Friday, May 20, 2011

Being and Becoming a Writer

My friend from London asked me in the chat box, “Why do you write?” I told him, “May be I am like an artist who does drawings every day.”

Yes, it is like drawing for me. I write because there is an urge to express myself, to communicate with people. And in the context of facebook, let me tell you that many of my readers don’t know me as a person. Apart from the profile pictures that make everyone a celebrity in facebook, rarely people know about me.

So connecting with a lot of people who are perfect strangers but brothers and sisters in a different way through writings is one of the happiest things that a writer does in his life. If you apply pure logic, a writer could resist himself or herself from writing and do something else.

But what is that something else?

(E.M.Sankaran Namboothirippadu)

When I look at the tomes like the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, E.M.Sankaran Namboothirippadu (EMS) or the modern writers like Philip Roth or Orhan Pamuk, or the historians like Ramachandra Guha ( I refer the ‘Makers of Modern India’ and ‘India after Mahatma Gandhi) or columnists like Khushwant Singh, I wonder why these people have written so much.

Apart from being writers, they have/had different roles in their lives. But the writer in them was/is always vigilant to communicate with the people around them.

Writing is the revelation of an inner world that the writer wants to realize in the quotidian world. In that sense, like musicians and painters, writers too are conjurers of dream worlds. They have a mission; other wise why a musician takes pain to write a symphony on changing seasons? Why should a painter portray a man who stands alone on a hilltop on a cold morning?

(Wanderer Among the sea of Fog by Casper David Frederich)

They could have done installations with brick and cotton threads? Installations have become illustrations. If not they have become reasons for someone to talk about it while they had all the possibility of making it aesthetically appealing and communicable.

You may question me about the depth of writing. Depth comes when the thought is deep and the scope of the intended writing is expected to go beyond the temporality of time. When a writer attempts at piece, though fictional, with historical time as its setting and backdrop, a fair amount of research is done and implemented in the writing.

Writing demands a lot from the author. And an author is like a landscape artist or an epic painter. He needs to set the stage, paint the characters and write the dialogues and should be aware of an imaginary reader (a counter writer perhaps).

(Orhan Pamuk)

I would cite Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist, a book of collected lectures that Pamuk gave in Harvard University in 2009, at this stage. He says, “Here is one of my strongest opinions: novels are essentially visual literary fictions. A novel exerts its influence on us mostly by addressing our visual intelligence -- our ability to see things in our mind's eye and to turn words into mental pictures.”

When one writes, one writes to create pictures. One has to be an artist primarily to become a writer. Writing is painting with words. And one has to constantly pursue this practice in order to develop the craft.

According to Pamuk, going by Schiller, a naïve writer is one who writes spontaneously as if the act were dictated by God himself (remember what Wordsworth said, Moving hands writes and writes on- As if God has taken the pen out of his hand and written for him) and a sentimental writer is one who contemplates a lot before writing.

Today, we have misinterpreted the words of Schiller. For us naïve means one who does not have any depth in/of notions and concepts. Being sentimental means the one who could write tear jerkers.

Orhan Pamuk says that to be a good novelist means ‘being a naïve and sentimental’ at the same time.

I, even before reading Pamuk’s collected essays, have been naïve and sentimental throughout my life; but in the sense of Schiller.

That’s why the question of depth is always sidestepped when I am asked to face such a question.

At times I think, I am like Celal Salik of Orhan Pamuk’s novel ‘Black Book’. Celal Salik is a famous columnist in a Turkish newspaper ‘Milliyet’ and he has been writing columns for almost forty years. One day he goes missing. And his half brother Galip’s wife Ruya also goes missing along. The novel traces the acts of Galip who searches for his brother and wife. And one day, he becomes Celal Salik!

Celal Salik writes about Istambul only about Istambul. And he writes about the faces of the people. And he reads letters out of the faces. He reads histories.

While translating this book in Malayalam for DC Books (soon to be released in the presence of Orhan Pamuk himself who would visit Kochi, Kerala during the World Book Fair by the year end or new year), I had several bouts of depression and anxiety. I felt I too would turn into Celal Salik.

I realized how compelling an act the writing is.

I am a writer and a reader of faces.


capacity of tolerance said...

expression is natural behavior..nature express his motto through..sunlight,cloud,natural calamities etc..This a natural programming input in side the every living,non living...and whole issue is an argent process to exist this ant express,and a writer express,an artist express..all are EXPRESSING...THIS IS EVERLASTING PROCESS...

Chitra said...

When I read what you write, I can visualise everything. It makes me feel like I am watching a movie. The art of narrative comes to few people.I have read most of Orhan Pamuk, including Istanbul. My favourite is Susan Howatch. Now reading Pat Conroy who is wonderful with words.
Best Wishes for you translation. Would love to be there at the release. Chitra

JohnyML said...

Dear Chitra,

Thanks for that.

Orhan Pamuk is always a pleasure to read.

I am going to check out Susan Howatch as you are reading her.

DC commisions me to translate. So far three are in market (Mistress by Anita Nair, Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho and I married a communist by Philip Roth)

Two are in the press (Distant Start by Roberto Bolano and the Black Book by Pamuk)

Sixth one is commissioned recently. (Sandor Marai's Embers), I am working on that.