|(L to R) Bhagat, Goswami, Hanif and Hamid|
I have never read Bhagat, nor do I intend to – but I do like Mohammed Hanif and Mohsin Hamid's books. While I have had the honour of meeting Hanif, who is so full of humility, I’m sure Hamid would much be the same -- unlike his Indian counterpart, who is so full of himself.
After checking Bhagat's timeline on Twitter for two days for first-hand updates on the litfest, I stumbled upon the coverage of the session here. Arnab Goswami, Times' Now's loud anchor who was apparently less loud that day, moderated the session by asking the two Pakistani writers whether the volatile political condition in their country had led to an explosion of creativity and if that spurred creativity.
Does chaos spur creativity
Hamid: Writing English fiction is far simpler in Pakistan but dangers of speech are everywhere. Ideas have power and sometimes they can be threatening. There are gradations of threat: you're in the realm of impropriety if you talk about drugs and sex, but you're still relatively safe; politics is a trickier territory; and religion, more dangerous.
Hanif: If there's an explosion in my city, (do I go to work with the feeling) 'Oh great, today I will write better...’? Journalists do get excited by these things. But a writer like any other citizen would want peace and quiet. As writers of (English) fiction, we do not face as many risks because people (who read it) usually think it's not about them at all!
Bhagat: A country like Pakistan that was seeing so much upheaval it was bound to produce more creative literature than relatively peaceful nations (such as Switzerland).
Explosion of creativity
Hamid: Since Pakistan has been in the news people are more interested in knowing about the country and the explosion, if any, has been in the attention it has been receiving rather than in creativity.
Hanif: A part of the reason why authors (not just in Pakistan) were getting attention was because the media had seen a large amount of growth. With 24-hour news channels and special feature supplements, authors do find themselves in the limelight in ways they never did before.
Bhagat: Pakistani authors are the flavour of the season in the West and should they hope to succeed (commercially) they must look at home. Be careful when you look at the West for validation. One of the reasons why the Indian publishing industry has grown the way it has is because publishers don't necessarily look at award-winning books all the time. Prizes are irrelevant. A publisher (today) looks at commerce.
Why authors write
Hamid: It's tricky not to play to the gallery.
Hanif: I wrote a book about a dictator who was dead and about whom no one -- not even his family -- cared. Asking me if I was playing to the gallery (would be ridiculous). I don't know if there is a gallery to begin with. I don't think there is a formula possible for these kinds of things. Writers don't talk about markets. I feel like I am in a boardroom!
Bhagat: To bring about social change. I write because things are so wrong here and story needs to be told.
The Pakistanis won hands down. No wonder Bhagat forgot to tweet about it.
PS: Read this on a friend's FB page:
Chetan Bhagat arrives at our table....at the Time Out Food Awards last night. I pertinently probe if the bad boys of Pakistan - Hanif and Hamid are emphatic backstage (they ripped him at the Times Literature Carnival). He forks his steam bass, chomping, 'I could have given it back to them, they are guests, they anyways come from an unfortunate place,' he quips. Those guys strutted around like pagan warlords to me, didn't seem pitiable. 'I think one of us might have to tweet,' I try to regain my composure. He scurries away, though not before spooning mud chocolate cake off my plate. Bitter, is he?