Language Dilemmas

Reading Chetan Bhagat in Dhaka: the anxiety of English literature

Choosing what to read is playing a crucial role in the uneasy conflict between the mother-tongue and English.

The fact that people read Chetan Bhagat in Bangladesh might be a source of consternation for many Indians, but it speaks to a concern shared across the subcontinent about English’s place in the nation’s future. At a conference last week hosted by the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), one of the country’s 80-plus private universities, the question of language was front and centre.

For a country born out of resistance to proscription of their mother tongue, the choice of language is not an incidental one. Even today, Bangla bears an emotional resonance for many Bangladeshis that is unparallelled in other countries. Yet today’s young Bangladeshis also know that in order to find employment and increase opportunities for themselves, learning English is a must. These are the types of paradoxes that Bhagat’s novels thrive on. And so, even while reading Bangla literature and nonfiction or enjoying Robindra Sangeet, people find time to consume Chetan Bhagat in Dhaka.

A repeated theme throughout the conference, raised mostly by the young Bangladeshi faculty in the audience, was the relationship between language training and literary study. The Department of English and the Humanities, the conference’s host, offers degrees in literature as well as in English Language Training (ELT), raising questions about how practical the study of English should be. While the literature faculty maintained that language training should take place during primary and secondary education, giving students the ability to access literature in English by the time they reach higher education, many younger folk insisted that it was possible to combine the two, to use literature as a means of learning the subtleties of language. This utilitarian approach to literature bothered some: it smacked of a world in which Shakespeare was recycled for pragmatic ends.

Bhagat of course is a ruthless advocate for a pragmatic English education, a position that keeps getting him into trouble, especially in India’s metropolitan centers, where although English is the de facto language of social mobility, it’s not fashionable to advocate it so openly. Bhagat’s straight talking also suggests that the privileged position of English is a done deal, and there’s no point contesting it, thus diminishing the genuine hard work of filmmakers, artists, writers and others in the bhashas who are doing their part in keeping India’s rich cultural and linguistic traditions alive.

But sitting in Dhaka, it struck me that in a somewhat ironic way, this pragmatic approach to English actually leaves a space where the intense love of one’s mother tongue might coexist with a pragmatic approach to social advancement. Ideally, literature should not be reduced to social advancement anyway. So why not reserve literature for Bangla – for emotion and beauty and memory and loss – and English for interviews, self-help books and the internet? It is a compromise, but a workable one at that.

The god of loss

But the fact is, Chetan Bhagat is not the only author Bangladeshis read in English. At the conference, speakers referenced Amitav Ghosh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kiran Desai and many others. At one panel on crises of masculinity in contemporary Bangladesh, both speaker and audience members quoted whole passages of Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things from memory. There was a long discussion on Allen Ginsberg and William Blake. At times, the atmosphere was dizzying.

And ULAB is not the only space where discussion of literature flourishes in Dhaka. Pathak Shamabesh is an expansive bookstore in Shahbagh that doubles as a publisher; their bestselling books include Zia Haider Rahman’s In The Light of What We Know and Mashrur Arefin’s translation of the Iliad into Bangla. Unlike many bookstores in India’s big cities, their selection offers an equal number of English and Bangla publications. One section contained a wide range of fiction from India and Pakistan, though fewer than expected by authors of Bangladeshi origin.

Right down the street is Dhaka University (DU), founded in 1921 and situated on a beautifully manicured campus identifiable by its characteristic Indo-Saracenic architecture. For a long time DU was a leader in higher education in East Bengal and played a significant role in the nationalist movement of 1971. Now some say it is in decline, faced with factionalism and political agitations that make other private options more appealing for those who can afford them. ULAB’s liberal arts model requires that students study a range of subjects in order to graduate, a model inspired by the liberal arts institutions of the United States.

ULAB has a clean, modern campus, top-notch faculty, and the newest technology. But its campus is essentially an urban high-rise perched over the intensely trafficked Satmasjid Road in Dhanmondi. A small price to pay? Yes. For many students, a no-brainer. DU’s Curzon Hall looks increasingly like an architectural ruin; the well-lit halls of ULAB are a hive of activity and debate.

A collective future

What Chetan Bhagat’s novels convey, in Dhaka as elsewhere, is the rich, contested, and uncertain relationship among literature, the English language and futurity throughout South Asia. This was stated in the conference theme but given flesh in the discussions that unfolded over the two days.

Can there be a future for Bangladesh without English? What type of English will it be, one that is pared down and pragmatic or one carrying the traces of Shakespeare and Keats? How exactly will English and Bangla coexist? These questions are not unique to Bangladesh but transcend the various regions of the subcontinent, occupying a domain where India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have more in common than we usually acknowledge. They demand a collective endeavour that has less to do with the shared traumas of Partition and more with envisioning a livable future in the decades to come.

It is his interest in these questions that makes Bhagat such a popular writer, albeit much maligned as well. Without explicitly saying so, his works shift attention from the traumas of South Asia’s past to the shared anxieties of its future. These are concerns that have the potential to realign Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as allies in the endeavour to master English but not let it master them.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.