Saturday, January 10, 2009

Benaras Document on Science Fiction -2008 (Draft)

Benaras Document on Science Fiction -2008 (Draft)

-Professor Sagarmal Gupta
Sobhasaria Eng. College

A five day (November 10-14, 2008) National discussion entitled ‘The First Ever National Discussion: Science Fiction: Past, Present Future’ was organized in the holy city of Varanasi, India. The event was jointly sponsored by National Council for Science and Technology, Communication (NCSTC) New Delhi, Indian Science Fiction Writers’ Association (ISFWA), Faizabad, Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies (IASFS), Vellore.
The conference was convened and coordinated by Dr. Arvind Mishra, a noted Science Fiction writer and science activist himself. The conference was attended by about 100 delegates from all over India, including SF buffs, SF writers, SF readers, professors, administrators, persons from the media, puppeteers, magicians science activist and students and researchers of science communication and SF genre.

The landmark achievement of the Conference is the preparation of Benaras Document – 2008, which will go down in red letters in the annals of SF in India. This document is the brainchild of Dr. Manoj Patraiya, Director NCSTC .

Fiction writing and reading is very popular among intellectuals.Lately India has produced Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Arvind Adiga, who have won the coveted and prestigious Booker Prize for their novels. Detective Fiction by Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler, Earl Stanley Gardner and a host of other writers are widely read all over the world. SF, on the other hand, (though almost 150 years old in its origin) does not enjoy that much readership.
A science fiction is a fine fabric of a number of elements together interwoven in a manner so as to entertain the reader on the one hand and to arouse one’s creative imagination on the other. It can also inform us with an analytical and rational approach as also enable us to foresee futuristic perspectives. Several classical Science fiction stories prepared the ground for a number of landmark inventions. Further, it has tremendous potential to motivate, to educate and entertain the masses especially the children, science fiction can be a popular means of science communication.

But it is sad that it does not enjoy that popularity which is enjoyed by fiction in general and detective fiction in particular even in the age of science and technology. Concerted effort on the part of writers, readers critics, syllabus framers, publishers, and media personnel is required to popularize science fiction. Hence ‘The Benaras Document’.

The objective of the Document is to popularize and propagate SF amongst children, students, researchers, professors, common readers and science buffs in particular and to create science awareness and scientific temper in general.
Questions That were Addressed to
The Document addressed itself to the following questions in five sub-committees formed out of the conference delegates:
1. What is Science Fiction?
2. Is Science Fiction a part of Science Communication?
3. Should Fantasy be included in SF?
4. Is Speculative fiction a part of SF?
5. Should SF be anachronistic, synchronistic or futuristic or would be all the three?
6. What is the objective of SF?
7. Should the history of SF be included in the Document?
8. What is the scope of SF?
9. What recommendation can be made for the promotion and propagation of SF?
10. Should SF be included in the curricula?
11. What strategies be adopted for the teaching of SF?

The Draft Outline

There was a lot of disagreement about the definition and scope of Science Fiction among SF writers and SF buffs. Some writers insisted on SF being futuristic whereas some were happy with the synchronic description of Science and Technology in SF. Some writers were against including fantasy whereas others felt that fantasy helped in resolving the problems of reality. Some insisted on the inclusion of human values in SF – writing. Some discussants argued that anachronism is a disqualification in literature but there could be a place for anachronism, synchronism and futurism in SF. One critic of SF felt that SF is a literary art; structure is important and human sensitivity is also important, he argued. According to some writers, science fiction combines both literature of knowledge and literature of power. One writer of science communication went to the extent of saying that SF is a part of Science communication whereas one writer of SF vociferously refuted this supposition and said that SF and Science communication are entirely different and by writing SF, we are not popularizing SF. Arguing against the inclusion of human values, one SF writer says that the term human values is a relative term and is governed by time and place whereas SF is neutral to such human values.

Finally, all the delegates came to define SF in the following words. SF deals with the impact of actual or imagined science upon society or individuals; it often involves speculation based on current or future science or / and technology. Science Fiction combines science elements with fictional elements in such a way that the form and content are fully merged. Fantasy cannot be ruled out from SF because any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Like a literary fiction, SF has a plot, characters, and a point of view. The plot of SF is scientific in that it is based on current or future laws of science. It can make predictions about future science but need not. The plot of SF should follow Aristotle’s dictum to the effect that there can be probable impossibilities in SF but not improbable possibilities.

The scope of SF is extending. SF started as adventure stories (Vide Jule Verne’s From Earth to Moon (1865) and ‘Around the Moon’ (1870); ‘Aashcharya Vrittant’ (‘A Strange Tale by Ambika Dutt and Chandra Lok Ki Yatra, ‘Journey to the Moon’ by Kesav Prasad Singh in Hindi; in Japanese, Ukeshiro Monogartan by Yano Ruykeis) and included lunar journey, space exploration, robotics, mathematics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, surrogacy, genetic engineering, cloning and stem cells in its fold. The current SF includes cyberpunk, space opera, alternate history fiction, science satire, motion pictures and television series in its fold. In contemporary SF, there is a combination of myth with modern technology Ashok Kumar Banker reimagines The Ramayan in a SF context. This treatment of the Ramayan is parallel to CS Levi’s treatment of the New Testament in ‘The Chronicles of Namia. These examples highlight the extension of the scope of SF in the contemporary world and refers to its unlimited possibilities.

The following recommendations were made by the delegates to ensure the promotion and propagation of SF:

(1) It was suggested that an SF Cell be set up with a Director in a University with the financial assistance from NCSTC, New Delhi. This Cell will be entrusted with the following responsibilities among others:

(a) This cell will look after the promotion and propagation of SF and SF studies.

(b) It will award fellowships to researchers to do research on SF including Indian and regional SF.

(c) It will arrange national and international conferences on SF in which publishers too be invited among others.

(d) It will organize workshops on SF for new writers and students of science communication to train them in the art of SF.

(e) It will organize contests among SF writers at regional and national level.

(f) It will promote translation of regional and Hindi SF writing into English and vice versa.

(2) Arrangements be made to broadcast and telecast SF.

(3) Serials on SF Like ‘Star Trek’ be telecast and broadcast.

(4) Blogs and websites be created to promote SF.

(5) Boards of Secondary Education and Universities be approached to include SF in the curriculum.

(6) Effective Teaching Strategies be evolved to teach SF in the classrooms so that its readership can be increased.

The Benaras Document in its present form is just preliminary. Comments and suggestions are invited from other participants of the national discussion and general audience to make the Document more meaningful, action and result oriented.
Chairman-Dr.Manoj Patairiya
Modeartor-Dr.Arvind Mishra
Raporteaur-Dr.Geetha B
Air Vice Marshal(retd.) V.M.Tiwari
Ms.Reema Sarwal
Dr.Taralika Trivedi
Dr.Afrina Rizvi
Ms.Meenu Khare
Mr.Vishnu Prasad Chaturvedi