In this interview, Rodríguez talks about the functioning of Casa de la India, the importance of re-examining and revisiting history from new lenses, and the vision behind the upcoming first edition of JLF Spain.
Guillermo Rodríguez, the founding director of Casa de la India, a pioneering cultural centre in Spain that has become the model for India’s cultural diplomacy abroad, is a multi-disciplinary scholar, translator, cultural manager, producer, and writer. An expert in Indian culture, he is an advisor to various institutions in India and Europe. In 2012, Rodríguez was awarded the Friendship Award by the Minister of External Affairs, Government of India, for his contribution to Indo-Spanish cultural relations.
His landmark book on the Indian poet-scholar A.K. Ramanujan, When Mirrors are Windows: A View of A.K. Ramanujan’s Poetics, was published by Oxford University Press in June 2016. A Ph.D. holder from the University of Valladolid and the University of Kerala (2006), he has lectured extensively on contemporary Indian literature, Indian poetics and aesthetics, Bhakti literature, Indian performing arts traditions, and literary criticism.
In this interview, Rodríguez talks about the functioning of Casa de la India, the importance of re-examining and revisiting history from new lenses, and the vision behind the upcoming first edition of JLF Spain, which is scheduled to take place in the heritage city of Valladolid in Spain from 1-4 June 2023.
Q. Tell us about the functioning of Casa de la India.
A. If you look at the Instituto Cervantes, where we are having this interview, it’s a Spanish entity that is supported by the Government of Spain, Ministry of External Affairs to promote Spain. In a way, Casa de la India is the flip side of the coin because we promote India in Spain. We have a centre in the city of Valladolid running cultural and educational programs. For instance, we have the ICCR Hindi Chair at the University of Valladolid, and we also teach Indian dance forms. We are a “House of India.” The uniqueness of the formula is that it’s a foundation created by the city of Valladolid, the university, and the ICCR in 2003, celebrating twenty years of existence. So it’s like a branch of India’s cultural diplomacy abroad. That’s important because it’s a unique model based on a public-private Indo-Spanish partnership, unlike the Nehru Centre London or The Tagore Centre Berlin, which are attached to the Indian embassies there. Here we have a different formula. On the board of our foundation, we have the DG of ICCR, the Ambassador of India in Spain, the vice-chancellor of the University of Valladolid, and the mayor of the city of Valladolid.
Q. How do you look at the vision behind JLF Spain?
A. It’s going to be a 4-day event from 1-4 June 2023, with the first day devoted to presentations in Madrid and then three days in Valladolid. It is a great platform for literary exchange to happen, but of course, it will also promote cultural ties between the two countries. There are local, regional, national, and international angles, but in order to understand this better, we need to understand where this will take place. Just like JLF takes place in Jaipur, which is not India’s capital city, but at the same time not very far away from Delhi. When the JLF team came for the recce, they visited a lot of cities in Spain, and they finally decided on Valladolid.
Q. What tipped the odds in its favour?
A. I think there are a number of reasons. Valladolid really is the cradle of the Spanish language. The city is an hour away from Madrid. It’s a heritage city with university students. It has one of the oldest universities in Europe and in the whole world. It is 800 years old. It’s a city that’s connected to writers, and it hosts the Cervantes House, which is one of the surviving houses where Miguel de Cervantes lived because many others did not survive through the ages. It’s also the place which we believe has the most interesting post-civil war generation of writers. And of course, going back, it’s the place where Columbus died. He always wanted to reach India but never got there. He passed away in 1506, and the place where he lived is still known. And exactly 500 years later, we inaugurated Casa de la India. So somehow India has come to him.
Q. How do you plan to mount JLF Valladolid?
A. It will be hosted in collaboration with the Valladolid Book Fair, which is also one of the oldest in Spain and is run by the city council. It’s on the Plaza Mayor, the main square, which is a beautiful Renaissance square. And naturally, we already host and organise a number of festivals every year with the Government of India since Casa de la India foundation was set up by the university, the city council, and the Government of India through ICCR and the embassy. All of these will become partners of JLF Valladolid. The university will host some sessions, the city council through the Book Fair, and through the embassy and the ICCR would provide cultural content. Also, the National Book Trust has been invited. On top of all this, there will be the curated core events of JLF in the JLF spirit with the aesthetics of it, with the music, the dance, theatre, discussions, etc. The aim is to start a dialogue, intellectually, artistically, culturally between some of the most seminal authors and creators of India and the Spanish-speaking world. That dialogue is very necessary because very often this dialogue is lacking, and I have been critical of a lot of the major Anglo-centric festivals. Yes, English is a link language in India, and so there are a lot of festivals that are comfortable talking to scholars from the UK, Australia, or even some Caribbean countries and America, but of course, moving beyond that comfort zone, the next big super soft power is the Spanish-speaking world. So that’s the larger picture, and the theme is “Words are Bridges.”
Q. What are your thoughts on modern revisions to offset the historical prejudice?
A. I think there’s nothing wrong with reexamining and revisiting history, and it should always be revisited from new lenses and new perspectives. You cannot just be Anglo-centric and just see through one lens. Also, there are a number of different types of revisions. There is political correctness, there is Aboriginal revisionism. There is populist revision, there is the academic approach. There are so many different ways of reassessing things, cultural as well as post-colonial, subaltern and gender. It’s important to have a debate and have a discussion because there are many advantages to constantly having a healthy discourse. Today, there are very good archives everywhere, and most universities have developed centres for research. As an academic myself, I believe in deep research and I am very much against superficial interpretations of things. You have to go deep into things, using an academic approach, and as long as it’s sound and there’s research and you have the facts, you can build your case. It’s not a copy-paste kind of thing. And it’s not just to sell an idea. Anything can be seriously discussed, even levitation. Yes, why not? You surely can. I would say, “You simply prove it.” If you believe in it, prove it. Just do the research and show the facts. So go to the ground realities, do the scholarly work first. Otherwise, you play down the whole foundation of academic research, which has been part of every modern culture. Wisdom is available in each and every culture, but you have to properly explain it.