Who does an artist create for? There is no ‘correct answer’ to this question. Some artists create for themselves, others for their loved ones, and others for the Creator. Some create to express themselves and some even create to break free from the cage that society imposes upon them.
Recently, I went to several museums and art galleries. The patrons were largely members of the educated and affluent class whilst the docents were mainly spouses of wealthy donors.
As I walked through the tall imposing building, I gazed at the countless artefacts and artworks imprisoned behind manmade barriers and glass panels. I should have felt awed and wowed; but instead, a lump appeared in my throat. We usually think of prisons as squalid and dark places for criminals, but as I studied these artefacts under expensive mood lighting… my anxiety heightened and my heart clenched.
I remembered the words of fellow author Sanchari Das. As an editor, I’ve developed a far more intimate relationship with a writer’s work than I ever did when I was simply a lover of the written word. Editors are an integral part of the creative process. We share an unbreakable bond with both the creator and the work that is hard to describe in words–even for authors who are wordsmiths. In An Artists’s Urge for Freedom, Das writes:
“Rabindranath Tagore is still caged—in the bookshelves of the elite class. He has failed to reach the house of the commoners. He wrote for them, but his voice never reached them. He was born with the stamp of upper class; and throughout his life, he couldn’t break free from that. Thousands of poems, stories and songs, couldn’t free him. He still belongs to the aristocrats, to the rich elite families.
“But it’s high time now that we drag him out of his confinements, out into the streets so that he can enter into the house of the commons—the ordinary people for whom he wrote. Because, for all I know, that’s where he always wanted to belong, but was never given the opportunity to.”
Welcome to yet another fireside chat at Mith Books. I have with me none other than Sanchari Das herself. She is one of my favourite writers of all time and I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working alongside her for the past year. She is one of the few artists I know that can move me to tears with her work. Her words heal and inspire. Her wisdom is beyond this world. It is my hope that her soul will inspire yours the way it does mine.
Dipa: In your tribute to Tagore on his birthday, you wrote that his work is caged in the bookshelves of the elite. Why would an artist want to break free from this cage?
Sanchari: I believe that when an artist creates a work of art, he or she wants everyone to read and feel connected to it. As for Tagore, writing was the only way out for him to connect to the outside world. He belonged to a wealthy and reputed family, so he wasn’t allowed to mix freely with the common people. But he always wanted to, because their lifestyle enticed him. He felt that the working classes were closer to life’s experiences than the wealthy merchants living in huge mansions. In several of his writings, we find his intense urge to get out of the lavish lifestyle to lose himself among the working class.
And I feel that most writers or artists wish to do the same. They write to break free from the chains that the society puts them in and reach out to the world outside through their mind’s eyes. Art itself is a liberating experience and a true artist won’t ever like to limit himself or herself to a particular class, but rather reach out to everyone out there who would appreciate and feel connected to their work of art.
Dipa: On the flip side, why do some artists work relentlessly for their work to be accepted and praised by the elite?
Sanchari: This is something we can notice in every field, and not art alone. A class of people are ever-ready to flatter the elite and earn some favour. Maybe this is their way of reaching the top of the game faster and without too much hard work. Some artists too feel the urgent need to get their work of art to the top by hook or by crook. And as the elite are powerful enough to offer that opportunity, the artists work hard to get accepted and praised in the world of the elite.
But one thing that they fail to understand is that they lose a part of themselves, their individuality and the originality of their artwork in the process of pleasing the elite.
“Art has the sole power to free us from the shackles that tie us back. Art alone can liberate us from mundane activities. Art is our only escape from the invisible prison of life.”
-Sanchari Das The Invisible Prison of Life
Dipa: Historically, there was a divide between the common man and the elite classes of society. Stories of the common man are folklore, whilst books by the elite are considered classics. What are your thoughts on this divide?
Sanchari: The difference I find between folklore and classics is that folklore are far simpler and easy to understand than classics, although in some cases the moral of the story remains the same. For example, I feel that the classic Wuthering Heights has quite a few similarities with the fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Many of the moral values imparted through both the stories are quite similar, yet one we read in our childhood and another is in our Master’s syllabus!
The reason for this difference may be attributed to the class of the reading public. Fairytales and folklore were mostly written for the common people and spread orally by wandering storytellers; while classics were published in printed papers for the readers of the elite classes. It is easier to go into a deeper analysis, introduce several themes into one book and present a bird’s eye view while producing a classic literature, knowing that people from the elite classes will spare a considerate amount of their time to read it in their leisure.
But as for folktales, they were generally written for the common people who have very little time to spare. They belonged to the working class who didn’t have the time to sit around the fireplace or in their comfort of their library and read story books. They would rather hear it on the go, just to earn a little break from their work and keep themselves entertained. Plus, most of them weren’t educated enough to understand the complexities of multiple themes, and they won’t probably bother to listen to long stories. So, folklore was a way of making stories, and through them certain life’s lessons, reach the common people who like to appreciate life in all its simplicities.
Dipa: You started your journey at Mith Books as a freelancer, then became an intern and now are the Head Writer of Our Book Club. What has this process been like for you?
Sanchari: Truly speaking, it’s exactly been like the “Level Up” concept we find when we play video games. I recently started to feel a stark similarity between life and video games; and when I look at my journey at Mith Books, the process simply feels like a gamer’s “Level Up” journey.
When I began as a freelancer, I wasn’t even sure if I can handle it. Still, I decided to give it a shot and tried my best. It was my entry into the first level. I learnt a lot and had so much fun in the process. It boosted up my confidence level.
Then, I became an intern: my first level up. It was obviously challenging and a lot difficult from the earlier task, but the confidence I gained as a freelancer came to my rescue and I knew if I work hard I can achieve my goal. And I really did. I faced challenges, stood up to my fear, learnt from my mistakes and upgraded myself for another level up: Head Writer of Book Club. And the journey so reminded me of playing games.
Plus, just like certain games have special boosters to help us on the process, at Mith Books I found my guide, mentor and moral booster in author Dipa Sanatani without whose guidance my journey would have been incomplete. Her leadership qualities fastened up my learning process just like a game’s boosters help the gamer to achieve their goal faster. My journey won’t have been the least exciting had it not been for her Saturnic abilities that could see right through me and hold the torch to show me the correct path. For me, it’s the experience of a lifetime that that I would cherish forever.