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Please help with the SOP for PhD in English Lit for Fall 2016 Admissions.

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Hello. This is the draft of my SOP for application to various schools for PhD in English. Please go through it and give in your valuable feedback and suggestions. I know it is high on word length. I shall edit it subsequently. But wanted views on content, structure and how it reads.


It took me five years after I joined the Navy, to realize that years of dwelling upon the likes of Mutiny on the Bounty and Moby Dick weren’t out of my motivations to spend a life at sea, but indicated a lasting and ever-growing love for literature. Years of dwelling upon the subject distilled post-colonialism, the novel, psychoanalysis and narrative and critical theory my key interest areas. In my future course of study I would want to explore, investigate and critique the post-war memoir/novel from a literary, historical and narrative standpoint.     


I completed my Masters in English and Applied Psychology while on active duty. In fact, I wrote the thesis of my second Masters in Applied Psychology on the interdisciplinary topic, “Critiquing the Psychological Dynamics of Ethical Filicide in Context of the Partition Novel” while participating in evacuation exercises off Yemen in 2015. My first Masters’s dissertation in 2011 was a sustained argument involving the application of Roland Barthes’s principles of authorial autonomy to the political and military autobiography. This project took shape from a persistent curiosity towards investigating the dichotomy between the poetics of nostalgia and representation of historical incidents in the narrative of a military autobiography, and how this problematizes representation of real and imagined histories. In short I trained myself to read the autobiography against the grain. Based on a paper “Nelson, Angrey & Patton – The Problem of Being a War Hero” presented during the Annual Maritime History Society seminar in 2013, I also began a course on ‘Critiquing Military (His)story through the Biography’, wherein I used the military biography as an instrument to investigate and critique historical truths and fictions related to war/conflicts, and raised pertinent questions regarding the ethics of ‘constructing (his)story’. I want to use the idea of real and imagined histories in the postcolonial novel as the starting point of my enquiry. Even though I am wary of delineating the topic of my research at this juncture, I would want to return to my first dissertation and expand, critique and draw from my work on the poetics of nostalgia and its relation to imagined histories. In the prevailing historical paradigm, the post colonial novel has been a site of historical recovery with emphasis on memory and fictional histories. I would want to extend, apply and contest the same in the realm of the post-war memoir. In fact, its narrative strategies, politics and ethics are riddled with shadow zones demanding interrogation. 


I have authored three major publications for the Navy – A Guidebook on Understanding Gender (2013), A Guidebook on Military Ethics (2014) and The Leadership Doctrine (2015).  At a fundamental level, authoring three book-length publications helped me appreciate the complexities of researching from primary and secondary sources, organising vast amounts of disparate information/data into coherent parts and writing about them in a critical, logical and sustained manner. Even though my work on Leadership Doctrine earned me a commendation award by the Flag Officer Commanding in Chief, I consider the Guidebook on Gender to be the most interesting as it was a pilot study into the participation of women in post-Partition conflicts, especially in the War of 1971 and the Naxalite movement. I used primary sources such as interviews and first-hand letters as well as secondary sources such as testimonials, government documents and monographs to construct a cogent historical narrative abounding in multiple perspectives. Working on this document brought me face to face with mammoth complexities and dilemmas of ‘writing history’, taking me into the realm of personal narratives that often lie concealed between the folds of historical fictions and fictional histories. I was intrigued by the complete absence in Naxalite narratives of voices of women participating in combat. I was drawn to reflect, question and explore this conspicuous absence. I drew from my earlier thesis on ‘critiquing his(story)’ and expanded it to explain such absence through the presence of competing major narratives. The stories of Mahasweta Devi – vivid accounts of Santhal tribes, espousing postcolonial condition and feminist assertion, provided the ideal model of representation and historical enquiry. I constructed these narratives for the guidebook, bearing in mind a deep empathy for my subject. However, due to external constraints, I could not quite interrogate the politics of Statehood , something I wanted to study in relation to the individual perspective. I look forward to dwelling on this in a more intimate manner while studying motives, methods and dynamics of constructing fictional histories in the context of the post war memoir.    


My current research entails a detailed study around the “Ethics of Representation in the 20th Century War Memoir With Special Reference to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka” – an interdisciplinary study involving a persistent engagement with the soldierly (the incident), its representation (the text) and its interpretation (the critique), read in the paradigm of the ethical (the intent precipitating the incident), the behavioral (subsequent dynamic of representation) and the contextual. It is a thrilling prospect as my readings take me to remote regions like the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan wherein I am not only left to imagine the ethical and military travails faced by someone like Marcus Luttrell (author of the memoir Lone Survivor) and his SEAL team during Operation Red Wings, but also understand the psychological complexities of representation when the same finds voice in a memoir. This made me wonder as to ‘how slanted is such a voice permitted to be?’, and ‘should there more than one voice?’ in a memoir describing such a problematic issue – the voice of Mohammad Gulab, the Pashtun tribesman who provides sanctuary to Luttrell after his whole team is annihilated in a skirmish with the Taliban.


I would want to keep these questions in mind while investigating the the poetics of nostalgia, guilt and shame in context the post war memoir when juxtaposed on the political narratives of the State. Such an enquiry questions how intricately does the problematic (and often coercive) discourse of nationalism/nationhood run when seen in context of individuals, especially individuals like Luttrell and Gulab, who are fundamentally ‘good people’. Also, comes to light, the various forces – personal, political and historical, that determine and shape the narrative texture of the (post-war) memoir.  My experience in the subject indicates the employment of a dialectical approach, with one eye firmly fixed on the personal narratives of nostalgia and guilt and the other on the politics of nationhood. The common ground between the two, as taking shape within the structure of the memoir, will form the third and final dimension of the study. As I mentioned, my current research project takes me to the narratives from Afganistan and Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the de-talibanisation and war on LTTE respectively. I concentrate on what Gayatri Chakravatri Spivak refers to as the ‘pluralist aesthete’ in such narratives, and the dynamics of power, mistrust and constant danger to life that often govern the politics of such narrative. However, I use the memoir to explore gaps or silences in narratives and fill these with imagined voices, akin to imagined histories in the postcolonial novel, in an attempt to invert existing power equations.


I was glad to know that Professors of the stature of Gayatri Sundar Rajan and Toral Gajarawala are part of NYU’s faculty. I came across Professor Rajan’s work, The Scandal of the State: Women, Law and Citizenship in India while researching for the Handbook on Gender. Furthermore, the arguments she posited have found deep reverberations in my own critical understanding of gender in context of the handbook. Professor Toral’s Fictional Murder and Other Descriptive Deaths was a highly helpful guide while I was writing my own essay on “Death, dying and bereavement in the Post Colonial Novel”. Their readings in post-coloniality, the relationship between aesthetics and politics and gender will make my experience at NYU a fruitful and challenging one.


I foresee drawing abundantly from other disciplines such as Women’s Studies and Race and Subaltern Studies in the course of my study – for which NYU is ideally suited. It is my endeavour to continue to pursue my aspirations with the same diligence I have been for so long. I look forward to doing the same in a challenging and enriching environment provided at NYU.




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