Porn To Patriarchy: Everything Studying English Literature Made Me Question

Back in school every year they used to award students who had 100% attendance. I was never absent because I liked receiving awards that didn’t involve much hard work. The prize was a book that I knew I was never going to read, because I hated reading. Isn’t it a lot of mental work?

Choosing English Major as my undergraduate degree was an impulsive decision on my part. “Too many women,” I faintly remember my soliloquy when I first met my classmates.

Miranda House is like a feminist utopia where you will find incredibly talented people who are really passionate about their choices and dreams. It was intimidating to find people who were so clear about their life choices that you would want to punch them in the face right away out of sheer envy. These were students who had already read T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats and knew what discourse as a literary term meant.

I remember our professor had asked everyone if English was their first preference and luckily I wasn’t the only one who said it wasn’t. My professor had said that, “most literature students fall in love with learning.” How idealistic.

‘Falling in love with learning.’ Well, that was a new concept for a CBSE student who sounded like the BYJUS app back then. I was, of course, a little ridiculed for being a CBSE student.

“So they taught you ONE CHAPTER from a Shakespearean tragedy?” said my ISC prodigy friend. In my defense, that dude’s language is super cryptic for a class ten student to understand. Everything had left a bad taste in my mouth except for the PAM cheeseburger, which by the way I’m pretty sure is one of the reasons behind Miranda House’s NIRF ranking.

The first time I thought maybe English literature wasn’t the worst decision was when we were discussing Zeus in our class. We went from Zeus to patriarchy and then to religion and then I lost where the professor went but I wished the lecture hadn’t ended. I realized the processes that my school had taught me had made me harbor a sense of aversion towards learning.

College was different, my professors didn’t care if I leaned on the bench or if I was eating in the classroom; the only thing that made them furious was a silent class, one of them had called us “dummies,” quite rude!

Engaging classrooms are a very challenging atmosphere, you are made to argue with a person who might be more well read than you and the fear of saying something stupid always got the better of me. But you can’t stay a dummy even if it involves appearing like a complete idiot in a class. Speak up because it’s empowering. One of the best things that my professor had told me was, “you know some things, they know some things.”

I remember the first time I did it. “Helen was the wife of Menelaus who later eloped with Paris,” I had replied to a fairly direct question and I knew I wasn’t wrong. My professor stared at me for two seconds and said, “So your idea of Helen’s identity only revolves around the men in her life.” This was the first time I realized the power of language.

I have now started analyzing things before saying them but trying to sound politically correct and not holding back my tongue is an art that I am yet to learn.

I was trying to make sense of the different ideas that were thrown at me after every next lecture when this incident took place. It was one of the introductory classes for the second semester and our professor read an excerpt from Tropic of Cancer. She was received by jaw dropping silence which was broken by my friend’s whisper, “Did she just read ‘bitch in heat’ out loud?”

My professor was making a point about male centered pornography. She then talked about incest which made most of us uncomfortable. She had sensed it, and she asked us why. Nobody wanted to answer that; nobody could rationally, anyway. She then said, “We have saved ourselves as human beings and damned ourselves as scholars.”

It’s debates like these sprinkled with unnerving silence, cringe worthy defenses and reaching the clichéd conclusion that ‘everything is a social construct’ that made attending most lectures worth it.

I owe a lot to this college and the people that I’ve met here. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for this experience. It hasn’t always been smooth – it’s challenging, the newness, the sleep deprivation, the awful food, the Delhi heat, the recurring existential crisis.

Yes, the existential crisis. Anita Desai’s ‘In Custody’ and Albert Camus’ ‘Myth of Sisyphus’ drove most of us to this plague that has affected half the millennial population. Michael J. Sandel once said, “self knowledge is like lost innocence, however unsettling, it can never be unseen.”

I have now started analyzing nuances I earlier ignored or took for granted. I question things in my head all the time and it is unsatisfying and exhausting, but I can’t stop myself. I think I have gone absolutely bonkers.

I can’t sum up my experience of a year in this smog filled city that I have started liking more than my hometown in a few words, but I can confidently assert one thing: had I not truly fallen in love with learning this one year would have been terrible mental hell.

From skipping Gulliver’s Travel in the sixth grade to choosing to read a book over watching a movie, I’ve come a long way. From knowing these three words individually – cultural material criticism – to understanding what they mean as a whole, I’ve come a long way. From taking impulsive decisions to respecting my impulsive decisions, I’ve come a long way.

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