Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Archive for April, 2009

The Utility Of Fiction

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on April 11, 2009

Over the last couple of years literature and fiction have begun to occupy a significant part of my free time.  For a while I thought that it was a mid life crutch I found after the realisation dawned on me that one cannot find one’s nirvana through work – especially in corporate sector. I thought that this new found fascination would die out as a fad. The reality is increasingly pointing the other way. I am by no means being disrespectful of the work I do or of the set up I work in. It too offers joy, satisfaction and a few high points but on a diminishing basis. I have begun to understand that what people call as progress at workplace demands a sacrifice and commitment that is beyond my capacity to be generous about. Ambition – that critical ingredient which fuels the corporate race — has sunk deeper into the recesses of the self and to dig, refine and deploy in the service of progress appears to be beyond my willing energies. A void of sorts had begun to appear and by happy accident this void is being filled by fiction. Now a sustained unquenchable thirst seems to have taken root in my mind. I am pleased about it and plan to do all I can to keep it that way. What Omar Khayyam said as a prelude to defending wine I can equally well use as a prelude to defending fiction:

All that Nature could unfold
Have I in her page unrolled;
All of glorious and grand
I have sought to understand.
‘Twas in youth my early thought,
Riper years no wisdom brought,
Life is ebbing, sure though slow,
And I feel I nothing know

(Omar Khayyam is actually repudiating all knowledge and wisdom and replacing it with wine)

In a sense the “glorious and grand” that Omar Khayyam is referring to could pretty well  have been our predicament of being human. Come to think of it, there are millions of dimensions, aspects and instances in which the lives we live reinforce our being human. Given the natural constraints and limits on an individual’s life, it is impossible to experience or be aware of all facets of this humanness. Fiction allows us to live on some of these dimensions vicariously. Deep in a book, I can feel the refined angst of  Holden Caulfield, the sense of justice of Atticus Finch, the wanderlust of  Bruce Chatwin, the calm equanimity of  Ma Joad, the salvation through suffering of Uncle Tom, the spiritual quest of Sidhartha, the adventurous spirit of a Jim Hawkins, the agonies and ecstasies of a Van Gogh and meet many unforgettable larger than life characters whom I can never meet in real life. The learnings and reinforcements from these meetings are uniquely valuable to me. I find them valuable because they make me more human(e) than I could have been on my own striving. Enlarging one’s capacity to be more human(e) is a desirable value in itself and this enabling capacity of fiction is its single biggest utility

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