A Brief Report of the UGC Sponsored World Conference on ‘Science Fiction Studies’ in India Organized by Department of English, Yashwantrao Mohite College, Pune On 1st and 2nd Feb. 2012

The Department of English organized First World Conference on ‘Science Fiction Studies’ in India on 1st and 2nd February 2013. The world conference was the first largest event in the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Bharati Vidyapeeth. The Conference was inaugurated at the auspicious hands of renowned Scientist and Chief Mentor, Indian Space Research Organization, Bengluru Padma shri Dr. Y S Rajan and Dr. Christina De Coursey from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong was the guest of honour for the function. Dr. Vishwajit Kadam, Secretary, Bharati Vidyapeeth was in chair. The organizing President Dr. R. S. Zirange introduced the theme of the conference. Dr. V A Rankhambe introduced the chief guests. Principal K D Jadhav welcomed all the dignitaries and scholars in his welcome address. The Conference proceedings which consists 141 research abstracts had been released at the hands of Dr. Vishwajeet Kadam.

This conference was organized in association with Vigyan Parishad, New Delhi, Marathi Vidnyan Parishad, Mumbai and Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies, India. There were 257 delegates participated in the conference from 15 states of India and 5 countries of the world.

Prof. Dr. Y S Rajan enlightened the audience with his thoughtful inaugural address. He said, “Over the last six decades, we have failed to make our people friends of science. He said and called for efforts by science fiction writers to bring people closer to science through their imaginative Stories, Novels and Serials.

According to Rajan, Science and its applications used in the Nehruvian sense are too precious to be overlooked. There is a greater need to apply Science to solve economic and social problems in more practical ways. He said “In India, Sci-Fi writers have the unique advantage of the country’s culture and heritage as embedded in Indian Languages, epics, mythologies, folklore literature and living traditions”.

While giving Chair Person’s address Dr. Vishwajeet Kakam visualized the Bharati Vidyapeeth and its academic activities and continuous progress. He concluded by congratulating the Department of English for having thought on this interdisciplinary theme of the conference.

In the First Plenary Session Dr. Christina De Coursey, the prime speaker, spoke on ‘Virtuosity in Verne: Scientific and Antiquarian Models of Knowledge in Journey to the Centre of the Earth’.She deliberated on the 19th century historical context in which Verne was writing to interpret two inter-related Victorian versions of scholarship, the scientific and the antiquarian. The triumph of Darwin has tended to mean that contemporary scholars see 19th century science and humanities as competing epistemologies. Yet at the time Verne was writing, the supremacy of science, and even its separation from humanistic models of knowing, was neither fixed nor complete. In the 19th century, the term “science” covered a broad range of knowledge, including history, linguistics, politics and philosophy.

Dr. De Coursey related Verne’s literary representation of virtuoso scholars to scholarly practices and personas of that time, and through this build a more accurate picture of the human practice of knowledge Verne sought to express and celebrate.

While offering his Chairperson’s remark Dr. Palnivel, Former Professor and Head, Department of English, Bharatihar University, Coimbatore expressed happiness about the scientists and humanitarians are coming together for the welfare of the mankind. He said that teachers of English Literature need to go in for a paradigm shift in teaching SF. We must get away from the esoteric impulse to mystify SF and rather use its plots as concrete contexts to make students become responsive and sensitive to theories in Sciences so that they think about the way they are impacting life on this earth, probably elsewhere too. In recent times biological fantasies have dominated creative imagination, in fiction as well as in movies, and may offer us a meaningful start to achieve the goal.

The Second Plenary Session was chaired by Dr. A P Deshpande, Honorary Secretary, Marathi Vidnyan Parishad. The Chief Speaker, Mr. Samar Nakhate, noted Film Critic and Former Dean, FTII, Pune talked about the image making, image creation, reality, logical imagination, fantasy and fact. Being a film critic he presented some video clips to justify his stand on Science Fiction. In his lively and cheerful talk he surveyed the whole genre of Science Fiction Films.

Dr. A P Deshpande, in his Chair Person’s remark deliberated that history of science fiction writing is about 100 years old in Maharashtra, however it really picked up after 1970. Film and television can make a forceful effect on the minds of people, even on illiterate mind. Although not directly propagating a science fiction but channels like; Discovery, National Geography etc. are the examples, how science can be brought forward to people in an interesting way. In fact these channels are, providing seeds for science fiction.

The Third Session of the first day was devoted to paper presentation. Paper Presentation Sessions had been observed in six different classrooms simultaneously. Overall 60 papers were presented on the first day.

This session was followed by the Screening of the Science Fiction Film Total Recall. After the film Mr. Samar Nakhate, noted Film Critic commented upon the scientific elements of the film and its pedagogical implications.

