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On the Relevance of Literature

Tags: book write
The good folks at Shrishti - Amrita's Literary Club were nice enough to invite me as the chief guest for their annual induction program last Friday. I spoke on the relevance of literature in one's life. This was what I spoke. The first thing that I would like to say is - thank you. Thank you for giving me a chance to visit Amrita again. This might seem strange to some of you here, it would have certainly seemed strange had anyone told me this when I was back in college, but you realise the beauty of certain phases in your life only when you look back on it. 

 There is another reason for which I wish to thank you all - for making me reflect back on my journey with literature. At the offset, let me be honest with you - I cant act, I’m not a great speaker, I cant do most of the things that the good folks at Srishti do. What I can do, and love doing, is to read and Write.

 I remember being forced to read my first Book - Heidi, when I was in school. It was a book, the size of my hand, and about a seventy pages at the most. I remember struggling, muttering and complaining my way through the book. This continued for the first few years. The next thing that I remember is having my computer being taken away from me during my fifth grade, never to come back until it reappeared six months before my 12 standard board exams, along with internet and a new mobile phone. Anyway, with the computer taken away from me for most of my schooling years,I turned to books to entertain myself. Thus began a beautiful journey that continues to this day. 

 When I sat thinking about this, these were a few things that came to my mind:

 1) I had no one to tell me what 'good literature' was. I read because it was fun. I read because I could lose myself in a book for hours walking down the lands of Middle Earth and the  Battlefields of Mahabharata. I read because I could journey into the lives of people, see things through other pairs of eyes. I read because I could relate to the beauty and aesthetics of Tagore in his  Farewell My Friend,  the inner journey in Herman Hesse’s Siddartha, the magical worlds of Rushdie’s Enchantress of Florence.  Only later, did I come to know that these were stalwarts of literature. 

 2) Sometimes, the best literature is found in rather unexpected places. Consider this passage:

 " All our progress, our vanities, our reforms, our luxuries, our wealth, our knowledge, have that one end — death.Cities come and go, empires rise and fall, planets break into pieces and crumble into dust, to be blown about . This has been going on from time without beginning. Death is the end of life, of beauty, of wealth, of power, of virtue too. Saints die and sinners die, kings die and beggars die. They are all going to death, and yet this tremendous clinging on to life exists. Somehow, we do not know why, we cling to life; we cannot give it up." 

 Any guess on the author? I happened to find this in one of Vivekananda’s Speeches. As far as I am concerned, there is high literary value in his speeches. Someone else may not think so. The point Im trying to make is, there are no ‘right’ books to read. Chart your own reading journey. 

3) Reading kindles an urge to write.  I remember, much to my embarrassment now, when I tried to write my first poem. I couldnt bear to look at it after it was done - it looked like a cheap imitation of my favourite  song - and it died a quiet death. And the next attempt at writing was the same, as was the next - they all looked like cheap imitations of things I admired. Over time, my writing sounded more honest and more like me, sometimes even work that I could be proud of. Any creative endeavour starts with imitation but it doesnt stop there. Dont let inhibitions or judgement come in the way of your creations.

3) Many of us have heard the question: Why read, why write, why is the use of all this?  Technology has the answers to all of humanity's problems. Sometimes, we have these questions ourselves. To this I say, the problems of the world are not merely external and outside. Each one of us, has some fundamental questions.  What is the meaning of my life in this grand scheme of things?  Am I the only person who feels a certain way ? Am I all alone , an oddity , a specimen in this vast, cold, unforgiving world? You are not alone . Many men, over the ages have been grappling with similar questions, going through similar things in their own lives. Their works are records of their inner lives. You can learn from them. And someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. And this beautiful transmission transcends time. We read and write  to live countless lives, across time and space. We read and write to see different ways of looking at the world, the people around us and ourselves, enriching the flavour of our life. We read and write to know the stories of human race and where we fit in. Without literature, without art we would know next to nothing about the lives of our own forefathers and  the history of our civilization. Art  helps us understand and express who we are and where we come from. 

 I know some of you may be anxious about your academics, maybe the first periodical results, are they done?, might have dampened your spirits. But consider this, at no other time in your life will you be around 4000 people of roughly the same age group. 4000 thousand people, people with their own interest, their own passions and their own stories. Spend time getting to know them and spend time with them. 

 Srishti is a wonderful platform to get to know a great bunch of people with varied interests. They are into theatre, books, poetry, you name it. They hang out at the English Department, where the nice folks there treat them to tea and good books from their library. Walk into Srishti and you'll find good friends and understanding mentors. Act in their dramas, attend their poetry meets and book reviews under trees, write for their yearly magazine and you will have memories to cherish about your life here. You will look back and remember the drama that you enacted, the poetry that you read out, the article you edited instead of looking back on a blank slate of classes, time at the canteen and your assignments. Most importantly, you will form friendships and associations that will last you well beyond the four years you spend here.

I would like to end with a dialogue from this beautiful movie called The Dead Poets Society. Some of you might have seen it. “We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive are here - life exists.. the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. The powerful play *goes on* and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"
 Thank you

This post first appeared on STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART, please read the originial post: here

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On the Relevance of Literature


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