A report of the 17th Science Fiction Conference

Host: Indian Instititute of Technology, Benaras, UP

17th Indian Science Fiction Conference was organized by Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies, Bangalore, India in collaboration with Indian Science Writers Association, Ayodhya, India and MCIIE, IIT, Benaras, India at Indian Institute of Technology, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India on 15th and 16th of December 2018.

The theme of the conference was “Technology and Science Fiction”. Twenty-five papers were presented, two Science Fiction books were released; a session on the Introduction to Science fiction; a session on how to write science fiction script for broadcasting over the radio; an interactive session of Indian SF writers with Korean SF writers; celebration of the Bicentennial year of the publication of the first SF work Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft; a show on mentalism and science fiction; beaming of a Tamil Science Fiction short movie and others.

The inauguration of the function took place with a prayer praising the goddess of knowledge Saraswati and lighting the lamp in Indian traditional style. Dr.Manoj Patairia the Director for Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – National Institute of Science Communication And Information Resources, New Delhi in his inaugural address highlighted how the present conference is coinciding with the 200th year of first science fiction novel Frankenstein (1818); the 500th Death anniversary of Saint poet Kabir who was in this city had worked against myth and always worked for scientific explanations. Speaking about the history of Indian SF, the eminent Scientist cited the contribution of physicist Dr J.C. Bose and the Vishwa Parichay by the Nobel laureate for literature Rabindra Nath Tagore in the past for the growth of Indian Science Fiction particularly in the field of astronomy. He concluded how the genre science fiction could foresee Future Shock.

In his Keynote address, the Secretary – General of Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies Dr. Srinarahari described two ways of approach to the philosophy of life. Formerly, the sages (Rishis) achieved the supreme power by means of penance. The modern Indian citizens have been practicing yoga by which the mind could reach status of blank. The Science Fiction of today is the science of tomorrow and in turn applies the principles of science to make technological gadgets, apps in the service of humanity. To elaborate the idea he gave an analogy of representation of a god or an eminent person’s sculpture. The Sculpture is made by chiseling the unwanted parts of a wood or stone ultimately to make a sculpture. Whereas in the case of technology one fills up color in making a portrait. Thus, he concluded how there is culmination of Indian philosophy, culture, tradition, way of life, myth and history on the one hand and the adoption of technology on the other go hand in hand in the development of what he christened as “Techno-Fiction”. 

Dr. Rajiv Ranjan Upadhyaya the president of ISFWA in his address quoted how the Vedas and Upanishads of the ancient times have had dealt the science and technology.

Suhyeon Lee and Boyoung Kim the writers from Korea were on the dais and they were introduced to the audience. The former is a prolific writer of Korean SF and has bagged many honors at a young age. She has written about minority groups, terra-farming in outer space and under water cities. The latter has a base in game development, graphic designer and scenario writing. Further she has earned a name for extrapolation and for a vivid description of the protagonist’s psyche in her SF works.

The SF books Trends in Science Fiction in Tamil by Nellai S Muthu (former scientist at Indian Space Research Organization) and Dr. Archana Mirajkar’s Home were released. The youngest 21 year old Indian Science fiction writer Rishabh Dubey also introduced his Krikos during the conference.

Dr. Pramod Jain Director of Indian Institute of Technology, Benaras Hindu University in his presidential address, pointed out that the conference theme “Technology and SF” was the first of its kind in the history of the institute and hoped how the two communities would exchange ideas in their future positive ventures.

Dr. Arvind Mishra the convener of the event welcomed the dignitaries and participants. The vote of thanks was given by Dr.PK Mishra the Chairperson of the Malviya Center of Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship, IIT, Varanasi.

Immediately followed by the inaugural function, Dr.Srinarahari presented an  “Introduction to Science Fiction with Special Reference to Indian Ambience”. Though, the target audience were the participants namely, a class of students who had represented local Varuna College, and to those who were new to genre SF, the session was attended by all the dignitaries and all the participants. During his presentation, he briefed about the origin, history, concept, definitions, themes, movements, representative world class writers, and kinds of SF in general. However, the focus was on Indian Science Fiction beginning with Indian states which have promoted SF studies; Universities, Colleges and organizations which have taken up research works at the higher education level by providing facilities to the scholars for pursuing their Master and doctoral degrees in SF; the SF writers in English, Hindi and vernacular languages; Indian SF visual media and others were also highlighted in his lecture.

 The same pre-lunch session was made further interesting by beaming an Indian Tamil vernacular language Science Fiction short movie of thirty minutes duration which had the subtitles in English. It is based on SF novel Munusami 1.2.1 by Sujatha one of the stalwarts of Indian Science Fiction writer. The movie is entitled Mathi Mayanginen which is directed by Ramanan Purushothama.

The post – lunch session focused on the paper presentations. To begin with Mr.Abhishek Kumar Mishra presented a paper on “Hindi Cinema aur Vignyan Kathaye”. It was followed a paper “Deconstructing Myths: Narrating the Story of Sita” by Indrani Das Gupta. Sita is the wife of Lord Rama in the Epic the Ramayana. The paper was based on several modern Indian SF works which have overcome gender bias in characterizing Sita. Dr. Shiva Kumar Sonalkar’s “Jayant Narlikar’s Science Literature: A Study” served as a base for Meenal Kale’s paper on “Time and Space in Return of Vaman”. Both of them dealt with Astro-Physicist and the top SF writer Jayant Narlikar’s works.  “The Concept of Avatar in Science Fiction” by Dr. Reema Sarwal and Arvind Mishra generated a long-term interaction among the group.

