Have our fiction writers failed us?
My wife always winces when she has to help my daughter study English and Hindi. Not because she doesn’t like the subjects. Many of the stories and poems in the text books are from, as my wife says as if she has tasted something foul, “the award wapsi gang”. For example, there is a really terrible memoir by one of such writers called Krishna Sobti. Even a diary entry by a kid who would never become a writer would be better organized. And the writer is an “eminent” writer.
Anyway, this is not a critique on a particular writer or a particular writing style. As a class, I think our writers have failed at least a couple of generations. Politicians are often blamed for all the problems in our country, but politicians are the least culpable if you want to put blame on someone. Politicians, after all, just a reflection of the society.
A bulk of the blame lies on parents, teachers and writers, and since this is a reading and writing blog, my focus would be on writers.
Many would say, rightly perhaps, that since there has been a concerted effort to raze our cultural roots and since literature is one of the pillars of any culture, it is one of the casualties. Talented, well-meaning writers have been systematically discouraged and sidelined, and the literary landscape has been permeated with mediocre, undeserving writers.
To a great extent this might be true, but only to an extent. If deserving, talented Indian writers have allowed themselves to be sidelined by undeserving, untalented writers, a big part of the blame also lies on these writers themselves. In the name of victimization they have failed the generations who would have benefited from them.
Can you name even one great book that has been written by a “reputed” Indian author in the past 25–30 years? “Great book” means, a book that moves you, that makes you look at the world in a new light, a book that prompts you to change your political or ideological outlook. A book that shakes the roots of your beliefs and jolts you out of your intellectual hubris. I don’t think if there is any book like that.
Writers at both ends of the spectrum have failed us. Writers of the award wapsi gang have obviously failed us because neither they have the intellectual depth to be able to write something meaningful, nor they have creative capabilities to woo us with captivating verses or prose: they are embarrassingly bland and dull. They are constantly busy licking the asses of their political and bureaucratic bosses or participating in various intrigues; when and how can they get time to write something creative?
Writers who have been overrun by the award wapsi gang have also failed us by not putting up a concerted fight. Maybe at an individual level they might have put up some sort of resistance, but collectively nothing.
I was reading a slightly unrelated article in the Guardian which triggered these thoughts. The article talks about the lack of political and social novels these days, the likes of 1984 by George Orwel, or even a few novels by Charles Dickens. It’s basically in the context of politicians like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson gaining prominence and no hard-hitting novel coming up to warn people of the consequences. Whether you agree with the intent of the article or not, is another matter.
We have lots of non-fiction, but no engaging fiction talking about the perils of taking incorrect political decisions. For example, there is no contemporary novel written in India that talks about how the Congress party and its various offshoots practically destroyed the country. No great novel has been written on how the communists have ravaged West Bengal and other states. No heart-wrenching story is available of a Kashmiri Pandit family who has been uprooted.
Again, there is lots of non-fiction available, but non-fiction doesn’t move people as much as fiction. Hard facts are never appealing, emotionally as well as psychologically. But when we have characters going through historical events it is a totally different matter. Besides, non-fiction is written to achieve political and ideological ends. These books are not as effective as well-written novels.
Writing a novel takes more effort and more creativity. It’s not like collecting hard facts and then compiling them in sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Give anybody with decent writing skills hard facts, and he or she can come up with a non-fiction book.
Creative fiction that can also deliver a political message has been squashed, wiped out, and by not putting up a systematic resistance, Indian fiction writers have failed the society. They should have foreseen the onslaught and should have come up with a strategy. They simply threw their hands and gave up. They either sold their souls and became a part of the award wapsi gang, or they let themselves sink into the quagmire of oblivion.
This post was originally written for Writing Cave.