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Literary stars shine at Jaipur

Saturday, 20 January 2007 - 10:29pm IST

Suketu Mehta, despite many interruptions and a long introduction by William Dalrymple, managed to keep the house in splits.

JAIPUR: The youngest delegate writer and the senior-most, both women and writers of fiction, and the most acclaimed writer of non-fiction were the stars of the second day at the Jaipur Literary Festival, organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. The two year old festival is supported by UNESCO.

Kiran Desai, who led the afternoon session to an audience that spilled well out of the packed hall, spoke on all aspects of being a writer in a land not her own, and spanning not just continents and time zones but also the change in her own life after winning the Booker.

Barkha Dutt who moderated the session superbly, played interviewer and interrogator, deftly drawing out the otherwise reticent writer on even her own experience of being an immigrant… “We do stand in the same visa queues and at such times there is a great leveling of us all, regardless of our backgrounds..” and yet, “ the older I get the more difficult it gets to give up my Indian passport, though it is but a piece of paper”.

“I cannot read my books,” Kiran added, and hoped that in due course, she would be able to get done with the travelling and the press conferences to be able to become a full time writer again. The media got a little jab too, for quoting her out of context… “They said I was ashamed of my first book, which is not really true.”

Shashi Deshpande, interviewed by Ira Pande, spoke out for the writer’s ability to cover the larger universe of the human mind, in the context of relationships, rather than focusing on what were considered global issues.

Shashi lamented the fact that writers today wrote with the market in mind. “In our day, we wrote what we wanted to write,” she added. “The public today is robbed of the power of choice. When I read as a child I did not pick a book because of its author, I knew nothing about him or her, but if the book was good, I would pick another by the same writer… It was an adventure between me and the books on the shelf at a bookstore. Today, it is so different, and authors sell more on hype than on their merit, sometimes.

She also added that it was sad that the Kavya Vishwanathan example had not taught any lessons to the publishing community. “They were paying her for what she was not… but despite everything that happened, and her unmasking, the publisher’s attitude to writers and their modus operandi has not changed…”

She has also solemnly threatened to murder the next man who comes up to her and tells her, on learning that she writes, that ‘Writing is a good hobby.” And drew much applause with the anecdote about how when men bring her a book to sign they always add it is for their wife or mother, and that she then asks them if the wife or mother was the only literate in his family!

Suketu Mehta, despite many interruptions and a long introduction by William Dalrymple, managed to keep the house in splits… with his straight-faced repartees and replies. He read out passages from ‘Maximum City’ that were alternately moving, funny or just descriptive and raw to the point of being personal experience to the listener, embellishing the readings with the situations that he experienced while collecting the material for each section.

Asked whether he was at home in Mumbai, he said his house was one which had a room in Mumbai, another in New York, a third somewhere else and he was comfortable moving from one room to another. He was for all purposes a world citizen, the earth was his home.

While his novel which is in the voice of a foetus “still in gestation”, his next project would be his other passion: New York. “Not the NY of Manhattan, but the new face of NY, the face of Queens, and Harlem, and all those neighbourhoods, where I hope to discover the real New York. I hope to do for New York, what I did for Mumbai,” he added… “You will know if it works, in the next four years.”

No problem, Suketu, we can wait. 

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