PLACE OF LITERATURE IN TODAY’S WORLD

Adnan Ashraf
“Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” C.S. Lewis
Contemporary era is considered by many of us as the most advanced period in human civilization. Every aspect of human life has witnessed an enrichment owing to scientific and technological advancements. For instance, the advent of social media in our lives has made us more vocal and communicative. However, different surveys indicate deterioration as far as relationships and inner satisfaction is concerned. More and more people are suffering from various psychological disorders e.g. megalomania, paranoia, and narcissism (as evidenced in the rising trend of uploading selfies and other photos on facebook), etc. Almost every other person is undergoing a sort of depression and stress owing to the reasons varying from personal to external, like inflation, unemployment, energy crisis, terrorism and sectarianism. Different people will present different solutions to ameliorate the decadent circumstances through which we are passing. In my opinion, there is only one antidote for all of our afflictions; and that is literature.
Here it is also quite pertinent to mention the kind of literature that can make our lives worth living. Like the people in any sphere of life, writers’ thoughts, views and intentions also span from good to evil. There are ones who preach love and kindness; and there are others who incite people to commit murders and wreak havoc on the weaker sections of the people. So it is the basic definition of literature that should be kept in mind while thinking to read a literary work that literature deals with the lives of humans, it preaches love and humanism; and it does not erect boundaries. There is no room for any kind of bias in literary discourse.
We have now more reading material available to us than it was two or three decades ago but ironically there is a decline in the number of the readers and especially the readers of literature are few and far between. In previous ages, literature occupied the central place in the lives of people. The art of storytelling, poetry and drama was at the core of the Renaissance in the western world, which laid the foundation stone for their future progress in every sphere of life. Literature inculcated in their society the values like humanism, tolerance and compassion and as a corollary of all this they got an impetus to evolve not only their political system but also excelled in the field of science and technology which led to industrial and agrarian revolutions making them economic powers. They synchronized the spirit of literature produced by their writers with their achievements. We can criticize some of them for being colonizers but we cannot ignore the source of their inspiration.
Literature encourages people to be critical in their daily lives and thus it makes them look into their practices, evaluate them and keep trying to remove personal flaws. It makes them compassionate towards their fellow human beings. Who would not have moved after reading Riders to the Sea by J.M. Synge or Three Days to See by Helen Keller? Reading such pieces, certainly, fills one’s heart with the milk of human kindness. Literature is a reflection of the society and as such it presents the miseries prevalent around us making us respond to these with the intention of bringing about some kind of improvement. The works of African-American writers contributed significantly to curb the racial prejudice in American society. Similarly, feminist writers have done a great service to humanity by highlighting the atrocities committed against the women and inspiring them to get their rights. Today, though, women are doing remarkable work in all the fields of life but, still, there are countless others suffering through oppression in the areas which are still backward and where male-chauvinism is still rampant.
Literature also brings about a balance in our lives i.e. it makes us realize our true nature, freeing us of all the illusions of our glory and thus keeping us away from the trap of narcissism.
“Narcissism falls along the axis of what psychologists call personality disorders, one of a group that includes antisocial, dependent, histrionic, avoidant and borderline personalities. But by most measures, narcissism is one of the worst, if only because the narcissists themselves are so clueless.” Jeffrey Kluger

Those who keep on sharing their selfies and yearning for getting more and more ‘likes’ on their facebook, are advised to go through Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. That will make them relinquish this trait.
We can also get rid of depression with the help of literature. Any good piece of poetry can make us forget the worries preoccupying our minds. Of all the genres of literature, poetry is said to be the most soothing, the most pleasing and the most comforting. Be it Shakespeare’s sonnets, Keats’s Odes, Wordsworth’s poems or the poetry of Bulleh Shah, Ghalib, Mir, and Faiz; it transpires our inner world into a garden full of roses.
In our milieu, we see the works of Sir Syed, Hali, Faiz, Prem Chand, Manto and Tagore et al. influencing the society in a positive way. If Sir Syed’s works in prose endeavored to eliminate the follies present in the people than Hali’s poetry made them realize who they were. The works of Faiz and Prem Chand enabled us to be critical towards the division of the society on the basis of class. Manto presented the evils in the society in such a realistic manner that it became hard to digest for the conservatives who preferred to put these things under the carpet and labelled them as taboo. Thus he sought to make us cognizant of the ugly aspects of our society. As for his opponents, they are still present today criticizing Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for highlighting the cruelties done to women. The respective eras of these literary figures absorbed their influences and thus we see a period of intellectual richness till late 70s when, unfortunately, authoritarian regime started stifling all critical voices and caused an intellectual barrenness in the coming decades which are marred with the afflictions of extremism, sectarianism and terrorism.
Recently, there has been the vogue of organizing literary festivals in the major cities. This is appreciable in the sense that a large number of people attend such events, sessions are held for discussing the various ideas and thus developing critical thinking is facilitated. However, there is segregation in these festivals as well. These festivals are organized at places meant to be visited by the people of elite class only and the organizers keep this aspect in their mind when they invite the speakers. Since this vogue is relatively a new phenomenon in our country, so it is hoped that these literary festivals will become literary with the passage of time.
Our beloved country is facing multiple challenges at present. These challenges can be dealt with effectively only when our society gets rid of gender oppression, parochial prejudices, extremism and sectarianism. Literature is the only panacea for all these maladies. Our land is the land of the Sufi poets like Bulleh Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Mian Muhammad Bukhsh and Rehman Baba. It is also the land of poets like Waris Shah and Ahmed Faraz whose amorous poetry has a special fragrance for us. Folklores like Heer Ranjha and Sassi Pannu have their origin here. So we have our own literary traditions the continuation of which can transform our society into an ideal one.

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