Students studying for a Master in English at Tribhuvan University are required to write a thesis in their second year, which equals to a hundred-marks exam. The normal tendency, so far, has been to choose from some high sounding Western philosophical theories (different versions of deconstruction, post-colonialism, and feminism, among others, are in vogue these days, for that matter), and to ‘apply’ them on some Indian or English novel in which a certain trait is thought to be obvious and conspicuous. In most of these cases, no creativity or originality is involved in the ‘research’, and its not very unlikely if the student visits some websites, gathers lines and paragraphs from here and there, and completes the ‘research’ by using them as her/his own ideas. The result normally is a volume of around seventy-pages in average between two black hard covers with golden prints on them, looking alike not only from outside but also regarding the content—similar to the bricks made out of the same mud and mould—and ‘signifying nothing’. For those who expect something worthy after all the fuss, the height of disappointment becomes conspicuous when, during the viva-voce, the student cannot explain a single issue s/he has eloquently discussed at length in her/his research.
The obvious question arises: Who is responsible for this unfortunate state? There is not a single factor or person to be blamed here. I believe that the system with which we run our programs—in which the students are never required/encouraged to write a single line and show to their teachers—must be the most important factor leading to this ‘unacademic orientation’. Besides that, research committees of the central department and those of English departments of campuses that are running MA in English program also should take the major responsibility for this. The central department is overburdened with the student number on one hand, and has to work under a pressure of granting above-distinction marks to the ‘research’ of any quality on the other. This results not only in the inability of the teachers to supervise the students’ work carefully and their failure to refer new research areas, works and methods, but also in holding high aspirations and regards for the ‘research’. In the campuses other than the central department, the biggest problem is that of the lack of senior teachers with experience, wide reading, and knowledge required for the specific purpose (which in the recent times has also been a headache for the central department). The ultimate result is the ‘dubious gestation period’ and the (re)production of something called ‘thesis’— one must think for a while before one can give it that name.
Way out? Many of the answers lie within the individual students too. With the perceptiveness and hard work of some students, a few very good researches are carried out every year, and that is a different area of discussion. But when we talk about the researches in general, the concerned departments should devise better plans. Help of the senior professors who have spent their whole life reading virtually everything under the sun should be sought for in this regard, even if we have failed to do so in many other areas. My personal experience says none of them would say no if rightly approached. They would rather love being in their court again.
Next, the central department should aim at turning the thesis less as a mechanical formality of granting the students better marks and rescuing the drowned, but more as training for initiation into real research and scholarship. Careful measures should be adopted not only while accepting the research proposals but also while guiding the students and supervising their works. Various methods have been brought into practice in the West to track in case a student has plagiarized, but I would call that unnecessary if we can impart the students a better training and culture of research. For that, writing should be made a regular classroom activity as well as a part of assignment for evaluation. Writing course with obligatory practical implication should be introduced at least from the bachelor’s level. The teachers themselves, too, should be better trained in this regard.
Moreover, my real question here is: why not grant the students some freedom, as long as they follow the major criteria of the process, to choose texts, tools and theories on their own rather than forcing them to choose from a stock of ‘overused’ stuff? Why should we make them run after Western theories and over-discussed and, literally, exhausted English or Indian novels? Why not encourage and initiate them towards writing their research paper on some Nepali writer or text? The creative tradition can never go far unless it is backed by a good critical tradition. Is it the reason why Nepali literature has not achieved international recognition in spite of the presence of world class writers like Devkota, Paudel and Sama, Mainali, Bhikshu and Koirala, Bhupi and Parijat? How long are we going to depend on some Michael James Hutt and David Rubin to write something about Nepali literature in the ‘global vernacular’ and publish, that too with embedded misreadings and misinterpretations? How long should we let our professors’ peer-rivalry and oedipal-jealousy snub the works of their seniors and contemporaries from being studied in university locations? As if doomed to academic deterioration, how long can we ignore or remain unaware of the fact that we have turned into the machines to disseminate the capitalist ideologies of the West?
To draw the point home—how long are we going to let our budding researchers run after the texts and theories of the writers from some other climes? Is the time and effort invested in these ‘researches’ contributing anything at all to our literature and our literary criticism? Isn’t it high time we initiated our MA students into studying our own texts written in Nepali and English for this purpose, rather than forcing them to chase the so-called literary giants and grand-narrative theories? There will be obvious answers: we are doing it. My point is: whatever is being done is good. But that is not enough. We need to do more; much more indeed. We need to begin a trend, a tradition for that. I would rather say we should revolutionize our concept regarding research. If we don’t do anything for our ‘backward and underprivileged’ literature, who else will bother to do anything for it and why anyway?
(Published in The Kathmandu Post)