Sunday , 17 February 2019

More than just talk-shops

Frederick Noronha

In the past few days, if I could exaggerate a little, it has been raining seminars. Not that I’m complaining. In fact, such events can play a crucial role boosting the intellectual life of a region, even if, admittedly, we need to do a lot to improve standards.

When we were younger, I recall that there was a lot of scepticism about seminars. Young people in a hurry tend to dismiss these events mainly a talk shop. Or worse. Someone even described these gab-fests as forms of mental masturbation, suggesting that nothing productive could even come out of it.

I disagree. Sometime in 2011, when Goa was observing the 50th anniversary of the end of Portuguese rule, the state government felt generous enough to pay for some unscheduled seminars. The money involved was rather small; if not mistaken, a history centre got a lakh of rupees to help them organise one. The university also organised one then, albeit with a higher level of international participation.

What struck me then was that, when given the opportunity, young researchers from Goa proved themselves quite capable at choosing interesting topics, collating material on the same, and building an interesting presentation that would make sense even to the common person. They were building awareness about the history, culture, sociology, literature and more of Goa.

What was also obvious is that demand fuels its own supply. If there were events of such nature being organised, then the knowledge-generation activity happened. If not, there was nothing. Hence their importance.

In the past, only a few disciplines in Goa had seminars happening regularly. History had a good legacy since the late 1970s at least, and there was the series of Indo-Portuguese history seminars, initiated when the now-retired Teotonio R de Souza was a young historian working out of Alto Porvorim. (I’m not adequately aware of the history of this seminar, so it is possible that others played a key role too.)

The local history seminars have seen more active days in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, at least another person like me commented privately the other day that seminars don’t get widely announced, mostly limit themselves to a narrow circle, and finish even before the wider society is aware that these are being held.

Some years back, the local librarians’ body, called the granthalay sangh, was active. Sadly, not anymore. I fondly recall the year in which the Indian History Congress held its many, parallel sessions in Goa, at a time when (if not mistaken) the historian B Sheikh Ali was the vice-chancellor.

Many disciplines have not had the benefit of having regular local seminars being held. With Goa wanting to give a push towards higher education, it might be a good time to give this a closer look. I suspect it will throw up more wealth (of the intellectual kind) than we might think is possible.

In the current fortnight itself, there have been three to four seminars being held in the field of the languages and the humanities alone. There would be obviously many more happening, which we are not even aware of. Every once in a way, the internet reports on seminars being held in Goa, which we haven’t even heard of. Not long back, a friend in distant Belgrade sent across a link to an event called the Goa Urban Lab: the paradoxes of tourism that was being held here.

But, back to Goa. One seminar on traditions, continuity and change has just finished at the Goa University’s Department of English. Early next week, philosophy and literature meeting will be the subject of another such seminar. On coming Tuesday-Wednesday, the Dhempe College will play host to a two-day event on a rather hot topic: the role and relevance of media ethics in contemporary society.

I can already imagine my journo colleagues asking questions like: who do these academicians think they are to discuss issues like media ethics? Or, do they understand the issue at all? Or even, it’s fine for them sitting in their ivory tower to talk about all these theories.

But then, when we in the media are preaching morals to the rest of the world (especially to politicians), should it not be only apt that we should ourselves be willing to discuss this issue? Of course, there is a caveat here: when we ourselves do the finger-pointing, there are at least four fingers pointing back at us!

Without intending to prejudge what will or will not be said in the coming week, let’s just conclude by agreeing that talk shops too have their role to play. The question is: are we willing to give them the time and importance they deserve?

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