India celebrates, and debates on Dickens
He gave us Uriah Heep in "David Copperfield", the Artful Dodger in " Oliver Twist", Ebenezer Scrooge in "The Christmas Carol"...characters who live on not just in books but also in the English language itself.
As the world celebrates 200 years of Charles Dickens, so does India despite the intense debate on the relevance of Dickensian pedagogy in the 21st century.
The pictures he painted of Victorian England were often bleak, his characters an unfashionable black or white in their evil or goodness and his books sometimes dismissed as too long. But Dickens, born Feb 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England, is the prolific author whose contribution has seeped into the contemporary -- Uriah Heep, for instance, is the byword for insincerity, Scrooge for miserliness and these are just a few.
Dickens' lasting contribution to modern English literature was a depiction of grim social reality in details, a style many Indo-Anglian writers have emulated in their contemporary, post-colonial and diaspora canvas of the day.
To promote the Dickensian style, the British Council in collaboration with Penguin-India is hosting an all-India creative writing competition, "After Dickens", to encourage young writers between 16-21 years to write a "small creative treatise on Dickens in either poetry, prose, short stories and reportage".
The brood of emerging celebrity writers are also on the radar.
The council has invited contemporary Indian writers in English - "especially those whose writing dwells around cities and urban landscapes" - to contribute pieces on what they feel Dickens would have been writing today. Some who have agreed to contribute include novelists Amit Chaudhuri, Neel Mukherjee and Anita Nair.
There are other programmes planned, including a film programme in major cities offering cinematic milestones like "Great Expectations", "Pickwick Papers", "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Oliver Twist", as well as a series of talks by author Craig Taylor discussing creative ways of teaching Dickens.
According to Mitra Mukherjee-Parikh, head of the university department of English, SNDT Women's University in Mumbai, "Dickens had a fascination for the new idea of the city".
Dickens as a classical literary legacy lives on the Indian campus.
"Dickens remains important to us. The orphan figure and the figures of childhood move every reader. He deals with England getting industrialised and how man gets caught in it the trap which is not of his making. His books marks a shift into the urban world with its unemployment, poverty and wronged women who lose property," Sherina Joshi, associate professor in Delhi University's Deshbandhu College said.