The trait of diversity is a blessing and a curse, says the Booker winning Nigerian poet and novelist.
Confessing to have been enamoured by tales of Kerala, Booker winning Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri attributed it to a ‘magnetic and fascinating’ quality.
Mr. Okri, in the State on a four-day visit to attend the three-day Viswa Malayala Mohotsavam, will address a gathering at Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium on October 31.
“I think the State stands out uniquely in the country and even in terms of literature; the State has produced some wonderful writers. They certainly seem to have the ability to make it to the Booker shortlists,” he said, lauding the writing as containing a richness of language and a mythological base as well. “You get the sense that there is so much more to capture than the reality,” he told The Hindu here.
The two nations, India and Nigeria, have much in common, he said.
“The history is similar, the shape of society, those eternal questions about class, poverty, and the richness of our natural environment,” he said in a reference to the lush landscape right outside the hotel foyer. “Even when I read Indian writers, I sometimes get this strange feeling that they are writing about Africa. I keep thinking to myself, my God, this could be Nigeria,” he said. An interesting comparison he drew pertained to a sensibility surrounding the use of humour. “There is this same relationship between humour and the difficulty of life and it cannot be called dark humour. Just the presence of humour as a way in which individuals refuse to be defeated by their condition,” he said.
“The trait of diversity is yet another element that most nations hold. It is a blessing and a curse,” Mr. Okri said.
Cautioning that too much diversity could lead to fragmentation, Mr. Okri described the blessing of this reality as being the source of creativity. “It is the reaction of the soul to the multifariousness and the intractability of life. There would be no need for creativity if the world was manageable, simple, and without complexity or obscurity,” he said.
Sheer diversity could even lead to one getting overwhelmed. “You do not have the blissful ‘fewness’ that Shakespeare had,” he said, concluding that it worked both ways.
Integrity of ideas
Mr. Okri’s literary fame also resulted from the ease with which he articulated various themes through multiple forms such as verse, short story, essay, and novel. But this skill, rather than being a conscious effort, stems from the respect and natural flow with which the writer allowed his ideas to develop.
“Every idea has a natural form in which it can best express itself. I am a great believer in the integrity of ideas and forms, and to understand this is central to good writing. The creative mind, I think, works like nature, and if you look around, you can see that nature has a great sense of the right form for everything,” he said, adding that there were several novels that he had read, which would have fared better as poems or the other way around.
“One of the most difficult things we have to do, is to know when what is what,” he said.