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VoW 2020 / Sessions / November 20 / Eyespan/Synapse

VoW 2020 | November 20 – 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm | Savoy Post Office | English Literature


Kalpish Ratna, Dr. Ishrat Syed & Kalpana Swaminathan, in conversation with Mugdha Sinha



Day 1
Date: 20 NOV 2020
Venue: Post Office
Time: 1700- 1750
EL 5
Eyespan/ Synapse
Dr. Ishrat Syed & Kalpana Swaminathan in conversation with Mugdha Sinha

Synapse is a collection of short stories written mellifluously by Kalpana Swaminathan and Dr.
Ishrat Syed. The book deals with what Sinha later describes as ‘everything politically wrong’ as
it gives a commentary on patriarchy and gender in various spaces, touching on the topics of
sati,and other such evils.
Synapse deals with a series of stories which are more or less based on various fundamentals of
neurobiology. Thse seem to be problematic as these were the various mnay theories of the
scientists who had contributed to what we recignise today as genocide. They were linked to the
pre nazi as well as the whole nazi ideas. However, in defence, Dr. Syed asserted that there is
the truth, and there are people who take it and twist it for their benefit, not into lies but into
untruths. They also asserted that these are the very theories that allow us to explore the present
and the moment modern medicine became what we know it today.
As pointed out by Sinha there seems to be a fascination with mirrors and may be speculated to
be a reflection of the disease of the mind (Alzheimer's, dementia, etc). The disease of the mind
seems to be overwhelming the other aspects of a story such as love or the absence of it which
Sinha cleverly calls ‘the disease of the heart.’ To this, Dr. Syed simply replies that disease itself
is a type of love story gone wrong. Later when asked how much of love is real and how much
hallucination when the object of one's affection is a spectre, Dr. Syed responded that love is
hallucination, itself. True love is the meeting of the minds. However, Swaminathan differed with
the suggestion that all love is real. Hallucination is also real as one is projecting one’s desires.
Both speakers agreed that everything is a dream, however, it is impossible to know whose
dream it is- whether it is the individual, the hallucination or a higher power.
According to Swaminathan, what fascinated them was the beginning of the understanding of
neurology as a science, as something which influences thinking. These questions and ideas
were all philosophical in nature (that is, it is not something that can be seen with eyes), but
these were turned from abstract concepts into tangible facts that can be seen under a
microscope.This is especially so, when one compares these movements in neurology to those
notions of Freud. Here, there are people who can really show one what they are talking about,
rather than simply compelling one to think of it.Dr Syed further mentioned Richard Wolfgard
Semon, a German zoologist and evolutionary biologist (died in 1918). He was also a memory
researcher who believed acquired characteristics were acquired and applied this to the theory of

social evolution. He coined the terms ‘engram’ and ‘ecphory,’ which are two important terms and
concepts repeated in Synapse. He located the history of thought into the hippocampus. Dr.
Syed went on to say that if a sequel of Synapse were to be written, the story would be of
Ruchard Semon despite his life ending in a tragedy (suicide). In the engram, memories are
stored as chemicals. The way the stored memories transverse to the hippocampus is also ‘viral’
which the speaker cleverly associated with the ongoing crisis.
With the discussion of the short stories The Bastard Wing, etc the discussion turned towards a
new sphere: gender issues. Ratan pressed the point that women best recognise women issues.
There were various mentions of spaces conventionally considered to be male dominated under
patriarchy: spaces in professional fields such as aeronautics, engineering and even certain
districts for women civil servants as pointed out by SInha. However, these subtle forms of
discrimination are not unique to the professional corridor, and in fact, there is some sort of
understanding that one gets as a woman in these spaces. These spaces are important, yes. But
not where we have to fight the battle. What is more important is that we choose more nuanced
spaces: spaces where people are not as welcoming, where people are still illiterate and
ignorant. When asked about how social evils like sati of young girls attempt to birth an icon,
Swaminathan’s answer was simple: One should think of it. One must understand that it is the
hijacking of human tragedy for political gain, or in simpler words, it is the physicality of the
political ideal.
The spaces of discrimination is not limited to gender, but differences as a whole (the process of
othering the different). The difference/ extraordinariness of what makes a man a superman is
not given to a woman, that is for the difference that makes a man extraordinary, a woman is
made odd. However the speakers were quick to emphasise that concepts such as storytelling,
thought, imagination, etc are concepts which overlook and are beyond gender. IAs Dr. Syed
said, it is like when we all try to understand humour in a foreign language. We understand the
words but we cannot understand the sense. Swaminathan went on a small digressed point with
this: When we think about it, there are so many languages because we don't listen to each
other. The resistance against the politics of the place is by the personal drive of every person.
For example, one is fascinated by India as a place festering with resistance as opposed to those
places where the divide is between people of the same section, or religion or community. She
went on to affirm that with all the disadvantages, and in spite of all the bad things, being born in
a place like India is a blessing. Pressing further, Dr. Syed then spoke about how doctors are
able to treat the disease of the mind, but not of the mindset, as presented in some of the
chapters in Synapse. What they do in their own limited way is that they use the cutting edge
technology of the time to propagate the same old ideals/ intent. Everything gets distilled through
the way one understands something. Though an amazing scientist, Carl Linneus’ belief on a
static divinely ordered world ultimately led to racial violence, hatred and xenophobia, that is, as
Dr, Syed puts it, “the same old nonsense of othering.”
The speakers asserted that what is needed is not the past, but the present and paving way for
the future. Children don’t need to be held back by the past, or the past of the same ‘nonsense’
that chains the present. Sinha commented on the poetic aspect of the various stories in
Synapse, reading aloud certain passages from the first chapter (line seven). This brings us

curiously as to the process of writing by the speakers. They enthusiastically spoke about how
they would write and read it aloud to each other. “If there is cadence, it works,” said
Swaminathan. Reading aloud to each other, conversing with each other and not getting afraid
of tossing away something they have worked hard on if it doesn’t flow well are the prime points
covered by them. When asked later about this, they summed it up by telling us that they have
conversations. They spoke about experiencing the sound of one’s book and added that the
heart of the book (Synapse) are lines taken from The Centenary.
Lastly, Sinha quickly asked the speakers their favourite story from the book, to which Dr Syed
said that she was making them choose among their children. He ;ater admitted that his favourite
story is The Bastard Wing. Swaminathan’s favourite is The Chasm of Madness. In conclusion,
they were asked for a few words of advice: “Please read a book. Read anything. It will ask you
to examine what you see.”
-Niangthianmuang S Ngaihte