The rain feels straight out of a Marquez story. The low-lying clouds echo the familiar sound of long distance buses drawing up to the crossroads, their wanderlusting air-horns slicing like swords through the hiss of the incessant rain. In my mind, I can see the auto drivers, heads covered with kerchiefs and their uniforms buttoned up all the way, as they squint their deals through at the disembarking passengers in the scant light of the cold, wet dawn. I have overbrewed my tea, it is bitter, but I still drink it, grateful for the leaves that have chosen me. As the warmth of the cup seeps through my palms, through my tongue and throat, through the residues of the dreams that I have dreamt, last evening’s conversation gently comes into focus.
The romance of the dim, rainy daybreak fades like the end of an overture to be replaced by the restrained semantic flourish of the times I live in. Can writing be taken to the level of a craft, to a point where it is independent of me, of the personal, of my politics? Can great literature be received and appreciated isolated from its context, from the contexts of its creator? Does writing for the sake of beauty (or truth) alone also contain within it a personal agenda? Or is writing really nothing more than another tool, another path to the answers we most need? Is writing perhaps the medicine that keeps some of us well and others safe? What is it about this morning that makes these questions seem important?
Cut to the chase. This is the longest period that this blog has not been updated. The effect is visible at many levels. While externals like ranking, traffic, comments have dropped some, internals have demanded introspection too. Over the last few months, I have been spending more time and energy building channels of sustenance that would allow me to keep writing. Along with that, I have also been trying to address personal issues that have got pushed to the backburners due to my relatively late awakening to mission. However, these are not the only reasons for my not having been around to share my thoughts on this blog.
During these months, the last several, I have communed with writers of various shades and hues, to imbibe inspiration and energy if not to learn from their craft, and close reading of our conversations have left me with more questions than answers. How does one judge the merit of one’s writing? Does the nature of a particular type of writing naturally seek out its readers? Is there a value hierarchy that can be applied without prejudice to the output of writers? For those of us whose writing is read by the few, whose writing will not survive the test of time (and who can say in these times of instant gratification that that is not true perhaps for most of what is being written, regardless of how earnest, how urgent, how intense one’s belonging to the craft is?), is our writing of any consequence in the larger scheme of things? Or are we just raging against the dying light, trying to justify our being, staking claim to a fleeting relevance that will assuage our sense of righteousness, our subconscious acknowledgement of futility?
Could such worries have led me to this hibernation? Or was I growing my proverbial roots? Is there an answer or is the question itself an expression of the very futility that I am dwelling upon? I do not know, and perhaps at some level, I do not care. What I know is the lingering aftertaste of a cup of tea that steeped too long, the cold patience of pigeons sheltering under parapets, and the inevitable victory of the rising sun. The vegetable vendor hawks his inventory, the newspaper boy knocks gently on the door, and I renew my determination to unravel the mystery of words and purpose.
Last evening, we were talking about how the emergence of information technology and the new economy has robbed us of the enthusiasm of discovery. Our interests and pastimes are no longer driven by the quest to understand and appreciate. Instead, they are now dictated, very subliminally, by what is profitable to corporations . Our lifestyles, our attention, even our livelihoods have been hijacked, repackaged per the convenience of businesses and offered back to us, and we accept it without question. This can be seen in the case of writing just as much as it can be seen in most other forms of creative art. I know this from reading. I find myself unfamiliar with many of the ideas (and even words) that are written about today. I look them up, and then I wonder, why would anyone want to write about this, and more intriguingly, why would anyone want to read about it? Do we, as a species that needs to pull ourselves back from the brink of self-destruction, really have the luxury to reflect on some of the most searched for keywords on the internet?
The other side of the discussion is, of course, that it doesn’t matter. All our trapeze acts are nothing more than therapeutic interventions to keep us from falling apart. The author is dead. The reader too dies as he nexts this page. Does it matter who you are, or why you have been reading this till now, or even how you might have changed upon reading what you have read? The complex interplay of cause and effect will ultimately win over our intellectual anxieties. The punchline of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel never rung truer – it will be alright in the end; if it is not alright, it is not the end.
It is my belief that the author never dies. Neither does the reader. It is my belief that writing is much more than self-medication. It might be true that a single Kardashian is more popular today than Kabir, Tagore and Eliot combined, but then it is just as true that the likes of Kabir, Tagore and Eliot will forever outweigh the Kardashians of our times with the impact they have had on humanity. It does not mean the demons that the Kardashians wrestle with are any less important than those that the literary greats wrestle with. And it is not that literature today does not have its share of Kardashians. As a friend observed, all expression, like water, seeks out its own level.
To receive a work of literature is to receive the author, no matter how low on the Kardashian scale the author or the reader might be. The personal, the political, flawed or flawless, remains woven into each word that the writer uses. Irrespective of how the context is interpreted in the process of reading, it is in the process of reading itself, in the life-to-life transmission that writing and reading are, that literature truly resides. It is in the fact that you are reading this line that my purpose exists. And this, just to illustrate what I said, is not the purpose that led me to begin writing this. The apartment block has started coming to life, the lift humming, reluctant schoolgoing sounds drowning in pressure cooker whistles, and it is time for me to make myself another cup of tea, a better one. Decency lies in making a good cup of tea.