There’s a wonderful book I’m reading these days, Telling True Stories, in which writers and teachers share valuable advice. Susan Orlean has an essay on voice. Nora Ephron tells us what narrative writers can learn from writers of screenplays.
I found the section on ethics particularly interesting. There are pieces on footnotes, fact and fiction, attribution, and other issues in the same vein. An essay titled 'The line between fact and nonfiction’, by a writing coach named Roy Peter Clark, got my attention for this:
“If you gather ten facts but wind up using nine, subjectivity sets in. This process of subtraction can lead to distortion. Context or history or nuance or qualification or alternative perspectives can drop out. While subtraction may distort the reality the journalist tries to represent, the result is still nonfiction. The addition of invented material, however, changes the nature of the beast. When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction.”
I’d recently done a feature (Bollywood’s Script Thieves) on how the Hindi film industry lifts stories and tries to pass them off as original. Here’s a reader, sharing his disenchantment:
“I was so impressed by Bluffmaster that I even showed it to my foreigner friends as an example of a self-aware Bollywood movie with a post-modern twist. All that changed when a few weeks ago I saw the Argentinian movie, Nueve Reinas. Right from the beginning, it felt like a reincarnation, and I felt I knew the story beforehand. But by the end, it was so clear that Bluffmaster was simply lifted from this movie. I feel cheated, and hate the bloody filmmakers who made Bluffmaster. It leaves a bad taste to realise the fakeness of a movie I liked and for spoiling my appreciation of an original and cool movie, which I’d probably have liked if I hadn’t already seen an imitation.”
There are those who argue that the warm crush of humanity is a sign of vitality, but even they would see that the Jaipur Literature Festival is in dire need of another venue. The crush of humanity is at times too warm and too forceful, especially in the main Durbar Hall, where a large slanted mirror that looms above panelists reflects the considerable crowd on to themselves. The festival is booming. We know this because chairs cannot be found. Because the buffet line is abysmally long. We also know this because every author on hand could speak to the press for no more than 15 minutes (This may have something to do with the fact that over 300 press passes were issued). The new order has even forced hardened warriors to adapt: seven journalists from rival publications sat side by side to interview Hanif Kureishi.
Some were of the opinion that the festival needs to construct a pay wall, an arrangement under which each discussion has a price. Others, such as Amol Sharma of the WSJ, suggest that if the festival is to be kept free, “Maybe next year they’ll need a Reliance Rajput Hall and a Kingfisher Bar and a Bose Sound stage?”
When Shobhaa De speaks, schoolgirls appear out of nowhere. At the end of her chat with Marie Brenner, in which a question about Raj Thackeray was evaded with masterful tact, a young girl asked De what advice she had for girls who wanted to be like her, and write like her. “What’s stopping you?” De asked. The girl bounded away happily. The rest of us were left standing with the memory of De’s reading earlier in the session:
“Prem liked to make love in public places. Aparna looked straight at him. A hanger-on? Sidekick? Sycophant? Chamcha? Kept man? Adulterer? Take your pick, Prem. For a minute his smoke-grey eyes looked darker and smokier. His smile which had temporarily frozen picked up at the corners. He ran his fingers through his wet hair, threw back his head, and laughed. ‘I like your style, Aparna, I really do. You know something? You’re the first woman I’ve met who has balls. Balls of steel. You clang as you walk. Bet you didn’t know that.’”
I can’t get over it. Someone actually argued that the Kindle doesn’t smell like a book.
He did a far better job of gaining knowledge of the larger sweep of history than any of his contemporaries. The confidence with which we condemn Nehru exposes the narrowness of our certainties more than it detracts from his achievements
Aatish Taseer's new novel, The Way Things Were, is an Indian classic spanning the eventful decades between the Emergency and the advent of Modi, set in Lutyens' Delhi. The novelist in conversation with the Editor of Open magazine