The Lockdown – Day Fifty-Eight

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  • Writers have to listen to different people and read diversified books. If writers assume that they are self-sufficient in terms of observations and have read a lot and listened to many interesting stories, and they do not need to study further, it is a stage from where learning stops.

  • We must remember that reading books, listening to different people, and writing is a simultaneous process, and it goes in a parallel way. Please be attentive to your environment – we should listen a lot – all these are stories, dialogues, and ideas – which are spread or moving around us. 

Zaffar Junejo

Today, one of my friends, who is based in Islamabad, sent me a short video of Elif Shafak’s interview. She is one of Turkey’s famous writers. In this video, she talks about the importance of reading diverse literature. The title of the interview is ‘Books Have Changed My Life.’ You could access it at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVrwiKEqHTc).

I watched the whole interview, it was worth watching. However, I liked her suggestion that authors have to read diversified books. Let me quote her words, ‘If we only read the same type of authors all our lives, it’s like you only hear one thread, one voice.’ She elaborated that if you are professionals or you occupy the too powerful position and say you have no time to read literature, in other words, that person is saying he/she has no time for stories, emotions, understanding others’ points of view, and no empathy what is happening around them.

Generally, it is recommended that doctors should listen to patients, lawyers should listen to clients. Likewise, writers should be attentive, when they are in dialogue or having a conversation or having a cup of tea at a restaurant. They have to listen to common people and make notes of their conversations. Regarding the listening, I recall a Sindhi language’s famous writer Abdul Qadir Junejo, who used to say, ‘what he has learned, it is from common people, farmers, and shepherds.’ On the other hand, Tolstoy and Virginia Wolf were also good listeners. The same could be noticed from their creative works.

Sometimes listening is also considered as a part of the observation. Generally, it is thought that listening is simple, but serious listening needs physical as well as emotional energy to digest information, attempt to understand the speakers’ emotions, body language, narrated story, and experiences. On the listeners’ side, it is the most active part, when they unpack the contextually uttered words, their tones, music, rhythm, and grammatical ordering.

Being writers, we have to look around, we would notice a lot of people are talking and few are listening. People are talking to shopkeeper, people are talking loudly in the streets and people are talking while driving. Some people use to drive, play music, and talk-over the phones. In our immediate and regular visiting places, we saw people talk continuously. All these talks are not value-less – when an old man argues with a young vendor, he converses with a full load of family responsibility, fear of cheating, and other expenses which are also unavoidable. If a young lady comes into a modern cellphone sale point and without bargain buys the recent model cell phone, in such a case, perhaps body language of that young purchaser tells that money is no problem, we have to value the time or barraging was a business of professionals’ not the wealthiest persons. Likewise, how a poor Faqir begs – what words, facial expression, stretching of hands, moving of eyes, and pitch of words helps him/ her to motivate us for dolling out our money. Therefore, it has become essential that writers must listen – and scope should be wider, not narrow.

This scriber spoke to well know Sindhi writer Dr. Rasool Memon, and asked him, ‘why considerable of Sindhi writers, speak a lot, and listen less?’ He was of the view that in the name of conversation, we all attempt to influence each other – I know more than you. Therefore, in the conversation we do not listen, in the true sense, we prepare the replies, while the conversation is still on. It is so, because writers, especially the budding writers do not have sound readings or exposures.’ He also added ‘It might be genetic as well as psychological problem.’ However, he mentioned some writers who are well listeners, and always seek to learn more, and ask questions, in a way to recheck their assumptions or fill their knowledge gaps.’ Finally, he said that speaking is a critics’ trait. (and there are various levels and categories of critics) however, the writers’ task is writing, and they have to do it carefully and silently.

In persuasion of the topic of this note ‘why writers’ listen less?’ I talked to my London-based psychologist friend. He told that psychologists and writers have certain common attributes. We have to listen to the people and prepare the case studies. These case studies are added with optional techniques to resolve the psychological problems. On the other hand, writers also must listen to their moving characters/people, and mingle them with imagination. This artistic mingling creates short stories, poems, and novels. He ended the call with an interesting observation that in either case – at psychological clinics or public parks – people are interested to tell their stories. So, if psychologists avoid listening to the people/patients, then they must close their clinics. Similarly, if writers avoid the peoples and do not listen to them or fail to notice their sufferings and aspirations, then their writings would be self-centered or too imaginative, beyond the peoples’ experiences.

Now the question is how listening helps us in writing. It starts with an understanding that whatever you know, other people might not know, and vice versa. Therefore, through active listening, we get insight, knowledge, and others’ point of view. This type of conversation can start the ideas about the plot, characters, dialogues, and movement of the story.

We must be clear that everyone has some ideas irrespective of their class, location, and experience. It is my experience that conversation with a person or co-traveler takes you away from the present world. We learn new experiences and amusing stories. The conversation always gives us ideas for writing scenes, visualizing plots, and dialogues, and ideas about set designs. However, if writers or aspiring writers talk too much, then honestly they are missing great exposure through conversations.

For being active listeners, we must have to shatter old habits, and acquire new ones. Eric Fromm in his book ‘The Art of Listening’ has mentioned six rules of listening. I am quoting it. These are: 1. The basic rule for practicing this art is the complete concentration of the listener, 2) Nothing of importance must be on his mind, he must be optimally free from anxiety as well as from greed, 3) He must possess a freely-working imagination which is sufficiently concrete to be expressed in words, 4) He must be endowed with a capacity for empathy with another person and strong enough to feel the experience of the other as if it were his own, 5) The condition for such empathy is a crucial facet of the capacity for love. To understand another means to love him — not in the erotic sense but in the sense of reaching out to him and of overcoming the fear of losing oneself, and 6) Understanding and loving are inseparable. If they are separate, it is a cerebral process and the door to essential understanding remains closed.’

It is true that old habits never leave easily. But, we must overcome them. I am saying so because writers have to listen to different people and read diversified books. If writers assume that they are self-sufficient in terms of observations and have read a lot and listened to many interesting stories, therefore, they do not need to study further, it is a stage from where learning stops. We must remember that reading books, listening to different people, and writing is a simultaneous process, and it goes in a parallel way. Please be attentive to your environment – we should listen a lot – all these are stories, dialogues, and ideas – which are spread or moving around us.

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Zaffar Junejo is Ph.D. Scholar at Department of History, University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur – The areas of interest: Peasants’ Studies, Social History, Cultural History, Colonial and Post-Colonial Periods.
For author’s previous blog click on Sindh Courier

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