Writings in a Digital Era
Asoke K. Laha, President & MD, Interra IT.
I should admit that I am a great fan of Amitav Ghosh. There is a reason for me to invoke Amitav Ghosh as he has come out with his latest novel, curiously titled Gun island. I perceive the latest Gun Island is different since I cannot recall anything that are remotely connected to gun or sword or any other fatal weapons being the title of his novels or treated elaborately. In this novel, strange as it would sound, the word gun appears frequently and I would say very prominently so much so that the mystic of the story is revolving around Gun (Bundook).
That does not mean that the novel is a crime thriller. It is far from that. It is a sensitive theme which reflects many feelings of the author. What that fascinated me, among other things, is the interplay of internet, computers, algorithms and techie savvy words that crop up in the novel from time to time. As far as I know, it is a departure from his earlier novels. Also noticeable is the global connect of the novel. It has the settings of the Sundarbans of Bengal, New Orleans, New York, Venice and of course, Kolkata. Could that be a trendy theme, when his trilogy - a work of historical fiction, comprising of Sea of Poppies, River of Smoke and Flood of Fireare set in the first half of the 19th century, deals with the trade of opium between India and China?
I always get glued to such pursuits as a fad or a luxury. I tried to discern how this novel is different from the rest of his creations. Like, any of his earlier literary works, there is some undercurrent of antiquity in this novel. As he drives us down through his story line, I had a nagging feeling that he wanted to hide his reasoning power and rationality aside to be one with his characters, whether they are superstitious Rafi, belligerent Tipu, composed and erudite and highly accomplished Pia, or well-read and scholarly Cinta. Is it a departure from his well-researched historical novels like Ibis trilogy, where everything is tested with historical accuracy and rationale inferences?
I sincerely believe that technology should have a human face. Most ordinary people believe that scientists are not ordinary human beings. I have never seen a scientist acting in a movie, or whiling away his time in a discotheque or taking his loved ones for an outing. Should we demystify a scientist or a technocrat and make people understand that he has sensibilities to love and to be loved, like and to be liked and hate and to be hated. I sincerely look forward to Amitav writing his next novel on this subject. I feel he is the best person to write on such human issues since we all know how well he has espoused the cause of human made environment destruction including that of Sundarbans of Bengal where Dolphins and rare birds, varieties fish and other flora and fauna co-habited once upon a time, before the effluents of the chemical factories polluted the entire stretch including the temple of Mansa Rani (read Gun Island).
My other wish is that more and more technocrats should enter the field of novel writings. The type of technological breakthroughs happening around the world, I believe that only a scientist can write a science fiction or a thriller.
Happily, literary domain is undergoing a tectonic change in the recent times. We have people from various professions entering the fray and their contributions are highly appreciated. I am also told of someone using artificial intelligence to create novels and good compositions of Basque and Mozart. Who knows sometime down the time zone, the Nobel Prize for literature would go to a creation made out of artificial intelligence. One has to give only data and direction to the machine and on its own it will create the most profound literary creation.
That may be a far-fetched idea. But the good news is that many people who shied away from the literary field are entering the domain. For instance, the US based Jeffery Deaver had written twenty-five novels and two short story collections, which have been translated into 25 languages and appeared on bestseller lists around the world. He is a former journalist, folk singer and a lawyer to top it. Jeffery’s new novel- Roadside Crosses- a best seller is all about cyberbullying, social networking and blogging as outlets for committing horrific crimes.
The most interesting piece that I had come across was “The Machine Stops” written by EM Forster, which is an interesting account of the internet era. The novel is set in a world in which people live in small cubicles, rarely get outside, and communicate mostly through instant messaging and video conferencing, while there's a huge computer network around the planet, monitoring all human activity.
Coming back to our theme: Can technocrats and politicians enter literary precinct? I feel it is eminently possible. There are glaring examples of Indian politicians doubling as writers. Three of our prominent prime ministers-Pandit Nehru, Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were good writers and they have good number of titles to their credit. I am sure more of such people enter the field in the course of time. I am sure some of our great technocrats of the modern times will test their writing prowess, be Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, Nandan Nilekani. That also motivates me to write a piece other than regular articles that I contribute to various magazines and digital publications. We should not forget, whatever may be the roles that we have to play in this life, our experiences and imaginations should be documented for the next generation. For that one thing that we should have, is the right mind and indomitable will to find time to write without aspiring for recognition. We need not be Amitav Ghosh or Chetan Bhagat or any one of that ilk: but ourselves as ordinary people. Nothing else, it would give us creative joy.