What short story means to me (K. S. Subramanian and B. S. Tyagi)

K S Subramaniam

K. S. Subramanian

From my experience I have found that the main aim of a short story must be to connect with the reader, knowing his propensity for fast pace, easy and pleasant reading and keeping attention in place.  In our times it is hardly possible for anyone to spend even half an hour on a literary piece with his busy schedule unless he is literarily inclined.  Since the reader is the primary target audience it is inevitable to respect his needs and encourage his literary drive.  These days there is a perceptible change in the audience too who are gravitating to new literature partly due to untapped interest in creative writing and compulsive environment.

A short story can be personal dealing with an event or emotional sequence which affects his personality.  It could be a cathartic experience for himself too, a kind of therapy.  It is one way of unwinding oneself.  But I feel it need not be always personal, and he can branch out into other interesting events or happenings around.  Though there is no inherent pressure on him to convey a ethical message or of protest/resentment he can let his particular work speak for itself.  I feel any such message can emerge unobtrusively or be subtle.

I am personally apathetic to graphic details in a story. It militates against the essence of creativity and could be an affront to sensibility. A short story’s scope is wide, can deal with a wide variety of happenings including some historical or mythical characters if the writer is attracted to a specific streak of the personality.  Through unraveling that streak the writer can either elevate or downgrade the personality depending on the make up of the character.

Be it characters from history/mythology/social environment they cannot come out alive, I feel, unless sufficient research and focus has been put into it. Many illustrious novelists like Amish Tripathy have done phenomenal research to do trilogies which keep readers pegged. This yardstick applies to all literary characters who have become cherished icons in literature.

I wrote a short story Ghatotkach’s mace in Setu which was a learning exercise to enhance the character’s moral strength.

It is difficult to be precise about the language because it entirely dependent on the theme, nature of the circumstances and characters at play.  Suffice it to say that it should be racy, poignant where necessary and carry the reader to the end. However the language changes with eras in its idioms and nuances and even within the eras diction varies one section of people to the other. To be true to the times I think one must be conversant with local slang spoken then.  I would wish to cite Michael Crichton’s Great Train Robbery, a superb fiction which was also made into a thriller. His handling of the local dialect was amazingly authentic.

So in a modern setting one has to settle for the local idiom and even slang when building the theme of his story.  But if it is in a historical or mythical setting the language has to be courtlier and more classical typical of the expressions of the age, I suppose.

Traditionally it is known that a short story has a beginning, middle and end as much as a novel.  Many think it is old school of thought without realizing that most of the contemporary novels and novelists stick to this format. Even Frederick Forsyth’s thrillers and of his contemporaries have this format in the background. They are adept at making it lurk while building up the plot to its climax with amazing and enormous details thrown in between that the reader realizes it only when he reflects on the novel. This can be found in biographies/autobiographies too.

The environment does inspire any writer.   No writer can say or claim that he is a hermit dwelling in an ivory tower and writing from there. The environment need not be present in every story of his but is an invisible factor.

A short story can be a collage of events but designed to an ending. I have always admired the adroitness with which the classical American writer O Henry used to build his stories to an unimaginable climax without ever letting the reader feel that it is contrived. For example, let me cite The Gift of the Magi or the Passing of Black Eagle. There are many illustrious short fiction writers in various languages globally and O Henry will rank right there in the top echelons.  Surprise endings are often the key to the impact of a story.

Facts do matter especially when one is dealing with an event or sequence where history, medicine or science is a dominant element. Science fiction falls in this category and anyone attempting it will fail inevitably unless he has a solid grounding on facts.  Facts also have a special bearing when the theme has something to do with medicine or any other branch of knowledge.  Otherwise it can be contested.

Indian English writing has ranked with the best since its birth. However the classical poets and novelists have been confined to the curriculum in a way though their stellar contributions have been much acknowledged.

