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Society is in turmoil — a good time for writers

Shashi Deshpande
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Shashi Deshpande
Shashi Deshpande

The presence of many aspiring and some successful young writers at the recent Bangalore Literature Festival made me wonder: is the confidence and success of young writers that has put Indian Writing in English (IWE) into a celebratory mood, symbolic of which are festivals, book launches, prizes, awards, etc.?

It was different some decades back, when published abroad. Today’s writers live in the society they are writing about.

A good time, actually, for writers, a time when society is in turmoil and on the cusp of change. And good time for the young, successful writers, a mere handful, lived and are earning money like never before and have the independence the young in India never had.

On the other hand, there’s the huge stress of work and success, of failed relationships, marriages that seem to shatter at a touch, of confused children and lonely old people. Will young writers take a risk, abandon the road of sure-success and formulaic books and tangle seriously with the grittiness, the complexity and the contradictions of this world? Or will they continue to remain in the self-congratulatory cocoon in which IWE seems to be nestled? What does the future hold for IWE?

Personally, I am hopeful and my hope comes not from literature, but society. Society and literature are always closely linked, though, sometimes, one fails to keep up with the other. If it was the silences, the invisibility and the marginalisation of women that propelled the very things I was writing about tainted my work as well, so that even my work was regarded as marginal.

Now, decades later, women’s lives have come centre stage. The rape of a young woman, people on the streets, both the privileged and the less privileged, men and women, the young and old. This to me presages a change, a hands-on engagement with society, which can give an impetus to good literature.

There is one particular image among the pictures of the protest which fascinates me: a young woman, hurled to the ground by a policewoman, sits on the ground for a moment, gets up and makes a fierce lunge at her attacker; her ace, pugnacious, determined, enraged, stays with me.

Three decades back, perhaps, I would have written about her. Will a writer of her generation write about her? I wait with curiosity and hope.

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