This day, this hour, this moment shall be written in golden letters. As I alighted the car, media rushed to congratulate me. I shall cherish this moment.
Amidst thunderous applause I received the most coveted award – best author award for my novel- ‘Did I Write’. What an honour to be felicitated in the Townhall! I rubbed my blurred eyes to see the packed auditorium going ga ga over my achievement.
I wondered – do they know me? Do I know them?
Then the most dreaded question surfaced – Do I know myself? This honour that I have been conferred with, does it define me as an individual, as an author?
I stood there transfixed. I felt drained of all emotions. Cameras flashed, mobile phones clicked, but I was immobile-physically, emotionally. The plastic smile got hundreds of likes, I guess. I felt hurt interminably as I held the trophy in my shaky hands. The sense of pride I felt when the award was announced, dissipated as the Chief Guest handed over the certificate and the trophy.
It was strange that I was experiencing two diametrically opposite feelings. At once I felt joyous and chaotic.
My mind once again started its dangerous game. The podium and the people faded into oblivion. My tumultuous thoughts held me in a tight grip…
It began the day I sat down sincerely, religiously to pen my thoughts. Well, the A4 sheets and the ball point pen on my study table looked at me expectantly. Ah! At last…. kind of an expression was quite welcoming and ‘inviting’ too. As usual, I felt blank, what you call ‘writer’s block’. I felt annoyed with myself for the umpteenth time. No, it can’t happen again, I chided myself. Am I only finding excuses not to write? It appears so, not only to me but may be to all the readers who have often heard me say this and postpone writing. Not only has it become an excuse but is becoming a habit now. And I know habits die hard and with someone like me they may never die, a BIT of it remains.
My mind is already in that ‘wool gathering’ mode. I have to make a conscious effort to stabilize my thoughts and introduce some direction to those wondering thoughts. I remember my mentor’s words – develop a daily writing habit, don’t bother how many words, whether it has a logical structure or not, just write.’ I had unfollowed this hack and hence the struggle.
Now I know what and where to begin, without further delay I shall restart my author journey. With such bright thoughts lingering in my mind, I dosed off with my head sincerely resting on the A4 sheets.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I was trying to establish connections with my ancestors… (!?) the Greek philosophers, the 14th C English writers, the Renaissance jewels, the post-industrial revolution writers, the Victorian era poets and the Indian parallels. I was travelling back and forth in time wondering at my audacity to equate myself with the wonders of literary world.
But I justified – I do pen my thoughts in verse (not worse) and in prose, I don’t have to be apologetic for addressing myself as an accomplished (published would be more appropriate) writer.
With such lofty thoughts in my mind and a hope in my heart I have boarded a train that takes me on a roller coaster ride across the continents to explore the literary accomplishments of the bygone eras.
My mind scanned the length and breadth of literary works trying to connect to those classic pieces. I wondered how these established writers could compose lines running to thousands of lines, touching upon a wide range of themes, exploring the untouched realms of human psyche.
Morality, a vital element in the narratives of the early literature, is depicted in variety of forms. Whether Plato’s Republic, the most influential work of philosophy and political theory or Aristotle’s Poetics a philosophical treatise on literary theory, both proclaim the indispensability of moral sense. One negates and banishes emotions from his City-State while the other affirms the effect of mimesis on human evolution. The evolution of mankind is basically the emotional development of individual and collective character. From Chaucer in the 14th C to Tennyson in the 19th C work of art found its foundation in ethical values and manifestation of the same.
My conscious self-replayed the impactful reels of the yesteryears rekindling my crumbling spirit. I had to get back the grip and restart my author journey.
My thoughts hovered around the multidimensional approach of the ancient classical writers harping on the morality and its undeniable imprint on life.
The reels unfolded itself on the wide screen of my memory…
In order to make the four day-long, arduous journey to Saint Thomas Becket shrine unstressful and easy, the pilgrims decide to narrate stories. The journey from Canterbury to the shrine thus becomes a package of experiences, reflecting the lives of people from all rungs of life. A journey that delves deep into life, a concoction of narratives from all walks of life, stories that abound in moral and ethical values, virtue and vice, sin and redemption, corrupt practices, mirroring the narrator’s perception and character in the subject-matter chosen for narration.
