Watching Tapan Sinha’s Ek Doctor Ki Maut for the third time reminded me of similar situations leading to the ‘death’ of writers in India. The solution provided in the film is not likely to work in case of writers: Fly to the West. Many Indian writers choose to settle abroad quite early in their career, to seek better opportunities of getting published, get paid well and of course gain access to a huge market of readers. Add to this the respect they command in India once they get a break in the West – hailed as a fresh new voice. Every year or the other, we get to hear such literary voices but these are never heard again or their pitch is overpowered by another emerging voice. Only a few survive the chaos.
The situation is not much different from what we find in India. They have the same struggles to get published, find an agent who takes you to a publisher who believes in your work and does not breach the agreement clauses. Their writing on Indian issues has to be strong enough to grab their attention. Elephants, kings, cobras and mango pickle do not seem to work. The foreign eye looks for a candid peep into the much hidden, under-exposed belly of the grim Indian reality and mashing it up with dollops of poverty, exploitation, disease and disaster on a wide scale hooks the Western eye.
The film talks about research being difficult in India and the path leading to acceptance of pioneering work in the field full of obstacles arising because of jealous colleagues and bureaucratic hassles. For a writer who works in isolation, his death becomes certain when he does not get a publisher for his work. And when he gets one, his work does not get a wide readership. If he has to face these situations, it becomes clear that survival as a writer is under threat. Not many have the tenacity to sustain rejections though it is an unavoidable part of every creative journey. Some are able to take the hit in the right spirit for some time but then give it up, some are able to remain happy as unpublished ones without guilt or shame, and some desperate ones end up with a self-publishing package deal to erase the stigma of not being published. In all such cases, the writer has already met his end – the writer who wrote for the love of it and nothing else is dead.
If such a situation happens to any new writer bubbling with a passion for the written word, examine the options available to stay afloat in this trade. Fly to the West and reach out to the small, independent publishers, get your stories published in journals and magazines to begin your literary journey, do odd jobs during the day and write at night. At the end of the long struggle, ask yourself whether it is worth spending years. If you find yourself happy with it, carry on or else move on.
As an alternative for those who cannot relocate for whatever reason, live where you are right now and pursue a career that gives bread and butter but keep trying as a writer. Enter the digital world, build contacts and reach out to the community of writers and editors on social media network. Spend all your likes on them and keep praising their clothes and looks and books. Something will definitely come out of the whole indulgent exercise. At least your profile picture will get liked and show the world that an acclaimed author has liked it.
Else, attend writing workshops and get noticed, if not selected. Almost all those who cough up a few thousand get published within a year or two of attending a workshop that teaches them what the editors look for in a manuscript. If you attend literary festivals and buy author signed copies of the guests who are invited to speak, then you can open a direct channel of communication that will perhaps help you get a break. If you have money to spend, start a literary e-journal and this is a great way to connect with the publishing industry. Invite industry professionals to contribute and interview them. Even if the contributing writers do not get a break, at least the founder of the journal will get his work published.