There are a lot of contemporary writers who are still in the shadow except for the limited visibility available through social media and internet.  In this context the visibility factor has certainly improved with highly motivated and enthusiastic web domains promoting literature to wider audience. But self-published writers are unable to break even notwithstanding the presence of some publications committed to promoting literature.  Either the cost is a deterrent or the marketing reach. On mass media it is still an uphill task to get one’s work reviewed or even catalogued in the weekly release of books’ list. It is like shooting a wild arrow in the darkness or finding one’s way in an untenanted land.

But things will change or are changing…

Mechanism of Poetry

K. S. Subramanian and B. S. Tyagi

B S Tyagi

My personal experience of poetry writing leads me to believe that poetry should be natural, spontaneous and fluent as only then it can enable humans to realize inherent beauty and freshness. It should ring the echo of truth and beauty which can transport a person into the other world forgetting worldly ‘fret and fever’ for a while. It has capacity to lift a person into ‘a world quite different from that of prose or everyday life’. A simple and natural verse can touch magically a person’s soul with its all soothing effect. To me poetry is a pristine source of love, peace and joy as it springs forth from heart. It knows no boundaries; hence all-embracing. Its inspiring force urges me to search for truth through nature and its beauty. Besides, poetry has its own way to interpret life with its all facts, and experiences which dominate worldly life. It relates human feelings and passions which matter most in day to day life. And above all, it purges human mind of negativity which is the need of today’s times as our conscious mind knows it well that negative feelings such as anger, fear, greed, lust, jealousy etc. are not acceptable to society. If these feelings are suppressed, internal system looks for ways to manifest as destructive images, feelings, thoughts and behavior. Poetry can purify mind and keeps the whole being calm. In Indian context the majority of people believe in spirituality; poetry with spiritual touch interest men and women. They enjoy much such poetry. Man, if imbibes its beauty, can stay in harmony with nature and realize it presence all over the universe. In fact, poetry educates the readers to look at life from the poet’s insight. Hence, it is rewarding in a number of ways.
Next, pleasure is the chief function of poetry so it must have rhythm; it lends grace and aesthetic beauty to the poem and the reader feels great pleasure while reading a poem. Its music is an arresting element of poetry which makes the reader’s heart throb with joy. It renders the subject easy and the reader easily identifies himself with poet. A poem may be in free verse but it should have music of language. Its rhythm leads poetry to perfection and aesthetic beauty. It makes poetry more natural and spontaneous in its expression. A poet should be aware of this essential element as it can make the expression rich and palpable.

 The reader grasps the subject quite easily and feels closeness with the poet. It contains solid joy of heart. Rhythm enables poetry to carry out ‘exalted mood of passion and imaginative ecstasy’ which leaves an everlasting impression on the mind of the reader. It keeps awake all senses of the reader; that’s why he enjoys poem in depth. An image created through rhythm helps the reader to retain it longer. In fact, a poet adopts the form of poetry that suits his taste and temperament.

So long as Haiku is concerned it ‘revolves around the Japanese aesthetic concept known as ‘ma’ (pronounced as ‘mah’), which is all about showing the ‘void’ around things…not to clutter up the spaces; to give breathing and dreaming spaces between images and words – in short, to leave space for the reader to step in.’ Vivid imagery is a significant aspect of Haiku. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, it is an “unrhymed poetic form consisting of 17 syllables arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively.” A poet needs to discipline himself as he has to say a lot within these words. On the other hand a reader should be alert all the time to grasp it wholly as it has space for him. Anyway, it is an interesting form of poetry and a reader trained in this form enjoys it much like other forms of poetry. Many Indian poets have composed Haikus such as Kala Ramesh, Rajiv Lather, Paresh Tiwari, Gautam Nadkarni, Johannes Manjrekar, Madhuri Pillai, Pravat Kumar Padhy, Shloka Shankar etc. They are successful poets of Haikus.

