Prufrock's Page

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Rushdie On Simplicity

In a detailed and interesting profile of the polymathic David Foster Wallace (whose new, eclectic collection of essays, Consider The Lobster, is getting raves), one came across this paragraph:

Salman Rushdie recently commented in the Paris Review on his growing ambition to tell a story simply and clearly: “I’ve gotten more interested in clarity as a virtue, less interested in the virtues of difficulty.… I don’t like books that play to the gallery, but I’ve become more concerned with telling a story as clearly and engagingly as I can.…A story doesn’t have to be simple, it doesn’t have to be one-dimensional but, especially if it’s multidimensional, you need to find the clearest, most engaging way of telling it.”

(The interview with Rushdie appeared in the Summer 2005 issue; some extracts are online here.)

Potty Talk

In an article on toilets, Farrokh Dhondy manages to drop names: "I had a profound and insightful discussion on this very subject with none other than VS Naipaul. He agreed that the introduction of the affordable, free enterprise toilet-facility, is one of the great advances in urban hygiene and the chief theatre of anti-stink pollution. This discussion came about in a strictly literary, unusual context... VS and I, over a glass or two of his fine Claret, agreed that far from being taboo, it remained an important subject. Now, when in Delhi he is always at the Maurya, but he empathised with my contention that these Shauchalays, despite the Vedic pretension of their name, were an advance."

"Chuck Some At Shobhaa, Willie"

A report in the Business Standard says: "A select group of Indian writers like Tarun Tejpal, Shobhaa De, William Dalrymple, Namita Gokhale, Hari Kunzru and Ira Pande will head to Jaipur for the Jaipur Heritage International Festival from January 14-23, 2005. Here they will read out excerpts of their work, share experiences and basically revel in Rajasthan’s colourful spirit."

Readings, OK. Sharing experiences, fine. But revelling in the state's colourful spirit? One has visions of the lot rolling about in some sun-drenched courtyard throwing gulal at each other.

Friday, January 13, 2006

On The Bannedwagon

James Laine's controversial The Epic of Shivaji, a translation of the Sivabharata (with the aid of S.S. Bahulkar) was actually published in 2001 -- two years before his Shivaji: Hindu King In Islamic India
(which was banned by the state in 2004). In proscribing this earlier book now, the Maharashtra government said that it "could threaten law and order and overall stability in the society". (Considering that no tremors rocked the state in the four years that the book was available, one can only guess at their motives.)

In a recent conversation with Mid-day's Deepak Lokhande, Laine said:

“I am beginning to wonder whether your people want to participate in a scholarly debate. It happens in the rest of the world. My book was for scholars — I am not a popular author who writes for masses. I don’t understand why so much attention is being given to some lines here and there....The Indian government and the Indian people have the right to decide what book they want to read...A few lines picked from the introduction have been used for banning the book. It’s sad it is being stalled and it’s a pity that Indian intellectuals are not raising their voice against it."

In the Hindustan Times, Laine commented: "Some time ago, the publishers said that there were people offended by the use of the word ‘Oedipal.’ I told them I had no objection to the use of another word. I have had no contact with the government."

Well, what does it matter as long as we get a Shivaji memorial rising from the sea? Oh, hold on, there's someone else protesting.

(The Literary Saloon's earlier post here, and current one here.)


As the world and Oprah knows by now, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces is under the scanner after this report; the author himself now confesses to having made up some details.

Well, pointing fingers at those who write non-fiction accounts isn't new: Truman Capote faced flak over In Cold Blood, for example, and many in the school of New Journalism were accused of taking too much of a creative licence. (On a related note, many eyebrows were raised after Edmund Morris inserted a fictionalised version of himself into Dutch, his biography of Ronald Reagan.)

One's own take? As long as there's no obvious attempt to deceive (as seems to be the case with the hapless Mr Frey), let there be a new genre, that of fact embellished by fiction. Call it the non-fiction novel, or whatever. If it's well-written, evocative, charming or otherwise possessing literary merit, let it stand. Having said which, we can all now wait for Sir Vidia to pronounce judgement.

