Date : 29.01.2007
Flat-A, 1A, 9th cross Avenue,
Dear Sri Ashokamitran,
Thank you for your prompt reply. That is unusual for Tamil writers, it seems!
No one bothers these days to even acknowledge even when you take the trouble of sending them your highly prized and (priced )books with so much trouble! Such is the absence of basic etiquette and elementary manners among the literary personalities, not to speak of any other sophistication.
There are of course exceptions. The late Vallikannan was a great friend and he was a regular writer of such sophisticated and well-argued long letters, written in such exquisite handwriting and with such cosmopolitan outlook. I would dearly miss him now.
I have moved with some of the great minds and thinkers. So, I find it hard to reconcile myself easily with the Tamil society’s paranoia. There is so much of superficiality, superficial speeches the scholars and writers make on public platform. That is not matched in writing. I had visited one or two universities, the Tamil departments, the morale is low, there is no interest whatever in any creative literature. The subjects for M.Phils and P.hDs are just laughable! University depts. need direction and focus. Today, that is missing, what a great loss, and loss of opportunities!
I agree with you fully what you have said about the present literary trends, your warning is well taken! Just what is within practical possibility I do. I invite occasionally select people in district towns and engage the influential minds about what is the state of Tamil Nadu politics, society and literature. These days people don’t come forward unless you get the rich and the influential in the towns along with some writers and others. That way I am able to get some matters agitated! I know the many hurdles, the nationalist minded people are few in number and only those who are in the Dravidian politics active and forthcoming, along with the self-proclaiming Marxists! But of course money factor is crucial and it is money plus personality and personal contacts matter in organising such meets. Anyway, this is only a partial satisfaction and remedy to other more systematic efforts. Let us see.
In fact, as you have suggested, I have a trust that ran a school and now it is closed I think one day I would construct some guest rooms and put it at the disposal of writers and thinkers, with boarding and lodging and pay for their stay so that they can think and do whatever they want during their retreat!
Why even I want to institute a Jnanpeeth award like literary prize with my own rules of selection for future talents by an all India jury. In fact, such thoughts only prompt me to devote sometime to the present literary pursuits. Let us see what the future holds in store for such dreams!
As for your observation “We can’t force others to read what we want” I have this point of view. Yes, we can’t surely make others read against their will! But the task of writers ,more so the critics are to write something original and say that will make sense. When translated into other languages, in English in particular! Otherwise, how we will be heard in the international fora? Of course, who bothers of all these things!
Mathew Arnold, as you know, did his job, literary critic’s job wonderfully so well and that is why he stands out still as very contemporary. So too T.S.Eliot whose literary criticism is still valid. If we don’t do anything, then, I dare say, there is not much future for Tamil literature for this and even the next generation as I can see. At least we can do something on the lines, as done by English critics and now by others in other languages. Arnold did a great service, to mankind, in literature and culture and his criticism of “philistines, barbarians and the populace” is so relevant in Tamil writing, culture and politics particularly more relevant. As long as we write, as do most writers today, creative literature, we need also good critics to give a debating platform so that certain high literary and cultural values are held up as worthy of celebration. Today, the platforms, the pattimandrams and the TV serials have thoroughly corrupted all canons of good literature and good tastes.
Of course we need good literary magazines,not just the ones that pretend to serve literature but play other narrow roles that promote some individuals, vested interests.
It would be considered impolite but I have to say this:Vadamalai Media has fairly succeeded in promoting quality journalism, our four magazines, two in English, one Tamil, another Kannada, have created a niche for high quality journalism. The English magazines tackle tough topics, now they enjoy all India readership and financially viable! This proves that quality can sell! We try to write on subjects that would last long and would create new paths in fields that are intrinsically important as well as serve the larger interests of the country and the people.
I am just now reading a review in the TLS (Nov,24,2006)of two books by the poet Paul Muldoon, born Irish ,lived in Belfast and then for long in the USA (he occupied the Oxford Chair of Poetry,1999-2004) .”He is the most admired and emulated poets of Ireland and England”. His one book is about his lectures on poetry in that capacity. Muldoon I haven’t read before but here too I find his poems not to my taste but he has some insights. “Always inventive, Muldoon is best, not when examining individual poems but when speculating about how poems in general get made”. His poems are in one sense word games, a sort of crossword puzzles, coincidences, puns, hidden barbs, a sort of verbal playing.
The poet says: “That each and every poem invents both its writer and its reader, and that both writer and reader are engaged in an endless round of negotiations from which no true peace may ever result”. “The best poems, in other words, pose questions without answers, they draw us to problems which always remain to be solved”.
There are so many other equally weighty insights. Poetry as politics, as propaganda, poetry that is topical and poetry that is an exploration of the whole field of the language of our own times.
The point is that in my poems I might not have achieved any of the aims I set for myself but I have the satisfaction that I have tried to hold up a mirror to my own inner travails and uncertainties when I went through the life’s many challenges.
My interest in literary criticism is to tell what I feel like to call a piece of writing as having true merit. Most writings today, whether in prose, novels or poems, are very shallow, sounds hallow and lacking in any life that is truly lived and undergone some inner turmoil.
The atmosphere for free thought is stifled, there is fear and cowardice in the minds of the educated elite, there is the fear of political fallout, there is compromise everywhere. In such a stifled environment where is literary criticism possible.
I have attached a letter from Sitakant Mahapatra. That speaks for itself.
The Sahitya Akademy and the Jnanpeeth Academy do what they can in the existing environment. Surely, they won’t do any wrong consciously pandering to political pressures. They haven’t of course discovered original talents in any significant sense. But they have done their jobs, given their constraints.
We need bold individual initiatives, more so in literary talent search and I want to do something towards that end.
Next time in Chennai we should meet and discuss about how best we can make a difference!
With warm regards,
Today(28th Jan,2007)I just now read your feature on Kalki and Devan. Very interesting, objective, critical but fair and very insightful. Mr.Ramakrishnan must do more such pieces and that will enrich Tamil literature and journalism. I read Akilan’s autobiography and learnt much about these magazines.