Opinion

The Writer-Artists in Society

Satendra Nandan’s latest publications, Dispatches From Distant Shores, and Across the Seven Seas, were launched in March.   These days the world is full of depressing news: terrorists’ suicidal bombs
06 Jun 2017 10:54
The Writer-Artists in Society

Satendra Nandan’s latest publications, Dispatches From Distant Shores, and Across the Seven Seas, were launched in March.

 

These days the world is full of depressing news: terrorists’ suicidal bombs and pompous tweets from Presidents.

So it was with refreshing joy that I read in a friend’s letter from Fiji   that a Fiji Writers-Artists Association is being revived in the islands.

Five years ago Fiji’s First Literary Festival was organised on the Namaka Campus of the Fiji National University. All the three universities participated in it and the Festival was opened by a key-note talk from Fiji’s Chief Justice, Anthony Gates.

A number of commercial houses and enlightened individuals in Nadi, interested in cultural activities, supported the First Literary Festival. By all accounts it was a stunning success for young writers, journalists and academics in all the major languages of Fiji.

Many were attending their first literary festival and seemed to enjoy the experience immensely. According to one source around 2500 students, readers and literary buffs passed through the gates of Namaka Campus during those stimulating days of lively conversations.

Writers and people interested in literature and publishing came from as far as Manchester where last week a 22-year-old terrorist killed 22 innocent people and maimed more than one hundred, mainly school children attending a music concert.

The Fiji Festival lasted for four days.

After it was over, some tentative attempts were made to establish FWA–Fiji Writers Association.

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My main interest is really in writing. I do feel that writers often generate perceptions of our world as we live and exist in it today.

It’s almost 50 years since the first graduates came out of our first university in Fiji.

University of the South Pacific became the symbol of higher education and a new hope for the young of more than a dozen island countries–some of them smallest in the largest ocean of the world.

The Pacific Ocean is larger than the world’s total landmass.

The written word came into this seascape via the translation of the Bible. The coming of the Biblical mythology has had an overwhelming impact on the life of more than the island peoples.

Added to this theological exploration is the experience of the exploitation of colonial encounters with their tentacles in every island and continent.

We’ve known its benign and brutal forms.

So, this imperial adaptations became part of our history and heritage just like the Taj Mahal, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Parliament in Fiji. The impact of British colonialism, though brief, has been profound and protean, pervasive and permanent.

Through labour and capital, language and education, migration and matters of the mind, the interior landscapes of our lives have been radically transformed.

We all, it might be said, are burnt by the imperial sun.  Colonialism implies migration of many kinds. Wherever there’s migration, a multicultural world is in the making.

No more powerful weapon has been devised than the WORD.

The crossing of frontiers in education is most exciting. Fiji has been fortunate–in less than 50 years we’ve an educational landscape well-served and the young have opportunities unimagined by so many  of our brothers and sisters, less than half a generation ago.

There’s considerable investment in education by Government, parents and cultural organisations. English, the one truly global language, remains the main means of communication, from a local classroom to the global forums.

Fiji has been fortunate: false linguistic nationalism has never been part of the vision of our educationists.

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The images of the artist as a mirror, reflecting our world to us, and a lamp, illuminating the darker regions of our thought and action, are well known. But there’s another dimension of the work of an artist-writer: a warning bell–the artist as a surgeon who plies the scalpel and foreshadows the nature of the malaise within the deeper and darker recesses of a society.

It’s not often acknowledged that some of the greatest reformers of our modern world acquired their ideas from artist-writers.

In so many ways they laid before us, layer by layer, word by word, page by page, the human condition by which we’ve existed, in all the human horror and an occasional glory.

They affected the quality not only of our life but our humanity. From the Mahabharata to the Holocaust to Hiroshima, the restless imagination of our common humanity has been showing us what we’re capable of, both in grief and the heroism hidden in the human heart.

The works of many writers-artists constantly educate us into new consciousness and may even create a new conscience.

The artist-writer always looks for new possibilities of healing the wounds of history and daily living. In the very wounds he/she may find the healing blood almost in the image of Christ or a Gandhi or a King.

How often in our personal lives, we’re affected and sustained by what we read–how we begin to understand our dislocated lives, the displaced and brutalised peoples and their longings for a home and love of one person.

Another aspect of the artist-writer is to give us back that self-esteem that was trampled during the juvenile delinquency of colonialism or the geriatric tactics of current religious-racial bigotry so prevalent in the toxic contemporary world.

It’s relatively easy for a people to get a semblance of their political and economic independence; but it takes a long time to recover from the psychic mutilation done through the arrogance of ignorance.

It is, therefore, essential, nay imperative, that our education should give ample scope to the arts and the humanities.

My writer-friend from Fiji wrote in absolute despair that books are being discarded from a university’s library; instead computers are being installed in every nook and corner!

He was appalled that the books he had donated, with two other learned friends, were now being discarded. This, to me, seems like the worst kind of blasphemy.

One writer who studied the colonial post-colonial world wrote years ago that the Third world notion is a cliché. I feel there is a great universal civilisation at the moment shaped by western influences. But this western civilisation has been fed by innumerable sources. It’s a very eclectic civilisation and it’s attractive because it’s liberating to many, many people, men and women, boys and girls.

That world is now further deepened by social media and an overflow of information and knowledge but not necessarily wisdom and compassion.

We live on islands. The writer artist may bring to us the most basic enlightenment: that living on islands, none of us is an island unto himself or herself.

Alone we’re not alone, uniting as we do the themes of so many lives. Indeed the greater the writer, the more he or she embraces the lives of others.

That is why William Shakespeare is such a wonderful dramatist and the Mahabharata the greatest epic poem of the world.

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But below our feet is the richest ground for creativity and if our students can create a poem, a short story, an essay, a play, a novel, a film, a piece of music, a painting and are recognised and given support, we may be able to achieve an understanding of our human relationships better than through politics, economics, or administration, etc.

One hopes the Fiji Writers Association, with its many literary lights, will burn brightly to give us light as a lamp, and reflect our world as a mirror wherein we can see ourselves a bit more clearly, without shame or fear.

But with empathy and understanding in the voices from our primary schools to the parliament which tell us what it is to be truly human.



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