UR Ananthamurthy’s “Mouni” is an unwinding of a feud and all virile emotions associated with it, the two adversaries being immigrant land-holders. The disturbing silence observed by the defeated one defeats the “winner.” It is almost suggestive of reality taking the shape one assumes it to have.
Mahasveta Devi’s “Arjun” lays bare socio-econo-political concerns and portrays the downtrodden lot of the tribals of Bengal. Set against the backdrop of the Naxalbari movement, it tears away the veil of exploitation and is a positive attempt of the tribals to assert their identity, rather than be dehumanised completely by the village powers-that-be. So the revolving door of prison imparts strength in the end. Mahasveta Devi is firmly ensconced in tradition alongwith the parallel thread of enlightening modernity. However, she yet firmly stands by the energy imparted by fables, folklore, riddles, rituals, death rites. It is a treasure trove of wisdom for her, and this has been effectively communicated. Relatedly, once exhausted on a walk with tribals, thinking she would die, the tribals promised to get “big boulders” for her grave – the ultimate tribute.
Bhupen Khakhar, a self-professed homosexual, writes about the possession neurosis by leading an insular life (read village life). However, in the village even the apparently otherwise petty takes on major proportions. “Vadki” does exactly that – a tale of a housewife obsessed with her small home world of possessions, set against a domineering husband who even rations sex and swears by childlessness (an excruciating situation for the lady of the house).
Editor Meenakshi Sharma’s selection is truly outstanding. The interviews with Sobti and Ananthamurthy get practically down to brass tacks. The wellspring of creativity is shown in the clear light of day. The interviews with Mahasveta Devi, Khakhar are in-depth explorations of the much microscopically examined “creativity urge.” All the contributors deserve kudos for laying bare their concerns. A good read indeed.
There is another black hole of Indian Literature in the absence of academic rigour and total disinterest in the mass media, namely the “magical” existence of writers in our imagination. For instance, even for the bulk of our serious readers, MT Vasudevan Nair – recipient of the highest award in Indian literature, the Jnanpith – would be a stranger. Some might have read translations of his stories. But few would have learnt more about his concerns, methods or conceptual paradigms through the vacuous “interviews” in mainstream media, which conceal rather than reveal the writer.
Enter Wordsmiths. Edited by Meenakshi Sharma, it comprises exhaustive interviews with five contemporary heavyweights – MT Vasudevan Nair ( Malayalam), Mahasveta Devi (Bengali), UR Ananthamurthy (Kannada), Krishna Sobti (Hindi) and Bhupen Khakhar (Gujarati). The inclusion of select translations of their fictional and non-fictional works and bio-sketches give a rounded feel to a venture exciting enough to be hailed as the ‘future’ of Indian publishing and a laudable act of bridge-building.
What strikes you is that these are not just craftsmen of exceptional literary works but formidable thinkers as well – which is also a tribute to the skill of the interviews. Murthy’s discourse on the shabdasutka for instance or the revelation of his Brahminical mind (used here in the widest sense of the word) is stimulating reading. Equally stimulating is painter Khakhar’s revelation as a writer and his refusal to take himself seriously. His story “Vadki” in fact is quite the most charming piece in the collection.
Sobti’s extract from Ai Ladki is a moving account of a daughter watching her mother die. The querulous tones of the old lady are placed delicately alongside the daughter’s patient voice. It is interesting to hear Sobti unfold her knots in an interview that captures her zest of life.
Devi is arguably the greatest living Bengali writer; a woman wholly committed to the world of tribals and who has been studied by the greatest living deconstructionists of all – Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak. It is refreshing to find that behind that politically correct exterior beats a heart that can laugh at its reputation. The last interview is with a man who has become a legend in his own lifetime – MT Vasudevan Nair. “Before I sit down to write,” he says at one point, “I always ask myself: is it necessary to write this?”
If you have wished to find out what is happening in regional literature this is a fine book to start with. It does not matter that sometimes the names are not easy to remember, that you keep forgetting what a vadki or uralppura is. At the end of each story there is a sense of oneness with the author and pride that there is in every part of India a living tradition of creative energy.
– Ira Pande
(March 16 – April 15, 1997)
Why do writers write and what energises the creative urges that inspire their works? How do they respond to the tool of language and use it to set their imagination free? Do they feel they have a special responsibility to society and if so, what is the price they have to pay to carry it out? UR Ananthamurthy, Bhupen Khakhar, Krishna Sobti, Mahasveta Devi and MT Vasudevan Nair, five pre-eminent writers from different parts of the country, who write primarily in their respective mother tongues, reflect on their aims, aspirations and preoccupations and share with us, through the pages of Wordsmiths, their distinctive observations on issues such as these.
The book has been cleverly structured to portray the writers and their work in a broader context – we have a short story and an essay by each writer supplemented by a brief introduction, an interview and his/her curriculum vitae – and offers us wide-ranging insights into the nuances of the creative process and the stimulation of confronting the unexpected ...
Wordsmiths is an excellent introduction to Indian writing that encompasses many areas – geographical, cultural, rural and urban. Notwithstanding the opinion of critics like Leavis who contend that anything a writer has to say is found in his or her work, the comments of writers on life and literature help us understand better how they write out of the flux of a changing society, as also the complexities of their “urge to explore, experiment and reinvent society.”
Cover Design: Geeta Dharmarajan
Category: Katha Profiles
Statistics: 5.5" x 8" 210 pages
ISBN 81-85586-48-9 [PB]
Price: Rs 195 [India and the subcontinent only]