Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Road To Literary Awareness

You are what you read. You might have all the thoughts, the ideas and the imagination. But none of these are going to crystallise and shape your mind unless you watch, up close, how the crystallisation takes place. You have to watch the masters at work. It is a different matter that you will never quite master the art of crystallising because it is a never-ending, life-long process. But watching them will make you richer, nevertheless.

That way, my literary journey is that of rags to, well, not riches yet, but certainly middle-class. I grew up believing that Khushwant Singh is the greatest living writer. A collection of his writings was the first book I ever bought. To tell you the truth, the first books I ever bought were the improve-your-will power, improve-your-word power types. Mr K Singh came a little later.

But once I discovered him, I was gripped: a Sardarji who could laugh at himself, who wrote the way one talks, whose writing was so easy to understand. And so much masala in his stuff: the women with their breasts and bottoms, the sex, the gossip, the private side of the rich and the famous. The book, if I recall it right, was called Not A Nice Man To Know.

The second book I bought, courtesy a review I read in India Today, was Dom Moraes' Never At Home. It led me to his My Son's Father, which is perhaps the best of his prose. (I got the two books signed by him when came to Chennai shortly before his death). Suddenly Dom was my hero: nobody could be better than him. Then Naipaul came into my life, through An Area Of Darkness. I was quick enough to buy A Wounded Civilisation. Another hero added to my gallery. Shamelessly I discarded Khushwant Singh -- perhaps the only Indian writer who has more words written about him than he has himself churned out. Bit of an exaggeration that, but you know what I mean. His prose, as I rediscovered, was written with a mix of everyday Punjabi and Hindi, albeit in Roman letters. Fun to read, but nothing to imbibe if you are looking for the craft. And it was the craft I was looking for then, because I aspired to be a writer. And I also strongly believed that if books are to be bought, they should only be non-fiction. Fiction, according to me then, was false, where the writer was just taking you for a ride.

Ironically, it was Khushwant Singh who got me hooked into fiction. I read Train to Pakistan, and reread it. Then I happened to pick up Salman Rushdie's East, West. So far, I was in awe of writers, East, West made me jealous. My road to literary awareness had suddenly found a bylane. Graham Greene, George Orwell, Maugham... they all had put up stall on that lane.

Another bylane opened up after I read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. And yet another with Salinger, who directed me to a big road in the company of Jack Kerouac. From there I branched off to travel-writing: Naipaul again, Dalrymple, Bill Bryson (how does he manage to write like that?!)...

That's how it all began. Today, there are plenty of lanes and bylanes still to be discovered, but I at least know where they are, and I have the choice whether to go there or not. What matters is I am finally on the road. Where the journey eventually takes me, I do not know yet.

P.S. If you are wondering why I wrote this, I will explain. Today is a holiday and this morning I was scanning my shelf to pick something I hadn't read in a while. That's when these thoughts came to my mind. And these days when stray thoughts come, I instinctively... well, you do that too, don't you?

8 comments:

The Happy Prince said...

Its interesting how your come up with something beautiful everyday. At 18, i have just started reading. Hevent even got over John Grishams and Sidney Sheldon and Jeffery Archers. My turning points however have been Oscar Wilde, Leo Tolstoy and Ayn Rand. Love em and Love the way u write.

so thts what i read...then who am i?
VAraD

Arundhati said...

Nice to see that you are meandering on those bylanes too! Isn't it a joyous journey, the way the black flirts with white enriching you in the process?

And I see that you have learned the craft well too. Thanks Mr K Sigh!

Sangeeta said...

the only Khushwant singh books that i have read are his dirty santa banta jokes:D:D

Anonymous said...

Im srangely envious of self taught people.Coming from a family of scholars, academicians and literary pundits i have been literally lead with a loving hand to the amazing world of music,poetry,literature and art. Almost everything i know today is because someone had taken care to direct my world view in that direction.
So im jealous of beautiful creatures like you who do it all on their own.How exciting it must be. Keep going.

Glad you have shed KS....find him obnoxious.

divya said...

visited your blog for the first time..had a day off and i guess instinctively wandered to your page..lovely post though..

Maya said...

BG, hope your journey takes you along many roads, dusty paths and grand freeways, and more importantly some unique ones as well so that when you blaze your trail, we your readers can derive much fun and wisdom when you narrate these.

When I weaned from mushy romances I looked for my Siddharta as per Hesse and Roark as per Rand .... it doesnt matter whether I found exact replicas of them in real life, but I have had wonderful glimpses of qualities that attract me and life has been immensely satisfying thus far.

Thank you for the glimpses you have given me :)

Anonymous said...

It's been two days and no post. Write.

Pradeep said...

Thought Khushwant Singh is most popularly known for the sex and wit; he has a very good literary side. Many have seen that. The History of Sikhs he wrote is considered the most authoritative, and widely acclaimed.