Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Professor Amit Chaudhuri

IAS Creative Fellow 2022-23

Amit Chaudhuri is the author of eight novels, the latest of which is Sojourn. He is also a poet, essayist, short story writer, and musician. His New and Selected Poems is scheduled to be published later this year in the NYRB Poets series. His works of non-fiction include, most recently, Finding the Raga, which received the James Tait Black Prize in 2022. Other awards his work has received include the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the Encore Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, the Government of India’s Sahitya Akademi Award, and the inaugural Infosys Prize in Literary Studies in the Humanities. He is Professor of Creative Writing and Director of the Centre for the Creative and Critical at Ashoka University. He was Professor of Contemporary Literature at the University of East Anglia from 2006-2021.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an honorary fellow of the Modern Language Association of America and of Balliol College, Oxford. He edits literaryactivism.com.

In 2018, he received the Sangeet Samman from the West Bengal government for his contribution to North Indian classical music. He wrote the libretto for Pandit Ravi Shankar’s opera, ‘Sukanya’. He has performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on BBC television's Review Show, at various conferences of North Indian classical music, and his version of 'Summertime' is included in BBC 4's documentary Gershwin's Summertime: The Song that Conquered the World. His latest album in his project in crossover music is called Across the Universe, and it came out this year.

Music as thought, creativity as argument

As Creative Fellow, I wish to continue my explorations of the North Indian raga and the genre in North Indian classical music called the khayal as forms of thought. These forms rethink linearity and test the limits of the representational; they replace, or supplement, the idea of the composer or composition in the post-Enlightenment sense with an infinite nuancing of how the philosopher-musician might deal creatively with found material - that is, with material that's already at hand, whether it's a melody or a seemingly immemorial cultural tradition.

I wish to communicate these ideas and share these forms of thinking through a combination of talk and performance. If a particular lineage or genre in music is a particular mode of thought, then the argument can't be expressed through the form of the lecture alone - the performance of the genre posits an argument. So I would present two events which would also incorporate my compositional experiments - new ragas on the one hand; a 'non-fusion' exploration of multiple music lineages, including the raga, jazz, pop, rock, and the blues, on the other. 

The former would allow me to rethink the historical - comprising the raga and khayal - but not through conventional research (that is, not by journeying to the past in a time machine via the archive) but bringing into the world new ragas in relation to which the processes of creation and thought introduce us to history in all its immediacy. In the second, 'non-fusion' event, I would expand (again, through talk and performance) on my contention that there are no conceptually easy ways to approach multiple lineages: we can't fall back on syncretism, multiculturalism, or ideas of music being a 'universal language'. It must always involve a creative rearranging of found material.

A third event that would take the form of a conversation is also planned.