Update: Two points of view from The New York Times. The first, by Gay Talese: "Nonfiction takes no liberty with the facts, and it should not. I think all writers should be held accountable. The trouble with book publishers is that they don't have the staff or they don't want to have the staff to ensure the veracity of a writer. You could argue that they had better, or they're going to have more stories like this one. My wife is going to hate me for this, but that is what I believe."

And the second, by Nan Talese, his wife, and publisher of Frey's book: "Nonfiction is not a single monolithic category as defined by the best-seller list. Memoir is personal recollection. It is not absolute fact. It's how one remembers what happened. That is different from history and criticism and biography, and they cannot be measured by the same yardstick. I adore Gay, but this is a debate that we've been having for 40 years."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Report From An Akademi

The Algebra of Infinite Justice, a collection of essays by writer Arundhati Roy on the hubris of the rich and the powerful and the plight of the poor and the homeless, was today selected for the 2005 Sahitya Akademi Award in English.

One Suspects Theroux Is Behind This

In artist David McGee's latest collection of watercolours, V.S. Naipaul is "an ankle-braceleted, topless male dancer in an exotic orange skirt." That's beyond belief.

Roll On, Minnesota

Every once in a while the Mumbai papers take it upon themselves to ask our celebrities questions about what they're reading at present. Paolo Coelho's The Alchemist is the answer that seems to crop up the most often, being intellectually undemanding, yet with pseudo-philosophical cachet. And of course, The Da Vinci Code isn't far behind. (One imagines a publicist somewhere coaching his clients: "Say that Coelho's vision is inspiring! That Dan Brown's writing keeps you up nights! And don't for God's sake say that you like Shakespeare's novels!").

Well, the members of the Minnesota Rollergirls -- a comely all-female skating team -- were asked the very same question, and at the very least, their answers were a bit more eclectic-- ranging from The Tin Drum ("Full of obscure and obvious humor with just the right amount of disturbing, yet titillating content" - Holly Go-Fightly) to The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy ("He is so romantic" - Jackie Mehoff). And an engaging lass named Supersonik says: "I am currently reading Born Confused by Tanuja Desai is a light-hearted, engaging novel about coming of age (in a modern, realistic way) and I am also very interested in Indian culture." Given that the book in question is squarely in the 'young adults' category, that seems about right.

Finding A Fine Balance

A sprawling epic set during India's turbulent state of internal emergency in the 1970s, and the story of an unlikely friendship between a Parsi widow and two lower caste tailors, Mistry's Booker-nominated, 600-pager is demanding raw material for a two-hour piece of theatre...But [London's] Tamasha Theatre Company is relishing the challenge. 'People have told us the book is impossible to adapt,' laughs co-founder Kristine Landon-Smith. 'But we think we've found a way that makes sense.'

Flannery O'Connor Raised Peacocks

That's just one of the pieces of unnecessary (though interesting) information thrown into an article by Mike Schurmann who writes in the San Francisco Chronicle that "it's society's outcasts who will continue to treasure and reproduce literature."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

You Go, Girl

"The ...thing I really want to see is the Lotus bookstore to open again. And it's not just about the store, but the people who worked there made it special. They were all book lovers and knew what to recommend to others. And for a book lover like me, it was too great. I can buy any other store but Lotus was special. The fact that there was a time I wanted to work there only proves my love for the place...I'll be the happiest person on the earth if they open their doors again."

- Pooja Bhatt in yesterday's Hindustan Times' Style supplement. (There's no link to the piece, so one typed it out, odd constructions and solecisms intact.)

Thrity Time

Though one hasn't read any of Thrity Umrigar's work yet, Francis Itani's appreciative review of The Space Between Us makes her sound very much like Rohinton Mistry:

"Thrity Umrigar has created two wonderfully sympathetic characters who do much to make [India's] complex nature comprehensible...This is a story intimately and compassionately told against the sensuous background of everyday life in Bombay....The tragedy is that there is so little to hope for. Which brings us to the implicit, pivotal question raised at the beginning and end of the book: Why survive at all in the face of continuous despair?"

