Artistic pursuit in a work of fiction doesn’t end with beautiful language
Sense, in its purest form, may not even help decode the title of a book. Sensibility will, perhaps, take you some distance. Ghachar Ghochar, a nonsense word as title for writer Vivek Shanbhag’s latest collection of short stories, will leave ‘meaning’ a bit more complex in a work of fiction.
Vivek Shanbhag’s vision of a story begins where it normally ends for most other writers, said critic H.S. Raghavendra Rao, speaking after the book was released by journalist-writer Suketu Mehta, recently. In this programme organised by the Toto Funds the Arts, he observed, “As a writer his pursuit lies beyond merely lulling you into a plot and its characters – he is ferreting for meanings beyond the framework of the story. In that sense, he’s anything but politically correct.”
Vivek’s control over style and technique is evident on reading his works, but they are hardly tools that determine his craftsmanship; in fact, they open up his vision of life. Elaborating further on his practice of fiction that is intrinsically connected with his thought process, Rao said for a writer of fiction beauty in language is a temptation hard to resist. “Vivek steers clear of such traps, not because he is incapable of it, but because his aesthetic pursuit is, in a very organic way, intertwined with the artistic. His world view is striking in his narrative that is marked with restraint, even as it grasps the physical landscape in great detail,” he explained.
If his three decades of journey as a Kannada writer can also be seen as the journey of Kannada literature itself, locating him in a time or period or aspirations “is not easy” he said. “Even to slot him as a writer coming from a particular geographical terrain is simplistic.”
For Rao, Vivek’s writings had a touch of Masti Venkatesh Iyengar’s “mature vision” and also the Navya writers’ inclination to probe the consciousness. Vivek, he said, travels between the inner and the outer – experience shaped by intellect. “To make his earlier anthology Huli Savari as central to his body of work is gross injustice,” argued Rao. The corporate and everything else according to him were an extension of Vivek’s enduring engagement with human relationships.
Suketu Mehta, treading as he was a ‘territory’ unknown (that of Kannada literature) read a short excerpt from one of Vivek’s stories, taking it right back to ponder over his dharma as a journalist and a novelist, which he said “are one and the same.” A writer who is not telling the truth — even if he is staying silent — is lying. “And telling the truth means bearing witness to our terrible times,” he reasoned,
Suketu said that in writing Maximum City, which is a non-fiction book, he found it important to treat all the people who told him their stories as if they were characters in a novel. “As if I was responsible for creating them, making them whole and complex. That means not just allowing bad people, such as murderers, the freedom to be good in other parts of their lives, but also allowing innocent people, such as disaster victims, the freedom to be unsympathetic.”
Territories — they will remain unfamiliar, and truth keeps moving into new thresholds. The quintessential writer is fraught with the eternal challenge of exploring the unfamiliar through the familiar, the reader keeps enlarging his territory of the word and its meanings, and Ghachar Ghochar keeps abandoning ‘sense’.