There are many Indian poets who have contributed a lot to the English literature over the years. Their work has been greatly appreciated all over the world. Among these classical poets are - Rabindra Nath Tagore, Sri Aurbindo, Sarojini Naidu, Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, Virendranath Chattopadhaya, Jayanta Mahapatra, Keki N Daruwalla, Gieve Patel, Kamala Das, A K mehrotra et al. They are timeless poets. Their work has inspired many poets to write on Indian theme. Besides, there are other modern poets like Nissim Ezekiel, Arun Kalatkar, Dilip Chitre, R Parthasarathy etc. Their poetry is marked with typical Indianness.They have written passionately about the issues that matter most in our society. Many modern poets after independence have sought inspiration from them. Their contribution has enriched Anglo-English poetry. Students working on Anglo-English poetry often refer frequently to these poets while discussing the trends prevailing in post-independence English poetry.

The English poetry in India has faced the problem of wide readership for certain reasons. Generally, poets writing in English do not have readers in large number as people in general lack interest in poetry. Secondly, language is a barrier as mostly people are not well versed in English. They do not understand poem until it is explained to them. To understand a good poem a reader needs maturity, command of language, and knowledge of context. So, poetry books have a poor market. Their takers are very few. But as education is spreading and internet is available to all, the number of poetry readers is increasing by and by. Moreover, many young boys and girls are writing in English, they propagate their work on social media. It has made people aware of poetry being written in English. Self-publication has also helped poetry to reach the large number of readers. Many national and international anthologies are published every year and readers read the poems with great interest.
A vernacular has played a vital role in enhancing English literature. If we talk about Indian literature, many great volumes of poetry have been written in vernacular. Indian literature has produced a body of work in poetry in a variety of vernacular languages including Sanskrit, Prakrit, Pali, Bengali, Behari, Tamil, etc. Though vernacular is contrasted with ‘high-prestige’ forms of language, it has given a rich expression to culture, cults, customs, philosophy, and great traditions of spirituality prevailing in society at that time. Many modern poets have used vernacular in their work and preserved many precious traditions of that territory or region. Many beautiful folk-songs are found in vernacular. When their work is translated into English or other language, it is welcomed by a large number of people. Briefly, speaking, a vernacular has enriched English literature and given expression to many lofty ideas.

Translation of poetry is an uphill task. Many a time, it has been observed that translator feels unable to translate that bluntness and temperament of the original language. Many words or expressions cannot be put in another language with the same ease and sharpness. Words that can express that particular emotion, are missing in that language. Here translator feels helpless though he tries his best to put that expression in words or phrases but it lacks that original force. But an intelligent reader can grasp that expression. Sometimes the translator has to use that particular word as it is with explanation or a phrase near to it. Even then a seasoned translator is successful in translating work of poetry to a great extent. A number of translated works are published all over world. Many works in translation have been recognized and awarded. All Noble Laureates and award winning poets and authors come to us through translation and the readers showed their full appreciation. Hence, translation has become a great means of communication across the world.

Last but not least, poetry is essentially subjective somewhere in depth while dealing environment. Even the great poets have given touch of their experience to the environment and situation. Though the poet tries to write objectively, unknowingly his personal experience soaked in his culture and environment in which he has been bred and brought up comes in his poetry. So, it is very difficult to escape from subjectivity. But in the tint of subjectivity poetry does not lose the luster of objectivity and it captures reader’s imagination and he enjoys it wholly. Nothing hinders poetry from providing pleasure.

1 comment :

  1. ' It is one way of unwinding oneself. But I feel it need not be always personal, and he can branch out into other interesting events or happenings around. Though there is no inherent pressure on him to convey a ethical message or of protest/resentment," so says Subramanian sir. It's exhilarating.

    'poetry writing leads me to believe that poetry should be natural, spontaneous and fluent as only then it can enable humans to realize inherent beauty and freshness.' I agree with Tyagi sir.

    One speak for fiction, and the other for poetry. I have been charmed reading their words on both the literary genres. I congratulate both of the revered writers for coming forward with their words for the cause of literature.


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