Friday, November 20, 2009

Eleventh Annual National Conference on Science Fiction in Indian Literature:A Report

Eleventh Annual National Conference on Science Fiction in Indian Literature
A  Report 

By Prof. Sagar Mal Gupta  

 The inaugural function of the conference started in the fully packed Govindbhai Shroff auditorium. of Aurangabad. The function started by paying homage and observing two minutes silence in honour of the death of Shri Gunakar Mule, a noted science communicator. The famous Marathi scholar, Prof. Gangadhar Pantavne presided over the function. Tribute was also paid to the founder of the Sarasvati Bhuvan Education Society, the veteran freedom fighter Padmavibhusan late Govindbhai Shroff, President of the Institute and a tower of inspiration. The retired justice honourable shri Chapalgaonkar, Dr. A. Bhalero, the general secretary of the Saraswati Bhuvan Education Society, the keynote speaker Dr. G.P.Phondke, the Principal of the college Dr. Birajdhar, Dr.K.S. Purshottaman, Dr. Srinarhari, both president and  secretary of IASFS, Vellore, Mr.Nimish Kapoor, Senior Scientific Officer ,Vigyan Prasar ,Dr. Y.H. Deshpande, Convenor were the dignitaries on the dais. All the dignitaries were ritualistically  welcomed with a shawl, a coconut and a sapling of rose flower. The function started with lighting of the traditional lamp before Goddess  Sarasvati  and then by recital of Sarasvati Vandana(Obeisance to Goddess of Learning –a Hindu deity!)  . The function was anchored by Dr. (Mrs) Deshpande and Dr. R.D. Garge.

   Introducing the conference Dr. Y.H. Deshpande said that this was the second conference in Aurangabad, the first one being held in 2006. He asserted that 21st century belongs to science fiction. Dr. Ashok Balerao welcomed all the dignitaries on the dais and stated that science fiction of today may prove to be science of tomorrow. Science based literature makes predictions that come to be true. H.G. Wells made a prediction about the journey to the moon in 1903 that came to be true in 1969 with Armstrong’s landing on the moon.

 Introducing Indian Association for Science Fiction studies (IASFS)which came into existence  in 1998 on 2nd January 1998 on Asimov’s birth anniversary Dr. Purshothaman, president of the association, stated that the association was established with a meager membership of 14 scholars, which has grown to hundreds in 2009. Our mission is to spread science fiction and we believe that with the popularization of science fiction this world will be a better place to live. The Govt. of Tamilnadu is establishing an international library with a budget of 100 crores and we shall have a big and rich section of science fiction in that library. He invited authors to send the list of books for the inclusion in the above library.  Supplementing the information, Dr. Srinarhari, Secretary of IASFS said that purpose of the association is to promote research work in science fiction.

    Outlining the programmes and activities of Vigyan Prasar, the senior scientific officer MR. Nimish Kapoor stated that its objective is to popularize science among the masses; to develop rational attitude, scientific  conscience  and to exchange knowledge of science and technology. We prepare books, articles of science in plain simple language. We organize seminars, conferences and fairs to disseminate science. We function as a resource network. We have started online chat sessions, audio-video science serials, a VIPNET newsletter, clipset, multimedia CD-Roms, and interactive kits on solar and weather activities.

  The distinguished guest of  honour  Justice Chapalgaonkar said that it is SF writer’s duty to inculcate scientific temper in people. If one reads SF, one gets the confidence that science can be used for the betterment of society, “SF should be given a proper place in literature and society”, he said. There is a dearth of SF in vernaculars though we have a good number of SF in English, Martahi  and Hindi. “Science with SF can discipline irrationality of mind”, he maintained.

  Dr. Gajanand Purshottam Phondke(nick named as Bal Phondke), the nuclear physicist from Mumbai University gave the key-note address. Defining SF, he said that science fiction involves speculations on current or future science and technology. It draws imaginatively on scientific knowledge. The SF writer uses scientific data or themes to explore unexpected possibilities. There are two types of SF: Hardcore and Softcore. Science is central to hardcore SF whereas softcore SF deals with the implausibly possible. The best SF deals with both aspects applying the science to human behavior and system.

    Dwelling on what SF is not, Dr. Phondke said that prose in literary format to explain science principles to laymen; stories of how scientific discoveries were made; fantasy; fiction based on inaccurate and pseudo science and stories without fictional elements are not SF.

    Detailing the evolution of SF, Dr. Phondke said that SF is an evolving genre. It started with Frankestein to Jurassic park to Da Vinci Code. It also includes movies such as ‘Star Trek’ The Terminator. “Harry Potter is black magic not SF”, he maintained. “My Sister’s Keeper” and “Change of Heart” are excellent science fiction books.

    The characteristics of SF include a fairy tale approach; exploration of deep space or the deep ocean, inclusion of discoveries of modern physics, quantum theory and the theory of relativity. SF depicts new changes that have taken place in life style embracing fast communication, fast food, reduction in spaces and change of mindset.

