Friday, 1 February 2013

Only Sound and Fury in Jaipur

In India, art for art's sake amounts to escapism. Art should serve a social purpose
The Jaipur Literature Festival, which is regularly held in our country, appears to me to be nothing but a big tamaasha, in Shakespeare's words, "full of sound and fury signifying nothing". There is hardly any worthwhile literature to be seen nowadays and there was certainly none at the festival. Everything has become commercialised. Writers often write only to earn some money, and there is hardly any artistic value in what they produce.
There are broadly two theories of art and literature. The first is called art for art's sake, and the second is called art for social purpose. According to the first theory, art and literature are only meant to create beautiful or entertaining works to please and entertain people, and they are not meant to propagate social ideas. If art is used for propagating social ideas it ceases to be art and becomes propaganda. Proponents of this view are Keats, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, Agyeya, the "Reetikal" and "Chayavadi" poets, etc.
The second theory is that art and literature should serve the people and help them in their struggle for a better life, by highlighting the socio-economic problems in society and inspiring people in their struggle. Proponents of this view are Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Maxim Gorky, Balzac, Stendhal, Schiller, Goethe, Cervantes, Pablo Neruda, Kabir, Premchand, Sarat Chandra, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Faiz, Josh, Manto, etc.
Which of these two schools should the Indian writers follow?
In my opinion, in a poor country like India, it is only the theory of art for social purpose which is acceptable. Today, our country is facing gigantic problems of poverty, malnutrition, price rise, lack of healthcare and good education, casteism, communalism, superstitions, etc. Hence writers must join the ranks of those who are struggling to make India free from these great socio-economic evils, they must inspire people by their writings, and write against oppression, injustice and backward mentality which are widespread in India.
However, what is the scenario in India today? The truth is that there is hardly any great art and literature in our country today. Where is the Sarat Chandra or Premchand or Faiz of today? Where is the Kabir or Dickens of today?
Today, the people of India are thirsty for good literature which will help them improve their wretched lives (for 80 per cent of our people). If someone writes about people's real problems it will spread like wildfire. But are our writers doing this? Art and literature must serve the people. Writers and artists must have genuine sympathy for the people and depict their sufferings. And not only that, like Dickens and Shaw in England, Rousseau and Voltaire in France, Thomas Paine and Walt Whitman in America, Pushkin, Chernyshevsky and Gorky in Russia, and Sarat Chandra, Nazrul Islam and Subramania Bharati in India, they should inspire people to struggle for a better life, a life which can really be called a decent human existence, and to create a better world, free from injustice, social and economic. Only then will people respect them. In my respectful opinion, art for arts' sake in today's historical context in India only amounts to escapism.
In Jaipur, there was a discussion on Kamasutra and sex, as if this is a pressing economic problem in India today. Ashis Nandy's remark on corruption created a furore, just as the Salman Rushdie episode did last year. Some panellists in a discussion said that China is unlikely to be the next superpower (which is of course an important matter in literature). A lot of journalists narrated their experiences. There was a discussion on the rise and fall of empires. The Indian "elite" descended on Diggi Palace from far and wide, along with filmstars, musicians, and of course foreigners who taught us about literature when there is hardly any great literature today in their own countries, the Dalai Lama (who is no doubt a great authority on literature), etc. And all this was dished out in the name of literature and faithfully lapped up by the 90 per cent!
(Published in The Indian Express on 2nd  Feb, 2013)


  1. Respected Sir,

    Though, I am in favor of the points expressed by you. But somehow being the chairperson of Press Council of India is it not necessary for you to be impartial to what any artist would like to express.

    Criticizing platforms that are free from any propaganda will never produce the Premchand and Faiz you mentioned.

    I have deep respect towards you and always look forward to learn from your writings.

    I wanted to close by quoting Faiz, I believe you like his poetry “Wo Bazahir Jo Kuch Nahi Lagte ; Un Se Rishtay Bala K Hote Hain”

  2. We have to set a high standard for ourselves. But, no, were are complacent. We are fine to support political parties with 30% criminals---in the minds of voters, somehow criminals are required. We praise movies like Gangs of Wassaypur as a great movie, when, being different, it is only slightly above the deplorable standard of the average Bollywood movies.

    The tendency is often to temper creativity---to always stay within the borders of saleability to be able to survive, or rather to make profit, to remain practical, as is the case with electing criminals or making a movie. When the creative crosses the border and becomes free, as he or she longs to be, he or she is likely to end up in jail or on road, as the recent episodes of Kamal Hassan, cartoonists, and painters shows.

    Does our culture and freedom of expression really support creativity? Do we really have a place for hackers and painters?

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  4. Respected sir,

    I myself feel am I right or wrong to ask you a question here?

    I very much like your articles and your opinions and the feel you have to change the narrow minded people in our country.
    Sir, my question is, what Mr. Kamal Haasan did wrong in his movie Vishwaroopam?

