This is in response to Amitav Ghosh’s blogpost that was reproduced in Hindustan Times (Writings, not writers, February 6). It was a pleasant and interesting experience to read Ghosh’s idea of what a writer (very obviously a homogeneous category if one is to go by Ghosh’s arguments) is, and what he should be. It was pleasant because a writer of Ghosh’s acumen and skill has brought himself to discuss the aesthetic purposes of writing, in a day and age when all it needs to become a ‘writer’ is to publish 299-odd pages of straight prose somewhere.
It was interesting as he seemed insistent on arguing that the writer is essentially a private creature, only to demolish his argument a few paragraphs later where he acknowledges the pressures from publishers that makes a writer promote his book by giving lectures on it, discussing it with a fellow practitioner of the quill, reading out parts of it, going into the why and how of it in numerous interviews with the media — in other words, jumping through all the hoops and doing all the monkey tricks that one has been asked to do, for purely commercial gains.
Ghosh being one who does the routine diligently every time a book is published, one is surprised at his anger and outrage at literary festivals. Is he trying to say that a solo monkey-show is infinitely better than a collective one where all the monkeys perform together?
Ghosh says he would not take part in a festival even if he were asked to. But a literary festival, where writers basically address audiences, is hardly any different from the scores of public lectures that Ghosh routinely undertakes. What is different then? That it is all right as long as it is a select, by-invite-only gathering of intellectual and academic stalwarts, but sub-par the moment the Chetan Bhagat-reading riff-raff is crowding around the venue?
Reading, for pleasure and non-utilitarian education, is a pursuit that we are not even sure will survive for long. Is it not a cause for some celebration rather than censure then that an event more or less centred around books and reading manages to attract so many people? Literary festivals cannot have any direct correlation with the discipline of reading but what are the chances that it will adversely affect society and free thinking?
While reading Ghosh’s views, I was reminded of my hometown Kolkata, and the efforts made by a section of the intelligentsia there about half a decade ago to close down the book fair. Elitist arguments somehow seem to be the characteristic of an individual or people in decline.
Kabyo Mitra is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.