Sunday, February 03, 2008

I’m still of the conservative view that best poetry can be written in one’s own mother tongue

Sunday, February 3, 2008 Deccan Herald » Articulations » Writing from solitude
Swapan K Banerjee chats with Manoj Das who says that stories should not be contrived or invented but inspired.
Mulk Raj Anand had once told me that to properly understand the work of any outstanding author, one must visit the place he/she lived in. When I visited Pondicherry recently to meet Padmashri Manoj Das, I realised how the broody and meditative mood of the sea and the stillness permeating the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, crept into most of his soulful stories, lending them a spiritual dimension.
Just opposite Golconda Guest House stands the home of the short story writer par excellence. But Manoj Das does not write short stories any more. He is of the view that a short story should always be inspired and not contrived or invented. It’s just that the inspiration that gave birth to more than hundred odd stories has left him. He is now possessed by a fresh inspiration that propels him to create a different genre.
Das has so far written more than 80 books, both in Oriya and English. Recipient of many literary awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award, Saraswati Samman, Utkal Ratna, D Litt. (honoris causa), First Sri Aurobindo Puraskar, the Sahitya Akademi has recently conferred on him its highest honour, declaring him a Fellow of the Akademi.
Does writing always come from the core of solitude?
Certainly so. The idea could occur to one any moment: In a tumultuous environment, in a circumstance not very conducive to a meditative solitude. But to shape it into a literary creative piece, to give expression to the idea, you require solitude. Without solitude it remains only raw material. The deeper spirit of the theme can be felt only when one is withdrawn, and one can be withdrawn only when one is in solitude. Solitude, let me clarify, is not necessarily only physical solitude. One can remain in solitude even amidst a crowd, provided an inner discipline has been cultivated. But that’s a yogic poise one has to master.
Have you stopped writing poetry altogether?
I never wrote any poetry in English. I’m still of the conservative view that best poetry can be written in one’s own mother tongue. It’s different with Sri Aurobindo. His mother tongue was English almost, though his mother never spoke English. He did not learn any other language until he came back to India... In English he wrote epic poetry, Savitri. Coming to India, he learned with a vengeance— Sanskrit, Bengali and several other Indian languages. He was an exclusive character/creator. With other people, I believe the best poetry can come in mother tongue. That is the language of the subconscious. That is the language in which you envision things, dream things. I wrote poetry at great intervals. There are only three collections of them.
In that case how do you rate J P Das and Jayanta Mahapatra? Both of them write poetry in English.
J P Das writes both in Oriya and English. Jayanta writes only in English. Now he is writing in Oriya. Both of them are gifted writers.
Many Oriyans write poetry in English…
I have not read much. But Jayanta I have known. He's a gifted poet. So also is J P Das.
The country’s highest literary honour has recently been conferred on you. What’s a Sahitya Akademi Fellowship?
It’s just an honour. Writers who are offered the fellowship are considered to be immortals in Literature.
According to their constitution, at no given time can there be more than 21 Fellows of Sahitya Akademi. Among them, there are three/four foreign writers, honourary fellows like Nobel Laureates. The others are Indians. It’s only when one of them dies that another writer is chosen to fill the void. You know Amrita Pritam and Nirmal Verma died recently…
Recently you have gone on records saying you have stopped writing short stories altogether…Yes, many of my readers have the same disappointments. They ask me on the phone, they write letters to me. You see, it’s not as if I have deliberately stopped writing short stories. Inspiration is a very important factor in life. There can be either an invented story or an inspired story. If the writer is a skilled one, even a very sensitive reader cannot differentiate between an inspired story and an invented story. I can write even now any number of invented stories. But I believe in writing only inspired stories. You see, the inspiration for stories has left me; it doesn’t come to me now at all.
Who do you consider as a skilled writer?
One may be a gifted genius born with a certain talent. But skill is something which develops out of practice. A skilled writer is one who has precisely observed the process of maturity working in his own life. If I rewrite a piece today I wrote thirty years ago, I’ll certainly change the words, the phrases, I’ll make it more precise, more association oriented, probably more idiomatic which would save space. So the skill develops. But when one is conscious of this development within oneself, one becomes a skilled writer.
At a higher level, it’s the one who has got hold of a certain theme— the essential spirit of the writing— and then he has sufficient command over vocabulary and technique to present that particular theme in the form of a complete story or a novel. The skilled writer is one who can bring about a very natural, spontaneous synthesis between the idea central and the bulk without any jarring note in between, without any loose threads still spread out…
You call the theme the essential spirit of writing. How does it appear to you?
Theme may come in the form of a vague idea. Then when one concentrates, out of it the plot develops.
Such a vague idea can even develop into a novel?
Yes, of course it can, definitely. The Cyclone (1987) developed into a full blown novel out of one character which suddenly flashed before me. I visualised a character. That’s all. I mean that must have come to me inspired by some kind of subconscious impressions someone had left. But that is that. That character was a theme there, and the whole novel developed around it.
Some writers seem to be taking a short-cut to writing bestsellers. Is that possible?Of course! Every decade, there’s a kind of mass taste, a collective craving for certain kind of stuff. Now a clever writer— I do not mean a committed or honest or a sincere writer— who has the gift of writing, he can take advantage of this study of the peculiar moment’s craving and he can do it. I have come across a number of such novels. I can’t read them through. I just glance through them. It’s a wonderful blend of sixty percent social realism and forty percent eroticism. It makes a bestseller. I must admit that they are capable people. Anybody cannot cook up a bestseller fiction out of that. Whether they are using their gift honestly or with a superficial motive, that’s for the reader to judge…

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