“Writers more interested in literature than the truth ensure that they never come out with either thing — one reason that the word literature today sounds so fake, as if you were to insist on saying cuisine every time you meant food. Food, as in sustenance, is more like what we have in mind.”
― The editors n+1
― The editors n+1
A question has often crossed my mind that why these days we have so many Indians switching to writing in English and why there are so few books good books in Hindi and other Indian languages. My mother who is an avid reader of Hindi books often finds it difficult to find anything interesting in newly published books. Even when some new titles appear in library/ bookshops, they are difficult to read . Mostly due to their atrocious language which is a strange mix of English words mixed with Hindi and often the slang of the two languages. The grammar is deliberately wrong and the themes are often repetitive. Even internet blogs are more lively and readable than the published books sometimes .
Today in a chance meeting with one Editor in Charge of Contemporary Indian Literature at India’s apex society of letters, I found answers to most of my doubts. My expectations from the person occupying such a respected post was of someone who’d love books and words making up those books. Someone who would be open to all expressions and styles and most of all someone who’d be learned enough to be open, unbiased and objective. What I found gave me ample proof of why even the most passionate Hindi lovers are today reading very few Hindi books. It also made to thank God that I am not a writer/ poet aspiring to be published or reviewed by these hollowed men.
I had always heard stories of writers who were rejected repeatedly by the publishers only to become world famous later on. One also hears of artists who were rated hopeless by critics just before they shoot to fame and stardom. Today I witnessed to my horror how a critic forces his own myopic view on a budding poet. Sitting in his cosy office , surrounded by the publications of his revered organisation, he vaguely looked at the crisp new book and then shot a glance back to the newly published poet . He read the biodata of the poet, determined within seconds that she is in an outsider in the world of literature.( i.e. not a full time writer cum academician but a successful professional ) . He nodded his head disapprovingly and then the poet was told in harshest possible words that her choice of words, title of the book, themes of the poems and even the design of the cover is “incorrect”. The reason given was shocking – Today’s public does not want such words/ titles anymore. These were “in” some 40 years back. Who would read such (correct and pure) language anymore? These themes are also old. They do not sell anymore.
Interesting part was that the learned man formed this opinion in just 4 minutes of looking at the book and without even reading one of the poems. When the poet protested that was this not suppose to be her expression....her words ....her language. She was told that she has no chance of being established here if she thinks like this. Everything from the theme to the style should be carefully chosen based on the trend these days. He then arrogantly told the poor girl that she must read the journals and publications of his organisation to realise what kind of stuff is in demand these days and then try writing like that. I was feeling bad for the poor writer till I found, to my horror , that the esteemed editor cum critic was criticising Tagore’s Geetanjali as well on the same grounds saying that it won’t stand in today’s market . I was taken aback because this was not a profit minded publisher speaking but a critic associated with the society which is meant to “Promote and protect literature of Indian Languages”. Leave alone any encouragement to go different, there was a clear message- my way or highway.
When I asked this gentleman about writing for one’s own satisfaction ( Swantah Sukhaya) without consideration of “market demand”; he almost got angry. “What a naive question? Who does that anyway? If anyone wants they can keep writing sitting quietly but our publications would never review such works. We have some standard to keep. People have expectations from us and we cannot publish about something which is not graded high on these established benchmarks”. So that is the new mantra- books as a consumer good. To be manufactured as per the demands of the customers .
Curious by his response, I decided to peep in the bookshop of this organisation, to browse through the latest trends in literature. I am now very certain to say that no Bacchchan or Ajneya , no Jaishakar Prasad or Sumitra Nandan Pant can today find place in these hallowed galleries of literature . They are now an exclusive domain of people who do not understand pure language, do not risk to go original in style or themes and worst of all, who are in the ‘exclusive literature circuit’. The unwritten banner screams “Outsiders are not welcome” loud and clear. The experimentation with language is acceptable only if it is ‘approved kind of experimentation’ by the high priests of literature, all other variations are ‘wrong’. Good for these classic poets and writers that they become famous before such patrons of literature occupied these positions and framed their rules of good literature.
Thankfully we are in an age where information seeps through the walls topped by barbed wire and it wafts across the electrified borders...thankfully it also goes beyond the domains of such Mullahs and Pundits of literature. No wonder that many young writers either move towards English as language of expression , opt for more entry barrier free mediums like internet publishing or give up the hope of being read by people who’d have admired their words.