Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A year of the Middle Stage

Today it is a year since I began blogging about literature - about other things too, but mostly about literature - at the Middle Stage.

I began writing here last April at the invitation of my friend (and then colleague) Amit Varma, who used to write both this blog and India Uncut. After a while Amit was kind enough to give it to me for keeps, and so this is now the place where I am most easily and regularly found.

In retrospect, the Middle Stage was curiously appropriate for me when I took it over, because at that time I really was at an in-between stage - a middle stage - of my life. I'd just given up my job, but without much idea of how I was going to manage thereafter - I only knew I was dissatisfied, and that I didn't want to continue doing what I was doing. I was also struggling to get my work published anywhere, and was in very low spirits. But not only was I dispirited, I was also lazy and out of shape. Sometimes I wrote no more than one piece a month. If I didn't manage to find commissioned work, I wouldn't do any. I moped more than I worked.

All that changed from the day I took the site up. I still remember not sleeping very well on the night of 11 April 2005, consumed by thoughts of what I could write that would be of interest to Amit's captive audience (in this respect I was fortunate - I didn't have to start from scratch). After I’d put up a couple of posts I began to see the potentialities of the form, and realised there were a great many things I knew that were of no use from the point of view of marketable writing - who wants a piece on Willa Cather or Constantine Cavafy? - but which were of value nonetheless and I could extend to my readers to enjoy.

Best of all, the sense of responsibility I began to feel to my small batch of dedicated readers - even today, although their tribe has increased substantially, I don't think they number that many - had a galvanising effect on my writing. From my experience it seems to me that writers' blogs work similarly to literary magazines, in that one writes for a small but interested audience whose involvement and feedback is of great value. Because I now occupied a public space, I'd make an effort to write something every four or five days to please my readers, to thank them for their time (really, that's all a writer wants - good readers, and a bit of company in the evenings). I found myself dredging out books from the back of my dusty cupboard to look up a point, and reading poets I hadn't looked at for years.

The regular work, and the time I freed up for myself by abstaining from the drudgery of a job, had a good effect on my work. As time passed, my writing became sharper, and work also began coming in, if only in fits and starts. From around the new year my luck seemed to turn. In fact I now have more work than I can handle. But even though I write now for several newspapers and periodicals, I think I care the most passionately for what I put up on this space.

This is partly because a blog is like a generous editor - it allows you to do whatever you want to do in the hope that you will do it well. I find I can write here about two areas of my interest, poetry and classical literature, when nobody wants a piece on any of these things for a newspaper. There are no restrictions on space - although I try not to misuse this by being verbose or imprecise. And I'm not limited to current books - I can write about whatever I want, and one of the things I like doing best is bringing the work of little-known or neglected authors to light.

There have been some debates in the Indian blogosphere recently - it is a good thing that there are these debates, and that the quality of debate here is better than in Indian newspapers - about what reviewing and writing about literature, about what work they should properly do and how they should go about it. But I must confess that, reading these opinions, I cannot agree with any one of them. The sentiments expressed here are not the sentiments that animate me.

I think of my work as a form of love. It is a way of sharing out with people books that have given me aesthetic pleasure and intellectual nourishment. When I write about current books I try to judge those by the highest standards. Nevertheless I get some kind of pleasure or the other out of most books. I try not to be cutting about low-quality or middle-grade writing, because after all each one can only do the work he or she is capable of doing, and often poor work is the stepping stone to better work. It is only with what I consider to be dishonest or wilfully mendacious work that I feel harsh. I take my work seriously, and ask also to be taken seriously and judged rigorously. I devote almost no time to thinking upon the subjective-objective questions raised recently. To my mind a good critic’s subjectivity is a kind of objectivity.

