When an architect creates his   dream building, the labour  involved in the creative process  is obvious. When an Indian classical  singer creates her music, the  hard and intricate labour  that goes into it is obvious    What happens when a writer writes a   War and Peace ?-- Even if we decide to be politically incorrect, and  choose to be comfortably patriarchal,    shutting our eyes to  the super human  physical labour that his poor wife had  put into it, copying  out the  huge novel     by hand  , not once, not twice but  as the saying goes,  full  seven times over,-- the  basic intellectual  labour  of the novelist  is   still  obvious  to the reader.  But when  a ten line poem   is created over a few weeks, even months, little by little, the labour  remains  unseen,  it is  hidden   in the    final   creative product .That is the way it is supposed to be. If  we can notice all the blood and sweat  trickling down your  brow  as we read your poem, it will   certainly be    quite another experience. May be at times even that is necessary, who knows the last word?

I grew up   for twenty years, bearing   witness to a   poor old cliche, that poetry is part inspiration and part perspiration.  Ours was a poet couple’s home. Both my parents were writers, they had no other profession. My    father worked in his study all day long, he sat at his table  reading and writing, except for walking the dog  twice a day. His day started at four a.m. and ended at  midnight  till  he breathed his last  My  mother being  a sickly  person, was less enthusiastic,  but I never saw her taking an afternoon nap. She read in her bed , she wrote in her bed, she proof-read in her bed.. Books and exercise books, paper and pens  sat  side by side with her medicines on her bedside table. As she grew old and became totally bedridden, she used a magnifying glass to read the proofs,, but read late into the night, and  she wrote during the day.. A writer’s life, I knew, was a hard one.  And the making of a book involved hard work in the press too, lay out, page make-up, illustrations, block making,  (those were the days) printing, binding, marketing. No. Creativity does not stand-alone. It has to depend on hard labour, not merely the writers’ own, but also that of others in the book trade.  

Creativity itself  was a laborious job. No matter where and how you  might be using it. Whichever  creative area you are in, you are chained for ever.

   A long time and effort goes into the making of a play, for example. After being written, the play needs months of rehearsals before it can be staged. And facing a new audience everyday is like passing a new test every evening. Yes theatre is a continued string of hard labour. which involves a long list of laborers, from the director and the  actors  to the production managers and other technicians.

Since childhood I had seen my elderly neighbour, a famous painter, Sunil Madhab Sen working tirelessly and furiously   at his paintings. I   had watched the famous sculptor Meera Mukherjee   at work and adored her for the sheer physical hardship that went into   the creation of her huge, heavy metallic sculptures.  And I knew, that the artists   were just as much dependent on hard labour as the writers, if not even more.   Creativity, I could see, needed stamina.

I am shattered when young editors of slim little   literary magazines in Bengali, request me for a contribution with these kind and considerate words: “ We know you are busy. If you can spare no time   for an article, or a short story, then even a poem would do!”  I feel like weeping each time I hear this sentence. Poor kids, do n’t they have any idea at all how much hard work goes into a carefully constructed poem?  It is easier to write a prose piece any time.   

 I want to tell them,  look here, creativity  must not come flowing like flood waters and overwhelm your senses as well  as your mind.. You have to dig a channel and give it a direction. There lies the hard work. And the art as well.


But today I was  wondering how about looking at it from the opposite end? From  a completely different point of view? The rural  women’s  point of view, where the question of a readership, or of an audience, even, does not arise. There is no marketing process involved in the total labour,  but an inner cleansing, an inner bonding, an inner strengthening   process takes place. Labour generates Creativity, Creativity generates inner power. A sense of belonging comes from being able to talk about oneself. Everything that needed to be told but could never be uttered  even among the women, as the walls also have ears,  can easily be sung through these songs, the songs have adopted Sita as their persona, the janamaukhini woman. It is of Sita they sing, not of Gita or Shalini or Manju or Maurium. Sita as their persona gives them the basic freedom to express themselves.

 In the rural women’s work songs I have learnt that  it  is not just hard work that is needed to give shape to your creativity, as we can see in urban culture, but creative energy is often  generated by hard work, as  we can see in  folk culture..

This is very clearly noticeable in folk traditions, especially in the women's folk tradition in India. Suffering and pain has always been a source of creativity, both for men and for women, labour, too is one.

For example ,let us look at  women's  oral  songs.

For several years I have been working with women’s  Ramayanas.   These are single songs that women create and sing among themselves during work.  There are different kinds of  daily work   that they do together, as they sing.,   weeding , and planting ,  gathering wood,   sowing and harvesting,  husking and grinding,  etc. Or, by themselves, they sing lullaby  songs   as they put their children to sleep. Then there are ritual songs, wedding and other related rituals, when women gather together, and sing their hearts out. These are connected with different moments of a woman's life, and here Sita is the name of the woman who attains puberty, gets married, gets pregnant is abandoned and gives birth  all by herself  .A common experience for the  rural  women.

 These women’s work songs and ritual songs are generated by the hard work that bring them together, and give rise to a sense of sisterhood. The strong creative energy that is expressed through the songs is generated by the laborious jobs   that the women do together in the field, or within the courtyard. It is an area where work and creativity go hand in hand.

Just as in East Bengal the   beautiful boatmen’s songs   are created by the hard work that the boatmen have to perform,  and  tinged by the loves they leave waiting at home.  In Assam there are heart rending songs built around the annual movement of the elephants and the tragic romances  relationships that grow between   the mahouts  and the young women of  the  village as they  pass by. The tea-garden workers songs are of a different kind,, they have all come from distant parts of the country to Assam to work hard and  make money, and are missing home. Or the   Bihaari   women labourers working on fixing the roof  in   Calcutta. In all these  labourers’ songs, the rhythm of the work gives rise to the rhythm of the songs. Creativity and labour go hand in hand in such cases, each depending on the other , each helping the other to grow and  the worker   survives  on the balanced relationship..

As a creative writer I  feel obliged to  work  hard   for every piece of work,  to make my work valid to myself,  to justify my efforts for producing the very best that I can, whatever it may be, and   I   feel grateful to  life for  letting me do   the hard work, in spite of my  hostile  health,  in order to remain creative in the only sense of the term in which I understand it.


Nabaneeta Dev Sen

Nabaneeta Dev Sen is one of the best-known contemporary Bengali authors and a leading professor and scholar of Comparative Literature. She has received many honours including the Padma Shree and the National Sahitya Akademi Award. She is the founder President of Soi, Women Writers’ Association and the President of P.E.N India, West Bengal Chapter.

More posts by the author

The beliefs, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Soi or official policies of Soi.