From moral policing, aiming at a corruption free society, to an egalitarian society promoting gender equality, class balance, political and religious corruption, the wide range of themes ascertained the role of literature in awakening moral sense.
18th century England saw the advent of novel. Richardson’s epistolary style and Fielding’s picaresque form of writing revolutionised literature in its form and content. Richardson’s Pamela, Fielding’s Joseph Andrew, are satires and commentaries on social setup. The novelists take a dig at the deteriorating moral sense and the consequent degeneration of human relationships.
Swift’s panoramic view of life is well depicted in his character, Gulliver, a doctor by profession. His belief in human goodness suffers a setback when his ship wrecks and he encounters life in its bizarre form. For Gulliver the voyage is both shattering and evolving.
I am in awe of the gamut of characters, themes, styles of writing and the settings of these novels. Delving deep into the society and its practices, cultural and economic aspects, bringing them to the fore is an uphill task. The psycho- analytical element expounding the inner depths of character and the circumstances surrounding them wouldn’t be possible unless the author himself experiences the challenges and defies the authority.
Am I capable of creating my own space to experiment and explore new vistas of writing? Why do I end up trying to conform to the set standards? I fear rejection, I loathe criticism. I long for appreciation within the framework.
I know my drawback, can’t cross the barriers.
I see the brave endeavours of each one of them setting his own standards – of thought and expression. I am enamoured by their sense of individuality and originality. How I wish I could traverse the threshold of inhibitions and make my own pathway!
My journey through the bygone eras was quite an intimidating one. As I set sail towards the later 18th century, Goldsmith’s ‘She stoops to conquer’ unfolds a world of characters with their share of flaws. Realistic, human characters fill the span of literature welcoming Sheridan’s The Rivals, a comedy reminding of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Mrs. Malaprop’s erroneous use of words lends humour to the situations, what more this misplaced use of words has led to coining the word – Malapropism. The touch of humour devoid of sarcasm lends unparalleled charm to the characters and the plot.
The transition from burlesque and satire to pure humour is indeed a remarkable journey of literature.
I remember trying my hand at satire and humour, and sadly neither clicked. My satire had no pricks and my humour lacked even smile. Unknowingly, effortlessly I have drifted towards a genre that evokes curiosity. Suspense-thrillers seem to be my forte. My ride through the 19th c literature awakens my dormant conscience. Hardy and Dickens’ works depict a society torn between haves and have nots, class distinction, inequalities. Social issues took centre stage in literature introducing the concept of realism, that was at once shocking and revealing.
As I scan through the centuries, I realise that literature has donned a variety of roles sometimes bringing tears, sometimes smile, at times waking us up to the harsh realities of life, other times reminding us of our duties towards the society. Whether it is Pamela or The Rivals, Hard Times or Tess of the d’Urbervilles, each era has shown a wide range of characters and well-knit plots, with a fine blend of moral values and entertainment. Conflicts between society and individual, individual vs communities, conflict with self, have always found their way into literature demarcating the purpose of a literary work – didactic purpose vs art with its intrinsic value devoid of any teachings of moral values.
The modern era is a fusion of two main streams – art for morality’s sake and art for art’s sake. A new stream emerged branching out into small outlets, self-sufficient and self-explanatory. Exploration, excavation, experimentation have become the heart of the new stream. The emerging literary works found expression in day-to-day themes, psychological experiments and psycho- analytical adventures.
The mind-boggling array of literary works has only messed up my thought process. I have ended up being more confused and at cross-roads.
Oh! I wish I hadn’t embarked upon this journey through the literary world. How do I disentangle myself from this mayhem I have created?
Battle of Books! Swift had written it with a different purpose but I have created a war within me. I am battling with my characters, my plots, themes, settings, conflicts and …. many more elements. Clarissa and Tom Jones are fighting for supremacy in my story and suddenly Lilliputians surface from nowhere. Wordsworth’s love of nature draws me and an old mariner emerges unexpectedly pulling me to listen to his story. Hardy’s Farmer Oak intrigues me to no end with his sudden interest in Bathsheba. Tennyson’s Ulysses haunts me with his search beyond the horizon and Tagore pulls me with his strange Kabuliwallah. The Indian trio – Narayan, Rama Rao and Mulkraj Anand connect me to the grassroot level of Indian psyche.
