Friday, August 08, 2008

A Tribute to Solzhenitsyn

Read this article by Nilanjana Roy in Business Standard about Solzhenitsyn’s passing away from this corporeal world. The bearded, grizzly looking Solzenitysn has been a favourite author of mine ever since I read “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” back in the eighties, while still in college.

For a decorated man to spend eight years in prison because he called a dictator “Old Man Whiskers” (Stalin had a bushy whisker, if you remember history lessons!) in a private letter to a friend seems very, very odd to me indeed. But that shows what Russia was under “Old Man Whiskers,” a totalitarian state with no tolerance for dissent.

I then wrote a short story, “The Tropic Sun” based on a day in the life of a Bombay gutter cleaner called Muthu and sent it to my friend Nikhil Lakshman who was working in the Illustrated Weekly of India. Nothing was heard of this story after that. The Illustrated Weekly was then edited by Pritish Nandy and used to feature a short story in each issue. Now Illustrated Weekly is defunct, and so is Eves Weekly, Debonair, Mirror, Imprint, all of which used to feature short stories.

Digressing, I wonder why short stories have become the pariahs of the publishing world. Short stories are the stepping stones for a writer to bigger things like a novel. I have written quite a few short stories as the right hand side links will sufficiently illustrate. But a publisher recently turned down my short story collections saying there isn’t a sizable market for short stories these days. I would like to challenge this mistaken assumption.

Coming back to Solzhenitsyn and his fiercely independent views about the west, I support him fully for his fearless and independent view of the west’s decadence. There must have been embarrassment over the poster boy’s betrayal of the west’s designs on him. However, a writer must, must maintain his independence and speak out, as quoted by Nilanjana in her column:

“Once pledged to the WORD, there is no getting away from it: a writer is no sideline judge of his fellow countrymen and contemporaries; he is equally guilty of all the evil done in his country or by his people. If his country’s tanks spill blood on the streets of some alien capital, the brown stains are splashed forever on the writer’s face.”

How many writers in India can boldly say they are “pledged to the word” and that they have a responsibility to speak against the religious and ethnic bigotry that is being practised in this country? This question would decide if a Gulag will be the result.

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