Life is the foundation on which literature stands. While the minarets, domes and halls of a building are visible, its foundation remains invisible. Life is god’s creation, hence it is limitless and inscrutable. Literature is a human creation, hence it is easier to understand and grasp. We cannot say with certainty whether life is accountable to god or not, but literature surely is answerable to humans. There are rules of literature that we cannot tweak.
A man meanders through life to find joy. Some people find joy in jewels, some in a happy family, some in big mansions and some in luxury. The joy of reading good literature is greater than these joys and purer than them, since its foundation lies in beauty and truth. In fact, true bliss lies in truth and beauty; to provide a glimpse of that bliss is the true goal of literature.
Guilt often underlies mindless consumption of material objects. One can start disliking them, feel guilty; but the bliss that is derived from beauty is indivisible and inexhaustible.
It is said that literature has nine rasas. If good literature leads to bliss, the question arises: is there beauty in the veebhatsa (macabre) rasa as well? If not, why is it counted among the rasas? In fact, beauty and truth doe exist in the veebhatsa rasa. The way Bhartendu portrays the shamshana or graveyard – how horrific it is. Demons and devils clawing at half-burnt flesh, chewing bones while they chat – this the height of hideousness! Yet this depiction leads to beauty, as it heightens the sense of bliss that unfolds later.
Literature finds beauty in every rasa and in every place: in the king’s palace, on the pauper’s hut, within filthy drains, in the crimson of the dawn, and on rainy nights. It is strange that beauty is glimpsed much more easily in a pauper’s hut than in the king’s palace. It is with great difficulty that you ever find it in palaces.
Wherever a person can be in their real and authentic form is where, and where alone, bliss lies. It runs away from artificiality and ostentatiousness. What relation can truth have with the inauthentic? Therefore, it is my belief that literature has only one rasa and that is shringaar or love. From a literary point of view, no rasa that is devoid of love and beauty is a true rasa. Any creation whose purpose is to incite baser instincts and desires, and relates only to the superficial world, is not a true creation.
Truth has three relationships with the soul. The first is of curiosity, the second, of purpose, and the third, of joy.
The relation of curiosity is the subject matter of philosophy and relation of purpose; of science. Only that of joy is the subject of literature. When truth becomes the source of joy, it becomes a piece of literature. Curiosity is enabled by thoughts, and purpose, by selfish intellect. Joy is related to emotions, and literature stems from emotions alone.
As illustration, we can react to the scenery of dawn breaking on snow clad mountains in three different ways. On seeing such a scenery, a philosopher might slip into profound thought, and a scientist, into deep enquiry. A litterateur would, however, be rapturous. Being rapturous is like self-surrender. Here one does not feel separation.
Here, the dichotomies between high and low, good and bad, disappear, the soul has the space to enfold the entire world. The more expansive a person’s soul, the grander he is. In fact, the greatest of humans make their souls mingle with the inanimate world as well.
Human life is surely not about living, eating, sleeping and then dying. Being one with nature and all life is its purpose. Some personality traits promote this union, while others restrict it. Arrogance, anger and hatred perpetuate separation. If we allowed them to persist unchecked, they would push us onto a path of destruction. That is why we need to rein them in. But how?
It is often wasteful to scold unruly children or to tell them that they are good for nothing. Such an action reinforces their behaviour. What is required is to stimulate their positive dispositions, so that the negative ones are subdued. We can influence children only by love and affection and not by scolding.
Similarly, for reining in negative traits, we need to stimulate instincts that promote the union of a man with nature and all life therein. Literature alone unlocks deeper human emotions, and unearths the uniting instincts.
Literature is not the stuff of the mind; it is the stuff of the heart. Where knowledge and sermons fail, literature succeeds.
We thus see the Upanishads and other religious scriptures take the assistance of literature. Our spiritual teachers saw that the description of human joy and misery has the greatest influence on human minds. Therefore they created stories about human lives which remain a source of joy for us. The tales from the Jataka, the Torah, the Quran, the Injeel are all merely collections of human stories.
These stories are the souls of our religions. Remove these stories, and the religions would stumble. The proponents of religion took refuge in these stories for a reason. They realised that messages can be delivered to human souls through the heart alone. They themselves were large-hearted humans, who had united their own souls with the common human life. They were in harmony with the entire human species. How could they then ignore the human character?
From ancient times, the closest being to one human has been another one. We can merge our souls only with those whose pleasure and pain, laughter and tears, we can feel. The affinity that a student has to student life, or a farmer to the farming life is not to be found in them for the lives of others. On entering the life of literature though, this separation disappears. It is as if our humanity, becoming vast and expansive, lays its claim on the entire human world. Not only the human world, but the entire world of animate and inanimate beings, comes into its fold, as if it has claimed sovereignty over the soul of the entire universe.
Literature is that magic wand which provides a glimpse of the universal soul – in animals, in trees, and even in stones and brooks. The world of the human heart is not the world that the senses perceive. Being humans, we often find ourselves in other humans, we are moved by their pain and pleasure and by their elation and depression. The feelings of a true writer are expansive. He has achieved such harmony with the universal soul that every being finds their emotions reflected in his expressions.
A creative writer is often affected by their times. When a wave sweeps through the country, they do not stay unmoved. Their expansive soul cries at the misery of their brethren. Their cries, however, are also expansive. Although they belong to their tribe or nation, they are also universal. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a story afflicted by the tradition of slavery. Although slavery is abolished, the story has such reach that even now we are moved.
True literature never goes stale. Philosophy and science change with time, but literature is the stuff of the heart, and the human heart does not change.
Joy and disenchantment, anger and hatred, hope and fear, continue to reign in our hearts as in ancient times, and will do so till eternity. The times of the Ramayana have passed, nor do the times of the Mahabharata exist anymore. Yet, these epics are new. Literature alone is true history.
The way literature captures time and place is not something that core history can do. History is not a collation of dates, nor battles between kings. History in its true sense is the progress of different elements of life. What can better illuminate the lives of common people than literature? Literature is a reflection of time and place.
The relevance of literature in life is sometimes questioned. It is said that those who are by nature virtuous will remain virtuous whatever they may read. And those who are full of vice will remain full of vice whatever they may study. This statement holds very little truth. A human being is naturally inclined towards beauty. However decrepit we may be, we are never attracted to evil. However cruel we may be, we are still moved by compassion, forgiveness, love and devotion.
Literature is the creator of social ideals. When the ideals are corrupted, decline follows fast. The new civilisation is only about 150 years old. Even in such a short time, the world is troubled with the new order. However, it does not have an alternative vision. Its state is like that of a human who knows they are on the wrong road but have no energy left to return. They will keep moving ahead, even if it leads them to the waves of an angry sea. They are entranced by the violent power of pessimism, not by the expansive courage of optimism.
The human being, by nature, is godlike. Influenced by the world’s hypocrisies and deceits, or affected by circumstances, they lose this goodness. Literature tries to re-establish it in its original place – the human heart. Not through sermons or teaching, but by evoking the emotions, by striking at the soft chords of the heart, and by establishing harmony with nature. Within the universal soul, every country or a nation has an individual soul. Literature is an echo of that soul.
With such a responsibility on their shoulders, then, the creators of literature have a huge obligation. The moment we pick up the pen, we assume this big responsibility.
Usually we focus our gaze on destruction in youth. Consumed by the desire to reform, we start shooting arrows blindly, we flow along the torrents of realism. We consider that the fulfilment of art lies in painting the naked picture of all that is evil. It is true that only by demolishing a building can we create a new one. There is a need to demolish old bondages and deceits, but this cannot be called literature. Literature follows its own discipline.
We often start writing without understanding the heart of literature. We think, perhaps, that powerful language and spicy plots are enough. Certainly literature involves skilful use of language, but there is much more to it. Steadfast literature does not destroy, it creates. It does not highlight the dark side of human character, it shows the effulgence. One who brings a building down is not an engineer, the engineer builds.
Young men and women who want to make literature the aim of their lives require much self-discipline. They are preparing themselves for a responsible position, which is higher than that shouldered by judges on a high pedestal. Degrees and high education are insufficient for such a pursuit. More than that, it requires the practice of the mind, a keen discipline, and a deep understanding of the essence of beauty. A writer has to be an idealist. Creators of immortal literature live a simple life and shun luxury.
If our literature does not progress, then the reason is that we have not prepared enough for its creation. Acquainted with a few drugs, we claim to have become a physician. The ascent of literature is the ascent of a nation, and we pray to the almighty that amongst us arise true ascetics, true self-knowers, and true creators of literature.