by Monica Arora
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press Books (May 15, 2015)
In this day and age, when nearly everybody is churning out a book whether they have a book in them or not, here are these 26 essays by Amitava Kumar, compiled under the title Lunch with a Bigot. In his note as a preamble to the book, the author states that when he encountered a judge at a poetry competition, he was asked by him, “If you have nothing to say, don’t write. Please.” That itself is enough compulsion for a reader to attempt going through this eclectic collection of essays that the writer has meticulously divided into four sections: Reading, Writing, Places and People.
In the first section, namely “Reading”, the author specifies how “paper was to be worshipped, like money or the Gita”. Perhaps, the paperless internet generation will find this rather difficult to relate, but old school connoisseurs of good, old-fashioned writing may be able to connect with the sentiments resonating within the potent essay. Amitava speaks about his life-changing interviews with eminent names in Indian literature such as Hanif Kureishi and Arundhati Roy, both of whom shaped and influenced his early years in writing.
Sample this gem by Arundhati narrated during an interview with the author. She states, “Language…takes a while to become yours, to listen to you, to obey you and for you to obey it. I have a clear memory of language swimming towards me. Of my willing it out of water. Of it being blurred, inaccessible, inchoate…and then of it emerging. Sharply outlined, custom-made.” Such are the little pearls that the reader may encounter in this oysteresque collection.
With a rather vociferous tonality of candid descriptions of the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in light of the Godhra riots or reportage of burning current issues that have captured mass imagination such as the Arushi murder case, Amitava’s essays have a pulse on topics that have social relevance and have been widely discussed and dissected.