So I'd like to thank you, my readers, for how you have helped my work, and to say that I look forward to many more years of our interaction. To celebrate I thought I'd invite both you and most of the writers featured here over the last year to a party, but since many of them are now dead (though not, I assure you, as a result of being written about here), the only space that these workers in words can occupy in common is a space itself made up of words - a paragraph. Here's the guest-list:

Anton Chekhov, Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Constantine Cavafy, Orhan Pamuk, Jorge Luis Borges, Saadat Hasan Manto, Willa Cather, José Saramago, Amartya Sen, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Naguib Mahfouz, Minoo Masani, Attila Jozsef, Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay, Mirza Abu Taleb, Joseph Mitchell, Amrita Sher-Gil, Monica Ali, Nazim Hikmet, Siddharth Chowdhury, Ruben Gallego, Giovanni Boccaccio, Harold Pinter, Ramachandra Guha, Mo Yan, Adam Kirsch, Javier Marias, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Jahiz, Dandin, Giovanni Verga, Altaf Tyrewala, Antonio Machado, Hushang Golshiri, Attia Hosain, Joseph Epstein, Nikolai Gogol and Samrat Upadhyay.

I enjoy going to the movies very much, but don’t feel I have as good an understanding of the form as of novels. But here are some of the occasional pieces on cinema I’ve done over the last year: on Nagesh Kukunoor’s Iqbal, Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday, Tahmineh Milani’s Two Women, and Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti.

I don't do much cricket work any more, but I enjoy writing the occasional piece for a periodical or else on the cricket blog Different Strokes. Here are some recent pieces on new-generation players of whom I think highly: Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Ramesh Powar, and Suresh Raina.

And I would like to do more non-fiction writing, but this is difficult because it requires more time and expense than writing about books, and when I do travel I prefer to store away my notes for a set of stories I'm working on. Here's the one piece I've done in this area in the last twelve months: “Seven Views of Puri”.

28 comments:

amit varma said...

Congrats, Chandrahas, immense joy has resulted in the year in which you've been giving us a good time. Please continue ever on, and suchlike.

dhoomketu said...

Congratulations,
Your blog is one of the reasons why I started blogging in the first place. And that post on Rang De Basanti, I like very much.

Subash said...

Congrats..I am a regular visitor and somehow the man on the left panel has become Chandrahas in my mind. I almost always feel dissappointed when I remember again that it is not.The writing and the man on the left pane seem to be of one soul.sorry for rambling. Enjoy reading what you write

harish said...

Hi Chandrahas
As they say on talk radio, long time reader(listener), first time posting(caller), I enjoy your work a lot. Congrats on the 1st blog anniversary. Good luck on future endevors and keep up the good work.
-harish

Anonymous said...

Great work Chandra. Enjoy reading your posts. Keep them coming.

Karthik

Salil said...

Congrats Chandrahas, and many thanks for maintaining this blog for a year and giving us something of this standard to read regularly. I'd just like to see a few more cricket-related pieces from time to time. :)

I agree with your points on the effects of a blog on writing. I'm sure most of us fellow bloggers relate to the sense of responsibility that comes once there are readers, whether occasional or dedicated, which pushes us to write regularly and write better. I've found myself that the combination of feedback and the knowledge that people feel strongly about what you have to say does seem to make a difference in writing.

Anonymous said...

It is a pleasure to read your writing.

In the hope that you will write on the city of Delhi soon, with its potential for reunions and beginnings.... but above all, what history!

swami said...

I too am a regular visitor, although this is the first time I comment here. And thanks to you I have read about many authors and even read/watched some of their works which I would never have otherwise and it has been an enriching experience. I am glad that you have more work than you can handle, it was always just a matter of time. Keep up all the good work and introduce to us all these wonderful authors, and their works.

Aishwarya said...

Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Congrats Chandrahas. Though I am not much into literature, I have enjoyed your posts on some of the topics. Good luck for your endeavors.
-Naveen.

psybabou said...

bonne anniversaire chandrahas, thanks for your inspiration. real good writing. keep going stronger.
subash: i've been feeling the same. wonder if it would be different if you changed the face on the left. somehow, that image/ face goes with the writing.
cheers!!! i'll have one for the party even though i'm not invited.

venkat said...

