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Real people, real lives

While all political parties talk of the syncretic nature of our civil society, they also sow the seeds of doubt

Real people, real lives

Picture for representational purpose only.

Ira Pande

The fact that four major religious groups in India — Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs — had their most holy celebrations this fortnight or in the one gone by is reason to ponder and mark. Easter, Chaitra Navratras, Eid-ul-Fitr and Baisakhi are being celebrated by all Indians now. What does this say about us as a country? This should give us a reason to discredit all those political leaders who try and corral us into religious ghettos and hand them a lesson to learn. I hope that the coming time will teach some of them a vital fact they need to remember.

It is ironic that while all political parties talk of the syncretic nature of our civil society with pride, they also sow the seeds of doubt that makes one the other. However, the wise Indian voter can see this devious game for what it’s worth and will, as ever, vote with the usual sense of collective responsibility to keep this country together. In fact, I place more faith in the village and non-elitist voter than I do on the urban city slicker. I hope I am right.

Every gathering of family, friends and neighbours today is a cacophony of divergent political views. People have stopped meeting friends who go back several years because they support a different political party. These deep cleavages have entered individual homes and siblings and married couples are now reduced to avoiding the banter and good-hearted leg-pulling that was the usual way to deal with such differences. But please keep in mind, as a wise friend’s post pointed out, that it is not the government that will come to your aid when you most need it, but your friends and family. Also, that governments may change every five years, but your social ties remain constant.

That said, let us move to more pleasant matters. Less than a week ago, I had a cataract surgery performed on one of my eyes. Decades ago, I had stood with my mother when she had hers done and was so impressed with the quantum leaps that have been made since then. For one, there is an option to go for a completely digitally-aided laser surgery, which means that no human surgical cuts are needed. The procedure takes less than half an hour and before you know it, you are discharged. Now that I have one new eye and an old one, let me tell you how bright the colours appear from my new eye. It’s as if a dirty window pane has been gently wiped clean of all the dust and muck covering it.

Since I’ve been confined to the house this last week and asked to limit staring into a mobile screen, I listen to podcasts and read books. And while we are on the subject of books, I must say that my fascination for English language fiction is almost over. The genres of magic realism, urban anxieties, existentialism and alienation, the immigrant’s experience of exile and longing — all these are now as dead as the dodo. The real discovery is the strong sense of identity and social reality available now only in our bhasha writing. Some excellent translators have made it possible to access those books that are written in languages I am not familiar with, and the discovery has been such an eye-opener. So that’s another old cataract excised, I think.

Most publishing houses in India have seen a huge decline in retail book trade. Fewer people are now reading printed books as many download titles on their devices. Others listen to audio books. The hardest hit are the niche publishers, run by a dedicated editor/publisher who has to rely on the marketing wings of the multinational publishing houses as their budget for publicity is severely cut. The result is that a new genre of writing has cropped up: these are the super-ambitious young writers, often either a woke activist or someone with pockets deep enough to pay the publicists, freelance editors, agents and other such enablers to ensure that books are seen, talked about and reviewed. Believe me, most deserve to be trashed, for many are the literary version of an entitled bunch of brats.

Naturally, they prefer to write on self-help, motivational yakkety-yaks, health and self-care, food and issues related to that. With such a limited experiential arc and an ever-shrinking vocabulary, they are like a flash in the pan, and quickly disappear. If you have visited a lit-fest recently, you can spot them from a mile, stalking a famous writer, a well-known publisher or a promoter. I run a mile away when someone says, ‘Ma’am, I want to be a writer. Please can you help?’ If such a person does not have a book that is bursting to come out, then a Caesarean operation is not the answer.

On the other hand, the freshness and depth of the writing that is coming out of the non-English writers is astounding. In languages such as Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Maithili, Urdu and Hindi — to name just a few — the energy pulls you in instantly. Gender, poverty, the suffocating lives of those stuck in remote areas, social invisibility, sexual exploitation, Dalit tales that are raw experiences and not imagined angst — all these need no props or lessons from anyone.

They are stories of real people with real lives.


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