Dr Amit Ranjan
An interest in one of Australia’s earliest authors, John Lang, brought Indian author and researcher Amit Ranjan on a journey to Australia to uncover facts from the past―but it also opened up to him much about the present.
Australia Awards— Endeavour Research Fellowship recipient finds Australian-India connections through historical research into Australians in India
Dr Amit Ranjan had developed an interest in the Australian radical lawyer and author John Lang while researching Australians living in India, but found that despite Lang having spent much of his adult life in India – from 1842 to 1864, apart from a five year stay in England – there was little material in India about him. Lang, who was born in Sydney in 1816, is considered the first Australian-born novelist.
Thanks to an Australia Awards—Endeavour Research Fellowship, Amit was able to come to Australia as a visiting scholar at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2010 and gain access to much of the research into Lang that had been collected by previous researchers and housed in the State Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia.
“Though my research was about Lang’s ideology within the scheme of the Empire, I expanded the scope to uncovering his family lineage as well, which made me travel a lot through various suburbs around Sydney.”
Amit’s research brought him in contact with many other scholars who helped him in his work, and many have become his long-term friends.
In my first day at UNSW, an old professor said in an elevator, ‘I know you young man.’ Professor Reeve recalled my face after six years. This was just the beginning. I received tremendous encouragement from historians, environmentalists, librarians, researchers—it was humbling and inspiring.
“The knowledge I acquired in Australia has helped me immensely in my career. There was tremendous interest in both the Australian and Indian media – and I was interviewed by the Times of India and SBS in 2010-11,” he said.
There have been many media opportunities since then, including a series of programs on SBS Hindi about unknown stories and shared histories between Australia and India. A book on this series, supported by the Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD), entitled Who the Duck is Alice? will be released in 2018.
Amit presented several academic papers while in Australia, and later in India. He received not only widespread recognition for both his archival work and the analysis of it, but witnessed John Lang get a new lease of life in 2014 when Indian Prime Minister Modi gifted John Lang documents to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
I was also quite influenced by the Australian education system and tried to implement various methodologies of teaching and research back home. The idea of local historical societies also impressed me a lot – we in India with eons of history need to create smaller communities like that to preserve our heritage.”
Another thing that struck me was the dignity and the confidence with which older people are able to live in Australia,” he said. “Even though India is very rooted in family values, older people are not able to pursue their passions after retirement. I would like to strive to create such an atmosphere for them.”
Having obtained his PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, he is currently an assistant professor of English Literature at St Stephen’s college in Delhi. He has also been a Fulbright Fellow at Florida International University, Miami, and has been a recipient of an Inlaks Research Fellowship. Amit held the honorary position of ‘Australia Awards Ambassador’ in India in 2014 and 2015.
In 2015 Amit returned to Australia as a delegate at Australia India Youth Dialogue (AIYD) to take part in a week-long conference discussing various bilateral issues.
Amit said programs like the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships give young researchers a platform to realise their potential.
He also said his destiny has always pointed to an Australian connection since his childhood. For my grade one entrance test at St Xavier’s School, Bokaro Steel City—run by Jesuits—I was shown a picture of a kangaroo and asked to name it. I said ‘rabbit’. Sister Celine laughed indulgently, and said, ‘This boy will play with kangaroos one day’. And so it happened. I played with them at Jervis Bay in 2010.”