Guest Post for the week: Vineetha Mokkil on What’s in a Label

By Vineetha Mokkil

I am finishing work on a novel right now. The moment I say this out loud in public I am asked: what genre does it belong to? I stay quiet. What’s in a label, says my inner voice. “Thriller?” “Romance?” “Crime fiction?” “Chick-lit?” “Lad-lit?” “Historical fiction?” People start firing genres at me like ballistic missiles. Label it now or forever lose our interest – there comes the warning loud and clear. I don’t have a problem with genres per se. I’m not denying that they have their uses. When millions of books flood the shelves (or online portals), booksellers must find the least confusing way to present them before the reading public. Slotting a book into a genre saves everyone time and effort. It simplifies the search. It compartmentalizes choices into airtight categories, which hold out the promise of order in a chaotic world. Despite its superficial charms, this need to seal off books into rigid categories is a dangerous one. In a way, it negates the very process of creation itself. Writing fiction is an exercise in giving free rein to the imagination. A writer must be able to shape a novel or a story without having to worry about what label can be stuck on it. A novel can contain a mix of genres, successfully incorporating elements of more than one. It can also break free of all existing genres and impress readers with its ingenuity. Our keenness to label books is not very different from our need to box people into categories: married or single, black or white, gay or straight, liberal or conservative, believer or atheist. Slap on a label and reduce an immeasurably complex human being into a simplistic, easily identifiable entity. These labels do nothing to enrich our understanding of our fellow humans. They are simply the product of a blinkered vision. To slot people into square boxes is a grave injustice. To insist that every book must fit into a pre-fabricated category is inane. The human imagination has the power to break 
free of all restraint and soar to dizzying heights. A work of fiction displays this power at its best. It comes alive because it flies on the wings of a writer’s imagination. Labels limit it. Labels flatten out complexity in the interest of homogeneity. What they offer is false comfort – the illusion that chaos can be contained, that every story comes with a neatly tied-up ending. As all art essentially does, what I intend to capture in my novel is the rich, complex tapestry of human experience. Love, hate, lust, cruelty, kindness, indifference – all seep into the story. There is romance and mystery, elements of intrigue, the machinations of geopolitics, the cataclysms of history. All these go into the mix to create a vibrant and absorbing narrative. Why should I (or any writer who is slaving away over a manuscript) be pressurized to stick a tidy label on it? Why carve up the sky into bite-sized chunks because infinity is too complex a concept for us to embrace?

Vineetha Mokkil is a writer currently based in New Delhi. She is the author of the collection, “A Happy Place and Other Stories” (HarperCollins, 2014). Her stories have been published in the Santa Fe Writers Journal, Cha: an Asian Literary Journal, and the North East Review. Her first novel is in the pipeline.

 

I post one guest post every week on Mondays. Sharp, opinionated, even provocative. If you would like to contribute a guest post, do write in to me at kiranmanral@gmail.com.

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One thought on “Guest Post for the week: Vineetha Mokkil on What’s in a Label

  1. Agree with your thoughts, Vineetha. Labels can be frustrating as hell, especially when applied to human beings. I am myself tired of being labelled as a Dilli ki ladki. Often this categorization leads people to assume things about you that aren’t necessarily true. I can see how this can also apply to books and how frustrating it would be for writers. But with the sheer number of options we have today (in regards to books) there seems to be no way to manage book lists and bookshelves without some sort of logical categorization. So unless we can propose an alternative, I guess we need to live with it. I for one cannot think of any other solution. Yet.

    Like

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