Meaninglessness of Mir Khalid’s ideas of Literature

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  • Publish Date: Dec 4 2017 1:37AM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 4 2017 1:37AM
Meaninglessness of Mir Khalid’s ideas of Literature

In an interview with Gowhar Geelani, published in Kashmir Ink on 27 November, 2017, Mir Khalid, author of Jaffna Street, while answering a question about his motivations of becoming a writer, says, “Personally, the realization that I had a way with words commenced in tandem” and “I guess I would have morphed into an author sooner or later in any case.” Between these two sentences, he talks about how in his school days he inculcated a serious literary sensibility for English language. Mir Khalid, thus, subscribes to a particular Western, Romantic notion of “author” and “authorship” that elevates the author to a Prophet-figure, or the ‘chosen one.’ Needless to say then, no matter what he did in his life, like becoming a surgeon, being a writer had been ‘destined’ for him.

Perhaps it is this elitist presumption of being the ‘chosen one’ that later on in the interview he goes on to ridicule the ‘fellow native writers’ as “wannabes” and finds their works “lightweight writing stuff riding the back of over-stretched sentimental symbolism.” Ironically, he doesn’t wish to pass any value judgment and admits in the next sentence that he hasn’t read any of these fellow natives’ works except in bits and bobs. His criticism is not only reserved for “wannabe” writers but also for “English poetry dabblers who have never heard of Emily Dickinson and English prose ‘aficionados’ with no inkling of who David Remnick is or what Kazuo Ishiguro’s work corpus entails.” It is really interesting to note here that his criticism is not directed to the works of these authors (whom he has read in bits and bobs) but at what they have read. Again, given his prophetic stature, he already knows what they have read and what they haven’t.

Let alone the apparent impossibility of knowing who has read what, one must also question Mir Khalid’s parameters of ‘serious’ and ‘lightweight’ literature. Serious literature for Khalid is what fits itself into the larger structure provided by the English canon; what is not canonized or considered a classic, is not ‘serious’ literature. Also, anyone who hasn’t read these literary giants dwells in ‘mediocrity’ and cannot by any chance write ‘serious’ literature.

Having lived in Europe through the turbulent 2000s, he believes “western authors have grappled with these issues much before than us, providing an overview of the general human condition.” The broader structure already provided by the western authors, all the Kashmiri writers now need to do is follow the footprints of these authors. Any digression from the same would amount to the production of ‘lightweight’ literature. However, one must ask Khalid here if the western authors who have provided an overview of the ‘general human condition’ are the ones like Conrad, Kipling, and Eliot. One wonders why even after reading so many ‘serious’ western authors, Khalid has missed a book as important as Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Having read and produced ‘great’ works, the Kashmiri author writing in English must aspire for Bookers and Pulitzers for validation. Since none of the Kashmiri writers have secured any Nobel Prize in literature like Pamuk, Kashmiri readers, according to Khalid, have no one to look up to. However, the idea that ‘New Literatures’ need validation through glossy awards and giant publishing houses has been time and again contested. More and more, the stress is being given upon the whole nexus that supports a literature, rather than a few ‘great’ works.

Finally, for Mir Khalid, earlier “books created big hype but scored little with regards to acquiring a certain literary value that could have secured the vale a place on the bigger English literary firmament” and therefore “The Gen Next deserves better inspiration.” The tragedy is that one can’t be sure if we have finally got our literary fore-father even after the publication of Jaffna Street.

 

Towfeeq Wani and Sahil Rafiq are students of English Literature at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi