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  Opinion   Columnists  26 Feb 2023  Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How to recognise a writer

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli | How to recognise a writer

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer, novelist, columnist and screenwriter
Published : Feb 26, 2023, 1:55 am IST
Updated : Feb 26, 2023, 1:55 am IST

Didn’t Groucho Marx say it best? ‘I refuse to be a member of any club that accepts me.’

So how do you identify a writer? Give her a mirror. If she holds it up to society, she’s a writer.  (DC File Image)
 So how do you identify a writer? Give her a mirror. If she holds it up to society, she’s a writer. (DC File Image)

Not too long ago, an agitated writer got in touch. (Calm writers don’t usually approach us.) The writer was frustrated, she said, because of how she was being treated by the publishing world: with zero respect or care, no responses either negative or affirmative, to queries regarding manuscripts, no acknowledgement of mails, calls, messages. Nothing.

I didn’t find it surprising. She wasn’t the first writer I’d met who’d had the exact same problems; she certainly wouldn’t be the last. What she’d encountered was standard procedure for Indian publishers with regard to writers who didn’t count. (As to who counts, that’s another piece.)

We should do something, she said.

I already have, I said. Written a slew of articles, and a book, about the ugliness of publishing folk and the neediness of writers, a lock/key situation if ever there were one. (And enjoyed the minor, if highly satisfying, victory of having them published by the very people I was fighting.) I’d written a play on the same subject, and am working on a web series.

My wife, ever-wise, stayed out of the debate, and continued reading her book.

We need to get together, the woman said.

How? I said.

We need to form a group of writers, aggrieved ones like us, and get empowered, she said.

Not to be rude, I said, but I don’t see myself as victim and don’t need a group to make me powerful. Also: it’s the very idea of coteries, gangs, back-slapping fraternities and back-rubbing sisterhoods – basically groups of any kind – that we need to fight. Individually.

But still, she said.

It would be funny wouldn’t it, I said, if I were part of a group that fought groups?

She left.

While the reason I’d given her for not wanting to be part of a group of writers (or sous chefs or serial killers, for that matter) was honest, it wasn’t the entire truth.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with someone whose final goal was clear as day. Noble though she may have thought her intent, it was really about being acknowledged and accepted by the mainstream, by folks who ‘mattered’: publishing heavies, lit fest organizers and ‘big’ writers.

It struck me two kinds of people set out to fight the establishment. Type One is the kind that gets a band of ‘like-minded’ folk together in the hope of ruffling feathers. Her plan is annoying the ‘biggies’ enough to take notice, open the side-door a crack and allow her entry into the club, if nothing but to shut her up. So she smoothly transitions from outsider to insider. This writer/artist is basically fighting for only one aggrieved party: herself. (A shrill-voiced actress we all know is the perfect example of this type, fighting off one lot of so-called biggies to be part of the biggest gang of biggies.)

Type Two, on the other hand, fights the establishment because it needs to be fought. Like all establishments. She fights it neither for herself nor for anyone else. She fights the establishment because it creates pecking orders and imbalances in power. Because it is the very enemy of art, reason, merit, truth. Type Two will fight till the establishment crumbles. Or die trying. Will fight old friends if they become the new establishment. For her, the art and the fight are one; she would hardly be able to create one if she gave up the other.

Such an artist can never be part of a group, any group. All the more so when the group rolls out the red carpet. Didn’t Groucho Marx say it best? ‘I refuse to be a member of any club that accepts me.’

Today, the writer I speak of has achieved her lowly goal. To her temporary delight, she’s made it to the lowermost rung of the so-perceived It Gang. Has weaselled her way into lit fests, got her books mentioned by ‘important’ writers and is promoting her books with the subtlety of a banshee on Red Bull.

I had judged her right. She wasn’t a writer.

So how do you identify a writer? Give her a mirror. If she holds it up to society, she’s a writer. If she looks longingly at herself, she isn’t one.

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