Letters From Leeds: Joy Enters My Sheltered Life

Dear Joy,

My, what an introduction! It’s not often that an unsolicited letter from an unknown writer stops me in my tracks and compels me to pay attention.

I empathize with your “jammed highway” of a brain, Joy, your capacity for “verbally dueling” with yourself.

From the streets of your native Calcutta to your university studies at Leeds to my carved-out publisher’s loft in these leafy NYC suburbs, we all breathe the same cerebral toxins, do we not?

A different air, perhaps, but the same complexity, the same danger, the same wonder. We breathe it all in, don’t we, Joy?

We observe, we imbibe, we spit it back.

We rejoice, we kvetch, we endure.

And as you mentioned, my Little Miss Marple of cyberspace, people, oh people, they are much the same everywhere.

But we’re so different, you and I, Joy. There’s so much otherness to our daily experiences, so many variables that we could not possibly share. I have so much to ask you, so much to learn.

Your enthusiasm for travel and culture all but shouts from your correspondence. That sort of passion for life enthralls me! Your achievements in formal education impress me too. They rightfully poke and prod the poor student in me. But instead of irritating or intimidating me, your academic diligence energizes me. It makes me think that maybe I’m not such a knucklehead after all. If Atticus can interest writers like you, then surely we may be advancing the state of the art.

You tell me that you’re studying Chinese history and Italian films after completing a master’s degree in English. You tell me you’ve worked as a corporate trainer and instructional designer. You tell me you trekked to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal last summer. You even mention as an afterthought that you’ll probably get a higher degree in Social Anthropology because of your interest in cultures and how they manifest themselves (their contrasts, nuances, and prejudices).

Holy hell, Joy, where do you find the time? The energy? The intellectual bandwidth?

Do you not have rows and rows of establishments serving large quantities of liquor to entice you to dull your senses?

Do you not have a television or a strong, steady internet connection to distract you from such nobility?

May I nominate you for the 2014 “Global Renaissance Woman of the Year” award?

Your query raises questions for me about India’s dynamic literary scene and your unique perspective. In your note you mention that India has “twenty-eight states and seven union territories politically, with almost thirty languages each spoken by more than a million inhabitants—all with literary traditions and books, newspapers, and journals being regularly published—besides countless other dialects and less popular tongues.”

Add to this, you say, “the average Indian’s love-hate relationship with English and the missionary education system that has bred a generation of niche English readers, torrent (aka piracy), technical/how-to books, audio, graphic and experimental genres, Kindle and self-publishing…”

These facts alone trip my parochial wires and muddle my thoughts, yet they make me want to dig deeper into your worldview.

In one way your society makes me feel ignorant and ashamed, partly because too many righteous U.S. citizens are brainwashed to believe in American exceptionalism, so much so that they bleed nationalism, drink spiked Kool-Aid, and have the audacity to tell immigrants to learn how to speak English or leave our sacred, homogenized cow of a homeland.

On the other hand I know racism and sexism are pervasive in every country. (India, of course, is no exception.) But something tells me, Joy, that from your vantage, it would be nearly impossible for you to relate to the depths of lowlife, redneck, trailer-trash stupidity that we Americans face on a daily basis. Or is this form of species rampant in your neck of the woods, as well?

How do we rise above the superficial din and immerse ourselves in art when government officials are calling for deeper and deeper cuts to fiscal budgets that celebrate artistic freedom and protect an individual’s pursuit of a career in the creative arts?

Is it possible to commit to an independent life of letters and a pursuit of intelligent discourse when tomfoolery dominates the headlines and a shrinking $ bleeds on the footnote of every news page from here to Timbuktu?

Let me assure you that I’m not an unpatriotic revolutionary. It’s just that I’ve developed a very low threshold for intolerance—or what we here in the States coarsely call “bullshit.” (I assume the definition of bullshit is universal, no?) In a paradoxical manner, you might say that this concession makes me a hypocrite since I have no patience for intolerance yet I’m intolerant of opinionated numbskulls.

Excuse me while I jump off my political soapbox and head for higher ground.

Ah there, that’s better. What a view. Clean air. No smog. Miles from snipers, tax returns, and computer viruses. That’s more like it.

I am on a cliff and below this cliff lies the deeper, more meaningful waters of pure, unadulterated joy.

Ready, set, dive!

(Whew, as I mentioned earlier, Joy, sometimes it is hard for me to keep up with this “jammed highway” of a brain too. Do forgive my digressions. They’re all I have to keep sane.)

In your letter, you speak to the economic imbalance in India that you say has affected the common man’s ability to buy books. Similar to America’s publishers, publishers in India are ever crying broke, you say, but many signs of a revitalization exist. You list as evidence a “thirst for knowledge, reverence for the written word, increased news coverage of book releases, rising popularity of self-publishing, existence of small/independent press, literary magazines, fests, and book fairs.”

Gosh, this excites me, Joy! Partly because I’m a lit geek and information junkie, but mainly because on every continent, it seems, despite all factors working against him, man remains resolute in his desire to inform and entertain fellow man through the dissemination of literature.

I’m curious about your impression of the literary scene in Leeds. How does the university environment and outskirts compare and contrast with Calcutta? Also, given the prevalence of e-readers and smartphones, what’s your take on the future of print? Have you heard of an Espresso Book Machine? Have you run across vending machines that sell books?

Is there any hope for the future, Joy?

Yours on the other side of paradise (with no snipers in sight),

Dan

Editor’s note: “Letters from Leeds” is an ongoing series of letters between Atticus Books publisher Dan Cafaro and writer Jayeeta (“Joy”) Ghorai. Joy initially approached Dan about writing a column about epiphanies, journeys, readings, films, and other random observations — and Dan spontaneously decided that Joy needed to become his pulse to the broader world of literature.

Photo By: Eric Parker

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