Tuesday, February 07, 2006

To become a writer you must embrace failure

Hell, no, I'm not saying this. Ha Jin is saying this. If I did, in the first place, you won't believe me. Some think I'm nuts any ways.

I came across this interview of Ha Jin just by chance. Here he makes an important point, and I have all along been bogged down by the feeling that he describes so well:

I read something you said in an online interview [at collectedstories.com] that intrigued me. Basically, you said that to become a writer you must embrace failure. What did you mean by that?

The more ambitious you are, the stronger the sense of failure, because there are so many [laughs] great books that have been written. When I was at Emory University I often taught a story by Kafka: “The Hunger Artist.” That story explains the psychology of a writer. Very often we write not because we want to achieve—maybe there was that desire, but so much has been accomplished. We can’t do anything better. On the other hand, you have to go on and continue.
That’s why I think some sense of failure is essential to a writer from the very beginning.

How true! Read the whole interview here in Agni.

Agni also has a terrific interview with late Saul Bellow. It is a must read.

One Night@Bollywood

Today I read in the ST that Chetan Bhagat's bestselling novel, One Night @ The Call Centre has been optioned for filming by Bollywood director Rohan Sippy. Great news for Chetan! Very few Indian filmmakers opt for making films out of modern novels and when they do, they hardly succeed in hitting the bull's eye. Anurag Mathur's all time bestseller The Inscrutible Americans was a box office (bo) dud as a movie. Dev Benegal had adapted Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August with great elan and some bo success. Mira Nair is adapting Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. Hope it does well.

But Chetan's news gives me a sense of deja vu. His first novel, Five Point Someone, was also rumoured to have been optioned for filming. But we are still waiting for the film...Any way, good luck Chetan!

The World is Not Against You

Sounds like the title of the next 007 movie, doesn't it?

But hey, it is just a word of advice. From Vikram Seth. To an aspiring writer. Mark Vender. The full line: "The world is not against you. It is only indifferent."

Read this ravishing rant on "getting published" (Hay Fever) in The Guardian. If you already have, read on ahead.

Indian writer Samit Basu (author of The Simoquin Prophecies and now The Manticore's Secret) commented on this aspect of the writerly life (stirred by The Sunday Times publishing saga) in an interesting article, Fishwrap. He wrote:

It’s an interesting question – despite the emergence of a generation of writers, artists and filmmakers in India who are perfectly content creating work for a growing and engaged audience without ‘explaining India’ being an overriding consideration, we still look to the West for validation, and not just in monetary terms. How justified is this outward-looking approach if the West is so insecure about its own ability to appreciate literature and the arts? For every Rupa Bajwa and Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi racking up impressive advances and literary awards worldwide, how many quality works of Indian literature are consigned to dustbins every time publishers and agents decide to clear up the slushpile? How many masterpieces never see the light of day because their writers aren’t sexy enough? How long will we have to wait before any art form (except film and music) finds a large enough market within the country for the sad state of affairs abroad not to be a factor in the lives of the artists concerned? When can we stop having our own literary scene messed up for us by people abroad and, instead, mess it up ourselves in our own special Indian way?

I guess there are no easy answers. It is the market, be it in India or Malaysia or Singapore, or anywhere, that decides everything--in the larger sense. Even books. Marketing is over-riding art, as it were. As Walt Whitman would have said: Poets are not in-charge here. It is the bankers and the manufacturers, the publishers and the marketers.

Last year, The Straits Time had brought out a special Saturday report on the publishing scene in Singapore. I guess Sharon Bakar had covered it in her blog. The gist of the story is that even in a small country like Singapore, there are a large number of writers (of all kinds) looking for publishers but there are very few of them who don't see any market for budding local writers. Many writers have, in desperation, turned to self-publishing, and almost all of them are yet to recover what they had invested in their dream ventures. Forget about profits!

Nothing surprising about it!

I guess in an age when most readers are aspiring writers, the barriers to publishing will rise higher up. And those who will get published may not be necessarily the best writers of our age, but those who persist and try on will surely make it one day. When the best of the lot will give up and turn to a more profitable business, the mediocres will sure have a chance. Let's stay optimistic then, even at the risk of sounding simplistic, even foolhardy. What do you say?

Kaleidoscope of Rhythms

Ustaad Zakir Hussain and the accompanying musicians held a riveting concert last Sunday in the Esplanade Concert Theatre. Singapore's President Nathan was also there to enjoy the show. Apart from the music, it was the Ustaad's sense of humour that had the audience in rapture.

My impressions of meeting with the Ustaad has been published by Malaysiakini. Read the piece here.