I am a writer. I have a novella, and some stories and poems published in various printed and online anthologies and literary magazines. Quite a commendable start, I thought, an year back. The sense of accomplishment gave me the impetus required to write more. Today however, I am not so sure. I see around me, suddenly everyone seems to be publishing a book. Everyone seems to be getting reviews, good ones at that, from various known and unknown sources, many a time paid. Every day I see a new book launched, a new author interviewed, a new bestseller on the portals of online sellers and bookstores.
Why, I should be happy, should I not? I am bang in the middle of the publishing boom. World over, including India, talent is finally getting recognized, and also getting paid. Rightly so, one may argue. So why am I cribbing about riding this wave? When God knows, I also stand to benefit by it.
I crib, because along with the explosion of talent, I also see a proliferation of the lack of it. In the form of books that are nothing short of trashy, and grammar that is completely non-existent in them. In the form of shameless self promoting that happens for books that are so substandard, that after reading them you start doubting whether you studied English in school or not (mind you, You, not they).
I am not a grammar expert myself. I know quite well that I lack editing skills. I write with my heart, and many a time, fail to detect my own grammar mistakes. I invariably end up putting an ‘an’ before a ‘year’. And I am immensely thankful to the editors who have worked on my book and friends who have pointed out the mistakes to me. I am no ‘great’ writer, but I am confident I am a decent one. And I know, more than anything else, that writing is a never ending learning process. That writing, is not a goal; it is a journey. And that I have a long way to go in this journey.
Yet, what of them who treat writing as a means to mint money? Who can stoop to any depth to see their name on print, and once it is there, parade it everywhere possible as if they have won the Booker? Just today morning, a fellow author from the anthology Love Stories That Touched My Heart (Edited by Ravinder Singh and Published by Penguin, told me that one of the stories of our book, in fact the first one, was spotted in another anthology. By a different publisher, a different author, with some specifics (like location, type of car etc.) changed, but verbatim – word to word. The guy under whose name it appeared does not seem to have even bothered to change the title. I am too tempted to name the copy cat, and might do it at a later date, but for now the real author is pursuing the case with Penguin. So I refrain from naming the usurpers, and stop with saying, if you are reading this, hope the words drive home the point to you.
And I wonder, with the kind of proliferation we are seeing today, is there really a mechanism to stop such plagiarism? God knows how many good works (and even the not so good ones) have been copied and published thus, and the perpetrators of such acts go around calling themselves authors. The exponential growth of the number of writers and the books published is starting to look more like a cancer. Just like seemingly normal looking but potentially malignant cells multiply in excess to damage the body, works hailed as ‘unique’ and ‘heartwarming’ but low on quality and real uniqueness are plaguing the reading and writing community. The multiplication of such substandard stuff will only bring down the quality of reading that the present generation is getting to do.
It is not that we have no good writers around. In fact, we have brilliant ones. Jhanvi Baruah, Anjana Achappan, Jhumpa Lahiri, Manjula Padmanabhan, Chitra Divakaruni, and many many more such gems, whose names I have not even heard yet. These names too, I would not have heard (except for Lahiri, thanks to her Booker and films made on her books), had not my publishers and some well read friends introduced me to them. And so many more writers, not big names, but of great caliber – blogger friends, writers who have published in ever so many anthologies, with exceptionally good stories. I would consider myself lucky if I am able to write even half as nicely as them. How many among us, however, can profess that they know these names?
There is, I still believe, hope. For writing is not about the number of books sold. It is also not about the number of people who ‘liked’ the Facebook pages of the books and their authors. It is about etching words in the annals of Time with permanent ink. It is about those words going far, very very far, right up to the brink of civilization. And no matter how much ever you market or promote a substandard book, I don’t think it will get too far. Whereas, no matter how low profile a good book remains, it will continue to go far, its words immortalized. And I hope, this belief is not an illusion.
So, those who aspire to wear the tag of ‘writer’ or ‘author’ against their chest, do it for the love of the art. Not for money, not for fame. Money and fame are collateral benefits, not the end. For otherwise, it will do nothing but degenerate the art as a whole, pulling down even the good ones. Just as a bunch of cancerous cells have the ability to bring down an entire body, and drive out the soul. As for me, I will continue on this journey, for the sake of the journey. For the love of traveling through trains of words on the tracks of thoughts. For myself. And continue to better myself at it.