Dressed in a bandhgala, and affixing a rose to his pocket, Dr Homi Bhabha (60), one of the world’s leading post-colonial theorists, joked about living R.K. Laxman’s cartoon — the caricature of the bureaucrat caught between “delivering homilies and slipping on banana peels”.
“What prevents a middle class wog like me from having my 15 minutes of fame,” he quipped while delivering inaugural speech at Sophia College’s ‘Mumbai in Literature, Art and Film’ seminar series on Friday.
Profiled as one of the “100 Americans for the next century” by Newsweek in 1997, he has been a key figure in the field of post-colonial studies. Currently the Anne Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language and the Director of the Humanities Centre at Harvard University in the US, Bhabha’s main contribution has been his work on the hybridity of cultures.
He says cultures interact and inform each other in ways that treating them as oppositions and civilised fail to capture.
Bhabha was born in Mumbai in 1949 and studied at St Mary’s School and Elphinstone College before going to Oxford University where he completed his PhD. “I have loved many cities, lived in many and flirted with others,” he said, “But Mumbai has a special place as it taught me how to dream.”
Mulling over the city that he frequently visits, he said, “In a city that teaches you how to dream, there is no restraint or limit. It provides an escape from contradictions of social reality.”
Bhabha has lived and worked abroad for many years now, having taught in the US and UK. “From what friends tell me it seems that the system in India now doesn’t provide enough support and resources to academics, especially in the arts and humanities,” he said.