Monday, July 13, 2009

a bitter sweet letter to an author,

when read again and again, becomes beautifully true to the seeker. This letter was a response of someone I deeply respect, to my novel, A Grasshopper's Pilgrimage.

Dear Manju,

Jai Guru!

There are two levels at which I would like to look at this book. The spiritual and literary. At the spiritual level, the book leaves much to be desired. Its honesty, though an admirable virtue of form, does not transcend to the content. In fact, a kind of fictitious honesty, assertive of individual opinion or personal manifestation, in matters spiritual, I have come to think, is quite undesirable. It sets a bad precedent. The might of personal conviction/ interpretation has been defeating the scriptural wisdom for centuries, because anything literal made to seem true goes down as literal truth.

The seeker in your book, as a character, succeeds beautifully; it’s the person named Gopika I mean. But the path is flawed and the culmination reached is both shallow and pretentious. The quest angle which is central to any pilgrimage or journey lacks the sheer fire and force.

There is no progress in the character of the protagonist, a seeker of “something” and it remains that way— vague, nebulous and untruly mystical even at the end of the book. Nothing is found, there’s no discovery. There is nothing in the book to root Gopika’s feelings or imaginations in reality. This seems rather whimsical.

First half of the book creates a pure and charming background for what is to follow by way of great journey, but our hopes are belied. We have nevertheless the consolation of reading an interesting story at yet another (that is, mundane) level.

I have a healthy disregard for what I call wayside spiritual romance (contrasted with plain and serious practice as taught in your favourite Gospel), a misdemeanour committed even by those who can tell wheat from chaff. It is a product of indulgence to which I too have been prone. But my regret is not that you wished it, my regret is that you landed into it quite inadvertently. You wished to relate the great event inside, but what you have on paper is a motley collection of events and no true spiritual journey. The events pretend but don’t actually belong in a concrete Big Picture.

Somehow, the mix does not become. Ramesh or Ramana does not mix with the weighing machine chap. Or other sidereal romances in the name of spirituality. This indiscriminate mixing is a great handicap. There are such pure and fine and elevating moments in the book to be followed or interfered by the truly banal. This is not to take away the charm of many genuine things you have portrayed. There are a few observations which make a mark. The profound relation between a baby and God for instance! Few sentences do well as to be quotable! Congratulations!

The book raises ideals: Arunachala, Raman Maharshi, Ramesh, Ramakrishna, Buddha and so on. The passion, with which you have painted these, could well kindle healthy curiosity in the readers for these hallowed personages. But you mix these with some foreigners whose authenticity is questionable and indistinct. Though these could have served as interesting props, their elevating in your tale to chief dramatis personae results in an unfortunate and unwarranted dilution of the marvellous candidness with which you set out to explore the world of the spirit. The bona fide is mixed with the stray; this may be the way of the eager beaver but not of a sadhak proper.

There will be some moderns, if a few, who will get interested in spirituality because of your book. You do them a great favour. We hope they will find light on the path to drive their journey to more robust destiny.

The skill with which firmly entrench the characters in their local contexts is noteworthy. Rain in Bombay, locals, wet pavements, dandiya, Salman Khan sans shirt. You are very good at this.

There are many things in your book which struck a familiar chord in me, especially from the standpoint of what I have written. The fascination you have for Arunachala for instance, I had for Ganga at one time. The mystical reverence you have for the weighing machine Baba, I had for a Sai devotee. The germ is identical, but our denouements differ sharply. Perhaps, because I have been a Sanatanist and maybe a stuck-up old timer.

Now let me come to the true appreciation. How did you manage to write such a superbly lucid, astonishingly fluent narrative? Not a single compound sentence! What a triumph! Don’t blame it on the Muse in entirety; take some credit for the breakthrough style. It’s such an easy read that one does not realize you have finished reading the book. What Gulzar and Sandhu write on the cover bears a true testimony to this.

I also hand it to you for your literary unpretentiousness, your absolute lack of forced erudition of which at least thousand and one writers are a victim. Call it the mark of an excellent story-teller or simplicity of a true genius and accept it graciously. Please stick to this lucidity in all your future endeavours.

Your sense of visual is fantastic. Many descriptions in words are startlingly visual, a gift you can surely work on and enrich. You are not preachy, you are pithy. And it works!

There is something else of good worth in your writing and it is the integrity that consists in safeguarding oneself against pointless elaboration. You practice economy of words with great finesse. It’s evident you could have made more pages than hundred and seventy one, but you didn’t because you are not dealing in mushrooms like the whole host of ostentatious authors of all times. A Camus or a Hesse alone can practice such precision writing because they are masters; others give in to the accretive mode of verbal annexation, both deliberate and undeliberate.

If you can practice the economy you have demonstrated so well in form, also in content, ruthlessly pruning the worthless substance, you shall be a master.

Thank you for sending me a copy of your book.

Raj.

(Raj is an old friend, he is the person in my life who inspired me to write, and to seek what to write. He continues to inspire and to guide. After a couple of days of this letter, I received another one. )

Manju,

Jai Guru!

I wanted to congratulate you for choosing the subject of seeking for your novel. It's a great thing to attempt. But this mail is about your style.To write your style away as “breezy”, “easy reading” and “effortless” would amount to arbitrary compromising of what is of great merit in your writing. A gift that is so prominent that it hails from every page. Another of my friend to whom I recommended AGP vouches for it. In my earlier mail I tried to allude to simplicity of a true genius, but I am still working at defining what it is. I know for sure that this kind of gift of simplicity is the same thing as profundity. Your writing has soul. It’s a soulful writing, shorn of literary trappings or flourishes, in which the writers like me are so wont to indulge. Ekaantik or one-pointed text is what it is perhaps. Something more direct, formulaic and aphoristic like language used in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I suspect this is much more than an act of minimalism or advertising abridgement. Here is a distillation as it were, which is so difficult to practice but you have managed so well. I, for one, often meander and ramble, like many authors.

It’s not to show our erudition or enjoy flourish like George Bernard Shaw that we are so excessive in our literary expression; it’s that our minds have not reached that full-grown ease and simplicity which is soul-like. Sahaja, as simple as new-born, saha jaayate iti sahaja. You have already gotten there; finding a relevant story is a lesser, though not an unimportant mission, if you want to make a mark. The author’s fundamental artistic proficiency lies in the style and form and you have it. Thank God for this great gift. It’s just a matter of writing more and more and finding better stories to tell. Let not literature ever take a backseat in your life. I wish you the very best!

Raj.




3 comments:

Arky said...

Ah! So this is *the email* you were talking about that day.

Nirali said...

Very Moving and Inspiring email.

meeta said...

and i congratulate the same' sahaj' spirit as Raj mentions, which impulses you to share all thats happening around you...the good/bad n ugly.potrayed as they are....like these 2 letters u added to your blog.
Tks for sharing M.A....