What is progressive literature today?

Many of Chinnappa Bharathi’s own friends and vast readership might not know the one important fact about this distinguished Tamil writer of progressive views.

He is a committed Communist and a Marxist and had given the best of his years to the Party work and propaganda.

What is the one distinctive feature of this rather reclusive man and a friend?
He is my close friend for over 50 years! A half century of time binds us!
Here I am, the most unlikely friend of a Communist and a Marxist thinker! A bourgeois? A liberal? Or, a some other category? Yes, a world of time and a lifetime of experiences and different worlds separate us.

But here is this genial man of great simplicity and no pretence whatever.
He came visiting me one afternoon to my Bangalore home and almost spent the whole of the day with me talking about our olden days together in Pachayappa’s College, Chennai in the early Fifties of the last century! How time flies, it is literally true when it comes to our close friendship.
The six hours of talk and exchange of views must surely have produced a lot of changes within us. That was what had happened. Ever since he left me that late evening, I was mulling over the times we spent together.

Readers might not know that it was Bharathi who introduced me to some of the great writers in Tamil. And in fact, it was Bharathi who first brought the first or second issue of the now famous literary magazine, “Shanti” (Peace) edited by the late T.M.C.Raghunathan who was a colleague and disciple of “Pudumaipithan” who revolutioned the Tamil short story writing. It was TMC who, Bharathi now remained me, made me into a poet of sorts! Bharthi is candid enough to admit that it was he (Bharathi) who wanted to compete for the poetry prize instituted by the magazine and it was he again who asked me to send my own poem. Ultimately, it was me who won the prize and Bharathi was gracious enough to put it on record to say that became I won the poetry prize he decided to take to novel writing!

So, friends of Bharthi can take some comfort that I helped to make Bharathi into a novelist! Otherwise, he would have stuck to poetry and by now might have transformed into another and one more poet and whose fate and destiny might have been very different.

Anyway, I now see a more mellow writer and there is now a more cautious approach to his central beliefs, though he still holds on to them he finds in me a fierce critic and a non-Communist and yet a great friend and admirer of so many Russian writers, from the great Tolstoy to Boris Pasternak whom. Rather whose family members were once my close friends both at Oxford (Lydia Pasternak, the poet’s sister) and Moscow (Alexander Pasternak)?
Anyway, I like to take this opportunity to pay my own tribute to my friend of the younger days and I like to bring his name to the wider world through my weblog and also the print media.

K.Chinnappa Bharathi, 73, is by now a veteran Tamil writer. One should remember that he is out and out a Marxist writer and as such he is not known widely to the general readers. But he is remarkably a well-known and well-respected write of great distinction within the Marxist writing circles. Much more remarkable for a man of such distinction, he is a simple soul and also not seeking publicity for himself as done by some of the so-called Marxist writers who now had turned to other ideological somersaults!
Bharathi is an author of some seven novels, all or most of them translated into a number of other Indian languages, notably, in Bengali, Marathi and Gujarathi, Telugu and other languages, including into French.

Just recently, Bharathi’s friends and admirers joined together and celebrated his life and works at an All-India Seminar at his own town of Namakkal on 19th and 20th July ,2008.

Bharathi was good enough to present me a copy of the special volume brought out on the occasion and I was happy to go through the same.
Oh, what an achievement, I wondered. By any yardstick it is a stupendous achievement.

I had visited Bharathi earlier, some time ago, at his home in Namakkal and he presented me some of the novels he had penned.
More than what I learnt from reading them I benefited much by talking with him and he has way with words and in conversation he comes out as a story teller par excellence! So, each novel I was retold and his easy and calm approach to talk with listeners makes him an immensely powerful story teller.

Not only myself, our entire family listened to his narrations of ideas and scenes from his novels and what we enjoyed much from his writing is that his own self-experiments with the lives of the people whom he writes about. Thus, he had lived as a farmer and experienced the struggles of the farm workers and the various “exploiters” in the process of living and struggles. He visited West Bengal to see for himself the working of coal mines and out of that experience came the novel, “Surangam”, 2006. Each and every one of his novels is basically about the exploited sections of society.
In a way it is all about what was once a fashion, socialist realism.
Now, all this is gone and the very history, society and ideologies had all undergone radical changes.

So, here I come with some of my own views of men and matters and much of arts and literature and culture and what have you.

