24.1.11

Is this how the bookworm turns?

Those covering important events seem to think they are the only ones who know how the crumbles become cookies. So we have reports from the Jaipur Literary Festival that state:

“When questions were thrown open to the audience, most were very silly and some rather long-winded. A local uncle asked Orhan Pamuk, “Museum of Innocence talks about the different types of love; what to you is deeper, philosophical love or physical love?”

  1. What exactly does ‘local uncle’ mean? Does the person posing the query live in Jaipur and is related to the reporter? I think this is silly.
  2. The question was, in fact, pertinent and exploratory.

If anything, I found Pamuk’s response utterly distasteful:

“Well, that would depend on how deep you penetrate.” (The reporter added, “The audience was in splits, the uncle shocked.”)

The author then said:

“You know you used the word ‘deep’, so penetration naturally came to mind!” (The reporter: “Who says Nobel laureates can't get silly?”)

Okay, is this nice silly as opposed to the audience’s silliness and the ‘local uncle’s’ shock?

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This brings us to Patrick French. I’ve watched him on a TV panel discussion and he seems like a nice guy. But would anyone from our so-called less developed societies dare to have a blurb on the jacket with the words to the effect that it is a “biography of 1.2 billion people” as he has in India: A Portrait? There truly is no issue about others writing about us, but I really do not like the attitude:

“I’m drawn to complicated subjects. In writing about India, I was trying to make an inexplicable subject comprehensible.”

Comprehensible to whom? How can a nation be inexplicable – what aspect of it is French talking about? Is it the writer voice or the ‘other’ voice or the human voice or the global voice or the inquisitive voice or the empathetic voice or the sympathetic voice or the voice of reason or the voice of emotion? Which voice is deciding that India is complicated and which voice will make it understandable and for what kind of audience?

The idea is not to nitpick but to raise genuine queries about what the author says and what he is asked by the non-local uncles and aunties.

- - -

Pakistani writer, H.M.Naqvi won the DSC South Asian Literature Award. There have been the usual tales about how impecunious (that word was used almost everywhere) he was and could not even buy ciggies in New York, so he returned to Karachi where he could do better and light up, too. One interviewer even asked him how it felt “from being impecunious to the challenges of abundance”. (The prize money is a cool Rs. 23 lakh.) He said that he wrote 300 words a day even when he was "destitute". Now, just for not using the word impecunious, I already think he is extremely imaginative.

But, wait. Here is a quote:

“I can tell you as a novelist that I wouldn’t want to be Caucasian, Christian or American. Because there just isn't enough raw material if you are any of these.”

For someone who can invoke hip-hop despite being from an “Urdu-speaking background”, this is strange. I would understand if he had said that as an outsider those cultures/identities might be difficult for him to navigate or were inaccessible. Instead, he said there isn’t enough raw material if you are any of these. Absolute rubbish. Our subcontinent may have more ‘colour’, but how can we dismiss off the others mentioned?

Is Black writing more relevant than Caucasian writing? In what context? What kind of Christian is referred to here? And besides the Bible, a most quotable work, there is quite a bit of literary exploration that has been done from varied Christian schools of thought. As for American writing, I wonder how Mailer, Bellow, Miller, Salinger, Fitzgerald, Updike, Plath, Hemingway among the few who wrote often quite specifically about their country managed to find the raw material. And one is not even going into the territory of American literature by outsiders or ethnic groups as well as the huge output of poetry. America has had its fair share of struggles, including the Great Depression, a sort of really ‘impecunious’ state, if you will.

While it is quite natural to choose one’s own environment and personal ideology as the canvas, I find such blanket assertions rather narrow-minded and racist in their own way.

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It isn’t quite time to say, ‘come back William, all is forgiven’, but Dalrymple seems to be quite a darling. So, I am not surprised to receive a note lecturing me that he is Indian in spirit and wears kurtas. Since I did not question what he wrote, I find this defence rather curious. Glad to know, though, that he wears kurtas. Who would have imagined that a Scot would dress up in anything but a kilt?