Literature and Politics


By Ananya S Guha
The subject matter of my discussion, and my ensuing points, which I am all set to make, with a vengeance may seem as strange bedfellows to many. No, I am not saying that there are no thematic political concerns in literature – that is a truism. But what I am going to say is that there are literary coteries which use the machinations like any political group, for ‘ouster’ of people who they are jealous of, or feel threatened by.

The fact is that political acumen, I use the word euphemistically can work outside of political systems and trappings. Anyone can ‘play’ politics, at home or in work, among friends and among relatives. But when literary exponents, with all their talk of humanism, play baiting, sensational and mud slinging roles we have reached in a way, the nadir both of literature and politics. Literary coteries can be vicious, trying and self arrogant. So can individual writers.

The basic premise of genuine creativity is humility and not self attained hubris. But I have seen writers who do not wish what they write to be touched, let alone edited. The editor must always be given a prerogative, whether in a book or a journal, and every writer must respect that prerogative. But the worst is when literary coteries are formed for canvassing and nasty politics, to assail and even oust particular writers who pose a threat to the highly insecure ones.

In economics good money drives out bad money, here bad writers can drive out the good ones. There is immense potential for this, when literary coteries do the ganging up action. It is saddening to say the least.

In the beginning of this century two notable poet writers of our country played the original sin of politicking, by virtually driving out an internationally acclaimed woman novelist and social activist from the Presidency of our government backed literary body. It was a shameless grotesque act of blatant chicanery and petty politicking. Now, one of these writers was in a bit of a soup (he is now no more, sadly) when one woman novelist of another country accused him of sexual harassment in her Twitter page! His response was not a tweet but a guarded response, which   appeared to be the clever make up of a dissembling person. But this could work both ways, in all   fairness to him. Literary coteries can get into a sorry mess!

The more finer and subtle aspect of literature and politics lies in the reality of a creative body of work. One well known Indian English Poet commenting on one of the very well known North East Indian Poets writing in English once commented that the themes of love and politics are interwoven in his poetry. This was a fitting tribute to this superb poet who writes in both English and Manipuri and incidentally lives in Shillong. In fact, such analogy can be found in many of the writings of great writers and especially the contemporary novelists and poets writing in North East India. The theme of love is enmeshed in the poets of contemporary North East India where love for a place or the home state merges appositely with love in both generic and specific senses. It could be an insight into love in its manifold senses or meanings or love of one individual for another. It covers in a broad sense the apotheosis of relationships which is not reckless but subliminal. Love and politics are the hallmarks of contemporary North East Indian Literature because of the volatility of the times, because of violence and because of the unmitigated truth that the common man is caught between the shackles of different types of violence. This is a new typology of literature and we can find it in literature which is written in the margins or from the margins and I am thinking of Indian Literature specifically today whether it is Literature written in North East India or Literature of say the Dalits, popularly known as Dalit Literature. But going by my earlier thesis that politics can also permeate literature is perhaps nothing to be astonished about because it is inherent in man to create wedges in society, and politics cannot be construed as only a playing field in what we consider to be a typically political situation. There can be politics in the office, in the organization or for that matter at home!

However, literature and politics are excellent bedfellows because the writer cannot divest himself of a social responsibility or not respond to his surroundings whether immediate or otherwise. Political literature is not a genre by itself but it is an aspect which is not providential, it will have to happen at some point of time or the other. If we look at the contemporary poetry written in North East India whether in English or in the vernacular languages we find that politics in this body of literature is not arcane myths but something which is recurring and is prevalent almost viciously. This infusion of the two makes this body of writing appealing and wonderfully ambiguous as for example love for the hills, ravines, gorges and the natural world sublimate into love for the individual. But the love for the land is thrown caution to the winds by a fear, fear of violence and militarism. This is the finer element of such literature. Politics and literature can thus work wonders in the body of a text making it subtile, ambiguous and even violence ridden.

That is its inherent appeal, and when brilliant writers like Arundhati Roy are disgusted with a rotten body politic and voice their social concerns, we know what can happen! This is the most radical and, engaging aspect of literature and politics, when litterateurs protest about politicos and are taken to task because of their egregious spirit.


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