In Conversation With: Rukshana Shroff

This week, we drop in at the Student Welfare Office for a chat with famed-multitasker-and-student-favourite, Rukshana Shroff!

Team Jabberwock: Ma’am, we have a regular feature in which we try to, um, we ask teachers what they are reading in their leisure time and so, uh, Ma’am, what are you reading about in your leisure time?

RS: (chuckles) Do I have leisure time?

So, in the last two-three months what I’ve read – I can’t say I’m reading all the time because most of the time, I just about get the time to read up for my classes, and I spend a lot of time reading up for my classes, but yeah, I think the two-three books that recently I’ve been interested in, linked partly with my teaching and partly not necessarily with that, uh, I find this young African writer, this Nigerian writer, very fascinating – I’ve been saying that in my class also – you know, this girl Adichie, Chimamanda Adichie. I find her very fascinating, I’ve been reading her novel, her short stories, and I think this whole idea of postcolonial writing, writing from a diaspora point of view, I think all that I found in hers, it’s something that appeals to me very, very strongly in her writing. I enjoyed her Purple Hibiscus; I enjoyed her short story A Thing Around your Neck, that’s something I’ve found very fascinating.


Totally different plane, uh, recently I reread The Palace of Illusions* and I was actually reading it with somebody who was – somebody else was reading it at the same time, and said, you know, that I don’t understand the title of this novel, uh, because, okay theek hai, they built that palace, and the palace of illusions, but it doesn’t seem like such a strong title. And I, on the other hand, reading from an English literature perspective – the other person wasn’t an English literature person – so I said, okay, let me see, and then I felt, god, this title is so appropriate because the whole idea of storytelling – there’s so much in that book which a literature person would appreciate, and someone reading it just as a sort of, you know, a retelling of this whole story, uh, may not catch that, because when you read it as a retelling of the story, you feel, okay, interesting insights, but that’s it. You’re seeing the story from a different perspective, you’re looking at this whole business of Draupadi’s point of view, whereas I found that the title and the whole way in which stories, the idea of stories, came up, was very interesting. So I thought that was another very fascinating book that I have read recently – The Palace of Illusions, and basically, um, Adichie, Chimamanda Adichie.

TJ: Ma’am, in the limited time you get, are you able to strike any sort of balance at all between leisure reading and course-work?

RS: Problem is that, you know, my hours are so few by the time I go back from here! So, basically all my reading is done during the holidays, that’s the only time I get to do any sort of extra reading, otherwise, my bedtime reading is my course work. You’re doing two-three plays, and I have a fairly heavy teaching load also, and uh, therefore, especially this semester, because I went back to a lot of things that I used to teach in the past and I haven’t taught for a couple of years in between. So I actually went back to – so I was rereading Beckett, I was rereading things I hadn’t taught. Last couple of years, as it is, the course has been changing, every time we’ve been teaching something different, so I think most of term time teaching is literally reading and rereading and I’m one of those who needs to prepare very thoroughly before every class. And I remember years ago, that one of the teachers – a senior teacher, and I was then very junior – who said, you know, that an Honours lecture, first time you’re doing it, it takes you four hours and the next time you’re doing it, the second time, it takes you two hours, and I used to wonder and I thought how? And now I realize that that’s true! I think both of us** would agree, that there are times when we’re preparing for Honours lectures, that we would actually be up at at twelve and one, and each of us is saying you know, that we have to do this reading, and we have to finish that reading. We had Shakespeare in common with each other, and I know there is this new essay which has come, there is this new article which has come out, so one gets into that, you know, you want to keep updating what you’re teaching, so its not as if I could sit back and say, okay, two years ago, or three years ago, or five years ago, when I taught that, these were the essays. I want to find out what’s going on new, and for someone who is not as savvy on the net, now I’ve become a member of the Online British Council, but it takes a lot of time to get through all that, that takes up a lot of energy and time.

So, a lot of my other reading is this, but as I said, these are two or three of the ones I’ve been recently reading. And of course, one of my all-time favourite ones is To Kill a Mockingbird. I read and reread that book over and over again. Otherwise, I do a lot of, you know, other sort of – I like to read the newspaper from cover to cover, I like to keep up with what’s going on. I don’t get much time to read other magazines and things; I rarely read other magazines. But, earlier, I used to read the Outlook, India Today in detail. Frankly, I don’t even have time for that these days. The newspaper is something I read – a couple of papers everyday.

TJ: We’ve already put up our first feature with SC Ma’am up.

RS: (laughs) SC Ma’am will give you so much more than I can give you. Do show it to me when you put it up!

* The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

** Indicating Kasturi Kanthan, who was also present!


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