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Does Studying English Literature Really Limit Your Options?

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By Krupa Joseph

Anyone who has even picked up the Ulysses will understand that unlike popular belief, majoring in English Literature is not a piece of cake.

Every major phase in history is marked by its literary content. Understanding the Great Depression, the Apartheid and the Civil Rights Movement of the Jazz Age from the literary works of the period is much more alluring than one thinks. As someone who just graduated with an English Literature major, I think it is a really wonderful path to follow with a keen interest. It wasn’t always a cake walk but I have learned a lot and enjoyed it thoroughly.

english literature

Cramming a variety of beautiful poems by numerous poets for your exams isn’t as easy as you think. You must be willing to stomach the long, mundane essays that the University thinks will enrich you enough to grant you a degree. In between understanding Post-Structuralism; Virginia Woolf’s ideas of feminism, and Modern Fiction; the poetic works of Milton and his contemporaries, I barely got a chance to even pick up a novel of my choice. While everyone I knew was raving about how “The Fault In Our Stars” is the most beautiful book ever written, I was trying to understand Barthes. But all that being said, I must admit I would never have discovered poets and authors like Milton or Albert Camus, who I now love, had it not been for this major.

Many Universities like Delhi University offer a bachelor’s degree in English Literature which offers you 6 papers each year. The course pattern that Mumbai University offers is slightly different. The first two years you have three subjects, and in the final year you get to choose your major. So, in the first two years we were introduced to the basic concepts of a Literature, Indian and American, and even a little bit of drama and poetry. We explored literary works varying from Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aurobindo Ghosh, Amitav Ghosh to Shakespeare and Bernard Shaw. And in the final year, we delved into the depths of literary analysis. Along with works of Hardy, Marlowe and Tennyson (to name a few), we learnt theories of criticism and popular culture that would help us analyze texts in greater depth. While it may sound boring, you won’t believe the amount of things (from Game of Thrones to ‘Chikni Chameli‘) you could link to these theories. One of the best part about these papers were the number of movies we would watch in these classes! We even watched ‘Midnight In Paris’ and ‘Roman Holiday’ to understand how cities can be represented in texts.

Of course, the decision to pursue literature could be frowned upon. While my parents have always been supportive of my decisions, every time I visit my relatives I find it extremely hard explaining that my life isn’t over and that there is more I can do with my life than be an English teacher (with all due respect to teachers). All you need is the passion for reading, writing and a hunger for literary excellence. I found learning about Psychoanalytical criticism and Laura Mulvey’s views on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ interesting because once I understood them, I realised that the idea of applying them to novels and other texts really excited me. It’s simple. If you are passionate about something you shouldn’t let anything come in your way.

Many don’t realize that English Literature doesn’t limit you career-wise. As a literature major who can quote Plato and make references to existentialist theories, you are more than just a creative mind. By being a jack-of-all trades, you are an asset in this super competitive world. Literature is probably the only subject that encompasses within itself all other subjects. This leaves you with options to switch professions. There are many versatile options for you, from travel blogging, to being an English teacher in non-English speaking countries. Even within a writing career you are free to switch from one field to the other. And who knows, maybe even go on to write the script for a Broadway play or for the next award winning movie!

Unlike specific majors like BMS or B.Com, it doesn’t prepare you for any particular career. There are chances that you might be unsure of what you want to do next. I think the best way to deal with it is to simply explore your options. You could intern in places you have been fascinated by. Because you weren’t trained the specifics of the profession you choose, you might spend a while trying to learn it. However, this can be overcome by pursuing a Masters or a Diploma course and always remember that even all the well-known writers and journalists started at the bottom.

It might be a while before you make the big bucks or earn the approval of your relatives. But I know that making a lot of money would never give me the satisfaction of seeing my name listed as a writer for a magazine or seeing my byline in a newspaper. That alone was good reason for me to take up this major.

You must be to comment.
  1. Amanda

    Thank you for writing this, Krupa! 🙂
    It was a great read!

  2. Monica I.

    Thank you for writing this! I wish I had come across such an article before studying Business. I would have definitely picked English Literature for studies.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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