Journalistic writing biggest threat to serious literature: award-winning Urdu novelist Khalid Jawed

Khalid Jawed said though literature has political, social, moral concerns it should not be “presented on a plate like newspapers” to readers.

Journalistic writing is the biggest threat to serious literature, says Urdu novelist and winner of the 2022 JCB Prize for literature Khalid Jawed, concerned about reporting being passed off as works of literature and the poor “grooming” of readers in the current era.

The author of “The Paradise of Food”, originally published as “Nemat Khana” in 2014, said though literature has political, social, moral concerns it should not be “presented on a plate like newspapers” to readers.

“The biggest threat to serious literature is journalistic writing. In the name of literature, reporting is being done, and then that reporting is made into a novel. Social reality is presented exactly as it is. This has been happening for the past 25 years now,” Mr. Jawed told PTI.

Mr. Jawed, a professor at Jamia Milia University, recently received the JCB prize “The Paradise of Food”. It carried with it a cash reward of ₹25 lakh along with a trophy.

Translated by Baran Farooqi, it tells the story of a middle-class joint Muslim family over a span of 50 years where the narrator, at odds in his home and the world outside, struggles to find a place for himself.

His other bestselling works include “Ek Khanjar Pani Mein”, “Aakhri Dawat” and “Maut Ki Kitab”.

Terming serious literature insightful, the 62-year-old author believes literature in essence has serious aesthetics, and says readers have not been “groomed” properly and are therefore not able to comprehend the work of acclaimed authors.

He gave an instance to illustrate his point—readers of novelist and screenwriter Gulshan Nanda, he said, were gradually “trained” in such a way that they would later read works of acclaimed writers such as Qurratulain Hyder, Sadaat Hassan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Yashpal and Nirmal Verma.

“Sadly, this process of training a reader is over now,” Mr. Jawed noted.

Adding that he is not a fan of popular literature that like other popular things gives “instant happiness” and nothing else, the celebrated Urdu writer said this is a “bad time” for the entire literary scene.

“Urdu literature is also not untouched by it. It is written in such a way that it is easy to understand. However, what is understood very soon should always be viewed with suspicion,” he warned.

He also talked about the limitations of writings on Islam. Unlike Hinduism, it comes with a set code of conduct and lacks a ground for story-telling, he said.

Responding to a question on bestseller authors such as Amish Tripathi and Devdutt Patnaik writing novels based on characters from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Jawed said, “Within Hinduism, human values come to the fore along with cultural elements. In such a place, the ground for storytelling is already there.”

“Islam has its own special rules and code of conduct. It is very difficult to break them. So there is no ground to tell the story here.”

Asked if he is working on a new novel, Mr. Jawed, who mostly touches on existential dilemmas of man in his writings, said, “Abhi toh kisi subject ne mujhe chuna nahi hai. (No subject has selected me yet).”

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