Oh! And this is writing?

There are people who believe everyone is a writer, since writing is a verb and the actor is… well, a writer. Then there are some of us who believe that writing is not merely putting several words together but is decoction of human sensibilities and beauty in the most honest form. Of course, there are a few who believe that if you have never been published in mass media, then you aren’t a writer. No, these aren’t three point in a spectrum spread, but three points on a plane, never to be married on a single straight line.

I recently read a few articles/webpages and felt like sharing them with you. The first one that got me smacking my forehead is this: http://www.bookslut.com/features/2007_03_010781.php

I have very low regard for this writer. I haven’t read a single book of his completely, but enough to know that he isn’t a writer on my terms (definitely a writer on the other two points of view, hence he wins by majority). How could I arrive at a conclusion without reading a book? As easily as I can know that his woman is not meant for me without having to live with her till our silver anniversary. These people are Indian writers, writing in a foreign language (English) for a non-Indian audience about Indian subjects and themes. They aren’t writers. Let me provide some excerpts from this page for you.

I know how to say sister-fucker in Hindi now.
Yes, if you ever are in Bombay and you get into an argument with somebody, I think you’ll be well equipped. Although saying that is probably not the best way to get out of the argument.

(Wow!! That is surely something to learn from a book!)

What’s another few dozen after 900, right? What was your writing schedule like when you were writing Sacred Games?
For me what seems to work best is maintaining a really steady rhythm. So I generally work, when I’m in the middle of a project, everyday. Six days a week if possible, from eight in the morning, then straight through to lunch, around 1 o’clock, and then that’s it. I feel pretty much exhausted after that. I’m pretty slow, I think I get about 400 words during that time, and that feels like a full day’s work.

(Huh!? 400 words in 5 hours!? Not that this has much to say about a writer’s ability, but I can’t believe that someone who, hopefully enjoys writing manages just 400 words in 5 hours. That is 400 in 300 minutes. Nearly 1 word in 60 seconds!! Jesus!)

I loved how Sartaj was Sikh and wore his turban and he was so different from the rest of the police force. Sikhs are a minority in Bombay?
Yes, they’re a minority in the country in general. But in Punjab they exist and live there in very large numbers. In a place like Bombay they do exist as a minority and it’s interesting because I didn’t plan it to be that way. Sartaj, the character, appeared fully formed one day. I don’t know where exactly he came from. And then as I started writing him it occurred to me that that was very useful having him be an outsider in a sense, to be somewhat distanced from the local politics of the department and so forth. That became really interesting to work with.

(Which generation of Indians is he talking about? I have lived in Bombay and have never seen anyone surprised at a Sikh anyone. This is what I call writing for a non-Indian audience. Why, he should have thrown a rope trick and a bed of nails too. So charming and bound to make the Bookslut gush even more. One might be surprised at seeing a Sikh in Tirupati or a Sikh at the Haji Ali, but not a Sikh policeman. What does he take us for? And what on earth is there to “love how Sartaj was Sikh and wore his turban”? I am sure we would hear people saying: “I loved reading Emma. I loved how Emma was a woman and wore a corset. Simply ingenious!”)

Sacred Games was first released in India, what was the reception there?
It was very gratifying, in a couple of ways. One was that from what I can judge from the sales figures and so forth, but also from the e-mails I’ve been getting since it came out in August. It’s hard finding a readership from people that are not used to picking up a literary novel for instance. In a couple of e-mails, the readers basically started them with, “I normally never read this kind of serious book, but I heard this Ganesh guy was kind of a bad ass.” So, I think the form in a sense is making it possible for other kinds of readers to engage with it. There were a couple of reactions of people who live in the city and are really possessive about it, you know in the way that people who have been born and brought up in a place tend to become. And they were kind enough to say that they saw some amount of truth or they felt like this was the city they actually lived in. That made me happy.

(Judge from the sales figures, indeed! If anyone started an email to me like that, its Shift+Delete for that guy. “I normally never read this kind of serious book” 😮 What makes a book serious? The constructs or the matter? Woody Allen wrote some brilliantly hilarious serious stuff. And if he never read serious stuff, why did he pick a 900 page tome? Size convinced him? Literary Novel!??? Aaarrrgggh!!)

The only thing sensible in that link is Chandra’s advice to read. That brings me to the second part of this post. People aren’t reading. They are quick to write, some very good at it, but they don’t have the time to read. I am not just talking about the classics and Shakespeare, but I am talking about general reading.

