Miracle Cabbie Knows What Is 'Literature'

Novelist Roxana Robinson loves the world and all its peoples, who are not so different from one another as you might imagine! She also, being a novelist, loves novels. So imagine her joy when those two things coalesced in an international literary festival: "The idea of this gave me a carnival sort of feeling, a fine fizzing excitement. There would be writers from all over the world, reading from their work, onstage." Omg, like knitting a kitten sweater while sipping hot cocoa! But before her excitement could fully finely fizz, she had to get to the festival in question, and the method of conveyance she chose was a taxicab. It was a lucky day for that cab driver, because Roxana opened up a whole new world to him: the magical world of the English language.

'Are you going to the theater?' From his accent, which was very thick, I thought he was from the Indian subcontinent. 'No,' I said. 'It's a performance, but it's not the theater.' He looked at me again. 'What kind of performance?' 'It's a festival of world literature.' I wondered if he'd know the word 'festival.' 'World literature,' he repeated. 'Yes,'I said. 'Writers from all over the world reading their work.' I wanted to add, 'Maybe people from your country,'but I was afraid that might sound condescending.
Clearly, though, Roxana got over that worry right quick.
'Lit-er-ature,' he said, considering. 'Lit-er-ature. We hear this word all the time, but what is it, lit-er-ature?' What is literature? On my way to an international writers' festival, I had been asked by a stranger from a foreign land about the nature of literature. He had asked me what lay at the heart of things; it was the question all writers long to hear. I thought for a bit and then said, 'Literature is writing that has a purpose greater than entertainment.'
Hmm. But what do you call writing that has no purpose except maybe to befuddle and minorly offend? The Novelist and The Curious Cabbie [NYT]