"The songs themselves had the infinite sweep of humanity in them...”
Bob Dylan, about his music inspiration Woody Guthrie
The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan in 2016? Nonsense, the purists, the high priests of literature and high art would seem to say. After all, he is a mere song writer, a musician, and words are, perhaps, just props to his music. Oscar, yes; but Nobel? Ridiculous!! The Nobel Prize Committee, however, seems to think otherwise, extolling his work "for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition." Does he really deserve the Nobel, ah? The answer, my friends, is not blowing in the wind; because the age-old debate of what constitutes good literature and the standards by which it is to be recognised keeps on getting rekindled whenever an artist comes along to challenge the earlier norms, to break the mould and to go beyond what ‘belongs’ to literature within a set framework: like the novel form did in 18th century England, for example; like T S Eliot did in ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’; like Svetlana Alexievich did with her oral history documentations. Or, is it a sacrilege to mention Bob Dylan in the same breath as these luminaries?
To each one her own take in this matter: Bob Dylan, the songster or Bob Dylan, the man with the message; of course they don’t contradict each other. His message, though, is strong and loud – strongly political, pro civil rights, anti-war, anti-oppression, pro nuclear disarmament, pro integrity, pro nonconformity; for a long time the Voice of America; also the voice of the ‘tortured and the damned.’ Much of folk literature and popular art he draws from – blues, country gospel, British, American and Irish folklore - has already come within the ambit of ‘Art’ in the postmodern, post postmodern, post post postmodern scenario in which ‘kitsch’ has successfully been co-opted as a vital ingredient and narrative strategy. And in India, don’t we recognise the poetic component in the songs penned by Sahir Ludhianvi or Kaifi Azmi? Well, one of the reactions I received was, yes, certainly it could be Sahir. Maybe Gulzar, too. But Bob Dylan?
Let’s just savour some of his lines; not to clinch an argument; but to just hear some of the lines that resound in the mind; to understand whether what he has to say is significant enough; whether his words have ‘the infinite sweep of humanity in them’ or not.
How many times must the cannonballs fly
How many years can some people exist
How many times can a man turn his head
How many deaths will it take till he knows
How does it feel?
Okay, fine. But then, again, Bob Dylan over Wole Soyinka? Over Philip Roth? Over Haruki Murakami? Ah, well!!
Another question that crops up every October in India is – why is it that no Indian, after Rabindranath Tagore, has been considered worthy enough for the Nobel in Literature? The answer, here, my friends, is definitely, blowing in the wind: our great contemporary literature of India has simply not reached the world; every Mahashweta Devi is waiting for her Gayatri Spivak. Certainly, the writers who have been honoured by the Bharatiya Jnanpith Award since its inception in 1965, have an enviable corpus of writing, rich in depth and thought, socially and politically vibrant, innovative in form and language. Gurdial Singh, O V Vijayan, Balchandra Nemade, Pratibha Ray, Kedarnath Singh, Raghuveer Chaudhari, to name a few… Unfortunately their visibility and presence in the international literary circles is so meagre. That can be rectified only through rigorous and consistent translation activity. Rather than just bemoaning that the West continues to ignore our immense literary output, we need to take our writers to their doorsteps. And translation is not a by-the-way, ‘time pass’ activity: it calls for training, practice, discipline, feel for the two concerned languages, understanding of cultural nuances, and diehard dedication. And, of course, effective marketing strategies are also required. But marketing strategies cannot and do not take the place of concerted translation efforts. A whole new generation of Gayatri Spivaks is the need of the hour, along with publishing vistas and financial support from academic, literary and cultural institutions.
The Focus of Goan Literature in Potuguese, edited by Paul Melo e Castro and Cielo G Festino, is a vindication of the ability of translations to build bridges across cultures and languages and keep traditions alive; also revive dying cultures; as the editors emphasise, quoting G N Devy: ‘translating between Indian languages and literatures helps break down hierarchies, bringing them together in such a way that they form a continuum in which different verbal expressions can intersect.’
It is true that not many are aware of the tradition of Goan literature in Konkani, English and Marathi; even less is known about the writing in Portuguese; the intersection of Portuguese language and life with Goan conditions has produced writers who are, unfortunately, in danger of being lost. The FAPESP thematic project "Pensando Goa" initiated by the São Paulo Research Foundation, which has given an independent hand to the researchers, is doing valuable work in retrieving the heritage of this writing, which, surprising, say Paul and Cielo, saw heightened creative activity immediately after the freedom of Goa from Portuguese rule in 1961. It is, indeed, fortunate that Paul and Cielo have shared some of this pioneering work on the platform provided by Muse India. It is trend setting, primary work, with poems, fiction, articles on writers and book reviews. That this makes for enriching reading experience is certain, and I am, particularly, enchanted by the short stories included [that being a favoured reading form with me]; that it will emerge as an authentic point of departure research for future scholarly and creative work, is equally certain. It is, indeed, a part of the continuum of all the writing of this area and also the nation.
Muse India turns 12 in January 2017, and this is the 70th issue of the ejournal which has been sustained by the perseverance and dedication of the Team since its inception. I have been associated with it since 2010, when I started contributing to its daily reader friendly forum, ‘Your Space.’ Gradually, my association with it grew steadily, with my contributions in the main journal, some articles, some interviews, some features as Guest Editor and as Editor of the Articles and Conversations Sections, and then in March 2015 as the Chief Editor, when I took over from the committed Ambika Ananth, who had set standards which I had to maintain conscientiously.
It is a time for change, again, I believe now; for new ideas and new perspectives to be infused into Muse India. It is my fortune to hand over the charge as Chief Editor to U Atreya Sarma, our erudite and dynamic Editor for Fiction, Book Reviews and Contributing Editor for Telugu literature; one whose special feature on the Jnanpith Award winner, V Satyanarayana, saw him touch new heights. I have been very, very happy with the tremendous team spirit that I have been part of and the meticulousness of the technical team of Viswanath and Narendra in giving the aesthetic look to MI in every issue. Our Contributing Editors have also been a source of strength and have been willing to shoulder the responsibility to ensure that the quality of Muse India is sustained.
Mine is not a farewell to Muse India. Once you have been a part of this family you can never be dissociated with it. Not only my good wishes, but also my services continue to be at the disposal of the team as and when required I have assured our Managing Editor, - the indefatigable Surya Rao. Of course, the General Articles and Discussions Section will ensure that I am a part of every issue even in the future.
Signing off, with a few thought provoking words from the Interview with Shashi Deshpande in this issue:
I think that unless a desire to read exists, there is no point in expecting anyone to read simply because it is held to be a good habit. Again, what is considered good or serious literature was never at any time popular literature (except perhaps in Victorian times.) There were rarely many readers for serious literature and I think it is still the same. So, I don’t think that the reading of serious literature has suffered. It still remains a minority interest.
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