Reading cannot have a pointed purpose (unless you are school and have to max that test). It is meant to enlighten and lighten. It is meant to make you smile and enjoy being alive. I read advances in software, cognitive psychology, about writing, literature, short stories, poems, nonfiction, recipes, computer science, interior decor, travel and a lot more, not because it will help me get that promotion (it actually won’t, if I tell my boss that I have been spending time reading this stuff). There are few people out there who read tonnes more than I do, but the majority of the world is not interested, and it is unfortunate that writers aren’t as well.

It seems that those who read would only become critics and highbrow talkers (which is not far from the truth). I see a lot of people online who claim to read this and that but aren’t creative in what they write. They can discuss something well, but that is pretty much it. But they aren’t whom I am talking about. I am talking about writers and aspiring writers and the absolute need to read and relish the written word. It might help in providing some inspiration for your next piece, but that is only a small fraction (consider one inspiration per 2000 words read).
I read this article, but would like to share only the following excerpt from it (SD is Stephen Dixon and CP is City Paper).

CP: According to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study, “Reading in Risk,” they’re worse at reading. They’re writing a lot more and reading a lot less.
SD: They’re right. They’re actually right. When I give stories to undergrads, I’ll ask who’s read Tolstoy. Nobody’s read Tolstoy. Or I mention James Joyce, when we read a story from Dubliners, maybe one or two have read a story in high school. When I first started out, kids were much more serious as readers, and I could actually have literary discussions with them, which I cannot do now. Even the ones who are the most avid writers are not avid readers. They just want to write.
CP: Everyone has a novel inside them, but no one reads anybody else’s, then. Is that a problem?
SD: It’s a paradox. It hasn’t really stopped undergrads from becoming better writers than the readers who were writing before. You would think just the opposite. But then there’s a problem. We grew up on Dostoevsky, Conrad, if there was ever a serious name, we read that writer. It also told us what not to write, because if the thing has been taken up already, and you have a history of having read it, you want to go on to something new. So a lot of students are sort of writing what’s already been written.

And I consider this a sad state of affairs. Writing and reading are intimately intertwined. One can be a great writer without reading much and one can be an avid reader without writing a word after school. But that doesn’t mean they are independent. Consider a world of writers and no readers and conversely. I am sure one would be quick to go “Aha! But that is the point. Readers will be readers and writers, writers.” Well, I hope you understand what I am trying to say. They are fibres of the same plait.

I wish people realise the idle pleasure of reading and writing for the joy in each. With hundreds of thousands of books published every year (and you might be aware of only, say, hundred?), I doubt whether we can keep in touch with all of them. But that is not necessary. I like what Flaubert said to his mistress: Commel’on serait savant si l’on connaissait bien seulement cinq a six livres: “What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books.”

I created my list of 12 books (yeah, decided to double the stakes), that I consider worth reading and re-reading throughout my life while I selectively pick other books with each passing day.

1. Emma
2. Lolita
3. Hamlet
4. Jane Eyre
5. Mrs. Dalloway
6. Heart of the matter
7. Madame Bovary
8. Don Quixote
9. Ulysses
10. Grapes of Wrath
11. To kill a mockingbird
12. The catcher in the rye

This and the million other things I get to read, should make life more beautiful. Enjoy this book when you have the time.


4 thoughts on “Oh! And this is writing?

  1. To read, to write, to dance and to sing, or simply sit still doing nothing at all, – to do each thing in such a manner that we take the utmost enjoyment from it and also give our complete offering to it that enhances its personality itself for future generations to observe and learn from, this is what will delight us in all the moments of our lives.# Thank you for the Noah Porter link. ‘Old’ writings excite me; let’s see what this has got to offer one…

  2. hmmm. i liked ur list! i havent read Heart of the matter, Don Quixote, Grapes of Wrath and i dont remember Madame Bovary very well. had loved the rest

  3. Very interesting post , Eroteme. I think this fall in standard has to do not just with writing.. but everything else as well.. any domain of art.. anything remotely passable is deemed ‘wonderful’..

  4. Dear i,Very true, what you say. 🙂 You are welcome…Dear R,Glad you liked the list. What would be on yours if you were goaded to make one?Dear P,Glad you liked it. I agree with you. I think the haste to be “there” is more overpowering than the need to journey to “there”.

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