    SF has stressed anthropomorphism, genetic engineering, influence of biotechnology not only in the drawing room but also in the bedroom. As we know that family set up and social structure is undergoing a drastic change. These are reflected in science fiction. Modern science fiction takes into consideration ethical, legal and social issues. As literature mirrors society, how can SF neglect the reflection of these changes in its depiction?     
  In this presidential address, a noted Marathi ‘Dalit’ literature expert Dr. Gangadhar Pantavne reiterated that SF is part of literature expressing scientific truth. Science fiction containing not too much science and written in common language can be useful for common man. “A Literature which cannot be understood by common man cannot have long lasting value”, he said.

An  sf anthology for children  by Dr.Arvind Mishra entitled  (Rahul ki Mangal Yatra -Rahul's Voyage to Mars ) was  also released on the occasion in commemoration of  Bal Diwas,a day dedicated especially to children  and    celebrated every year on 14th November in loving memory of Pt. J awahar Lal Neharu

Technical Sessions

    The Technical Session was presided over by Dr. M.H. Srinarhari. There were two paper presentations. Dr. Hemant Kumar presented a paper on  ‘Science Fiction Poetry(sfp)’. According to the speaker, sfp  is concerned with science and its impact on the world and employ science imagery. Science fiction poets  are known for the  uniqueness of both  scientific vision and  language.
  Speaking on the Historical Perspective of Hindi Science Fiction’ Dr. Arvind Dubey said that Hindi SF is divided into Proto, Pulp and Pseudo SF. Proto SF contains scientific anecdotes and gadgets described in mythology. While pulp sf is printed on papers of cheap quality and has a tinge of  so called cheap literature as well  and popularized in pocket book forms. Pseudo SF, on the other hand, looks like SF but is not based on scientific principles. Devakinandan Khatri’s Chandra Kanta Santati’ is such a science fiction. In the1900, ‘Chandra Lok Ki Yatra by Keshav Prasad Singh was a famous story of SF published in Saraswati, a Hindi magazine of great repute. The 20th century witnessed the evolution of SF through Hindi magazines such as ‘Saraswati’ , Paraag and Dharmyug. The 21st century contains not only SF, but SF Plays, radio plays, satire, comedy, poetry and folk narratives. ‘Ek Aur Kraunch Vadha’ is a famous SF in Hindi. ‘Kiraye Ki Kokh’ by Archana is an SF play; ‘Bas Ab Aur Nahin a satire in SF; ‘Khyali Sangeetkar” by Zeashan Haider Zaidi is a comedy in SF. Mr. India, Krish  are SF films in Hindi. In the 21st century, there is a tendency to create personal blogs. He also made a mention of the online Hindi Magazine entitled ‘Kalkion'..
  Dr. R.B.Ghooi presented a very interesting paper entitled ‘International Conferences: Future of the Planet’ A Secret conclave was held at Honolulu in Hawaii attended by top world class leaders and scientists. The novelty of the presentation lay in his creation of SF in the presentation. It is estimated that the population of the world will be 9 billion by the end of 2050 whereas resources on the earth will decrease many times. The scientists and the world leaders were asked to put forward suggestions for solution of this stupendous problem. They pondered over several solutions involving harvesting of solar energy, use of chemical substances and biological solution of reducing the size of human beings to 60 grams. This would ensure the consumption of food going down by one thousand times. This solution is of course, has its advantages and  disadvantages.
Dr. Nellai S. Muthu discussed the evolution of SF in the world with an interesting power point presentation. He, in fact, applied fiction to science as it were in his presentation. He pointed out that the year 2009 is the international year of astronomy.
 The history of science fiction demonstrates that it started as fantasy. By 1600 onwards there was transition from fantasy to fiction. Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is one of the finest SF. In 1700 onwards, SF related to the journey to the moon was written. In the 18th century, physics based science fiction was written. ‘Frankenstein’ an SF by Mary Shelley was written in 1818. Jules Verne (1865) made a moon ship in the form of a bullet. He predicted a zero gravity state for the moon because he believed that at the midpoint, the earth and the moon’s gravity cancel each other. In 1900 onwards, mythology kindled technology leading to a new term technovelgy. In 2000, onwards, nanotechnology, biosensors, smart homes, automax, nemosystem virtual reality, brain bionics, biomenchotronics, futurology- all became part of modern SF. This marked the end of technical sessions on 14th November 2009.
A Nocturne Unforgettable !

