Friday, June 17, 2005

Lit, a critic view and half a question

I was talking to Hindi media critic and writer Sudhish Pachauri, about what is wrong with the modern (Hindi) literary climate in this country. These are some of the things he said:

"No new truths are being told. Our new writer (of Hindi literature) is not talking about youth, or even new ideas. He is talking about his/her own inner conflicts. Those who write do so because they like the idea of being writers. They want awards, and they get them through networking... plying older authors and literary editors with favours and alcohol and parties. They are content with a certain amount of 'fame' that comes from having a book published and being mentioned in the mainstream newspapers.

These are narcissists and megalomaniacs and they are full of personal hypocrisy. that is the crisis...
They want media coverage, but they claim to hate mainstream media.
They want to sit in the middle of the bazaar (the market-based economy) and lick up the cream of globalization, but claim to be against the 'bazaar' , because they want to be known as 'radical'
They send their kids to study in the USA, but claim to be against the USA.

Do you know when the best bestseller of the last few decades was written? It was a novel called Gunahon Ka Devta, written by Dharamvir Bharti, way back in 1949. This is a love story, set against the backdrop of campus politics in Allahabad. It continues to be a bestseller and has run into 49 editions - unheard of, in Hindi. It was also made into a movie.... not a single modern author has managed this. They do not know what the younger generation wants.

Do you know what the most profitable book venture has been, for Pustak Mahal? It is a book called 'Rapidex English Speaking Course'. One printing machine has been devoted exclusively to this book. It has sold crores of copies, and been translated into 18 languages.

What does that tell you about the educated youth of our times? That he wants to speak English; that he needs it to survive. Has any author written about this subject?

The new readers of Hindi books are keen on information. They want to read about globalization and its impact. I write about media and my books sell. People want to read about politics and media. Kameshwar's 'Kitne Pakistan' was a success, because it dealt with the Indo-Pak issue with great sensitivity, and humanity. Readers need an understanding of poetry and sociological issues.

The reader's world has changed. The writer has failed to notice...

Literature is not a stable thing. It changes. Public tastes change. They are 'constructed' in fact, and have to be 're-constructed', every so often. We need to form public tastes, as well as cater to them. Newspapers no longer do that - we need to, but we can't, without the right media... that is the other crisis.

The old writers 'lived' amongst their characters. Saadat Hasan Manto lived in Bombay; he talked to the workers, to prostitutes. Modern writers live in comfort; how will they know what poverty is about? A whole big Tsunami happened, for instance.... how many writers made their way over to the victims?

The crisis is that writers in Hindi don't have a finger on the pulse of the public. That's why there are few big names, as far as the masses are concerned, in either poetry or fiction; because the masses know where to seek a reflection of their needs and ambitions. Writers are not writing about the challenges ahead. They don't know what challenges lie ahead!"

[I don't know if he's right. I haven't read enough Hindi lit. But he talks like he knows what he's talking about. I do know that this is pretty much what I feel about the English literary scene in India... political books lie in the non-fiction sections; political poetry went out in the last millennium, it seems - it now survives through the oral tradition of the grassroots-activist culture. Or is it just that I'm under-read?]


Anonymous said...

From one even further 'under-read', thank you for the peek into a different neck of the woods.

Perhaps the readers of today are different too; in that to learn of complex realities, they reach for... not a novel surely.

But where are the young writers? The lickers of global cream are hardly in the thick of high drama they can fictionalise.

Of those who did dash off to the tsunami aftermath, did any write of it in Hindi (fiction)?



Annie Zaidi said...

not that i know of, Nina.. have not even heard of an Indian writer who might have written an English novel based on something like the tsunami (though I have seen some very pathetic poetry, along the lines of 'the gods wreak havoc... revenge of mother nature'. blah! and ugh!) nor the kutch earthquake, nor the orissa cyclone... with the exception of Shashi Tharoor's Riot (which was a bit of a disappointment, esp after reading The Great Indian Novel), I don't recall having read of any current public issue that wound its way into popular fiction.
Though it is very likely readers will reach for fiction even for information and understanding of issues. Think 'Saigon' or 'London' or even 'Airport'... loads of information, for those who seek it. Only more fun to read, I guess.

Anonymous said...

it is the same reason people go watch a govinda movie and not Mathrubhoomi - there are a few books on social issues but they are rarely topical - like Sainath's 'Everybody loves a good drought' - or 'Sex, lies and AIDS' by Siddharth Dube -
fellow bloggers Badri and Satya (of Cricinfo) have recently started publishing in regional languages, beginning with Tamil - they have books written for them - and on a wide range of topics from technology to cinema - their belief is that the regional language reader craves more information but has no access since most of such boks are in English - and they seem to be doing well..
as an aside, it is true about Rapidex English boks - two businesses you cannot go wrong with in urban and rural India - english coaching and beauty parlour... (oops, rather long comment)

Anonymous said...

Dont even ask me how i landed on this blockk..lets just say I searched for something in google..... YOur autowaalah series post reminded me of the numerous altercations i have had with them during my 4 yr stay there..... A freind of mine was telling me that they have now started to use the meter now...

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