A smartass once asked my mother, “ oh you read for entertainment too? I thought you only read for edification”. Apart from being obnoxious-bordering-on-the-rude, ridiculous-bordering-on-the-hilarious and patronizing-bordering-on-the-supercilious, that comment is also one of the most meaningless-bordering-on-the-absurd ones I have come across. Speculating on what she meant wouldn’t interest me and is beyond the scope of this article. But I am going to look at this and some other similarly futile distinctions because it entertains me to the hilt, not to mention its edifying side effects 😀
One such is the parallel cinema-commercial cinema dichotomy. The dichotomy includes a certain disdain for commercial cinema as being without content and stupid. A friend once told me that parallel cinema was boring and depressing; he would much rather a bollywood commercial cinema for entertainment. Bheja Fry, which was a big hit at the box office, one that easily could be called a commercial success, was also critically acclaimed. Using political satire and humour as tools, it had a sophisticated plot and script. And whats more, the acting did justice to the story. Bheja Fry was also far from depressing. Dev D, a rather stinging criticism of society, its double standards, patriarchy and more, had its share of songs and dance sequences that made it a commercial success. Dor, not much of a commercial success but one of the most thought provoking (and gently instructive) films made in Indian cinema. It deals with dilemmas, so it keeps the audience restive but in no way depressing. For filmmakers, the dichotomy only serves the purpose of justifying making stupid movies under the commercial cinema banner. And for movie goers, it helps in justifying the lowering of their own standards in cinema.
Another dichotomy is the traditional- innovative. Unlike the parallel-commercial cinema dichotomy, this actually exists and is not as absurd. The ‘traditionalists’ pride themselves because their art form is ‘pure’ and ‘unsullied’. The’ innovativists’ look down upon the other because they have broken the time warp that the ‘traditionalists’ are in. Now, my own insight into this dichotomy comes from my little dabbling with Bharatanatyam. Obviously, the raging debate has some significantly persuasive orators on both sides, but I am going to give my, what might seem rather, raw view of this dichotomy. My previous teachers (and I with them) performed an innovative piece called Shyam Sakhi. The innovation was in the way they approached the subject matter- the relationship between Lord Krishna and Draupadi- and also in form because they had a mixture of Kathak and Bharatanatyam in their dance drama. The innovation in content- this relatively unexplored aspect of the relationship between, not brother and sister as the as is traditionally taken, but between loyal friends- was, in one word, SUPER. The innovation in form, though, left much to be desired. Jhelum Paranjpey’s Leelavati is a brilliant exercise both in innovating content and innovating form. What I gather from these experiences is that one needs to be sufficiently steeped in tradition to make the kind of innovation that is deep enough, in both form and content, for it to be included in the greater knowledge base of the art form. And that’s the only kind of lasting innovation that makes sense in any art form.
Similarly, the dichotomy of entertaining reading- edifying reading is meaningless for the simple reason that everything that’s entertaining is edifying. For something to be edifying, it has to be engaging first; for something to be engaging, it has to be entertaining first. If it isn’t entertaining, it won’t edify. I remember my mother banning some books for us, not because she was concerned about content or anything, she just thought it was necessary to ban them in order to help form a good reading habit. It is true we never since developed any taste for that kind of literature. But I don’t necessarily subscribe to my mother’s view. I think we would have read and dismissed such books on our own. Enid Blyton, for example, we used to read all the time and I loved every bit of it. But now, I cant stand her books. Her books are racist, intolerant to the ‘different’, perpetrates patriarchy and written, many times, with wrong grammar. I have realized these shortcomings albeit late but I have done so irrespective of the fact that I lived and breathed Enid Blyton. Finally, edification ( I hate the word; it sounds so pompous) is something that has more to do with the individual. The individual either learns and improves from whatever it is he is reading ( even deciding to avoid certain kind of literature because it is stupid is an edifying process) or he learns nothing at all. It is possible, after all, to read Crime and Punishment or The Discovery of India and come out with no improvement whatsoever in oneself.
I have just figured that if there is one single thing I really hate in this world it would be dichotomies because most of them are meaningless but, sadly, catching.
P.S Apologies to my readers following the adventures of PC for this grand delay in the appearance of the 4th Chapter. It can be attributed to my relocating woes. But I am sure to update it coming Tuesday. So watch out for it!