The Second Day began with the second paper-reading session of the World Conference. The First Plenary Session was chaired by Dr. M H Shrinarhari, Secretary, Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies, India. The Prime Speaker of the session Mr. Niranjan Ghate, noted Marathi Science Fiction Writer pondered on his own shaping as a Science Fiction Writer. He said that his popular science writing has helped him handling new themes in his Sci-Fi stories. Unfortunately, there is no good criticism of SF in Marathi. SF is not taught anywhere. Marathi professors do not understand science in SF while science professors do not understand literary style. Writing SF is a balancing act, a tight rope walk maintaining balance between science and literature but it brings tomorrow, today with all its problems

While offering the Chair Person’s remarks Dr. Shrinarhari appreciated Mr. Niranjan Ghate. He talked about Computer, Internet, Space travel and its application while teaching Science Fiction in Classroom situations. He concluded by briefing about the contribution of Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies.

The Second Plenary Session of the Day was engaged by Dr. Abhay Rajput, Head, Library, Information and Publication Division, Indian Institute of Tropical Meterology, Pune. He deliberated on Science Poetry as a Genre of Science Communication. Science poetry presents science in a creative, imaginative and innovative way that can be interesting and entertaining while taking the message of science across. Science poetry communicates through metaphor, and imagery created through the intelligent and creative use of words. As humans, we learn through images rather than words. Therefore, poetic images of science can have a lasting impact on our understanding of science and of course, on our memory. Further, poetic expressions coupled with emotions and feelings can even make the experience more enjoyable and memorable

The Session was chaired by Dr. S G Deshpande, Head, Department of Marathi, SNDT University, Mumbai. He said that Sci-Poetry is not just depiction of a scientific phenomenon or a device to increase one’s knowledge or wordsmithing from a science dictionary.  It is very much an evolution of ultra neo poetry with new and modern perspective and matching the scientific systems with aesthetic pattern that one selects. Note that scientific system does not mean logical thinking using cause and effect

The Third Session was devoted to the paper-reading. Paper Presentation Sessions had been observed in six different classrooms simultaneously. Overall, 30 papers were presented in the session.

The Fourth Plenary Session was engaged by Mr. Arvind Gupta, Senior Scientist, IUCCA, Pune with practical representation of various Science Experiments. He guided to prepare Science Toys through simple material, instruments. In the last twenty years there has been a remarkable shift in science teaching. From the passive chalk and talk method science teaching is slowly shifting towards a more active method – learning by doing. Before children can understand a thing, they need experience: seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, smelling; choosing, arranging, putting things together, taking things apart. Children need to experiment with real things. Often such “activity” based learning is termed as elitist. Some think that this method can be used only in developed country with an abundance of resources.

While offering the Chair Person’s remark Dr. K S Purushottaman advised to cultivate scientific mind. He said that SF is a wonderful literary genre. The SF wonder, in most stories, is because of the innovative gadgets that is the result of advancing technology.  Spaceships, Flying Saucers, Time Machines, Ray Guns and a plethora of robots are the attractions for eager eyed youngsters. Like Leonardo Da Vinci’s various machines which are being studied and appreciated even today, SF inventions have always fascinated SF fans and readers. With the advent of the SF cinema, especially films like ETStar WarsJurassic Park, etc brought about a visual perception of SF’s power of invention and innovation

In the Fifth Plenary Session, Dr. Coomi Vevaina, Head, Department of English, University of Mumbai, Mumbai, was the prime speaker and Noted Scholar Mr. Y S Kalamkar was the Chairperson. Dr. Coomi Vevaina deliberated that as a literary genre, science fiction, permits “realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method”. While offering imaginative renderings of the Horatiam dictum “to teach and to delight”, the formenables the literary writer to discuss philosophical ideas such as freedom, identity, morality and power politics, to name only a few.  As against hard core science fiction which deals with extra-terrestrials, ray guns and teleporting, the science fiction of Shelley and Atwood belongs to a sub-genre known as “soft or social science fiction”.

Prof. Y S Kalamkar, while offering his Chair Persons remark summarized the Speakers view and briefly talked about the recent trends in Science Fiction Studies. He lamented on the necessity of serious critics of the Science Fiction genre. He concluded by the hope that Science Fiction studies will gain the magnitude in the field of research and other critical pursuits

The Valedictory Session of the Conference was graced by Dr. Y H Deshpande, Secrtary, West Zone, Indian Association for Science Fiction Studies, India and Joint Secretary of Bharati Vidyapeeth Prin. K. D. Jadhav was presiding over the function. Prof Dr. Palnivel from Coimbatore, Mr. Sudev Basu, from Shantiniketan, Kolkatta, and Dr. Coomi Vevaina, From Mumbai made impression speeches. In his Valedictory address Dr. Y H Deshpande summarized all the sessions in of the conference.

Dr. R. S. Zirange

     The organizing President

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