 Ashish Kumar Yadav’s “Hindi Vignyan Katha Sahithya” further supplemented the ideas presented by Zeashan Zaidi’s paper which reflected on the application of futuristic technology by the impact of Science Fiction in Hindi SF in general and Zeashan’s stories and novels in particular.

The youngest SF writer Rishabh Dubey marveled by taking the audience a step ahead in introducing the latest ideas in the field which could bring about a drastic change in the technology of the near future.

In addition, young scholars who are   carrying out doctoral research in the field of SF exhibited their ability to open up new horizons in terms of innovative ideas. The exemplary attempt in making novel interpretations were noticed in the papers presented by  Indrajit Patra on “Impact of Science and Technology on Future Science Fiction”; Rishabh Dubey: “A Route to a Better Tomorrow: The Power of Science Fiction”;  Kailash Atkare: “Post – Colonial Literature: A Critical Perspective”; Debraj Moulik: “Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle: A post Colonial Study” and above all they were by Dr. Alpana Gupta’s  “Science Fiction in the Post Truth Era” and Dr.Kalpana Kulashreshtra’s views on contemporary SF trends.

The sessions with Chairpersons Dr.Archana Mirajkar, Dr. YH Deshponde, Mr. Harish Yadav, Dr. Harish Goyal, Dr. Rajiv Ranjan Upadhyaya, Nellai S Muthu, Dr.PK Mishra, Arvind Mishra and the anchor persons Dr. Bhise Ram, Dr.Balaji A Navle, Kalpna Kulshreshtha have created an ever lasting impression upon the general public and media persons due to their spontaneous direction, monitoring,  and spell bound remarks about the papers as well as for being democratic in providing equal opportunity for the open house audience to interact with the scholars who presented the papers.

Most popular All India Radio program makers Ms. Meenu Khare and Ms. Rajashree Banerjee addressed the SF writers about making a science fiction script for a radio show. The topic was “Science Fiction on Radio: How to see through ear?” Speaking about the Indian ambience, they pointed out that in spite of the advent of TV, the radio media continues to be accessible throughout the country and pointed out how FM radio has been preferred to Television media in recent days. They also gave hints for the SF writers how cautious they should be in writing the script that the listeners should be made to visualize the situation by mere audio effect. Also they stressed how catchy the title, loudness, pitch, pause, dialogues, background music, expression of the mental status {The Indians call them as Navaras – the nine types of emotions namely, Shringara (love), Hasya (laughter), Karuna (kind-heartedness or compassion), Raudra (anger), Veera ( courage), Bhayanaka (terror), Bheebhatsya (disgust), Adbutha (surprise), and Shantha (peace or tranquility)}. These are the emotions which are contextualized may aid the listeners to visualize the situations. In addition, they pointed out how editing and rehearsals help to improve the recording and enhancing the quality of the production.

Harish Yadav is a Guinness World Record participant under the Magic category. He gave a show on magic – mentalism. He could read the minds of the audience and made them public. In turn, the subjects acknowledged them as the rightful thought that they had which he could read. He also connected the matter to SF telepathy and suggested that an intensive study and practice could make perfect in their performance.

The year marks the completion of 200 years of the publication of Frankenstein or the Prometheus unbound by Mary Wollstonecraft. The celebration took place in dedicating  an entire session during the conference. Dr. Balaji A Navle in his paper “The Origin of the Species” traces the storyline and also the criticism, reviews and the continuous flow of publication of works on the theme for the past 200 years. As Navle puts it, “…it is time tested and deals with the problems of artificial creation as well as deals with the revolt against the machine culture which have all immortalized Mary’s work”,

Reacting to the paper, Dr.Srinarahari, explained how intense was the industrial Revolution. He also dealt with the terms “Frankenstein complex” and tracked the works from Rossums’ Universal Robots till the 2018 December release Indian movie 2.0.

In addition, to mark its celebration, the organizers had conducted a writing competition for the students on Frankenstein theme. Winner of the prize was Smriti Raghuvanshi. She was given a cash prize with a certificate on the spot.

There was an interactive session with Indian Science Fiction writers and the Korean science Fiction writers. The writers on the Indian side were Dr.Arvind Mishra, Zeashan Zaidi, Nellai S Muthu, Dr. Y.H.Deshponde, Dr.Archana Mirajkar, Dr.Harish Goyal and Rishab Dubey, the Korean counter parts were Ms.  Suhyeon Lee & Ms. Kim Bo Young. The former is a Korean writer and translator, her area of specialization is fantasy particularly extrapolation. Her protagonists are all perfect characters. She has introduced more than 100 SF/Fantasy works to Korean readers. The latter is excelled in the field of mythology and science. Evolutionary Myths which is published by Clarks World magazine – deals with the reinterpretation of Korean mythology and evolution.

In his introductory remarks, Dr.Srinarahari said, “we are one. Hence, we term all the countrymen belonging to Science Fiction producing Asian Countries as WE and US. The initiative taken up by the organizers of Chinese in holding the First SF con at Beijing in this year has made us to work together. The Asian countries have both myth and technologically advanced modernity. We are having ancient cultures which might be due to the impact of the ancient civilizations on the banks of prominent rivers of the respective countries.

We want to preserve our past and to adapt to the contemporary progress of the technologies and to foretell accurately the future through ‘Gedenken experiment’ that is, Science Fiction. We have a common understanding that today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s Science and Technology.”

 The interaction covered the exchange of information, methods of writing, major themes dealt, the response of the media, publication, criticism, forums, organizations, research work carried out, upcoming events and accessible websites.

The 17th Indian Science Fiction Conference is not the end but it has paved way to the proposed 4th World SF Conference. In other words the 18th ISFC is proposed to be held at Aurangabad, Maharashtra state in India during 2019.

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