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”.