THE IDEAL UNI­VER­SITY IS NEI­THER IN BOOKS NOR IN­SIDE THE COM­PUTER; THE GREAT­EST UNI­VER­SITY, SUBRA­MANI CON­CLUDES, IS LIFE IT­SELF Se­ri­ous fic­tion pro­vides fresh, pow­er­ful per­spec­tives on the fun­da­men­tal dilem­mas fac­ing to­day’s man­agers and ex­ec­u­tives

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­jisun.com.fj Sa­ten­dra Nan­dan is Fiji’s lead­ing writer. His fourth book of es­says, Dis­patches From Dis­tant Shores, will be pub­lished this year.

D ur­ing the last fort­night I re­ceived three books: Free Love (240 pages) from the Samoan writer Sia Figiel; two from Fiji: Chu­ra­manie Bis­sundyal’s Prometheus in Dante’s Hell (221 pages), and Subra­mani’s Re­claim­ing the Na­tion (22 pages). The first two are works of fic­tion: I’ve met Sia Figiel and know a lit­tle about her writ­ing full of brio and bilin­gual­ism. In fact the back cover blurb of her book has a com­ment by me as I had browsed through the vol­ume in its man­u­script form. Chu­ra­manie Bis­sundyal I’ve not met but he sent me an email wherein he ex­pressed his pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment to literary cre­ations in Fiji—we give our ‘blood and bones’ to cre­ate works of art with such en­ergy and imag­i­na­tion, writes the nov­el­ist.

In a cou­ple of pow­er­ful im­ages, he told me, how a so­ci­ety can drown it­self in ma­te­ri­al­is­tic and ship­wrecked seas with­out the bal­last and bal­ance of lit­er­a­ture -- an es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ent in our voy­ag­ing across the tu­mul­tuous seas of life, if one wants to keep afloat: wav­ing not drown­ing. Charu­manie should know as he’s orig­i­nally from Guyana—a tragic coun­try that has given us some re­mark­able writ­ers like David Daby­deen, who has lived in Lon­don since his child­hood, and Wil­son Har­ris. I’ve had the plea­sure of meet­ing both. Bis­sundyal con­cludes his mes­sage to me with these words: the met­ro­pol­i­tan in­sti­tu­tions spend bil­lions on lit­er­a­ture, arts, mu­sic and (films) be­cause they know their value, mean­ing and di­rec­tion—and we (in Fiji) should, de­spite floods and cy­clones, ig­nite our imag­i­na­tion with creative bless­ings. Read­ing Chu­ra­manie’s Bis­sundyal’s note touched me: here’s a man from an­other coun­try telling us why lit­er­a­ture is the vi­tal breath and blood of a

so­ci­ety. We live in our sto­ries which of­ten flow from the wounds in­flicted by one’s neigh­bours or self-in­flicted. The af­flic­tions of the heart are many but who would want to live with­out a heart in a heart­less world? Chu­ra­manie has trav­elled to Fiji from Guyana via New York on a writer’s jour­ney work­ing cur­rently on his post-doc­toral project: Dis­tinct Craft of

Fi­jian Creative Writ­ing. That should be a pi­o­neer­ing work of deep­est in­ter­est. He teaches at the FNU—one feels happy that those stu­dents have such a ded­i­cated teacher and artist teach­ing them, talk­ing with them in many forms in­clud­ing drama. Some years ago I was on Hilo cam­pus of the Uni­ver­sity of Hawa’ai. The young lady who took us around and looked af­ter us was her­self a pro­fes­sor and a writer. I remember her many acts of kind­ness and ex­em­plary gen­eros­ity to me and my wife with en­dur­ing af­fec­tion.

We saw the smok­ing vol­ca­noes, the lava flow­ing in red-hot streams over dark rocky-slopes, and the red flow­ers grow­ing like Wordsworth’s daf­fodils where we strolled af­ter a pic­nic. Ex­cept that the Lake District is very dif­fer­ent from the vol­canic land­scape of the Poly­ne­sian is­lands.

But na­ture, like lit­er­a­ture and life, has a deeper universal unity. And deep down there’s a dear­est fresh­ness of things out of which the in­fi­nite va­ri­ety of life takes shape, se­quence, form and face. Noth­ing re­news it­self like Mother Earth: from a sea-shell to the rain­bow.

It’s in na­ture that one can find the an­swers to most of our hu­man prob­lems and free­dom from man-forged mana­cles— poets from the Vedas to the ver­si­fiers of to­day have sought an­swers in the world around them and mar­veled at its won­drous beauty and bless­ings.

Wil­liam Wordsworth, the wor­ship­per of na­ture, put it more di­dac­ti­cally:

One im­pulse from a ver­nal wood May teach you more of man Of moral evil and good Than all the sages can.

If only we could teach these po­ems, half our en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems will be un­der­stood for there’s a deep con­nec­tion be­tween sci­ence and poetry: both need imag­i­na­tion and pro­found un­der­stand­ing.

At Hilo I gave a cou­ple of guest lec­tures and read­ings. One of my talks was on Gandhi and a rather ag­i­tated mem­ber of the au­di­ence asked why should Gandhi be im­por­tant to the is­lan­ders? I told him gen­tly: for the same rea­son as Je­sus is. He and I had cof­fee af­ter my lecture and I felt he was con­verted!

