Sowmya Dechamma is a professor at The Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad in India. Apart from teaching Comparative Indian Literature and Cultural Discourses in Contemporary India, her research interests include Minority Discourse and Kodava Language and Culture. Prior to teaching at the University of Hyderabad, she taught English at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Sowmya has visited the University of California, Santa Cruz as a Visiting Scholar from Feb-June 2005. She was a Commonwealth Fellow at the University of Southampton from Sep-Feb 2011 and was awarded the Indo-Hungarian Educational Exchange Program for Teachers during 2010.
Kindly tell our readers about your field of study in detail.
I am interested in and work in the areas of Politics of Languages in India, especially the relationship between languages of the minority and major languages: Translation Studies and Minority Discourse, especially in relation to gender and caste; and, Kodava Language and cultural discourse.
What inspired you to take up Kodava language study? Do you aim to rally for its revival?
The most obvious reason is that I belong to the community that speaks Kodava. I speak the language. But then, the language is spoken by less than 200,000 people and it has very little institutional support like all other non-scheduled languages. Academically, languages like Kodava are not seen as worthy enough for academic study for a variety of reasons. All these and many other reasons have pushed me towards studying Kodava.
Kindly share your educational journey and the challenges that came with it. Where do you hope to see yourself a couple of years down the line?
I went to school in a small, hilly town called Somwarpet in Kodagu (Coorg). What I remember is the long walk (3 km one way) to school in heavy rains. This, we thoroughly enjoyed and never saw (or see) it as a challenge. I think we made the best possible in a small unknown town which had dedicated teachers. It was only when I entered college in Mysore and in Hyderabad that I realized the advantage of a good foundation in early education can have, which we did not. I have realized it is never too late to learn provided you get the required social and institutional support. I see myself as a better teacher, better parent and a better farmer in the future.
Of all the scholarly articles you have authored, which one did you enjoy the most and why?
Not an easy question because there is a certain passion, a lot of energy and work that goes into every article anyone writes. This said, I really did enjoy writing “Naming, nation, and negotiations: Kodavas and their ‘illegible’ identities”. I discovered a whole lot of ideas during this process, met a lot of people, developed life long relationships, learned a lot and most importantly, understood that research is not about transforming others but transforming ourselves.
What inspired you to write about South Indian cinema? Did you undertake any literary pilgrimage to scout for content or did your research bring to light any instance or fact which surprised you?
I have not written a lot on Cinemas of South India, but have co-edited one book to which I have contributed the Introduction part written jointly with E. Sathya Prakash and another article titled ‘Is there a Kodava Cinema’. No, I did not have to take a literary pilgrimage (smiles). One has to believe in a certain kind of sanctity if one is thinking of a pilgrimage. Academics is I think is as ordinary as any other occupation or maybe as sacred as every other occupation. What surprised me was that there were such stereotypes of Kodava people in Kannada cinema and also in the small number of Kodava Cinema!