By Ashraf Lone
What is or what constitutes literature is a question that almost everyone would have a ready- made answer. There are hundreds of definitions of literature. After reading some of the best books of world literature, one clearly comes to know, what literature is all about and how should a good novel, short story or poem be like. A good critic or a “good reader of literature” can only tell a reader that what a good book should look like and, after this, a reader has to feel it himself.
There have been hundreds of definitions of literature but one thing is clear, serious literature or high literature is different from a popular literature and vice versa (however, recently the Nobel Prize in literature was awarded to a non fiction writer). May be, in the future, some popular literature writer might get this award as well. But, then a movie can’t be compared with a stage drama and in the same way Chetan Bhagat like writers can and will never touch or reach the stature of writers like Prem Chand, Manto, Ismat Chugtai, Gorki, Marquez, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Brecht, Maupassant, and Chekhov and so on.
Popular writers like Chetan Bhagat are published in lakhs and earn crores with their books, but there are big, popular writers than him in other languages too and writing better than writers like him. To feel the difference between the writings of popular writers and high or serious writers, a reader has to read a book each from these two genres in one go. Then, he/she can clearly make an opinion about what serious or high literature means and what is it all about. In the same way a common reader has to read big writers like Prem Chand, Manto, Gorki, Chekhov, Shakespeare with small writers like Sudarshan , Josh, Latifuddin and some other small writers to know clearly what literariness of literature means. And, here one must know first, that these writers are established in high esteem not only by some critics but are revered by crores of readers world over through original texts and translations.
Everything a writer writes cannot be considered a good piece of literature. Renowned writers world over have written good and bad literature as well. For example Urdu short story writers Prem Chand and Manto have written hundreds of short stories- Prem Chand more than dozen novels also, but every piece of their writing doesn’t hold the same literary merit. These are called trend setters or classic writers, but this can’t make their every piece of work a symbol of classicism. Their every work will be evaluated and checked separately.
Coming to the literariness of a literary piece in a true academic and critical sense, one has to know a little about this to know, in the real sway, what literariness means. As described above, every piece of a writer can’t be held to the high standards of literariness. For example, there is a difference between journalistic reporting and a literary piece. If we cannot keep the meaning of this difference in mind, then there would be no difference in a newspaper write-up and a short story. A writer has to keep in mind that while writing that he/she is not just reporting an event or counting people; rather he must be well aware of the fact that he is novelist of short story writer. He has to bring emotions, feelings and culture in his characters or novel or short story- those emotions which could be felt after centuries also by readers.
His characters should look like characters with varied emotions and feelings- good or bad. A character of a novel or short story has to be developed within the story. It is not like you name some character and bring forth dialogues between them. A character should, through his actions and dialogues, make a reader pause, to delve into the characters soul , feel and understand him. A character has to make the reader to feel the pain or happiness which he himself feels in the novel or short story. And, it is the task of the writer to make a character(s) like this/these. As Saadat Hassan Manto has described in one of his essays, a story should shake the reader or make him think. It means that any story told in novel, short story or drama has to be constructed carefully. Here, every word and action of a character holds meaning. A writer has to take extra caution while making certain character say something or during the dialogue between two or more characters.
A writer has to take care of every word, action in a story to make it interesting and intriguing. He/he has to bear in mind that he/she is not writing some journalistic reportage to be published in the “tomorrow’s edition” of a newspaper. Rather, a writer should keep in mind that his story should be timeless.
Then, there is the issue of language. Language plays a major role in any literary piece. A writer has to be well versed in a language in which he is writing. It is necessary he/she has a rich vocabulary. A writer should be able freely to give a character language what a character demands. He should be able to freely use words or make speak the character the language he demands. There are too many words with same meaning, but only a good writer knows the suitable place of a word.
To know about the literariness of literature, one glaring example can be given of Allama Iqbal, who is considered one of the greatest poets, literature has produced in 20th century. Everybody knows that there are lakhs of books on Islam and one doesn’t need to read Iqbal’s poetry to know about the history of Islam and Muslims, but it’s the literariness of the poetry of Iqbal which compels the reader to read his poetry and prompts and arouses a passion in the reader to know more about Islam, Muslims and their history. This is because poetry is not sloganeering or pamphleteering, but holds artistic depth which every literary piece demands.
At the end, every person who writes a short story, novel, poem, drama or anything literary can be considered a writer but the merit of literariness has never been or can’t be compromised. It is necessary for a writer to know this and what true literature is.
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