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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 52, New Delhi, December 11, 2021

The revelation of the ordinary through the everydayness of experiences and challenges | Nupur Choudhary

Saturday 11 December 2021


by Nupur Choudhary *

In Defence of the Ordinary:
Everyday Awakenings
by Dev Nath Pathak

2021, 276 Pages
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9390358175
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9390358175

This insightful, demonstrative, and lively account of experiences and stories addresses a wide range of readers. The book breaks the confines of academic structures and envisions an ordinary. Opening through its intrepid preface, the author’s attempt to visualize ordinariness gets highlighted in every chapter of the text. Additionally, the profound amalgamation of humor, poems, visuals, and narratives binds the essence of polemics positioned towards institutions, structures, and wider politics of academia. Pathak’s awareness of institutional hegemony, complexities of self within such landscapes, and a persistent struggle of an ordinary teacher are remarkable.

      The book is distributed majorly into five sections communicating the nature of each portion. In the beginning, the author emerges with an unsettling statement ‘It looks like the world is eager to overcome ordinariness’ (p.3.) which shifts the reader’s attention towards oneself. This is conspicuous because the centrality of feeling ordinary is an essential fear for almost many growing scholars in various thematic academic affiliations. The section further unfurls the works of litterateurs such as Bhagwati Charan Verma’s Chitralekha, Rabindranath Tagore’s Gora, and several other contemporary filmmakers of twentieth-century India which establishes a deeper interconnection of personal, narrative, and the ordinary. He further unravels the meaning(s) of ordinariness through the philosophical work of Debriprasad Chattopadhyaya on Lokayata and how individuals need to navigate such philosophy. The attempt to combine the aspects of seeing, listening, and becoming is substantiated creatively with several examples from the characters of oral and epic traditions, like Moses, Sanjay, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Vyāsa, etcetera.

     Pathak also provides an extensive discussion on everydayness and personalizes the book with experienced narrative, or to put it more effectively, the rallying phrase of personal is political is in every chapter. The author soulfully investigates ordinariness through the medium of life and death, blending his training as a sociologist, critic, and experiences as an individual who grew up listening to cultural hymns. The discussion of ordinary emotions is represented both from philosophical, religious, textual tradition, and through personal narratives of friendship, jokes, and love. His declaration to no emotion is innocent’ (p. 47.) is interplayed brilliantly through the introduction of Khattar Kaka, the creation of a Maithili Litterateur named Hari Mohan Jha, Pathak’s endeavor to inject the regional works of literature adds unadulterated light to the book. The ruminations employ cinema, folk stories, legends, to draw the analogy of ordinary―and―self. Towards the end of the second section, the author talks about the culture of protest and why questioning becomes a significant part of a student’s life. He highlights the corporate roles of educational institutions and how arguing or debates are now disassociated with “educational thinking”.

    Towards the chapters under A Dream Lost and A Dream Found Pathak expresses the nature of ordinariness (and its challenges) for a teacher. He voices fundamental elements of the relationship between a student and his teacher, and why it becomes imperative to witness the ordinary in a teacher. The revised reading of Guru-Shishya relation (through the example of Rishi Vashisth) is enthralling; Perhaps understanding popular narratives from a newer perspective can express the circumstances of ordinary more clearly. There are two convictions of society, at one level there is persistent glorification (highlighted through the several couplets in the book) about the position of a teacher; on the contrary, there is afflicted dehumanization too. Pathak relies on the empowering articulations of J. Krishnamurthy, Amir Khusrow, and Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. The realm of ordinary love inclusive― of discourses, questions, and conversations between a student-teacher is illustrated significantly through the poetics and polemics. Furthermore, hopefulness seen through the ordinary becomes a requisite in Pathak’s writing amid the problems of educational-institutional politics, their robotic functioning, and the apathy of teachers through various heartfelt narratives.

      Yet a question hangs suspended throughout the book: How does one know what ordinary exactly is? Pathak certainly provides, if not an uncomplicated answer, surely a promising one. In the later sections, he provokes the readers with the idea of vernacular cannibalism, and how language becomes an integral manifestation of ordinary living and dying. His prior works on Maithili folklore and social anthropology of death displayed an understanding of the similar nuances, which he furthers in this book. The changing dynamics of regional language is yet another stimulating argument. In the end, the author brings the core of ordinariness, the idea of living and dying, through the numerous examples of songs, dramas, poetry, and cinema.

      In Defence of the Ordinary stands affix to its title leaving its audience with lingering thoughts about themselves, their ordinariness, and everything which “defines” their innate existence. The interdisciplinary efficacy of this book for researchers, students, scholars, and ordinary readers opens the possibility of inclusivity in academic thinking. This book is a reminder to the academic pursuit that everything circumambulating social sciences, humanities, philosophy, art, and existence emerges from the ordinary, and it is this which invites our attention towards it.

* (Reviewer: Nupur Choudhary is an Independent Researcher and Artist at Chirchiree. Previously worked as an Assistant Professor in KR Mangalam University, Research Assistant at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), and Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) under the Ministry of Culture.)

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