Writers nowadays have acquired celebrity status and fame with success and popularity of their novels. Many of them, though, are quite self-conscious about it.
The question arises — Shouldn’t they be considered “thinkers” rather than “celebrities”?
Literary festivals like the Jaipur Literature Festival, The New Yorker Festival, The Hindu Lit For Life Festival etc have boosted their self-image in society.
Writers and books are “commercialised” to an excessive degree with such literary festivals.
Panel discussions are mostly on trivial and irrelevant topics like “East and West”, “Indian Diaspora”, “Global Writer” to name a few. Serious literary topics are never discussed.
In this age of literary festivals, one longs for reclusive unassuming writers like JD Salinger, Harper Lee, Cormac McCarthy and Rohinton Mistry. Literary theorists, too, possess a similar disposition. These writers, though being invited, avoid literary festivals.
A literary festival is mostly celebratory where the whole purpose of literature is subverted and deviated. Its original essence is lost.
Now with advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, writers “overshare” what they are up to just to get more attention from the world.
What is sad about most books written by them is that they haven’t been “original”. There is a lot of plagiarising going on. It is a known fact that Indian novelists often copy writing styles of western novelists.
Take the case of Jeet Thayil whose hallucinatory prose resembles that of Roberto Bolano’s.
Or even Janice Pariat who copied the style of Alice Munro in Boats on Land. Her subject “incompleteness and being whole” in Seahorse was stolen from David Nicholls’s novels. Now her new novella with multiple narrators reminds one of The Sense of An Ending by Julian Barnes.
The problem with Indian writers today is they fail to look inwards and introspect to correct this major flaw. They should try to write original books.
The Indian literary media, which is ignorant, keeps praising them. In fact, most Indian literary journalists who review books are not well-read.
And such writers keep winning awards. The Sahitya Akademi literary award for example, in these recent years, was awarded to mediocre Northeast novelists like Aruni Kashyap, Kaushik Barua and Mamang Dai.
Also there are cases where literary endorsement from Salman Rushdie, for Tishani Doshi’s The Pleasure Seekers with a blurb, is undeserving.
The Jaipur Literature Festival, in the past, invited controversial exiled novelists like Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasrin just for publicity’s sake, to make waves in national and international media. This is deliberately done to garner more footfall at the event.
There is a lot of pretentiousness and artificiality at such festivals. For example in the local Creative Arts Literary and Music festival 2014, the literary poet Monalisa Chingkija released commercial novelist Shobhaa De’s memoir. This was farcical and odd for the writers belonged to opposing and contrasting styles of writing.
The recent Penguin Fever Festival held in the city was also ludicrous. There was a slam poetry competition where poetry was treated like a sport. Literary critic Harold Bloom calls slam poetry “the death of art” because of its directness and effusiveness with no depth, concealment or layering whatsoever.
This article first appeared in Sunday Supplement of The Shillong Times February 4, 2018 (link: http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2018/02/04/pseudo-intellectualism/ )