The Republic of Writers
<b><i>In a republic which appears to celebrate hypocrisy, where language gets lost in doublespeak, where imagination and questioning are threatened, the Indian writer faces fresh challenges</i></b>
Democracy has many pitfalls and inadequacies. It could be misused to gain massive support for a parochial hate-driven agenda. It could trump up mass hysteria and amnesia. In other words, it could be made to work in an anti-democratic manner and for anti-democratic values. And yet, as famously said by Winston Churchill, it is the best form amongst much worse ones.
By and large, democracies have allowed creative freedom within certain limits. They have been more tolerant of dissent, more open to discussion and debate than dictatorships and ideological tyrannies. They have sustained a plurality of viewpoints. Sometimes one feels that not enough members of the creative community of India realise that they are writing or creating in a democracy which is only a little more than 65 years old. In fact, India’s post-independence period is historically the first time that literature and arts are being practiced and created in a democratic India.
We are constitutionally also a republic. A republic which creates a rule of law and governs politics and economics. In recent times, especially after the BJP formed a government on the basis of majority in the Lok Sabha, the Indian republic is becoming intolerant of dissent, freedom and plurality. Increasingly this republic is now promoting a culture of double-speak. The highest in political office speak in one way and act in another way. They are politically correct in their speech, but keep quiet or look the other way with a sense of impunity when their supporters act against their avowed values and beliefs. In other words, the republic now abounds, almost rejoices, in this hypocrisy.
The republic in many ways is trying to narrow down the space of free expression both by legal measures and political misreading, misinterpretations and social indictment without giving opportunity for being heard to the other side.
It promotes an ethos in which language loses real meaning and relevance. A writer has to write in a situation in which language has lost credibility. Also, the republic in many ways is trying to narrow down the space of free expression both by legal measures and political misreading, misinterpretations and social indictment without giving opportunity for being heard to the other side. A massive campaign to ‘other’ certain sections of the Indian society, specially its minorities, both religious and ideological, is underway, causing social tension, spreading hatred and even murderous violence. All this amounts to the rejection of the age-old wisdom of our creative and intellectual traditions which are rooted in the rejection of the dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’.
The second republic in which a writer or a creative artist has to live — and sustain — is the republic of imagination. It is a republic which, unlike the first republic, is full of freedom, limitless possibilities, endless alternatives. It is also full of paradoxes and contradictions, as also of plurality, plentitude and patience. A site for questions and daring; of anxieties and courage. A writer’s or an artist’s true location is this republic on which the first republic forever impinges and casts its shadow which is at times, like the present, ominous. The second republic is a republic of creativity, affirmation, acceptance and memory. It is here that imagination, through its creative fury and passion, forges a new reality.
Unfortunately, the two republics remain in constant tension and mutual trust between them is rather rare, almost absent at the present juncture. The two are emerging as adversaries. The second republic is struggling hard to jealously protect its freedom and autonomy from being eroded or assaulted by the first one.
The courageous and rooted continue and persist: for them writing in an Indian language is an act of radical will, choice and imagination. It is a ceaseless satyagraha against generalisation, simplification, totalisation and marginalisation
The republic of imagination questions and sometimes refuses to accept the given modes of morality, social behaviour, political trends. It is then accused of trying to generate and spread chaos and disorder. While the first republic is irretrievably mired in power, authority and control, the second encourages freedom, humility and equity in creativity finding new ways.
A writer has a third republic as well. It is the republic of his/her mother tongue. It is an inexhaustible repository of wisdoms, insights, forms, moral directions, social constraints, moral borders. This republic is both liberating in some ways and constraining in some others. It all too often allows the writer to dare and experiment, to seek new forms and mode of expression and articulation. It also sets up norms of moral behaviour, overseeing the limits which may not be crossed by outrageous or the so called obscene expressions etc.
It is this republic which shapes and permits new forms of metaphorical language. This republic is now beset with two new factors. Globalisation, though under pressure now from the backlash of the local, has pushed many languages of the world to the margins promoting, through information technology, a new hegemony of English language. This has resulted in vast numbers of middle classes in India distancing themselves from their mother tongues. To that extent the republic of mother tongue gets depleted. A writer in an Indian language constantly lives feeling anxious that his mother tongue is getting increasingly marginalised by the first republic, obsessed as it is with the western models of progress and development.
The weak-hearted and security-obsessed writers in India may exit or withdraw from literature. But the courageous and rooted continue and persist: for them writing in an Indian language is an act of radical will, choice and imagination. It is a ceaseless satyagraha against generalisation, simplification, totalisation and marginalisation. They struggle hard to articulate their truths, their predicament of being and remaining human in a dehumanising world and to do so in their mother tongue.
Thereby, caught as they are between three republics, they vindicate the power of creativity and imagination to supersede all impediments and assert the primacy of language and the need for literature. Literature as memory, as imagination and a site for conscience.
Ashok Vajpeyi is a prominent poet, essayist, critic, art administrator and a former civil servant
Published: 12 Nov 2016, 1:37 AM