At a time when the national literary sphere was rocked by a movement called award wapsi, I was driven to ponder over a different kind of award wapsi that happened in Gujarat almost a decade earlier. Barely three years after the publication of his first collection of short stories, titled Dhal Kachbo (2002), and at a time when he had already won two prestigious awards—Katha Award (1997) and Sanskruti Pratishthan Award (1999)—Nazir Mansuri threw away the former as the organisation wanted to publish the English translation of a short story by Mona Patrawala, whom Nazir had nominated for the award, with stylistic modifications. The contention of the editors was that the story, deeply rooted in a rural locale and a remote ethnic subculture, needed to be urbanised for potential readers, while its language required naturalisation into a register of English that was most readable and acceptable to the monolith of the target readership they had in mind.
I wondered if these two acts of writerly self-assertion and conscientious defiance could be compared within the dialectical framework of ‘commitment’ that Theodor Adorno elaborated in his eponymous 1962 essay. However, one can say with a measure of certainty that what Nazir was trying to safeguard in his protest was what Adorno called the ‘autonomy’ of art, a set of complex and profound internal relations that constitute the totality of a work of art. That apart, the form of resistance Nazir had foregrounded, was not only against the neoliberal onslaught on art and artists, but also against the society “in and of itself”.
One wonders if a different kind of commitment is required to embark on a project of writing the longest novel on earth, one that has already surpassed Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The answer is an emphatic yes, at least in the case of Nazir, given his uncompromising notions about art and artists. Working tirelessly in the shadows of literary marginality for about three decades does entail a nonpareil commitment and single-minded devotion that many in today’s literary world are incapable of. The novel I am talking about, one which is slated to be a bomb in the history of Gujarati literature, nay world literature, is his magnum opus titled Jamjaal, a work-in-progress only a few of his close friends are privy to. Expected to run into 35,000 to 40,000 pages upon completion, it captures two centuries of lives lived by marginal, coastal communities in Kathiawar. It affords the inside story, a deep peep into a robust, seafaring tradition; the community’s intimate relationship with the sea, their normative values and noble worldview, their moral stamina and human longings, and so on.