May 24, 2011

David versus Goliath

Of all the Biblical stories, David versus Goliath remains my favourite. Not because it showcases individual triumph over adversity or fortitude or anything like that. Many other tales do that. At the simplest level, it is a story of insubordination, of taking on authority, of challenging the popular and the established, of breaking away from the herd to make yourself heard.

Came across 2 such examples recently and thought i'd share them.

When I read Ratan Tata’s comments in the above story, I was pleased. The article has two moot points – Mr Tata’s criticism of the exaggerated and vulgar opulence that’s evident in Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey Antilla abode and the poor work ethic displayed by the management of his UK-based company – Jaguar Land Rover. Both comments should be read in the context of the larger issues he is talking about – developing a social conscience amongst India’s rich and the abysmal work ethics of UK-based managers who are not willing to go an extra mile when the occasion so demands as opposed to their Indian counterparts.

Now, you may agree with Mr Tata’s views or formulate your own counterview. Indeed, I harbour my own reservations about the work ethic part since what’s seen by him as a valuable precedent can also be read as the Indian disregard for work-life balance and scant respect for an employee’s private time. But that’s not the real issue here.

I find Mr Tata’s remarks commendable because in the current climate of political correctness where every truism, every sentence, has to be endlessly pondered and edited before it is fit to be echoed in public, it takes courage to voice such thoughts. If Mukesh Ambani has a right to build his house according to his tastes, so does Mr Tata to criticise such tastes!

In the second instance, a nice forum has grown around Umberto Eco's comments in the Guardian. I am mostly ok with whatever he wrote, save for the last paragraph where he seems to be justifying his not reading those books. What surprised me was that most of the commentators didn't seem to get the slight insult, or rather the pomposity inherent in his those words. Until I came upon this comment (copied below.) 

"Dear Mr. Eco, 

I am a reader and not a writer.
I hope you can understand that we are different.

When you ask "Who has actually read Finnegans Wake – I mean from beginning to end? Who has read the Bible properly, from Genesis to the Apocalypse?", I understand that you are asking rhetorically, and with some incredulity, if not also with some defensiveness, as i can only assume that you have not, or else your question would be more dismissive of readers than it appears.

I have read both of those books, several times.
I have taken great enjoyment from them, as they are central to the Western tradition of narrative.
But, i am not a writer, and if you, as a writer, have not read them, as you may be suggesting from your provocative question, then i am concerned for you.

Several of your books make reference to the Bible, and make use of some of the devices that are central to what is groundbreaking in the Wake.

If what lurks behind your question is the admission that you did not understand the very material that you were using in your own writing, then i feel an obligation to let you know that i will not be reading any more of your books.
I am not a writer.

But, as a reader, what i expect from a writer is that they are in command of their work, and that they are aware of what they are doing. I do not expect that they have read everything. Nor do i expect that they are able to talk about what they do not know, but i would hope that a dismissal of a work because you could not finish it at that point in your life is not used as a dismissal of the work.

This is not an unreasonable pact between readers and writers. Readers need to trust that writers are writing something that is structurally sound, and that will be worth our time and effort.

Also, as a reader, there are books that i have read, and books that i have not read, but to make a value judgement on the work that i have not read, and am ignorant of, or to make a value judgement on the nature of reading in a world of such wondrous variety is insulting.

A dismissal of books that one has not read is selfish, solipsistic, and cynical toward any audience. 

Please think of the readers when you are cashing your cheques from the employment that you have gained on the back of your success in the field of writing and publishing your work. From this day forward, it will be slighly lighter due to those you have turned away with your posturing.

No longer yours,

Ah David! How I love thee? Let me count the ways ...


Shoumitro said...

I completely disagree with Ratan Tata's views on the British work culture. I was so outraged that even contemplated writing on it. My view -- the counterview -- is also there in your post.

His first view, on Antilla of Mukesh A, though, makes me nod my head in agreement.

drift wood said...


I get you & hence the counterview which i've touched upon.
But the real issue that impressed me was the courage to call a spade a spade. To me it seems, increasingly, people are getting insulated & cushy & the usual trend seems to be "If it doesn't affect me, why should i voice unpleasant facts?"

My 2 examples are completely disparate, but both are challenging authority, both are voicing opinions that will upset the cart.

I admire that.