‘Bad Faith’ Writings

November 3, 2010 at 9:15 AMNov (Cinema, Literature, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life)

One morning when Ratan Tata woke up he saw his grand-daughter writing something. He went to her and asked what she was writing to which the answer came “I am writing a story Grand Pa”. “What story dear?” “Story of a poor man”. Tata felt happy and told himself that his grand-daughter would also become an industrialist like him, if she has poor people in her thoughts. With the desire to read the story he asked for it and the little girl gave him the story she had penned:
Once upon a time there lived a poor man. He was so poor that he had only one Nano car at his home. His house was so small that it dint even have a garden flower nor even a single A/C. His children dint even have a study room to read. There was no servant so his wife only had to cook…
Tata’s eyes were filled with tears as he read the story. How poor the poor are, he felt. He was also surprised by the knowledge of his grand-daughter about the poor people in the country.

This is a small slice from the satire written by Chelayya in the Kannada daily Vaartha-Bharathi on the 13th of January 2008.

I remembered this satirical piece as i was reading Amitava Kumar’s writing in the Literary Review of The Hindu on the 2nd of November 2008 on Booker Award winning Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger, where Amitava Kumar calls the work of Adiga not only in-authentic but also a Bad-faith work.

I must confess that i haven’t read the novel The White Tiger because i just dint feel like, for, i don’t know why, from the start i felt its yet another hyped work. Reading the review by Amitava Kumar and Gauthami (in Vaartha Bharathi on 26 October 2008) which again displayed the in-authenticity of the book, i felt i had not missed anything by not reading The White Tiger.

The accusation against Adiga by Amitava Kumat and Gauthami is similar to the story Chelayya’s satire says, that the author not knowing the world (s)he is writing about, in flesh and blood or in other words a mis-representation of the world they are portraying.

Digressing a bit, i must share s story from my experience. Almost a year ago i was invited as a judge for a competition in a Management Institute. The participants were shown a video clip and were asked to identify any problem that was depicted in that clip and come up with an action plan to tackle that problem. The clip shown was a clip from Satyajit Ray’s film Pather Panchali, a story set in a village in the state of West Bengal. The participants started presenting their action plans as my friend and colleague Rukma Vasudev and i sat before them as judges. I quote one of the participants: “What is that you get to see when you enter a village? Improper drainage, unclean drinking water, houses with no proper ventilation. The husband drinks and comes home and beats his wife…” and i must say, all the other participants also spoke in the same line though not in same words. I was muted by the urban view of an Indian village. This appeared similar to the view of Tata’s grand-daughter (In Chelayya’s  satire) of the poor  peoples  lives.   And i feel, after reading the reviews, that Adiga’s novel must also be one such view but with a different magnitude.

In his essay ‘An Image Of Africa: Racism In Conard’s Heart Of Darkness the African novelist Chinua Achebe tries to explore how the west looks at African life and how far from reality their view is. Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism is an exploration of how the west looks at the middle east, but hold good to all the colonial countries. I know of no such theory, but i wish someone would come up with one such, which would look at how the urban people view the rural life and the urban idea of the rural.

Amitava Kumar’s complaint of Adiga not having understood the life of Bihar and Gauthami’s complaint of Adiga not having understood teh caste system in India, tells me that Adiga’s novel is yet another urban vie of the rural life and rural peoples struggle and i can understand Amitava Kumar’s statement saying Adiga’s novel is a work of ‘bad-faith’. Adiga, to quote Amitava Kumar, is one of such writers who “… have taken the bus or at least hired a taxi, to the hinterland..” and have not actually walked on the dusty streets of the countryside which along with the given urban middle-class roots of the author makes the work “Insular and dull”.

In the article Metaphor, Memory, Myth: Recasting Partition As In Salil Choudhry, Manas Ray, Helen Cixous, Tuntun Mukherjee (Economic and Political Weekly; 10 May 2008) looks at a short story (The Dressing Table) of Salil Choudhry, an memoir (Growing Up Refugee) by Manas Ray and a play by Helen Cixous (L’indiade Ou L’nde De Leur Reves) in the light of partition depiction.  After analyzing the metaphor and the memoir, analyzing the myth Tuntun makes the following statement “Cixous’… desire to ‘live history’ does not seem to entirely succeed because to an Indian spectator the play, tough poignant, is too macroscopic and sweeping and therefore romantic…”. Such a statement is not made of Salil Choudhry and Manas Ray’s depiction because they are more authentic in comparison to that of Cixous who unlike Salil and Manas hasn’t lived partition.

Now the question is, can Cixous be denied of the right to stage a play on partition? Can Adiga be denied of the right to write about rural people and rural life? The answer can be nothing but- NO!

Speaking in Heggodu during the 1994 culture course, Asish Nandy, with the examples of Gandhi and Satyajit Ray showed how creative minds can transcend the self and understand the ‘other’. Nandy says Gandhi was a city-bread and city-educated man and he even practiced law in his early days in urban centers. But his creative self transcended itself and its cultural limitations to a large extent and understood the rural life. Satyajit Ray, says Nandy, was not just city-bread and city-educated but was also majorly exposed to western life style and he visited a village for the first time was when he had to shoot for Pather Panchali. But again Ray’s creative self transcended itself and understood the rural life and also captured it in Pather Panchalito such an extent that Nandy says “A film critique says- To the world Indian village means the village of Pather Panchali

Mulk Raj Anand had written his first novel Untouchables and was being praised by his friends as another Gorky. But when he read, one day, in Young India an article by Gandhiji describing how he met Uka a sweeper boy and how he took him into his ashram, the article appeared more truthful to Mulk Raj Anand than his own novel. He wrote to Gandhi asking for an appointment and in the Spring of 1929 he went to Ahmedabad. He read out portions of his novel and Gandhiji told him “One must not write anything which was not based on one’s experience“. Mulk Raj Anand says “Since then i have been confirmed in one fundamental realization, that truth alone should matter to a writer, that this truth should become imaginative truth, without losing sincerity”

10 November 2008

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