What are worlds made of? Blood and bone? Dreams and fantasies? Beliefs and passions? Stardust and moonlight?
Worlds are built on words and the builder of these words are writers who have brought down civilizations, created value systems and revamped cultures. Yes, the ones with the humble pen.
Think Orwell who with his dystopian works presented a template of how a repressive regime looks like and the consequences of totalitarianism with thought crimes and the principles of newspeak crafting a scary world dominated by Big Brother. How many times do we find similar big brothers in our countries, cultures and organizations? Orwell took the collective thoughts and gave them shape in the form of a book that shook the foundation of the society.
With an IQ of over 160 and an intensely ambitious outlook, Sylvia Plath wrote confessional poetry for the first time, giving rise to a phenomenon wherein she learned to be true to ‘her own weirdnesses’ by expressing deeply personal and private material. With chronic depression dogging her life, she took her own life at 30 years of age after many suicide attempts. But the legacy she left behind inspires women and feminists till date.
Closer home, writers like Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri have penned down pathbreaking works of fiction, dealing with connections, disruptions and migrations between the east and the west. Rushdie, having been attacked and received death threats, is a live example of the threat that anti-social elements see him as for rebelling against bigoted and regressive thought systems and tyrannical governments.
Rabindranath Tagore, propagating a world without borders and defiantly denouncing British colonialism with his vast canon of acclaimed blazing unmatched writings, set up an unprecedented example of a free thinker.
Perumal Murugan with his fiery writings on ancient cultural practices, female foeticide, greed, family, and freedom has been an icon of change himself, fighting protests against his progressive body of work.
Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs– pioneers of the Beat Generation, rejected materialism and made an exploratory foray into the spiritual and psychedelic domain through sexual liberation, and explicit portrayal of the human condition.
Ayn Rand said in the preface of one of her books, “In a certain sense, every novelist is a philosopher because one cannot present a picture of human existence without a philosophical framework…”. Was she right and how. Developing her own philosophical system called objectivism, she worked on reason and individual rights as the roots of rationality and inspired the libertarian movement in the United States. Hailing from Russia and taking a strong stance against the communist regime was a brave move for this gutsy lady but she set her own rules and today, she is still the ideological queen for many.
Toni Morrison dealt with the harsh practices of racism in the States and what it meant to be a Black American in a prejudiced country. Her books were ignored by the major awards in the US till protests by black critics and writers brought the issue to light and her novel, Beloved, received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Eventually, she also received the Nobel prize for literature, becoming the first black woman to do so.
Arundhati Roy with her classic ‘The God of Small Things’ and her political activism has created a body of work critiquing neo-imperialism, the damming of Narmada and the war in Afghanistan.
Sarojini Naidu, a staunch feminist, poet and political activist, was one of the brightest luminaries in the literary sky and just like the stars populating the night sky grow, the tribe of writers will keep growing and pointing the human era towards a more advanced, enlightened and fulfilling future.
A writer has an important role in society- that of a changemaker as they strive to bring uncomfortable truths to the fore of the human conscience and make people recognize the truth for what it is. As writers, we look back on the legacy that our forerunners have put together with their hard-earned freedom, painstaking care, thoughtful rebellion and a perennially open frame of mind, and hold these writings like glowing embers in our hands unaccustomed to fire. All we hope is to add little sparks from the flames of our words and glitters from the broken stars of our fates to keep the fire going.
(The views expressed in this article are by Aashisha Chakraborty, a PM Yuva author and Write India Winner. Onlineandyou.com doesn’t own any responsibility for it.)