Though I have long been an advocate of literary prizes, incentives and honours, I have also been aware that ‘literary prizes’, eventually, more or less, or any other time-space phrase you may use, have shifted from being literary in nature to being subversive, partisan and propaganda machinery. A common confusion that many from the literary fraternity, for the purposes they know the best, have been trying to postulate is that literature must have to be rebellious, anti-establishment and even anti-national. And this is, be clear about it, not only in developed nations but also in the countries just setting their feet on the right path. However, does anyone have the right to call things out? I guess no! Neither side of the line of literature has the authenticity and moral surplus to call out the people on a ‘different side’. This line of literature is easy to understand. One side of this line has the people who write. On that side of this line, there are those who comment, criticise and observe literature. Both the sides, as I wrote earlier, have lost the moral surplus to call anything out. The question that one needs to ask today is about the relevance of literary awards and their role in this entire game of literature. Yes, the recent ceremonies like Pulitzer have added further to this debate.
What is literature? In asking this question, tacitly, we also want the answer to the question that we don’t ask – what is not literature? And once we realise the best possible connotations and embodiments of literature, we understand that things have changed today drastically. We have confused our thinking. Before believing something, we seldom run our inner system that is there to test the facts. We just believe because we believe that believing it is right. It is like flowing with the waves of the river without realising the current has a fall to take from the top of the mountain that can break one’s body into pieces. How sensible is that?
The first thing that we need to do is understanding that literature is independent and, while it may have something of everything, it cannot interchange itself entirely with any other idea. Unfortunately, very big (and yes, notorious already) names in the literary award circles have already confused the audience worldwide that the best of the literature, be it English literature or literature in any other language, is only possible when it blindly hates something. In the short run, it may yield the desired impacts and people may find themselves persuades. However, everything has a limit to it – even human life – and one day, sooner or later, things come to an end. The current adventure of literary gangsters like Pulitzer might seem fascinating and they may try to persuade people to believe in one certain direction, one day will come when people will understand that their game plan is bigger than what it seems.
“striking images of life in the contested territory of Kashmir as India revoked its independence, executed through a communications blackout.”
This is the reason cited by the prize authority behind their decision to award the ‘feature photography’ award to three Indian photographers who took some photographs of people in Kashmir during the lockdown that even had Pakistan-pushed terror sympathisers in India doing all the damage to Indian forces in different ways. Moreover, their sheer arrogance in acknowledging a country’s sovereignty by positing Kashmir as an ‘independent’ territory is stinking. And there should be no surprises that the authorities, almost in every country, hate such clear concoction of facts by certain self-satisfied and self-extolling organisations who try to take the position of Gods in disguise and preach the world on tolerance and compassion!
I must believe that a day will come when people will stop taking these organisations casually, lightly and just ignore their activities. It is likely. It is bound to happen. Nevertheless, the real rock-bottom it’d bring to literature that is, unfortunately, bound to take the blame and bad name. The organisations like Pulitzer are doing a great disservice to literature by trying their best (and worst as well) in associating literature with their propaganda. If you cannot understand this even now, just try to find the coverage this award has received in recent years. The authors, poets or literary personalities who have won the award are covered in the sidebars with a tiny space and the propaganda content that these awards generate have the best, primetime, front-page and magnanimous coverage. I’d suggest that Pulitzer should either remove literary awards from their event-sheet or give the literary awards an entirely different day. Literature and propaganda together, one will understand, is fatal for literature! It is good that India does not have such awards, literary per se.
by Alok for Literature News