I am waiting for my father. I glance at the clock. It is not yet time, and he never delays, but I am impatient. As I fidget with my things, I suddenly feel a chill enveloping me. Shivering involuntarily, I glance up sharply. The study door is swinging on its hinges. Sure enough, Dad is ready.
“I’m sorry,” he says with an apologetic smile. “Is it very cold?”
I smile back. I am so glad to see him, I cannot complain. “No matter, Daddy,” I say as I cross over to shut the door still gently creaking in the wind from the open window beyond.
I come back and look at him. He is wearing a faded shirt, and he looks frail and old, but his face shines. Is he in perfect health, or is he so glad to be with me?
Gone Away: An Indian Journal by Dom Moraes (with an introduction by Jerry Pinto)
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Year of publication: 2020
Price: INR 294 (E-book)
One of the most unconventional travelogues ever written, Gone Away covers three months of Dom Moraes’ life spent in the subcontinent at the time of the Chinese incursions on the Tibetan border in 1959. In that short time, a remarkable number of memorable things happened to him, some of them the sort of fantastic situations that could only enmesh a poet, perhaps only a young poet—a visit to a speak-easy in Bombay; an interview with Nehru and an hour spent closeted with the Dalai Lama in Delhi; and a meeting with the great Nepalese poet, Devkota, whom he found already laid out to die by the side of the holy river Basumati. After a short stay in Calcutta, where he tried, with limited success, to investigate the lives of prostitutes, he went up to Sikkim, the north-eastern border state into which no visiting writer had been allowed for almost a year.
I remember the time the first Penguin India books came out. I stood in Mumbai’s now-defunct Strand Book Stall, reading from Nisha Da Cunha’s beautiful stories, Old Cypress and then saw Padma Hejmadi’s Birthday Deathday. Those were the days when I did not buy a book unless I had already read it and knew that it would be something I would want to own for the rest of my life, a belief that only a young man can have. But I promised myself, as someone who dreamed of having a book out, as someone who dreamed of being an Indian writer in English, that I would try and buy as many Indian authors as I could.
I already had a stack of strange-looking Jaico paperbacks: Nayantara Sahgal and Kamala Das and Raja Rao but those were second-hand books, bought on the streets. Now I would contribute to my biraadari, I would help my qaum, even if they didn’t know I was one of them, by buying their books.
That was 1985. It’s been a long time and much ink has flowed and I have given up even trying to keep in touch. We’re a huge bunch and there’s been two Booker Prizes, Arundhati Roy’s for The God of Small Things and Arvind Adiga’s for The White Tiger. We’re now getting close to what might be called a mature market: we don’t just have literary fiction, the epics and the classics in translation; we have genres: there’s chick lit and crime fiction and romances written by men and thrillers. We have 65 literary festivals across the country; I was told that one just ended in Amritsar. Mumbai has three or maybe five, I don’t know. Universities are organising their own. There are hierarchies now: Jaipur at the top and Kozhikode coming in second with the additional cachet of moral superiority.
Harris Khalique verbalised my thoughts at the eighth edition of the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) exactly when, during the launch of his book Crimson Papers, he mused, “Why do I write? And what difference will it make?”
He revealed this as the question he struggles with endlessly, and it occurred to me how this is what literature festivals ought to examine today. Because as borders become impermeable, as walls go up between people and as bans become common, a conversation about the limits of literature and language to bridge divides — or the new ways in which writing must be appropriated to effect change — becomes essential.
This year’s KLF felt smaller and more subdued than its predecessor. The festival clearly suffered from tensions between India and Pakistan as only a handful of Indian authors made it across the border. Read more
Lack of profound experiences and harsh realities like war and mass exodus are forcing regional writers in India to hold on to themes like personal agonies and dilemmas in their works, eminent Malayalam novelist Sethu observed. The choice of such themes deny them a place in world literature as Indian writers are often forced to harp on personal sorrows, Sethu said here last evening on the sidelines of the release of the English translation of his short story collection A Guest for Arundhati and other stories. Read more
Indian literature is very rich and directors should be careful when they adapt them into a film or a TV series. It should not have unnecessary tinge of entertainment, feels poet-lyricist Gulzar.
The 79-year-old director, who is this year’s Dadasaheb Phalke awardee, adapted the works of well-known Indian writers for the big and small screen.
Gulzar said literature can not be reformer, it can only remind or record the past era. Read more
Libby Whitehouse looks at whether India’s effervescent literary culture is attracting established and new writers from either side of the Atlantic: Publishing Perspectives
Historically, Indian writers have tended to go to the West to get their books published but with e-books posing an ever-increasing challenge to publications there, industry experts indicate a reverse flow may have just begun.
Indeed, there are murmurs that the big and burgeoning Indian book publishing market and the country’s effervescent literary culture have begun to attract both established and new writers from the either side of the Atlantic seeking a bigger audience and accolade.