Writers of the new era: In conversation with Charu Nivedita
MANIPAL: Born in Tamil Nadu in 1953, Charu Nivedita is a literary stalwart based in Chennai. Some of his most notable works include Existentialism and Fancy Baniyan, Zero Degree, Towards a Third Cinema, and Marginal Man, among many others. Cultivating his ideological dispositions from the French school of thought, Nivedita has a keen inclination toward postmodern writing, for some of which he is continually questioned.
During the second edition of the Manipal International Literary and Arts Platform (M.I.L.A.P.) in September, Nivedita, in a conversation with The Manipal Journal, discusses postmodernism, his style of writing, and his stance as an author.
Your book Zero Degree was widely acknowledged as one of your most efficacious accolades. What led to the development of Zero Degree? How has Zero Degree influenced your literary reputation?
Zero Degree was born sometime after my first book, Existentialism and Fancy Baniyan. However, the idea of Zero Degree was conceived much before. I realised through years of raising my then six-year-old daughter alone, that male and female are very different. I comprehended the differences in their anatomy and understood the agony and anguish of a little girl staying with an adult. I would write letters to my daughter every Thursday. Gradually, I compiled a collection of the letters and titled it Zero Degree.
On the literary front, I drew inspiration from the French school of thought. My narrative style was crafted by my readings of Michel Foucault and similar writers, and film-makers such as Jean-Luc Godard. Therefore, the format of my writing is non-linear and never flows like a story. I did not use the experiences I had with my daughter as a sentimental arch to appease the audience’s emotivity. Lastly, Zero Degrees has no room for moral preaching. There is no right, there is no wrong.
Despite having substantial reach, my readership spans to a maximum of 2000 copies and a minimum of 1000 copies. I find that being an artist in Tamil Nadu has its own challenges and sometimes I’m left feeling like a painter amongst the blind. There are quite a number of lists of top novelists and their works, in which none of my works are recognised. People do not want to consider my work because they don’t agree with it, or they want to pursue the works of other famous personalities.
Why is postmodernism such a recurring theme in your work? Also, what scope does postmodernism have in India?
I always tell my friends and readers, that postmodernism is not really a narrative technique or like realism, surrealism or any ‘ism’ as such. It can actually contribute quite well to the political understanding of a society. We as a nation need postmodernism more than any other country because we are so different from each other with respect to religion, language, culture, etc. For example, in Hinduism alone, there exists different methods of worship. Some condone the killing of cows as offerings to God, some don’t. Some even use Araq or country liquor in prayers, but some wouldn’t touch it. So many diverse divisions exist. Therefore, we need postmodern understanding in order to accept these differences, or else the danger of one nation, one religion, and one identity or ideology will impose upon us. If opposed, you will be labelled anti-national. This kind of ‘nationalism’ has festered into a threat that is liable to hamper our progress. These ‘one nation’ theorists and authors say things like “I am Hindu, you are Muslim, but we are one.” No, we’re not one. My religion, culture, food, or God is different from yours; but, we learn to accept and respect these differences. Postmodernism breaks all these barriers and paves way for all levels of understanding.
Could your writing and/or social commentary have the potential for political intervention?
During the previous assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, I was expecting a jail term if Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) came into power. This was at the time of the 2G scandal. So, I started preparing myself for prison life. My wife mocked me for doing so, but I was of the mindset that nothing should be new to me. To my luck, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) came into power. Threats perpetually keep coming my way, and I am left to fend for myself with the help of no one. The media masses, and Tamilian political parties however, huddle to the aid of writers like Perumal Murugan. But, I still believe that my efforts will not go in vain.
On a related note that homosexuality is explored a plentiful in your novel Zero Degree, this year we have witnessed a landmark court ruling that decriminalised homosexuality under section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). How do you opine?
I really appreciated the Supreme Court judge’s apology for the atrocities and injustice the LGBTQ community has had to endure for all these years. In a country like India, it was totally unexpected. There are times I do not know what to anticipate from my country’s justice system. This is a land of surprises. It’s a boon, a very fortunate thing for our LGBTQ community. But you know, I’ve always wondered why a state should control one’s sexual habits or even food habits for that matter. No one has the right to dictate these terms. My personal life should not be monitored by anyone.
Do you think language has to be expressed a certain way in order to convey the essence of what it’s trying to say?
One of the many ways I like to demonstrate writing is with crass and rustic cussing, without any fabrication whatsoever. There is liberation and honest expression in cussing. It often leads to people telling me how it is unbecoming of my age to use such language because it is irresponsible. It’s like cajoling and making love to your partner. It’s raw and romantic. During the process of writing, the reader is fictitious; they are not present there to judge you. In order to break the law of an art, you should truly know it and its aesthetics.
Where do you draw your inspiration from? What opens your mind to all these ideas?
As a child, I used to live in the most meagre slums, surrounded by pigs and filth. I dreamt of being a pianist back then. Let alone a piano, even a guitar was far out of my reach. Paper and pen were the most accessible materials to express myself. As a child, I was a loner. I wouldn’t mingle so much with the others in the neighbourhood. Books and writing were my only company. It relieved me emotionally. But music is my ultimate passion, and always will be.
Featured Image Courtesy: Bhavya Joshi
Edited by: Drishti Sanyal