A question is generally asked — Does literature have any social responsibility or is it yet another means of aesthetic pleasure? In fact, this question is asked not just about literature, instead about all arts. However, in this post I would not go into the debate on this issue.
As we entered the information age, society and lifestyle have become more and more complicated, and every day new problems and issues come up in our lives. Life itself is so fast paced that we do not seem to have time to look into other problems that do not directly concern us. In addition to the already overburdened human mind, the psyche itself has become more callous. With such unteachable or rather unwilling to be taught readers and audience, I seriously doubt whether fiction literature can teach at all. As for social activism, the ever-powerful media, and in recent times the giant called social media have made social literature redundant. You do not need to read a 300-page novel to see the atrocities on different sections of society. It would have made some sense had some message or idea on how to address those issues were presented. However, very rarely do these books contain any original idea. They just narrate the already known facts in a different language, pour in some emotions and that is all. If indeed educating the masses was an objective of fiction literature, considering the social issues that are still rampant in spite of the enormous amount of high-quality literature that has been published, one could safely say that fiction literature has failed miserably in its objective.
On a personal level, I am not sure how the story of Aruni has made me more obedient to teachers, of Sravankumar to my parents, or Ramayan and Mahabharat made me more truthful. Literature itself is a big field. Non-fiction literature in the form of essays and commentaries has been spreading awareness among masses, and encouraging social activism. But what about fiction — stories and novels? Considering the number of stories that I have read and heard from others, I should have built up a strong character. Anyway, that is still a point of debate.
Nevertheless, I do not have any hesitation in admitting that some characteristics of my personality, some habits that I have formed, and changes that I have made in my lifestyle can indeed be directly attributed to some particular story that I had read in the past. Mostly, we tend to retain the change, but let go the factor that brought the change in us. Interestingly, in my case, I still remember the stories which brought those particular changes in me.
In the introduction to the book Krishnamurti for Beginners, Maria Herzberger mentions that there are two ways through which knowledge or change can come to any individual — either slowly, one step at a time — the path of Patanjali, or in one giant leap — the path of Nagarjuna. Most of the moral education that is given to us is based on the Patanjali approach, i.e., listening to these stories and reading these words would slowly put new favourable impression on our character which would show itself after a long time. Yes, a long time. In fact, that is the philosophy behind all religious practices also. ‘Early to bed and early to rise, may one day make you bright!’ On the other hand, the Nagarjuna approach tells us that wisdom comes in a flash — like when you turn on the lights, the erstwhile dark room immediately illuminates. Numerous examples of this philosophy are scattered all around us. A man addicted to smoking witnesses the death of his friend due to the same addiction, and sees the ordeal and suffering the family had to go through due to the loss. He immediately puts a stop to his own addiction.
Perhaps that is the reason I remember these stories all too well. Because all of them conveyed their message in such direct, unambiguous and strong way that I can easily attribute the influence to one of them. Secondly, and more importantly, I made the change immediately. Hence, the demons of procrastination and lethargy could not find time to raise their heads. One could argue that children have impressionable minds, so it could be that the young age itself must have been the prime reason for the impression and memory. It might be the case, yet I would add that I had read some of these stories when I had already passed the teachable age.
Nearly all of these stories appeared in newspapers or magazines. I do not remember the names of authors of these stories. I do not aim at plagiarism, nor are these literary translations. Please note that the words are definitely not those of the writers, as there is a gap of about 10-25 years since I had read them. My only aim in writing this series is to pay my tribute and express my gratitude to those writers who had successfully brought this change in me. In every story I also tell you how that particular story has influenced me. In this strange world, strange things do occur. Who knows, one day some of those writers would stumble upon one of these pages and be satisfied that their thoughts, talent and effort had succeeded in influencing at least one reader. Is it too far-fetched a dream? Who knows!
Today I have already written a lot. So nothing to narrate in this foreword. Do join me in the upcoming posts — who knows one of them puts some impressions on your mind too.