Dr. Thamizhachi Thangapandian

Thangapandian Illam,
Raja Nagar, Neelangarai,
Chennai – 600 041.

            I am here to congratulate and appreciate the Debut venture of Nitharsha as well sharing some moments of my reading experience of the Novel.

            As an old – timer, I am always for British Novel’s rather than modern American Novels with a few exceptions. But as an academic, I have always tried to keep myself abreast in the modern Indian Literary Fiction. That way, I welcome this chance to go thro’ this fiction of a young adult, which has opened up a new vocabulary of words, trendy, in the vogue amidst the teens. After completion I tried to fix up – where does it stand or in which genr’e does it fall?

            “In the eighteenth century the English novel grew quietly to its full stature.  The Elizabethans had toyed with romance and with realism; Bunyan had made a story out of his religious convictions; Addison and Steele had expressed common beliefs and sentiments in essays with a touch of fiction; Defoe had given to homely fact an imaginative appeal. The way for the modern novel was thus fully prepared.  A clearer day of probity and fervor among the general public had followed the rake-hell noctambulism of the Restoration.  A new public for a new fiction was ready, and almost expectant.  Richardson, a contemporary of John Wesley, is the typical figure of a changed order”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 418)

            Samuel Richardson’s Pamela come out in 1741, is a famous novel written in epistolary form, i.e the entire story will be revealed through the form of letters. It is the story of an attractive girl employed as a domestic servant.    

            “The success of Pamela in kitchen and boudoir alike proved that Richardson had given his public what the novel-reading public has demanded in some form ever since, namely, realism and romance nicely blended”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 418)

            I would say that exactly that is what I felt - a nice bled of realism & romance when I read this novel Adolescently in love. Set in the Bison Valley School Campus it takes us through the lives of Rohit, Lavanya, Sanjana, Tarun, Nishi, Yaashan, Yamuna. It has a Prologue in a lucid, simple style and has been divided into Book 1 Sanjana; Book 2  Tarun; Book 3 Yamuna divided into chapters in between, ending perfectly with an Epilogue – again with the same dream as in the Prologue, the difference here is it’s dream come true – Rohit marrying his girlfriend Lavanya – a dream come true. The whole novel takes us away smoothly observing the common concerns and interests of this century’s adolescent youngsters in teens. .

            I am here neither to criticize nor to applaud blindly but to appreciate Prakash whole heartedly. Infact,  

            “in the Middle English literature there is no literary criticism. In the middle of the sixteenth century there was a Cambridge “school” of criticism, represented by Roger Ascham, Sir John Cheke and Thomas Wilson, who set themselves deliberately against over-elaboration of style.  They opposed “inkhorn” terms and the “aureate” phraseology of the fifteenth century, and were anxious that English should be written “pure”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 129)

            Imagine the shock of Roger, John Cheke & Wilson if they happen to read this passage –

          “Guys, today the new chicks would be coming.  Dibs on the hottest one.”  Chris distracted all eyes off the food”. (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 2)

          “Yeah.  Beware man; just because you called dibs, all are going to be so not-hot.”  Said Vajish and the table erupted into laughter.  The guy had finished applying his Nutella and took a bite of the slice.  He then looked over to the conversation and joined in”. (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 2 & 3)

            “Well, what was the last thing you spoke to a girl about?”

            “It was…… Um… Something personal.” Rohit lied.

            “I know what.  The last thing you said was sorry. It literally was, ‘sorry.’  Don’t say you spoke to a girl after that.” It was Ajay.

       “What? I didn’t ask sorry to anyone.”  Apologising to a girl belonged in the lower end of the coolness scale amidst those teens. (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 3)

            “What the fuck?” Chris cried out loud.  The girls gave him a shocked look.  Profanities are a common thing among teens, having learnt them newly,  they try and frame sentences with those and end up using too much of them. (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 6)

            But it’s cool stuff now-a-days, because the novelist triumphs over the moralist here.

            “Clarissa is the second novel written by Samuel Richardson after Pamela.