    I watched that movie in A.P (Telugu version)it has very good quality of thoughts and some of the scenes has very deep meaning with good Ideas. This comes under the second theory of art and literature of your theories. We can see the art of an artist Kamal Haasan in that movie.
    Why the people of TN state made big scene on this movie?

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Congress Chamcha Number 12 February 2013 at 10:18

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  8. Dear Mr. Katju,

    Though I admire your convictions and stand on several issues - I think it is unfortunate to say the least that your blog administrator has deleted comments - above - it goes to show your true colors when it comes to press freedoms. I am your fan - but this casts you in a poor light. Let there be freedom of speech and expression!

    Vibha Kagzi

    1. Hi Vibha,
      I agree that all comments should stand as written by the original authors. However, vituperative comments and abusive language below the posts sometimes deter regular readers from coming back and reading future blog posts.

      Blogs by themselves are not democracies. Their purpose is not to sustain a nation and the eternal well being of the citizens. The purpose of the blog is to have a channeled discussion on a topic of interest. If a commentator is just using abusive language, with no relation to the topic at all, it is okay (though not preferable) for the blog administrator to remove the post, to maintain the sanity of other readers.

      I agree with you that if someone rebuts Justice Katju and argues with him on the issues in the blog, censoring of those comments is highly deplorable. However, I believe that removal of abusive posts does not necessarily mean that the blog administrator is against (the spirit of) "freedom of speech/ expression".

    2. I would like to add that all opinions are mine and don't reflect those of the blog administrators.

  9. I think that literature or art has to be created unto itself and there is no need to attribute meanings and motives or mission to such creation. They originate within the mind of the creator and has to be so.
    I also do not believe that literature or art can alleviate poverty and hardships around. It is a fallacy to think so. What has the great treatise like Mahabharata or Ramayana or even the Bible done to man. I do not see one soul reformed, socially or intellectually by these great works.

    As a comment mentioned what has a movie like Viswaropam done to the thought process of the belligerent among Muslims? Nothing, they continue to be so. In fact they feel the move inimical to their frenzied and parochial thought that they fear it and want it proscribed, banned.

    A writer or an artist need not worry about the mission that is thrust unto him, he should rather ignore it and not be burdened by it. He must go his way in creating . To hell;l with the world that likes to be blind . For , to many, light and even a shimmer of light is frightening.

  10. ya it happen that's why i was not going JLF 2013

  11. India is maturing slowly and steadily; it is in it's infancy in science, technology, medicine, math, literature, art, humanities, in judiciary and governance, in almost all areas.

    Having said that, I think the tamasha is not due to JLF per se. It is the Indian media. Indian media wants to sensationalize any event. All they care about is television ratings and keep looking for news-worthy issues. If they can't find one, they create one.... Peepli Live is what comes to mind.

    Your criticism of Indian literature is welcome. Without constructive criticism, it's hard to improve.

    1. It is quite generous of you to say that India is maturing slowly. Compared to what? When other countries are growing better, what is there to be happy about?

  12. I am going to try to submit my comments once again. The earlier post submitted a few days ago was removed unceremoniously, with no trace of ever having been posted.

  13. Dear Mr. Katju,

    We feel fortunate you have so graciously blessed India with your divine-like presence whose brilliance shines like a billion stars in the universe. You are an embodiment of perfection; an art critic, a writer, a thinker, a crusader, and least of all a judge that happens to be the only person known to mankind who was able to accurately quantify the percentage of fools (90%) living in our dumb nation. If that wasn’t enough, you even know the exact percentage of wretched lives (80%) in India that are eagerly waiting to quench their thirst through good literature.

    Just as you have correctly suggested, art and literature should not be an individual’s freedom of expression just for art’s sake. Rather, it should exist only to serve the social purpose.

    How awful that some have made writing their profession to earn a living? Since you haven’t found any artistic value in what they produce, anyone aspiring to write must first learn how to write like Dickens, Bernard Shaw, Walt Whitman, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Maxim Gorky, Balzac, Stendhal, Schiller, Goethe, Cervantes, Pablo Neruda, Kabir, Premchand, Sarat Chandra, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Faiz, Josh, Manto, etc., without forgetting to get inspired by luminaries like Shaw of England, Rousseau and Voltaire in France, Thomas Paine and Walt Whitman in America, Pushkin, Chernyshevsky and Gorky in Russia, and Subramania Bharati in India. Moreover, they should emulate the gold standard set by Justice Katju, Keats, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, Agyeya, the "Reetikal" and "Chayavadi" poets, etc.

    Only you and I know Kama sutra is a pastime for filthy minds, and should have never been allowed to be discussed in an open forum. Instead, during the Jaipur Economic Festival, panelists should have been forced to deliberate on the pressing economic problems facing India. But, I must take an exception to one of your statements, Sir, where you asked, “Where is the Sarat Chandra or Premchand or Faiz of today? Where is the Kabir or Dickens of today?”

    How could you forget Mr. Katju that we have you - incarnation of all of them rolled into one.

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