Later while brows­ing through the book­shelves of the uni­ver­sity book­shop I bought a vol­ume ti­tled Ques­tions of Char­ac­ter: Il­lu­mi­nat­ing the Heart of Leadership Through Lit­er­a­ture by Joseph L Badaracco, Jr, a Pro­fes­sor of Busi­ness Ethics at Har­vard Busi­ness School. Joseph Badaracco selects half a dozen fa­mil­iar texts of literary cul­ture to dis­cuss the deep­est ques­tions of char­ac­ter: and ar­gues that lit­er­a­ture helps lead­ers de­velop per­sonal an­swers to spe­cific ques­tions. Se­ri­ous fic­tion pro­vides fresh, pow­er­ful per­spec­tives on the fun­da­men­tal dilem­mas fac­ing to­day’s man­agers and ex­ec­u­tives. And the in­ward ques­tion­ing is the finest kind of quest for leadership. What are the im­pulses that guide our ac­tions for good and ill? Among the texts he chose are: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Sales­man, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, ‘The Se­cret Sharer’ by Joseph Con­rad, The Love of the Last Ty­coon by F. Scott Fitzer­ald, Robert Bolt’s A Man of All

Sea­sons and Antigone by Sopho­cles. The choice is in­ter­est­ing – mod­ern and an­cient --and that it should be taught in a course at Har­vard Busi­ness School is not sur­pris­ing. Great cour­ses in busi­ness deal with is­sues that the mas­ter-minds wres­tle within lit­er­a­ture, art, re­li­gion and in our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. I’m not sure if any MBA course teaches a sin­gle literary text in the three univer­si­ties in Fiji.

Qual­ity fic­tion and busi­ness cases may seem strange bed­fel­lows but we see how fic­tion can il­lu­mi­nate is­sues of leadership and what and how the moral imag­i­na­tion of a per­son or a na­tion is en­riched and en­light­ened by works of art for they chal­lenge us not only in our daily de­ci­sions, words and ac­tions, but in our mo­ments of soli­tude and con­tem­pla­tion, in our mo­ments of deep­est lone­li­ness:

We dream and die alone.

Most im­por­tantly how we judge oth­ers; of­ten the fate of na­tions de­pend on a sin­gle per­son’s judg­ment. The ques­tion is how does one reach such a judg­ment?

Some of the is­sues raised in the dis­cus­sion are also ques­tioned in our uses and abuses of lit­er­acy as prac­tised to­day in our univer­si­ties and the cur­ricu­lum. Pro­fes­sor Subra­mani, FNU, raises these in his two lec­tures

‘Re­claim­ing the Na­tion’: his two talks on Ed­u­ca­tion. Their salience of healing can be seen in the way Fiji is re­cov­er­ing and re­gain­ing her strength through some tur­bu­lent na­tional ex­pe­ri­ences. The slim vol­ume has a fore­word by me: I’ve said what I felt af­ter read­ing the lec­tures. It was writ­ten in Jan­uary 2015. The lit­tle book was pub­lished 18 months later. And thereby hangs the sad tale of publishing in Fiji. That it should have taken al­most two years to pub­lish these two lec­tures is to my mind un­con­scionable. Fi­nally it’s done by Vi­cas Press in Lau­toka. Should it not have been pub­lished by his uni­ver­sity? Or the Ministry of Ed­u­ca­tion—af­ter all there’s such a dearth of read­ing ma­te­rial for our stu­dents and staff that have di­rect rel­e­vance and sig­nif­i­cance to our life, es­pe­cially in the new Fiji in the making: the chang­ing cir­cum­stances and the chal­leng­ing vi­sions need sup­port and sus­te­nance of ac­tion and thought in words and deeds.

One is dis­tressed to note that it took two years, from the date the key­note lec­tures were de­liv­ered for stu­dents and gen­eral read­ers to be able to read, dis­cuss and ex­press their lines of dis­sent. Af­ter all a good lecture is like a peb­ble thrown into a placid pond and the rip­ples it cre­ates can stir pebbles on other shores. My fore­word ex­presses my feel­ings. I only hope that many stu­dents and teach­ers will read these books and teach them to make us think and write. The ideal uni­ver­sity is nei­ther in books nor in­side the com­puter; the great­est uni­ver­sity, Subra­mani con­cludes, is Life it­self.

And what con­sti­tutes a per­son’s life which is a com­po­nent of Life. That of course is the eter­nal ques­tion and our vul­ner­a­ble quest? To un­der­stand this one jour­neys into many worlds, near and far, in mind and imag­i­na­tion, in body and be­ing, in love and living, and all the ills that flesh is heir to. It is of course a huge and mighty ques­tion echo­ing like the in­ter­minable waves break­ing on the shores of is­lands and con­ti­nents and re­turn­ing to the one un­di­vided ocean. We who live on is­lands know no man or woman is an is­land. And if our writ­ers give us some idea of this in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of all our lives, our stu­dents are for­tu­nate to be taught by such minds. And any­one who di­min­ishes this idea of what it is to be hu­man ought to be re­sisted and ed­u­cated. Il­lit­er­acy can be of many kinds, and of­ten with­out kind­ness.

And what con­sti­tutes a per­son’s life which is a com­po­nent of Life. That of course is the eter­nal ques­tion and our vul­ner­a­ble quest? To un­der­stand this one jour­neys into many worlds, near and far, in mind and imag­i­na­tion, in body and be­ing, in love and living, and all the ills that flesh is heir to.

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