            D.H.Lawrence in Pornography and Obscenity went so far as to say, with some justification, that “Boccaccio at his hottest seems to me less pornographical than Pamela or Clarissa Harlowe”. Sexual respectability, however important, is not the whole and final concern of human life”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 420)

            I am reminded of Lawrence’s statement when I read Nishi’s argument with her dad. “Dad, if you are afraid that I may fall in love with someone, you are being juvenile.  I might have as well fallen in love with some guy in while I was at school.  You put me in a girl school.  What if I had turned out to be a lesbian after being there? I haven’t told you, there were two lesbian girls in my own dorm.  What is immoral to us will always be there everywhere, even in our own agraharam.  I know what I should do and what I shouldn’t.”  Nishi said.  Her mother had a horrified expression on her face”.  (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 105 & 106) How clear-cut, unambiguous, definite is this view of a young adolescent girl – they are pranksters but also pragmatic to the core and it is well brought out by the author through Conversations.

            I am not sure about the formative years of Nitharsha Prakash – but I am sure he must have reaped the genetic seeds from his proud Mom.  Other than that, he must have proved his mettle in many other creative ways.

         “Would Dickens have become the Dickens we know if he had not been engaged to write humorous letterpress to pictures of Cockney sportsmen? Would Richardson have become the Richardson we know if he had not been asked to write model letters? Would Fielding have become the Fielding we know if Richardson’s narrowly virtuous Pamela had not offended his broader charity? These are engaging questions” (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 421)

            Probably Prakash should channelize all his writing and creative abilities to a more focused social novel of a broad canvas and depth. He would, I am damn sure, take a chill pill, before his next venture because beneath the seemingly shallow puppy-love world of adolescence which he portrays, there runs a deep philosophical tinge of a matured adult. And I am amazed by that. Here is a dialogue between Nishi and Yashan -

            “Look, he needs a pure moment, wherein he realizes what he needs to.  This marriage might have the pure moment he needs.”

            “Please get this in your head.  There is no pure moment in life.  Every beautiful moment is a work of a thousand manipulation.  You need to do something to create the pure moment you are talking about.  And how are you planning to do that.” (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 90)

           I congratulate him for this and throughout the novel (which runs into 333 pages,) you can see glimpses of this maturity abloom - for example, when Nishi chose to confront her father regarding her college admission:

           “Nishi understood what her dad meant.  He was just trying to be discreet about the whole concept of love and sex.  Every parent in the Indian family does that.  Nishi chose not to be discreet about it anymore”. (ADOLESCENTLY IN LOVE – Nitharsha Prakash : 105)

            “Initially we divided novelists into three groups (1) the novelists of sentiment and reflection, typified by Henry Mackenzie, (2) the novelists of home life, typified by Fanny Burney, and (3) the novelists of “Gothick” romance, typified by Horace Walpole and Clara Reeve”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 424)

            The categorizing have been more broad-brimmed in this century with the widening of English Literature to post – colonial arena, particularly with the rise of Indian writing in English. So I wouldn’t rather categorize this Novel as a novel of ‘Sentiment’ or ‘Sensibility’ as in earlier days but as a Novel of Netizen draped in bits and pieces of sentiments of tender, romantic, infatuated, nostalgic feeling coupled with occasional maturity to cope with Life. Today’s youth icon is Internet.  Connection and Relation through the Virtual World is so easy, fickle, volatile as well a straight shooter. Listen to Ranjana when she reveals that Sanjana her twin sister is dead and sums up to Rohit – “Rohit, I don’t care for the issues in your life. But from what Yashan told me it sounded like you are throwing away your life. Just as you throw your life away, do remember that there are people who don’t have a life to live like my sister”.

            I am really impressed by the manner in which Prakash has given flesh and blood to sheer adolescent experience in a vivid, lucid narrative style. That too, his mastery of teen vocabulary is awesome - Of course, there are a few mistakes of an Indianised English like,

            “Sir, today only the new students have reported back Sir”, but, all of us were committing errors like this before we mastered the Queen’s language a bit. But sure Prakash wins over me and has an edge of surprise as a Debutant when he asks, “you want to rely on a drunk’s direction, rather than Google’s?”

            Well someone said – “ Spontaneity is among the best gifts of the novelist” and Prakaash is brilliant in it. The world he portrays, to-days adolescent world is a world without much of a guilt, embarrassment, but of a splendid tiny cooing world of romance and infatuation inspite of the pressures to prove their worth as children and students. They seem to be rebellious but not in the real sense – they are just assured, bold, frank and no-nonsensical when it comes to terms with Life. Well – I would like to sum up with Wordsworth’s lines…

            Bliss was it that dawn to be alive,

            But to be young was very heaven.