Our Esteemed Literary Critics

In The Hindu, Adite De writes a belated and extremely strange review of Lavanya Sankaran's The Red Carpet:

"The Red Carpet brings to the fore a talent still in waiting. A skilled raconteur whose instincts are sharply honed. A keen-eyed observer of a city in transit. A quick fire interpreter of recognisable stereotypes from the Bangalore yellow pages....But is that enough? Not quite. Where's the consummate mastery of an O. Henry, the raw sensitivity of a Mahasweta Devi, the essential humaneness of a Maupassant, the impressionistic everydayness of a Jhumpa Lahiri, the startling, amoral twists of a Roald Dahl?"

See, that's the problem with our writers. Not enough impressionistic everydayness. Not to mention amoral twists.

That's Aw Boy!

The Malaysia Star carries an interview with Tash Aw after his Whitbread win in which he comes across as self-deprecating: "People fail to grasp the fact that books win prizes because they’re good. Everything else is merely incidental. The setting, the identity of the author, even the subject matter – these things can never really alter the fate of a bad book. What I do hope is that this prize will encourage more people in Malaysia to read and write, which will, eventually, lead to more good books being written."

When asked about the greatest stumbling block that aspiring writers face, he says: "The fact that most of them are in love with the idea of 'being a writer' rather than writing itself. Most aspiring writers believe it to be a glamorous profession, when, really, it isn’t."

(This post's headline, by the way, isn't one's own, but the work of one of the editors of The Star. Groans may be aimed in that direction.)

The Opposite Of Deja Vu... jamais vu: a feeling of false unfamiliarity with a situation. For example, walking into one's own home and feeling that one has never been there before. Just another unnecessary piece of information that one picked up this morning. You can go back to your rich, productive life now.

Chennai's Landmark

Back from a day-long trip to Chennai distinguished by a quick visit to Landmark because of a delay in the return flight . Though clearly of the same mass-market sensibility that has overtaken Crossword, the shop has much, much more to offer. (One could spend only 20-odd minutes there, more's the pity.) After a hurried perusal, one walked out with The Malcontents, an anthology of satirical drama, poetry and prose edited by Joe Queenan; a paperback copy of Alberto Manguel's A Reading Diary; and A Plea For Eros, Siri Hustvedt's collection of essays on literature, sensuality, memory and more.

At the smart and well laid out Higginbotham's at Chennai airport, one unexpectedly came across a new edition of Henry Greene's Loving, Living, Party Going, so one added that to the kitty as well. Now back in good old philistine Mumbai, one plans to visit Crossword at lunch. Not for the books, but for the coffee and cream cheese bagel, which is about the only good reason to visit that bookshop these days.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Introducing her column on the art of fiction, novelist Louise Doughty says:

Some years ago, I was sitting in a café with a writer friend. He had just come from giving a talk to a group of sixth-formers and one of them had asked, "Why did you become a writer?"

"You know what?" he said to me, stirring his cappuccino, "I gave them some flannel about the joy of language, but actually, the real reason I became a writer was so that I could move to London and sit in cafés with other writers and talk about why I became a writer."

The Worth Of A Short Story? Oh, 22 Cents

Eschewing waiting at tables, applying for grants or appealing to parents -- the usual ways for struggling writers to subsist -- Bruce Holland Rogers decided to sell his work online. He sends out three stories a month to subscribers who send him $8 a year -- that's 22c a story.

As he says: "Part of the idea is for me to have some regular deadlines from a paying audience. I do my best work with a little bit of performance anxiety. Every story has to be as good as I can make it, since there are always some subscribers whose subscriptions are about to expire."

So far, Rogers has 662 subscribers in 69 countries. Not bad. You can find his site here.