Though I have written — and continue to write — for several national and international print and electronic journals, I have never received the kind of responses I get from the readers of the paper you are now holding in your hands.
The responses have been a torrent, if not mind-blowing, and they are of all kinds: prospective authors trying to send their manuscripts, criticisms (reiterating that my writing is pretentious), overwhelmingly patronising…
But I was touched when, last week, a Chakravarti from a small Andhra Pradesh town, wrote to me, requesting, I should bestow on him tips to improve his writing skills, and tell him which all books would eventually ensure that. He wanted to write a ‘good manuscript’.
I, a college dropout, am hardly a person to help him, I told him as much, but promised I would share some thoughts that had cropped up while delighting in some good writings that I have come across in my short life.
For me, George Orwell is god; he will always be. Apart from his 1984 and Animal Farm, those great political expositions in literature vivifying the traps of both capitalist and communist hegemonies, I was really fascinated with his non-fiction, which talked about the English language and its use.
For any writer worth her or his salt, Politics and the English Language, Why I Write and Writer and the Leviathan are must-reads that should be imbibed into the system. When I compiled the above three essays for a volume one year ago, Ramachandra Guha wrote in the Foreword: “[Orwell’s] clarity of language, his moral courage, and his principled independence from party politics set him apart from the other writers of his generation, and from those who have followed since.”
Orwell was always consistent with his claim that prose degenerated into purple passages whenever it lacked political purpose. And as Orwell once said: “[English] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” He died an untimely death, and that is a pity.
Now, many readers may think this is a devious digression — from someone as meticulous and marvellous as Orwell to, well, a carefree and iconoclastic Hunter S Thompson. But Thompson, mainly due to his irreverence to everything around him, shaped the way I thought and wrote. And I was particularly in awe of the company (of the New Journalism ‘movement’) he kept.
A great collection that I still admire is The New Journalism, edited by Tom Wolfe and EW Johnson. This comprised the best ‘literary’ journalistic pieces I have ever read, written by — apart from Thompson and Wolfe — Rex Reed, Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. Fully doped, Thompson wrote The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, a seminal sports article; it still remains a marvel in both journalism and literature — a rare achievement.
Thompson’s much-publicised work is the Fear and Loathing series. Nevertheless, his short works, published mostly posthumously, really stand out. In The Mailbox he talks about his confrontation with the FBI and he sums the article thus: “Never believe the first thing an FBI agent tells you about anything — especially not if he seems to believe you are guilty of a crime.”
If you are in the august company of Orwell and/or Thompson, who needs to dope? Or a stiff drink?
I used to work with a national weekly some years ago. We were bringing out a special on Orwell on his 50th death anniversary. A trainee sub-editor was asked to make the page in which we were reproducing Politics and the English Language. When I was checking the page before sending it to the press I realised there was something amiss in the Orwell classic. What happened, I asked the scribe. His reply: “Well, the whole article did not fit in the page, so I had to edit it.” Now, that is what I call guts.-- The Asian Age / Deccan Chronicle