My voyage through the continents has only added to the dilemma though it was an enriching one.
I woke up with a start.
My neck was paining because of the wrong posture. My sweat had made the blank sheets unusable. I decided to key in my thoughts directly on the lap top. Time was running out and I had to gather my thoughts and give them a relatable, believable shape.
My fingers moved swiftly on the keyboard and as I framed each sentence, I knew this would be the winning story. My characters came alive, dialogues had the force and the punch that I had dreamt of and the locales and settings were appropriate for the climax.
Each character was based on the books that I had read, 17th c, 18th c protagonists and antagonists with their individual traits and idiosyncrasies. I just had to mix and match and create characters that were appealing and acceptable.
I could see them come alive, spirited, vivacious protagonists and malicious, spiteful villains. Deep within I knew if I were to analyse the characters, I would easily separate them as Pamela or Clarissa, Mrs Malaprop or Robinson Crusoe.
The plot was a blend of Greek classics with a touch of the American and British novels. But I was surprised how well I had picked up bits and pieces from all the knowledge I had acquired during my journey through the literature of all the eras. Should I marvel at my own skill or should I feel ashamed of not being original?
Well, I knew there would be ample time for me to ponder over whether I was guilty or not guilty. Presently my focus should be on what conflict to introduce and how to resolve it. The inner conflict of the protagonist, his turmoil, differences with his family and at work place…. Wow, how diligently I handled the situation! I patted my back.
I felt a swell of pride. After all the survey and explorations into the past eras, I have emerged as a good story teller.
My narrative skills will definitely be put to test when it will be compared with the many authors and their books and stories. I did not want to plunge into it with self- doubt. My confidence is what will take me to the highest level of competition.
I forgot those days when I openly condemned, criticised corruption, malpractices and plagiarism. I had even cut my contacts with many writers who had stolen characters and plots of eminent authors. My moral sense had degenerated. She stoops to conquer! I too stooped so low that I couldn’t see the path I was treading on would only lead me to my downfall.
But when one is blinded by ego and all senses and values take a back seat one has a blurred vision or maybe no vision, no sight, neither foresight not hind sight. It is only greed and yearning for fame.
I did not realise the conflict that I was portraying was actually happening within me. I suppressed the inner battle between my good sense and the evil and let the malicious me prevail over the values.
Isn’t winning important in this society? The one who triumphs is always revered and valued. I had to establish myself on this platform and gain the fame that would glorify me.
The story was a smash hit. I knew. The ending was lauded. People thronged to have a glimpse of me. I felt like a Queen, waving my hand and blowing kisses to my fans.
Ah! What a great feeling it was. To be known, to be recognised, to be identified amidst a crowd. I had made a place for myself in the herd.
“Madam, it would be a great honour if you could say a few words to the enthralled audience…”
I was jolted back into the present just as the narrator of the Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening’ is brought back to reality as the horse neighed.
My moist eyes, though blurred, could see the reality.
The packed auditorium reminded me of the falsehood and farce of my life. Didn’t I read somewhere that literature and literary art has a didactic purpose? Didn’t I write in my stories that an author has social responsibility?
Wasn’t’ I aware of my duty towards my fellow beings? What happened to my moral sense? What happened to my decent upbringing? Would I ever be able to face my family, my parents who had always taught me the facts of life?
I stood there holding the mike, garland in my neck, shawl over my shoulders and the prize cheque and the trophy……
My legs turns jelly again. My hands shook and I shuddered. My bent head, to me was in shame, but for my admirers, a humble, modest gesture.
I couldn’t bear the torment, the agony of guilt anymore.
“De…dear …. I have a confession to make. I… don’t deserve this award. Plagiarism is a sin against literary art. And I am guilty of doing it. My story isn’t an original one. It is ….”
I couldn’t continue and broke into tears.
The applause was very shocking.
“Madam, your confession has earned you the trophy. If you hadn’t and we had come know through others, it would have been the worst nightmare for you and us too. You have elevated yourself through your confession. Hearty congratulations once again. May we read more of your ‘original’ books.”
I slumped in the chair with tears flooding on my cheeks.
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