Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Writers who don't read

 As a teacher of English language and literature in a senior secondary school, my only complaint in the last few years has been that my students don't read anything other than their course books. "Your answers in the writing section possess the thinking levels of high school students at best," I told my class 12 students the other day while returning their examination answer sheets. 

It's not about the style. Style is something that I have stopped bothering about as a teacher. Gone are the days when I could expect from my students a sentence like "A sudden warm rainstorm washes down in sweet hyphens." That sentence, of course, belongs to J M Ledger, no student of mine. A student of mine would have written that as "It rained and there was a wind also". As prosaic and brusque as that. Poetry died long ago. Style died too. Stifled by ruthless pragmatism. 

It's not about style, however. Not poetry either. It's about the content. I can forgive the demise of poetry and style. We live in the age of trolls and memes. Blatant lies and fabricated truths reign in our social media. Poetry cannot survive in post-truth world. What does style mean in that post-truth world?

What is a writer's job in that world? If that world does not sustain poetry and style, doesn't it demand a quality of content from the writer? Why do we need writers to tell us that "It rained"? 

Writing must offer something worthwhile to the reader. Something to think about. Something that pokes the brain. Something that tickles the heart. Writing must move the reader to greater thoughts, greater deeds, greater vision than those she already has. What else is writing for?

A writer can do all that only if he has roots in the great wisdom of the past. A writer who has no touch with the great writers of the past as well as the present can't be expected to give us anything substantial. Writing is not sermonising from a self-righteous pulpit. It is about presenting wisdom in a strangely beautiful way. No one can do that without being in touch with the great masters. 

I want writers to take me to the sunset sky that looks like "a carnivorous flower" [Robert Bolano's metaphor]. 

PS. Written for Indispire Edition 367: Are there more 'writers' than readers today? #WritersToday


  1. I think the kids read a lot ... The problem is they are reading all the wrong stuff ... Look at the amount of text they devour on social media! ... Very few of them read good English.

    1. Can Instagram & WhatsApp messages be considered discourses? You know the answer better. Most of my present students haven't even heard of good writers whom they should have read by now.