|The moving finger|
Like every human being in this world, I too live the earth and the sky each day. I live the sun and the moon. I wander the streets and crossings of my city, the footpaths, the traffic lights, the winding queues, the long bridges, the beautiful buildings, the post offices and banks and the secluded corners of restaurants. I enjoy the aroma of hot food wafting from the table. I revel in elegantly placed vases and the blushing flowers they hold. I take delight in the flaming stoves and gleaming brass vessels in wayside dhabas. My experience is interwoven with that of others. I have made myself a bridge all my own. I can cross it whenever I like and visit other settlements and meet the people who live there. I like to go where the breeze blows free and the windows of the heart are not shut. I like fresh air and sunlight, not dankness. I am not a professional courtier who must be forever agreeable. I am proud of my identity, but not at the cost of others’. I accept the identity of others, but not at the cost of my self.
I have many acquaintances but few friends. I never tire of my own company. I am more alive and energetic at night. I even think differently at night. The mysterious sounds, the soft voices — I enjoy the silent solitude of the night. And from its midst rises the rhythm and lilt and melody and meaning of words. I write what I live.
The ordinariness of a professional writer is rendered extraordinary by the strict discipline of a word culture that engulfs her or him, without and within.
STRUGGLE, CHANGE AND THE CREATIVE MIND
Given the challenges that face the writer and the act of writing today, it is necessary to reiterate that writing is always greater than the writer. And greater than writing are the values that humanity, against all odds, struggles to uphold.
A writer hears the sounds and clashes of the times, probes them, analyses them, describes them and defines them in the creative act of writing. The writer absorbs the realities and crises of his time and space and recreates them on paper.
A writer does not wage a personal battle, nor does he present only an account of personal joys and sorrows, but searches out all those who struggle, suffer and die unknown. Writing is not a solitary pursuit. It is about life, about struggle, about confrontation, about growth — about continual growth. A writer has to grow with each generation, in every age, every season and every situation. A writer has to evolve through relationships, both close and distant. A writer has to grow with the twists and turns of history, with the vitality that permeates life.
The tensions within individuals and societies, within establishments and systems, endow writing with a sense of time, and in turn writing gives direction to the times.
Meditation is the soul of literature and language is its body. It is folk consciousness that rejuvenates the roots of language and quickens it. The folk idiom draws its energy directly from the earth. History flows like a river through our lives and in its cultural manifestation, it merges with time.
A writer’s solitude is also the writer’s meditation. It is a way of thinking that is deeply embedded in the writer’s consciousness. And this consciousness arises from the writer’s environment, class and values. This is what nurtures a writer’s creative urge and is the fount of his work. Writing is not merely an account of event and story. It is the combined expression of the inner churning of the mind and the external reality.
THOUGHT AND OBJECTIVITY IN WRITING
A creative work bereft of thought, bereft of the desire to understand the intricacies of life, cannot become a vibrant expression on the strength of craft alone. The quest for truth and values in literature is not a case of life versus art. Rather, it is the confluence of the two that brings out the prevailing truths about the individual and society. Literature that transcends time cannot be created merely by taking a slice of life and presenting it with artistry or craft. Literature has to first take root in the soul of the writer.
Through the act of writing, a writer seeks to explore complex emotions of the mind, to solve profound riddles of the body and soul, to understand the mood and resonance of words; to measure their powers and to unearth their many-layered meaning.
Every word has a body, a soul and a costume. They coalesce to vibrantly express a thought. No true writer can have a superficial relationship with language and words because a writer is forever absorbing the kinship of words, the stability of words, the meanings that echo in words, the timbre, tone and texture of words. A writer showers with equal love the costume, the body and soul of words.
A writer can either experience an event that takes place in his immediate surroundings, or a hidden sensitivity suddenly emerges from within. In this encounter, a relationship is formed between the sensitivity within and the reality without and the experience as a whole assumes a new and independent form. When the constant meditation by a writer or the deep layers of his unconscious mind bring an emotion close to creation, the churning of the lived experience chisels a fresh vision. If this does not happen, then the values and truths a writer seeks to convey remain half-truths and half lies. A writer’s work is woven around his or her beliefs. But to see everything from a single viewpoint can affect a writer’s integrity. When such a fixed way of seeing overpowers the writer’s fundamental understanding, the result can be very perilous.
When the sophistry of craft overwhelms truth and creative values, even the most talented writer stands diminished. An impersonal and objective viewpoint is, therefore, more essential for a good writer than mere writing skills.
EXPRESSION AND LANGUAGE
I never let language intrude upon my work. This was not a deliberate choice but something I have learned not to do over time. I would like to share a short extract from Ai Ladki :
— Listen, it’s important for a mother to give birth to a daughter cast in her own image. It is an act of piety. A daughter makes the mother immortal; she never dies thereafter. She becomes eternal. She is here today. She will be here tomorrow. From one generation to another, from mother to daughter to daughter’s daughter… then her daughter, and so on and on — that’s the source of creation.
— Ammu, say something in praise of the father also.
— His role is no less significant. The blood of a father runs in the veins of his children. All praise to the father! All praise to the father! Devotee of the goddess of Night! It is by his grace that the lamp of the family is lit. That’s the law of nature. It invests the father with the power to provide the seed of human life, but keeps him out of the process of shaping the body.
The father stands outside and the mother delivers the baby indoors. That’s why the mother is called janani (birth-giver), she makes the baby’s body grow in her mind and in her body.
The daughter, smiling:
— Ammu, you’re speaking the language of books.
— Ladki, so what if I haven’t read Patanjali? Knowledge can be imbibed by hearing, observing and also by experiencing.
No matter how small the window, the writer must awaken a desire and curiosity in the soul to peep out of it and view the world about us.
p. 1 p. 2
Hindi fiction writer and essayist, Krishna Sobti's honours include the National Academy Award