Sunday, July 6, 2008
A book reading by Amitav Ghosh
Amitav Ghosh's recent book Sea of Poppies, the first of a trilogy is apparently creating waves all round and he is in Chennai promoting it. Yesterday there was an interactive book reading session at the Taj Coromandal, presided over by Chennai's man for all seasons N. Ram. From what I could figure from the detailed news reports in the Hindu (naturally) it was a pretty high class affair and doubtless all the Chennai glitterati were there. Therefore it was with a bit of trepidation that we decided to go for his second book reading at Landmark bookstore. Never having been to one, I had visions of ladies and gents in their Sunday best keen to be seen in the right places, gate crashing into the tiny corner of the bookstore that was set aside for the reading and subsequent interaction with the public. As it turned out, it was a truly pleasant experience. Amitav landed up at the dot of 6.30pm the scheduled time, and after a quick, no-nonsense, barely one minute introduction by one of the younger members of the staff of Landmark, he began his reading of a couple of passages from his book. This took about ten minutes, at the end of which he invited questions from the audience. That is when it struck me that a large part of the crowd was a serious Eng. Lit. one, people who had actually studied his books as course material and had real questions about his characters, about his subject matter, even about the way he chose names for his characters. There was no pretense, no attempt at attention grabbing, no desire to show off one's knowledge of the genre. Overall a very pleasant, instructive experience, that too in an informal, what I would almost call an academic atmosphere. Amitav, who also came across as unpretentious and self-effacing, has a quaint and low-key sense of humour. At one point he told us that he was horrified when he first heard that one of his books Shadow Lines was actually being used as course material. It reminded him, he told us, of his college days when the only authors considered worth reading were dead ones, most of whom they hated. In another episode, a 14 year old from Kerala wrote to him asking him to send her a picture of her favourite character Tridib (a character from Shadow Lines)!! Overall, an evening well spent. We lined up at the end to get our copies of his book(s) autographed, which he did with unfailing courtesy, meticulously asking and writing down the name of each person in the inscription. We left after picking up a couple of Murakami's that we had been searching for, for some time. Now, that's one author I would really like to meet! The Hindu naturally had no coverage of this event.