Publicity-shy internet users are abandoning Facebook and Instagram for the privacy of WhatsApp, according to the findings of data analyst, Pavel Tuchinsky, who sees a trend towards aloofness, me-time and more individual communication. Well, well, well, who would have thought it? Personally I find Facebook very tedious: all it does is add a thin veneer of fake glamour to the mundane. It's rather like inflicting one's holiday album on the unwary in the pre-FB era: at least back then they were quaffing one's food and drink while undergoing the ordeal of your aunty Pushpalatha wading in the shallows in her petticoat. Nowadays FB addicts can bore people online, especially those suffering from FOMO: fear of missing out.
Which brings me to my subject: is it permissible for a writer to use firsthand experience in his work? Are the quirks and eccentricities of his family circle appropriate grist for his literary mill? Why not, say his readers, provided that his skills are of a sufficiently high order to add artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise banal narrative. Certainly not, say writers' aggrieved families: dirty linen should be washed at home and nowhere else.
When Hanif Kureishi, author of 'My Beautiful Laundrette', released his latest novel rumour had it that the death threats he received were primarily from his near and not so dear. Apparently the Kureishi khandaan were collectively pissed off with the book, which is liberally sprinkled with dirty, disgusting intimate details of family squabbles. The great man remained unfazed, insisting that those members of his family who found a similarity between themselves and the characters in his novel were deluded, and that there was nothing he could do about it. 'The fault, my dears, lies not in my fiction but in your good self,' was the burden of his song.
Pulitzer-prize winning author, Philip Roth, touched off a storm with 'American Pastoral' when his estranged wife accused him of cynically using their relationship to further his literary career. She was particularly indignant over the character, Merry, claiming it was a cruelly accurate portrait of her daughter by an earlier marriage, right down to the stammer. Roth was quite blasé about the whole thing; one can almost imagine him asking, in the tough, unsentimental manner of his alter ego, Portnoy, 'What - she has a copyright over stammering now?'
Closer to home, one hears that Upamanyu Chatterjee, our literary babu, attracted a fair amount of flak from his former boss, portrayed in 'English August' as Srivastava. "How good I was to him, I say', the aggrieved former collector fumed indignantly to anyone who cared to listen. 'How many times myself and missus called him to home, ghar-ka-khana khilaya and he has written all nonsense about my family members, tchah, phat, bekaar aadmi." Alas, all too often there is a self-serving element to the diatribe; methinks they protest too much. Most of the confected outrage from these nonentities complaining about less than flattering literary depictions is a cover up. Actually, they are secretly flattered to have made it into print. Had they kept mum about their real or imaginary grievances, it appears quite likely no one would have noticed.
My modest writing skills preclude identifying with the aforementioned literary giants, but I too have had some slight experience with the gnashing of teeth at family reunions. Many moons ago, I wrote a column featuring an amorous Englishman and a parsimonious aunt trying to bridge the East-West divide. Aunty thought the firang had designs on the one rupee coin she had firmly clutched in her hot little hand. The Brit - a well paid employee of Her Majesty - was supremely oblivious of the sordid element and was hoping that a little hand-holding would be a prelude to a more lasting relationship. I never heard the end of it and my left eardrum has suffered permanent and lasting damage from her tirade.
'How could you have written about that man trying to hold my hand? The whole of Bombay was laughing about it. Just imagine if someone sends it to his wife in England,' moaned Aunty. Aided by the Bard, I allowed my imagination to run riot, visualizing a lean and slippered pantaloon in the rural confines of Horsham, with spectacles on nose and wife on side. 'Read all about it, Edna,' he rheumily chuckles, shoving the column in her direction while flicking the scum off his Ovaltine. 'Check out what a dashing young rake I was in my prime. Couldn't keep me hands off those buxom native women…'