I’m sure that you all have witnessed the slurry of jokes after the recent inclusion of one of the works of ‘India’s best-known novelist’ in the Delhi University syllabus, under the Popular Fiction paper. Maybe you have also heard the words, “Disgusted, can’t believe this”, in the midst of all this.
Now, let’s stop with the blind social-media tagging and dispel some myths instead. First of all, you should know what it is that we do during a Honours course in English literature.
I study in the Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and will soon graduate. If my words justify my experience, it is mainly due to this course which has allowed me to question several things that are considered normative.
For instance, understanding a movement demanding greater autonomy for women would have been beyond me and my self-enclosed, privileged bubble of an existence. However, when you arm somebody with the correct tools to examine the context of their cultural and social existences, you lay the cornerstone for lighting up their political consciences.
Reading one such text led to a significant transition in my life, after which I became a full-time social activist by rejecting a blue-collar job. This book was Nadine Gordimer’s “My Son’s Story”. That was when I realized that the personal, the mental, the sexual and the most private aspects of our lives were a burgeoning offshoot of the political climate that we live in. And this is exactly how an education in literature changes us.
Sometime during the first year of my graduation, one of my professors spoke the following words which I’ll remember forever: “One day, religion might fail us, dogma might fail us, but experiences won’t. And it is these experiences that come to us through literature.”
After all, this is what we do in a literature class. We dissect or ‘cut open’ a text for its ‘ballistic blind spots’. We place them in synchronic or diachronic settings. We analyse their sardonic political commentaries. Most importantly, we absorb lessons from these texts – and thereby, ‘grow up’, in the process.
Moving back to the topic of debate:
I first picked up your book when I was in the seventh standard. Honestly speaking, apart from knowing about the male anatomy, your books did not help me at all. I was the same, socially-awkward girl at the end as I was before I’d read your book. The book did not move me, at all. Sure, I learnt a lot about sex – but nothing else!
However, let me congratulate you on the inclusion of one of your works in a university syllabus. After all, this marks your entry into the ‘serious club’.
However, you also need to realise that more than you or your ire at those opposing this decision, this issue concerns ‘us’ and my generation.
This is about 20-year-olds who are going to consume your work as a part of ‘popular fiction’ and analyse what made it popular. I’m afraid that the reasons they’ll discover will not be pleasing.
In your books (and regarding what made them popular), they’ll find a complete dishevelling of the system of thought and a general lassitude concerning anything related to ‘thinking processes’ and ‘deeper probing’. Sadly, they’ll also face their worst nightmares – intrepid netizens who have exhausted all scope for ‘quality discussions’.
All we thrive on is, well, bullshit. Scatology is all we understand because it is simple. We’re so inured to our safe refuge of nonsense that any work of ‘quality literature’ (for example, by Arundhati Roy) will barely have a tenth of the readership of your books.
But as students of social sciences, it always helps to keep an open mind while analysing the systemic processes that shape our consumption of any form of ‘cultural capital’. It’ll help us know how we ended up on this end of the ‘too crass to be called literature’ spectrum. It will also help us uncover how this joke of a book managed to sell a million copies.
After all this, we may finally learn certain things about ourselves regarding how we’ve adapted to a ‘lazy consumption’ of texts – texts which have no political or social leanings, whatsoever, and do not force us to think and question!
PS: Count in the sadistic pleasure one can derive from critiquing bad texts. I really feel sorry for our generation!