T r e a d Softly... YOU MIGHT TRIP ON TEXT

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Writers & Writing Buffs

I must tell you of my encounters with writers (and their wives, in some cases). I admire the writing of R. K. Narayan for the sheer life of his observations and his observations of life. His words are simple, but they live. I did my M.Phil thesis on

his works. It was called Inaction & The Hero in R. K. Narayan. I wanted to meet and discuss the thesis with him (more as an excuse to meet him, actually) but people dissuaded me saying that he didn't welcome students who came to him as part of their research. So I didn't. But one day he turned up at the Landmark bookshop in Chennai (Madras, actually) and sat there signing books. (The fact of the matter is, he too had been dragged into the Great Promotion Bandwagon.) Anyway, I waited impatiently in the queue and was determined to talk to him as soon as he took my book to sign. I didn't know what I'd say, but I would. Something. He did take my book. He did sign. As I opened my mouth to launch my question, some kind soul brought him a flask of water, and there was a moment of opening and pouring and drinking and a little comment from the water-bringer and a little reply from the great man and then the moment passed, and so did the queue.
I was luckier with Arundhati Roy. At that time she knew fame but not the Booker. There was a reading at the British Council. There were cocktails, and I noticed her standing all by herself near the steps. After her reading I'd asked her about her almost uncanny usage of words and she'd replied that it was just a matter of using the right word in the right place. When someone else mentioned her perky little nursery rhymes that are scattered all over her novel and asked her if she'd sing a couple of them for the audience, she said, "I generally do my routine after some time into a party!" I went up to her now and asked: "Is it time now to do your routine?" She laughed and shook her head and pointed to the number of people from Kottayam and thereabouts, some her relatives, who were present. Later when signing her book for me, a photographer clicked and the next day's Hindu had this huge picture of me and her-- in fact more of me than her! That morning I received phone calls congratulating me. I said, call me again when it's the other way around! (Ha, ha! Though I'm not saying that will never happen!)
Much before that was William Golding the Nobel Prize winner and author of The Lord Of The Flies. Those days I used to be invited to every literary do at the British Council since I'd won 2nd prize in their playscripts competition (not to mention a consolation prize for a play that's since been lost to posterity and me). Anyway, my wife was at a table with Golding and I was with Mrs Golding. A third person at the table, not knowing what to ask her since we knew next to nothing about her, laughed heartily and said, "And so, Mrs Golding, do you also write anything?" And she gave him a pleasant grin and said, "Yes, of course I do, I'm a writer too." This was news! We gawked at this delectable piece of information, and the man asked, "What do you write?" She replied gravely: "Oh, I write pornography!" A moment later, looking at our wide-open mouths, she burst into laughter, collapsing that frozen moment.
Another wife was Padma Lakshmi who came along with Salman Rushdie to a party. While the writer was holding forth about his writing and other matters literary, I was at the bar with her. After a while, she said, "I think things are getting a little too serious and boring over there, I wish someone would ask him something lighter." I obliged by asking him about his role as an "actor" in the film Bridget Jones's Diary where he'd played himself. He looked up with a grin and said, "Ah, now we come to the intellectual part of our discussion!" And the resultant laughter lightened the atmosphere. "There's nothing much to tell," he said but obviously it was something he'd enjoyed doing because he spent the next ten minutes talking about it.
There have been other writers like Shashi Deshpande (who regaled us with tales of her Paris trip at dinner during a Bangalore writers' conference), Han Suin, Amitav Ghosh, Tim Murari (who's become a friend though I don't meet him too often, but I've shared the dais with him on at least two occasions--- one of these was at the annual day of a cultural association where they were distributing plaques and shawls to all those who'd spoken or performed during the year. We were the only two who didn't get the shawls and Tim whispered to me, why aren't we getting a shawl; and I whispered back: maybe it's because we didn't perform for them, we only spoke, maybe we should perform the next time!)
Any other writers?
Can't remember at the moment. But I will. Next time.
What are blogs for anyway!


Earbrass said...

Great stories, my Theocranial Thinkopoto!


no, honestly, they aren't stories, they really happened. to me.
is theocranial something like a religious head?

Susan Abraham said...

Think...the other day, I wrote to tell you what a fantastic read this was but Blogger refused to print it out!
I have met Vikram Seth and Rushdie at book signings and talks in London but not Padma Lakshmi. And what a great writer R.K. Narayan was.

Also, Arundhati Roy!

But in retrospect, one wonders at the same time if it wasn't an honour for them to have met you...in the same vein of accomplished novelist & playwright! I think you could have given Roy a pretty good run for her money with your list of works. :-)


good lord, susan.
but thanks, i guess we all have it in us, and one day we shall triumph. not in terms of flashbulbs & mediablitz, but enough readership. let's toast to that!