 Cultural evening witnessed a  captivating programme of visual reconstruction of Binaca Geetmala (a very popular film song radio serial from 1953 to 1977) and was presented by a noted film journalist Sh. Ashok Ujlambkar inviting the entire participants down to their memory lane. It made all of us quite nostalgic. Someone aptly  remarked that the  evolution of Hindi songs imitated  the evolution of sf itself  in India .
The  Day After ….
    On 15th November 2009, the first technical session started with Mr. VM Tiwari in the chair. Dr. K. Mohan, an SF writer from Erode, presented a paper entitled ‘Taking Science Fiction to World Level’. Mr. Mohan suggested that we should set high standards in writing to bring the writing of SF on par with the world. Project should be taken to bring more people to SF writing, more quality science fiction need to be printed. The difference between western and Indian science fiction lies in the content of science. SF Websites and online publications of science fiction are to be started.
  Dr. G.S. Unnikrishnan spoke on “SF for Common man”. In south Indian languages, SF has not been attempted much except in Malayalam where it is very rich. Most SF is packed with science information. Hence, it is difficult for a common man to understand SF. Bionics, robotics etc. do not have much appeal for Indian readers.
  Prof. Sagarl Mal Gupta presented his paper on ‘Evolution and Growth of SF in India and the World’, Professor Gupta pointed out that the difference among speculative fiction, fantasy, magic realism and science fiction needs clarification. He accepted the prevalent definition of science fiction that SF is a kind of fiction based on speculations on current or future science and technology. No SF can be created without a dash of imagination. However, the fantasy to be included should be possible and plausible within the science principles- in scientific fiction. Ashok Kumar Banker combines myth with modern technology in contemporary Indian science fiction. Rana Das Gupta presents cloning, artificial intelligence and memory erasure. His most famous anthology is “Tokyo Cancelled”.
 Dr. B. Geetha presented her paper on “How to Teach SF in Colleges”. She argued that there is lack of awareness among people about the genre. SF does not find a place in the curricula of the colleges/ universities. But SF can be brought not only to literature classes but to pharmacology, philosophy, science and technology, courses in gender studies, bio-technology and general studies. “SF has been started in 200 courses and this will result in the promotion of more readers and more and better writing of SF”, she said. 

Dr.Arvind Mishra ,Mr.Zakir Ali 'Rajnish',Dr.Garge and Dr.Bal Phondke
    In the next technical session,Dr Satish Deshpande spoke on “Translation of Science Fiction’. According to him, language passes information from one language to another. Human civilization is what is because of the gift of human language. Science attempts to discover truth through its own methodology. Scientific truth has been changing. The truth value of language is between zero and one. This creates the basic dialectics of the science fiction. The question to be addressed is how much of science and how much of fiction. Is language adequate to describe scientific truth? Typology in language is not exclusive like science, it is inclusive. There is a lot of overlapping in language. Such problems are reflected in translation of SF.
    Dr. Arvind Mishra made a very important distinction between Mainstream SF and Genre Sf in his paper entitled , “Mainstream and Genre SF: Emergence and Trends in Hindi vis a vis Western Literature”. He said  that it was usually the mainstream science fiction which gained popularity in Hindi magazines.
  AVM VM Tiwari spoke on “Impact of Technology” in his presentation. He described TV as a sexy model of technology. The programmes presented on TV want you to be excited. SF writer can help the businessman, the politician and other sections of society. Mainstream literature is mostly ignorant of SF. Language is a vehicle for connecting thoughts and culture. We have lost our language, so we have lost our culture. Your culture can come only through language.   
  Dr. J. Panneerselvam spoke on the Anna Centenary Library, singular in India, to be started in Chennai with a budget of 100 Crocs, with a carpet area of 3.75 lac square feet. It will have 06 blocks, 27 lodging rooms, 10 lakh books on the shelf and one crore e-material (units are in Hindi) . He also presented an animated film depicting a rendezvous of girl from village and one from Venus of another solar system   with the idea of taking science fiction to the common-man. Dr. Paneerselvam suggested that SF writers should make syndicates to produce animated SF films.
  Ms. Prashant Kumari spoke on ‘The Culture of SF’. “The idea of cultural history has recently developed”, she said. Race barriers are opposed by science fiction writers. SF writers are asking for human rights and classless society. There is a lot of relationship between religion and science. In “Scientism” the problem of science has been solved through religion. SF also solved the problems of gender.
  Dr. M.H. Srinarhari said in his presentation that SF as a genre is almost non existent  in Kannada. He further said that it is not easy to write SF without reading books. Time Machine is a popular theme in SF. 

Panel Discussion
    The technical session  was followed by Panel Discussion on the role of conference and seminars in the evolution of science fiction in India. The Panelists included Dr. Arvind Mishra, AVM(rtd)  VM Tiwari, Dr. R.D. Garge and Zakir Ali. 

    The discussion was chaired by Dr. K.S. Purshottaman; who said that the panelists should evaluate how far the conferences like this  would be useful for the development of the genre. Dr. Arvind Mishra reiterated that sf conferences are suitable forums and platforms to disseminate basic knowledge and the current trends of science fiction and they are very useful in dispelling many misconceptions about the genre and addresses the queries of the audience that pave way for the enrichment of the genre. AVM(rtd )V.M. Tiwari lauded the role of intellectuals since time immemorial in holding such conferences. He related these conferences to ‘Sant Samagam’, which were the forums in ancient India to reach out amicable solutions. Dr. Garge said that young people should be roped in to participate in SFs. Mr. Zakir Ali Rajneesh maintained that little discussion takes place on children’s SF in these conferences. He suggested that such conferences should hold special sessions on children’s science fiction so that more and more writers should join the bandwagon of writers on SF. 

A Podium Presentation by AVM(rtd) VM Tiwari

  After the panel discussion  there was valedictory function in which Dr. Deepak Mule, registration of Marathwara University was the chief guest. The conference came to an end with an invitation by Dr. Purhshothaman to all the delegates to join the next conference on SF in Chennai in 2010.