Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Chance Encounter With A Titan

Yesterday, I happened to be at Crossword bookstore Bangalore when the release of Sharmistha Mohanty's novel New Life took place. The author read out passages from her book: I was not too impressed with either her reading style (which I felt lacked passion) or the content (which was overly descriptive and sentimental). I gave it a few earfuls and decided to browse around for CDs in the store till the Q&A session because I had a few questions to ask. Why does Indian writing in English always have to be about the Western Experience and always by a person who had it? Where was the fiction? The novel, it appeared to me, was largely based directly on her student-life in Iowa.

The Titan

The ceremony also featured UR Ananthamurthy, who was introducing the author. The name was familiar but I could not place it at the time: for the moment he was just a rambling old man who was stealing much of the author's thunder from her. Later, just after the snacks, I asked my neighbour about Mr. URA and he waxed eloquent about URA: his being Kannada literature's titan, his many awards - a mini biography!

Q&A session

TJC: How much of the novel is autobiographical?
URA fielded my question with some philosophical ruminations, not entirely related to the point raised.
SM (taking the mike from URA): Why do you want to know? Why do you care?
(Audience laughs)
TJC: In a Malayalam movie called "Artham", the character played by Mammootty says that any person can write one story - that of his own life. I was wondering: will there be a second novel?
SM: I hope so...Let there be a second, a third and so on! But here's answering your question: even if it is based on one's own life, there can be more than one story. We are ever-changing and the persons that we are take different forms, shaped by the great forces of life.
TJC (impressed): Voyeurism has a certain appeal, you know. That's why I asked.

After the Q&A session, there was a small tea party. I approached URA and made idle conversation with him. We discussed some general points about Indian writing in English for a couple of minutes.

An Impulsive Joke
TJC: I cannot resist it, it just occurred to me, forgive me, but may I crack a joke at your expense?
URA: Go ahead.
You were at a function where you had to register your name.
So you went to the person who was taking down the names and
said, "Please add my name too...UR Ananthamurthy".
The other guy asks, "Are you Ananthamurthy?"
You reply, "U R Ananthamurthy!"
To which he says, "No I am not!"

URA laughed, though I do not know whether it was at my joke or at my irreverence. I had to redeem myself. Could not allow the situation degrade into a case of maybe-I-should-have-said-it-too (l’esprit d’escalier, literally “staircase wit”)

TJC: If you would allow me to, I'd like to recite a short poem.
URA (unsure): Er....
TJC (pretentiously): It's short and humorous, and it's profound.
The poem's titled Disposable. The lizard uses its beloved tail/To tickle itself, to scratch its head, to many avail/But when in trouble, trapped by so much as a nail/ Coolly sheds without even a wail!
URA (nodding in appreciation): ...Very clever...I liked the rhyme..Has deep meaning too.
TJC: It's actually about the utilitarian world. Many a time when it's time to say thank you, people often say goodbye!

We talked for a couple of minutes more and I told him that I had to go.


  1. UR ananthamurthy??
    entammo thomacha.. one of these days nee adi vaangum!!!

  2. oyy... Uve been tagged!!!
    check my blog for details...

  3. monae.. kidlam. hehhee .. nee thanne tharam .. hehe

  4. Joke is horrible btw...:)...
    reminds of the PJs back at TKM...