         I realized the worth of these lines after putting down the novel. The novel is certainly long, but the pace is gripping with an interesting narrative style which is simple, quite interspersed with current jargons like Bamboozle, dips, it’s a guy thing smooches, and spiced with profanities. Also, to be bold and sure enough to write a novel at this young age needs tremendous will power and focus. Do you know that Sir. Walter Scott has concealed his authorship for so many years and had not revealed his identity till he was well past middle age? He was over forty when Waverly was published – with due respect to him I would say, Prakaash is gutsy and I admire his gutsiness.

            He has a long way to go – but I am sure he would fathom through successfully. The real birth of English Literature and Literary studies in India dates back to the closing years of the Indian career of Warren Hastings and it is a very vast arena of a grand stature demanding devotion, slavery, commitment and pride to carve a small niche in it. Whenever I am tempted by suggestions to write a novel I would remember George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence and Melville and the next moment I would be humbled to turn down such suggestions. Because, novel is the most challenging and risky venture. Your Betrothment to it can be forever – to complete it successfully and satisfactorily, in all it’s stature, volume, canvas is a Herculean Task. Prakaash has touched the tip of the Iceberg – My Best Wishes to him to proceed and succeed fruitfully.

            I always have had this attitude to compare or judge – right from Eliot’s ‘Touchstone Method’ days – a work or a writer with his or her’s predecessors as a Researcher. But today, I am not going to do it for two reasons.

            All said and done, it is a remarkable venture for a young man like Prakaash to choose a literary career in English, with this debut attempt. Only kudos to him at the moment!

            Secondly an interesting passage from ‘The Concise Cambridge History of English’ till by George Samson has given me an insight to perceive writers on their own, treating them separately. It may be a digression, but I would like to share that passage here –

            “Whitman and Melville… They were born in the same year, both of Dutch- British ancestry, one in New York itself, the other thirty miles away on Long Island.  They spent much of their lives in their native or neighbouring city and died within a year of each other.  They shared the same love of the sea, the same admiration for what the aristocratic Melville called “the kingly commons” and what the carpenter’s son Whitman called the “nobility” of ordinary people.  They both wrote memorably of the Civil War and its aftermath, particularly of the fundamental issues involved.  They even had the same powerful physique and much the same preference for the simple life over the sophisticated.  One would have thought they must have spent much of their time in each other’s company.  Yet there is no record of their ever having met, except in the columns of the The Brooklyn Eagle when Whitman reviewed Typee and Omoo.  They must have passed each other in the New York streets as ships pass in the night.  Melville knew Hawthorne, Whitman Hawthorne’s friend Longfellow, but the author of Moby-Dick knew not, apparently, the author of Leaves of Grass.  It is as if Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, or Dickens and Thackeray, had been strangers all their lives in literary London.  In that bustling city of New York, with its bohemian and journalistic flavor, there was apparently no Horace Greeley, Bayard Taylor or other notability of the time to introduce Ishmael to the Democratic Bard or the Democratic Bard to Ishmael.  “Herman, I want you to meet Mr Whitman”; “Walt, do you happen to know Mr Melville?” It should all have been so simple, yet the introduction, apparently, never took place.  The poet who saw in Salut au Monde “the whale-crews of the South Pacific and the North Atlantic” never saw the whaler who wrote of captain Ahab and of his chase in the “Pequod” of the mightiest Leviathan of them all.  Despite the temptation, therefore, to treat of Whitman and Melville together, we shall have to take them separately, as they lived.  They are great enough, when all fair criticisms have been made of them—and they are open to criticism on several accounts—to stand on their own feet”. (The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature - George Sampson: 810)

            Let’s read Prakaash’s debut novel, as a separate entity, trying to figure out his imaginary space circumambient of an adolescent life and love. Let me not be rigid in distincting or harsh in criticsizing but frank and genuine in my appreciation for him with a big welcome and cheers. Good job and kudos Prakaash!   

 

Work Cited:

            The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature  - George Sampson