Suman K Sharma
Like the Robot Cal in Isaac Asimov’s eponymous story, I always wanted to be a writer, and like him again I did not know how to go about it. It just happened. Words fascinated me. Books became my friends. Without caring much about the finer points of diction,syntax, or style, I went from one book to the other like a butterfly hovering over a bed of flowers. My mind must have imbibed the essence of those little and big books without any deliberate effort on my part. My own writing began discreetly with letters, addressed mostly to the friends of the opposite gender. (Those were the days!) From letters I progressed to little pieces for newspapers and magazines, though most of my efforts for the print media returned home after a couple of weeks, like kitten that had briefly lost their way.
Writing has been a tortuous journey for me. Prose was – and still is – my first love, though I have dabbled in versification as well. I think I am a self-taught person. Consciously, I have never followed any writer or poet. Life is my teacher. I prefer to walk on my two feet. Flights of fancy are not for me. The modest row of books in my bookshelf that carry my name tells me that I have been on the right track. And my journey is on…
But can a childhood fancy be so strong as to become a lifelong passion? It might well prove to be, if it keeps getting impetus from motives plain and not so plain. The first inducement for writing is the joy of seeing one’s own words appear on paper. This can be addictive. Then, before one knows, the scribbles and scrawls no longer remain private. Other people come to notice them. The praise one gets for a good turn of phrase or an apt description is heady. More and better efforts are made. The budding writer is now keen to seek readers in lure of praise. Such attention-seeking can sometimes have a contrary effect.We all have come across would-be poets. These harmless souls are shunned just because oftheir habit of imposing their latest creation upon anyone who comes their way. The wonder is that they are seldom put off by the rebuffs they receive. Love of writing can be as alluring as any other love.
Strange as it may seem, there are writers who show more interest in getting their creative works across to the world rather than making their name. The British author, Emily Bronte (1818-1848), famed author of Wuthering Heights, is known to have published a joint collection of poems with her two sisters in 1845. The slim volume came out as a flop. The sisters had to shell out 50 pounds for it (comparable to about 2,300 pounds or over Rs.2.35 lakh in today’s spending power). They preferred to use pseudonyms for the authorship and not their real names. Worse, just 2 copies were sold of the book.
The reclusive American poet, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) seems to have acted more sensibly. She never volunteered to have her poems published in a book form. During her lifetime she shared her creations withSusan Gilbert, her sister-in-law,other friends and acquaintances. Upon her death in 1886, some 1800 hand-written poems by her were discovered in 40 carefully stitched volumes. It was only four years later, in 1890, that the first volume of Dickinson’s poems was published.
I have also before me the example of my maternal grandfather – Nanaji. An erudite scholar of scriptures and highly respected preacher of the Sanatan Dharm Sabha, Rajouri, Pandit Sita Ram Shastri left an almirah full of his unpublished manuscripts when he passed away in 1959. I don’t know what happened to those bulky volumes, but the stark fact is that Nanaji’s writings died with him. May be, the venerable Pandit ji desisted the impulse to gain wider recognition.
Writing and gaining recognition as a writer are evidently different exploits. To gain public recognition, a writer must pass through three stages:write, publish, and reach out to the readers. Writing seems the easiest part. It is well within the ambit of the writer’s own attributes – his or her creativity, writings skills and the ease to write. Next comes the stage of publishing a finished work. Authors who have already earned fame do not have to worry about it. Their concern is how much they can get for their labours. There are also the writers who are commissioned by big publishing houses and Government agencies for specific projects. Even though such writers are free from the liabilities of publication and distribution, they must forswear part of their creativity – they can write only what they have been asked to write.
Lastly come the writers who must go through the rigmarole of publishing. Not in too remote a past, budding writers went for agents, who found them publishing houses. Such agents might still be there, but it is extremely rare that they take up a manuscript from a novice.What then he or she is to do? Self-publishing, or ‘vanity-publishing’ as it is snidely called, is the one way to see one’s book in print. Find a printer, spend from your pocket, and have your work published. If you don’t want to spend, well, there are numerous websites such as the Amazon, the Notion Press and the Medium et cetera that offer you a ready platform to publish your content on-line free of charge. A few of them are ready even to supply, ‘on order,’ printed copies as well.
The final and most crucial issue for a writer is to find readers. A book is published, fine, but what is to be done with the copies? Distribute them among friends and acquaintances for free? But are we sure that all of them will spare their time to read our precious book?A cynic may say it has become a fashion to collect as many books as one can and arrange them nicely in a glass panelled bookcase kept in the drawing room. The glossy book-spines give the room a decent look.Don’t they? The on-line books are likely to fare worse. The prospective readers have more enticing content such as fantasy, current affairs, thrillers and so on to follow.
Daunted? Please don’t be. True wielders of pen never say die – and for a good reason. Toni Morrison, aged 40, published her first novel The Bluest Eyes in 1970. Eighteen years later, her second book, Beloved got her not only the Pulitzer Prize, but it went on to win her the Nobel Prize in 1993. Joanne Rowland, better known as J.K. Rowling, had a flimsy idea of a boy attending a school of wizards. That was in 1990. A succession of failures and crushing poverty made her so frustrated that she thought of committing suicide at one point of time. Even so, she managed to complete her manuscript in five years. More disappointment awaited her as one after the other publisher rejected it. Eventually, mid-1997, her persistence paid off. Her fantasy novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was published by the publishers, Bloomsbury. The one-time destitute Rowling turned a billionaire in less than a decade.
Few writers in India, one must say, can dream of such a phenomenal success in terms of money and global recognition. Yet,think of Jammu’s own Padma Shree, Padma Sachdev.By virtue of her intense fervour for writing, she has attained universal recognition as ‘the first modern woman poet of Dogri language.’ In fact, we have a constellation of Dogra personalities who have made their name because of their writing. From Narender Khajuria, who won the Sahitya Akademi award for his short stories in 1970 (the Akademi had instituted the award for Dogri that year itself), to Gian Singh, who got the award for his play Baba Jitmalin 2020, as many as 48 men and women have won the national award for their literary works in Dogri.
So,give your best to writing, and don’t wait for recognition. It will come when it comes.
Suman K Sharma