Tuesday, February 01, 2011

My Writing Creed, Now That's Out of the Way

This is a statement of my writing creed, what I hold dear as my writing objective. It is as much for people who like my writing, as well as for critics who allege (wrongly, I suppose) that I can't write. One (a vanity publisher) had the temerity to tell me to do my job go home and watch television with family. I don't know what prompted that outburst. I guess it is a risk that every writer (or, artist, for that matter takes as part of her calling). I confess I am not as good as some hugely talented writers who have come in from commercial streams such as advertising and public relations to dominate the writing spectrum. I admire their raw talents and their egotistical quest to dominate platforms and forums. Man, they can hijack the system and then set themselves up as arbiters of literary taste. To them I say a "നമസ്കാരം, नमस्ते, greetings". I want no part in your scheme of things. Sadly, you don't seem to write anything worth the while.

I am, i confess, in the literary environs because I love literature, not for any other. I have never misused it for personal aggrandizement (I feel I have been falsely accused of having been "greedy for money" by some, show me one article or piece [or one job] for which I have bargained for more. Being a bit ingenuous in money matters, I have gladly accepted whatever I could get.). Laugh all you want behind my back, I don't mind, because that's the situation clear and simply stated. I have developed this love (of literature) very early in life by reading and through attempting to write poems, short stories, and short vignettes. I still remember receiving a Bible (The Gospel of St. Matthew) as a gift in Sunday School and I sat and read the whole holy book in one go. Perhaps this may have been influenced by the awareness that some of my uncles were great writers. I don't know if this is the right premise to take up writing. Instead of being a source of embarrassment, it has been a source of pride and strength for me. One of my teachers (Parameshwaran Iyer) in school called my writing flowery and ornamental; still some people do. I think writing should have a distinct quality of ornaments - gold, silver, copper - in it and shouldn't be too repressed as to seem dry and artificial. This doesn't mean I would - consciously or unconsciously - use an excess of ornaments. No way. I edit out all ostentatious ornamentation.

I have graduated to writing novels when the riots happened in Bombay in 1992. I felt something significant was happening and I should record it. At that time I was traveling all over Bombay and saw first hand what petty politics had unleashed on unsuspecting citizens. I saw burning shops, burning slums and violence and mayhem. It then struck me to write about the migrant experience and the result was my novel "The Love Song of Luke Varkey." Luke Varkey is a migrant to Bombay, falls in love, and struggles to make ends meet and being unable, abandons his love and migrates to a Persian Gulf country. Being a first novel I struggled with it, too much, I now realise. I changed things and then changed again leading to the novel burgeoning into a huge gorilla of a work, sitting in my computer, and, occasionally, teasing me by baring its teeth. I should have let go earlier on.

That was when I abandoned it. It wasn't a novel but an opinionated selfish expression of bitterness. Whether it was my angst or the character's I am not too sure. I guess it was my diatribe against something personal. Then I realised that I shouldn't ventilate in a novel, it's not the done thing. It becomes too personal. You lose focus and objectivity and become involved. A novel is about what is happening in society, to other people, though you might tell it in first person singular. Novels have a purpose above personal concerns, it is a definitive documentation of the times. That's why I believe in it and am sure it will continue to survive. I have tried to make amends in my second novel which I am writing - Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

But then I was living in an age when laptops became cheap and everyone who could buy a laptop began to dream of being a novelist. I might sound a bit selfish here, but it's true that every boy or girl began tapping a novel into the laptop and began dreaming of publishing glory. I am not saying they shouldn't. They should. It's good that people realise how important the novel is. (A former colleague asked me if I could ghostwrite his novel and that he has an interesting story to tell. If only I had the time!) The sheer numbers became a bit daunting. If in a country of 1 billion people even 1 per cent dreamt of publishing glory it would mean 10 million manuscripts under development and out of the 10 million if 10 per cent can afford a laptop then one million manuscripts are being actually churned out.

However, what was disconcerting was that this ten million writers don't buy ten million copies of novels. That meant reading habits were abysmally low. Of the 11,000 (approx.) books that are published if even one wannabe author bought one book there would be sales of 1000 books per title. Ask a publisher and she will say this is not true.

How can a country not read and still publish? How can a people, a country, not educate themselves and make rockets? The same conundrum applies to how India runs more on hope than on cold hard science and technology. I guess I will leave it to the smart boys/girls with their laptops and facebook and twitter accounts to sort this out. If they can that is.

I digress; I am sorry. What I am waffling towards is that I am not new enough to be brash and egotistical about my writing and not old enough to be considered unworthy of internet and social media. So, where does that leave me? A bit confused perhaps, a bit disoriented mostly, a lot undecided as to what is my future as a writer.

Ah, this is turning out to be a longish rant. However, what I am sure about is I am not mad about being published or about getting recognised publicly. I am in my fifties and old enough to realise that ambition can depend a lot of circumstances and luck. I am willing to take that chance. I would rather have an unsung and unappreciated role than play a leading one. I am content to plough a lone furrow and wait out for something to turn up at my door. If it doesn't, I would be as content that I have loved literature and writing and am still committed to it. I thought I would get this out of the way so, there I am.

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