Our institute has had the honour of having here Suganya Anandakichenin as guest researcher. I even managed to convince her to discuss about her research in a short interview. Enjoy her remarks on collaborative projects and on devotional literature!
Suganya has focussed so far on the Vaiṣṇava devotional poetry written in Tamil by the Āḻvārs, the poet-saints who were active in South India approximately between the 6th and the 9th c. AD. She also worked on the medieval Śrīvaiṣṇava commentaries on these works, typically written in Maṇipravāḷam, a sanskritised form of Tamil. She also started researching bhakti literature in general, i.e., by reading Śaiva texts.
E.F.: Tell us about your early formation.
S.A.: Tamil is my mother tongue, but I did not have any classical Tamil at school. I went to a French school, where I took (contemporary) Tamil lessons for a few years only. However, I kept on studying Tamil also with my mother. I then studied English literature as a graduate and post-graduate student.
E.F.: What brought you back to Tamil?
S.A.: At that point I had moved to Paris and was teaching there in the public high school. I got interested in Telegu at the INALCO (http://www.campusfrance.org/en/resource/inalco-institut-national-des-langues-et-civilisations-orientales-paris) and this brought me back to Tamil, so that I took an MA in classical Tamil. Dr. Gérard Colas, a Vaiṣṇava scholar with whom I had started working, introduced me to Jean-Luc Chevillard and he introduced me to Eva Wilden. I did my PhD with her and I learnt a strong philological method through her and the Classical Tamil Summer Seminaries (http://www.efeo.fr/base.php?code=534) she conducts every year.
E.F.: You are clearly interested also in the literary aspect of your translation. Has this interested been fuelled by your studies in English literature?
S.A.: Yes, but not only. Eva too helped me with that, since she produced many translations. With each translation, there is a wish to create a basis for further studies, for the sake of which we produce glossaries in order to check how semantic uses and grammar have evolved. So, translating systematically goes with glossary-making and this enables us to check the evolution of language.
Personally, I make two translations, a first one which is only technical, and a further one that is reader-friendly, but never compromises with the meaning. If possible, I also try to make it beautiful.
E.F.: How did you manage to find enough time and money to make your Tamil studies possible?
S.A.: I was working as a school teacher in the Parisian region and thus I could manage to pay the French fees, which are very reasonable anyway.
E.F.: How did you manage to complete your PhD while working full time?
S.A.: This involved a lot of preparing and a lot of responsibility, since I could only work in the evenings and during the weekends. Still, I managed to complete my PhD in 5 years. In this connection, I have to say that in the previous ten years I had explored all possible aspects of teaching and I really wanted to get out of that, go and explore what is beyond that. My PhD became my hobby, I took the same pleasure in doing it as for a hobby. It would have been great to have had a scholarship for my PhD, but at the same time having a full time job was also highly motivating, although I was permanently tired and overworked. This way, you make the most of whatever little time you have and you become organised because you do not have any other choice.
E.F.: What came after your PhD? How did you start your academic career?
S.A.: I started working as a postdoctoral fellow for the NETamil project in Pondichéry in September 2014. The project will go on until February 2019.
E.F.: Which aspects of the academic life do you enjoy more? What bothers you more?
S.A.: I would like to keep on doing research, but I do not mind teaching, as long as this is related with my research.
As for the negative aspects, non-constructive criticism bothers me, but if you are passionate enough about research, you should use these criticisms as fuel to light your passion instead of taking them as water and allowing them to extinguish it. I learnt that you can feed your passion from such destructive remarks. In general, in order to do research you have to be passionate enough not to give up at the first sign of bad weather.
E.F.: Tell us more about the NETAMIL project as an example of a collaborative project.
S.A.: There can be possessiveness (about one’s field of research for example) and envy in this field like in any other, but my NetTamil colleagues are exempt from such non-constructive attitude and behaviour because of the following reasons: 1. each has his/her own field, so they could not really tread on another’s field. 2. even when there are people working on partly overlapping fields, they believe that working together is good for all parties, the results are better and the learning process which is initiated would not be imitable on one’s own. They in this way empower each other instead of taking each other down. And the field is so vast, that people just need to work together.
We have a shared goal: classical Tamil studies should get the right kind of attention and they should be grounded on a solid basis. The former goal depends on the latter: We are doing solid groundwork, upon which proper research on this field can be done.
Eva Wilden, who started the NETamil project, greatly encourages reading together regularly, as she believes in working together she even reads with people not even connected with the EFEO, so the idea is spreading out of its traditional boundaries.