Monday, June 09, 2008

The reaction to 'the elements'.

In a post, a few weeks back, I had referred to Shashi Tharoor’s criticism of R.K.Narayan- that the latter was one-dimensional and his repertoire extremely narrow. My point was that if that was how RKN chose to be, and if that fetched him loyal readership, there was no need for him to strive to be multi-dimensional or to make effort to widen his range.

Actually, I wrote that post after reading something about the ‘elements’ that a writer needs to master while narrating a story. So, RKN was free to choose his mix of elements, I had argued.

The post elicited this comment from Manasi:

“I don't know who you folks are, but from the brief introduction it appears that most of you are engineering/technocrat/cyber-coolie types, which makes this rant not so surprising. Really, calling RKN's prose pedestrian is generous at best. Surely, no one takes him very seriously except for folks that speak English as a second language. It is with good reason that RKN is not seriously in India or abroad, his prose is "Wren and Martin" meets "Illustrated Weekly" lacking any aesthetic beauty whatsoever, his analysis is banal and mindless, though I understand that may be difficult for engineering types to appreciate. Perhaps the one use RKN may be good for is to train the legions of call center workers and cyber coolies to somewhat gramatically correct English (which would be an improvement), while also providing them a reaffirmation of their simple minded view of life.”

Reading between the lines and delving into the sub-text of Manasi’s subtle comment, what I discern is that the engineering/technocrat/cyber-coolie types must stick to their narrow domain and not pretend to be literary/author/ types. Other e/t/c-c types in the blogosphere- please note.

15 comments:

Sundar Narayanan said...

ha ha ..

this was a good one.

looks like Mr. Taroor has one serious fan! So the anon. commenter was wrong.

for the record, I did like the Great Indian Novel and I love RKN.

Trying to polarize your question by insulting you and the rest of the people who love your space as cyber-coolies, is low!

All I have to say to these self proclaimed guardians of literature?! is:

Have keyboard. Will write!

:)

mogadalai said...

Dear Raj,

There are at least a couple of "literary types" like Jhumpa Lahiri and Wyatt Mason who seemed to have liked RKN. In any case, the commentor is not even trying to address seriously any of the technical issues associated with RKN's writing.

Having said that, if you remove all the unnecessary stuff about engineers/coolies and their world views and such stuff, the only thing that remains is that the commentor agrees with Tharoor at some level and does not think high of RKN, with which fact, I do not have any quarrels. I have heard, for example, that RKN himself did not like reading my other favourite writer Raja Rao.

So, as e/t/c-c type blogger, even though I have duly noted the implications of the comment you have received, I think the best thing to do is to not pay any serious attention to them!

Guru

Raj said...

Sundar, Guru : Thanks. Actually I was quite amused by the comment. Especially the assertion that techno-coolies ought not to venture into literary domain!

manasi said...

@sundar:
have keyboard, will write
spread middle-class views far and wide
nominate Jeffrey Archer for the Booker
and yes that magazine-wali woman sounds like a hooker

No sir, no sir, our time has come
All these arty types are poor and dumb
Vikram Seth can go to hell
Our icons are RKN and Michael Dell
The first for the soul, the second for the pocket
Our call center intellectuals will call the shots
to hell with you petty despots

RKN and Mani Ratnam
you say peddlers of the lame and obvious
but to India Shining how can you be so oblivious

Vaidy said...

Raj,
I chanced across your blog a few months ago and love it.
Re Manasi's comment, I don't know how you can laugh it off! What conceitedness! I personally was a voracious reader (in my school days) before I turned a techie. On second thoughts you are right - its best to ignore such people.
Vaidy

Hawkeye said...

manasi,

if only you knew how hard it is to make your work appealing to a broad audience, you wouldn't be wasting time this way.

'selling out' is a taken for granted criticism. As if is its a switch that the author or director can conveniently switch ON to 'sell out'.

sometimes people forget that language is a subjective subject.

Sundar Narayanan said...

How many books must a man read
before you can call him arty?

Yes, and how many authors does a man need to know
before he can let India Shine?

