Rest Not Our Business

The rain feels straight out of a Marquez story. The low-lying clouds echo the familiar sound of long distance buses drawing up to the crossroads, their wanderlusting air-horns slicing like swords through the hiss of the incessant rain. In my mind, I can see the auto drivers, heads covered with kerchiefs and their uniforms buttoned up all the way, as they squint their deals through at the disembarking passengers in the scant light of the cold, wet dawn.  I have overbrewed my tea, it is bitter, but I still drink it, grateful for the leaves that have chosen me.  As the warmth of the cup seeps through my palms, through my tongue and throat, through the residues of the dreams that I have dreamt, last evening’s conversation gently comes into focus.


The romance of the dim, rainy daybreak fades like the end of an overture to be replaced by the restrained semantic flourish of the times I live in. Can writing be taken to the level of a craft, to a point where it is independent of me, of the personal, of my politics? Can great literature be received and appreciated isolated from its context, from the contexts of its creator? Does writing for the sake of beauty (or truth) alone also contain within it a personal agenda? Or is writing really nothing more than another tool, another path to the answers we most need? Is writing perhaps the medicine that keeps some of us well and others safe? What is it about this morning that makes these questions seem important?


Cut to the chase. This is the longest period that this blog has not been updated. The effect is visible at many levels. While externals like ranking, traffic, comments have dropped some, internals have demanded introspection too. Over the last few months, I have been spending more time and energy building channels of sustenance that would allow me to keep writing. Along with that, I have also been trying to address personal issues that have got pushed to the backburners due to my relatively late awakening to mission. However, these are not the only reasons for my not having been around to share my thoughts on this blog.

During these months, the last several, I have communed with writers of various shades and hues, to imbibe inspiration and energy if not to learn from their craft, and close reading of our conversations have left me with more questions than answers. How does one judge the merit of one’s writing? Does the nature of a particular type of writing naturally seek out its readers? Is there a value hierarchy that can be applied without prejudice to the output of writers? For those of us whose writing is read by the few, whose writing will not survive the test of time (and who can say in these times of instant gratification that that is not true perhaps for most of what is being written, regardless of how earnest, how urgent, how intense one’s belonging to the craft is?), is our writing of any consequence in the larger scheme of things? Or are we just raging against the dying light, trying to justify our being, staking claim to a fleeting relevance that will assuage our sense of righteousness, our subconscious acknowledgement of futility?

Could such worries have led me to this hibernation?  Or was I growing my proverbial roots? Is there an answer or is the question itself an expression of the very futility that I am dwelling upon? I do not know, and perhaps at some level, I do not care. What I know is the lingering aftertaste of a cup of tea that steeped too long, the cold patience of pigeons sheltering under parapets, and the inevitable victory of the rising sun. The vegetable vendor hawks his inventory, the newspaper boy knocks gently on the door, and I renew my determination to unravel the mystery of words and purpose.


Last evening, we were talking about how the emergence of information technology and the new economy has robbed us of the enthusiasm of discovery. Our interests and pastimes are no longer driven by the quest to understand and appreciate. Instead, they are now dictated, very subliminally, by what is profitable to corporations . Our lifestyles, our attention, even our livelihoods have been hijacked, repackaged per the convenience of businesses and offered back to us, and we accept it without question. This can be seen in the case of writing just as much as it can be seen in most other forms of creative art. I know this from reading. I find myself unfamiliar with many of the ideas (and even words) that are written about today. I look them up, and then I wonder, why would anyone want to write about this, and more intriguingly, why would anyone want to read about it? Do we, as a species that needs to pull ourselves back from the brink of self-destruction, really have the luxury to reflect on some of the most searched for keywords on the internet?

The other side of the discussion is, of course, that it doesn’t matter. All our trapeze acts are nothing more than therapeutic interventions to keep us from falling apart. The author is dead. The reader too dies as he nexts this page. Does it matter who you are, or why you have been reading this till now, or even how you might have changed upon reading what you have read?  The complex interplay of cause and effect will ultimately win over our intellectual anxieties. The punchline of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel never rung truer – it will be alright in the end; if it is not alright, it is not the end.

It is my belief that the author never dies. Neither does the reader. It is my belief that writing is much more than self-medication. It might be true that a single Kardashian is more popular today than Kabir, Tagore and Eliot combined, but then it is just as true that the likes of Kabir, Tagore and Eliot will forever outweigh the Kardashians of our times with the impact they have had on humanity.  It does not mean the demons that the Kardashians wrestle with are any less important than those that the literary greats wrestle with. And it is not that literature today does not have its share of Kardashians. As a friend observed, all expression, like water, seeks out its own level.


To receive a work of literature is to receive the author, no matter how low on the Kardashian scale the author or the reader might be. The personal, the political, flawed or flawless, remains woven into each word that the writer uses. Irrespective of how the context is interpreted in the process of reading, it is in the process of reading itself, in the life-to-life transmission that writing and reading are, that literature truly resides. It is in the fact that you are reading this line that my purpose exists. And this, just to illustrate what I said, is not the purpose that led me to begin writing this. The apartment block has started coming to life, the lift humming, reluctant schoolgoing sounds drowning in pressure cooker whistles, and it is time for me to make myself another cup of tea, a better one. Decency lies in making a good cup of tea.

23 comments:

  1. Welcome back! Traffic, rank, comments and many other externals may have gone down, but the internals will keep you motivated. :) Keep writing :)

    Someone is Special

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    1. Thanks, SIS. It is the internals that I write for anyway. Heartening to see comments from long-time readers like you. Thanks for the encouragement.

