the the novel. Indeed, one thing does affect the other.
I was fortunate to be recognised within the Navy for my academic excellence. Post my initial on-field stint, I was entrusted with academic responsibilities at the prestigious Centre of Excellence in Ethics, Leadership and Behavioural Studies in 2013. This is the flagship organisation of the Navy imparting ethics & leadership training to officers from a wide spectrum of seniorities and nationalities. My passion had finally become my profession. I was given charge of the Department of Ethics Studies after being awarded the prestigious United Services Institute Gold Medal for my research paper on military ethics. My paper argued against the existing ethics training methodologies and strongly suggested the inclusion of critical reading of the war novel and film appreciation in the syllabus. It seemed then that I would keep coming back to reading and teaching English. From here on, my research/teaching areas included not only moral philosophy, ethics, literature, military history, behavioural studies but pedagogy and film studies as well.
In my role as an instructor I innovatively used novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse 5, and films such as Paths of Glory and Apocalypse Now, to teach military ethics, morality and the complexities of war/conflict/nationhood. It was also a learning experience for me that helped me hone my own opinions, views and criticisms. Based on a paper “Kanhoji Angrey and His Motivations” presented during the prestigious Annual Maritime History Society seminar in 2013, I began a course on ‘Critiquing Military History through the Biography’, wherein I used biographies as an instrument to investigate and critique historical truths and fictions related to war/conflicts, foregrounding the ethical dimension of ‘history making’. Through all of this, my own understanding of the politics of nationhood, patriotism and the ‘creation of history’ and how it is deeply linked to the production and consumption of literature and film underwent a paradigm shift.
I have authored three major publications for the Navy – A Guidebook on Understanding Gender (2013), A Guidebook on Military Ethics (2014) and The Leadership Doctrine (2015). At a fundamental level, authoring three book-length publications helped me appreciate the complexities of researching from primary and secondary sources, organising vast amounts of disparate information/data into coherent parts and write about them in a critical, logical and sustained manner. Even though my work on Leadership Doctrine earned me a commendation award by the Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, I consider the Guidebook on Gender to be the most interesting as it was a first of its kind, detailed study of participation of women in post-Partition conflicts, especially in the War of 1971 and the Naxalite movement. I used primary sources such as interviews and first-hand letters and secondary sources such as testimonials, government documents and monographs to construct a cogent historical narrative abounding in multiple perspectives. Writing the document brought me face to face with the mammoth complexities and dilemmas of ‘writing history’, taking me into the realm of personal narratives that often lie concealed between the folds of historical fictions and fictional histories.
Having managed to pursue my academic aspirations with the kind of diligence and alacrity I have, I strongly feel I am at a juncture to pursue a PhD. NYU, in view of its faculty, its eclectic course curriculum and course work and its interdisciplinary approach to research figures prominently on the choice of schools I see myself pursuing my further studies. I was glad to know that Professors of the stature of Gayatri Sundar Rajan and Toral Gajarawala are part of NYU’s faculty. I came across Professor Rajan’s work, The Scandal of the State: Women, Law and Citizenship in India while researching for the handbook in Gender. Furthermore, the arguments she posited have found deep reverberations in my own critical understanding of gender in context of the handbook. Further, Professor Toral’s Fictional Murder and Other Descriptive Deaths was a highly helpful guide while I was writing my own essay on “Death, dying and bereavement in the Post Colonial Novel”. I opine their readings in post-coloniality, the relationship between aesthetics and politics and gender will make my experience at NYU a fruitful and challenging one.
Although I am aware that it may be too soon to ‘arrive’ at a firm research topic, I would also attempt to explain it, in brief. There has been a stark variance in the methods/extent of representation that the Indian Armed Forces finds in Indian Literature as compared to the extent of representation it finds in Indian Cinema. This has intrigued me. Furthermore, having had closely interacted with the Armed Forces of other countries, and seen the manner in which their Armed Forces are/have been represented in their literatures (and this I say, specifically in respect to America, France and Pakistan), makes me wonder at the reasons – psychological, political, aesthetic and literary – that may be precipitating a difference in regard to India. In simple words, it would be my endeavour to engage with the question – Does the Literature of a country bear a moral responsibility to its Armed Forces, in regard to representation, just as the Armed Forces bear unlimited moral and legal responsibility to protect? I shall endeavour to explore the limits of nationhood and the politics of representation in the process.
It is my endeavour to continue to pursue my aspirations with the same diligence I have been for so long. I look forward to doing the same in a challenging and enriching environment provided at NYU.