New Delhi: In today’s market-driven world, have the soul, spirit and persona of the writer undergone change? Is he more marketer than writer, keeping his eyes firmly on market-forces and hot-wiring his talent to tango with themes that are reader friendly? Is he exploring and exploiting the public space accessible via new technology and forums to ensure and maximize mass connect? Does the interaction not diminish the very magic and mystique that defines the sacred relationship between the writer and the reader?
Actually, it was the hugely respected, acclaimed and awarded author Amitav Ghosh who recently offered this thought provoking response to the poser: Are Writers also Performers. “Writers and readers have not always stared each other in the face. Until quite recently, most writers shrank from the notion of publicly embracing their readership.” He went on to mention some celebrated names, Gaddis and Coetzee, who apparently refused to even read from their work and suggested that this is largely a twenty-first century phenomenon. Ghosh believes that “through the last century the relationship between the readers and writers was largely impersonal. The reader related in the first instance to a book – not the reader - and writers for their parts, did not confront the audience in the manner of musicians, singers, actors and so on.” The author goes on to finally make the point that, in his view, reading out aloud to audiences and inserting themselves between the reader and the text, diminishes the autonomy and integrity of their work.
High-profile, script-writer, poet, lyricist, activist and Rajya Sabha member Javed Akhtar begs to differ, “It’s like this. Urdu Poets, down centuries have always recited – even sung – their verse to their constituency. Once it was the court due to royal patronage. Later it was mushairas. This tradition, in its own way, remains and it has never ever come in the way of their creativity or genius.”
For too long, in Bollywood and other film industries, literary creatures have been neglected and ignored.
Akhtar believes that a writer creates in private to exhibit in public. “It is indeed a lonely and solitary calling but the end product, surely is about reaching out, popular-connect and feedback and therefore, interaction is a boon.” He is also extremely upbeat about writers invading new platforms in the public space for another reason.
For too long – in Bollywood and most places – have literary creatures been overlooked, neglected and ignored and encouraged to stay in the shadows, unsung and unheralded. Their work may have been lauded but poorly rewarded and individually, they remained nowhere men. These new platforms provide them the much-needed and long-overdue social, cultural, emotional and financial compensation.”
The other acknowledged Poet Laureate of B-town, Gulzar agrees and brings his own spin to the table. “With due respect to Amitav, I look at this issue differently. Writers, authors and poets who choose to reside in their private space and believe that any physical connect with their readers will marginalize their sense of elusiveness and exclusivity are welcome to do so but increasingly, even the most reclusive among them seem to be coming out to sample the real world and enjoying the rewards.”
He cites the example of gifted Marathi poet Arun Sheute who for years put together a bunch of 40 poems to receive paltry Rs two thousand from his publishers. Frustrated, he one day, brought them out himself in a magazine form during Diwali, attracting many advertisers and ended up netting at least Rupees twenty thousand. The much-respected lyricist also reminds us to keep track of the diverse, spectacular new-age communication avenues and vehicles available for any writer to connect with his target group. These platforms “only help to enlighten, enrich, entertain and empower both reader and writer, so it’s a win-win situation all the way.” He believes that this Ivory tower approach appeals possibly to one kind of cultural intellectual “but overall, isn’t pluralism and inclusiveness a large part of the creative agenda and impulse?”
Moving away from revered literary icons to social commentators, we buttonhole the irrepressible Ad Filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar. While he confesses his huge admiration for Ghosh as a brilliantly insightful writer and a master of detail, he disagrees totally on his rooting for anonymity. “What’s the big deal in remaining hidden in today’s let-it-all-hang-out world, my friend? Isn’t a book meant for readers, audience, people or is it meant to be a closely guarded secret? If an opportunity to interact with the public comes along, it’s fantastic, because feedback is critical. Also from a readers’ perspective, if the writer is impressive – in the way he fields questions and tackles them in a warm, witty and intelligent fashion – then the brand equity of the writer goes up and influences the reader to buy the book.”
Ex-director of NFDC and someone hugely connected with book-launches, Sunit Tandon however believes, at the end of the day, it’s a personal call. “For every writer who prefers solitude, there are others keen to leap off the page to embrace the public space.” He finds it odd that Ghosh, who is so dismissive about exposure, has no problems going on Book Tours at home and abroad.
Renowned columnist Anil Dharker joins the debate and insists that “the real magic lies in the work of the author and not the much-touted solitude. The words and the world they trace are the real stars. As for the interaction part, it’s wonderful because it provides a fantastic platform for the writer and his audience to meet and interact. This is, by its very nature, formal and not personal or intimate, so where is the question of this interaction and connect diminishing any autonomy or creativity?”
Celebrated Communication Guru Alyque Padamsee offers his take. He sees all new-age interactive platforms as a huge boon “because the writer the is then, seen, as a flesh and blood human being, a person one can relate to and make tangible contact with – not some vague, esoteric figure residing in imagination. Also a peep into his mind and thinking process makes for an engaging experience. Remember, all human beings, at heart, are performers- and the translation from the page to public space can be truly amazing. I am all for it.”
The last words must be reserved for columnist Palash Krishna Mehrotra (The Butterfly Generation) whose recent article prompted this debate. He disagrees totally with Ghosh and cites examples of not only twentieth but nineteenth century writers too who “performed week after week, and enthusiastically, across cities and continents, much like mega Rock Bands do now. They did it because they loved doing so, as also to make money.” He throws up examples of such dazzling literary grants as Hazlitt, Coleridge, Mark Twain, Carlyle, Oscar Wilde and of course Charles Dickens who frequently performed in their rooms playing out characters before writing them and later performing them on the stage as well.
So what’s the conclusion? As Tandon says, it’s really a personal and individual call, but in a communication-driven world with technology unleashing newer tools and triggers every day and innovative, engagingly creative audience friendly platforms popping up every minute, the symbolism, mystique and magic of anonymity – so seductive in earlier times – seems to be losing ground.