Thursday, February 09, 2012

The literature of the elite

Sunil Gangopadhyay

The literature that is being created in our country through the medium of the printing press, is still primarily the literature of the elite. We have a country where only an average of 60% of the population is moderately educated. It is fair to assume that no more than 15 – 20% read literature. We have, therefore, a literature for which 80 – 85% of the country’s population is totally absent. Should this literature not be considered utterly unreal?” – Sunil Gangopadhyay in a memorable speech delivered at the 2010 Sahitya Akademi Award Presentation Ceremony in New Delhi.
Taking it from there, he went on to cite the example of a poor boy and his father who came to his house regularly to beg by singing songs. In fact, they came so often and sang songs, three in all, that Sunil Gangopadhyay too had learnt the lines by listening to them. On enquiry, it was found that the songs had been taught to the father by his Guru and later he taught the son the songs. Gangopadhyay had even learnt of the name of this guru from them, but had not heard of this guru, or a poet, writer by this name. He did not ask of course, if his guru was a beggar too.

Strangely, one of the songs even crept into the movies but of course the credit of the lyrics went to the composer and not the original poet/guru who had composed it.
Hundreds and thousands of poets have concealed their identity and not made much ado about their creations he went on to say, perhaps because they were too modest to “show” off their lines. Besides, only after the printing press came into being, words could find a name attached to the person who had created those lines. Many poets took advantage of this, many did not. Therefore, there is and was a huge base of the unsung poets who did not care to be out in print and that does not feature in what is called literature of today.
Going on to speak of Jean Paul Satre denouncement of Saint Jean Genet, whose writing of his Autobiography from the prison gave him a place in French Literature, Gangopadhyay, cites an example of the elite rejection of literature that does not meet their pre-decided criteria, as Genet was an anti-social, a lout but he wrote in an act of self-expression, a book which he himself hardly believed would create such a revolution in French literature. The right to self-expression is universal. In countries like India, where poverty may be one of the most critical reason why literature of those who are not publishing through the printing press are shaded out, we have a bigger monster here called the caste system, which adds insult to injury, by preempting that literature of the upper caste may prevail over let us say the Dalits whose voices are unheard, except for a few like Dilip Chitre. There may be a wealth of literature under the poverty line and on the other side of the LoD ( line of  discrimination) based on caste.
This has then given rise to religious groups which consist mainly of the downtrodden. In Bengal Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s movement which has grown to a humongous size now, called Hare Rama, Hare Krishna movement was essentially a movement of the poor and impoverished, although Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu belonged to a high Brahmin caste. He became a Master of the deprived, because he did not believe in the caste system. He drew to himself a huge crowd of people, hungry for a let up from their condition, by embracing a movement that gave them equal status, in the love of the Divine Krishna.
Gangopadhyay went on to say that from time to time some writers do write about the impoverished peasants and working class, and the uneducated. Yet, we are still very far from reflecting the true colour of these neglected segments of our society and although their lives are rich with poetry and music, only a fraction reaches us, the elite readers and writers of literature.
However, whatever may be the case, Gangopadhyay, had ended his remarkable speech with the observation that Radio, TV had reached every corner of the country and the resurgence of Dalit literature was heartwarming, because, this indicated that the times, they are a changing.
( Abstract taken from The Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-monthly Journal, March/April 2011  issue, pgs – 21-27)

A few of my points:
The recent uprising of Literature Festivals reiterates the fact that Literature is for the elite, the educated, widely travelled and ready to flaunt their work, at the same time, it has been instrumental in creating more awareness and accessibility of the wider audience to the authors as well. 

The literature of those who chose not to make much ado about their work and not chase publishers has still not been tapped. They will go without recognition, or the pleasure of our eyes ever going through their thoughts.
Many, who have made it to feminist literature, will continue to disown, literature by women who also chose to keep a low profile. Indeed, they will not be called India’s Women, who created a stir in other people’s heart, when they sang or wrote out of their own. They will continue to be considered not among those, approved by a select society of feminists, who are in the same category as the elite who see their works printed and who attend Literary Festivals. I say this with profound sadness when a well-known person from one of Bengal’s well known literary families said about my mother, who indeed, had been too shy to publish and yet, magazines like Desh, published her work called Janini,  which brought stalwarts like Bhibutibhushan Bondhopadhyay to our door in search of this writer, who was my mother,  - “But we don’t consider your mother, excuse me for saying it, one among the woman’s voices in Bengal. If that was the case, there are hundreds and thousands of such voices in Bengal.”

RIP Sunil da

Orbituary: The Hindu, 24 October, 2012:

1 comment:

Panchali said...

Beautifully written, Julia. We lost a versatile doyen of Bangla literature!
RIP Sunilda...