In defence of fiction

I grew up under my grandmother’s care in her house in Calcutta. I would visit my parents on weekends. My grandmother was busy with her medical practice and I would often stay alone at home. For all those times, she would hand me a book, leather bound and pages crisp from years of being stored with camphor on the shelves, from her and my grandfather’s collection. I got my first serious library membership when I was still to reach my teens. I started with Enid Blyton, moved gingerly to RL Stine and Sweet Valley before realising there is a whole lot more to read. When I was in the 9th grade my grandmother’s friend gave me my first Harry Potter book to read. I read it for two days straight, hardly taking breaks. When it got over it took me a long time to realise I could not do magic, no matter how much I tried. I looked for signs which would tell me that I do have special powers or that I could form a group of my own and go treasure hunting. None of that happened. I am still waiting.

I grew up. I did my graduation in Sociology and read about the unjust ways of society, about the psychological manifestation of different social behaviours, about the way the the haves and have-nots will always be at war. I moved to Delhi, took up journalism. I studied how to write better, how to answer the 5W’s & 1H, how to make the story appear crisp and interesting. In Bombay, I worked in a financial newspaper and a trade portal, writing about stock markets and marketing for brands extensively. None of these required me to steer away from facts.

I realised recently that most of my friends are those who read non-fiction extensively. Because of their reading habits, they have enviable knowledge about a variety of topics – from sports to medicine, from dance to architecture, from psychology to history. So here I was, half way across my 20’s, when I made a decent effort to read non-fiction. Because I wanted to be smart like them. Because I wanted to have conversations outside my own head. Because it was time for me to grow up.

I read Sheila Heti’s ‘How Should a person be’ last year. This was followed, in not-so-quick succession, by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. I re-read the diary of Anne Frank. And started with McDougall’s ‘Born to Run’ and Krakauer’s ‘Into the Wild’. In spite of loving each of these books for whatever they had to offer, I found myself sneakily looking at my bookshelf. I could not, would not, pick up a different book till I finished the ones at hand. And yet, I wanted to cheat.

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After a year and a half, I have decided to write this post as a confession note. I like Fiction. There, I said it! I like reading fiction in spite of growing up, I like fiction in spite of being a realistic person in other scenarios, I like fiction because of what it lets me be, lets me see and lets me think.

Fiction to me is my escape route from all that is wrong with this world. Fiction gives me hope that weird things can happen. Weird but happy things. Or positive but sad things. Things – all of that we don’t expect. Fiction lets me go where I did not think possible. It helps me to break away from the limits of education and cultural socialisation, and go beyond.

Fiction is a dangerous place. Anything can happen there. Fiction is a happy place where love and hope survive. Fiction is a scary place where the unseens and the unknowns have more strength than the seens and the knowns. Fiction is a tie that binds people together and yet leaves the rope free enough for us to move in our own particular way.

Like Elif Shafak, the author whose novel ‘Honour’ I am reading presently said, “Identity politics divides us. Fiction connects. One is interested in sweeping generalizations. The other, in nuances. One draws boundaries. The other recognizes no frontiers. Identity politics is made of solid bricks. Fiction is flowing water.”

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Kalyanda says:

    Very deep and profound for someone as young as you. To tell you truth, you have made me aware of a critical distinction between fiction and non-fiction, that the former binds people in the mind when identities are not the driver of people. Keep going. Hope to see your first fiction one day soon.

  2. Sarah says:

    This piece…defines me. If I didn’t know any better, I would say you were stealing from my mind! But seriously, for the longest time, especially since I turned 20 I have been feeling so guilty about not reading anything ‘real’ (like my other non-fiction coveting friends call it). And its not even like I haven’t tried, its just that I haven’t enjoyed it as much. So reading this piece, knowing that I am not the only one, is such a relief! Thank you so much.

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