Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Kiran Nagarkar at IHC

Attended a lovely little talk by Kiran Nagarkar at the Katha Asia International Utsav today, at the India Habitat Centre. Small room, just 40-50 people present (most of them students) and the moderator didn’t show up at the last minute because of illness, which turned out for the good, because it allowed Nagarkar to handle things his own way. He made the session a completely informal one - interactive to the extent that when some people came in late and there weren’t enough chairs for them he invited them to sit next to him at the dais.

The man really is a delightful speaker – very natural, very funny in an unforced way, and he uses “man” to end a sentence more endearingly than any non-Jamaican I know. So I didn’t get too impatient about the fact that he was also Ostentatiously Self-Deprecating, never missing a chance to take little digs at himself. That kind of thing usually gets ho-hummish after some time.

The theme of the Katha festival is “City Stories” and so Nagarkar started by talking about how it’s infra dig to speak Marathi in Mumbai (unless you’re a hardcore Maharashtrian), and how people no longer name their girls Ganga because “Ram” and “Ganga” had become commonly associated with servants in Parsi households. But soon he manouevred his way to the topics he really wanted to discuss: how tragic it is that languages around the world are being allowed to die out, and the case for teaching everyone four languages at school level. “We need more bilingual writers,” he said, mentioning the late Arun Kolatkar. “Each new language we learn opens up hitherto dead pathways in our brain and helps expand the ways in which we think. And it isn’t at all difficult to learn a number of languages if you start early in life.”

“More than anything else, the role of a writer is to ensure that we do away with the Other in the world. Looking at Pakistanis, or Iraqis, or whoever, as the Other is simply a means of dehumanising and then demonising them. It makes it easy for us to disregard that they have the same feelings as us.”

And: “Saare jahaan se acha…” is a terrible thing to teach young children. Patriotism is one of the worst qualities – unless you expand it to encompass the world.” (Hear, hear!)

For obvious reasons I also enjoyed Nagarkar’s little anecdote about being interviewed by a journalist who was uninterested in anything he had to say about his work but kept asking him why he had shifted to writing in English from writing in Marathi. “At some point I asked him if he had read my latest book and he looked back at me, astonished, and said ‘no of course not, but I’ve looked it up on the Internet’.” (This would be a good time to re-link to this article Rana Dasgupta wrote for Tehelka a few months ago.)

Leaving, I picked up Seven Sixes are Forty-Three, the translation of Nagarkar’s 1974 Marathi novel Saat Sakkam Trechalis. Look forward to reading it. (If you aren’t familiar with his work, do try to find the time for Cuckold or Ravan & Eddie.)

Tip: If you’re in Delhi and have more free time on your hands than I do, winter is a great time to hang around the IHC. Look through their events schedule for the day, drift in and out of rooms; there’s always something interesting going on in this supposedly cultureless city – film screenings, script-and-direction workshops, books readings, even puppet theatre festivals. (Don’t do what I did last evening though – I loitered about for over 10 minutes at what I thought was a Katha event, before realising it was a dinner party being hosted by the Fourth Annual Plumbers’ Convention.)


  1. hello.came here frm aishwarya's blog..i so wanted to go for the katha thing but these stupid exams.and to think that last year i tht 12th boards are the last time ur supposed to study.
    (i envy you:)

  2. I read Cuckold - and it was nothing short of brillaint; Seven Sixes bored me - it was way too nihilistic and just too boring after a while.

    But yes, for Cuckold, I would love to meet this guy hehe!


  3. Mmm, Saat Sakkam is groundbreaking in its original because it did for Marathi what Midnight's Children did for English; the English translation is alright, I thought, but I gave it up too. Nagarkar is one of my very very very favourite writers, so I'm very envious. I'd recommend Ravan and Eddie to someone unfamiliar with India before I'd recommend any of Rushdie.

  4. Nagarkar is undoubteldy brilliant. And I agree with roswitha's observation -- Ravan and Eddie is a better introduction to India, especially Mumbai than Rushdie.
    "Seven Sixes are Forty Three" -- I personally found it very interesting -- but that could be because I hadn't read the original in Marathi which many of my friends who have read the original (and the translation) assure me is brilliant.
    If you are interested in reading good translations -- do read "cocoon" Bhalchandra Nemade's "Kosla" translated in english by Sudhakar Marathe -- the translation captures the marathi essence of the novel very well.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I loved Ravan and Eddie! I love Nagarkar's description of life in a Bombay chawl. I recommend it to anyone who shies away from Indian authors in English complaining "they portray India in terms of western stereotypes."

  7. On the Marathi lit scene guess I just got stuck in the past reading,re-reading Tendulkar,Arvind Gokhale,Alekar, Khanolkar and the works...

    You have created enough curiosity in my mind to devour Nagarkar;-)

    Thanx a ton Jai...N if I like what I read then 'man' I owe you one.(But even if I dont I have a feeling that I would still owe you one;-)

    PS:I would be taking the original Marathi ones first..which one do you recommend to start with?

  8. I'm all for learning as many languages as possible, but I I think it's local dialects/colloquialisms that are in greatest danger of dying out. And learning new languages is not going to help preserve those. The more insular a communtity is, the more likely it is to preserve its customs, language, traditions.

    I'm from Tirunelveli, a small town in south Tamil Nadu. Over the years, my Tamil has become more 'neutral', it's lost most of the distinctive local vocabulary (unintelligible to a Tamilian from, say, Chennai). And it's not just me, almost all my relatives are using fewer and fewer colloquialisms. My mother tongue is being denuded, and there's not all that much I can do about it.

  9. Dreamer, Roswitha: don't be envious, I don't find the time to go for even 5 percent of the events I'd like to attend - spend most of my time passing things up. This was just one of those right time-right place things.

    Sublime Thoughts: you're being too kind. If you're asking for Nagarkar recos, I don't know anything about his Marathi work - have only read Ravan & Eddie and Cuckold (both of which were originally written in English).

    And I know what it's like being stuck in the past - I was completely out of the contemporary lit scene for many crucial years, and am still trying to catch up.

  10. True, IHC has a host of options for the culturally oriented and if nothing else, there's always eatopia and all american diner.
    I saw an exquisite photography exhibition (on women) some days back and a painting exhibition by some painter from Netherlands..theodore something.. both of these were just great!

  11. The IHC's my summer holiday hangout.

    So how did you enjoy the Plumbers' Convention?

  12. Hi... I dont really have much of time to spare, but on weekends, I dont find much to do in Gurgaon. And I cant be in Delhi just to 'loiter around IHC'. Can you tell me how to keep myself abreast on the events there, so that I can think about going to Delhi...?

  13. I Take No Logic: Habitat has a monthly schedule, which they send out to members and journos in both hardcopy form and email. If you like I can forward you the latest one.

  14. Thats really good... can you please send it across to itakenologic@rediffmail.com?

  15. There is an extended interview with Kiran Nagarkar on Another Subcontinent and he is participating in the discussion on the forums.

    Another Subcontinent