IN a diversified world with different races, beliefs, customs it is literature that act as a binding force reflecting the same diversity in an aesthetic manner. But for one who believes in a Utopian idea of one idea, one world, contemporary literature seems like a scattered world.
If you too bear the same apprehension, a poet, critic and scholar, K Satchidanandan will make you understand how literature justifies its different classifications in a sociological perspective. “Let hundred flowers bloom instead of one. Instead of single idea, let pluralism thrives. New monoliths are breaking and you know it is good for ideal democracy.” The poet was responding to a query on the contemporary literature, with special reference to India, on a chilly afternoon inside the Sahitya Akademi office in New Delhi, India’s official centre for promoting literature.
Winter was just touching down the national capital when the poet sat down for an informal chat turned interview. Meeting the versatile bi-lingual poet was listening to a scholar. His innate quality of lending time and ears for others without the air of a writer proves why he has so many admirers in social networking sites like Facebook. Full of enthusiasm, the writer, 63, is a globetrotter with a literary pursuit. He is definitely among a few who could fill the atmosphere with positive energy and pass it on to others easily. You could elicit out answers from him as in a classroom where a teacher shares his thoughts.
Currently working as the guest editor of Indian Literature journal for Sahitya Akademi, he has served the Akademi as its chief executive officer for a decade (1996 to 2006) until he took voluntary retirement. The journal brings out diversified Indian literature in one common language, English. Among the 24 such journals, it was the English journal that many reach out to know the contemporary Indian literature through translations.
“Akademi is bringing out journals in 24 languages. And I am in-charge of the English version. Translation works impart our own inflections of language, how Indian writers adapt to English language using native words, phrases, usages, proverbs which doesn’t exist in English. Actually they are bringing inflections to English language which gets enriched. Remember, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and how it got international acceptance. And we have seen it in Nissim Ezekial poetry, in Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. While RK Narayanan brought out Tamil inflection, Raja Rao gave Kannada inflection.”
Though inflections can be accepted as a nourishment to strengthen English language, the classification of literature in terms of country, gender, culture becomes a topic of discontent. For an average lover of books, literature bears just one identity irrespective of different dimensions it represents. A scholarly reply from Satchidanandan gives a vivid evolution of contemporary English literature, which helps to shed the fears of literature getting more and more divisions.
He put this in simple, but profound words, “The Empire is writing back. And English is living. The classification of English literature dates back to Africa when writers like Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri wrote about the rhythm and beats of Africa. Later it became a global trend. Of course, classification of literature is not aesthetic, but in sociological perspective, it is acceptable. Now, the heyday of modernism is over and new movements are emerging-movements in different dimensions. And Indian literature is flourishing day-by-day.”
Analysing the latest movements in Indian literature, he said, the latest ‘uprising’ is seen in Dalit writings. The one time ‘high-class’ literature is coming down to masses. Thus literature is getting the smell and theme of soil. The Dalit of invasion of language is a result of 3000-year long suppression. That inhumane social fabrication has broken and they are infusing their thoughts and language into the mainstream literature. The poet says, “This new genre of literature is renovating the existing style of literature. Dalit literature is coming up in almost all Indian languages-Marathi, Gujarathi, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Hindi. And it is everywhere. The notable Dalit writings are Laxman Gaikwad’s Uchalya, Laxman Mane’s Upara, Sharankumar Limbale’s Akkarmashi, Siddalingayya’s Ooru Keri.”
Like Dalit uprising, there are many other genres of writing that are making waves in Indian literary scene, he added. “Minority literature, Ecologocal literature, Nativism etc has its own space in contemporary literature.” And this classification of literature does not end in the periphery of Indian literature. The global literature too reflects this. “The most radical change that has taken place in literature is Women’s Writing. In India it is seen in fictions,” a critic in the man of verse says.
He further explains Ecological literature and Nativism in literature. Ecological writings underline the need to protect nature. Nativism is a movement which is the “indegenous celebration of assertion of regional identities. It is an interrogation of state’s entity and narrow, monolithic conception of state. We cannot forget the plurality of so many cultures, so new genres of writings emerge.”
Here comes the importance of translations. In English we find translations of almost all major works across the world. European, African, Asian literature is available in English everywhere. Satchidanandan points out the efforts of famous German publishing house Editions Gallimard which prefers direct translations from original works. If books written by Marquez or Achabe were translated into French from English translation work, Gallimard now has translators who could directly translate from original text into French itself. This exchange of literature is strengthening and flourishing literature worldwide.
Comparing to this, the poet says, in India, “there is an unequal exchange of translations. The chauvinists do not realise that literature grows through exchange programmes. Everyone knows Malayalam literature is at its best compared to other Indian literature. But there is a deliberate attempt to deny this. “A wrong conception grows among other Indian language writers that their language and literature is sufficient. I say, they are stuck in the process of evolution of new genres and possibilities in writing.”
The Indian poet is not a new face in the region’s literary scenario. Recently, Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage published the poet’s first collection of poems under a project called Kalima. The book How did Mayakovsky Commit Suicide and 50 Other Poems is a collection of poems translated into Arabic by well-known Arabic poet Shehab Al Ghanem. During the interview, the poet expressed his anguish for lack of competitive translators. “Multi-lingual or bilingual writers act like bridges. Sadly they are fast disappearing,” he says.
He finds that the new trend is that either one concentrates on mother tongue or English. Avoiding one for the benefit of other is foolishness. Inflecting English into one’s own language strengthens mother tongue and vice-versa. The poet who brought modernism in literature has become one of the leading writers in Indian English literature through his translations. He and his poems are the best to know how literature could bind diversified cultures together for a common voice for the well-being of humanity.