The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind,
the answer is blowing in the wind.

for the love of god (to be more specific, the godess Saraswati), what has reading something, forming an opinion about it and expressing that opinion have anything to do with ones class, values, economic status, etc.

Anyone can write, anyone can read and there is no requirement that everyone should like everyone else, be it with literary likes or in everyday life.

That said, I can respect Ms. Manasi's diagreement over the logic that any one author should or should not appeal to a diversity, but why obfuscate this with "the right to write"?

To each, their own!

:)

ps. I just happen to be a dude who likes books, blogs and bank notes!

Mambalam Mani said...

The thing that bothers me the most is why must a piece of writing be artistic, arty and aesthetic to considered good? I am sure if the author is intelligent enough, a string of coherent words can produce the same effect on the readers as a number of woven sentences would.

And if I read between the lines, then I get to understand that whoever does not take RK Narayan seriously must have been born under the breath of Thomas Hardy.

utbtkids said...

I am a engineer turned school teacher. Just wondering wher it puts me. Techno-coolie or some evel even lower than that!

Anyways, I passionately love RKN's writings. Very few writers have the ability to feel a common man feel connected to the writing and he possesed that talent.

How RKN can bring out humor in his writings inspite of all his personal tragedies is a mystery to me. I would have turned out cynical, sour pieces if I were him.

Cmreddy said...

This is so un-Raj like, and to the point of being cruel.. Isn't it too obvious that its too easy?

manasi said...

All,
There has been a lot of "reading between the lines" though some of the commentators would probably benefit from learning how to do so even sans the between the lines part.
You are of course free to read whatever you like and think whatever you like. If you believe in Hardy Boys as the pinnacle of modern English literature, well good luck to you (and your therapist). The point here is literary cristicism. Tharoor wrote a critique of RKN, you critiqued the critique, and I am critiquing your critique of the critique. Comprende senor? Tharoor has never once said that his fiction is better than RKN's hackery. He writes as a critic, just as every criticism Michiko Kakutani makes in NYT does not imply the vast superiority of Ms. Kakutani's narrative skills. Tharoor wrote this as a man of letters. I agree with his views and not out of some sense of "loyalty as a fan" that some of you have implied. Is this so hard to get? One can agree with a journalist's views without being a fan of his ouevre?
My only complaint with Tharoor is that RKN is too easy of a target. I mean he is widely known to be a talentless hack so why rub it in. I remember my editor at a prominent English-language daily politely suggest to an interviewee "you write just like RKN, have you thought of writing for Tinkle or Chandamama?"

Raj said...

Manasi, that lyrical comment was very well written, especially the second stanza. You have a right to hold a view that RKN’s style is pedestrian, childish, etc. And, Tharoor has the licence to be critical of him too. I have no issues with that. And, thanks for livening the proceedings a bit, on this otherwise unexciting blog.

The part that amuses me is your assertion that our endorsement of RKN’s style was because we were typical ‘engineering types and techno-coolies’ who lacked the ability to appreciate the finer points of writing.

Others, thanks for chipping in with your views.

Brain Drain said...

Late to see this.. Let me add my spice..

a) You should grow as a reader. Over the years of reading, you should be able to appreciate the good from the rest. If Shashi Tharoor had an opinion about RKN , it is formed by his habits and choices of reading and that need to be appreciated , not necessarily agreed to.

b) You should read the author along with his background , society , time and location. The reading otherwise is incomplete. For a new reader of RKN or Rajarao or others, this might be a challenge.

c) To me the current Indian English Fiction is pedestrian and very superficial, but that is my opinion and others need not agree with me.

d)Not sure if "tech-coolies" are better readers, but they do, by virtue of their 'job profile', write or talk about them much more than others do.

Raj said...

brain drain, well said.

Right Off Center said...

That RKN was appreciated by Graham Greene has been conveniently forgotten by the accuser speaks volumes about the intentions of the accuser. Does the accuser mean that Graham Greene was an engineer / technocrat / coolier et al ?

Is it a sin to have English as a second language ? No body in India has English as the first language / mother tongue other than probably the anglo-indians.

Lastly, is it a crime to write in english that is understandable by a vast majority of Indians and also about issues / ideas prevalent in southern india ?