Chandrahas,
Congrats on the great year. I am a regular visitor (never commented before) and always look forward to reading about authors and poets I had never heard of. Thanks!

angshu said...

Hi Chandrahas! Thanks for the party. The links were fine - but the party started way before that. So you crossed the Middle stage of real life; may you never cross this one. God Bless.

Ang

angshu said...

It's me again. I am here to complain that your links kept me awake thru half the night. May you live longer and happier for that torment.

Ang

amar said...

Congrats Chandrahas!

Thanks for a great year. I had great time reading your posts!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and all good wishes for more writing. Your blog has been informing many of my choices in book stores and I have enjoyed all your pieces (except for the ones on cricket because I dont read them). Thank you for showing many more worlds other than the ones I knew.

Sanket said...

Congatulations Chandrahas! For me The Middle Stage is easily among the best blogs. Hope you go on and on. And I share the feelings of Subash and Psybabou, about the man on the left panel.

Falstaff said...

Chandrahas: Felicitations, etc.

Oh, and more Russians please. Maybe Turgenev?

Suvadeep said...

Congrats Hash ...
For offering this humble reader of yours many a pleasant reading throughout the year.
Happy birthday "The Middle Stage"..
Indeed, as they say, times flies ...

swar said...

good year, good harvest. may the good stuff continue etc etc.

confused said...

Congratulations!

You have set the bar very high and needless to I enjoy your writings very much. Though I have refrained from commenting recently, mainly because I really had nothing to add-I read each and every piece you write. The links you give are very helpful, and I am much more well read because of your efforts.

Just a suggestion-please continue to write on cricket-I thought your piece on Ramesh Powar was a masterpiece.

Congratulations once again and Thank you.

Emma said...

Congratulations on the first anniversary. I am a long time regular reader of your blog, but am posting here for the first time - I just want to let you know that I enjoy reading what you write. I used to be a student of literature who, caught in the daily rut of life, has moved away from books to computers. Your blog gives me an opportunity to keep in touch with my first love, in some manner. And I want you to know that the effort you put in here is much appreciated. Keep up the good work.

Masd said...

Congratulations on completing the first year...I did'nt know that you started blogging on middlesatge just a year ago. Well your nlog is one of the best on net..intellectually stimulating..and it takes us to unknown yet intereting literary journeys. Thanks for putting so much efforts for making your blog worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

congratulations hash

its 373 days now. as a writer you would understand the value of the ordinary day without landmarks.

labours of love are the only ones worth anything. the rest fall away.

when you become a writer, so to speak in the world's eye, hopefully you would not forget to put in a post now and then. that, to me, is the essential test of whether or not, writing and the written word is to you, worth more than all the rest.

all the very best,

m lawn

Anonymous said...

Hi Chandrahas,
Congratulations on completing a year of blogging. By the way, it's very unfair that you would not invite Marquez to your party. After all, you did mention him once (if only to dismiss his work). You have to admit, that he would make for exciting company.
Regards
-A Bit Of Company In the Evenings

Amit Chatterji said...

Middle Stage,
Wish you a happy birthday. I only read your literary blogs. They are both rivetting and compassionate as any. I used to think that The Lady in Grey is the best literary reviewer of the country today. I must say, in the last few months I've been compelled to almost change my mind.
Best wishes,
Amit

Chandrahas said...

Bit of Company - I agree, Marquez should have been invited as well. Actually, each one of my invitees linked up to a post, and Marquez was actually part of the piece on Adam Kirsch, so he had to be left out. I had to take this approach otherwise, considering how many names I've cited over the last year, I'd end up with several hundred invitees. If Marquez writes a book this year and I review it, he'll be invited to next year's party.

Unmana said...

Congrats! I was in the audience at the panel discussion on banned books at the Kala Ghoda festival (and wrote about it in a lighthearted way at http://unmanaswords.blogspot.com/2008/02/yay-i-met-amit-varma.html. I've been reading your blog for some months, and I look forward to your book.