Devraj Singh Kalsi takes a fresh look at national pride with a soupçon of sarcasm and humour
Many nations have not produced a single Nobel Laureate. Many have not produced a Nobel Winner in all the categories. Many have a solitary winner in over a century. Many keep winning the prize year after year in some category or the other. Such countries appear blessed with prodigious people who are rare to find like platinum and gold.
The sorrow of not winning a single medal goes deep for a country as it cannot do anything about it – only a citizen can make the nation proud with his powerhouse talent. A nation can only encourage talented citizens to keep their intellectual pursuits alive. Two categories – literature and peace – hold promise and raise big hopes as these are related to creativity and noble deeds to make the world a better place.
Imagine what happens to a country or a community if there is no Nobel Winner in literature from its soil. The sentiments of a nation that won a Nobel once in a century deserve to be felt. Such nations and communities end up deifying the solitary winners. This poses a formidable challenge to other people who feel threatened under their aura and remain insecure about the potential to repeat such a feat.
Where winning becomes a habit, the nations feel proud to have the best minds. The common people surge with collective pride in their genetic superiority and celebrate the presence of the Nobel winners as a divine gift. When great talent is ignored, there is a groundswell of suspicion that these global honours are discriminatory. It opens debates and people start scrutinising their work in great detail. Perhaps there is merit in the contention that the winner did not deserve it, but the choice is a reality to be accepted with a heavy heart. The intellectual fraternity finds the time to run a complete scan and critical write-ups appear in the newspapers for some days after the big announcement is made.
Just one Nobel Laureate for Literature in more than a century is not an impressive score for a nation that boasts of a rich cultural heritage much before the Nobel came into existence. Once there is a winner, there should be a crop of successive winners to keep alive the tradition of winning. Otherwise, the collective respect for the single winner becomes so overwhelming that the community and the nation edify the achiever and criticism becomes unacceptable. If the stream of Nobel winners keeps flowing, with at least half a dozen winners in a century, there are more claimants for veneration. The respect accumulated for the winners gets divided and the process of deification of a solitary winner gets derailed.
You become aware that with so many Nobel laureates, you have to respect them all, read them all, and assess them all. The judgment of the Nobel panel has placed them at par, but the judgment of readers is supreme. The people from the North join in to celebrate the winner from their region while the people from the South start worshipping the winner from their region. Since the winner hails from the same region, they feel closer to his identity than his work. There is a sense of appropriation as they want to have a winner from their community to be lauded more.
With multiple winners, there are more claimants to excellence and devoted readers with their strong biases critique them or compare them the way they like. If there is a single winner, the status of the sole winner gets further uplifted. If there are no repeat winners with time, it makes the people of the country feel what they are currently producing is not worth any award. They revisit the past and try to emulate the winner. If a nature poet who won, they try to become clones and find success in the same category to prove they are not bad nature poets.
Nations erupt in joy to feel elated. But the intellectual talent is global. Art created in a country is a global asset. Perhaps we are still immature as we are less enthusiastic about the work and more focused on the Nobel winner and his race, nationality, and identity.
Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.
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