Tuesday, February 07, 2006

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?


bibliobibuli said...

wherever you are ... if you write, things are tough .. in the end write for the love of it because that's the only reward you can be sure of ...

Zafar Anjum said...

Agree with you. In writing there may not be, for some, neither money nor eminence, but let’s not forget about that essence of literature called ‘creative satisfaction’: "The stoic happiness of doing something constructive."