Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The procreant urge of the writer

The following is the link to something I enjoyed writing the other day, covering the Alchemist Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram for The Hindu. Frankly, I was not able to do full justice to the inspiring conversation between MT and Mukundan covered in this report:

This is the text:

Urge and urge and urge--the procreant urge of the writer…
Where does it happen? How does it sprout wings and soar weightless into the skies?

Jnanpith award winner and one of the greatest living Indian writers M.T. Vasudevan Nair probed this subtle question in a conversation with modern Malayalam novelist and short story writer M. Mukundan at the inaugural session of the three-day Alchemist Hay Festival that began here on Thursday.

This literary and arts festival, bringing together creative minds from across the world for a kind of cross-pollination of thoughts, questing the mystery of the creative process, is being conducted here for the second time.

“How did I start writing,” MT, as Mr. Vasudevan Nair is popularly known, asked himself when the question was posed to him. He said he had this urge to read and read and read right from the time he was very young. His home is in a remote village in Palakkad district and, those days — more than 60 years ago — even the nearest school was 6 km away.

He recalled journeying to the town several kilometres away once on hearing a report that someone there had a copy of Changampuzha's book Ramanan, which was a new rage those days. The whole book was copied into a notebook and the printed one returned to its owner the next day.

MT said he was born in a lower middle class family. Reading Ezhuthachan's Ramayana each evening aloud at home was a tradition then. If a boy could do that the right way, the elders would say “he is okay; he is good.” Children used to be entrusted with the task of taking cattle down to the riverbank for grazing. On the way to the riverbank were paddy fields and the cattle were not to be allowed to nibble on the plants growing there. If one could handle the responsibility well, again the elders used to say “yes, the boy is okay; he is good.”

He then heard about a special issue of a literary magazine that had devoted an entire page to the photos of the leading writers of the time —Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, S.K. Pottakkad and a host of other writers. He climbed up and down the hills to another village to procure a copy. He cut that page and mounted it on a cardboard to preserve it. He used to wander around the silent expanses of the fields of the village and the riverbank, throbbing with an irresistible urge to write.

MT knew there was something exciting about the creative process. He had heard about Vaikom Mohammed Basheer selling his own printed slim volumes of fiction, going round the streets. “Here is something I have written. I am a writer. Will you buy a copy,” Basheer would tell those whom he met on the street. Changampuzha used to do the same thing to earn something so that he could pay his college fees. Why should they struggle like that? They were obsessed with writing.

If one were to get a poem through into a magazine, one dared not ask for payment. It was considered sacrilegious to ask money for a poem. Just the fulfilment of the process of creativity was a reward… Literature is a constantly evolving process… In content, craft, style, purpose and everything it continues to evolve with the forward movement of the gigantic flux that time is, MT said.