Literary Licence

 The preoccupations of modern life, both personal and professional, and technological advancements have various effects. Many are positive, but some not very much so. A lack of leisure time, or at least time away from electronic devices, is one; the shrinking span of attention is another. Reading becomes a casualty, barring for a devoted few.

But literature can be extraordinarily elastic, capable of expanding or shrinking to fill time as you want to give it. Don’t have time for novels? Turn to short stories. Abhor long poetry? Three-line, 14-syllable haikus can be an option. Want a lifted from reading an inspiring biography but time is not your ally? You can always pick your choice from a lavish buffet of anecdotes.


Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was capable of some memorable reactions, as a friend recalled from some holidays in Wales. There was this sunny morning when Thomas, “carrying around with him and intermittently sipping from a flagon of ‘champagne-wine tonic’, a Penzance herbalist’s highly intoxicating brew sold very cheaply and without licence”, talked copiously and then stopped.

“Somebody’s boring me,” he said. “I think it’s me.”

D.H. Lawrence gave a copy of a published work to his father. “My father struggled through half a page, and it might as well have been ‘Hottentot’.

‘And what dun they give thee for that, lad?’

‘Fifty pounds, father.’

‘Fifty pounds!’ He was dumbfounded and looked at me with shrewd eyes, as if I were a swindler. ‘Fifty pounds! An’ tha’s niver done a day’s hard work in thy life (sic)’.”

But it is not only the cultural icons of the Western world that have been subject of witty anecdotes. Raghupati Sahay returned home to Allahabad on a train, on which the poet struck up an acquaintance with a co-passenger, a Parsi gentleman called Daruwalla. As Firaq reached his destination, his new friend asked him for his address so that he could call on him. “I live on Bank Street,” Sahay said. “Come there and instead of looking for my house, tell any bystander your name. They will themselves bring you to my house.”    

– Vikas Datta for IANS