Again and again, the question is raised: is fiction necessary? No, really, will it end poverty, bring about world peace, save the planet? The short answer is no, it won’t. But the long, and more complicated answer, is yes, maybe, you know...?
If you think reading a book will change your life forever or make you a whole other person then there is bound to be some misunderstanding between you and the back blurb. Books seldom act on their own; a lot of reading needs to get done before a change could hope to be wrought. Which implies a long period of time, when all you can hear is the sound of a page being turned.
Stories – told, texted, typed – have always existed in some form or the other. They come to us from the first of all mouths. They change with every telling. We listen with all our being when we are told stories and we own them when we say them in our own turn.
From simple morality black and white tales, from ditties that spun fear in human heart about gods and punishments and natural calamities, fiction shed its primitive soul to mutate into the current modern genres that dominate the market.
"Stories are the simplest way to get a message across. A format used for thousands of years by the greatest of spiritual masters and scholars, stories are told to teach a lesson, to make a point," says Reena Puri, editor,
Amar Chitra Katha. "Stories apply to all age groups, they are not just for children alone. Every human being responds to a story, it is a natural reflex to pay attention. When we hear the words 'once upon a time', we are all ears."
Stories are vital because they record the history of human emotions – what ails them, why they cry, what they fear and how they overcome these fears. They address a visceral and deeply hidden (perhaps even in our DNA) hysteria that comes from being born knowing we will die.
Stories get a lot done; they delve into the darkest, the murkiest, the unsaid, that what is swept under the carpet. Most of all, they build an imaginary scaffolding to hold in translation our daily minutiae by providing us a beginning, a middle and an ending. There is form and structure, discipline and free verse. Literature is life just as life is literature.
The word, the sentence, the phrase, the paragraph, they all attempt to go beyond the pre-lingual, what is impossible to express. Every attempt is made to recreate existence, a parallel world that spins on an axis in a mirror.
Fairy tales, grandma stories, folk tales, mythology, literary fiction, psychological thrillers, bestsellers, comics, whodunnits... an imagination transfusion that enters our veins like blood.
From oral to written, from papyrus to Kindle, stories are willing to travel any which way we want them to just to reach us. To that person who shrugs shoulders and says they don’t read, try saying, ‘Tell me a story.’ Chances are he will.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bengaluru. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.