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Charles Dickens rediscovered: A mirror to our times

Once upon a time in the city of London, a young child braved the drudgery of 10 hours of factory work and the cruelties of a headmaster.

books Updated: Feb 11, 2012 05:52 IST
Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times
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Once upon a time in the city of London, a young child braved the drudgery of 10 hours of factory work and the cruelties of a headmaster. He wandered the streets of London, observing the squalor, soot and smoke-filled lives of the poor and the disenfranchised, and dragged us, however unwillingly into the worlds of Pip, Micawber, Scrooge and Pumblechook.

It has been 150 years since Charles Dickens brought alive the city of London in his masterpieces such as Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, do we still need to give a damn? Yes – in black and bold. From innumerable biographies, scholarly works, film adaptations to BBC’s latest TV programme Great Expectations, this ‘champion of social reform’ continues to inspire the creative arts.

On the occasion of his 200th birth anniversary, which was on 7th February, the British Council collaborated with over 50 countries worldwide to celebrate the legacy of UK's most prolific and influential novelists. In India, the celebrations are spread over nine cities: with activities ranging from film screenings, theatre, exhibitions, and contests.

While debates range over the relevance of Dickens in 21st century, Adam Pushkin, Head of Arts, British Council India sets the record straight, "Dickens wrote about urban development, capitalism, corruption, private wealth, misery of the destitute and failings of the government. Now look around you, what do you see? Celebrating him is not looking backwards but looking at the contemporary society through the world of Dickens."

As a part of the Dickens 2012 celebration, contemporary Indian writers such as Amit Chaudhuri, Neel Mukherjee and Anita Nair will contribute pieces on what they feel Dickens would write today. For the young guns, British Council and Penguin India are holding a creative writing competition to encourage writers between the ages of 16 to 21 to submit a creative piece on him. The best three entries shall be uploaded on the British Council’s blog. (Entries close on 20 February 2012.)

The Delhi chapter of the celebration is set to be a Dickensian treat for both literature and movie buffs.