Had this opportunity to attend the Monday evening session mysteriously called “The Other Voice - Writings from the Other Side” though by mistake I missed out on Aniruddha Bahal's talk on investigative journalism in India. I had somehow thought that Bahal's session will follow the Voices session but, no, I was wrong. Why do festival organisers do this? There should not be any simultaneous sessions at all! It makes our life tough guys.
The charming Deepika Shetty of CNA was again compering the panel discussion. The participants were an eclectic mix of writers: Suhayl Saadi from Scotland, Ouyang Yu from Australia, Laksmi Pamuntjak from Indonesia, Dr. Rudhramoorthy Cheran from Canada and Felix Cheong from Singapore. The panelists attempted to look at the issues of identity especially in the context of living and writing in an alien culture and sometimes in a second (alien) language.
Deepika had an interesting way of introducing the topic. She clarified that the session was not about the voices from the "other world" (horror of horrors!) but was about identities and how writers struggled to deal with them.
First, Felix recited some poems and enlivened the atmosphere with his performance. I loved his poem about the anguish of an abused wife. Terrific imagery!
Ouyang is an angry young man and he brought out the frustrations of a migrant life in his talk. His discussed some episodes of hostility faced by Asians in Australia. The Western people think that the only interesting book to have come out of this part of the world is the Wild Swans, he said! How funny! He read a poem on the future of the world, which was hilarious but biting.
Lakshmi read two of her poems but what I liked most was her introduction on the question of identity and of belonging to the other side--and who decides what? It was brilliant skeptical look at the issue of majorityism and minorityism. I wish I had recorded her intro.
Dr. Saadi, a medic turned novelist, read from his latest work, Psychoraag. He came across as a guy with deep knowledge and understanding of issues of racial stereotyping in the Western world. He has a powerful sense of words and he mixes languages beautifully. Even his novel has an interesting smattering of Urdu and Punjabi words redolent of lost languages and lost connections. "I am monolingual," he said. "English is my first language. But in a way, my using Urdu and Hindi and Punjabi words in my novel is an attempt to connect to the languages of my ancestors. I try but I fail and there's a struggle in that." "Probably people who know and use more languages are better at writing," he opined.
During a question answer session later on Dr. Saadi said that the publishers in UK were still trying to pigeonhole writers and their material in accordance with their skin color. He said that if he wrote stuff like Monica Ali he would be far more successful (his novels were not published by big publishers). He said that in fact agents and publishers in the West wanted him to write Monica Ali kind stuff. Depressing, isn't it?
I salute Dr. Saadi for speaking the truth. He also gave some tips on writing short stories that I am going to cherish and practice.
Dr. Cheran's work is mostly in Tamil and he shared with us a few of his poems. He talked about the struggle of straddling the two worlds of Tamil and English. His creative language, he said, was Tamil even though he was at home in English.
I enjoyed my interaction with Dr. Saadi after the session. Walking off, I saw Anirudhha Bahal talking with Bruce Sterling at the Kinukuniya Book Bar. Bahal is as tall as his fellow Tehelka-ite Tarun Tejpal but seems to have developed a paunch. Earlier in the evening, I had seen Sterling buy a copy of Wei Hui's Shanghai Baby. Clearly, Hui had a made an impact on the sci fi writer):
Enough for tonight. More later. Cheers!