Indian authors muse over what will influence post-pandemic literary works

This pandemic is a hiccup in history, says writer Namita Gokhale

Namita Gokhale   | Photo Credit: V Sudershan

Storytellers change, human narratives don’t. The epic of Gilgamesh was inscribed on tablets of baked clay, and the orality of the great South Asian epics, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the epic of Gesar Ling, were transcribed on palm leaf manuscripts. They are now accessible in their digital avatars. The formats may change but the stories remain.

The storyteller is the custodian of our collective memories. The oral traditions of storytelling included drama, music, and visual representation. Ink rubbings and woodblock printing existed in East Asia centuries before the invention of the Gutenberg press in Germany in 1450. Textual knowledge gained importance because it could be transmitted over a vastly longer span of time, and the oral and the textual began inhabiting different streams and categories of knowledge.

Digital technology has returned us to a reintegration of the aural, the visual, and soon, the sensory, in our shared narratives. It’s fascinating to speculate on how storytelling will progress as artificial intelligence begins to draw on our vast collective archives, conscious and subconscious, to sense and create new stories and new ways of telling them.

But the sanctity of the word, its oracular and incantatory power, remains the enduring foundation of human culture and civilisation. The ability to name and to interpret, the capacity to transmit learnings about ourselves and our environment has enabled the evolution of our species.

This pandemic is a hiccup in history, but it will exponentially accelerate remote technologies due to the compulsions of a new isolationist reality. But the stories will remain, the human stories, the AI stories, the grandmothers tales that give us wisdom, the speculative fiction that gives us wonder, the dystopian fiction that transforms into reality. The book, that beloved and enduring object, will remain too. The ancient epics will remain, and in a galaxy far far away, a story from a long time ago will resurrect the epics and bards of the past and future.

Founder-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale’s latest work is the Jaipur Journals


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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 6:48:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/this-pandemic-is-a-hiccup-in-history/article31686279.ece

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