In defence of the ordinary

The book is a collection of essays with serious sarcasm, poetic polemics and suggestive propositions on a wide range of aspects related to ordinariness

Md Niamot Ali Jan 28, 2022
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In Defence of the Ordinary: Everyday Awakenings; Author: Dev Nath Pathak; Publisher: Bloomsbury

In the absence of good academic writing and engagement, teaching in South Asia is considerably low-weighted. Perhaps, teaching becomes a play of exercising power inherited in its social embodiment. Despite institutional support, most universities have an education-oriented structure where the scope beyond conventional social thinking and research is not much visible. Even, there is less possibility of acknowledging those practices as well.  

Against this backlash, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a change was observed in academia in South Asia. This global epidemic fixes the boundary of academia to perform virtually outside of the classroom and create a new normal space simultaneously. Meanwhile, many thought-provoking books have been published, which are primarily encountered in everyday life of teaching in the way of addressing typical academic space and incorporating personal space.  

The founding faculty at the Department of Sociology of South Asian University in New Delhi, Dr. Dev Nath Pathak, has emerged as a prolific writer in everyday life of identifying spaces in India. His close observation deals with the “embryonic intrigues,” calling it the defence of the ordinary, discovering the heritage of thinking by seeing the presentations he initiated in this book titled “In Defence of the Ordinary: Everyday Awakenings,” published by New Delhi-based Bloomsbury.

Benefits of writing 

In the beginning, the author has emphasized the importance of a writer's writing. He is honest by saying that any piece of writing fulfills “utilitarian benefits” because the global pandemic gave this opportunity (pp. xiii). Dr. Pathak answered the importance of writing of a writer by saying: “I need to write since it is the only way I can find a release from the repressive mechanism that is at one imminent and immanent. Writing is a cultural practice of therapeutic value for the author and the readers and critics if they are interested in such experiences as release.” 

The book is a collection of essays with serious sarcasm, poetic polemics and suggestive propositions on a wide range of aspects related to ordinariness -- the topics of the book range under five thematic orders. The first chapter's title indicates an early stage of development of this book. 

Poetically, the author depicted the defence of ordinary or wishful thinking through his powerful narratives. Thus, he develops the fundamental analysis in a non-conventional method by addressing different forms of storytelling. The example of Mullah Nasreddin Hooja sets an ideal of initiating discussion in a fictional way. Therefore, the author has argued that “the ordinary does not satisfy academic expectations, ambitions, and loyalty to known standards” (pp. xv). At the same, the author did not deny the “importance of systematic analysis, theoretical approaches and narrowed focus on select issues” (pp. xvii). 

In various chapters and sub-chapters, the author develops his academic conversations with the self and the rest of the world from three different levels. In one point, he presents personhood meaning the emotions and relations; secondly, vocation meaning education and ideology; and thirdly, culture representing religiosity, spirituality and return to personhood.  

“When there was nothing” is the title of the second chapter of this book. On the opposite, the title of the third chapter is “There was something.” A reader will be surprised to see whether there is a “cacophony of celebration” in our everyday life. The reasons for naming these chapters in different ways caricatured by the author's declaration that “this book does not aim at partaking in theoretical, philosophical and even typically empirical research-based works dealing with the idea of ordinariness” (pp xxv). 

Book’s importance 

Several scholars from India and abroad claimed the book as one of the sources of considering an individual experience covering the idea of public, particularly addressing folklore, classical epics, literature and cinema, and academic discourses in the way of departure. Therefore, the richness of the topics creates an appeal to a wide range of readers.  

For example, a seasoned anthropologist of Folk Art and Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Delhi, Roma Chatterji, mentions that  Dev Nath Pathak “brings his experience as a sociologist and his work on folklore to the text in a way that is lively and interesting”. In other ways, Professor Prathama Banerjee has acclaimed the book as “a splendid work of art in the field of poetry, politics, philosophy, religion in a similar way of Ashish Nandy and Umberto Eco did in the tradition of cultural critics”. 

As a reader, there are a couple of problems I have identified. First of all, this is not a simple text. Unless someone knows about the meaning of ordinariness incorporated with non-conventional philosophers, per se Mullah Nasreddin Hooja, and conventional thinkers such as Herbert Read, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, there will be a troublesome journey of reading this book. The book title “ordinary” itself is not that much will be ordinary to the readers. 

Title: In Defence of the Ordinary: Everyday Awakenings; Author: Dev Nath Pathak; Publisher: Bloomsbury. 

(The reviewer is a PhD candidate at the Doctoral School of Sociology and Communication Science, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary, and Lecturer, Department of Development Studies, Daffodil International University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at niamot.ds@diu.edu.bd)

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