Between the lines

Back in the early 2000s, Chetan Bhagat struck it big when he introduced the Indian reader to the delights of Hinglish. Soon, others followed suit to cash in on the Bhagat blueprint. The young (and not-so-young) Indian reader was talking the talk, and how. Bookstore owners were struggling to gauge this new trend but didn’t bother to question it as long as the cash registers were in overdrive. It was a mini revolution one that defied logic. Up until then, most Indians had toed the line to ape either ‘propah’ British English or American English à la sitcom-lingo. There was no middle ground and then, all of a sudden, Indian English was considered ‘cool’. It was an interesting time for India’s literary landscape.

The market had expanded by then, giving room to all kinds of writing: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was like a big, fat bubble that was growing to inexplicable proportions. It became everybody’s playground to show off their word wizardry, aspirations and what not.

Today, everyone wants to be a writer or a poet. But the guidelines and the checks that sign off content as release-worthy are getting blurred by the minute. And that’s where the quality-over-quantity debate seems to have gone awry.

Last week, this newspaper learnt of a case where a poem found space for mention in the highest echelons of Indian literature the Sahitya Akademi. Its content spoke of the mundane, about a sandwich. Sure, we’re all for mundane, daily-life observations (Read: RK Narayan or Ruskin Bond). But this particular piece kept us guessing for the masterstroke, a stirring finale to wow us; until we reached the last line to realise that there was none.

We were intrigued by the response this had stirred up, a mirror on the current state of Indian literature. The buzz positive and negative that did the rounds on social media following the news was equally interesting. Opinions by established and upcoming names from Indian poetry oscillated between two ends of the pendulum. Some were outraged and wondered how the panel from a reputed national platform had passed such mediocrity, while others found nothing wrong with its content (the f-word was a part of the poem), citing that this was all about expression and that one needed to be open to new-age poetry.

Support, we must. But there needs to be a method to the madness, a semblance of sanity and respect for the written word before we get diluted into an ‘anything-goes’ society. We’re just saying...

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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