BHUBANESWAR: What happens when deconstruction is applied on biographies? The real lives of non-eulogised individuals come out in open.
In this context, the role of a biographer was reinterpreted during the session ‘Biographies: Are they literature of PR?’ on the second day of fifth edition of Odisha Literary Festival here on Sunday.
The primary job of a biographer is to deconstruct, said author Manu S Pillai. “In India, people are fascinated about the aura of tall and towering figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former PM Indira Gandhi. We like the idea of a hero. We start worshipping people and at the same time, close our eyes to their darker, negative aspects. Great men are not gods. They are great human beings, along with flaws and imperfections. But as we know, public figures create myths as they hide a lot. A biography should deconstruct this idea of a hero,’’ he said.
The role of biographers should be of cutting away the flesh and reaching the bone. In their books, they should bust mythologies and legends that have been created, Pillai said and added that to achieve this objective, the biographers should go beyond the methodology of a human being and take note of the individual’s personal life like thoughts and emotions.
Activist, columnist and author Prabeen Singh, who chaired the session, said biographers should not promote a hero to satisfy their own needs. “A hero is never more important than a real individual. A biographer should always show the darker aspects of an individual along with his/her brighter side,” she said.
She further said curiosity or voyeurism, the urge to look into life of others, holds us together. We are like peeping toms. This curiosity formalises into biographies, Singh added.
Echoing similar views, Director of Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation and author Anirban Ganguly said the genre of biographies should be deconstructing not myth-making. “We should stay away from ‘Authorised Biographies’,” he said.
Ganguly, who is also a scholar on civilisation, history, politics and culture, also stressed on the need to write biographies of unsung heroes of our country. “No biographies of early Indian revolutionaries like Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin) have been written and this is an area which needs to be exploited,” he said.
Columnist and author of ‘Dark Star: The Loneliness of Being Rajesh Khanna’ Gautam Chintamani said in the world of films, most writing is done by magazines to sell movie stars, thereby giving rise to myth-building. “Rajesh Khanna was a larger than life figure during his days. Most of the stars then led a closed door life which resulted in building up of myths. But by putting real facts in books, deconstruction starts and the myth gets busted,” he said.
Chintamani also said biographies help us understand the time in which they are set. “A biographer should also write about the era in which the individual lived. Documentation of the era also helps us better understand the individual,’’ he added.