For this week’s interview I had the great pleasure to meet Reshmi Dutta-Flanders, Honorary Research Fellow in English Language & Linguistics at the University of Kent. Reshmi grew up in Calcutta and came to the UK to study English at King’s College, London, in 1989. In this fascinating conversation, Reshmi compares her experiences of previously studying literature in India and how she was able to acquire various research skills.
Reshmi talks about the influence of her aspirational parents. Her father was a survivor of the Partition and ended up doing an Engineering degree in Wolverhampton. She also discusses her own experience of an arranged marriage and we learn that her mother has just written a book at the age of 80 in the field of Religious Studies.
Throughout the interview we learn that Reshmi has often felt a need to prove something to herself, why she has often felt a sense of dissatisfaction and never really felt a sense of belonging. She discusses how fear has often prompted her to push herself forward, and we talk about the degree to which education can be seen as an enjoyable pursuit and how it might be possible to enjoy what one is doing in the moment without worrying unduly about the future. Reshmi reflects on how nothing in her life has been prescribed and how, once she has finished one project she has an urge to start something new, and we learn why she is not comfortable recycling old ground.
After a discussion about the extent to which teaching might be found to inform the best research, we move on to talk about Reshmi’s childhood influences and how the life journeys delineated in 1970s Abba songs were sources of fantasy in her conservative upbringing. Reshmi also discusses how she saw her university lecturers in the UK as her gurus and how coming to university gave her an identity which she didn’t have at the time.
In the final part of the interview, Reshmi speaks candidly about her experience of teaching in Category B and C prisons where her students were often inveterate and institutionalized prisoners. This has been one of the inspirations for her recent book on crime fiction, and Reshmi talks about her different apprehensions of working in male and female prison environments. We end by ruminating on whether it is possible to be nostalgic about negative experiences and how Reshmi didn’t have goals so much as a value system predicated on the importance of peace, security and stability.
Please note: Opinions expressed are solely those of Chris Deacy and Reshmi Dutta-Flanders and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Kent.