From my aunt in Singapore to my nephew in Saharanpur – almost everyone is a writer. Is it because we have fallen in love with English Literature? Or is it because writing is the new cool tool of self-expression?
According to one publisher, the number of child authors has gone up by ninety percent. Let’s talk about the writers of books, and not about those writing on social media or blogs. Enthusiastic parents are spending lakhs, taking pride in creating books for kid's birthday. Some go as far as inviting the likes of Shobha De to launch their precocious prodigy.
If my kid ever writes a book, I am going to invite JK Rowling. Beat that!
Like other instruments of fame, writing is much more than a badge of honor. When we write for an audience, unlike in our private diary, we give our best. So yes, writing is chicken soup for the brain. If you ask me, a better way to be more, is to know more - and not necessarily write more. A gifted young raconteur may possess exceptional imagination or storytelling prowess. But being a writer is also about being a reader of life, a reader of thoughts, a reader of society, and most importantly - a reader of other books.
Remember the bedtime stories so lovingly read by our parents? Irrespective of being a tedious affair, reading of bed time stories was an unspoken rule of some kind that parents indulged in. While narrating fables, the idea was to pass on the enthusiasm for reading along with doling nuggets of wisdom. Come to think of it, ‘A Thirsty Crow’ made clear how necessity is the mother of invention, ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ taught us that appearances can be deceptive, and ‘One Eyed Doe’ put in plain words that trouble can come from the direction we least expect it to come from.
I wonder why we place an average writer on a higher intellectual pedestal than a voracious reader. In most middle-class homes with any pretense to education, being a writer of English language is considered ‘cool’. Is this because we are unable to exhibit our reading skills as easily as we can ‘show off’ our writing skills? Well, maybe. Frankly, I wish I was a better reader. I wish I had the patience to enjoy reading about art, culture, cinema, foreign affairs and a host of other topics. However, creative reading can be exhausting. Sometimes it can be more tedious than creative writing.
For a good reader has to fine-tune his wavelength with the writers pitch. He becomes one with the writer - melting into the pages, savoring words, latching on nuances, and regurgitating at leisure, if necessary. Edgy, impatient readers are, well, not the kind any writer wants. Much that is exceptional in literature remains unexplored in search of good readers.
If you think that those who write fiction are God's gift to mankind - wait. Even more powerful are those who write for newspapers and magazines. Such is the might of their keyboard that they can make or break reputations at will.
Now that you have come thus far, let me share a story.
A few months ago, I consulted a renowned doctor known for his low patience and high consultation fee. On the first visit he brushed me aside with a desultory glance, a mandatory check, and a few diagnostic tests. So the next time, I casually dropped the bit about being a freelance writer. Not only did I get preferential treatment but I actually saw admiration in his cold surgical eyes!
That said, it is not difficult to understand why writing is a new age fad. In an age of mercurial ambition and instant fame, the patience to relish gently cooked wisdom no longer exists. Then there is the pervasive social media where we want everyone to like ‘my picture’, read ‘my status message’ and re-tweet ‘my tweet’.
So, in a world full of self-obsessed adolescent writers, who is going to read or buy books?
It will be wonderful, of course, if all budding creators also become consumers. Then we will write more. And read more. Win-win.
(This piece is originally in Friday Gurgaon, 3-1-2014.)