It is a fact of history that the much admired Soviet Russia by these Indian Communists disappeared one fine day. No one noticed such a fall is coming. Not even by the most committed of the intellectuals and historians. Disappeared so suddenly the utopia and when the real world came knocking these open and hidden, the genuine and pretentious, the more Indians who never had had any moral courage, the tribe of experts, from economists to writers and others the fall of Communism came as a rude shock.
What came as a rude shock to me was the tragedy that Indians never came to real world.

As I was conversing with my old-time friend that late evening I was wondering within myself whether my friend was connected to the outside world that was bustling with real world issues.

The international economic meltdown, the very IT/BPO industry in Bangalore was tied to the international meltdown and the very new generation of lakhs of young Indians, both men and women, have come to live and dream about a new world that had no remote connection whatever with the world inhabited by Bharathi’s own heroes and heroines.

Yes, the last generation to which I and Bharathi belonged was basically a feudal age and yes there was some link with his characters. Today, even in the villages, there is a radical change. The very class structure had undergone change.

The new generation capitalists who made the new billions are all from lower middle class. Not even the old style educated white collar middle classes.
Now, the new aristocracy is really a new meritocracy! You have to have skills to win in the world. Luckily, the Indians of this generation have acquired the skills and the West, notably the USA and UK and other European countries have woken up to the reality that India is the new Software Superpower!
I wondered my friend sitting in front of me would know the new meanings of the new world. Globalised and yet highly focused new ethnic and national formations. A world that doesn’t fit into the old categories.
Of course, I didn’t go into grat many details. My own education and cultural background, Oxford and Santiniketan. Nor about my own transformation, in the new IT revolution.

I was glad to find that Bharathi wants to focus his next novel on this changed world, the world of call centres etc.
I went through the seminar volume and find the contests very informative. I don’t think the contributors commanded my attention. They all seem to be “converts”! So, what is the point in talking about them?
I belong to a different world view.

I have both a philosophical as well as an Indian point of view. I call myself a new type of liberal committed to individual liberty and an open society and parliamentary democracy.

My literary values too are so different from the average Tamil writers.
I share the Nobel Committee’s this year’s awarding of the Prize to a French man and yet a citizen of the world. Yes, this is my world too.
So, I send my good wishes to my friend and wish him a long life and many more years of productive labour in the cause of Tamil literature.

World literature
And what is progressive, literature today?
This year’s Nobel Prize for literature went to the French writer, Le Clezio, for the examination of the world, everyday relationships with everyday things, the global citizen etc.

I was not surprised. Only a few days before the announcement of the prize, the Swedish Academy’s secretary, Engdahl, that in contrast, the American fiction today is all about its own country, the very narrow space of America as the world!

So, while talking with the veteran Tamil writer, K.Chinnappa Bharathi, I raised some questions and even mentioned the new Nobel Prize winner. Bharathi’s world also seems to have stopped half a century ago. I asked him about what he takes the society to be. He seems to have only the Marxian world. The rigid class structure in which he seems to have moulded his thoughts. Then, society is always a hierarchical cobweb, I said. He seems to just nod. I thought of class in the Max Weber sense. Not in the Marxist iron mould. Also, I asked whether he understands the technological revolutions? No, he just stops with the original Lenin terms. Lenin came in many times.

No, the world had moved on. Even the very many literary fashions don’t seem to make any deep impact on the current humanity, the 68 year old French citizen and the world citizen, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio(that is the full name0,won recognition for examining and exploring the “humanity beyond and below the reigning civilisation”

And among all the languages of the world and the literatures, perhaps, the French literature and letters (taken to include Voltaire and Rousseau) only had gone to the very heart of our modern civilisation that is yet evolving. The very modern notions of reason, secularism, humanity, of course the freedoms, equaltiies and fraternities of man, the very ideas of universal human rights and a republican idea, the citizen and much else are all French-originated ideas.

So, what is literature, after all, about? It is about humanity’s aspirations, towards progress, towards further evolution of man, evolution of the international community free from wars and devastations of various kinds.
I am not sure whether I had conveyed all these thoughts adequately to my old friend.

But at least, the Tamil society, Tamil literature must imbibe these values and ideals and must get out of the many narrow worlds, from the Dravidian to the Communist, to the casyeist and communalist and superstitious narrowness of mind and mindset.

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