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  2. Hi Subho: You should write more often. A few of my thoughts
    I think it is difficult to write without bringing's ones belief system in to writing be it a novel or poem. For a long long time the poets were the freedom fighters and social reformers like Kabir in middle ages and Sarojini Naidu a bit closer chronologically. Poets were also the medium to bring pride to the masses by composing in local languages and dialects.( Subhramaniam Bharthi) Coming to Kardashian, yes she may be more popular just like a diet fad, while Kabir, Tagore and Eliot will be read, reinterpreted and quoted for many more generations.

    While everybody will forget Ms Kardashian the moment next PYT emerges on the horizon.

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    1. Thanks, Prasad. The real poets and writers of today are still freedom fighters and social reformers. The clamor for short term gratification and popularity is a trap. True creativity will always outlast PYT posturing.

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  3. Subho.. This post is now bookmarked for it resonates with me in more ways than one. Good thing is the post itself answers the questions in the end. A person's writing can or cannot be his personal tool of expression. But some (people who write) cannot sift their thoughts from their words. I guess, I am one of them. The post is one of the finest pieces I have read. It was a good cup of tea! :)

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    1. So totally agree with you, Surabhi. All skill used by authors to separate the personal from the public only results in writing that will be washed away by the tide of time. This break from updating my blog made me realize how deeply I cherish your presence in my life.

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  4. An introspective piece that has questions for all of us. Unfortunately, I have no answers either though I have grappled with some of them as well. The punchline of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that you have quoted seems to make a lot of sense. Hope the read you more often.

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    1. Thanks, Rachna. Hope to write more often too.

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  5. A very interesting, thought provoking, introspective and meandering post. I liked the way, you have weaved the questions in, letting it linger in the minds of the reader. I often think about why we write, what we do..and does it really matter who or how many read it. Is the merit of a piece of writing decided by who or how many read it. I would think the biggest merit would lie in even getting one reader to think about something you write, really think about it.

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    1. Thanks, Ash. If I have been able to make one reader think about why they do what they do and make changes for the better, my mission is accomplished.

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  6. Well... can't resist but using the 6 Transdisciplinary Themes, the broad gamuts of learning in the PYP to share my perspective:
    Who we are: no writing can be disconnected from who we are... each word when expressed, whether for the sake of being heard or for the sake of speaking, contains foot prints of us!
    Where we are in place and time: writing is like a journey, sometimes we take a longer pause or halt, before we revive the journey, a meandering path through our complex thoughts and emotions, a road map to who we were and who we are becoming through place and time.
    How we express ourselves: writing is all about expression...as I mentioned earlier, sometimes like a fart, just to let air and sometimes like a shout, waiting to be heard and acknowledged!
    How the world works: we can write on any topic, on the way we perceive our reality, our world, the people around us... the challenge is to see the 'true' free from the clouds of the 'transient'.
    How we organise ourselves: writing has a lot to do with how we organise ourselves, whether we choose to write journals, articles, blog posts, poetry, stories or a novel, determines who we interact with and get inspired
    Sharing the planet: above all, through our writing, we let others creep into the nooks and crannies of our mind, our hearts, our soul and our lives.

    Isn't it wonderful?

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    1. Wow, that's a great way to organize one's thinking about writing. And, knowing your hectic schedule, I am touched that you took time to read this and share your thoughts in such precise detail. Thanks a million, Abhimanyu, for sharing this perspective! I am sure the readers of this blog are going to be reflecting deeply on this for some time to come. Looking forward to having you here for Diwali.

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    2. Thanks for the acknowledgment... makes each word heavier! Love you and see you soon.

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  7. stupid writing... if you can't write anything, then, don't write about writing itself.. it is not cool nor intellectual.. now i need a coffee... a strong one at that...

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    1. He he he. When you don't have anything to write about, you write about writing. And wait, this is just the tip of the iceberg. And coffee? Traitor!! By the way, what coffee?

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    2. See, Subho had me fooled too! :)

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  8. Alright, that was a scientifically thought out strategic comment to excavate the purpose of your writing by analyzing your response. Conclusions: 1) you are not writing for the audience 2) just like any other art, writing gets its beauty from its context; for beauty is perceived in the human realm (this conclusion is not from this experiment - i arrived at this independently. 3) I am not drinking coffee - so the question of what coffee is out of context - this is not a conclusion at all so can go out of this numbered list - but what the hell ... i will let Bhavana do the proof reading...

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  9. Your posts are always intense, I feel. You leave something to ponder about..It's hard to write a comment on your posts. Everyone has their own purpose of writing, don't we? Kardashians come and go; Tagore,Elliot and Kabir have lived a 100 years even after they are gone. :) Keep writing!!

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  10. Welcome back!. A good post that engages the cerebral and the senses, my only minor quibble is the reference to Kardashians in your paragraphs. The best way to treat 'celebrities' who annoy or offend us is to ignore them completely. Aside from that, the post is deep and intense.

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  11. Subho , Welcome back. I'm not a writer , always been a reader. I agree with Found In Folsom , its hard to comment on your posts, at-least for me. But my belief is quality always attracts. Thats why still people read Kabir , Tagore.
    And definitely your writings will increase traffic, rank etc...

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  12. Many thanks! This post seems to have done the trick!

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  13. Hey, first time here through a friends suggestion. Loved the literature. I have been grappling with similar issues as well. It all comes down to purpose, I believe too. I think myself into corners where no one seems to share the same dilemma, not explicitly at least. Purpose works like faith then. It stops asking questions. And I get back to writing.

    Keep writing, fellow tea lover :)

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  14. Hey, first time here through a friends suggestion. Loved the literature. I have been grappling with similar issues as well. It all comes down to purpose, I believe too. I think myself into corners where no one seems to share the same dilemma, not explicitly at least. Purpose works like faith then. It stops asking questions. And I get back to writing.

    Keep writing, fellow tea lover :)

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